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The day Bobby Kennedy came to campus

Senator's visit occurred three years after brother's murder, two years before his own

By VERSHAY BURKS / VN FEATURES EDITOR
On February 15, 2017

It was a half-century ago this school year that Robert “Bobby” Kennedy came to speak at the McNichols campus on his Michigan tri-county tour.

Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from New York, was three years removed from the Dallas murder of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and less than two years from being felled himself by an assassin’s bullet.

On Saturday, Oct. 29, Kennedy spent nine hours in Michigan to speak in support of two prominent state Democratic candidates, among them former Governor G. Mennen Williams, who was running for U.S. Senate, and Democratic Party chair Zolton Ferency, a candidate for governor.

Kennedy was joined in his motorcade by Williams, Ferency, new Congressman John Conyers and Detroit Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh, a 1950s graduate of the University of Detroit.

Kennedy stopped at many places in Detroit, including Wayne State. Before reaching the University of Detroit, he took a tour of the city’s north end.

The visits delayed his campus appearance by more than an hour.

Representatives of The Varsity News covered the highly anticipated political event, which drew an estimated 4,000 people to the Memorial Building (today’s Calihan Hall) to hear Kennedy. It was his largest turnout in his one-day Michigan swing.

Cameramen and technicians took the opportunity to make sure everything, from the lighting to the sound, was in top shape.

The crowd was entertained by rock and roll performances and the Catholic Central High School band.

When Kennedy finally arrived, spectators jumped to their feet as the melody of “Hail to the Chief” filled the building.

Mayor Cavanaugh welcomed Kennedy, and introduced Ferency and Williams. In their speeches, Ferency and Williams spoke highly of Kennedy.

According to The Varsity News, Ferency called Kennedy “a man that brings into the arena of politics a breath of fresh air.”

Ferency spoke of Kennedy’s courage, and of being honored to hear him.

Williams talked about how he had followed Kennedy’s lead in caring for “those less fortunate than ourselves.”

Upon taking his spot behind a bank of microphones, Kennedy said that he had come to Michigan because of his great respect for Williams.

He mentioned that his brother, the late president, had a large amount of confidence in Williams.

Kennedy gave several examples of why he supported Williams for U.S. Senate, and went on to mention his support for Ferency as governor.

Kennedy’s speech was lighthearted and humorous.

Ever eloquent, Kennedy quoted playwright George Bernard Shaw, and jokingly referred to himself as a “real-life Horatio Alger story.”

Kennedy’s support for Ferency and Williams turned out to be in vain as both lost their races less than two weeks later. Ferency fell to Republican Governor George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, and Williams lost to Senator Robert Griffin.

But their defeat couldn’t change the fact that Bobby Kennedy had visited the campus.

His visit would resonate historically and even more powerfully twenty months later, when after winning the California primary in his bid to become president, Kennedy was assassinated. 

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