S. 13 originals. Ladies and gentlemen. I'm only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some very sad news for all of you.
Could you lower those signs, please? It was supposed to be a good night. Robert F. Kennedy, confidant to his late brother, former attorney general, current United States senator from New York and possible future president of the United States was due in inner city Indianapolis for a big rally as the afternoon of Thursday, April 4th, 1968, faded. John Lewis, the hero of the nonviolent civil rights movement, was on the ground awaiting his candidate's arrival.
Lewis recalled that the weather was brisk, overcast, but a large crowd had turned out a good crowd, about a thousand people, almost all of them black, all of them upbeat, eager and excited to hear the man who might well be the next president of the United States.
It was a moment of promise and of possibility. Kennedy was preaching the gospel of an interracial democracy, of a rising tide lifts all boats of one nation, not competing tribes of race and class. Then came the news from Tennessee, John Lewis, who loved Martin Luther King Jr. heard it from a Kennedy advance man, Walter Sheridan. John Sheridan said, We just got word that Dr. King has been shot in Memphis. Lewis went blank. The grief was consuming, paralyzing, unspeakable.
He had he recalled, no feeling, no thoughts, no words, I was obliterated, blown beyond any sensations whatsoever. I was numb, frozen, stunned. Stockstill inside and out. I just stood there, not moving, not thinking as the cold Indiana wind stirred the dirt around my feet. Robert Kennedy was on his way to see Lewis and to address a crowd who had not yet heard the news. I'm Jon Meacham, welcome to it was said episode two, Robert F.
Kennedy, A Eulogy for King.
There is this kind of alternation between profound sadness of grief and the realization that the nation is on the precipice of chaos. He was very young and very inexperienced. And I think many liberals in the party actually saw him as the sort of dark conservative force of the Kennedy empire or one of them anyway. He sees the king assassination as this crossroads, as this final act of violence that can either tear the nation apart or bring us all together. His brother had been shot and killed and he didn't want that to happen to him.
But he was a great believer in the idea and the fact courage. En route to the rally, Robert Kennedy learned what had happened from R.W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times. His eyes went blank. Apple recalled the RFQ biographer, Evan Thomas. There was debate on the ground about what to do before Kennedy arrived. Should they cancel the rally. A veteran of violence and mass meetings of pitched emotion and heartbreak, John Lewis said no. Kennedy's place, he believed, was here.
Somebody has to speak to these people, Lewis remarked to the other campaign officials. You can't have a crowd like this come and something like this happened and send them home without anything at all. Kennedy has to speak for his own sake and for the sake of these people sitting in a car awaiting the candidate. Lewis spoke to Kennedy on a two way radio. I'm sorry, John Kennedy said you've lost a leader, we've lost a leader. The chief of police advised the campaign to stay away, a race riot might be at hand.
Kennedy ignored him. He would speak and the world would be watching. The journey to this moment in Indianapolis had begun eight years earlier in 1960, when Robert Kennedy's older brother, John, was campaigning for president.
What do you want to have for the Democratic Party had long been home to Southern segregationists and the Kennedys of Massachusetts knew that they had to reassure the old Confederate wing of the party.
And so JFK and ask who was managing the campaign were hardly avatars of racial justice.
Yet JFK had signaled his sympathy for the cause and the harried closing days of the 1960 campaign. On Wednesday, October 16th, 1960, Martin Luther King had been arrested during a sit in at Rich's department store in Atlanta. He was attempting to desegregate the stores Magnolia Room restaurant, and he was sentenced to four months hard labor at Georgia's Reedsville Penitentiary. Coretta King, who was six months pregnant, was terrified that her husband might not come out of prison alive.
They are going to kill him, Mrs. King told Harris Wofford, a Notre Dame law professor and Kennedy adviser. I know they are going to kill him. Wofford reached out to Kennedy brother in law, Sargent Shriver, with an idea. Would JFK call Mrs. King to express his concern? Shriver called the candidate who was in Chicago. Why don't you telephone Mrs. King and give her your sympathy?
Shriver recalled, saying to Kennedy. Negroes don't expect everything will change tomorrow, no matter who's elected. But they do want to know whether you care. If you telephone Mrs. King, they will know you understand and will help. You will reach their hearts and give support to a pregnant woman who is afraid her husband will be killed. That's a good idea, JFK replied after a pause. Why not? Do you have her number? Get her on the phone.
It all happened quickly. The candidate was soon speaking with Mrs. King. I know this must be very hard for you, Kennedy told her. I understand you're expecting a baby. And I just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you and Dr. King. Robert Kennedy was initially furious with Wofford and Shriver. You bomb throwers better not do anything more in this campaign, RFQ said. Then Robert Kennedy thought again and he decided to try to intervene in King's case, calling the judge to suggest bail.
