Today I found myself flooded with memories about Dr. King. Some were part of the King legacy--the “I have a Dream speech,” the marches, the bus boycott, the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Some were personal--events in and out of my classroom.
I remember where I was when I heard “The Dream” speech on the radio. I was driving across a beautiful causeway with Long Island Sound on my right and a bay and harbor on my left. I started to cry and had trouble steering, but I heard every word. I still hear them.
There is another scene that I remember vividly, only it involves King’s death. This is a scene that I read about before I saw filmed footage. It was Robert Kennedy’s statement to a crowd that had gathered in Indianapolis to hear him give a campaign speech on that fateful evening in April, 1968.
Kerry Kennedy, Robert’s daughter recreated that scene for us and reprinted his extraordinary, spontaneous speech. Read the entire speech [Here] with some lines from Arthur Schlesinger, setting the scene.
Kennedy had climbed up on a flatbed truck in a parking lot. The crowd was noisy and expecting a rousing campaign speech. They had not heard the news about King. Here are some of the highlights of that Kennedy speech:
I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight." [There was a terrible gasp from the crowd...]
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization -- black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.
Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.
...My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: 'In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'
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 toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black...
...Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
Thank you, Kerry Kennedy, for reminding us.
I wonder how many of our nation’s current leaders have even heard of Aeschylus...