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Family of Robert F. Kennedy Rethinks His Place at Library


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Family of Robert F. Kennedy Rethinks His Place at Library

By ADAM CLYMER and DON VAN NATTA Jr.

The New York Times

July 12, 2011

WASHINGTON — As archivists prepare to make public 63 boxes of Robert F. Kennedy’s papers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, his family members are having second thoughts about where they should be housed and are considering moving them elsewhere because they believe that the presidential library has not done enough to honor the younger brother’s legacy.

Many of the papers, dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, are classified as secret or top secret. There are also 2,300 other boxes covering every stage of Robert Kennedy’s life, including his years as a United States senator and attorney general, most of which have already been opened for research.

But for decades, his family has refused to sign over title to the papers to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and is now talking openly about the possibility of finding a permanent home for them elsewhere. The family is also having Sotheby’s appraise the papers.

“There is a very large building, and there is a remembrance of President Kennedy and there’s one for Senator Edward Kennedy,” said former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, a son of Robert Kennedy, describing the presidential library that opened in 1979 and an adjacent construction site for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. “But there is nothing out there for Robert Kennedy.”

The presidential library — where many members of the Kennedy family, including Edward, believed the papers should remain — did offer last year to name a new 30,000-square-foot wing for Robert Kennedy if the family would donate the papers. The almost-finished wing has a classroom, a staging area for exhibits and storage for artifacts like Jacqueline Kennedy’s gowns and additional papers.

The family refused. Joseph Kennedy scoffed at the proposal, saying in a recent interview, “They offered to put the name on a hallway.”

The decision to open the 63 boxes, held in secret for nearly four decades, was reached on March 1 after years of efforts by library officials and others to persuade Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, to give control of his papers to the library.

Though some historians are eager to see the new documents, Thomas J. Putnam, the library director, sought to dim speculation that they contained historical bombshells. “I think they are going to be of high interest to researchers,” Mr. Putnam said, “but I don’t think that there is going to be anything that will completely change the stories that have been written by other historians.”

Archivists are now organizing and declassifying the papers, which have sat unseen in a climate-controlled vault while Mrs. Kennedy had talked of expecting to get millions of dollars from selling some of them, said two longtime family friends who discussed the family’s affairs on the condition of anonymity.

In 2004, Mrs. Kennedy initiated discussions about donating the papers to George Washington University if it would establish a center honoring her husband’s memory and causes, several people involved in the discussions said.

No money would have gone to her. But that effort foundered after the university’s president at the time, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, asked Senator Edward M. Kennedy to finance it through a budget earmark for “a few million dollars,” Mr. Trachtenberg recalled. The senator, who wanted the papers to remain at the presidential library, refused the request, Mr. Trachtenberg said.

Robert Kennedy’s papers are now being appraised by Sotheby’s, which has long ties to the Kennedy family, two people with direct knowledge of the confidential arrangements said. But an appraisal is not necessarily an indication of a planned sale; an appraisal is also required to establish their value for tax purposes if they are to be claimed as a charitable donation or passed on through an inheritance.

Joseph Kennedy, who served in the House from 1987 to 1999, said in a recent interview, “There is certainly no plan to sell anything from this collection at this time.” He called seeing the papers permanently housed at the Kennedy Library “the ultimate hope and desire of my family.”

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s first child, said her brother was speaking “for the family.”

Joseph Kennedy, the eldest son, also said: “Could there be a situation where we decide to sell a document or two? Sure, I suppose.” But he said there was “no need” to sell any of the papers now. “My mother is fine,” Mr. Kennedy said. “She may not run a hedge fund, but most Americans would not mind being in her shoes.”

Ethel Kennedy, 83, received $8.25 million in December 2009 when she sold Hickory Hill, the family estate in McLean, Va.

In the interview, Joseph Kennedy emphasized that while the family would prefer to keep his father’s papers at the presidential library, for which his father helped raise money before he was assassinated in 1968, “that is not an automatic.”

“There are other institutions and organizations that may well have an interest,” he said. “I have not contacted any of them. And they have not contacted me. There has been no discussion with anyone else, as of yet. I am also saying that I believe it is my responsibility to have those discussions in the future, the near future.”

But he maintained that “wherever they end up being housed, there will be an insistence by my family that the public and scholars have access to the original documents.”

Tension between Robert Kennedy’s family and the library goes back at least two decades. In February 1991, a new meeting facility was dedicated there and named for Stephen Smith, husband of Jean Kennedy Smith and brother-in-law to John, Robert and Edward Kennedy. Mr. Smith was a presidential campaign manager for Robert and Edward, was close to Edward after Robert’s death, and took a lead role in the development of the library.

Paul G. Kirk Jr., the longtime chairman of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, recalled “at the time that the Smith Center was dedicated, they had a kind of a big gala celebration and so forth, and Ethel didn’t react positively, put it that way.”

Joseph Kennedy said there was no doubt that his family had rights to his father’s papers. While ownership of papers from Robert Kennedy’s years at the Justice Department might be disputed under the Presidential Records Act, the National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, which administers the library, was unwilling to argue about it.

