“Ellen Meacham uses her superb talents as a historian and writer to record a transcendent but often overlooked (and sometimes forgotten) event, in our state’s conflicted history. It was the visit of Senator Robert Kennedy to Mississippi in the spring of 1967 to confront the grim face of hunger in the Mississippi Delta. It represented an epiphany for him but, even more compellingly, for so many of us white Mississippians who were around at the time.”

William F. Winter

Former governor of Mississippi

Ellen Meacham is a Tennessee native and longtime resident of Mississippi, a career journalist and journalism instructor at her alma mater, The University of Mississippi. She is the author of the forthcoming book Delta Epiphany: RFK in Mississippi (University Press of Mississippi, 2017). 

Learn more about Meacham here, and more about her original reporting on the people, politics and significance of this pivotal moment in American history here. Or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Ellen Meacham

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy visits the Delta in 1967. Courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library.

Courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library.

Delta Epiphany: RFK in Mississippi

By Ellen Meacham

Robert F. Kennedy kneels in a crumbling shack in Mississippi.  Rice spills across the dirty floor, and a toddler, small for his age and clad in little more than a diaper, picks listlessly at the crumbs. “Hi, hi baby,” Kennedy says, trying to coax a response from the child. Kennedy touches the child’s distended stomach and then strokes his face and hair. After several minutes with little response from the child, the senator walks out the back door, wiping away tears.

This encounter, from April of 1967, is the emotional heart of my book, Delta Epiphany: RFK in Mississippi, and helped to change the course of Kennedy’s life. My book digs deeper into the impact of the visit on Kennedy and his ill-fated decision to run for president in 1968, a factor that has been obscured until now by the enormity of the Vietnam War. My work also places his visit into the context of the times, including an examination of the War on Poverty and the evolution of the civil rights movement to a focus on economic issues.

However, what also sets my book apart is that I have done something no one else has done thus far. I have found and interviewed the children that he encountered there, including the baby whose suffering moved him so.  We know, sadly, what happened to Robert Kennedy, but this book also introduces us to three of the children, including the baby on the floor in the shack in Cleveland who moved Kennedy so. Delta Epiphany finishes their stories and offers a look at the life for people in the Delta today.