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50 years later, Hoosiers remember Robert Kennedy speech in Indy

Posted at 10:26 PM, Apr 02, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS -- “Do they know about Martin Luther King?”

Indianapolis has a place in America's history when it comes to legendary civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

As cities around the country erupted in violence after King was killed, Indy remained calm. One of the reasons why? Senator Robert F. Kennedy's speech that night. 

On the day King was killed, Kennedy was scheduled to give a speech at 17th and Broadway in Indianapolis. It was supposed to be a campaign speech for president. Instead, he became a voice for peace, keeping the city safe when others turned to violence.

Kennedy stood on top of a pickup truck and asked an aide if the crowd knew what had happened to King.

Then he began to speak, off-the-cuff.

"Ladies and gentlemen. I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening because I have some very sad news for all of you."

Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis, April 4, 1968 from Kennedy King on Vimeo.

In a short speech, Kennedy spoke about compassion, forgiveness, and togetherness to the crowd. 

"That was a powerful speech that really changed the direction of the city's response to a tragic event," State Sen. Jean Breaux said. "It was the words of love that Robert Kennedy spoke that allowed us to leave there peacefully and go home and be one of the few cities that did not eruput in violence that evening."

It's been 50 years since King died, and 50 years since Kennedy gave his speech in Indy.




Jim Trulock was there and watched the speech live. 

"I cried. I think many people in the audience cried."

"Well really everyone here was looking forward to that campaign speech, and it turned out to be, of course, not that at all, but rather something more deeply rooted and more profound," Trulock said. "And indeed the best speech I ever heard."




Breaux's mother was in the crowd that night. Her colleague, John Bartlett, remembers the night too and recognizes what Kennedy's words did for Indianapolis. 

"It was a time when this city could have engulfed in violence and they were setting things afire across this nation," Bartlett said. "But not here."

Trulock was 30 at the time of the speech. It taught him a lesson that shaped the rest of his life. 

"To see the commonality," he said. "And where we find it, to build on it. We are all in this together."

Today, the site of the speech, Martin Luther King Park, is home to the Kennedy King Memorial, a bronze monument commemorating both King and Kennedy's speech that night.

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