“For those of you who are black and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say…
“I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.
“I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
“Robert F. Kennedy’s speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was given on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
It was supposed to be a routine campaign stop. In a poor section of Indianapolis, 40 years ago Friday, a largely black crowd had waited an hour to hear the presidential candidate speak. The candidate, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, had been warned not to go by the city’s police chief.
As his car entered the neighborhood, his police escort left him. Once there, he stood in the back of a flatbed truck. He turned to an aide and asked, “Do they know about Martin Luther King?”
They didn’t, and it was left to Kennedy to tell them that King had been shot and killed that night in Memphis, Tenn. The crowd gasped in horror.
Kennedy spoke of King’s dedication to “love and to justice between fellow human beings,” adding that “he died in the cause of that effort.”
And Kennedy sought to heal the racial wounds that were certain to follow by referring to the death of his own brother, President John F. Kennedy.
“For those of you who are black and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” he said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Many other American cities burned after King was killed. But there was no fire in Indianapolis, which heard the words of Robert Kennedy.
A historian says a well-organized black community kept its calm. It’s hard to overlook the image of one single man, standing on a flatbed truck, who never looked down at the paper in his hand — only at the faces in the crowd.
“My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus,” Robert Kennedy said, “and he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
— National Public Radio
“Kennedy, the United States senator from New York, was campaigning to earn the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination when he learned that King had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee….
“Before boarding a plane to attend campaign rallies in Indianapolis, Kennedy learned that King had been shot. When he arrived, Kennedy was informed that King had died.
“Despite fears of riots and concerns for his safety, Kennedy went ahead with plans to attend a rally at 17th and Broadway in the heart of Indianapolis’s African-American ghetto.
“That evening Kennedy addressed the crowd, many of whom had not heard about King’s assassination.