Library could lose RFK papers

Family wants legacy honored

By Adam Clymer and Don Van Natta Jr.
New York Times / July 12, 2011

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WASHINGTON - As archivists prepare to make public 63 boxes of Robert F. Kennedy’s papers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, his family members are considering moving them elsewhere because they believe that the presidential library has not done enough to honor the younger brother’s legacy.

Many of the papers, dealing with Cuba, Vietnam, and civil rights, are classified as secret or top secret. There are also an additional 2,300 boxes covering every stage of Robert Kennedy’s life, including his years as a US senator and attorney general, most of which have been opened for research.

But for decades, his family has refused to sign over title to the papers to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and is now talking openly about the possibility of finding a permanent home for them elsewhere. The family is also having Sotheby’s appraise the papers.

“There is a very large building, and there is a remembrance of President Kennedy and there’s one for Senator Edward Kennedy,’’ said former representative Joseph P. Kennedy II, a son of Robert Kennedy, describing the presidential library that opened in 1979 and an adjacent construction site for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the US Senate. “But there is nothing out there for Robert Kennedy.’’

The presidential library, where many members of the Kennedy family believed the papers should remain, did offer last year to name a new 30,000-square-foot wing for Robert Kennedy if the family would donate the papers. The almost-finished wing has a classroom, a staging area for exhibits, and storage for such artifacts as Jacqueline Kennedy’s gowns and additional papers.

The family refused. Joseph Kennedy scoffed at the proposal, saying in a recent interview, “they offered to put the name on a hallway.’’

The decision to open the 63 boxes, held in secret for nearly four decades, was reached March 1 after years of efforts by library officials and others to persuade Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, to give control of his papers to the library.

Though some historians are eager to see the new documents, Thomas J. Putnam, the library director, sought to dim speculation that they contained historical bombshells. “I think they are going to be of high interest to researchers,’’ Putnam said, “but I don’t think that there is going to be anything that will completely change the stories that have been written by other historians.’’

Archivists are organizing and declassifying the papers, which have sat unseen in a vault while Ethel Kennedy had talked of expecting to get millions of dollars from selling some of them, said two longtime family friends who discussed the family’s affairs on the condition of anonymity.

In 2004, Ethel Kennedy initiated discussions about donating the papers to George Washington University if it would establish a center honoring her husband’s memory and causes, several people involved in the discussions said. But the effort foundered.

Robert Kennedy’s papers are being appraised by Sotheby’s, but an appraisal is not necessarily an indication of a planned sale; an appraisal is also required to establish their value for tax purposes if they are to be claimed as a charitable donation or passed on through an inheritance.

Joseph Kennedy, who served in the House from 1987 to 1999, said in a recent interview, “there is certainly no plan to sell anything from this collection at this time.’’

He called seeing the papers permanently housed at the Kennedy Library “the ultimate hope and desire of my family.’’

The new material from the 63 boxes should be available to the public in six months to a year, Putnam said. top stories on Twitter

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