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April 18, 2017

RFK Funeral Train: Rarely Seen Photographs by Paul Fusco Offer a Unique and Moving Perspective on a Nation in Mourning

On June 5th, 1968, less than three months after the murder of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles as he campaigned for the presidential nomination. His death shook the country to its core and seemed to symbolize the end of hope.

Kennedy’s body was flown to New York City for a memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then carried by train from New York to Washington D.C. for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the railway tracks to pay their final respects to Kennedy.

On board the train was Magnum photographer Paul Fusco, on assignment for LOOK Magazine. From inside the train, Fusco took some 2000 pictures of the mourners—black, white, rich, poor, in large groups and on their own. The resulting images are one of the most powerful and affecting series of photographs ever taken. Documenting a crucial moment in U.S. history, Fusco’s series is acknowledged as one of the greatest efforts in photographic reportage.

Because LOOK magazine’s bi-weekly schedule caused it to come out a week after its rival LIFE, the magazine chose to illustrate photographs celebrating RFK’s life rather than images of the funeral. As a result, Fusco’s photographs were relegated to picture files. Three years later, LOOK folded and the pictures were sent to the Library of Congress. Buried in deep storage and all but forgotten, the photographs only were “rediscovered” by a young photo editor in 1998.

(Images © Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos)


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