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Looking Back On The Life Of Robert F. Kennedy, 50 Years After His Assassination


Fifty years ago today, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was celebrating a win in the California Democratic primary at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.


ROBERT F KENNEDY: My thanks to all of you. And now it's on to Chicago, and let's win there.


KELLY: Minutes after that, Kennedy was shot by a gunman in the hotel kitchen. He died several hours later.


Kennedy's death came just two months after Martin Luther King was assassinated on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tenn. It was a time of deep divisions in the country, racial and political. On the night of King's assassination, Kennedy tried to bridge those divides in a speech he gave from the back of a flatbed truck at an Indianapolis park where he was campaigning.


KENNEDY: Did they know about Martin Luther King?

KELLY: The speech, lasting just over 4 minutes, is remembered as one of his greatest.


KENNEDY: I have some very sad news for all of you and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens and people who love peace all over the world. And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tenn.


LORRAINE MORRIS: And when he said that, we all just screamed out, hollered and cried.

SHAPIRO: That's Lorraine Morris. She was 18 years old that April night, a senior in high school, and she was in the crowd with one of her classmates.

MORRIS: As he was speaking about the assassination of Dr. King, he had tears in his eyes. His voice was trembling.

SHAPIRO: In many cities across the country, riots broke out that night but not in Indianapolis.


KENNEDY: 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.

MORRIS: He had the love and the care in his voice. He was really hurt also because he, too, lost someone very close. And he was speaking of President Kennedy.


KENNEDY: My favorite poem - my favorite poet was Aeschylus. 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, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

KELLY: Sixty-eight days later, Lorraine Morris was getting ready for her senior prom. She heard the news on television. The man who had comforted a grieving Indianapolis crowd weeks earlier had been killed.

MORRIS: It was just all over again. We went through the same thing all over again. I went through the very same thing all over again, being hurt and just traumatized by all of the killing that's been going on by these great men, men that are trying to help all people and try to make it better for the United States and really for the world, too.

KELLY: But what Kennedy said on that April night in 1968 has stayed with her.

MORRIS: He was trying to bring people closer together, get people to accept people for who they are and not to be afraid of talking to someone and living in the same neighborhood because we were all created by God. And each time I talk about it, it's like it just happened recently. The hurt is still there.

SHAPIRO: That's Lorraine Morris talking about Robert F. Kennedy, who was shot 50 years ago today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.