45 years ago today Robert F. Kennedy was shot, and the following day he passed away. There is much that could be said in remembrance about Robert Kennedy, but the most remarkable legacy he left may be the words he said in remembrance of another. The occasion was a similar tragedy at a similar time — the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. a mere two months earlier — and the speech remains an unparalleled marvel.
April 4, 1968.
Robert Kennedy had just finished speaking at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Before his plane left for Indianapolis, Indiana — where he was scheduled to hold a campaign rally in the city with a largely African-American crowd — he received the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot. After his plane landed, he received the news that Martin Luther King Jr. was dead.
Advisors were concerned about whether it would be safe to attend the event. Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar advised that he cancel. The police warned that they couldn't guarantee his safety if the crowd should riot. Kennedy didn't cancel the event. His speechwriter and press secretary prepared a few notes. He didn’t use them. Holding the notes he likely wrote on the car ride over, Kennedy stood up at a podium on the back of a flatbed truck. In the video you can hear Kennedy grimly ask, "Do they know about Martin Luther King?" In the video you can hear the buzz of the crowd, electric with energy, and expecting a campaign speech. In the video you can hear a staffer respond, "No, we left that up to you."
Then you can hear a striking speech that is not quite five minutes long.
After King’s assassination there were riots, and anger, and violence across the country. There were riots in over 100 cities. Indianapolis wasn't one of them.
The text of the speech can be found here.