Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Robert Kennedy

The assassination of Martin Luther King Junior was tragic. It was a moment of agony for civil rights activists, supporters and the whole of America. He was the man reckoned for fighting for civil and economic equality for African-Americans through his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech. He successfully led silent and non-violence protests against racial segregation and discriminatory policies across America. His massive success earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, making him the youngest ever to receive such an honor. Upon Luther’s death in Memphis, Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Indianapolis to pass the sad news to a large group of African-Americans. The speech by Robert F. Kennedy was effectively composed in a way that it touched the deepest emotions of listeners mourning the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior while at the same time evoking a strong logical appeal to the crowd to uphold peace.  

The year was full of events. The war in Vietnam was still going on with no signs of its end. President Lyndon Johnson’s term was coming to an end the same year and therefore, per-election campaigns of new leaders were in progress. Senator Robert Kennedy from New York was on his campaign trail to earn the Democratic Presidential Nomination. He had spoken at Ball State University in Indiana and boarded a plane to Indianapolis for another routine campaign stop when he learned that Martin Luther King had been shot. Martin Luther’s death was confirmed when he landed. A large group of African-Americans had gathered to listen to their presidential candidate. Instead of a campaign speech, Kennedy offered a short speech of peace that remains memorable to date. The gathered people were not aware of Luther’s demise, and it was upon Kennedy to deliver the unfortunate news. He gave the speech in a relaxed and poised manner that was effectual in inspiring the audience to maintain peace and compassion for one another regardless of their color. The audience was utterly grieved. They gasped in horror. It was a somber mood. Kennedy, however, challenged them to maintain peace and non-violence, which Martin Luther had been fighting for all his life.


He reminded the people that he felt the same pain they did. The whole America and the world was in agony. The great and promising leader had been lost at a time when he was needed most to unite both the black and white citizens of America. He encouraged everyone who listened to him and especially African-Americans to rise above polarization and the feeling of revenge for their fallen brother. This showed that he understood the feelings and emotions of his audience. He suggested that everyone should do what Martin Luther would do even if he was dead; with an approach of understanding, replace violence with an endeavor for, “understanding, compassion and love”. Through these options, Kennedy is effective in showing beyond doubt that the nation could carry forward through a hard time in an auspicious way.  Robert proceeds to talk about his own brother, John F .Kennedy who was also killed. However, he had been killed by a white man. He uses his personal experience to relate to the public loss of Martin Luther. By pinpointing this emotional experience, he displayed a sensitive self which connected to people emotions of anguish. He also added that his brother, John Kennedy, had been killed by a white man to coherently point out that crime was not white-black geared or black-white centered, but crime knew no limits and no one was expelled. This appeal was a try to reduce the tension among the black people against the white people. Robert further connects his audience of African-Americans by referring to his favorite poet Aeschylus. He asserts that, “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”. This poem is effectively used to convey the emotions of grief engulfing the audience and public in general, and helps to brighten the sorrowful moment. This was confirmed by the reconciliatory applause from the audience.

The people had been waiting for this speech for over an hour, though it was not the speech that had been expected. It is a memorable to date speech that comes after a prominent leader who had led  people, both Christians and non-Christians. Robert Kennedy’s polished oratory skills led to a successful delivery of the message he carried for people. The news was expected to elicit disastrous effects from African-Americans. The police and authorities had warned Robert against taking his campaign to Indianapolis amid the death of Martin Luther.  However, he did not listen to them. As a result, there was no violence and nothing catastrophic happened. People remained calm. Indianapolis maintained its peace and calmness just like Martin always preached. It is worth noting that while other towns and states were burned down with chaos; Indianapolis adhered to Robert’s words coupled up with Martin Luther’s and kept its peace. The other towns, states, and the world learned lessons from this.  This makes the sole purpose of the speech and arguments provided by Robert Kennedy.

At the same time, this is the reason why his arguments are still memorable. Through the arguments, the world learned the importance of maintaining peace and tranquility even in hopeless situations, the vitality of working together as a nation without regard to color, race or economic backgrounds and economic and civil empowerment for everyone, the same virtues that Martin Luther had died fighting for.

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Senator Robert Kennedy used everything in his power to make his audience come to terms with their inner feelings and emotions. The use of his brother’s death by assassination and his favorite poet all work towards this. He, therefore, appeals to the emotions of his audience at Indianapolis and the world at large to deal fairly, considerately and with understanding with every situation facing them. It is through coming to terms with the inner feelings, emotions, and opinions that one makes a wise and decisive conclusion. This worked successfully on the fateful day when Martin Luther died.

Considering the whole speech and the success it had among people, it is true to conclude that Kennedy’s arguments held strong logic, which was coherent through every word. First, the reaction from people was undeniably worrying on hearing the news of the death of Martin Luther. However, with the choice of words and appropriate approach, he managed to calm every grieving person and shared the pain and loss. This is the feeling that every person present there that day went home with, and because of that sense of reason people of Indianapolis maintained peace throughout the period of mourning a great leader.

In conclusion, many speeches and talks have been creatively delivered to varied audiences across the globe, but Robert Kennedy’s speech and arguments goes down in history as one of the greatest speeches that led to peace, calmness and understanding to a time that would, otherwise, have been an encounter of disastrous events, especially considering the death of Martin Luther King Junior.

Oct 12, 2020 in Research
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