Home' SA 50s Lifestyle : SA 50s Autumn 11 Contents 16 Autumn 2011
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Robert Francis Kennedy, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy
and Rose Fitzgerald, was born in Brooklyn, Massachusetts
in 1925. Kennedy went to Harvard University but his
studies were interrupted by World War II.
In 1944, he joined the United States Navy but the war
finished before he was called into action. He returned to
Harvard and graduated in 1948, followed by a law degree
from the University of Virginia.
In 1951, Kennedy joined the Criminal Division of the US
Department of Justice but resigned the following year
to help his brother John F. Kennedy in his successful
campaign to be elected to the Senate.
When John F. Kennedy was subsequently elected as
President of the United States he appointed his brother
Robert as US Attorney General. The two men worked
closely together on a variety of issues including the Cuban
missile crisis, the struggle to get Civil Rights Legislation
passed by Congress and the Vietnam War. Robert Kennedy
also attempted to tackle organised crime but found it
difficult working with J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI.
In November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was
assassinated in Dallas, Texas. On 16 March 1968, Robert
Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the
On 5 June, 1968 Robert was also cut down by an assassin’s
bullets after celebrating a primaries victory in California.
It was stated that he was a good and decent man who saw
wrong and tried to right it, saw suf fering and tried to heal it
and saw war and tried to stop it. Robert Kennedy often said
“Some men see things as they are and say why, I dream
things that never were and say why not”.
Robert Kennedy delivered the following speech in
Indianapolis on 4 April 1968 after just learning that Martin
Luther King had died. He was deeply shocked by the
tragedy. He refused notes from his speechwriter instead
using some that he had written.
The Indianapolis police chief warned Kennedy that the
police could not provide adequate protection for the
Senator if the crowd rioted but Kennedy decided to speak
regardless. Despite rioting in other major American
cities, Indianapolis remained calm the night of Kennedy’s
remarks, which is believed to be, in part, because of his
The speech itself has been listed as one of the greatest in
American history. Journalist Joe Klein called it “Politics in
its grandest form and highest purpose”. He said it marked
the end of an era before American political life was taken
over by consultants and pollsters.
I’m only going to talk to you for
just a minute or so this evening,
because I have some very sad
news for all of you and, I think, sad
news for all of our fellow citizens,
and people all over the world; and
that is that Martin Luther King was
shot and killed tonight in Memphis,
Martin Luther King dedicated his life
to love and to justice between fellow
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 that
were responsible – you can be filled
with bitterness and with hatred, and
with a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as
a country, in greater polarisation –
black people amongst blacks and
white people amongst whites, filled
with hatred towards 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
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 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
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
My favourite poem – my favourite
poet was Aeschylus. And he once
“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 it 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.
So, I ask you tonight to return
home, to say a prayer for the family
of Martin Luther King, but more
importantly to say a prayer for our
own country, which all of us love – a
prayer for that understanding and
that compassion of which I spoke.
We can do well in this country. We
will have difficult times. We’ve had
difficult times in the past, and we
will have difficult times in the future.
It is not the end of violence; it is not
the end of lawlessness; and it’s not
the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people
and the vast majority of black people
in this country want to live together,
want to improve the quality of our
life, and want justice for all human
beings that abide in our land.
And let’s 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.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that and
say a prayer for our country and for
Thank you very much.
Martin Luther King
shot and killed
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