Indiana legislators on Capitol Hill have filed companion bills that would give national recognition to the site where Robert F. Kennedy consoled and calmed an Indianapolis crowd after the assassination of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
The legislation comes as the 50th anniversary approaches of Kennedy’s speech, given April 4, 1968 at the park at 17th and Broadway. His remarks have been described as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century and are widely credited with keeping Indianapolis peaceful even as other cities erupted in violence and bloodshed.
Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly, Democrat, and Todd Young, Republican, announced yesterday that they have introduced legislation to establish the Kennedy-King Park in Indianapolis as a National Historic Site within the National Park Service.
Indiana Reps. Andre Carson, Democrat, and Susan Brooks, Republican, have introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. In addition, the full Indiana delegation, led by Carson, sent a letter to Ryan Zinke, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking him to designate the site a National Historic Landmark.
The measure authored by Donnelly and Young, known as the Kennedy-King Establishment Act of 2018 (S.2332), states the “heartfelt leadership of Mr. Kennedy and call for nonviolence in the face of violence, prior to the assassination of Mr. Kennedy, continues to be a model for people of the United States.”
Kennedy, who had served as U.S. Attorney General during the presidency of his brother John F. Kennedy, arrived in Indianapolis as part of his own presidential campaign swing through Indiana. He learned of King’s death as he arrived in the Circle City and immediately scribbled some remarks.
Then-Indianapolis mayor Richard Lugar warned Kennedy against attending the rally, saying the police could not guarantee his safety. However, Kennedy went to the park in the African-American neighborhood and, standing on the back of a flatbed truck, appealed for peace.
“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another,” Kennedy told the crowd. “Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.”
In its letter to Zinke, the Indiana delegation said the park has historical significance for its promotion of non-violent civic engagement. “We strongly believe that the traditions of non-violence to bring about social change, studied and lived by Dr. King, and practiced by Robert Kennedy at the site in Indianapolis, should be preserved and shared with future generations.”The letter was signed by the entire Indiana delegation which included both Senators and all the Representatives as well as their Congressional colleagues, Georgia Democrat John Lewis and Massachusetts Democrat Joe Kennedy II, grandson of Robert Kennedy.