Robert Kennedy’s Westport Connection

Robert F. Kennedy has long been identified with Massachusetts and New York.  Tomorrow, the former attorney general and slain presidential candidate will be featured in a PBS documentary whose roots lie right here.

RFK in the Land of Apartheid:  Ripples of Hope” (Channel 13, 10 p.m.) is produced and directed by Westonite Larry Shore, a film and media studies professor at Hunter College.

The film’s outreach director, John Suggs, lives — and serves on the RTM — in Westport.

Featuring never-before-seen archival footage, and interviews in South Africa and the United States, the film tells the story of Senator Kennedy’s influential 1966 visit to South Africa, during the worst years of apartheid.  It also explores the role of individual South Africans who challenged the oppression and made a commitment to change.

As with so many local creative endeavors, there’s a Westport Library connection.

More than 6 years ago, when Shore and Suggs were struggling for funding, they received vital assistance from library director Maxine Bleiweis and her staff.

She arranged an early public screening of the basic concepts and footage of the film.  It was a long shot for attracting money — but it worked.

To thank the library, Suggs and Shore returned in December 2009 for one fo the 1st public screenings of the final cut.   The event was co-sponsored by TEAM Westport.

Ethel Kennedy, Larry Shore and John Suggs, at the film's screening in Washington.

Since then the film has been shown all over the world — including the JFK Presidential Library in Boston; Washington, DC for dignitaries including Ethel Kennedy; the UN’s Geneva office, and throughout South Africa.

Closer to home, the film served as the 2010-2011 official common “text” for the students at Fairfield University.

Tomorrow night — thanks in part to Larry Shore, John Suggs, their neighbors and their library — the entire country can learn about this important, long-forgotten part of Robert Kennedy’s legacy.

10 responses to “Robert Kennedy’s Westport Connection

  1. A. David Wunsch

    A nice story, but it raises the question of whether a university should have a film as a common text.

    A. David Wunsch
    Staples 1956

    • Princeton '82

      I have no earthly idea why you would object to a film being a common, supplemental or adjacent text to a class??? It is an absolute wonderful teaching tool.

  2. Wendy Crowther

    Another great example of how “Westport Meets the World.” Thanks, Dan, for always finding those connections, big and small, and telling us about them.

  3. Well done Larry and John. I saw the original 20 minute footage. So glad you persevered. Looking forward to PBS tonight !

  4. It would be great if Staples High School showed this movie, as part of their history curriculm. This is an important story to be told.

  5. The Dude Abides

    One of the truly great stories I have heard about RFK is one told by John Glenn. When I asked the good Senator recently if he still had friends on Capitol Hill, he responded: “In the mid-60’s, we used to sit around the Kennedy compound in Virginia. Ethel was sort of goofy and one time she asked Bobby if he could name 6 pallbearers who would be willing to perform such services at his funeral. Bobby got to 5 individuals, including me, and ran out of names. The moral of the story is that you don’t make many friends in the Senate.” Three years later, Glenn would not only perform such duties for his friend but was dispatched from Los Angeles following the RFK assassination to inform the Kennedy children of their father’s death. “Toughest thing I have ever had to do,” the former astronaut commented.

  6. Staples Student

    As a high school student, I would love to see this film in class. It depicts a significant piece of history that should definitely be taught in school.

  7. After RFK was the only one in the White House to volunteer and complete a 50 mile walk for charity in 1962, President Kennedy said of his brother: “He is either of great courage or very stupid.” I think we know the answer. Great PBS special. Thanks Professor for the heads up.

  8. Thanks for the heads-up, Dan. Fabulous piece! I was actually a Gene McCarthy guy in ’68 (went door-to-door in Westport, as a matter of fact–now THAT was an eye-opener!), but the RFK piece made me feel a little better about him.