Clinton emphasizes need to return to values of '60s leaders King, RFK

May 15, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

INDIANAPOLIS -- At a memorial dedication to Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. here yesterday, President Clinton challenged Americans to heal society's wounds by embracing the high moral values of the two '60s martyrs.

Decrying the nation's rampant crime and violence, growing social divisions and "incivility" of public life, Mr. Clinton called for renewal of America's promise and said it was up to our people, in our shared values and attitudes, to make it happen.

Mr. Clinton's speech was the second in a weeklong string of high-profile public events in which he intends to stress the importance of individual moral values, personal responsibility and commitment to shared communities.

He spoke at the same inner-city site where Robert F. Kennedy told a predominantly black crowd on the evening of April 4, 1968, that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated.

Speaking without notes, Mr. Kennedy delivered that night what many consider his finest speech, as he appealed to the grief-stricken crowd to rise above hatred and violence and instead practice love and wisdom, compassion and justice, as Dr. King had done.

Unlike most big cities across the United States that night, Indianapolis did not burn "because people's hearts were touched," Mr. Clinton said. "Miracles begin with personal choices."

Standing in front of two giant photographic portraits of the slain '60s leaders, Mr. Clinton lamented how residents of a public housing project in a poor neighborhood in Washington had to put up a fence and hire security guards to escape violence. He quoted one neighborhood resident as saying, "I guess this is freedom in the '90s."

"Is it freedom in the '90s?" Mr. Clinton asked rhetorically. "Is it freedom in the '90s when we have to put up walls between our own people, even as we celebrate the walls coming down from Berlin to South Africa? Is that our freedom?"

A racially diverse crowd stood through a sudden cloudburst to hear Mr. Clinton deliver his rain-shortened remarks from an outdoor stage he shared with Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel, and brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. Also present were Dr. King's sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King.

All were gathered to watch Mr. Clinton break ground for a memorial monument to both martyrs that will be composed in part of metal from melted-down guns. The design of the monument, to be called "a landmark for peace," is to be selected by a competition.

Earlier, Mr. Clinton delivered his weekly radio address from Mount Helm Missionary Baptist Church here, contrasting the hope in South Africa's new, multiracial democracy with the "cynicism, intolerance, incivility and violence here at home."

He recalled the words of Mr. Kennedy that soothed the angry Indianapolis crowd 26 years ago, and said, "Once again it is time for us to heed those words; time to build up instead of tear down; time to renew our faith in freedom and to refurbish our own democracy."

Mr. Clinton will emphasize similar themes this week, aides say, starting today at a memorial for slain police officers, continuing Tuesday upon the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating public schools, and Saturday in a commencement address at the University of California at Los Angeles.

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