After nearly 43 years, RFK's talk still resonates
by Julie Cope SaetreStar, indystar.com
April 14th 2012
On April 4, 1968, a crowd of Hoosiers gathered at an Indianapolis park under a cold, rainy sky, awaiting a presidential campaign rally by Robert F. Kennedy. But in a world before smart phones and Twitter, they were unaware of a stunning event that had occurred hours earlier: the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
What unfolded next became the stuff of political legend: Instead of firing up the crowd with a get-out-the-vote message, Kennedy informed the guests of King's death -- and continued with an unrehearsed, inspiring speech that both mourned the tragedy and called for a peaceful response of unity and compassion.
That landmark six-minute speech -- and the pain and intense emotions of those who heard it -- are re-created with holographic technology and live character interpretations in "You Are There 1968: Robert F. Kennedy Speaks," which opens Tuesday at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.
There, visitors will enter that misty park at 17th and Broadway streets (now known as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park) and experience RFK's speech, thanks to holographic images of the senator and three of his aides, all played by actors and filmed in Los Angeles. But what really brings the event's significance into focus are the interpreters mingling with museum guests, playing the roles of 10 local residents who had attended the rally.
Some of those names will be familiar, such as former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm, then a lawyer and volunteer for Kennedy's campaign, and Butler University student Diane Meyer, who would later marry Indianapolis businessman Herb Simon. Meyer Simon explains on her website that she skipped a Shakespeare class to attend the rally; she ended up working on the Robert F. Kennedy Presidential Road Show, and later, worked with U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind.
"She gave us a great interview about her experience that night and what it meant to her to be there, and then how it really changed her life," said Dan Shockley, the Indiana Historical Society's director of interpretation and facilitation. "Many people were saying this night spurred them to action."
Others in the crowd are not as well known. Robert Davie plays undercover detective Robert Jackson, assigned by the Indianapolis Police Department to keep peace at the speech. "I've not met him yet," said Davie, who was the director of Indianapolis Public Transportation (now known as IndyGo!). "But I do anticipate meeting him, because I think our paths crossed."
Other people represented include a single mother who brought her children to hear Kennedy, a teacher working to bring more African-American instructors into the school system, and two men accompanying young people from a community center.
Stories of all 10 characters were found after Shockley put out a call to hear from people who had been at the event.
"We wanted to represent a good mix of races and ages and points of view," he said. "As we kept getting more and more contact from people who were there, we started selecting characters based on why they were there and what their motivation was."
Twelve of the society's 30-member-plus interpretation team will play the 10 characters. Each underwent training not only on the background of the characters, but also on how to handle potential questions from museum visitors concerning sensitive topics such as race, politics -- even the validity of how the facts are presented.
"Everybody sees the past through their own eyes," Shockley said. "One of the things that we've talked about is how you talk to a visitor who is sure about something that the facts don't bear out to be true. We've had people try to convince us that this event took place not in Indianapolis, but in Cincinnati. And several people have also told us that this didn't take place at 17th and Broadway; it was actually at 38th and Illinois. That's not the fact, but they believed in their heart that they were correct. . . . You never want to make the visitor feel wrong. You try to give them information that leads them to a different conclusion."
The characters are clad in period-style clothes, hairstyles and accessories, found everywhere from Burlington Coat Factory to wig shops.
"We don't do a lot of vintage clothing, because it tends to wear out," Shockley said. "But it was very interesting. The '60s style is still so represented."
Kennedy had just delivered a speech in Muncie when he was told, on his way to the plane, that King had been shot. Riots broke out, arrests were made, and deaths occurred in other cities, but Indianapolis remained calm. Many at the time credited that in part to Kennedy's speech. It's that power of words to inspire and heal that society staff hope will be conveyed to visitors.
Kennedy's speech "was off the cuff, and it was amazing," said Jeff Mills, the society's director of exhibition design and production. "He moved those people. He moved me 40 years later. I'm pretty cynical, and for me, at least, it gives me hope that politics can be a measure for good."
Original Page: http://www.indystar.com/article/20110217/LIVING19/102170308/After-nearly-43-years-RFK-s-talk-still-resonates?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CLiving
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