“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John [14:27]).
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RFK, A VOICE THAT CALLED FOR PEACE
In Indianapolis on April 4th, 1968; Robert Kennedy was the first to tell the people of Indianapolis that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed. RFK was scheduled to deliver a campaign speech, for his bid to become president that evening. Prior to his leaving for the speech, the Indianapolis police stopped him to brief him of the assassination of King. The police around the country had been told first, before the news became available to the general public. Government authorities believed that riots would erupt and they wanted to give law enforcement agencies a chance to prepare.
In RFK’s briefing, he was advised not to give his speech, as the police did not believe they could provide adequate protection. RFK said he still wanted to speak to the people of Indianapolis despite the risks. He wanted to be the one to deliver the difficult news. Over the objections of the police he climbed atop of the back of a truck to deliver the news to the people of Indianapolis.
In delivering this message, he first told the people of Indianapolis the news. After which the crowd, groaned in horror and disbelief.
Next he honored King by saying, “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort.”
Knowing the gravity of the situation, RFK went to his “go to” position on issues, by offering a course of reconciliation, peace and love. He said, “In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s 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 evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”
RFK went on to explain that he too had lost a family member to gun violence, who was also shot by a white man. He implored the crowd that we all have to make an effort to get beyond the pain, as he had to, and understand that most white people were good, as were most black people. While this event was extraordinarily painful, his desire was that all must continue in a spirit of reconciliation.
He next quoted an ancient poem by Aeschylus.
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.”
After his brother’s death he had become an advocate for lasting peace and called for an end of hatred. He continued in his speech by saying, “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 and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another; and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
Near the end of his speech, he called for prayers for the King family and a reminder of the value of our country. He ended the speech by saying, “Thank you very much.”
That night the people of Indianapolis, despite their grief went to sleep without violence. However, throughout much of the country, most cities were hit with riots. Some that took days to quell.
RFK did not run from the monster called hatred and revenge, but stood up to it, not with a sword of revenge, but words of peace. He tamed the savage nature that could have arose that night in Indianapolis with an expression of understanding, sympathy and love.
63 days later RFK himself was gunned down in Los Angeles. A voice of peace that was silenced by those who seek violence. A voice for peace that still lives strongly in our country, but is often ignored. RFK’s voice was one that sought understanding and one that didn’t take offense.
Both RFK’s and MLK’s voices were lost in that horrible year of 1968, they wanted only simple things. A country that was united. A country that sought love for all its members, regardless of race, color, gender, political affiliation or religious belief. RFK and MLK were voices of reason, peace and love; but lost to the savage nature of violence.
These two men were shining examples of what our countries founding fathers wanted from our leaders, voices of reconciliation. In this short two month period they were silenced, but thankfully leaving behind a legacy to follow.
Today the politics of our nation could use these voices to learn how not to seek revenge and its ugly by-product call hate and polarization. But to seek a trusting voice that elicits peace and understanding.
This is what Americans want.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman