The event at the Kennedy Center this week for Senator Ted Kennedy reminded me of the time that Bobby Kennedy came to Ethiopia back in the 60s.
As I have written elsewhere, here is a little known story about Bobby Kennedy and the time he met up with PCVs in Asmara, Eritrea. We go back to the summer of ’66. Bobby had been to South Africa where he was a huge success with college students, and given his famous “Ripple of Hope Speech” that contains one of the most quoted paragraph in political speech making. The speech was written by Richard Goodwin and Adam Walinsky and delivered on June 6, 1966 in Cape Town.
The famous paragraph went this way: “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or stikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Traveling north, Bobby and his wife, Ethel, a few aides, and several press people from the U.S. arrived in Addis Ababa, and here Kennedy met with American officials, plus PCVs, on the lawn of the American Embassy, and early the next morning traveled to Asmara, Eritrea where the Ethopian Airlines plane touched down and there was another reception for Kennedy at the airport.
Invited to the airport were the ‘officials’ of the U.S. government stationed in Asmara [at the time we had an important military station in Asmara.] Meeting the senator were the heads of various in-country missions stationed in Asmara. Also invited to the early breakfast meeting/reception was the late George Blackmon, the APCD in Asmara, and a 1962-64 Ethiopian PCV.
When George arrived at the small Asmara airport he found a hand-full of PCVs clustred together outside of the building. They had biked out of town before teaching their morning classes in hopes of meeting Kennedy. A number of them were from New York, Kennedy’s home senate state. They told George that the guards wouldn’t let them inside to meet Kennedy. They weren’t on any official list of Americans. George, God bless him, told them to wait.
When Blackmon got inside he joined the reception line to shake hands with Kennedy. George was a big, likeable guy from Texas, over 6-6, outgoing and engaging. At the time he must have been 25 years old. When he shakes hands with Bobby, he tells Kennedy that a group of PCVs are outside the building and aren’t allowed inside to meet him. He tells Kennedy that they had biked out to see him and he asks Bobby if he might “just step outside for a moment” to say hello to the Volunteers.
Kennedy says, “take me to the Volunteers.”
So, George leads Bobby out of the reception, out of the airport building, out onto the lawn where Bobby sits down on the grass with the Volunteers and talks to them about being Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia while they wait for the plane to refuel. Kennedy leaves the ‘official Americans’ inside the building. Let me tell you: the U.S. Embassy folks were not happy!
And that was Bobby Kennedy. It’s another example of what the Kennedys thought of the Peace Corps.