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RFK Wins Huge Ovation in Deep South

May 26, 1964 - Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy received a thunderous ovation from several hundred white college students today after making a plea for passage of the civil rights bill.

The ovation was one of several he received during a four-hour visit to West Georgia College, a small state-supported institution 60 miles west of Atlanta and 15 miles from the Alabama line.

The Attorney General dedicated an interfaith chapel that has been named for his brother, President Kennedy. Afterward, he spent 40 minutes answering questions from students in the auditorium. More than 1,000 crowded in to hear him.

One of the first questions, put by a male student, was: “In what way will the public accommodations section of the civil rights bill affect property rights?”

“If it did what Governor George Wallace describes, I would be against the bill,” Kennedy answered. “It means if a place is open to the general public, it has to treat all of the public equally.”

The Attorney General said that six American Negroes had been killed in service in South Vietnam. He said one had been buried in Arlington Cemetery. But when his widow returned from Arlington, Kennedy said, she did not know what restaurants and what motels would serve her.

“This is a continuous insult,” Kennedy said. “That part of the legislation is long overdue. Yet some states won’t deal with it. Mississippi and Alabama are not going to do it. Therefore, they [Negroes] are entitled to have the Federal Government do it.”

At this point, the audience broke into loud applause that lasted almost a minute. During the questions that followed, the same warmth prevailed, and Kennedy was almost mobbed when he left the building to return by plane to Washington.

It was the Attorney General’s first trip South since President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas Nov. 22.

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