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The Power of Words and Images

Words and images are powerful tools that evoke memory and reaction to stories. Because of their ability to capture the mind, heart and even the imagination of the viewer, visual materials are an integral part of our individual and collective histories.
Pictures can document people, places and events, but they do so much more than that. No matter the date of origin, a single image or document can often be a device that presents or sustains a story. One such photograph can be found amongst the 1.6 million photographs and thousands of other items found in the Indiana Historical Society’s archival holdings.

On April 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to kick off his Indiana Democratic Primary Campaign for the presidency. He began his day at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend before continuing to Ball State University in Muncie, where he again addressed a large crowd. While there, he learned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in Memphis, Tenn. By the time Kennedy landed in Indianapolis, the next scheduled stop, he was given the news that King had died.

While Kennedy did cancel his visit to his Indiana campaign headquarters, he felt compelled to still attend what was supposed to have been a campaign rally at the corner of 17th and Broadway Streets. Richard Lugar, mayor of Indianapolis at the time, encouraged Kennedy’s aides to cancel the senator’s appearance—given the news of King’s death and the fact the location was in a predominantly black neighborhood, he said he could not guarantee Kennedy’s safety. Not swayed by the mayor’s plea, Kennedy delivered his family to the Marott Hotel and continued on to the rally site.

Against the advice of many on his team, Kennedy chose to attend the rally and to deliver the devastating news. He delivered a six-minute, sincere, clear, and heartfelt speech to the interracial crowd. The impromptu words Kennedy spoke called for peace. The reaction of local black leadership and Kennedy’s words have been credited for the tranquility in Indianapolis.

Many witnesses to this historic evening, which took place at what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, cite it as a life-changing experience. The long-lasting effect is evident in the work and accomplishments of many individuals who took Sen. Kennedy’s words to heart.

Theodore Boehm, a 29-year-old lawyer and campaign volunteer at the time, went on to serve as CEO for the 1987 Pan American Games planning committee and recently retired after a 14-year term on the Indiana Supreme Court. He recalled the campaign as “a pivotal event for me that rededicated a career towards public service.”

In April 1968, Diane Meyer Simon was a Butler University student. She was so inspired by Sen. Kennedy’s speech that she took a leave of absence from school to join his campaign. She went on to work for U.S. Senator Birch Bayh for 12 years and became the Indiana administrator of his office. Diane is a pioneer in the field of green design and continues to work for social justice. 

Abie Robinson, a 24-year-old who had recently returned from the navy and was about to enroll in college, attended because of his interest in the civil rights movement. In his role as senior program manager for the King Park, Robinson is actively involved in commemorating the speech and its legacy. 

Teresa Lubbers, a junior at Warren Central High School at the time, said Sen. Kennedy’s speech and his understanding of personal sacrifice had an impact on her belief that public service is a noble calling. After graduating from Indiana University and teaching at Warren Central, she worked for Lugar during his time as mayor and U.S. senator. She served 16 years in the Indiana State Senate and is now the Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education.

The news of Dr King’s death and Sen. Kennedy’s speech changed the direction of William Crawford’s life. After quitting his job with the post office, he began working for the Black Radical Action Project and serving as a community organizer. He first ran for office in 1972 and has been a member of the Indiana House of Representatives ever since.
In 1968, Billie Breaux taught in the Indianapolis Public Schools and served as president of the Indianapolis Education Association and vice president of the Indiana State Teachers’ Association. She was instrumental in integrating the IPS faculty by hiring African-American educators. After teaching for 31 years, Breaux served as a state senator for almost two decades and is currently serving her second term as Marion County Auditor.

This evening can now be lived (or relived) at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center with You Are There 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Speaks. Revolutionary hologram technology—with no props and no 3D glasses required—allows visitors to be swept up in this historic moment, and the History Center is the first museum in the country to use it. An actor portraying Robert F. Kennedy and three actors playing the supporters who surrounded him on that night “appear” on the back of a flatbed truck, and costumed interpreters portray some of the real-life people who were there that night.
To complement the experience of the park-like scene, the stories of that night are told through the King/Kennedy Legacy Room, which features information on many of the individuals who were eye witnesses to the speech and puts Kennedy’s speech into the context of the racial climate and political atmosphere of the time.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide