Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It’s a somber day to be sure because his death represents a period of time in our nation’s history that many young people of today would have a hard time comprehending. To say that we were pretty much in a revolution is an understatement. Not a revolution like our framers fought some 240 years ago with muskets and cannons, but a revolution nonetheless. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, racism, 3 assassinations, and unrest on the streets of America is what I remember. Although I was too young to remember the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963, I do recollect both RFK and Martin Luther King Jr.’s. All were tragic beyond belief but for some reason the killing of RFK has always resonated with me the most.
There was just something about him. Through the years I’ve seen many of his speeches. I’ve seen footage of him traveling down to Appalachia and the deep South, talking with extremely poor people, looking on with concern over the appearance of many of the children who clearly were suffering from starvation. I was always struck by the absolute authenticity that emanated from him. He was soft-spoken, reflective. There was a certain innocence about him.
One of the most iconic moments I see from time to time is when he was in Indianapolis, Indiana the night Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. Speaking at a campaign rally in a predominately African-American neighborhood that night, there was RFK delivering the news that the Civil Rights leader had been killed. He was warned not to go to the rally. The Mayor had told him he couldn’t guarantee his safety, fearing riots and bloodshed. He refused to listen and went to the rally instead. He delivered perhaps one of the most heartfelt, introspective speeches I have ever seen. He talked of his own brother’s assassination. He spoke of the need for calm, even though he totally understood the anger surely rising from those in the crowd. The result was that Indianapolis did not explode into hostility like most major cities did that evening. His speech…his empathy….his grace….all were said to be the reason why that city stayed calm that night.
These days I find myself thinking quite a bit about RFK. I wonder if there is a politician today who could have pulled off what he did that night. Certainly born with a silver spoon in his mouth, RFK evolved over the years. He didn’t understand poverty. Until he saw it for himself. Watching that speech, it’s clear he had been transformed. The African-American community believed in him. He touched them. They were inspired by him. They listened to him.
I often wonder what things would have been like if he were to have won the presidency in 1968. I know I’m not the only one who does. It seems to me that we were robbed. We were robbed of something very special. We know he wanted America out of Vietnam. It’s not too hard to think he would have gotten us out much sooner than Richard Nixon did. Perhaps thousands of lives would have been spared. But, we’ll never know. He was taken from us. Too soon. So tragic. An incomplete history of what could have been.
I often wonder how America would react to such a man today. How would social media treat him? How about the news media? I’d like to think we would embrace him. I’d like to think America today would welcome the authenticity. The empathy. The intelligence. The humility. But, I’m not so sure. Our public discourse has fallen to depths I never thought possible. So, I’ll just keep that thought to myself. In the years ahead, perhaps another RFK will emerge. Sadly, we need him now more than ever.