RFK, the Prophet

Want to read something stunning? A friend sent me a dated news clip from 1968. It reported a talk my former boss, Robert F. Kennedy, gave then on Voice of America. I worked for RFK in the Department of Justice, and was a speechwriter when he ran for the Senate in 1964. But this uncanny prediction from the past is one I missed, and it is remarkable. I quote it; the words are so eerily prophetic.

Things are moving so fast in race relations a Negro could be president in 40 years. There’s no question about it, in the next 40 years a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has. Prejudice exists and probably will continue to, but we have tried to make progress and we are making progress. We are not going to accept the status quo.


That was 1968; 40 years ago! How intriguing.

I am quite familiar with RFK’s commitments to the civil rights struggle. RFK’s most profound speech, for which he had no speechwriter and which he delivered spontaneously on April 4, 1968, after learning of Martin Luther King’s murder, to a black audience in an Indianapolis ghetto, included these hopeful remarks:

We have to make an effort in the United States — we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times … 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 toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black … We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times … But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.


My daughter recently sent me another message that’s been going around.

“Rosa sat down so Martin could march. Martin marched so Obama could run. Obama is running so our children can fly.”

There is something in the air — about this incredible campaign, this unlikely candidate, our country’s apparent willingness to write a new chapter in our history.

RFK was right. Vote for Obama!


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