The news has been filled the last several days with reports of the speech that Robert Kennedy gave in Indianapolis following the assassination of Martin Luther King on Aril 4, 1968 – a Thursday, for those of you who are wondering. His words are credited with eliminating, for the most part, the violence in Indianapolis that crippled other major cities across the United States commencing the day after MLK was killed – that’s right, April 5, 1968 – 43 years ago today. Personally, I wish that Robert Kennedy, whose own assassination was only several months away that very year, had been on the south side of Chicago that day, where I attended Morgan Park High School; because that Friday was one of the worst days of violence I have ever observed.
To be sure, young people don’t have any recollection of what it was like in the late ’60’s. The war in Vietnam, the ’68 Democratic Convention in Chicago where Daley issued his famous “shoot to kill” orders, the Black Panthers – a radical black group, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) – another radical group, primarily white hippies; and a host of other factions exploring their own freedoms and pushing the country toward the least stable time it had experienced in decades. These included the “flower children”, returning Vietnam Vets, war protesters and many others.
And I was a sophomore in high school, having recently turned 15. And on Dad’s birthday, April 4th, King had been shot to death in Memphis. Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy and a host of other black leaders were with him at the time. And our school experienced the worst race riots in it’s history. I attended the whitest, blackest, richest and poorest high school in Chicago. It was located on the border of the black and white communities. Beverly, where I grew up, was considered upscale white, while Mt Greenwood, further south and west of us, was more of a tough, white neighborhood.
The area of 111th and Vincennes, one block east of the school – a black neighborhood, was so dangerous that it was the site of the first drive-by funeral home in the country. Cars pulled up to a window, like a bank window today, and a drawer came out with the signature book. A camera, fixed on the deceased person, came on and you could view the body and sign the register without ever getting out of your car. Because it was too dangerous – it was a desperately violent area.
In fact, one day, my mother dropped off Mary, our ironing lady, near there, and that evening, Mary was found dead in a bar with a stiletto sticking out of her chest. We didn’t know anything about it, other than Mary had not come to our house the next morning, and it was only after the murder was reported on the news that we realized what had happened. Because my folks didn’t even have a phone number or address for Mary – that just didn’t happen in those days.
Anyway, Friday, April 5th, was filled with violence. My friend Eric was held at knifepoint in a bathroom, and David, another friend, was beaten so bad, his teeth were knocked though his lips. Black students were ripping handfuls of hair from white girls’ heads and then locking them in lockers. My friends Brad and Henri were stuck on the landing between the second and third floors. They were attacked from above and below; and people were actually thrown over the railings to the first floor two stories down.
And I was attacked by three black gang members – and they were in one of my classes! I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – a white kid in a “black” hallway, on my way to drafting class. One guy held my arms, another wrapped a thick motorcycle chain around my neck, and a third beat me senseless with a lead pipe. It hurt like you can’t believe – until I passed out. When I came to, I crawled to my feet, and went into class. I still can’t believe that day…..
And all of this happened when a man who believed in peace was gunned down in cold blood. And even though I witnessed terrific violence that day, I am sure that the black community felt helpless at the passing of their non-violent leader. And they lashed out – and who knows how white folks would have reacted had the situation been reversed.
But that is not what God, or Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy, would have wanted. The Scriptures are full of examples of people and nations who fight against the will of God. And they each think they are right, and receiving favor from God. And while God is a God of justice, he is not a God of indiscriminate violence. I admit it took me some time to find the verse for tonight, but it is in Micah 4:3, “And He will judge between many peoples. And render decisions for mighty, distant nations. Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.”
Wouldn’t that be a nice thought – no more training for war? So my encouragement is that God in heaven wants us to love one another and not fight one another. And although we still have a long way to go, it is my prayer than the time has come to set aside our differences and heal as a nation, and as a world. So I pray that anyone who reads this may be a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem. Because, through Christ, each one of us can make a difference. Grace and PEACE to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.