National and local history came to life Friday afternoon around the Decatur County Courthouse, as Greensburg Community High School (GCHS) students gathered on the south lawn, awaiting the arrival of “Robert F. Kennedy.”
In 1968, Kennedy stopped in Greensburg as part of short-lived presidential campaign. On a gorgeous, sunny Friday afternoon, May 3, 2013, at 12:55 p.m. — 45 years to the minute — student re-enactor Riley Burkert rode around the courthouse square in the same convertible that carried the RFK himself into town all those years gone.
Accompanying Berkert around the Courthouse square was Stephen Shaffer, a 1974 GCHS graduate and a lifelong public servant of both the US House of Representatives and the US Department of the Interior. Shaffer was in attendance at Kennedy’s 1968 Greensburg appearance and, following Berkert’s re-enactment of Kennedy’s 1968 speech. rounded out the afternoon with a keynote address.
GCHS History Teacher John Pratt, who coordinated the event alongside students of his Junior History courses, admitted that the text of Berkert’s speech wasn’t exact, but rather, as close as possible based on documents from the JFK Presidential Library and accounts of the day from the Greensburg Daily News.
Pratt also revealed that the re-enacted speech’s student audience displayed signs that were identical to ones used by students on that day 45 years ago.
Berkert’s address was like a reminder of the old saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” The politician’s 1968 speech, as re-enacted by Berkert, was riddled with anxiety over the plight of America’s working and middle classes, with condemnation of the Vietnam War and with America’s allegedly deteriorating status as a leader in world economics and military defense. The speech, displaying perhaps Kennedy’s awareness of his audience, also made several references to the plight of America’s farming community.
Afterward, Shaffer credited RFK’s 1968 Greensburg speech with changing his life, with opening his eyes to the importance and relevance of history in current affairs, and with leading to his career in public service. Shaffer also referenced the oft-repeated saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Indeed, Pratt agreed that many of the anxieties and issues facing current-day America could easily be juxtaposed into the re-enacted speech. In that way, he said, the re-enactment is important in helping drive home to students — to anyone who cares to learn — the relevance of history in serving as blueprint for current and future political and economic struggles.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.