A Compassionate Voice Calms the Anger

By Bill Clutter

An excerpt of COAL TAR: How Corrupt Politics and Corporate Greed Are Killing America's Children

“This is a classic story with very good good-guys and very bad bad-guys, a tale of corporate greed, lethal pollution and sick children and the heroic people who fought to make things right.

A wonderful read” --Scott Turow.

Prologue Part 2

Three weeks before he boarded the Wabash Cannonball, Bobby Kennedy was scheduled to speak at a rally of African Americans in Indianapolis.

        As Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department had obtained a federal court order to integrate the University of Alabama in 1963. His brother, President Kennedy, enforced the court’s order by deploying federal troops to escort two African American students past a defiant Governor George Wallace, who blocked their entrance into the classroom. White privilege—a college education at a state university—was now accessible to African Americans in the Southern States.

Not since the Civil War had Americans been so deeply divided. The scabs of that conflict had been ripped wide open with the 1954 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, that brought an end to racial segregation of public schools. Conservatives decried the “liberal” elites who were pushing for civil rights for the descendants of slaves.

       It was a turning point in American politics.

    Out of loyalty to Abraham Lincoln’s legacy, African Americans had faithfully supported the Republican Party for almost a century. The shift toward the Democratic Party, led by President Kennedy, was seismic. Before he died, JFK addressed the nation. His brother, Bobby, helped craft the speech. “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue,” he told the nation. “One hundred years of delay has passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons are not yet free. They are not yet free from the bonds of injustice.” He announced his plan to introduce legislation to end voter suppression and racial discrimination.

       But  like Lincoln, President Kennedy became a martyr, killed by an assassin’s bullet. And the man who killed him, Lee Harvey Oswald, raised in New Orleans, was the 5th cousin of Robert E. Lee on his paternal branch of the family tree.

       White voters in the Deep South still hated the Republican Party, which had formed in 1854 to oppose the spread of slavery. That changed in 1964, the year John F. Kennedy’s name would have been on the ballot for re-election. President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Southerner from Texas, who assumed the presidency after the death of JFK invoked the memory of the late president to pass the Civil Rights Act, which signed into law on July 2, 1964. In November of that year, Johnson won the General Election in a landslide. His Republican opponent, arch-conservative Barry Goldwater, was one of only six Republican senators to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Goldwater carried only six states; aside from his home state of Arizona, all were in the Deep South. For the first time in history, a Republican presidential candidate won the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

      As RFK approached the podium on April 4th, 1968, standing on a flat-bed truck at 17th and Broadway Streets, he asked, “Do they know about Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

     “They don’t,” he was told by his staff.

    At 6:01 p.m. Central Time, shortly before Kennedy was scheduled to speak, a white supremacist, James Earl Ray, had killed King as he stepped out onto the balcony from his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

        The people began to cheer wildly as Kennedy approached the microphone, but he somberly asked for silence and requested that people lower their placards and political signs. “I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.”

        In unison, the people shrieked, aghast, and fell silent, as Kennedy continued.

“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

Kennedy’s vision was for a united America, where all people could live in harmony.

“. . . –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 try, 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.”

        His own brother was killed by a sniper’s rifle, as well. He reminded the crowd, “I had a member of my family killed . . .”

He quoted from memory the ancient Greek playwright, regarded as the “father of tragedy.”

       “My favorite poet was Aeschylus,” said Kennedy.

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.

Raising his voice, he went on. 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 lawlessness; but 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 they be black.”

A thunderous eruption of clapping and cheering overwhelmed him, and Kennedy paused.

Then he continued, Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savages of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

The audience erupted again with approval, clapping and cheering with renewed spirit, as Kennedy departed the stage. The speech was only five minutes long but as powerful as the one Lincoln took only three minutes to deliver at Gettysburg.

While other cities burned, Indianapolis remained calm, soothed by Kennedy’s words. Rioting had erupted in Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City and Los Angeles; 110 cities in all. It was the greatest civil unrest since the Civil War. National Guard troops were deployed to restore order, except in Indianapolis.

My father, Jim Clutter, is the man with his arm resting on the rail of the caboose, on the Wabash Cannonball. Photo reprinted with permission of The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne, IN.

To pre-order copies of the book go to: www.coaltarandneuroblastoma.com Release date scheduled for September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clutter Published by Investigating Innocence Media | Springfield, Illinois. Cover and book design by Polly Danforth | Morning Star Design

The author will provide a free paperback copy of Coal Tar to individuals who donate $20 or more to a not-for-profit organization of private investigators that he started at www.InvestigatingInnocence.org

About The Author

Bill Clutter is a private investigator who started his career in Springfield, Illinois. Clutter got his start as a private investigator by serving the complaint filed by Africans-Americans who alleged that the old commission form of city government elected city-wide, violated the Voting Rights Act in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Clutter was elected in 1987 as the first Ward One Alderman in the City of Springfield. Also elected that year to the new aldermanic government were two African-Americans. The attorney who filed that lawsuit also initiated the lawsuit against CIPS.