Martin Luther King, Jr. was the well-known leader of the civil rights movement in the Unites States in the mid 20th century. As a young Black person in America in those days, he was one of my heroes.
King and other civil rights leaders were murdered for seeking to end state-sponsored segregation and affording Blacks the same rights that white citizens enjoyed under our Constitution. Black people and white people were murdered simply for registering or trying to register Black people to vote. Right-wing conservatives called King and other civil rights leaders communists among other things.
My most striking recollection of those times was the day King was assassinated, April 4, 1968. I was a sophomore at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, IN. There was a primary campaign going on to select the Democratic nominee for president in the 1968 election. Robert Kennedy was running and he was in Indy to give a campaign speech. The location was 17th Street and Broadway in the heart of the Black ghetto.
Because of the war in Vietnam, interest in politics was very high especially among young people. I wanted to hear Kennedy speak because he was my preferred candidate even though I wasn’t adamantly anti war at that time as many of his supporters were.
The speech was outdoors. The location was essentially a vacant lot as many of the houses in the area had been torn down in hopes of urban renewal. I arrived early and waited for Kennedy to appear along with a very large, mostly Black crowd.
Before Kennedy spoke, I noticed people with rifles taking positions on buildings around the neighborhood. The rifles had telescopic sights. That seemed like very heavy security even for a candidate in a presidential primary.
That time was long before cell phones. Transistor radios were around, but there was no indication that anyone in the crowd was aware of King’s murder until Kennedy appeared and broke the news.
In spite of improvising the speech on the ride from the airport, Kennedy delivered what has been recognized as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century in America. The speech is powerful although less than five minutes long. Kennedy’s words are my tribute to King on this Martin Luther King. Jr. Day.
Unlike some other cities in the U.S., Indianapolis was calm that night. Thanks in part to Kennedy’s words.