April 4th marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragic assassination in Memphis. That same day, Robert F. Kennedy was in Indianapolis to deliver a campaign speech. Though his aides cautioned not to speak, Kennedy insisted, breaking the news to the citizens of Indy. Kennedy, who was running for president, was scheduled to make a campaign speech a few days before the Indiana Democratic primary. He was popular among the Black community, and in an effort to get more Blacks registered to vote, he wanted to speak in the heart of Indianapolis’ inner-city.
Shortly before his speech, as Kennedy’s plane landed in Indianapolis, he learned that King had died from an assassin’s bullet. Then Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar, fearing a race riot, told Kennedy’s staff that his police could not guarantee Kennedy’s safety in the mostly Black neighborhood where we was to speak. Lugar urged Kennedy to cancel his speech. But Kennedy insisted that he and his people go on and go alone, without police. The audience in Indianapolis was estimated at only about 2,500 people, but they were influencers, members of young, somewhat radical black groups like the College Room, the Watoto Wa Simba, the Black Panthers, and the Black Radical Action Project. His stirring speech called for peace and reverberated across the city. Though racial violence swept the nation, with riots in over 100 cities, Indianapolis remained peaceful as Kennedy had urged calm and racial conciliation. Kennedy went on to win the Indiana Democratic primary that year. He was assassinated two months later in California.
The exact spot where Kennedy delivered the speech is now an Indy Park named in King’s memory and includes a piece of art meant to commemorate these two leaders. On April 4th, in that very same spot, NBCSL President Gregory W. Porter (IN), U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), Kerry Kennedy daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, Joe Hogsett, Mayor of Indianapolis, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), joined the Indianapolis community leaders and citizens for an event that honors and remembers MLK and RFK’s legacies of peace, their impact on Indianapolis on that day 50 years ago, and the community’s responsibility to fulfill those legacies by eliminating injustice and division.
50th ANNIVERSARY CAMPAIGN
The Kennedy King Memorial Initiative has big dreams and concrete plans to transform the Martin Luther King Park campus into a center where people, institutions, and community partners can come together in bold dialogue and purposeful action. The initiative’s 50th Anniversary campaign goals total $500,000 and will support the beautification of the site, create a permanent recognition of those who witnessed the historic speech and fund renovations for the Indy Parks Department building into a Tourist and Visitor Center to provide historical context and interpretation for Senator Kennedy’s speech on the night of the dramatic death of Martin Luther King Jr. The campaign will continue until goals have been met.
The Kennedy King Memorial Initiative builds on the historical events of April 4, 1968, to raise awareness, provoke thought and inspire action to eliminate division and injustice.
ABOUT THE MEMORIAL
On April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy flew to Indianapolis for a planned inner-city rally promoting his presidential campaign, and was informed upon landing about King’s assassination. Kennedy was told that riots had broken out in other cities and was advised not to make the speech, but he proceeded to address the gathered crowd at 17th and Broadway. Instead of a campaign stump speech, he delivered a five-minute improvised statement informing the crowd of King’s death and urging racial reconciliation. No riots took place in Indianapolis, a fact many attribute to the effect of Kennedy’s speech. The memorial stands in the park where Robert Kennedy delivered his impromptu speech which is credited with keeping Indianapolis calm on a night when so many other cities were not. It’s been called one of the finest speeches in modern American history.
At the memorial, guests can read the speech, move within the memorial, and reflect on the continuing reach toward justice and peace.
For More Information visit: http://kennedykingindy.org/