Kennedy-King Park legislation passes Congress

March 23, 2018

The Indianapolis park where Robert F. Kennedy pleaded for peace and calmed the crowd after the assassination of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is a presidential signature away from getting national recognition.

H.R. 4851, introduced and supported by the Indiana congressional delegation, is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law. The measure recognizes the Kennedy-King Park at 17th and Broadway streets in Indianapolis as a National Commemorative Site and includes the plot of land as part of the African American Civil Rights Network.

“This legislation will ensure that the site where Robert F. Kennedy gave his famous speech following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is recognized for future generations to visit and learn from,” Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said following the passage of the bill in the U.S. Senate.

April 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination and Kennedy’s speech.   

After the House of Representatives unanimously passed the measure Monday, the U.S. Senate amended the bill and passed it by unanimous consent Thursday. The House followed suit and agreed to the Senate amendment without objection.

The amendment, offered by Sens. Todd Young, R-Indiana, and Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, removed the provision calling upon the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special study to evaluate the national significance of the park and determine the suitability of designating it as a unit of the National Park System.

Reps. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, and Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, introduced H.R. 4851 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Young and Donnelly offered companion legislation, S. 2332 in the upper chamber.

The legislation recognizes the importance of Kennedy’s impromptu remarks. The speech has been credited with preventing the Circle City from erupting in the riots and bloodshed that occurred in other cities around the country following King’s death.

Kennedy had arrived in Indianapolis on the evening of April 4, 1968, as part of a presidential campaign swing through Indiana. A crowd had gathered to hear the Democratic candidate talk about why he wanted to be president. Instead, he stood on a flatbed truck and delivered what is now considered one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country whether they be white or whether they be black,” Kennedy said.

In addition to the park legislation, the entire Hoosier delegation, led by Carson, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to designate the site as a National Historic Landmark.

“RFK’s speech helped shape our community in a time of tragedy and sorrow,” Donnelly said. “The speech carried on Dr. King’s vision of nonviolence. We are proud this legislation has passed the Senate and the House of Representatives.”
The historic speech was commemorated in 1994 with a Landmark for Peace memorial at the park. A sculpture stands at the site, depicting Kennedy and King with their arms out stretched reaching toward each other.


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