They told Bobby not to go.
The police escort left him as he entered the black Indianapolis neighborhood where his next campaign stop was to be. April 4, 1968. Senator Kennedy knew that Martin Luther King, Jr., had just been felled by an assassin's bullet in Memphis. The crowd did not. Bobby would be the one to tell them.
They were on their own, he and his staff. It fell to him to underscore in his own words what the fallen Reverend had said: darkness does not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate does not drive out hate; only love can do that. That's what King had said. That's what he had lived. That's what they must now do, that and grieve, as Kennedy still did for the loss of his own brother: grieve, and wait for grace.
"My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus, and he once wrote:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
"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." - RFK
He gripped his speech in his hand, but he didn't look at it. He looked them straight in the eye.
In the wake of Reverend King's assassination, many communities burned. But not the Indianapolis neighborhood where Kennedy had spoken, where he had watered the seeds of peace that King himself had sown over the months and years previous.
King was not a perfect man, but he had lived a life soaked in light, bathing in it and shedding it. One day while in Atlanta, I walked the whole distance from Peachtree St., around the curve, under the freeway to Auburn Avenue NE, to where King had been born and lived. It was a hot day, a Sunday, and the further I walked, the deeper the legacy soaked into my bones.
The sidewalk is old near the freeway, a channel down the middle where many feet have trod. The businesses appear untouched as you round the corner, restaurants with the menus still painted outside, shoe repair, handyman, tobacco, records and books, as I remember.
The old Ebenezer Baptist Church, the one where King's father preached, is on the right as you come close to his birth home. That was my church that Sunday, the one I chose over the large modern Ebenezer across the street, the one where the great ladies in their glory, picture hats for crowns, worshipped.
From a hard narrow wooden pew, one of three people, I counted pictures of long passed elders adorning the walls. Steep floor, Victorian carpet, velvet drapery, gilt altar. Smell of must. Taped voice of the young King. "I have a dream . . ." Shed a little light, oh Lord.
Outside, next door, the eternal flame still burns today, a wreath adorns the monument, murals tell the story. A little further, in a wood frame row home, creaking steps, tiny patch of grass perhaps for a dog, clothesline still hanging, he was born. Born into light, born to shine unto death.
He knew he would die for it, but he gave anyway.
The day before he was killed, he preached in Memphis, before a packed congregation, and said:
"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about a thing. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." - MLK, Jr.
King's light glowed over that Indianapolis neighborhood on the day of his death, as if from a city on a hill, just as it had shone over Montgomery, and Greensboro, even as it shone in the darkness of Birmingham and in Mississippi. Just as it danced on the Reflecting Pool in the capitol city of this great nation.
It falls to us now to tend the flame, to keep the bushel basket at bay. He dreamed, and he acted, even in the face of death. He knew what freedom looked like, and he lived it. Now we must live it, and remember those who trod there first.
So onward, to the promised land, and take a moment to remember on this beautiful warm Sunday those who went before you.