I’ve never been more concerned about our country. There’s such anger and division, it’s as if we’ve forgotten the U.S. is supposed to be the ideal. We’re supposed to be the example the world looks to, where everyone lives together and gets along — The Starship Enterprise of countries. The place where justice prevails.
My nephew, Patrick and I were talking this week about how we want inspirational leadership for our country. We want a great leader — someone who makes people strive to be their best. Someone who inspires by example. He mentioned the remarkable speech that Robert Kennedy made when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
I was 13-years-old at that time. I remember the horror and hopelessness I felt when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, but I didn’t recall this speech, so I went online to find it. It brought me to tears.
Kennedy ran for president in 1968 and was on the campaign. He was scheduled to appear in a poor section of Indianapolis. The crowd that had been waiting an hour to hear him was primarily black, and didn’t know King had been shot. Kennedy was told he could not be assured protection if he went there.
Reportedly, when his car entered the neighborhood, the police escort left him and he had to break the news. His speech is on several websites: American Rhetoric , YouTube, and at the JFK Library. There’s video, so you can watch him speak on the back of that flatbed truck, 48 years ago and hear the gasp of the crowd when they hear the terrible news of the assassination. The speech is 5:53 seconds and is as powerful today as it was in 1968.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — 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. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. 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.
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.
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
Thank you very much.”
Kennedy wasn’t afraid to be in that neighborhood all those years ago because, as he said, the majority of people are good. We would do well today to remember that the majority of people of every nationality and every religion are good.
There was rioting in many U.S. cities the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, but none in Indianapolis. The well-organized black community there, deserves credit for that peace, but so does Bobby Kennedy. His words and actions inspired everyone that night, and continue to do so today.
I want a leader like that.