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RFK’s family should release his papers

For years, the family of the late Robert F. Kennedy has jealously guarded his papers, insisting they represent only his personal communications. Now, the Globe’s Bryan Bender has reported that the trove of documents the family is keeping from public view actually contain papers relating to official business during his time as attorney general under his brother, John F. Kennedy, including possible covert activities.

It is time for them to become public.

Stored at the Kennedy Library, the RFK archive, which includes documents from the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, has been under the family’s control since an agreement made with the National Archives after RFK’s 1968 assassination. Those 62 boxes of papers could provide important insight into the decisions of that era. The Kennedy Library has long hoped to have the documents sorted and those that involve governmental matters made public. The Kennedy family, which has rarely granted any access to those papers, has dragged its feet.

One Kennedy family concern may be that the files could blemish the reputation of the former attorney general, who was allegedly involved with the administration’s schemes to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Another sticking point seems to be that RFK’s family hopes to obtain a tax deduction for any donation of the documents.


Ethel Kennedy, RFK’s widow, has put son Max Kennedy in charge of handling access. Max Kennedy referred questions to a business executive, who didn’t respond to Globe messages and e-mails.

More than four decades after Kennedy’s death, this is a ridiculous situation. His family understandably wants to keep personal family matters private. But they never should have been granted control over official documents in the first place. And they certainly shouldn’t feel entitled to a tax deduction for them.

The tight grip the Kennedys have kept on official documents does a disservice to the public interest. After more than 40 years, the public — including the numerous scholars of the Kennedy administration — is well-prepared to assess RFK’s legacy in a full and nuanced manner. A handful of surprising revelations won’t substantially alter the feelings of his many admirers, but could shed important light on the history of the 1960s.