Kostas LyssikatosProfessor Neff
6 September 2018
A Light in Darkness
On the eve of April 4th 1968, mass chaos spread throughout the United States. Famed civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by a man named James Earl Ray. Once Americans received news that the assassin was a Caucasian male, African-Americans around the country became outraged and upset. (Smithsonian Magazine). Consequently, intense rioting would occur in multiple American cities, resulting in widespread looting, arson, arrests, and casualties (Smithsonian Magazine). The actions of the violent rioting by African-Americans would result in the greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War (Smithsonian Magazine). Despite the violence and animosity spreading throughout many American cities, Indianapolis, Indiana remained peaceful as a result of Robert F. Kennedy’s courage and leadership (Washington Post). The notorious United States Senator from New York and former United States Attorney General presented a speech with little preparation to the hostile crowd (Washington Post). African-Americans in attendance were extremely devastated after Kennedy broke the news about the passing of the impactful civil rights leader. As a result, Kennedy’s aids were worried about the politician’s safety, igniting the possibility of a massive riot (Smithsonian Magazine). Fortunately, no riot occurred; rather, the crowd demonstrated interest in Kennedy’s speech (Smithsonian Magazine). Robert F. Kennedy’s speech praised admiration to Martin Luther King Jr, reflecting upon past events in the United States, and his desire to entirely eliminate hate and violence in the nation.
Martin Luther King Jr. was not only admired by African-Americans; numerous Caucasians around the United States also supported his ideologies. One such admirer was Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of former charismatic president, John F. Kennedy. After hearing the news of the infamous assassination of Mr. King, Robert F. Kennedy, decided to express his condolences to the public. During the introduction of Kennedy’s speech, he reflected upon King’s altruistic and selfless personality. Kennedy stated, “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and justice for his fellow human beings, he died because of that effort” (Kennedy). Martin Luther King, similarly to his idol Gandhi, encouraged peace, compassion and non-violence towards all citizens in our society. Then, Kennedy proposed strategies that would enable King’s ideology to persist following his death. Furthermore, Kennedy asked a question to the crowd, “In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in” (Kennedy). There would be two possible directions taken to answer this question. First, one direction would promote animosity, ultimately strengthening the divide among African-American and Caucasian citizens. Moreover, the other direction symbolized the values Martin Luther King represented and instilled in American citizens: peace, nonviolence and integration in our society. King desperately wanted his dream to one day become a reality in not only the United States, but the world.
Furthermore, Kennedy’s speech reflected upon a pair of past events. One example was the mentioning of his late older brother, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy stated about his brother, “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 go beyond these difficult times” (Kennedy). John F. Kennedy, like Martin Luther King, was also assassinated after years of promoting the significance of civil rights. Moreover, Kennedy acknowledged that Kennedy’s assassin was also a white man, further illustrating the parallels among the two assassinations. Furthermore, Kennedy stated “We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past” (Kennedy). In his statement, Kennedy was referencing past struggles such as the American Civil War. Although the Civil War was a dark occurrence in our history dividing our nation, the citizens of the Union overcame the odds. As a result, the Confederacy would be defeated, ending Slavery and uniting our country once again. Furthermore, Kennedy flashes back upon a past quote by his favorite poet Aeschylus. The quote states “In our sleep, pain which cannot falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will comes wisdom from the awful grace of God” (Aeschylus). The meaning of the quote signifies that a man cannot escape the immense pain of a tragedy. Therefore, understanding and acceptance would pull the man out of the dark place, and wisdom would come from God. The examples of the past events Kennedy showcased proved that despite our country being placed in difficult situations, our nation overcame past struggles.
Lastly, the impetus of Kennedy’s message was to eliminate violence and hate, uniting the citizens of our nation. Kennedy quotes, “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 or lawlessness; but love and wisdom and compassion towards one another” (Kennedy). Kennedy believed that King’s powerful message voicing love, compassion and wisdom would make our country the most influential and powerful nation in the world. Furthermore, Kennedy advised his audience “to return home and say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King” as well as for the country (Kennedy). After Kennedy’s speech, the residents of Indianapolis, Indiana took Kennedy’s words to heart, and embraced the significance of nonviolence and acceptance. Moreover, Kennedy had a strong belief that the American citizens would witness the sighting of the light from the darkness again. The citizens of Indianapolis represented the fact that Kennedy and King’s ideological dream could still be a reality upon the United States.
After viewing Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis, Kennedy’s persuasion towards the Indianapolis citizens depicted charisma, encouraging others to turn away from violence. Moreover, Kennedy displayed courage during his speech, barely having any protection around him, which resulted in close aids worrying about his safety. Lastly, Kennedy displayed confidence in his own abilities as a famed speaker by reminding himself that he was speaking for his brother and King. In this case, Kennedy would use Martin Luther King and his brother as influences throughout his speech, resulting in Kennedy to become influential among his listeners. After delivering an impressive speech, Robert F. Kennedy’s reputation began to rise in politics. As a result, the young Kennedy had a new goal, running for president of the United States. Sadly, the dream to become president was cut short. Two months later after Martin Luther King Jr’s. assassination, Robert F. Kennedy would also be assassinated. Despite the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King taken place in the 1960s, their ideological dream of a peaceful integrated society in America would gradually become a reality.
Martin Luther King’s assignation sparked uprisings in cities across America Smithsonian Magazine, 4 April 2018
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/martin-luther-king-jrs- assassination-sparked-uprisings-cities-across-america-180968665/Robert F. Kennedy Speeches, JFK Presidential Library and Museum 7 September 2018.
https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready- Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin- Luther-King.aspxRosenwald, Michael, “That stain of bloodshed”: After King’s assassination, RFK calmed
an angry crowd with an unforgivable speech, Washington Post, 4 April 2018