Forty-seven years ago a single rifle shot killed one of the 20th century’s greatest Americans, Martin Luther King Jr.
James Earl Ray would be captured, tried and convicted of murdering Dr. King. He would die in prison.
Not long after the rifle shot ended the life of the Nobel laureate and champion of non-violent civil disobedience, a politician stepped to the microphone in Indianapolis. Robert F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency on April 4, 1968 and he decided to tell the mostly African-American crowd some tragic news.
He told them that Dr. King had been murdered and then he delivered one of the greatest extemporaneous speeches in modern political history.
RFK sought to quell the rage that rose from the shock of the news. He succeeded that night. While other cities across the country erupted in violence, Indianapolis remained calm.
I remember the events of that day very well. I was a teenager struggling to find my own way. I’d discovered a path later that summer when I was inducted into the U.S. Army.
Dr. King could stir enormous passion in people. He sought justice for African-Americans but insisted on taking a peaceful path. That he would die a violent death remains to this day one of the great tragic ironies of the 20th century.
Robert Kennedy’s courage that night in Indianapolis would be almost unheard of today. He urged the crowd to reach out and to seek the goodness among each other.
That was a turbulent time. RFK’s brother — the president of the United States — was struck down by an assassin less than five years earlier.
Indeed, Robert Kennedy’s own life would end violently two months and one day after Dr. King’s assassination.
In that brief moment, standing in the night, Robert Kennedy sought to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by seeking to tap the better angels of a society torn by violence.