On a fateful evening 50 years ago today, Cornelius Gallagher sat in his office when news came in that Robert F. Kennedy had been shot by a lone gunman in the kitchen of the hotel where the U.S. Senator had announced his victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary.
“Well, in a way, it was unbelievable that there were these shootings, and you didn’t know whether or not there was a powerful group behind them all,” said Gallagher, now New Jersey’s oldest living congressman at 97. “There were all kinds of theories, conspiracies.”
The swirl of assassinations that took place in the ‘60s, a time when Gallagher said the CIA and FBI were largely going unchecked, has left the congressman with doubts about the investigation into the younger Kennedy’s death, which came less than President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“I think those investigations were to calm the public rather than to find the facts,” Gallagher said, adding that he thought the death of longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ought to be reexamined.
Gallagher, like the senator’s son, Robert Kennedy Jr., and daughter, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, supports reopening the investigation into the presidential candidate’s assassination.
His memories of the Robert Kennedy have not been tied down to the man’s death.
Somewhat fondly, he called Robert Kennedy a strange man, citing his transformation from a communist hunter under Wisonsin Senator Joseph McCarthy into a fighter for civil rights pushed by a desire to help black Americans.
Gallagher recalled a meeting involving himself, President Kennedy and his brother. They were pushing to pass the Civil Rights act of 1964, which had been held up by opposition from Louisiana Rep. Hale Boggs.
The president informed Robert Kennedy that he’d be calling in Roy Cohn, who was Robert Kennedy’s boss when he worked under McCarthy, to help push the act, and the younger brother, then the U.S. Attorney General, “blew his top,” Gallagher said.
“Everybody had left the meeting. The president put his arm around me and said, ‘I love my brother, but he’s a cop at heart, and if he didn’t have an arrest by the end of the day, I think he’d arrest Rose,’” Gallagher said. “Rose was his mother.”
Editor’s Note: Cornelius Gallagher, 97, Democrat of Bayonne, represented Hudson County in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1959 to 1973. He was elected Hudson County Freeholder in 1953, and served as a Commissioner of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority from 1956 to 1958.