Ted Kennedy Oral History Project Offers Five Decades of Insight to Listeners

Kennedy  speaking at a podium

The University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate today released the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project. The release includes 19 interviews with the late Massachusetts senator about his life and Senate career, which spanned almost five decades and 10 presidential administrations before his death in 2009. It also includes about 170 interviews with family, friends, colleagues, foreign leaders, journalists and staffers.

Transcripts of the interviews are available at millercenter.org/oralhistory/edward-kennedy and www.emkinstitute.org/resources/oral-history-miller-center.

“Teddy fervently believed that recorded interviews with those who make history enhance our understanding of it and render historical events ‘more accessible to a wider audience of individuals,’” said his widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, co-founder of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute and president of its board of directors. “He was convinced that the Edward M. Kennedy Oral History Project ‘would provide important new resources for scholars and the general public to learn more about the most significant legislative debates of our time.’”

Barbara Perry, director of the Kennedy Oral History Project, said, “Volumes have been written on the Kennedys, but this unprecedented project presents, in the speakers’ own voices, rich details and revealing nuances about Edward Kennedy’s remarkable life and career, as well as his impact on the nation’s politics and world affairs for nearly a half-century. Taken as a whole, this spoken history offers a large piece of the puzzle to provide an understanding of both the senator himself and his family’s historic political dynasty.”

The Kennedy Oral History Project, launched in 2004, contains interviews with Kennedy -- a 1959 graduate of U.Va.'s School of Law -- that cover a broad range of topics, including his pre-Senate years, relationship with his brothers, political style, Senate and presidential campaigns, rise in the Senate, public causes and legacy.

In addition to interviews with Kennedy, scholars interviewed others who knew him throughout his life. Interviewees whose transcripts are being released include Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer; former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis; Secretary of State John Kerry; U.S. Sen. John McCain; former Vice President Walter Mondale; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; Theodore Sorensen, speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy; and many others.

This afternoon, former colleagues, staffers and historians will gather in Washington, D.C. for an event celebrating the project and recognizing Kennedy’s commitment to civil rights throughout his career.

Victoria Reggie Kennedy will deliver welcome remarks. Historian Michael Beschloss will deliver an address, and PBS “NewsHour” co-anchor Judy Woodruff will moderate a panel discussion on Kennedy’s work on civil rights. Panelists include:

  • Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson
  • Former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd
  • U.S. Rep. John Lewis
  • Margaret Spellings, former education secretary, president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center
  • Barbara Perry, director of the Miller Center’s Kennedy Oral History Project
  • Melody Barnes, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, former chief counsel to Kennedy

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who worked for Kennedy for several years, will deliver closing remarks.

The event will be live streamed.

The Miller Center has conducted the oral histories of Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush through its Presidential Oral History Program and is currently working on the oral history of George W. Bush. These interview transcripts are available at millercenter.org/oralhistory.

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