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50 Years After RFK's Death, Family And Admirers Gather In Arlington, Va., To Remember His Legacy04:03
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Marine Corps Sgts. wait to direct attendees to their seats at the Celebration of the Life of Robert F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where the Navy veteran is buried. (Cliff Owen/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Marine Corps Sgts. wait to direct attendees to their seats at the Celebration of the Life of Robert F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where the Navy veteran is buried. (Cliff Owen/AP)

On the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, family and friends held a service at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to remember his legacy.

The service, which was held Wednesday at the burial site of the former U.S. senator and 1968 Democratic presidential candidate, was called a "Joyful Celebration of the Life of Robert Francis Kennedy" — and there was plenty of joy, both emotional and spiritual.

Gospel music echoed across the memorial amphitheater not far from Kennedy's grave. Father Matt Malone delivered the invocation, and he reflected what many of the speakers said.

"Bobby Kennedy still lives in millions of hearts that seek a newer world," he said.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend arrives for the "Celebration of the Life of Robert F. Kennedy" at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington on Wednesday. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend arrives for the "Celebration of the Life of Robert F. Kennedy" at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington on Wednesday. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest of Robert and Ethel Kennedy's children, welcomed the crowd. She was just a teenager when her father was killed at age 42.

"It was very painful to lose my father," she told the crowd. "And yet a half a century later, each of you have come here — many traveling from far, as far away as Italy, Ireland and Australia. Thank you for remembering."

Kennedy Townsend talked about her father's love of Shakespeare. Her father's room was right next to hers, and she said she would wake up to Shakespeare and his grunts as he listened to readings while doing push-ups.

Massachusetts Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, who was not yet born when his grandfather was assassinated, talked about his grandfather's work with farm workers and civil rights leaders.

"That humanity anchored my grandfather," he said. "It carried him from the fields of farm workers, to the hollows of Appalachia, from the sprawling reservations of Indian country, to the tenements of Bed-Stuy, where in the shadows, in the background, in the quiet spaces that rarely sought — or got — attention, Robert Kennedy found the arteries of our American heart."

Some of the people RFK worked with on those causes read passages of his speeches.

Dolores Huerta, 88, co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, and was on the stage with Kennedy the night he was shot. She read from the speech he delivered in 1966 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

" 'We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people before God, before the law, and in the councils of government,' " she read. " '... We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.' "

In this June 7, 1966 photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is surrounded by students and newsmen as he tours Stellenbosch, South Africa during five-day visit to South Africa as the guest of the multiracial National Union of South African students. (Dennis Lee Royle/AP file photo)
In this June 7, 1966 photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is surrounded by students and newsmen as he tours Stellenbosch, South Africa during five-day visit to South Africa as the guest of the multiracial National Union of South African students. (Dennis Lee Royle/AP file photo)

The ceremony did hearken back to Kennedy's words, but some of them were voiced by young leaders of today.

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, is now one of the leaders of the March for Our Lives movement calling for stricter gun laws. She also read from Kennedy's 1966 speech in Cape Town.

" 'First, is the danger of futility: the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of this world's ills — against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence,' " she read. " 'Yet many of the world's greatest movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man.' "

Midway through the day's remembrance of Robert Kennedy, country music star Kenny Chesney took to the stage and performed Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

Chesney introduced the song by saying RFK carried the promise of the song in his heart until the day he died.

This segment aired on June 6, 2018.

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Alex Ashlock Twitter Producer, Here & Now
Alex Ashlock has been a producer for Here & Now since 2005. He started his WBUR career as senior producer of Morning Edition in 1998.

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