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Old 04-07-2008, 08:44 AM   #16
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This was the editorial that ran in the Indianapolis Star.

April 4, 2008
Forging a legacy of grace out of anger and grief

Forty years ago on this date, a young, famous and white candidate for president of the United States made a nighttime campaign stop in a black neighborhood in Indianapolis that he had been advised to avoid.

It would have been an impressive, but ultimately forgettable, gesture toward racial healing on the part of Robert F. Kennedy if it were not for another, historic, devastating event.

Legend is forever tangled with fact when talk turns to the brief speech Kennedy gave to a predominantly African-American crowd at 17th Street and Broadway on April 4, 1968.

Was he the one who broke the news that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been fatally shot hours before in Memphis? To some in his audience, certainly; but even in those pre-cable, pre-Internet days, word was already out.

Did he, by the force of eloquence, soothe away mass rage and spare this city from a riot the likes of which erupted all over the nation? Not by himself. Many local leaders had a hand in pursuing calm that night and long after RFK departed; and besides, volatility was not a hallmark of Indy residents, black or white.

No, it was not a revelation nor a miracle worthy of Moses that gave lasting significance to that moment on an outdoor basketball court in a neglected corner of the city. It was not idol worship that inspired a monument to Kennedy and King, forged from melted-down guns, in what is now MLK Park.

It was a politician's courage in putting his body where his mouth was. It was the intersection of a message of peace with the horror of racial violence. And it was words -- unrehearsed, poetically simple, from and to the heart.

It is no slight to say RFK could be as calculating a campaigner as any; but it was not a pitchman for votes who quietly uttered the lines that would endure for posterity:

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at 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."

Two months later, Robert Kennedy was gunned down as his campaign appeared headed for victory. Forty years later, Indiana experiences the rare phenomenon of another contested presidential primary, with race relations again a poignant and painful issue. We can draw strength for that challenge from the memory of how a community soldiered through one of the lowest moments of American social history, and how a few anguished minutes captured the worst and best of our nation as a work in progress.

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