Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Two Who Spoke - and Died

Anyone who bothers to read or listen to the speeches of Martin Luther King has his or her favorite. There was the profoundly moving I Have a Dream speech delivered before over 250,000 at the 1963 March On Washington. There was his Nobel Prize Acceptance speech in 1964.

There was his Beyond Vietnam - A time to Break Silence speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 - a year to the day before he was murdered. "Time magazine called the speech 'demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,' and the Washington Post declared that King had 'diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.'" The Main Stream Media obviously hasn't improved much, if any, since those turbulent times.

It's hard for me to say which of his incredibly moving and powerful speeches is my absolute favorite but I See the Promised Land / I’ve Been to the Mountaintophis last speech delivered on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, resonates with me most of all. Maybe because his words were so prophetic or maybe because his face showed a certain resignation, even acceptance, of what was to come.
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

On what was supposed to be a routine campaign stop in Indianapolis on that day 43 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy was preparing to speak before a largely black crowd which had waited an hour to hear the candidate.
As his car entered the neighborhood, his police escort left him. Once there, he stood in the back of a flatbed truck. He turned to an aide and asked, "Do they know about Martin Luther King?"
They didn't, and it was left to Kennedy to tell them that King had been shot and killed that night in Memphis, Tenn. The crowd gasped in horror.
Kennedy spoke of King's dedication to "love and to justice between fellow human beings," adding that "he died in the cause of that effort."
And Kennedy sought to heal the racial wounds that were certain to follow by referring to the death of his own brother, President John F. Kennedy.
"For those of you who are black and are tempted to ... 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," he said. "I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man."
Many other American cities burned after King was killed. But there was no fire in Indianapolis, which heard the words of Robert Kennedy.

A historian says a well-organized black community kept its calm. It's hard to overlook the image of one single man, standing on a flatbed truck, who never looked down at the paper in his hand — only at the faces in the crowd.
"My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus," Robert Kennedy said, "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."
Two months later, Robert Kennedy himself was felled by an assassin's bullet.

The full text can be found HERE. I weep.


  1. I join you!!!!! Thank you!!!! I wonder where the courage in our leadership went. The messages of MLK and RFK seem to be lost. I don't see their passion and wisdom much these days. Obama doesn't seem to understand that the other children won't play nice no matter how hard he ties and that hardball is the name of the game.
    Sigh. I weep, too.

  2. I don't think this country is capable of producing men like King and Kennedy ever again.

    I think Mr. Obama has tried to move us to feel "...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," but we are just too stubborn to try.

  3. @Kay: I would certainly like to see some leaders with the courage and leadership skills that MLK and RFK possessed. The trouble is, the few who are outspoken are often so off the wall they can't achieve the same kind of following. But I disagree with you about Obama. If he had played hardball, he wouldn't have been able to gain anything at all.

    @Shaw. I don't know why, and maybe I'm being totally delusional, but I'm getting a sense that many, many people are tired of all the hate. I think a lot of people who may have supported the Tea Party in the very early days are now distressed at how far over the top they have gone. Let's hope so anyway.

  4. You know I feel Obama needs to do far more in the way of leadership but I'm old enough to know MLK and Robert Kennedy not only showed real leadership but inspired millions to make their own efforts to change the country.

    I really hate to say this but I don't see the same energy or commitment from Americans today. We always seem to be waiting for others to take the lead.

  5. The discussion seems to have turned toward our need for leadership on a par with King's and the Kennedys'.

    I believe Obama has their vision but he is cool, rational, dispassionate. I wouldn't change him, but I'd wish for a champion or two to join him about now...someone who could bring the passion and the heat. Clinton can go a long way toward it, if he will. And Wiener can deliver some real heat. Who else? We need our impassioned voices today.

    This is a beautiful post, Les.

  6. Those were the days of altering politics by murder. Maybe it was just because of the deep passion and true feelings of those men, that an opposite passion (murder) reared its ugly head. I knew at the time (like millions) that they were special men. History has proven that to be true. There are people like these out there today, but you will not find them running for political office. That's a shame.

