ROBERT KENNEDY'S CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND SPEECH, 1968. On April 5, 1968, one day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech entitled "On the Mindless Menace of Violence" at the CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND. In the 10-minute speech Kennedy deplored violence in American society. "This is a time of shame and sorrow," he told the hushed audience. Just two months later, Kennedy himself would be assassinated.
The remarks, delivered in a somber but direct voice, have been somewhat overlooked by historians. This is perhaps because Kennedy's famous extemporaneous speech the night before, outdoors in Indianapolis, where he broke the news of King's death to an African-American crowd, has received so much attention by comparison. At the City Club, where his appearance had been scheduled long before the tragic events of April 4, Kennedy read from a prepared text he wrote himself. His call to "bind up the wounds among us" echoed Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address and its eloquent plea for national healing at the close of the Civil War, and at one point Kennedy quoted Lincoln.
Otherwise the speech was largely free of direct historical allusions. It also avoided any explicit reference to King's death, though the context was unmistakable, as when he decried the "violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives." By way of examining that difficult subject, Kennedy, then in the midst of his fated run for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, referred to, in general terms, a number of themes then animating his campaign. Those included: criticism of U.S. policy in Vietnam ("newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands"); differences with President Lyndon Johnson ("too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force"); the importance of civil rights ("those who live with us are our brothers...they share with us the same short moment of life"); and the presidency of John F. Kennedy, itself cut short by violence ("a sniper is only a coward, not a hero").
In his remarks Robert Kennedy also emphasized a cause that he came to champion in the final months of his life and that has become a major part of his legacy, namely the plight of America's underclass. That struggle, he said, amounted to "another kind of violence." He described it, in part, as "the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter."
According to records at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Senator Kennedy arrived in Cleveland from Indianapolis the morning of April 5. After his City Club speech, Kennedy met with political leaders and national-convention delegates at the Sheraton hotel. He left Cleveland that same afternoon for Louisiana.
Benjamin O. Sperry