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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Historical Markers > Find a Marker > Robert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. King Robert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. King

Robert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. KingRobert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. King

Location: King Park, 17th Street and Broadway, Indianapolis. (Marion County, Indiana)

Installed: 2005 Indiana Historical Bureau and City of Indianapolis, Mayor Bart Peterson

ID# : 49.2005.1

Text

Side one:

Here on the evening of April 4, 1968, Kennedy came to address a large crowd of mostly African Americans in his bid for Democratic Party nomination for president of U.S. Instead, visibly shaken, he gave an impromptu speech about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. that day in Memphis, Tenn.

Side two:

Kennedy urged the crowd to follow Rev. King's lead and respond with understanding and prayer. Citing the need to avoid division, hatred, and violence, he called for love, wisdom, compassion, and justice. The speech is credited with keeping Indianapolis calm, while other cities reacted with violence.

Keywords

Politics, African American

Annotated Text

Here on the evening of April 4, 1968, Kennedy came to address a large crowd of mostly African Americans in his bid for Democratic Party nomination for president of U.S.(3) Instead, visibly shaken, he gave an impromptu speech(4) about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. that day in Memphis, Tenn.(5)

Kennedy urged the crowd to follow Rev. King's lead and respond with understanding and prayer. Citing the need to avoid division, hatred, and violence, he called for love, wisdom, compassion, and justice.(6) The speech is credited with keeping Indianapolis calm, while other cities reacted with violence.(7)

Notes:

1.Robert Francis Kennedy was born November 20, 1925. He was campaign manager for John F. Kennedy (his brother) in JFK's victorious 1960 presidential election. From 1961-1964 Robert Kennedy served as Attorney General of the United States. In 1964, he was elected United States Senator from New York. On June 6, 1968, he died after being shot on June 5 in Los Angeles, California, while campaigning for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. "Robert Francis Kennedy, " Arlington National Cemetery Web site, accessed November 10, 2004).

2Martin Luther King, Jr. was born January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 and was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1951. In 1953, he and Coretta Scott were married. After completing his Ph.D. studies in 1955, Dr. King served as a church pastor and directed the activities of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. King was the father of nonviolence in the American civil rights movement and a Nobel Laureate. Among his many awards was the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize for being an "undaunted champion of peace." He was the youngest man (35 years old), the second American, and the third black man to be so honored. "Biography of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., " The King Center Web site accessed November 10, 2004; Gunnar Jahn, Noble Peace Prize 1964 presentation speech from Frederick W. Haberman, ed., Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970 (Amsterdam, 1972) as recorded on the Nobel Prize Web site accessed November 10, 2004.

3. On April 4, 1968 Robert Francis Kennedy (RFK) began his campaign to win the Democratic presidential primary in Indiana. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Robert Kennedy and His Times (Boston, 1978), 873; Indianapolis Star, April 4, 1968; Indianapolis Star, April 5, 1968, p. 1. He spoke in Muncie in the afternoon. On the plane to Indianapolis, where he was to speak to the black community, he was told Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in Memphis. After arriving in Indianapolis he learned King had died. Schlesinger, 874. "Kennedy sent Ethel [his wife] on to the hotel but was determined to keep his rendezvous. . . .As his car entered the ghetto, the police escort left him." Frank Mankiewicz, in recorded interview by Jean Stein, September 21, 1968, 26, Stein Papers; Adam Walinsky, in recorded interview by Jean Stein, September 20, 1968, 25, Stein Papers as cited in Schlesinger, 874. "The chief of police warned the party not to go into the ghetto; he would not be responsible for anything that might happen." William Barry, in recorded interview by Roberta Greene, March 20, 1969, 39, RFK Oral History Program as cited in Schlesinger, 874. Kennedy reportedly met with John Lewis and a group of hostile black militants after the Indianapolis rally who, on his departure, pledged their support. Coretta Scott King, in recorded interview by Jean Stein, November 18, 1969, 1-2, Stein Papers as cited in Schlesinger, 876.

4. New York Times, April 5, 1968; Washington Evening Star, April 5, 1968; Indianapolis Star, April 5, 1968, p. 1.

5. New York Times, April 5, 1968, p. 1; Indianapolis News, April 5, 1968 Kennedy urged the crowd to follow Rev. King's lead and respond with understanding and prayer. Citing the need to avoid division, hatred, and violence, he called for love, wisdom, compassion, and justice.(6) The speech is credited with keeping Indianapolis calm, while other cities reacted with violence.(7)

6. "Robert F. Kennedy: Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., " American Rhetoric Web site, accessed November 9, 2004.

7 New York Times, April 5, 1968; Indianapolis Star, April 7, 1968; Indianapolis Star, April 25, 1978, p. 21; Indianapolis News, April 17, 1993, p. A-2. "That night [April 4-5, 1968] fury raged in the ghettos of America." "There were riots in 110 cities; 39 people were killed, mostly black, more than 2500 injured; more than 75, 000 National Guardsmen and federal troops in the streets." Schlesinger, 877. Kennedy's speech is listed #17 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Web site list of the top 100 American speeches of the 20th century, accessed November 9, 2004.