Gary M. Stern, general counsel at NARA, said, “We have been operating jointly on that presumption that these materials in their entirety would be donated to the Kennedy Library, and that to the extent there is any question about ownership, it doesn’t need to be addressed if they are all going to be donated to the Kennedy Library anyway.”

The effort to place the papers at George Washington University came about when the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, also located in Washington, was struggling financially to maintain its international programs.

According to Jack Siggins, the university librarian, George Washington was approached by representatives of Ethel Kennedy and her daughter Kerry Kennedy, who is now president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, as the foundation is now known.

The university developed a plan to set up a center named for him, Mr. Siggins said. It would maintain the center’s existing human rights programs, combining them with elements of the university, and the library would also archive and maintain his papers. Ethel and Kerry Kennedy would be chairwomen of its advisory committee.

Besides Senator Kennedy’s unwillingness to help, Mr. Siggins said, the plan failed because “they really wanted some kind of a special place, maybe even a building, a separate area where they could put these things and set up this R.F.K. Memorial.” The university could offer only two or three offices.

Despite Mrs. Kennedy’s occasional talk of hoping to receive millions for the papers, she never sought money for herself either from George Washington, Mr. Trachtenberg said, or from the library, Mr. Putnam said.

The new material from the 63 boxes should be available to the public in six months to a year, Mr. Putnam said.

Scholars welcomed the news. Peter Kornbluh, a specialist on Cuba at the National Security Archive here, said that when the papers are opened, “I will try to be the first in line if I have to stand in front of the library all night long.” He added, “This is one of the few troves of history yet to be put into the public view.”

Douglas Brinkley, an author and professor of history at Rice University, says he hopes the Kennedy Library finds a way to properly honor Robert Kennedy’s legacy. “Short of there being a Robert F. Kennedy Library, his personal papers should be part of the Kennedy Library,” Mr. Brinkley said. “In that spirit, the Kennedy Library needs to do a lot more for R.F.K.”

He added, “I think Robert F. Kennedy inspired generations of Americans into politics. I believe R.F.K. was as big a figure in history as John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. But no matter what is done, you will always stand in the shadow of a brother who was president.”

Adam Clymer reported from Washington, and Don Van Natta Jr. from Miami.

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''Many of the papers, dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, are classified as secret or top secret. There are also 2,300 other boxes covering every stage of Robert Kennedy's life, including his years as a United States senator and attorney general, most of which have already been opened for research.''

Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights : cuba, vietnam, and Civil Rights, ...

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''Many of the papers, dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, are classified as secret or top secret. There are also 2,300 other boxes covering every stage of Robert Kennedy's life, including his years as a United States senator and attorney general, most of which have already been opened for research.''

Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights : cuba, vietnam, and Civil Rights, ...

Documents created by RFK while he was Attorney General of the USA are public property, and the JFK Act should have covered them all, but apparently no one really wants to know how RFK's official daybook agenda for an entire year went missing, as did one of the offical White House photographers AF1 photos, or the AF1 radio tapes.

How and why JFK assassination records were destroyed or are missing or still being wrongfully withheld is an issue that can still be addressed by Congressional Oversight, but nobody wants to do it.

BK

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Thanks so much for sharing this, Douglas. I thought I knew a lot about the Kennedys, but I had never heard about any friction between the families of JFK, RFK and Teddy, regarding this issue. Very interesting stuff.

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......I thought I knew a lot about the Kennedys, but I had never heard about any friction between the families of JFK, RFK and Teddy, regarding this issue. Very interesting stuff.

Kennedy family divided over Mass. family compound

By David Klepper

Associated Press

July 14, 2011

Excerpt:

HYANNIS PORT, Mass. (AP) — For the Kennedys, the family compound has long been a place to relax, to celebrate and to grieve. Members of America's most glamorous political dynasty played touch football on the lawn, walked the beach and sailed the sound. The cluster of white-clapboard homes on Cape Cod served as the summer White House when Jack was president.

It was there that the family retreated after his assassination. And it was there that Caroline held her wedding reception and Ted spent his final days.

Now, as the Kennedys gather for another wedding there, the family is divided over the future of the compound.

On Friday, Patrick Kennedy, a former eight-term congressman from Rhode Island and the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, will marry New Jersey schoolteacher Amy Petitgout in a small, private ceremony presided over by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. At the same time, the Kennedys are split over what is to become of this Camelot-by-the sea.

Sen. Edward Kennedy's widow, Vicki Kennedy, and his three children plan to transfer the main house at the compound to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, perhaps for use as a scholarly retreat or a museum.

Some Kennedys have raised concerns about those plans, according to a family associate who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. They are worried about protecting the privacy of family members who will continue to live on the grounds, maintaining the overall character of the compound and ensuring access to the beachfront property, the family associate said.

Full story: http://hosted2.ap.org/apdefault/3d281c11a96b4ad082fe88aa0db04305/Article_2011-07-14-US-Kennedy-Compound/id-dc5239b6891a4f889f99524f616da4b9

Edited by Michael Hogan
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