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Remembering Bobby Kennedy: Berl Schwartz

Bobby Kennedy and Berl Schwartz
Courtesy photo
The Daily Pennsylvanian
Bobby Kennedy signs a copy of his book 'To Seek A Newer World' for Berl Schwarz in Philadelphia, April 2, 1968

Fifty years ago today, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. For many, he seemed on his way to the office that his brother, John Kennedy, held when he was shot and killed five years earlier. Lansing City Pulse owner and publisher Berl Schwartz looks back at his encounters with the Bobby Kennedy campaign and the Senator himself.

March 16th, 1968. Amidst the national turmoil over the Vietnam war, Robert Kennedy announced he will challenge fellow Democrat, President Lyndon Johnson. A couple of weeks later, college student Berl Schwartz would cross Bobby Kennedy’s path in Philadelphia. 

Schwartz was working at his college newspaper, alone on a Saturday, when he fielded a call from an advance man for the Kennedy presidential campaign. The Senator was coming to Philadelphia to campaign in the Pennsylvania primary, and was looking for a location. Schwartz wound up helping the campaign arrange a speech at the famous basketball arena The Polestra. At the event, he introduced Cong. Bill Green, who introduced Kennedy. 

"Afterward, very nervously, I asked him as he was absorbing the applause if he would sign a book," Schwartz recalls. "He said 'wait, wait, wait.' He kept looking at the crowd, and then finally, he said 'yeah, I'll sign it." As you might expect, Schwartz still has that autographed copy of “To Seek A Newer World.”

Before long, LBJ would shockingly withdraw from the race.

As his bid for the White House gathered steam, on June 5th, 1968, Kennedy was shot after winning the California Democratic primary. He would die about 26 hours later. Berl Schwartz was watching the TV coverage that night. "I immediately got a phone call from a friend of mine who was as conservative as I was probably liberal at that time," Schwartz remembers. "He knew how much Kennedy meant to me. Yeah, I remember it well."

Schwartz was invited to represent the college press at Robert Kennedy’s funeral, notable for many reasons, including brother Ted Kennedy’s eulogy.

Schwartz rode the train that carried Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. "You don't think of these things when you're dealing with such national figures," concludes Schwartz, "but the sight of seeing Ted Kennedy take dirt and crumble it on his brother's coffin is something that I'll never forget."

Read more of Berl Schwartz’s Bobby Kennedy story in this week’s edition of his paper, Lansing City Pulse. Schwartz will speak at the City Pulse Book Club meeting tonight at 7 in the Grand River Room of the Gannon Building on the Lansing Community College campus. The book is “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” by Chris Matthews.

Scott Pohl has maintained an on-call schedule reporting for WKAR following his retirement after 36 years on the air at the station.
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