Above: “You could hardly say ‘I was speech writer’ for Bobby Kennedy,” says cousin Marty (in the photo, right), “but I did work on his [presidential] campaign” and travel with him. Marty, who was just beginning his career as a political activist in the late 1960s, was with Kennedy in Indianapolis the night that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. As a young campaign staffer, he did “advance work” and wrote the opening lines of Kennedy’s stump speeches.
It’s such a trip for me to live in Texas.
On one hand, it’s here that I’ve found the fulfillment of my life’s path. It’s where I found Tracie P and where we’ve started a family together. It’s also a place where I’ve met so many wonderful people, folks who know how to love life and to love one another, above and beyond political or ideological differences.
It’s also a place where conservative political and ideological attitudes run hot and taut. There are many people here — there’s no way around it — whose ire for our president and his policies knows no bound. As much as “decency” is core to Texans’ characteristic politeness, political dialog here often trumps respect for others and their beliefs.
An excellent op-ed in last Sunday’s New York Times looked back at the hateful attitudes that prevailed in Dallas fifty years ago when President John F. Kennedy was shot there.
While Dallas has changed radically since then, there’s no denying that today many Texans bar no holds when expressing their vitriol for our current president. Sadly, such spitefulness echoes what was happening in Dallas in 1963 when JFK was killed.
Our beloved cousin Marty, who plays such an important role in our lives here in Texas, was still in college in Indiana back then. It was long before he would work with the president’s brother on his 1968 campaign, long before his career would take him to Washington, D.C., as a civil rights activist, long before he would land a job as constitutional law scholar at Houston’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, where he still teaches today.
Marty was with Robert Kennedy on the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot in 1968. The presidential candidate was to give a speech to a black audience in Indianapolis that evening.
After much discussion, recalls Marty, Kennedy insisted that the speech be held as planned, despite the fact that the local police refused to offer any protection.
The candidate set aside his prepared notes and spoke ex tempore (see the video below).
Over coffee yesterday morning at Marty’s house, he remembered how staffers never mentioned the assassination of the candidate’s brother. And how the candidate himself never mentioned that sad day, now fifty years ago, when his brother was killed.
But the night that MLK was killed, the recollection of his brother’s death trumped familiar discretion.
In the improvised speech, Kennedy told the crowd: “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.”
That was the only instance, Marty remembered, that he heard Robert Kennedy mention his brother’s death.
Here’s a link to a transcription of the speech; and the film follows below.
I encourage you to read/listen to the speech. It’s as moving as it must have been for Marty and the others present on that day in 1968 when King was killed.
In it, Kennedy quote “his favorite poet” Aeschylus:
- Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of G-d.