Thursday, June 05, 2008

RFK - A Remembrance

On this, the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, I find myself thinking of Kennedy's statement in inner city Indianapolis on the evening of the day on which Martin Luther King was assassinated. He was told by law enforcement and all local elected officials not to go, but he went anyway. Imagine the crowd on that April night in 1968 in that pre cellphone and email and Blackberry day. Most had no idea that King had been killed. In fact, if you listen to the audio of that tape, you can hear the horror and heartbreak in the crowd as Kennedy himself breaks the news to them. Speaking extemporaneously, Kennedy said:

I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some -- some very sad news for all of you -- Could you lower those signs, please? -- I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news 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 was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. 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.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with -- be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my -- my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even 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 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.

On that day in April, 1968, I typed those words from Aeschylus on a small index card and have carried it with me every day since then as a remembrance of dreams and hopes lost and of dreams that continue to live and of the constant pain of life that gives birth to dreams. Two months later, on June 5, 1968, Kennedy was shot and killed immediately following his victory in the California primary.

On a day when there can no longer be any doubt that a person of African ancestry -- a biracial person -- will be the Democratic Party candidate for the Presidency in November, I find myself thinking of those days in 1968 and of the hopes born in those days, many of which have long been forgotten by many of us in a sea of accumulated wealth and debt and scandal and change and cynicism and irony, and I find myself wondering how much of the symbolic and realized hope and dreams contained in the candidacies of Senator Obama and Senator Clinton find their root in the hopes of Bobby Kennedy and 1968. So on this day, do we offer the image of Barak Obama to those elementary school children creating chaos at Porter-Hays School as an image of exceptionalism owing to his good luck and his rearing by a strong single white mother or do we offer the image of Barak Obama as an image of aspirational hope that points a way to these children beyond the real but, all too easy, excuses of racism and discrimination to hope and success and not failure --- an image that says you too, can be a candidate for President and maybe even President someday if you work hard enough.

Today, I hope that we join with Bobby Kennedy and "dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world."

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