INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.- 50 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
The civil rights leader died at just 39-years-old.
In the days following Dr. King’s untimely death riots broke out in major cities across the country, but not here in Indianapolis.
That was likely because of an impromptu speech given by then senator Robert Kennedy.
April 4, 1968 is considered America’s darkest days.
He was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Robert F. Kennedy delivered the news to many in Indianapolis gathered at 17th and Broadway.
“The mentioned at our meeting that Robert Kennedy would be here to announce his candidacy for Presidency,” said Abie Robinson, who was in the crowd for Kennedy’s iconic speech.
“I was a fan of his brother and just knowing what they stood for I wanted to be there,” said Karen Arnett, who was just a teen in 1968.
“They wanted to call the speech off as I think you know and Kennedy said no we’re going to go forward, and he did,” said Ted Boehm, a former Kennedy campaign volunteer.
Perhaps it worked because Kennedy had experienced tragedy like this before.
His brother John F. Kennedy was assassinated about five years prior.
“For those of you who are black and 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. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man,” said Kennedy.
While many major cities across the country rioted in the wake of Dr. King’s death, Indianapolis remained calm.
“I was little. I didn’t know what was going to happen then. I was afraid. I was not understanding why someone would kill him,” said Arnett.
“There really was a sense that America was—what is happening here? We’re killing our leaders of all stripes, those who are in government and those who are not,” said Boehm.
“He asked everybody when you leave here go home and say a prayer,” said Robinson.
Kennedy closed his speech by saying “say a prater for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love–a prayer for understanding and that compassion which I spoke.”
17th and Broadway, where Kennedy delivered his iconic speech, is now known as MLK Park.
There’s a memorial to both RFK and MLK there.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill to make the site a national commemorative landmark.