He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
And in our own despite, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
Robert F. Kennedy recited his version of this Aeschylus poem April 4, 1968 at his announcement of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that evening at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King was in Memphis to generate empowerment and involvement among poor people of all races, and to demand of the US government a transfer from military spending to human services for the poor. The Poor People’s Campaign was his most controversial to date, and after his assassination, support poured in from around the country. The action commenced this day in 1968 with his organizers in the “King-Abernathy” suite at the Lorraine Motel where King was slain, and in Washington DC.
Five years earlier on May 2, 1963, African American children marched independently in Birmingham, Alabama to protest segregation. Some were as young as six. They were set upon by white police officers and adult citizens with fire hoses, dogs, and batons. They returned each day to march. Their movement became known as The Children’s Crusade. King was jailed in the city less than a month prior, during which time he had written his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” He referred to these protesters as “the disinherited children of God.”
You can visit the Lorraine Motel in Memphis — it is now called the National Civil Rights Museum. A full renovation and strengthening of the museum will be unveiled in summer 2014.