For years, the family of Robert F. Kennedy has jealously guarded the papers from his years as his brother’s attorney general, frustrating scholars and fueling conspiracy theories among some Kennedy family critics. Fortunately, RFK’s descendants and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library have seen past their differences and agreed to open most of the records to public scrutiny.
The records have long been stored at the Kennedy Library, but RFK’s widow, Ethel, and some of her children had sought to maintain family control over which ones would be shared with the public — to the annoyance of library officials. But on Thursday, the last of Robert Kennedy’s papers as attorney general were made available to researchers. In total, the collection takes up 62 boxes — four of which are deemed personal and therefore closed, according to the Kennedy Library website.
An independent archivist, not the Kennedy family, decided which papers were personal. According to Tom Putnam, the director of the library, they generally involved notes about family members, including some who are still alive. Putnam said he hopes that some day these files, too, will be opened to the public. He also says there are documents scattered within the rest of the boxes that are categorized as classified, but researchers will be able to appeal to federal agencies for permission to see them. These decisions are in line with library policies.
The papers are a treasure-trove of previously secret information — containing files on everything from Operation Mongoose, a CIA plan to assassinate Fidel Castro, to civil rights battles in the American South. Both the library and the family should be applauded for opening them to the public.