Justice Rising: Brilliant and timely biography of Robert Kennedy

Book review: Patricia Sullivan’s account shows Kennedy addressed racism only because issue was forced upon him

‘Once Robert Kennedy  came to see racism as a problem, he worked tirelessly to address it.’ Photograph: Getty

‘Once Robert Kennedy came to see racism as a problem, he worked tirelessly to address it.’ Photograph: Getty

Patricia Sullivan’s brilliant and beautifully written biography of Robert Kennedy could hardly be more timely. Focusing on Kennedy’s engagement with the African American freedom struggle, it arrives in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that demanded renewed public attention to institutional racism in the US and elsewhere. A privileged white man who came to embrace the cause of racial justice as his own, Kennedy offers a model of how to be an anti-racist ally.

Though Justice Rising is highly sympathetic to Kennedy, it hardly reduces the civil rights struggle to the actions of heroic white men. In fact, it shows that Kennedy addressed racism only because the issue was forced upon him by a mass social movement.

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