Making Peace in Indianapolis
Fifty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, urging prayer instead of violence. Today, a memorial and and initiative honor that moment and inspire peaceful activism.
Billie Breaux sealed envelopes until her tongue went dry that night in 1968. Her husband met her at Robert F. Kennedy's Indianapolis campaign office, then they joined a swelling crowd in a city park. The presidential candidate took the stage in the bed of a truck. But instead of a prepared speech, Kennedy delivered shattering news: "Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight in Memphis."
"A big sigh went up, but the crowd didn't become restless," Billie recalls. "I remember Bobby Kennedy's calm manner. I was impressed with how he talked to us so sincerely, not as poor black people, but as people who were suffering."
Kennedy's words on April 4, 1968, just 63 days before his own assassination, urged prayer instead of violence. Many credit him with sparing Indy the rioting that rattled cities across the country that night. The remarks stirred activism, not rage, in Billie. Inspired by King, the elementary school teacher went on to lead local and state education associations before becoming an Indiana state senator.
Today the humble park is quiet. Figures of the two men reach toward each other from curved walls of steel above a brick walkway forming the Landmark for Peace memorial. Kennedy stood just south of the site 50 years ago, uttering words that still resonate today: "In this difficult time for the United States, it's perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in."
For Billie, it was a call toward compassion and action: "We can choose to be angry, or we can choose to do good."
The Kennedy King Memorial Initiative will host events in April to honor the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and the speech Robert F. Kennedy gave that night in Indianapolis. kennedykingindy.org