Robert Kennedy’s Greatest Speech

On April 4, 1968, on the way to a campaign stop in Indianapolis, Robert Kennedy heard the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. The police advised Kennedy to cancel the appearance, as the stop was in what was considered to be a dangerous African American ghetto. Kennedy instead went on and broke the news to the crowd.

The YouTube clip contains about 3 1/2 minutes of the six-minute speech. It’s a remarkable example of statesmanship, in which Kennedy, without notes, speaks from the heart with compassion and clarity. He has the wisdom of past suffering and the empathy that comes with it, two things that can’t be faked. "For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people," he says, "I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man." He becomes great before our eyes. The YouTube clip comes with Italian subtitles, which only serve to emphasize the international significance of the moment.

I read this in an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about many of their favorite YouTube videos, and originally this was going to be a post about how the video revolution continues, and how print can’t compete with the internet since you can’t immediately link but have to type in oh-so-many urls if you want to get to what they spell out in print. And all that is true, so go to the article here and link in – there are many other clips. But that no longer is the purpose of this post, since I didn’t get much past the first video.

Because the first was the favorite of Mick Lasalle’s – Robert Kennedy’s classic speech. I hadn’t forgotten about it because I was involved in the Kennedy campaign – but it had dimmed in memory until I just relived it again. At the time I was a filmmaker producing the commercials on Kennedy’s Presidential campaign, and we filmed that speech – later using clips of that speech in the Academy Award winning documentary "Robert Kennedy Remembered."

He was an amazing man, and you can see, hear and feel it in this clip. He had the guts and confidence to speak without a script, and with eloquence and memorablity in a sensitive and painful situation. What leadership, authenticity and heart is shown in this short clip. It is an example to all – and a model that I wish some of our leaders of today would emulate.

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