By the beginning of April 1968 the presidential campaign was taking twists and turns no one could have predicted. After winning the 1964 election in a landslide, President Lyndon B. Johnson had shocked the nation in a speech on March 31 by announcing he would not seek reelection. Two weeks before that, Senator Robert F. Kennedy had thrown his hat into the ring.
Secret Service Agent Clint Hill was now Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of Presidential Protection– the #1 man on LBJ’s Secret Service detail. He was on duty at the White House the morning of April 3, when Senator Kennedy showed up for a meeting with President Johnson, accompanied by Ted Sorenson. Agent Hill escorted Kennedy to and from the Cabinet Room.
Hill recalls vividly what happened the day after that meeting between RFK and LBJ, and how the nation would be thrown into turmoil like it had not seen since the Civil War.
April 4 had been a long day and Agent Hill was still on duty at the White House, waiting to take LBJ to a fundraising dinner, when news came in that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis. An hour later, confirmation the Civil Rights leader was dead. President Johnson immediately appeared on live television urging calm. He realized that the news of King’s assassination—allegedly by a white man—would likely incite riots. With Vietnam protests already exploding around the country, this could take the violence to a whole new level.
Meanwhile, Robert F. Kennedy, campaigning in Indianapolis, broke the news to a largely black group of supporters. He, too, urged calm.
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
Neither LBJ’s or RFK’s pleadings could stem the violence that erupted, however. Cities all across America went up in flames. Entire neighborhoods were burned and looted so badly that the economies of those areas would not recover for decades.
Amidst the growing and unstoppable violence, President Johnson attended a memorial service for Martin Luther King in Washington DC. At his side, responsible for his safety, was Agent Clint Hill. Hill, as you know, had witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, just four and a half years earlier. Can you imagine what it was like to be in his shoes that day?
Can you imagine what it was like to be in his shoes two months later when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated?
Now you know why we had to write Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. The history Secret Service Agent Clint Hill witnessed is remarkable.
And as comparisons between the presidential campaign of 2016 and 1968 continue to be made, remember the men and women of the U.S. Secret Service who are putting their own lives on the line to ensure the safety of our president and the Republican and Democratic candidates currently on the campaign trail.
For a first edition of Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford personalized and signed by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin, order here. While supplies last.