Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
—U2 “Pride (In the Name of Love)
During my stint with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, I was prepared for anyone who might ask me about my favorite work of public art in the city.
“Easy,” I would have answered, “The Landmark for Peace Memorial.”
The bronze and steel monoliths align a meandering brick walkway on the southern end of a long park off 17th and Broadway Streets on the Near Northside. The figure of Robert F. Kennedy emerges from one curved sheet of steel; the figure of Martin Luther King, Jr. emerges from the opposite. Both reach out toward each other.
On this spot, on this day — April 4 — 46 years ago, Senator Kennedy broke the news to many of the gathered crowd that Rev. King had been murdered in Memphis.
For me, this pure circumstance of events — an impromptu speech in the wake of a racial tragedy — stands as one of the finest moments in Indianapolis history. It stands momentous not just for the brilliant piece of largely extemporaneous oratory, not just for a lily-white, blue-blooded Easterner quoting Aeschylus to a largely African-American crowd, but for the aftermath of this tense engagement.
That night and the days the followed, our city sat largely quiet while riots broke out in more than 60 other cities nationwide.
The memorial, unveiled in 1995, brilliantly captures the essence of that engagement: a silent tribute to two men representing two races attempting, quite literally, to reach out toward each other, though not actually touching.
When I entertain out-of-state guests to the city, I always try to take them to King Park. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend a visit. I can also recommend the authoritative documentary of the speech entitled A Ripple of Hope by Anderson University professor Donald Boggs.
Today’s anniversary of King’s death does not provide the only spark to my thoughts of this event and this memorial. Even fairly recent events like the fervor over the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., prompt musings over how far we’ve come in race relations in the span of my lifetime…and how far apart we still find ourselves.
So, on a somber anniversary like today, I pause to meditate on those words of Bobby Kennedy:
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.
Reprint from Damn Faint Praise courtesy of Hugh Vandivier.