Justice Rising: Robert Kennedy’s America in Black and White

Belknap. Jun. 2021. 528p. ISBN 9780674737457. $39.95. SOC SCI
Robert F. Kennedy (1925–68) made civil rights his top priority during his years in politics, as attorney general in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy; as a New York senator; and as a presidential contender in 1968, writes Sullivan (history, Univ. of South Carolina; Lift Every Voice). She proposes that although Kennedy’s time in the political arena was short, his legacy as an advocate for the underserved continues to resonate. Sullivan’s deeply researched account has a “you-are-there” feel because of her skillful use of contemporary magazine and newspaper articles and an abundance of oral histories housed at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. She reveals that the relationship between Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King was respectful but distant, and that Kennedy ran for president because he wanted to challenge Lyndon B. Johnson over civil rights as much as for the stalemate in Vietnam. Notably, the author shows how Kennedy successfully drew in people who were otherwise overlooked in mainstream politics, including young Black students. Related books that illuminate Kennedy’s political skill are Matthew Algeo’s All This Marvelous Potential and Larry Tye’s Bobby Kennedy.
VERDICT This is the best work to date on Kennedy’s civil rights record; it is a must for all historians of the 1960s, and for activists working for a more just society.
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