- Robert F. Kennedy's speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy's speech on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was given by
New YorkSenator Robert F. Kennedyon April 4, 1968. Kennedy was campaigning for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination and had spoken at the University of Notre Dameand Ball State Universityearlier that day. [Klein, Joe. "Politics Lost: How American Democracy was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid." New York, Doubleday, 2006. ISBN 978-0385-51027-1, p. 2.] Before boarding a plane to fly to Indianapolis for one last campaign speech in a predominantly black neighborhood of the city he learned that Martin Luther King, Jr.had been shot, leading Kennedy press secretary Frank Mankiewiczto suggest that he ask the audience to pray for the King family and ask them to follow King's policy of non-violence. [Klein, 3.] They did not learn that King was dead until they landed in Indianapolis.
Both Mankiewicz and speechwriter Adam Walinsky drafted notes immediately before the rally for Kennedy's use, but Kennedy refused Walinsky's notes, instead using some that he had likely written on the ride over; Mankiewicz arrived after Kennedy had already begun to speak. [Klein, 3, 4.] Right before arriving at the rally the Chief of Police in Indianapolis told Kennedy that he could not provide protection and that giving the remarks would be too dangerous, [http://www.joescarborough.com/view.asp?ID=31 Scarborough Country] ] but Kennedy decided to go ahead regardless. Standing on a podium mounted on flatbed truck, Kennedy spoke for just four minutes and fifty-seven seconds. [Klein, 1, 4.]
Kennedy was the first to inform the audience of the death of Martin Luther King, causing some in the audience to scream and wail. Several of Kennedy's aides were even worried that the delivery of this information would result in a riot.Klein, Joe. " [http://www.time.com/time/columnist/klein/article/0,9565,1181593,00.html Pssst! Who's behind the decline of politics? Consultants.] , "Time", April 9, 2006. Retrieved November 17, 2007.] Once the audience quieted down Kennedy acknowledged that many in the audience would be filled with anger, especially since the assassin was believed to be a white man, and that he had felt the same when his brother
John F. Kennedyhad been assassinated. These remarks surprised Kennedy aides, who had never heard him speak of John Kennedy's death. [Klein, 6.] Kennedy continued, saying that the country had to make an effort to "go beyond these rather difficult times," and then quoted a poem by the Greek playwright Aeschylus. To conclude Kennedy said that the country needed and wanted unity between blacks and whites, asked the audience members to pray for the King family and the country, and once more quoted the ancient Greeks.
Despite rioting in other major American cities, Indianapolis was calm the night after Kennedy's remarks, which is believed to have been in part because of the speech. [ [http://www.indygov.org/eGov/Mayor/PR/2006/4/20060404b.htm Statement of Mayor Bart Peterson] April 4, 2006 press release] The speech itself has been listed as one of the greatest in
American history, ranked 17th on American Rhetoric's Top 100 speeches in the 20th century. [ [http://www.americanrhetoric.com/top100speechesall.html American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century by Rank] ] Former US Congressman and media host Joe Scarboroughsaid that it was Kennedy's greatest speech, and was what prompted him into entering into public service. Journalist Joe Kleinhas called it "politics in its grandest form and highest purpose," and said that it "marked the end of an era" before American political life was taken over by consultants and pollsters. It is also featured as the prologue of his book, " Politics Lost". [Klein, prologue.]
A documentary on the speech and the events surrounding it, entitled " [http://www.rippleofhopemovie.com/ A Ripple of Hope] ", was produced by Covenant Productions at Anderson University for release in spring 2008. It includes interview with associates of Kennedy and members of the audience.
* [http://www.rfkmemorial.org/lifevision/assassinationofmartinlutherkingjr/ Text of Speech]
* [http://easylink.playstream.com/historyplace/thp-rfk-mlk.ra Full Audio of Speech]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPYNb4ex6Ko Color Video of Speech]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCg05pTYt0A Black and White Video of Speech]
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