'A terrible reflection on our society': Robert Kennedy sees poverty up close

In April 1967, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy took a fateful trip to the Mississippi Delta to investigate hunger and poverty among unemployed farm workers and their families. What he found was shocking — young children living in decrepit conditions who were on the verge of starvation.

Kennedy, who had been working on poverty issues since he was elected to the Senate in 1964, told aides he had never seen such horrific conditions even in developing nations, much less in the United States. The senator said he believed the nation had been woefully ignorant of hunger and demanded the country no longer turn a blind eye to the nation’s neediest. “I think it’s a terrible reflection on our society,” Kennedy said. “We are not doing what we should be doing in the country to deal with this problem.”

The trip would prove transformative to Kennedy, who devoted more of his Senate agenda to helping the Mississippi Delta and other communities in need. He would make the eradication of poverty a central plank of his 1968 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination — the one and only time a major candidate would focus on poverty in a campaign for the White House. But Kennedy would not live to fulfill his promise to help the residents of Mississippi. On June 5, 1968, he was shot and killed by an assassin in Los Angeles. (Holly Bailey/Yahoo News)

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<p>Sen. Robert F. Kennedy arrives at the Jackson, Miss., airport, for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy arrives at the Jackson, Miss., airport, for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Protesters picket the arrival of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy at the Jackson, Miss., airport for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Protesters picket the arrival of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy at the Jackson, Miss., airport for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Sen. Robert F. Kennedy sits in a U.S. Marshall car after his arrival at the Jackson, Miss., airport for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy sits in a U.S. Marshall car after his arrival at the Jackson, Miss., airport for an antipoverty hearing, April 10, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his tour of the Mississippi Delta, April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his tour of the Mississippi Delta, April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta near Greenville, April 11, 1967, with Marian Wright, second from right. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta near Greenville, April 11, 1967, with Marian Wright, second from right. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Members of the Dillard family in Cleveland, Miss., during Robert F. Kennedy’s visit in April 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Members of the Dillard family in Cleveland, Miss., during Robert F. Kennedy’s visit in April 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich)

<p>Kennedy in Cleveland, Miss., visits children from the Dillard family on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy in Cleveland, Miss., visits children from the Dillard family on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich)

<p>Kennedy and his aide, Peter Edelman (in glasses behind Kennedy), visit several homes in Cleveland, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy and his aide, Peter Edelman (in glasses behind Kennedy), visit several homes in Cleveland, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Dan Guravich)

<p>Kennedy visits the Freedom City cooperative farm near Greenville, Miss. (Photo: Dan Guravich) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy visits the Freedom City cooperative farm near Greenville, Miss. (Photo: Dan Guravich)

<p>Kennedy near Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy near Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Kennedy visiting a Head Start class near Jackson, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy visiting a Head Start class near Jackson, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: AP)

<p>Kennedy and Sen. Joseph Clark, in foreground with bow tie, tour a classroom in Greenville, Miss., April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy and Sen. Joseph Clark, in foreground with bow tie, tour a classroom in Greenville, Miss., April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Kennedy talks with students as he tours the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy talks with students as he tours the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Kennedy tours a classroom in Greenville, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy tours a classroom in Greenville, Miss., on April 11, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Sen. Robert Kennedy, far left, tours the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Sen. Robert Kennedy, far left, tours the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Kennedy talks with a student at the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy talks with a student at the Manpower Development and Training Center at Greenville, Miss., April 12, 1967. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

<p>Kennedy during his inspection of the antipoverty program in Greenville, Miss., April 11, 1967. (Photo: AP) </p>
Robert F. Kennedy in the Mississippi Delta

Kennedy during his inspection of the antipoverty program in Greenville, Miss., April 11, 1967. (Photo: AP)

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