Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

Charisma Amidst The Chaos

On March 18, 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy opened his presidential campaign with speeches at KU and K-State. The charismatic New York Democrat gave a morning address in Manhattan, then fled to Lawrence’s airport when the University Daily Kansan reported that “an all but swooning group of freshmen women” greeted him on the runway.

Classes were canceled for Kennedy’s appearance, and the student reporter noted that supporters mobbed the candidate along Jayhawk Boulevard “for a glimpse of the famous haircut,” then jammed Allen Field House. A throng estimated at 20,000 scrunched onto bleachers and spilled onto the basketball floor where RFK took center court.

In a speech interrupted 38 times by applause, cheers and catcalls, Kennedy tackled national issues including the Vietnam War and student protests. The newspaper reported that Kennedy startled his audience by saying, “The more riots that come out of our college campuses, the better the world for tomorrow.”

Kennedy then acknowledged that the quote was not his, but from the pen of the late William Allen White, ‘1890, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Emporia Gazette.

Just weeks later, Kennedy was assassinated. Violent clashes over Vietnam and civil rights soon enflamed Mount Oread and the nation. But on that buoyant afternoon in Lawrence, the young, doomed candidate offered up a Kansan’s words with hope that good might come from the chaos at hand.

Adapted from Kansas Alumni Magazine

Source Notes

A version of this article originally appeared in the October/November 1994 edition of Kansas Alumni.