Or you heard the report, the Senator John Kennedy family wealth influence prepare for women were released from prison. Would you comment on that? Well, a great debt of gratitude to Senator Kennedy and his family for this. I don't know the details of it, but naturally, I'm very happy to know of Senator Kennedy's concern and all that he did to make this possible. I might say that there are no political implications here. I'm sure that the senator did it because of his real concern and his humanitarian bent.
And I will always say that I'm deeply indebted to him for. Thank you very much.
Dr. RFQ briefed Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, the vice presidential nominee, about the campaign's outreach. Tell Jack that we'll ride it through down here some way, LBJ said, but at least he's on the side of right. The maneuvers paid off politically. Martin Luther King, senior known as Daddy King, had endorsed Richard Nixon. The elder king had said he couldn't support a Roman Catholic, but now reversed course. Daddy King said, because this man, JFK, was willing to wipe the tears from my daughter in law's eyes.
I've got a suitcase of votes and I'm going to take them to Mr. Kennedy and dump them in his lap. Fliers heralding the Kennedy King episode were widely distributed at African-American churches and in African-American neighborhoods. In such a close run election, it's possible that the Kennedy's intervention was crucial to the outcome. The election may have been a close one, but I think that there is general agreement by all of our citizens that a supreme national effort will be needed in the years ahead to move this country safely through the 1960s.
I ask your help in this effort and I can assure you that every degree of mind and spirit that I possess will be devoted to the long range interests of the United States and to the cause of freedom around the world and. Four years of age, he is the youngest man ever voted into the White House and the first Catholic chief executive in the history of the nation with victories in the southern Bible Belt as well as the industrial centers of the North to address the shattering of a longstanding political taboo.
The prevailing white view of the movement tended to range from the temporizing to the ambivalent, to the hostile. Historians of the twenty first century, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, will no doubt struggle to explain how nine tenths of the American people priding themselves every day on their kindliness, their generosity, their historic consecration to the rights of man could so long have connived in the systemic dehumanization of the remaining 10th and could have done so without not just a second, but hardly a first thought to Slazenger, the historian and adviser to both Kennedys.
The answer to this mystery lay in the belief welling up from the depths of the white unconscious in the inherent and necessary inferiority of those of a darker color. The persistence of that conviction had long undergirded a segregated order. American presidents largely chose to view Jim Crow through the prism of states rights. It is not the disposition or within the province of the federal government to interfere with the regulation by southern states of their domestic affairs, William Howard Taft ET declared in his inaugural address in 1999.
And as Slazenger noted, by such means, white America virtuously succeeded in cutting the Negro out of conscience and except for servants, entertainers and athletes out of sight.
Are you interested in the story of an incredibly close presidential election where the result continues to echo through our country today, then check out 60 20, which tells the story of the election of 1960 and John F. Kennedy's razor thin victory by just two tenths of one percent in the popular vote.
The series will cover the 1960 campaign from the primaries through election night, highlighting key moments and lesser known stories in the race leading up to the final vote, 60 20 takes a look at how the threat from Russia and other foreign powers has changed, or in some cases remained constant over the last 60 years.
60 20 also gives listeners a sense of what was happening in America during this pivotal time, as sit ins and other demonstrations against racial segregation swept the country. And as the arms race and fear of the Soviet Union shaped how many Americans viewed the world around them, 60 20 is a special podcast series from the JFK Library Foundation.
Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Uh. Once in power, the Kennedys were not quick to embrace civil rights, surely, but very slowly. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sought to protect the non-violent protesters managing crises such as the Freedom Rides, the attempted desegregation of Ole Miss and the University of Alabama, and the March on Washington realizing that he couldn't stop the march. President Kennedy threw his brother, sought to control it. John Douglass, an assistant to Robert Kennedy, worked with the civil rights organizers settling on the Lincoln Memorial, not the Capitol, as the site of a Kennedy advance man was stationed behind the memorial with a power switch that could cut off the microphones at the podium that faced the vista of the mall.
John Riley, a Justice Department lawyer, was ready to replace the speeches with an LP of Mahalia Jackson singing He's got the whole world in his hands, Bobby Kennedy.
We tend to think of today as a sort of civil rights champion, but that doesn't really capture where he was when he started out.
This is the author and professor of American Studies at Yale University, Beverly Gage, when he became attorney general, when his brother became president.
That was a little scandalous in its own right, because he was the president's brother.
He was very young and very inexperienced. And I think many liberals in the party actually saw him as the sort of dark conservative force of the Kennedy empire or one of them anyway, someone who was not going to be out front on issues like civil rights that most liberals cared about. It is, in fact, the person who signed the wiretap orders on Martin Luther King and was very involved in a lot of those kind of backroom shenanigans, intending to control King, to track King, to monitor what he was doing.
They began wiretapping him. They began bugging his hotel rooms. They were moving into really egregious dirty tricks against King himself, aimed at kind of discrediting him, destroying the movement.
