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Dunlap: A Sketch and a Memory of Robert F. Kennedy at Heidelberg Hotel in Jackson

Robert F. Kennedy at Heidelberg Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi.
Robert F. Kennedy at Heidelberg Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi.

Internationally-known and University of Mississippi alum, William Dunlap, sketched the above image of Robert F. Kennedy in 1967 when he was visiting Mississippi. Below is Dunlap’s story behind this historic drawing.

In April of 1967, Senator Robert F. Kennedy made his now famous fact finding trip through the Mississippi Delta. On April 7, he and Senator George Murphy convened a bi-racial hearing on poverty in Jackson’s Heidelberg Hotel.

A student at Mississippi College at the time, I cut Bible class to attend, sketchbook in hand. I had assumed these drawings lost until this one turn up in this distressed condition in some of my mother’s possessions in 2007.

When this drawing was made, Senator Kennedy had little more than a year to live.

The event I attended was at the Heidelberg Hotel in either the Olympic or Victory room – rather charged spaces given that I often played in bands there at alcohol drenched post-football game parties which became affectionately known “Hatchet Fights.”

This event was organized by Marian Wright Edelman who worked in Jackson at the time.

It was a room packed with poor people, both white and black, the first such gathering I had ever seen in Mississippi. Present were Senators Kennedy and California’s George Murphey, who wore sunglasses to protect his eyes from the glare of the camera lights. I also recall that Senator Kennedy left several times to take phone calls and was deeply tanned. Others were on the panel but I do not remember who they were.

It was all rather tense if memory serves. I was busy making drawings from the front row seat that was accorded me. The only one that survives is the one above.

I recall being very moved by the event. It was though I had been given a glimpse into the future. The affair had about it something of a revival. There was a great concentration of the spirit and it was easy to feel transported, even optimistically so, but the year 1967 was yet to play itself out.


Bill Dunlap is an internationally-recognized artist and an alum of the University of Mississippi. He can be reached at dunlap.billyd@gmail.com.

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