Apr 2, 2018
KGNU's Claudia Cragg (@KGNUClaudia) speaks with Ellen B.
Meacham (@ebmeacham) about her new book. On 10 April 1967,
a year before his run for president, Senator Robert F. Kennedy
knelt in a crumbling shack in Mississippi trying to coax a response
from a listless child. The toddler sat picking at dried rice and
beans spilled over the dirt floor as Kennedy, former US attorney
general and brother to a president, touched the boy's distended
stomach and stroked his face and hair. After several minutes with
little response, the senator walked out the back door, wiping away
In Delta Epiphany: Robert F. Kennedy in Mississippi, Meacham tells the story of Kennedy's visit to the Delta, while also examining the forces of history, economics, and politics that shaped the lives of the children he met in Mississippi in 1967 and the decades that followed. The book includes thirty-seven powerful photographs, a dozen published here for the first time. Kennedy's visit to the Mississippi Delta as part of a Senate subcommittee investigation of poverty programs lasted only a few hours, but Kennedy, the people he encountered, Mississippi, and the nation felt the impact of that journey for much longer.
His visit and its aftermath crystallized many of the domestic
issues that later moved Kennedy toward his candidacy for the
presidency. Upon his return to Washington, Kennedy immediately
began seeking ways to help the children he met on his visit;
however, his efforts were frustrated by institutional obstacles and
blocked by powerful men who were indifferent and, at times, hostile
to the plight of poor black children.
Sadly, we know what happened to Kennedy, but this book also introduces us to three of the children he met on his visit, including the baby on the floor, and finishes their stories. Kennedy talked about what he had seen in Mississippi for the remaining fourteen months of his life. His vision for America was shaped by the plight of the hungry children he encountered there.