Yet there was a process of education unfolding, too, during the crisis over integration at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1960. To Robert Kennedy told author Slazenger that Governor Ross Barnett's performance and the public support of a governor's defiance had given the attorney general a better sense of how Adolph Hitler had come to power.
I love Mississippi. I love her people. I am a person and I respect our heritage. Governor Ross Barnett had asserted that he would never allow a hundred and fourteen year tradition of segregation to be broken, but he capitulated to President Kennedy, who takes his appeal for a peaceful resolution to the people.
Americans are free and sure to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it.
Everyone in Mississippi is accepting what that fellow is doing, RFQ told Slazenger. There are no protests anywhere from the bar or from the professional men or from the professors. I wouldn't have believed it.
The governor thought the court order long and bitterly before modifying. Is that saying Mississippi was overpowered by the federal government? President Kennedy appealed to the students and to the people of the state to comply peacefully with the law and bring the crisis to an end. Even as he talked, riots were breaking out in Oxford in the summer of 1963.
Reflecting on the administration's civil rights bill, President Kennedy remarked to a friend, Sometimes you look at what you've done and the only thing you ask yourself is what took you so long to do it? John Robert Kennedy told John Lewis that same summer the people, the young people of SNEEK have educated me. You have changed me. Now, I understand. As the tumultuous 60s wore on, King came out against the war in Vietnam and turned more attention to issues of economic justice.
RFA followed much the same path on Saturday, March 16th, 1968. Kennedy announced a primary challenge to President Johnson.
I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done and I feel that I'm obliged to do all that I can.
I run to seek new policies and policies to end the bloodshed in Vietnam and in our city, policies to close the gap that now exists between black and white, between rich and poor, between young and old in this country and around the rest of the world.
Bobby Kennedy got into the 1960 race for a bunch of reasons, but he was very reluctant. This is the journalist, author and historian Evan Thomas.
Kennedy cared about power and he didn't want to get in the race unless he was going to win or lose win the nomination. He didn't want to take on LBJ. He didn't want to rip apart the Democratic Party, and he was afraid of getting killed. His brother had been shot and killed and he didn't want that to happen to him. All those things made him wary, but he was a great believer in the idea and the fact of courage that was the most important value to him.
As Churchill said, it's the most important value because without it, you can't have all the others. And that's the way Bobby was. He really believed in courage. And so when people started calling him a chicken, in fact, the demonstrators would say Bobby Kennedy, hawk, dove or chicken. He hated that. He did not like to be called a coward. And so finally, in March of 1968, he gets in the race and takes on LBJ and McCarthy, who is the insurgent, and he does it with some trepidation.
But when he gets in his whole hoggins all the way, I do not lightly dismiss the dangers and the difficulty of challenging an incumbent president. But these are not ordinary times and this is not an ordinary election. At stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country. It is our right to the moral leadership of this planet. I thank you.
On Sunday, March 31st, the same day Dr. King preach the Sunday sermon at Washington National Cathedral. President Johnson withdrew from the race. Now, the Democratic campaign was between Kennedy, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. Indiana would be a crucial first test of the new political calculus. By the end of the week, King was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers strike when he was shot down outside room 306 of the Lorraine Motel.
Arriving in Indianapolis, wearing a trench coat of President Kennedy's briefcase, broke the news to the crowd, there were gasps 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. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings, he died and the cause of that effort. When he says that that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee, you hear this collective groan.
The sense that. The country was now standing on a knife's edge. This is the author and professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, Epicloud.
But, you know, there's a sense in which you when you read Bobby Kennedy's speech in this moment, there is this kind of alternation between profound sadness and grief and the realization that the nation is on the precipice of chaos.
He's reaching for words to try to hold the very fabric of the country together in this difficult day and 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. For those of you who are black, considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who are responsible, you can be filled with bitterness and with hatred and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country and 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. There is a kind of of empathy, right? He knows that black America will render an exacting judgment of the country. You can read it in the lines.
You can tell that he knows that the numbers are going to, you know, glaze over and he's trying to get us to reach for something else. And then he reaches for his own suffering. I know what loss is for those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled 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.
I had a member of my family killed. He was killed by a white man. My brother was killed by a white man. It reminded me as I was rereading the speech, there's a little memo note that James Baldwin wrote to Bobby Kennedy after his brother was assassinated. And Baldwin says to Kennedy, We know what you're experiencing. In some ways, the suffering is our rich. Let us share in your suffering.
In a way, it's really the closest he ever comes to a public apology to Dr. King in the movement for having been an earlier version of himself that didn't understand the black freedom struggle that allowed Dr. King to be wiretapped, that didn't understand that this movement should be considered the beating heart of American democracy.
This is the author and professor of history at the University of Texas, Peniel Joseph, in that moment in Indianapolis.
