Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bobby Kennedy's speech upon the death of Martin Luther King

38 years ago today, Bobby Kennedy got off his campaign plane in Indiana to find, to his horror, that Martin Luther King had just been shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Warned that, for his safety, Bobby Kennedy should not go out that night, Bobby did what he always did. He ingored the advice of all but his conscience. And his conscience told him he had a responsibility to the people of Indianapolis. He had something important to say.

He improvised what is now considered one of the 100 best speeches ever. His own pain from the loss of his own brother five years earlier was palpable, and compelling. Joe Scarborough, a right-wing commentator who attributes his start in politics in part to the inspiration of Bobby Kennedy, noted that as riots burned fires in many cities that night, as the African American population wailed in grief at its collective loss, Bobby Kennedy managed to keep the peace in Indianapolis:
Kennedy was in the middle of his final, ill-fated campaign and prepared to go into the most dangerous part of Indianapolis. Just before heading to the event, his press secretary got the word that King had been shot dead by a white man.

Immediately, staff members scrambled to cancel the event. Ghettos were sure to explode in violence across Indianapolis and America. But when Kennedy chose to ignore the warnings, the Indianapolis Chief of Police weighed in.

His men could not provide protection. It was simply too dangerous.

So Bobby Kennedy went in alone that night to deliver the greatest speech of his life.

He told that broken crowd of Americans how it was not the time to embrace violence but rather to live the very values for which Martin Luther King had died.

Later that evening, riots did break out in over a thousand cities and towns across America. Parts of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago burned long into the early morning. Countless other cities and towns were engulfed in violence and rage. But that night, Indianapolis went to sleep in peace.

It was the story of how one man made a difference.

It is a reminder of how one person can still bend history.

It is a challenge sent through the ages of how we can still save a dying world.

Here the speech Bobby gave that tragic night. I remain in awe of his eloquence at such a painful moment.
Ladies and Gentlemen: I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have 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 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 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,comes wisdom
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. 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.

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.
On April 29, we will have the opportunity to speak out in unison, to tame the savageness of man, to call for an end to the immoral war in Iraq. I wish Bobby and Martin were here to lead us, but in their absence, we must find the courage to lead ourselves.

As the line in V for Vendatta goes, artists use lies to reveal the truth. Politicians use lies to cover it up. I'll leave the last word then to Dion Demucii, the artist who wrote these lyrics, which summed up the grief of a nation:
Has anybody here
seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good in you and me?
And we'll be free Someday soon
It's gonna be one day

Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walking up o'er the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John
King is dead. Long live King.


Blogger Other Lisa said...

I don't know what school is like now, but when I was in Jr. High, we were always doing reports, illustrated with photos clipped from magazines. And I remember, for whatever reason, I decided to do a report on Bobby Kennedy. I still remember the image I used for the cover - it was a photograph where all the shades of gray had been transformed to shapes of black and white - a three-quarters profile view of Bobby Kennedy, with that half smile that showed his large front teeth.

I remember finishing this report at something like 2 or 3 in the morning, procrastinating as usual, fueled by several small bottles of Coca-Cola. And I remember, before I fell asleep, just crying my eyes out. I was young, but I do remember when Bobby Kennedy was killed. It didn't mean that much to me then.

But when I did this report, this little jr. high school cut and paste from Life Magazine report, I was overwhelmed by what we had lost. I wanted to change history. To think that, if I only believed hard enough, I would wake up and his death would be a very bad dream.

Of course I knew even in the midst of my wildest fantasies that it was no dream and that I couldn't change it. But the reality seemed so very unacceptable.

12:30 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

That's such a beautiful story, Lisa. Thanks for that. That brought a tear to my eye.

9:45 AM  
Anonymous julia said...

I was wondering if you knew if anyone's taking up Sirhan's case after Larry Teeter's passing? I know Sirhan's 2006 parole was denied just recently.
What is the status of the litigation? Did you see that Wm Byrne passed away in January this year?

