I was 12 years old on April 4, 1968. It was a balmy, humid night. My family had just watched NBC Nightly News on the TV. Shortly after 7 p.m., a “News Bulletin” flashed on the screen. We stopped dead in our tracks. Then the news hit like a thunder clap. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis.

Oh my God.

By mid-evening, 76 of America's major cities had exploded into violence.

With one exception: Indianapolis. Many of us know the story. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was on the Indiana campaign trail in hopes of garnering the Democratic nomination. As left Muncie for Indianapolis, he heard the news that Dr. King had been shot; upon arrival he learned he was dead. With just a few aides, he ended up with a crowd of mostly African-Americans at 17th Street and Broadway despite warnings not to appear.

“Do they know about Martin Luther King?” he asked.

No. It was left for RFK to tell the crowd. What he said that night helped save Indianapolis from the violence that struck other cities. “I have bad news for you, 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 killed tonight,” Kennedy said. The crowd gasped.

“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,” Kennedy said. He had lost a brother to gunshots. In two months, he would suffer the same fate himself.

Kennedy spoke from his heart: “My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: '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.'” RFK said what we need is not violence, hatred or lawlessness, “but 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 they be black.”

On April 4, 2008 — 40 years later — Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should be in Indianapolis. There will be no place as profoundly important as our state capital. As the events of this past month prove, race is still a controversial topic.

Obama was forced to confront the issue after his Chicago pastor spewed inflamed rhetoric. In a Philadelphia speech on March 18, he took on the subject. “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me ... I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe,” Obama said.

He continued talking about segregated and inferior schools 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the lack of opportunity for black men, the erosion of black families, and “the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat.” All help create a “cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.”

Obama added, “And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve the challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny put the speech into this perspective: After running a campaign that in many ways tried not to be defined by race, Mr. Obama placed himself squarely in the middle of the debate over how to address it, a living bridge between whites and blacks still divided by the legacy of slavery and all that came after it.

If Obama and Clinton come to Indianapolis on April 4, they will find much work to do. But at 17th and Broadway, they will find a park memorial dedicated to King and Kennedy. They will find a community center and a public school. They will find the Fall Creek Place renewal project, with new and refurbished homes to both white and blacks. About 20 blocks south, they will find a public library on the site of a small disturbance that rattled the city 10 years ago.

There are a many things that Hoosiers can do better. Our drop-out rates are too high; crime is too prevalent. We've had to battle crack and gangs and assimilate new immigrants.

On April 4, 2008, our state capital will remember a terrible, but hopeful night. “Making the Dream a Reality: Our Commitment to Peace and Non-Violence” will take place to commemorate Sen. Kennedy's speech and Dr. King's dream. A memorial service is planned for 5 p.m. at IPS School No. 27 at 545 E. 19th St. adjacent to Dr. King Park and the Peace Monument. The documentary “Ripple of Hope,” written and produced by Anderson University's Covenant Production, chronicles this historic Indianapolis evening and premieres at the Madame Walker Theater at 7:30 p.m.

Sens. Obama and Clinton, please come to Indianapolis on April 4.



Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com

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