Note: This message is displayed if (1) your browser is not standards-compliant or (2) you have you disabled CSS. Read our Policies for more information.
April 4, 2013
Thank you, Amos, for that very gracious and personal welcome. I want to thank all of those on the committee that made this wonderful occasion, blessed by such a beautiful day, for this remembrance.
I’m honored to share the stage with so many distinguished Hoosiers. My friend and former colleague Congressman Andre Carson, the Honorable Olgen Williams, the Imam, the U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett, whom I have known since both of us had dark hair, Pastor Brown to the incomparable Shirley Dabney, who moved our hearts today, to Representative Porter to Senator Breaux to the honored guests who are here and members of the Indiana General Assembly, to the Trailblazer Award winners who will be acknowledged today and to those who will be acknowledged for their community leadership. I am here to pay a debt of gratitude in the few moments that I’ve been given.
I’m particularly humbled to be with the witnesses who are here. On this occasion some 45 years ago, I was a six-year old boy in Columbus, Indiana, but I had heroes. I have a little memory box in my garage to prove it. Both of the men and both of the lives that we remember on this day and on this ground, shaped my life in that little small town. Let me say, I envy those who were here. I admire the men and women of this community for their response in the wake of those events.
We gather today to commemorate the legacy of two men of peace: Robert F. Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on this, the forty-fifth anniversary of King’s death and of Senator Kennedy’s speech.
On that occasion, not far from where I’m standing now, as witnesses will attest, this place became forever linked to two great Americans and one great community. It is extraordinary to think of that night, and as I reflected on the words that we will hear momentarily again, and I think of the reality of that moment, it is extraordinary to think of the challenge that Senator Kennedy faced and how inadequate he must have felt to that moment.
He had been that day on the campaign trail for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He had spent the day in northern Indiana, traveling to the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University and as history records, as he boarded a plane to Indianapolis for a rally that would take place here, Senator Kennedy learned that Dr. King had been shot. When he disembarked the plane in Indianapolis, he learned that this great American hero had died.
Against the advice of the Indianapolis chief of police who feared rioting, and despite the concerns of his immediate staff, Senator Kennedy came to this park, and he spoke. He spoke about sad news for all our fellow citizens and people who loved peace all over the world. He spoke not just to a nation, but to a world that looks to this beacon of freedom and our aspirations for a more perfect union, longing to see them more true every day.
His words that evening were filled, we know, with raw emotion as he broke the news of the death of Dr. King. Speaking on what he would call “a difficult day and a difficult time,” he said to this gathering of Hoosiers that he knew from personal experience that they could be filled in that moment with bitterness and hatred and a desire for revenge - an extraordinary understatement. He would, on this ground, speak for the only time in a public setting about the tragedy that befell his family. He told Hoosiers that night that he could understand the feelings of mistrust and injustice because he “had a member of my family killed,” as if he needed to say. He said to the crowd that night that bitterness and hatred and desire for revenge could move in that direction, and we could move in that direction as a country, but we didn’t. This community, including the witnesses who are gathered here today led this nation by your example to make a reality of Dr. King’s vision of nonviolent civil disobedience and protests in the name of freedom.
Dr. King's lifetime of work and achievements are well known, and they have been a study throughout my life. We will hear in a few moments from a close friend, part of Dr. King’s inner-circle and a man with whom Congressman Carson now serves and I had the privilege of serving for some twelve years – Congressman John Lewis. My wife and our small family’s great appreciation for the sacrifices that brought Dr. King to international prominence and, by his life and sacrifice helped change a nation, became more real to us when, just a few years ago, we joined John Lewis on the annual pilgrimage to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. We took our three kids, we went by the Civil Rights Museum, we sat in the pews at Dr. King’s old church, we heard about how important singing was in sustaining the courage of a movement. I consider one of the great honors of my life, on the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” to have walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge arm-in-arm with John Lewis.
"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope was forged." Those are the words that are on the memorial to Dr. King. A memorial that rightly sits on the edge of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., facing the memorial of Thomas Jefferson. Two men, twin pillars, of the same principle that all men are created equal.
As I close, let us leave here today challenged to understand that while we have a memorial on these grounds to acknowledge the extraordinary sacrifice of these two men, we have a memorial in Washington, D.C., that the true memorial to each of these leaders and to those who labored on behalf of equality, of opportunity, regardless of race or creed or color, in this community and across this nation, the true memorial is to continue the work, to labor every day toward a more perfect union.
It strikes me that we could commemorate this evening forty-five years ago with the words from the Sacred Book that “a gentle answer turns aside wrath,” but also with the verse that “blessed are the peacemakers.” And as we continue to face challenges and disparities in this community and in this state and in this nation, let us here resolve to show the same courage, the same tenacity, and the same optimism that we heard in that wonderful song; to leave here today, not just inspired by the past, but to find a way to help somebody; to cheer somebody; improve our communities and in so doing improve our lives. When we do this, then we will know that our living and their dying shall not be in vain.
May God bless the memory of Dr. King and Senator Robert Kennedy and all who follow their example. God bless you all.