Tag Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

RFK writes compelling back story about MLK Jr.’s death

The world reeled in grief 50 years ago today when word broke out that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot to death in Memphis, Tenn.

The grief turned to anger in many cities across the United States. African-Americans reacted violently. They rioted. They burned cities.

But one major American city — Indianapolis, Ind. — remained calm. Why? Another man who was just two months from his own tragic and untimely death spoke to a crowd and broke the terrible news to them.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was running for president in 1968. He heard about the shooting. He asked his aides if the crowd that was waiting to hear a campaign stump speech knew that Dr. King had died. He was told they likely didn’t know. Bobby Kennedy had to tell them.

So he did. He spoke for six minutes after telling them he had “terrible news” to deliver. In just a few minutes, RFK managed to lend a word of comfort and, indeed, empathy. His own brother, President Kennedy, had been felled by a gunman less than five years earlier. “He was killed by a white man,” Sen. Kennedy said in seeking to quell the feelings of hatred that some in the crowd might harbor “toward all white people.”

He spoke of the need for more “love” and “compassion” in the United States.

The result in Indianapolis was that its residents didn’t react in the manner that tore many other cities apart.

Robert Kennedy, with those brief words, delivered perhaps one of the greatest political speeches in U.S. history. Its message, though, reached far beyond the partisan concerns of a politician seeking election to the nation’s highest office.

The politician spoke to a nation in the deepest grief imaginable.

Tragically, he would march on to his own horrifying end, triggering yet another round of grief.

RFK’s wisdom worth hearing once again

A friend of mine put this video out on social media this afternoon.

He asked those in his network to be quiet for a few minutes and listen to it.

I heard Sen. Robert Kennedy make these remarks in real time, when it happened in April 1968. Indeed, Sen. Kennedy was the rare politician who could speak the kind of blunt truth that we all needed to hear — even if in times when we might not want to hear it.

I want to share my friend’s video here.

I also want to echo his admonition. Take a few minutes and listen quietly to what this politician had to say during an earlier time of national grief.


MLK Jr. dies; RFK gives speech for the ages

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.


Rep. Lewis still stands tall

If I had to cast a vote for the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights icon, it would have to be — without question — a gentleman from Georgia, U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

This great man spoke over the weekend at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. He was among a large crowd of Americans marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when marchers were attacked at that bridge by Alabama police officers.

Rep. Lewis was one of them. He was beaten within an inch of his life by policemen with clubs.

He was part of what was supposed to be a non-violent march in search of voting rights for all Americans, notably African-Americans.


Lewis spoke today, 50 years after that event, and presented himself as just one man who sought to bring justice for his fellow Americans.

He’s such a towering figure today that he totally belies his relatively short physical stature.

Lewis is the last known survivor of those who stood on the podium behind Martin Luther King Jr. during Rev. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He was at the forefront — even at such a young age — of non-violent protest marches.

He was beaten, but never defeated. And then, when it came time for him to seek public office, he launched his effort to win election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he would help write the laws that affect all Americans.

I was proud for Rep. Lewis that he was able today to speak loudly and forcefully from the bridge where 50 years ago he was bloodied. This great man demonstrated the immense power of one’s principle and conviction.

There can be no greater testament to the cause for which this courageous man fought and bled.

'Selma' lays racism bare

“Selma” may be one of the more important films of the past decade.

It tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to rally a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. It’s gripping in the extreme.

But my wife and I took the same feeling away from the film as we drove home this evening from the theater. It was the presence of the Confederate flags being waved by counter protesters who did and said some nasty things aimed at the marchers.

Proud sons and daughters of the Confederacy keep saying — with all earnestness — that their pride rests in their heritage and that it has nothing to do with race. They contend, for example, that slavery was not the reason the Confederate State of America seceded from the Union.

But those Confederate flags waving at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and in Montgomery, where the marchers ended their trek tell a different story — at least to my wife and me.

This enduring symbol of the Confederacy often is displayed by those objecting to African-Americans’ calls for equality. Why is that? How is it that the Stars and Bars has become such a symbol of groups that remain dead set against equality for all Americans based solely on the color of their skin?

We watched the film tonight with our son and his girlfriend. Our son said the film is “tough to watch,” but said it is “worth the time.” We all liked the film very much.

For me, the toughest elements to watch in the movie were the brutality inflicted by law enforcement on the marchers seeking to cross the bridge — and the sight of those Confederate flags waving amid the hideous insults being hurled at Americans who were demanding the right to vote.

Yes, indeed. “Selma” is an important piece of moviemaking.


What if MLK Jr. had lived?

Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has written a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. in which he declares that the message of peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience is as relevant today as it was when he preached it way back then.


On this day when we mark what would have been Dr. King’s 86th birthday, I cannot help but get past this historical tidbit that few — if any — historians ever seem to examine.

How in the name of all that is holy did Martin Luther King Jr. summon the poise to stand before the world as he did at such a young age?

MLK was 39 years of age when James Earl Ray gunned him down in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Thirty-nine! That’s all.

Yet, it seemed at the time as if he’d been on the national stage forever. At least that’s my memory.

He was 34 when he stood before those hundreds of thousands of spectators on the Washington Mall to deliver the famed “I Have a Dream” speech that energized a generation of young black and white Americans. He would be 36 when he led the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge at Selma, Ala.


How was this young man able to stand often in church pulpits, make appearances on national TV news-talk shows, speak to mass gatherings of supporters, accepted a Nobel Peace Prize and became one of the leading voices of protests against the Vietnam War — all before he turned 40. Where did he acquire that wisdom? Or was he born with it?

He wouldn’t reach that milestone age. There would be no black balloons, gag gifts for his becoming an “old man,” or silly jokes and pranks from his friends and family members.

It’s been said of President Kennedy that his life was one of untapped potential, given that he, too, died at a young age.

I cannot stop thinking on this day what impact Martin Luther King Jr. might have had on his beloved nation had he been given the chance to reach middle age, let alone grow old.

As Dees points out: “In his speech of March 25, 1965, King spoke of the nation we could become – a ‘society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality.’”

He was just 36 years of age.


Palin cheapens MLK memory with blast at Obama

It strikes me that some commemorations deserve dignity and decorum.

Honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ought to be one of those occasions … isn’t that right former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin?

The former half-term governor and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, took a swipe today at President Obama ostensibly while honoring the memory of the slain civil-rights icon.


“Mr. President, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who commit to ending any racial divide, no more playing the race card,” she said in a Facebook post.

She didn’t offer a specific example of how the president was “playing the race card.” Some have suggested that Obama’s remarks in a New Yorker magazine interview provided the grist for Palin’s attack.

Obama told The New Yorker that some Americans just don’t like him merely because he’s black. Umm, I think he’s correct on that one. Denying as much is to ignore the reality that race still does matter in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans.

My larger point, though, is that Dr. King’s memory deserves to be honored only on its merits — and not used as a cheap political weapon by someone who doesn’t deserve the national political attention she continues to get.