Anybody here seen my old friend?

April 5th, 2016

A night to remember

The news reports say that it was 48 years ago yesterday, but it lingers in my memory as if it were last year.

I was a junior in college, running for Student Body President. It was a tight race. We were holding a rally to build support in the college gym. Someone came up with the idea of noisemakers made from Coke cans filled with gravel. The music was loud, the crowd was energized and I was about to speak when someone came back stage and told us that Martin Luther King Jr. had just been shot. I’m embarrassed to say that the rally went on as if nothing had happened. I won the election, but I still feel ashamed by what we did that night.

By contrast, in Indianapolis the assassination led to one of the most amazing speeches in American political history.

A word from the past

Robert F. Kennedy was running for president. He was scheduled to rally his supporters in a predominantly black neighborhood in Indianapolis. When word came of the assassination, local police warned him they might not be able to provide protection if there was a riot. Kennedy insisted that he make the announcement. He wrote a few notes in the car on the way to the rally, but he spoke from his heart without notes or written text on the back of a flatbed truck.

It’s just a few minutes long, but there is not a single politician in our nation today who could speak as eloquently as Bobby Kennedy did that night. 

Although other major cities faced riots, Indianapolis remained calm. 63 days later, Kennedy’s voice was silenced by an assassin’s bullet.

A word for today

48 years later, we need to hear his voice again. “In this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

We are still called to make the same choice he offered the crowd that night.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

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.

Remembering that night, I found myself singing the song that became the painful eulogy of our generation:

Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John.

Where are leaders like that when we need them?

Jim Harnish is the author of A Disciple's Heart and Earn. Save. Give. He blogs at at

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