  7. Tom, I've had that same thought, about potentially great leaders not running for office now. It is indeed a shame because we need them no less now than we did in the 1960s.

    tnlib, you present a fine tribute to Dr. King and Bobbie Kennedy. They both acted on the courage of deeply held convictions and enlightened, humane aspirations, putting those ahead of any quest for money, power, political office and the like. They were leaders and public servants in the highest sense.

    They won't be the last of their kind. But the long interlude since their passing makes clear how rare such exceptional courage and quality are.

  8. Nance, I suggest that Sen. Bernie Sanders shares the values of King and Kennedy. Sanders has plenty of passion and, sometimes, heat. Unfortunately, he's become America's senator, but one who says he has no desire to run for the presidency.

  9. Many have paid the price for standing up and speaking out. Eldridge Cleaver, Fred Hampton, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwemmer, are a few others. And Emmett Till, he should probably be included.

    And even after all of this killing, the knuckle-draggers think the exact same way they thought THEN. Thank you so much, Saint Ronnie, for making racist hatred respectable again.

  10. tnlib,
    This was a fabulous post commemorating two of the finest speeches ever delivered. Both of these men appealed to our good side and our higher nature, unlike Palin, Bachmann, Huckabee, REAGAN, Limbaugh, Beck, the Tea Party, or other darlings of the far right who appeal only to ignorance, fear, and selfishness. That is why King and Kennedy are remembered and revered to this day, and why those on the far right will soon be deservedly relegated to the scrap heap of discarded history.

  11. It is difficult to dismiss conspiracy when you look at the loss of this trio of men, at their passion, their compassion, their mission.

    Thank you for so beautifully reminding us there was a time when such leaders existed.

    “What we need in the United States” is a reawakening.

  12. Those leaders were a reflection on the people of the day, they had a willing audience because change was desperately needed. They inspired people to 'do'. Change is still needed, but people are inspired to 'talk'. Perhaps we are seeing some change in attitude, the Wisconsin protests are a good sign.

  13. The single most troubling thing about "western" society today, and it's happening in my country (Canada) too, is the continued division of the people - by OUR LEADERS. They are pitting us against one another; pushing "interest" groups to the margins by way of nasty, labelling and soundbites (written by PR experts) is one example. Leaders and powerful people know the effectiveness of "divide and conquer," and they're using the tool of information to make it happen.

    This is an important post. And I'm so happy to have revisited those words. We all need to seek to forward these ideas as best we can. It starts by living the truth behind the messages you're writing about here.

    Thank you.

  14. I remember where I was when both assassinations occurred. I was in Army basic training when RFK was killed, and was taking my Army physical when MLK was killed. Two great men gone and a nation divided still. It seems little has changed. Great post Leslie.

  15. @BB said: "I don't see the same energy or commitment from Americans today. We always seem to be waiting for others to take the lead."

    This is a very interesting statement and I have several theories about why I think it's true. But it would take several posts to discuss iut in full. But to simplify the whole damn thing, I think there are at least two underlying causes. Basically, we as a nation may have had it too easy; we really haven't had to struggle or make sacrifices. As long as most people had jobs, food on the table and homes, nobody was too worried about tomorrow. And now, as people are struggling just to stay alive, they really aren't concerned about the other person.

    At the same time, and somewhat related, we can thank Reagan and his "me generation." We've become very selfish, period. "It's all about me and what I want."

  16. @Nance: Needless to say, I agree with you 100% about Obama. But yes, we need some voices with passion but voices that are coupled with reason and a quiet dignity. Both MLK and RFK had these qualities. They didn't go off half-cocked which does nothing but alienate the very people you're trying to persuade.

