In her latest nonfiction work, “Martin and Bobby – A Journey Toward Justice,” local young adult writer Claire Rudolf Murphy explores the complex relationship between Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. It’s rare to find someone who hasn’t heard of King. But Kennedy, at least among younger generations, is much less well known.
“Bobby is one of history’s great ‘ifs,’ ” Rudolf Murphy said. During his career, Kennedy became a serious advocate for civil rights. Five years after his brother was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, too, as he was on the verge of clinching the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
“This is the most personal of the nonfiction books I’ve written,” Rudolf Murphy said. “My parents were Kennedy Democrats. My brother (Jim) died in 1963 just a couple weeks before JFK when I was 12. I remember watching the hearse and Jackie and thinking, ‘I know how you feel.’ ”
Then, a few years ago, Rudolf Murphy came across a recording of a speech Bobby Kennedy had given the night King died. Kennedy had originally been scheduled to give a campaign speech, but news of King’s assassination changed everything. In front of an audience divided against him, it fell to Kennedy to inform the crowd.
He stood on a truck bed and praised King for his commitment to love and justice, calling on the crowd to continue to live by his example. But Kennedy made it personal.
“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust at the injustice of such an act against all white people … I can only say that I can also feel the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said. “I had a member of my family killed …”
“Never in the five years since President Kennedy’s assassination had the senator ever talked in public about his brother’s death,” Rudolf Murphy explains in the book.
“I think that’s what makes Bobby’s speech so powerful,” Rudolf Murphy said. “That he felt for Dr. King like a family member.”
Rudolf Murphy was finally inspired to write about King and Kennedy after meeting Sen. Maria Cantwell. “I said, ‘Maria have you ever heard the speech Bobby Kennedy gave that night?’ and – she can be very deadpan – she goes, ‘My father was standing on the truck behind him,’ ” Rudolf Murphy recalled. “Right then I said I want to tell this story.”
In honor of a popular song from the time, Dion’s “Abraham, Martin and John,” Rudolf Murphy chose, rather unconventionally, to refer to her subjects almost entirely by their first names.
Bobby and Martin weren’t close friends, but they had come to respect each other.
“Both men evolved in their understanding, they evolved in their commitment, and they made mistakes,” Rudolf Murphy said. “They made a huge impact and those words will live on. Words matter and words can inspire.”
To celebrate the book’s release, Rudolf Murphy will be hosting a youth leadership panel at Auntie’s Bookstore on Wednesday night. After Rudolf Murphy discusses the new book, Malachi Areta, Celia Vigil, Caroline Slater, Jada Richardson, Madeline Isacoff and Asher Steer, all local student leaders from middle school to college, will share their views in a panel discussion on issues that faced King and Kennedy, those still faced today and, looking forward, what inspires them. Devon Wilson, a board director for the Center for Justice, will moderate the discussion.
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