Fifty years ago in 1968, two men were assassinated while about the business of trying to convince the nation “that race has no place in American life and law.” It was in April of this year that the nation paused to honor the enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while reflecting on the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. And today we must remember that Dr. King’s work was only a beginning.
Just two months later in June 1968, U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy, described as “a figure beloved by blacks,” was shot in California while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Actually, a week prior to his assassination, Kennedy and the great tennis player, Arthur Ashe, met in California “where they had a long talk about politics, America, and the world.” According to Ashe, in his book, “Days of Grace,” “Kennedy burned with a desire to do good.”
Now, if you will indulge me, I would like to insert a personal note about the year 1968, a year that ended an important milestone and began a new chapter in my life. Of course, both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Francis Kennedy will forever remain inspirational to me as I remember them as being an important part of the national conscience. King’s assassination took place a little over a month before I graduated from Clinton High School and the death of Kennedy occurred just days following my high school graduation in May 1968.
Additionally, I would like to think that the examples of both King and Kennedy had a profound influence on my life as I ventured off to college in the fall of 1968, attending N.C. A&T in Greensboro, where I received my bachelor of science degree in history education. Though eager to begin my teaching career, I decided to pursue an advanced degree, receiving my master of arts in teaching degree from Duke in the summer of 1973.
Then, not only was it my personal mission to do all I could to create a future of hope for all my students, I also had a strong desire to positively impact our government’s role in bringing our country closer to fulfilling its promise of equal rights, justice and opportunity for all, something that both King and Kennedy had sought to achieve.
Today, 50 years later, we still need the positive influence of government in our lives, believing that the government should protect our civil rights by providing equal protection of the law. We still need a government that will help find ways to foster and promote reform efforts to help combat social ills, especially those ills brought about by America’s addiction to mass incarceration.
In reflecting on both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, both these men were individuals who cared about the welfare of the poor and dispossessed—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, and their civil rights.
Larry Sutton is a retired school teacher from Clinton High School.