Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Robert F. Kennedy's Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

A tragedy occurred on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee that led to a speech made by Robert F. Kennedy to a large group of African Americans. This speech was given in Indianapolis, Indiana to announce the assassination of the activist and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Kennedy gave this speech in a calm, collective manner that was effective in motivating the audience to be peaceful and understanding of such a devastating situation.

Figure One: "Robert F. Kennedy: Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr." 4 Apr. 1968. Photograph. American Rhetoric. Web. 4 October 2010.

When Kennedy regrettably announced that Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot, the crowd shrieked with disbelief, that a leader whom only promoted peace would be murdered out of hatred. Shown in Fig.1, Kennedy goes on to ask “what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move it,” when speaking of how to react to King’s death. The options Kennedy presents are that of a desire for revenge, one of which would be acted upon by “those of you who are black, considering the evidence, evidently is that there were white people who were responsible, you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred...,” Kennedy stated, showing that he understands the emotions of his audience. He goes on to offer an alternative solution, to act as Martin Luther King Jr. would, through an attitude of understanding, comprehension, and to replace violence, “with an effort to understand, compassion, and love." This alternative connected with the audience by involving Martin Luther King Jr., showing them that King’s way of life should continue, even though his life no longer does. By providing these two options, Kennedy was effective in proving to the audience that the nation can carry on during a difficult time in a positive way.

Robert F. Kennedy uses his own experience to relate to the public’s loss of Martin Luther King Jr. by including, “I can also 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." By stating this, Kennedy revealed a personal event in which his brother, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed only five years prior to the speech. By sharing this emotional experience, Kennedy showed a sensitive side that connected with the audience’s feeling of grief. He included the fact that
John F. Kennedy was shot by a white man, to demonstrate to the crowd that crime is not solely white on black, or black on white, but that it has no limits, and no one is excluded. Kennedy saying this was to help lessen the crowd’s tension towards white people due to the assassination.

Kennedy recites a piece from his favorite poet, Aeschylus, to better connect the tragic event with a more emotional meaning, as opposed to a formal speech. He recites, "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget...," which was effective in brightening the audience, demonstrated by the applause that followed. This speech by Robert F. Kennedy,with a tone of sensitivity, calmness, and understanding, successfully delivered devastating news in a way that inspired the audience to remain peaceful, much like the way of Martin Luther King Jr.

Work Cited

Kennedy, Robert F. “Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King”. American Rhetoric. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2010.

Works Consulted

"Martin Luther King - Biography". Nobel Prize. Nobel Web AB, 2010. Web. 2 Oct. 2010.

"John F. Kennedy". Encycolpedia of Biographies. Notable Biographies, n.d. Web. 2 Oct
. 2010.