When facing news of the worst kind, we hope for the courage to see beyond our pain and grief to something larger we can believe in, something enduring to hold us up and carry us onward.
A new book for teens highlights the moment Senator Bobby Kennedy delivered the awful news of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination to a crowd of African Americans.
In that terrible moment, Kennedy faced the specter of violence and hate with vulnerability. His courage to reach beyond differences and find common ground in pain and grief touched people profoundly.
Kennedy was running for president, scheduled for a campaign rally in a black neighborhood of Indianapolis. News of MLK’s death sparked violence across the country. The mayor said it was too dangerous for Kennedy to speak. Police refused to escort him to the scene.
There was no social media or 24-hours news coverage in 1968. Arriving at the rally, Kennedy realized the clamoring crowd did not know King had been shot.
Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of Martin and Bobby: A Journey Toward Justice. The book is not due out until August, but it is available for pre-order now here... to mark the 50th year since King's death, she is joining us here on the blog to give you a sneak peak at the book, and share how she came to write it.
On April 4, 1968 Senator Robert Kennedy spoke at a campaign rally in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis. But instead of telling the crowd why they should vote for him for president, he had to announce that violence had struck again.
“I have sad news for you, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world . . . Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Riots had already erupted in cities across the country. But that night in Indianapolis the crowd stood quietly in silent grief because Bobby Kennedy didn’t talk to them like a politician. He shared that he had lost a family member, too, addressing them as people who also knew the pain of great loss.
Earlier in the 1960s, King and Bobby Kennedy, as attorney general under his brother President John F. Kennedy, had challenged and tested each other as wary allies in the fight for civil rights.
But by the spring of 1968, as Kennedy began his campaign for the presidency and King made final plans for the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D. C., they had arrived in the same place. Both men declared often and publicly that Americans had a moral imperative to end the war in Vietnam and address poverty and racism.
I knew nothing about Bobby’s April 4th speech until one evening several years ago when my mother, husband and I watched the documentary “A Ripple of Hope” about Robert Kennedy. Today Bobby’s speech is available on You Tube and often referenced in articles about King’s assassination. But in 1968 regional events were only broadcast on TV local stations.
Watching Bobby’s speech for the first time in 2012 I was awed by the beauty of his words, and the sorrow in his voice that touched the crowd so deeply. I had to learn more. I wanted to understand how and why Kennedy had such courage and was able to give such a powerful, healing speech on one of the worst days in America’s history. I had written children’s books for many years and decided that day that I wanted to share with teen readers’ Bobby’s speech and his relationship with Dr. King.
During the many years of researching and writing this book, I got lost often in the events of the sixties, and my own personal history since I was 17 in 1968. The epilogue was the most difficult to write. Fifty years later, income disparity has grown even greater, poverty continues to place its heavy burden on families and communities, and divisive political rhetoric divides our country. The words of Martin and Bobby still offer inspiration and insight on how to face the historic challenges of economic and racial inequality. But we need that same inspiration and call to action from our leaders today.
However, the young activists give me hope. I also know it is time for me and other concerned Americans of all ages to raise our voices, so that the lives of King and Kennedy, and all those who have died protesting for change, are not forgotten.
Martin and Bobby: A Journey Towards Justice will be published By Chicago Review Press in October 2018. Listen to KPBX Public Radio interview Claire about King and Kennedy here...
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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