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Kennedy-King House Floor Statement

Mar 19, 2018
Statements for the Record

Statement In support of H.R. 4851
The Kennedy-King Establishment Act of 2018
March 19, 2018

Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to speak in support of my bill, H.R. 4851, the Kennedy-King Establishment Act of 2018.

I’d also like to thank my colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee for their prompt consideration of this bill, including Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Grijalva.

H.R. 4851 is a bipartisan and bicameral bill with the full support of the entire Indiana Congressional Delegation, including my colleague Representative Susan Brooks, who has helped move this bill forward.  I also want to thank one of my heroes, Representative John Lewis, and my friend Rep. Joe Kennedy, for joining the Hoosier Delegation as original cosponsors.  

I introduced the Kennedy-King Establishment Act, at the request of my constituents, to provide formal National Park Service recognition to the site where Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave an extraordinary speech in Indianapolis in the spring of 1968.  This recognition, as well as addition to the National Civil Rights Network, will help  this location remains visible and accessible for the inspiration of present and future generations.  

Some of my colleagues might not be aware that on April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy had scheduled a speech in Indianapolis, Indiana during his campaign for the presidency of the United States.  However, just before he was to give his remarks, Senator Kennedy was told of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before the news became widely known publicly.  His advisors said he shouldn’t speak, they suggested he should just scrub the event in light of the terrible news.

But Robert Kennedy wanted to speak – despite the risks of outbursts or interruptions – he had something important to say in person and face-to-face to those gathered.  He changed his planned remarks on the fly, and broke the news of Dr. King’s assassination to the large crowd assembled in the local park.  He called for a non-violent response to Dr. King’s death. 

Robert Kennedy’s speech has been described as one of the greatest addresses of the 20th Century as a call for unity and non-violence in a time of great unrest.  I’d like to include the text of the speech into today’s record.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of RFK’s speech, it becomes very clear that America needs this national treasure to be preserved and promoted beyond the residents of Indianapolis. This powerful message of non-violence in response to violence is more timely and important than ever.

The Smithsonian has described 1968 as “The Year That Shattered America.”  It was a time when divisions where sharp, and the morale of our country was low, many stirred up hatred and fear with venomous rhetoric, which drove people long-left out of America’s bounty to the limits of their humanity --  many cities erupted in flames and violent riots. 

When other cities expressed their pain, anger and disenfranchisement with destruction, Robert Kennedy’s calm voice of reason changed the hearts and minds of people who were feeling so much pain. 

Indianapolis was the only major city in America that did not burn in that season of pain and violent disruption. JFK was assassinated. MLK was assassinated. And just two months after RFK’s emotional speech in Indianapolis, he was assassinated.  But in his youth, and his ability to feel the pain of others, RFK called on those who were hurting to turn away from violence and hate, and practice what MLK practiced.  This message and this special place needs to be shared with all Americans across the country -- today and in the future. 

The amendment approved by the Committee will add the Kennedy-King site to a new Civil Rights Network and it will designate the location as a Commemorative Site.  This is a timely first step and I look forward seeing the bill signed into law this year.  And after this step, my constituents and I will continue to count on congressional support for our efforts to establish the Kennedy-King National Historic Site and a unit of the National Park System in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

I urge my colleagues to vote yes on this bill and I yield back the balance of my time.