Bobby Kennedy and James Brown Were Calming Voices After MLK Assassination. Do We Have Such Voices Today?

Washington D.C. riots, April 1968 in the wake of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Al Perrotta Published on April 4, 2024

Fifty-six years ago, in the early evening of April 4, 1968 — not early morning, as U2 famously sings — Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down by James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. 

The shocking assassination of the Civil Rights leader ignited a firestorm in cities across America. Towns that burned included Newark, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City. 

Boston and Indianapolis were two cities that did not erupt, and for that the credit goes to two major figures of the decade: Presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. 

Kennedy Calms the Crowd with His Own Breaking Heart

Robert F. Kennedy — the former U.S. Attorney General who was, of course, the brother of the assassinated John F. Kennedy — was on the campaign trail in Indianapolis when word came that Dr. King had been shot. RFK broke the news to the crowd. The grief of his own brother’s tragic murder just years before was palpable in his every word. 

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

He spoke of the pain of his own brother being cut down by a white assassin, and sought solace in the words of a Greek poet.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: “In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

He asked the crowd to go home and pray for the nation.

It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

And in the wake of his words, Indianapolis remained peaceful.


In a cruel twist of history, Robert. F. Kennedy himself was slain two months later in Los Angeles, gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel shortly after winning the California primary.

James Brown Brings Down the House (and the Temperature) in Boston

Boston is a city with its own long, bloody history of racial unrest. If any city could be expected to explode over the death of Dr. King, it would have been Boston. And yet, it didn’t. Much of the credit for that goes to the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, James Brown. The legendary soul singer was scheduled to play the Boston Garden the night after the assassination. There had been a long night of unrest after the killing, and city officials were desperate to avoid trouble. At first they talked of canceling Brown’s show, but that would only serve to incite black residents more. 

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.

Then a young aide to Mayor Kevin White, Tim Atkins, came up with a brilliant idea: Let the show go on, but broadcast the concert live in the hope that the people most likely to riot would stay home to watch it on TV. White and Atkins convinced the local PBS station to carry the show. The plan worked.

And Brown delivered. Not only with a mesmerizing performance, but with words of peace and inspiration to the black community.


Bostonians stayed glued to their televisions and stayed peaceful.

2024 Feeling Too Much Like 1968 For Comfort

As in 1968, we are facing an election year and sitting on a powder keg. Both sides are complaining that the other promotes “political violence.” 



Bobby Kennedy’s own son is now a presidential candidate, an Independent whom Democrats fear will be a spoiler in the race. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  has seen several attempts and threats on his life already this campaign season, and yet has repeatedly been denied Secret Service protection by the Biden administration.

Voices on the left have been engaging in what Betlway expert Mollie Hemingway calls “assassination prep ops,” in their rhetoric about Trump. Democratic strategist James Carville even used the assassination term “wetwork” to describe how Biden can deal with the former president. 

Tucker Carlson — as well as The Stream — has laid out the only logical conclusion for leftist to go as their efforts to destroy Trump continue to fall flat is an eventual assassination attempt. These things are now being talked about as casually as the weather.

Even if through God’s grace we are spared a repeat of the horrific events 1968 (which we can, if we pray for that!), it’s hard to imagine emerging from 2024 entirely unscathed from the riots and violence that marked both the 1968 and 2020 election seasons. 

The question we are asking is, “Do we have any Bobby Kennedys or James Browns today?”

Do we have what it takes to stand up as they did?

The Promised Land

Thankfully, we do have the words and the example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who despite enormous pressure, retained his belief in nonviolent protest and his reliance on God. 

In his last public address the night before he was killed, King appeared to accept the strong possibility that he would not see a ripe old age. Yet he saw past the dark days he was in to the better days to come. His words have lost none of their power to grip the troubled heart. 

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!


Martin Luther King, Jr. did not see the Promised Land in this life. Though for years it looked as if we were well on our way to achieving the colorblind, character-driven land he had dreamed of in 1963, that victory has been snatched away by the poisonous fingers of Critical Race Theory and Marxist-driven assaults on “whiteness.” King’s call for Jesus-inspired nonviolent protest has been replaced by the Marxist-inspired violence of Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA.

However, on this anniversary of his assassination, let us acknowledge that we, too, have seen the Promised Land. Like King, we may not get there in this life, but may we be firm in the belief that this nation will, indeed, reach it in time. 


Al Perrotta is managing editor of The Stream, coauthor with John Zmirak of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and coauthor of the counterterrorism memoir Hostile Intent: Protecting Yourself Against Terrorism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Military Photo of the Day: USS Michael Murphy
Tom Sileo
More from The Stream
Connect with Us