    @Tom: "There are people like these out there today, but you will not find them running for political office"

    Sad but true - but who can blame them? Look at those who are resigning their seats. I don't even think Republicans of the old school - the ones with some brains, honor and decency - want to be a part of this charade. In fact, I bet decent Republicans are even less interested in running for office than a lot of Democrats. They have watched their party go to hell in a hand basket, destroying their own members who dare to disagree with them. And then there's the whole issue of raising money for campaigns.

    @SW: "They won't be the last of their kind. But the long interlude since their passing makes clear how rare such exceptional courage and quality are."

    Good point, but don't you think we've had other long periods in out history when we've gone without such exceptional leaders? Sometimes I think it is the "times" that create the exceptional men. I have nothing but admiration and respect for Sanders, in fact more so than any of the other voices on the left. I don't always agree with him (horrors!) but I think he's smart as hell and would make a splendid public servant - with no strings attached. But I can't blame him for not running.

  17. SW & Tom, that thought has also occurred to me. But then, there's this:

    Every so often, we see something interesting happen in modern human history. By interesting, I don't necessarily mean "good". In the 1930's, Central and Eastern Europe were unfortunate enough to have 2 insane but charismatic men with the capability to seize all possible power - Hitler & Stalin - and nearly destroy an entire continent with that power. In the 1960's, we saw the Kennedy brothers, the Rev. King, Malcolm X and a few others who were in the right place at the right time to step up. What are the odds,I wonder. Right now, we really don't have that situation where any one or two people really are at the right place at the right time to do either enormous evil or enormous good.

    Anyway, it's an interesting thought exercise.

  18. @JR: "Thank you so much, Saint Ronnie, for making racist hatred respectable again."

    That's not all he did. ; ) See my comment to BB about the "me generation" and selfishness. That was a fine catalogue of names we should never forget.

    @Jack: Hear, hear. I think they've worn out their welcome. They belong at the bottom of the dung heap. With a little help from our friends we're going to be sure they get there.

    @Us R Brain: I'm delighted you stopped in and found things to your liking. Make sure to come back.

    @BJ: I think we're seeing the beginnings of a reawakening. I really do. I think decent Americans on "both sides of the aisle" have had it up to their ears.

    @Holte. I agree. With over two years of the slam dunk from the right, it's easy to think that most Americans are hate-filled and ignorant. But I'd like to believe that that isn't the case at all. Of course we're always going to have those elements but we can't let them win.

  19. @Jennifer: "We all need to seek to forward these ideas as best we can. It starts by living the truth behind the messages you're writing about here."

    This is so true, and no matter how discouraged we bloggers get from time to time, we need to keep sending the "truth behind the meassages." We cannot afford to give up.

    And thank you for coming by. I took a peak at your interesting blog and will make sure to revist it. I hope very much that you'll drop by again. I know Canada is going through a bit of a struggle as well. Keep speaking out.

    @Michael: Time stood still, didn't it? It was like the world had stopped. No movement, no sound - surreal.

    @Bee: We may not have one or two charismatic people waiting to do evil. Instead we have a whole horde of them. Hate to be so pessimistic but I really think the whole Republican machinery is trying to take control of the country - and it goes beyond shutting it down financially.

  20. There's been a pretty good thread on my FB about this. I made the following comment:

    " I wonder if people haven't been kind of knocked off balance, actually stunned and shocked to the core, and literally intimidated into silence because of this barrage of hate and stupidity. There's no such thing as "reasoned" discourse with these people - whether in the office, at a dinner party, at church, at a family picnic, etc. The folks doing the hating are rabid and maybe most people think it's easier just to shut up and abide by the old "don't discuss sex, religion or politics in public." Hell, some folks don't even discuss them in the privacy of their own homes.

    Sometimes the times make the man/woman. As more groups of people organize and protest, maybe we'll see a heretofore unknown hero in our midst. Somebody with the same courage, determination, and "dignity." Let's hope so."

  21. The biggest loss of leadership isn't in government, but in the captains of industry. There is no longer moral leadership from big business but rather, just the opposite, an obsession with immoral greed.

  22. @Mr. C: True, but they've been aided and abetted by politicians of both parties.