Barwick, KY · An Email from William Greider on RFK's Visit to Barwick School
Dear John -- I love your idea. Boy, does it stir memory. As maybe my pieces
reflected, there was a kind of media circus quality to RFK's tour. Reporters
more sophisticated (and cynical) than I assured me he was merely prepping for
his as yet unannounced presidential candidacy. Probably so, but you couldn't
imagine any politician slogging through all those hollows and decayed coal
camps without some kind of deep conviction.
I remember in particular one moment that I may not even mentioned in my copy
but still burns freshly in my mind. We wound up, with some difficulty, at a
remote one-room schoolhouse. The caravan dropped down into a mountain cove,
causing great excitment. Kennedy led the way into the schoolroom, followed by
the herd of reporters and cameras. Inside, the children were something like
terrified, frozen to their little school desks, too nervous even to look at
the greart man directly. Kennedy grasped the grotesque quality of the
moment. He had come to cheer them up, offer words of hope. They were in deep
So the senator made no remarks. He shook hands maybe with the teacher, but
then moved wordlessly among the rows of desks, pausing beside a child here
and there, stooping down and taking the child's hand, sometimes murmuring a
few words that none of us could hear. It was a powerful moment, this famous
man communicating to these scared children with his physical humanity alone.
He did that for a time, then departed. The caravan rumbled off.
I told this story some years ago at the RFK awards dinner (I was serving as
chairman of the journalism awards). It was a glittering sit-down dinner in
Washington and I'm not sure how many of the "journalists" got the meaning.
My other thought: RFK Jr.is an activist now, working enviro issues but also
the rural poverty that is connected to hog factories and other obscenities. I
have never met him, but I am told by friends he is the real thing (unlike
some others in his generation of Kennedys). His face speaks eerily of his
father's, the eyes, I think.
I wrote a reflection for the C-J after that trip about "Kennedy magic" and
how the folks in eastern Kentucky surely need some. Alas, who knew that the
country was growing weary of such romantic themes?
I wish you good luck and great success. Let me know if I can help in any
William Greider is National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation.
In 1968 he covered Kennedy's visit for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
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