Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend?

A Night to Remember 

The news reports say that it was 48 years ago yesterday, but it lingers in my memory as if it were last year.

I was a junior in college, running for Student Body President.  It was a tight race.  We were holding a rally to build support in the college gym. Someone came up with the idea of noise-makers made from Coke cans filled with gravel.  The music was loud, the crowd was energized and I was about to speak when someone came back stage and told us that Martin Luther King, Jr., had just been shot.  I’m embarrassed to say that the rally went on as if nothing had happened. I won the election, but I still feel ashamed by what we did that night.

By contrast, in Indianapolis the assassination led to one of the most amazing speeches in American political history.

A Word from the Past  

Robert F. Kennedy was running for President.  He was scheduled to rally his supporters in a predominantly black neighborhood in Indianapolis.  When word came of the assassination, local police warned him they might not be able to provide protection if there was a riot.  Kennedy insisted that he make the announcement.  He wrote a few notes in the car on the way to the rally, but he spoke from his heart without notes or written text on the back of  a flatbed truck.

It’s just a few minutes long, but there is not a single politician in our nation today who could speak as eloquently as Bobby Kennedy did that night.  I urge you to read or better yet, watch it here.

Although other major cities faced riots, Indianapolis remained calm.  Sixty-three days later, Kennedy’s voice was silenced by an assassin’s bullet.

A Word for Today 

Forty-eight years later, we need to hear his voice again. “In this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”  

We are still called to make the same choice he offered the crowd that night.

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 replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

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.

Remembering that night, I found myself singing the song that became the painful eulogy of our generation:

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John. 

Where are leaders like that when we need them?

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 thoughts on “Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend?

  1. Jim:

    I was at Robert Kennedy’s Muncie, Indiana rally earlier that same day. I recall that he entered the auditorium (he and Ethyl) very late and his speech was pretty short. They both looked so young, even to me. I was a 16 year old high school student at the time. I believe one or two of my older brothers were attending Ball State at that time and that was near the rally location. I do recall that we did not learn of the MLK assassination until after the rally. (As a side note, I had just seen Jimi Hendrix on 3/27/68 also in Muncie.) That was a pretty eventful time in my life and in the life of our country. After Bobby’s assassination we, of course, gravitated to Eugene McCarthy. I also saw him speak during that election year ….. he was very bright and articulate but he wasn’t Bobby. I think some of that optimism of the youth in our country died with Martin and Bobby.

    Larry

    • Larry:
      Thanks for sharing your experience. No question that those three assassinations shattered our optimism and robbed the nation of great leadership. How different the world would be if Bobby had survived and won that election.

  2. Amen…

    I was on active duty then. A buddy told me Bobby had been shot. “What is this country coming to? was my response.

    All the best…

  3. This impromptu speech — impromptu but long in the making through the crucible of his grief and thirst to meet and know people different from himself — together with his eloquent speech delivered in South Africa [“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”] speak compassion and hope into the fear and divisiveness of America in 2016.

  4. Thanks again, Jim. Your thoughts met mine as I reflected on that song. I can’t imagine our current candidates raising us all to the level, but I pray one will emerge to do their best.

    Larry

  5. Jim, as a Genexer, I only recently discovered this incredible gem of a speech. A statesman like RFK could appeal to the national interest and use words of healing to unify, rather than divide (while quoting ancient Greek playwrights, to boot). How I wish we had a statesman like RFK today!

  6. Yes! I read your post with tears. I was part of a group from college that went to campaign for Robert Kennedy in southern Indiana in May of 1968, just one month before he was killed. We were privileged to meet him when he arrived at the Louisville (Ky.) airport on his way to southern Indiana. I will always treasure that bittersweet moment. Thanks for your “rememberings”.

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