By Mark Stubis
Who can believe it was 50 years ago last night that Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down in Memphis? I was nine years old and was the first in my family to learn what happened. I ran into my parents’ room in New York City and told them what I’d just heard on the news. My father sat up in bed, struck the sheets with his fists, and shouted, “What is happening in this country!?”
Much has changed since those days, including the quality of the leadership of this nation. It breaks my heart to remember the soaring, lyrical and compassionate speech Robert Kennedy gave that very evening in Indianapolis with virtually no time to prepare and against the advice of his security team and even then-mayor of Indianapolis Richard Lugar, who didn’t even dare set foot in the black district where RFK delivered his remarks.
Kennedy’s central message was:
“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 or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
And we had a politician who was able to touch the hearts of a crowd of devastated, poor black citizens standing in the chill rain with Aeschylus’ immortal words: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
We must remember that there used to be such leaders, thinkers, and speakers as Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I can only hope that despite the past and current darkness (or because of it) we may see such leaders again.