Reading Alyssa Konermann’s “Every Word Held You,” a riveting oral history of the famous speech Robert F. Kennedy delivered from the back of a truck to a mostly African-American crowd in Indianapolis hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., left me struggling with a flood of emotions: anger, remorse, and, perhaps most curiously, pride.
According to the popular narrative, as other cities erupted with rioting and violence in the wake of the awful news that night, Kennedy’s powerful and empathic words soothed the masses, and our city avoided unrest. Kennedy is rightfully portrayed as valiant—cut from the same cloth as the eight U.S. senators his brother John F. Kennedy wrote about in his 1955 book Profiles in Courage, which went on to win the Pulitzer. But there’s something to be said for the heroism of the everyday Hoosiers who, on April 4, 1968, went home to their families, came back to their jobs, and returned to the task of building toward a better day.
As we observe the 50th anniversaries of the deaths of Kennedy (himself killed by a gunman almost two months to the day after his speech) and King, I cannot help but wonder what might have been. Still, I am reminded by the example the citizens of Indianapolis set that night at the corner of 17th and Broadway: There are leaders everywhere you look.
For a listing of Indianapolis events honoring the 50th anniversary of King’s death, please review this list.