WASHINGTON – In honor of the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s swearing-in as the nation’s 64th Attorney General, the Justice Department today welcomed Kennedy family members, including Ethel Kennedy, renowned civil rights leaders, historians and current and former Justice Department employees to pay tribute to Attorney General Kennedy’s service.
The two-hour event celebrated the accomplishments of Kennedy’s tenure from January 1961 to September 1964, focusing on his strong commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans and the department’s dedicated efforts to combat organized crime. The event was held in the Great Hall of the department’s main building, the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Building, named after the late Attorney General in 2001.
“Attorney General Kennedy championed the cause of the least among us – and made our nation more just, more fair, and more humane. He was not afraid to dream a better world and to act to create it,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “ As we celebrate Robert Kennedy’s life and his impact on this Department, let us also commit ourselves to carrying on – and carrying out – his mission to make gentle the life of this world, and to make good on the promise of our nation.”
The celebration included remarks from Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Attorney General Kennedy’s daughter and the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland.
Following the remarks and a video retrospective, Jack Rosenthal, a chief press officer at the Justice Department under Attorney General Kennedy, moderated a panel discussion featuring John Seigenthaler, Administrative Assistant to Attorney General Kennedy; John Doar, the First Assistant of the Civil Rights Division during the Kennedy Administration; distinguished journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who was the first African American to graduate from the University of Georgia; and Congressman John Lewis. After the panel, former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who served as Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General Kennedy, shared a special video message.
Former Justice Department leaders were present in the audience, including former attorneys general, assistant attorneys general, first assistants and personal aides to Attorney General Kennedy.
Protecting voter registration laws was a priority for Kennedy. During his tenure, the Civil Rights Division brought 57 voting rights lawsuits. In 1961, Kennedy sent U.S. Marshals to Montgomery, Ala., to protect the “freedom riders,” who rode buses in the South to desegregate interstate transportation. Kennedy also established the first coordinated federal law enforcement program to prosecute organized crime. While he was attorney general, the organized crime conviction rate increased dramatically.
A compilation of photographs from the tenure of Attorney General Kennedy are available at www.justice.gov/css-gallery/gallery-rfk.html .
An archive of speeches and statements from the tenure of Attorney General Kennedy are available at www.justice.gov/ag/rfk-speeches.html .
For more information about the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy, visit www.rfkcenter.org/ .