New Film Shows RFK’s Anti-Apartheid Stand

Hunter professors' film about Robert Kennedy's 1966 South Africa trip includes footage of him with Chief Albert Lutuli, right, and greeting crowds, left.
WATCH: A new documentary by Hunter College professors Larry Shore and Tami Gold explores Robert Kennedy's 1966 visit to racially divided South Africa.
In 1966, during the worst years of apartheid, New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy took a surprise five-day trip to South Africa to speak out for equal rights and justice. This often overlooked trip is the subject of the documentary "RFK In the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope" by Hunter College professors Larry Shore and Tami Gold.

The pair combined archival footage with new interviews in South Africa and the United States. The film follows Kennedy from the site of his "Ripple of Hope" speech at Cape Town University to his meeting with the banned president of the African National Congress and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chief Albert Lutuli.

The meeting was controversial and proved to be a major embarrassment to the apartheid regime. In the film, the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy talks about how deeply moved his brother was by the encounter. "My brother described him [Lutuli] as one of the inspiring figures of our time."

Shore, a native of Johannesburg, was a teenager at the time of Kennedy's visit. He immigrated to the United States in 1973, but like many people from South Africa, the visit never left him. "This was something in his memory that he shared with me and other people," says Gold.

When Shore searched the archives and saw there was very little in the United States about the meeting, he went to South Africa. What he brought back was never before seen raw film footage.

The filmmakers found that many younger people do not know what apartheid is. "I think the best way to explain apartheid is to compare it to this country," Shore says. "It was once described as Jim Crow on steroids."

But it was different than Jim Crow, says Gold "because [in South Africa] you had a white minority."

The film was screened at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Museum in Boston in January and has received the support of the Kennedy family. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Kennedy's oldest child, and Albertina Lutuli, Lutuli's daughter and member of the South African parliament, and Margaret Marshall, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and Robert Kennedy's student host in South Africa, attended the screening and were part of a panel discussion.