Protest is just fine. Violence as a means of protest is just wrong, 100 times over. It accomplishes nothing positive. It emboldens evil.

Here and across the country, racial injustice is splitting America, much like it did five decades ago. This week, just like in 1968, Americans watched a rocket blast into space and saw cities burn following the grisly murder of an African American man.

Fifty-two years ago on the night that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy climbed onto a flatbed truck in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis. The city’s mayor thought it was too dangerous. Police didn’t escort him. He faced a boisterous crowd. But to Kennedy, they obviously didn’t yet know King had been gunned down. Their faces glowed with the political optimism of another Kennedy and the hope he might bring.


Kennedy knew he had to face America’s original sin, racial injustice. Then he gave what has been called “one of the most eloquent extemporaneous speeches of the 20th century,” touching emotionally on a pain he had long avoided — the 1963 assassination of his brother, John F. Kennedy. Instead of looting, flames, bullets and arrests, let’s be inspired by these words to come together and not let hate tear us apart:

“I have sad news for all of you, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died because of that effort.

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another.


“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I 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. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. 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.

“So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

“We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

“But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

Andy Brack is publisher of the Charleston City Paper. Have a comment? Send to:

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