8:20 PM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Who is Wm Byrne? Is he related to Matt Byrne?

Re Sirhan's case, I've heard different things, but I can't confirm any of it yet.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Wm. Matthew Byrne, jr
I couldn't find latimes obituary link, so here is wpost's:


I did find latimes photo:


From http://www.reopenrfkassassinationcase.com/ ".......Another such document is a January 3, 1969 memo reporting that a senior FBI agent was monitoring Cooper's "dilemma." On January 6, 1969, Cooper then advised the Sirhan trial judge that he might be indicted but that after speaking with U.S. Attorney William Matthew Byrne, Jr., he concluded that his indictment was inconceivable. (Byrne was part of an inter-agency task force on the RFK assassination case)........It should be noted that after Sirhan's conviction, William Matthew Byrne, Jr., the U.S. Attorney who participated in Sirhan's prosecution and whose office's actions relating to Cooper are described above, was nominated to the federal bench by President Nixon....... 2 Judge Byrne remains a sitting senior judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where Sirhan's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus remains pending. As things stand now, Sirhan's extensive challenge to his conviction will be initially decided by a magistrate judge. All magistrate judges serve at the pleasure of the district judges, one of whom is Judge Byrne. Efforts to transfer the case in the interests of justice are continuing but have so far been unsuccessful......As a matter of historical interest, it is worthy of note that President Nixon then offered Judge Byrne the position of FBI Director. This job offer was extended during Judge Byrne's handling of the celebrated "Pentagon Papers"" case against Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo. The Pentagon Papers consisted of a secret study describing war crimes and extensive human rights abuses carried out by the United States in Vietnam, and their publication in the "New York Times" enraged Nixon and further discredited his attempt to justify his continuation, excalation and expansion of the Vietnam war. Accordingly, the administration charged Ellsberg and Russo with espionage for giving this study to the press. When the job offer and other acts of government misconduct were finally disclosed by the prosecution, the case was dismissed in response to a defense motion. Other acts of misconduct included White House involvement in a burglary targeting the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist and the cover-up of this burglary. The burglary and cover-up then became one basis for Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee forcing Nixon's resignation as president. Missing from both the Articles of Impeachment and Judge Byrne's order listing grounds for dismissing the Ellsberg-Russo indictment was Nixon's offer during the trial to appoint Judge Byrne to the position of Director of the FBI."


10:32 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I just found out my friend Larry Teeter passed away. Thanks for the poem, and keeping his life's work(the RFK assassination conspiracy) mentioned on your blog. I am just very saddened to hear this news.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Dr B F Samuel said...


Forgive me, but I could not find your name anywhere, including your home page!

I am NOT a person who cruises around blogs, and I came upon YOUR blog because I wanted to send a link (to a young African-American youth who doesn't know much about his history!) At an adult education institution (where I volunteer), I mention one of the historical people he should know about. That is the background.

Today, I am looking for the speech that RFK did impromptu in Indianapolis on the announcement of the death of MLK. I FOUND YOUR BLOG. When I clicked on your blog, you do provide a text of the speech, but the link above the speech (located in a blue block)does not work! To assist you in having an accurate blog, here is the correct link:

I don't like inaccurate or outdated links or information online! However, please accept this in the best of cordiality, especially since on the "google" search, your blog comes up on the first page. THAT deserves the time I took to find the appropriate link and to offer it to you. PLEASE accept it.

Dr B F Samuel
[I would provide my e-mail, but do NOT want it published for the world to view]

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I will never forget it. Many of us who were 'innocent' youths during the '60's - became adult that day. Not by choice. But by the wisdom of God. Life teaches all of us many lessons - that in the moment - we wish we didn't have to learn. But the years that pass bring a perspective that can't be argued. We have been fortunate that in our lives - we had such leaders as Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

9:45 PM  

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