He really shows the vulnerability that made him such a powerful force in American politics and American history, especially in 1968. So he talks about violence. He talks about his own brother being assassinated. He says that we all have to come together like he sees the king assassination as this crossroads, as this final act of violence that can either tear the nation apart or bring us all together. And he's this white man who's speaking in front of this overwhelmingly black audience, and they are really embracing his words.
And so Bobby Kennedy in that speech in Indianapolis, he really shares the vulnerability. He shares the fact that people are so, so angry and so desperate for a different kind of America. And he's basically saying in that speech, I share your pain, I share your anguish, I share your desperation. And he tells that audience that my brother was assassinated, too, and he was assassinated by a white man. So he's trying to tell them that I actually have experienced this similar kind of anguish and tragedy in my own life.
And it's really the only time he talks about his brother's assassination in public when Bobby's brother died, when he was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy read Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way, and he started reading about Greek myths and legends. And he began to relate to them. And he saw the Kennedy family as the House of Atrius. He thought he was Agamemnon. He really related to it. And he related very much to the idea of tragedy and specifically to learning wisdom through sorrow.
Bobby Kennedy was born rich and privileged, but it didn't seem that way to him. He thought he was the front of the family and he sort of was he thought he was a loser, as he put it. The heroes in that family was Jack and Joe and Kick. So he the point is that he was born with some humility and some empathy. And that came in very handy in the 1960s. It made helped make him compassionate and empathetic. You don't think of rich guys, pampered, rich guys as being empathetic.
But Kennedy was I talked to a black militant at the time, a guy named Sonny Carson who saw him in action. He said he was a younger brother full of pain. Bobby Kennedy emanated a kind of pain that helped him relate to people who were a whole lot less fortunate than he was. What we need in the United States is not division, but 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.
The vast majority of white people, the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land. King himself could hardly have defined the beloved community more eloquently, John Lewis heard the old notes of the movement in Kennedy's extemporaneous remarks the rhythms of love, the cadences of compassion. It was a set of remarks that spoke to America's better angels.
It was heartfelt, but not naive. A voice of realistic hope amid pervasive fear. In Atlanta, Lewis escorted Ethel and Robert Kennedy into Ebenezer Church to view King's open casket. It was like the middle of the night. The sanctuary was illuminated by candlelight. The Kennedys made the sign of the cross. RFQ won the Indiana primary, as Newsweek wrote, in a painful era of racial polarization in the US. Kennedy managed to bridge the chasm separating the gut elements of the traditional Democratic coalition.
He swept the Negro vote while at the same time piling up big leads among backlashing white working men, the same group that whistled Dixie for Alabama's George Wallace in the primary four years ago.
But I think it's quite clear that we can work together in the last analysis and that what has been going on within the United States over the period of the last three years, the divisions, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the divisions, whether it's between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups or on the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together. We are a great country, a selfish country, a compassionate country.
And I intend to make that my basis for running and over the bitter. Things were looking good, if not certain, even after a win in the California primary in early June, the battle with the Democratic National Convention in Chicago would be fraught.
And then came the gunshots in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had been shot. Is that possible? No, but it is possible. Senator Kennedy. Oh, my God. Senator Kennedy has been shot. And another man, a Kennedy campaign manager, has said Ripert to get the gun back. OK, now hold on to the guy. I hold on to him. We don't want to know about Oswald. Oh, we don't want another Oswald.
Now, Robert Kennedy was dying.
John Lewis, was there a part of the Kennedy retinue that had stayed upstairs in a fifth floor suite? Watching the images of the shooting, yet another shooting, Lewis fell to the floor. I was crying, sobbing, heaving, as if something had been busted open inside, he recalled, I sat on the floor dazed, rocking back and forth, saying one word out loud over and over again. Why, why? Why? My favorite poet was Escalus, and he once wrote, 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 and what dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world that has dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.
Thank you very much. In the next episode of it was said, Barack Obama goes to Charleston, South Carolina, in the wake of a massacre of innocents at Emanuel AME Church. In word and in song, the 44th president contemplates tragedy and grace. Thank you for listening to it was said a creation and production of C 13 originals, a division of Caden's 13 in association with history executive produced by me, Jon Meacham and Chris Corcoran, directed by Lloyd Lockridge, edited, produced, engineered and master by Chris Bazil with production support and research by Bill Schulz and John McDermott and research assistants by Ian Moult.
Creative Consultation by Eli Lehrer and Jesse Katz. Graphic design, marketing and publicity by Josephine, Frances, Kirk, Courtney and Hilary, chef. Our theme song is I Can Almost See You by Hammack. In our closing credits, song is liked by Michael Kiwanuka. I want to tell you about another history podcast that explores how moments in history continue to shape our world today. History This Week is a podcast that explores events big and small, that change the course of history.
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