On May 15, 1968, Bobby Kennedy came to Detroit while campaigning for President. He would be assassinated in California on June 5, 1968.
Cheers Amid the Ruins
At a Detroit park on the corner of what was once 12th Street and Clairmount, a photographer glances at the site that sparked three days of violence in 1967.
Back then Andy Sacks was a young journalist for the Michigan Daily student newspaper, one of several who crammed into Robert Kennedy’s motorcade as he campaigned in Detroit in the spring of 1968.
Sacks says after a few stops the motorcade purposely targeted this intersection, an area many at the time said should be avoided because it was seen as one of the most dangerous in Detroit.
“Sure he was a rich guy from Boston. But he seemed to have a vision of government and the way it should interact with the whole of the population of the United States. He connected with inner city people.” – photographer Andy Sacks
Kennedy, however, perched atop an open convertible and was quickly surrounded by an adoring crowd.
“As a photographer I could get pretty close to him,” Sacks remembers. “When he reached down to shake someone’s hand they really gave it a big tug. And I saw him start to lose his balance and begin to fall into the crowd. I just put down my camera and reached out with one of my hands and pulled him back up. He had no bulletproof vest, none of that protection. But he did have someone of his campaign crew holding him around the waist so he wouldn’t be pulled out of the car.”
On the day after Martin Luther King’s assassination in Cleveland, Kennedy gave a speech that was in many ways an indictment of American society, then and now.
“There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Kennedy said. “This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a man and as a father. And this too afflicts us all.”
Kennedy’s words defined what he called the “mindless menace of violence.”
In measured tones Kennedy told the business crowd, “When you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others, not as fellow citizens, but as enemies. But we can perhaps remember that those who live with us are our brothers. That they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness. Surely this bond of common fate can begin to teach us something.”