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Robert F. Kennedy's Speech on the Death of Martin Luther King
I was 11 when Robert F. Kennedy died. Even at that young age I felt a connection to him. I didn't know much about him at that time and I was living in the United Kingdom. It was only later that I came to appreciate his contribution to history. Who knows what would have happened had he not been murdered on June 6, 1968?
In my opinion, the greatest speech he gave that year was the one he gave on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr's murder, just two months before his own death.
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He was scheduled to appear at a rally in Indianapolis, Indiana on the night of April 4th. After the murder of Dr. King, Kennedy's police escort refused to go into the predominantly black area saying they could not vouch for his safety. Indianapolis was one of the few cities that didn't erupt into riots and violence that evening. The speech he gave was written on the plane on the way to Indianapolis on the back of an envelope. The following is an excerpt from that speech:
"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...
...Let us 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."
RFK's Speech on April 4, 1968
- Robert F. Kennedy: on the death of Martin Luther King
Listen to the speech in MP3 format.
- Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
The organization created by RFK's widow to continue his work.
Aftermath - 2008
Well, the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. has come and gone. The 2008 presidential candidates certainly exploited it on April 4th. Barack Obama was in Fort Wayne, Indiana where Ethel Kennedy stumped for him on the spot of Kennedy's speech, Hilary Clinton was somewhere in Indiana where she gave a seemingly heartfelt memory of where she was when she heard King had been shot, and John McCain appeared on the spot where Dr. King was shot. I have to wonder if the candidates really cared more that it was the anniversary or that it was an opportunity to exploit the voters.