RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Next we'll hear about a wrenching event and a speech that helped give it meaning. Forty years ago today, a presidential campaign was underway. Which is why the candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, was visiting Indianapolis. He was scheduled to speak in a black neighborhood on April 4th, 1968. And he went ahead that volatile night, even though his police escort refused to follow. Just before he faced the crowd he asked an aide, do they know about Martin Luther King. They didn't.
As Kennedy's car entered the neighborhood, his police escort left him. Once there, he stood on the back of a flatbed truck. He turned to an aide and asked, Do they know about Martin Luther King?
Senator ROBERT KENNEDY (Democrat, New York): 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, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens and people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
(Soundbite of screaming)
Ms. BILLIE BRO (Resident, Indianapolis): And then Bobby Kennedy sort of calmed the whole crowd.
MONTAGNE: Billie Bro was in that crowd that evening.
Ms. BRO: And I remember, most importantly, him saying that he has had a member of his family killed by a white man.
MONTAGNE: It's often pointed out that many cities burned after King was killed. There was no fire in Indianapolis, which heard the words of Robert F. Kennedy. A historian says a well-organized black community kept its calm. And 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.
Senator KENNEDY: My favorite poem, my - my favorite poet was Aeschylus. 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.
MONTAGNE: Spoken on the night of April 4th, 1968.
(Soundbite of applause)
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.