A few lines from a Washington Post report of Bobby’s remarks:
What unfolded during the next six minutes, according to historians and Kennedy biographers, is one of the most compelling and overlooked speeches in U.S. political history — the brother of an assassinated president announcing another devastating assassination two months before he’d be killed, too.
“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,” the 42-year-old senator said in his thick Boston accent, “and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.”
There were audible gasps.
Robert Kennedy addresses a mostly black crowd
of 2,500 in Indianapolis, breaking the news of
Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination,
April 4, 1968 | Indianapolis Monthly
“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
One of Kennedy’s campaign staffers was John Lewis, who had already risked his life to defy segregation alongside King and would later become a congressman from Georgia. Lewis urged Kennedy not to cancel the speech.
“I thought Bobby Kennedy coming would have a cooling impact on the audience,” Lewis said in an interview. “He appealed to the hearts and the minds and souls of the people there — black and white.”
“He spoke in a prayerful, mournful fashion,” Lewis said.
King’s death, Kennedy said, left the black community with a choice about how to respond, whether to seek 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,” Kennedy said. “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,” he continued, “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.”
A sense of grace washed over the crowd.See Washington Post story: “That stain of bloodshed”; After King’s assassination, RFK calmed an angry crowd with an unforgettable speech