Youth Fellow Meet-Up Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy
On March 11, 2017, the Youth Fellows took a trip to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park to learn more about the Landmark for Peace Memorial, a statue commemorating Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s historic speech on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At the park they met with Judge David Dreyer, board member of the Kennedy King Memorial Initiative, and Abie Robinson, Director of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
When they first arrived at the park, Judge Dreyer and Mr. Robinson provided some historical context to help the Youth Fellows understand the history of the park and the significance of Kennedy’s speech. As Judge Dreyer explained to the Fellows, on April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King gave a famous speech entitled “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”. In this speech King spoke to supporters of a Sanitation Strike in the city of Memphis, calling for nonviolent protest and unity in the cause, while also seeming to foreshadow his own untimely death, as he referenced threats against his life and affirmed his willingness to die for his ideals of nonviolent protest, freedom and equality for all. That speech would prove almost prophetic, when, the next day, April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed in Memphis. The Fellows listened to a recording of King’s Mountaintop speech and discussed what King was talking about in it before moving on to Robert F. Kennedy’s role in responding to King’s death.
As Judge Dreyer described, during the time of King’s assassination, Robert F. Kennedy was on the road for his presidential campaign, and had an appearance in Indianapolis scheduled for November 4th, the day of King’s death. When Kennedy entered the city police officers told him to call off his speech because they feared rioting would occur once news of King’s death had reached the public. Kennedy refused to cancel his appearance and when he arrived at the park, he was tasked with telling the people assembled what had happened. Instead of giving his typical stump speech that night, Kennedy asked his supporters to lower their signs and announced to the crowd that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed. What followed that announcement at Broadway and 17th Street was one of the most memorable speeches in US history. In the midst of violence Robert F. Kennedy spoke words of justice, love and compassion. After telling the crowd Martin Luther King had died, he addressed that crowd, saying “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?”
After listening to a recording of Kennedy’s speech the Fellows went out to the park to see the Landmark for Peace Memorial, which commemorates that speech and the legacies of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, two of the greatest advocates for peace in the history of the United States. Walking the grounds of the park, Robinson, who was there the night of the speech, helped the Fellows get an idea of where Kennedy was standing during the speech and what the park looked like that historic night. As Robinson explained, he was in his early 20s and had just returned home from serving in the Navy. He remembers not being engaged in social justice work at the time, but after hearing the speech he started to think about how he could be more involved in his community. He is now the manager of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park where the Landmark For Peace Monument is located.
After seeing where Kennedy spoke and hearing from Robinson, the Youth Fellows discussed what it must have been like to be in Indianapolis at that time, and how Kennedy’s speech might have changed the way Indianapolis might have responded to the assassination of King. Robinson attested that Kennedy’s speech seemed to have a real effect on those who listened to it and that in contrast to other cities around the country that night, there were no instances of violence or riots in Indianapolis that evening. The Youth Fellows then went on to discuss how everyone has the power to make an impact in their community. They also recognized how the words of Kennedy are still relevant today – almost 50 years later – in a country that is divided by so many different issues.
Lastly, our Youth were invited to participate during The Kennedy King Memorial Initiative’s commemoration of the 49th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech on April 4, 2017 from 5 to 6 pm at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
By Phil Graybiel