top of page

“Abraham, Martin, and John”: Why do the good die young?

“More Balm Than Song”

Like so many of my generation, the large one known as Boomers that is rapidly passing from this earth, I can remember exactly where I was when I learned that President John F. Kennedy was shot.

I had just entered my sophomore history class at the former Lilly-Washington High School on Nov. 22, 1963, when I heard the teacher say to one of his colleagues, “President Kennedy has been shot.”

My heart broke: The first Catholic president, the first person of Irish-American extraction to ever hold the office, the youngest man to ever hold the office, the man of youthful exuberance — was gone.

We finally heard the words of Walter Cronkite that are ubiquitous today, “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, two o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

The usually unemotional and super-professional Cronkite’s voice then obviously choked up and his eyes were downcast.

It was the start of a decade of assassinations of leaders who stood for goodness and righteousness. This ultimately led to the “balm” that the country needed in 1968, the creating of the song “Abraham, Martin, and John.”

I wrote this in 2018 about that song:

“Abraham, Martin, and John”

Americans love to talk about how we admire the good people, those who stand for goodness and righteousness, but songwriter Dick Holler was so devastated by the assassinations of three leaders in the 1960s who spent their lives attempting to rectify wrongs that he was inspired to put his thoughts on paper.

Using the most devastating assassination of a president in the 1800s as his focal point, he used the goodness of the man who battled to free the slaves, Abraham Lincoln, to join those three assassinated leaders of the 1960s: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy.

The lyrics that Holler used focused on Lincoln, and he presented those first.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?/

Can you tell me where he’s gone?/

He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good die young/

But I just looked around and he’s gone.

The song, which was recorded by Dion, was mournful in tone, but it reflected the grief that Holler felt after RFK’s death on June 5, 1968.

“Less song than balm”

However, as David Margolick wrote in the New York Times five years ago, the lyrics — which did not exactly fit the three from the 60s as far as “freeing people” — are not the most important facet of the song. “In fact, its lyrics were almost secondary. So deep was the pain from three devastating assassinations in five years that America craved some music to mourn by. ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ was less song than balm’,” the author of “The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy” wrote. It was intended to soothe a country devastated by assassinations of people who were on a quest to improve the United States of America.

Why do those who intend to improve of the lives of those downtrodden inspire such hatred in the United States?

The balm was short-lived: But remember, the people also cried for Barabbas

The question of why those who stand for goodness are despised can go back beyond the borders of the U.S. So few Christians today recall that Jesus Christ was despised by the people in Jerusalem. When asked if he could free Christ, the people instead cried, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas.” [Matthew 27] Barabbas was a notorious criminal, but Christ’s quest to lead people to eternal salvation was rejected by the people. The lesson has carried on ad infinitum.


Lincoln, revered by so many, is despised by those in the South — and elsewhere

So many who call themselves Christians today do not believe that these four men were good, deserving of the praise of this song. Despite the most impressive monument to Lincoln in Washington, D.C., and despite the fact that he is routinely listed by historians and Americans as one of the three best American presidents, people in many states in the South routinely express their hatred for the man who freed the slaves.

John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin, was representative of a sample of those from the Confederacy who despised Lincoln. Tens of thousands of soldiers fought for the retention of slavery, which is the most repugnant stain on the history of America.

Hatred on Nov. 22, 1963: Full page ad in Dallas newspaper

The Dallas Morning News contained a full-page ad by the John Birch Society that accused Kennedy of horrific crimes, alleging that he was a communist who was responsible for the “imprisonment, starvation, and persecution of 'thousandsof Cubans’.”

Just as egregious, when an elementary school teacher told her class in Dallas that Kennedy had been killed shortly after the shooting, they stood and cheered. All people must learn to hate, and they had been taught that lesson.

So, the hatred that later felled Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy should have been anticipated.

So many Americans do not “love the things they stood for”

All of the four men were imperfect human beings. Lincoln actually proposed the U.S. establish an island nation in the Caribbean where the blacks could be sent to live. He did not believe that the races were equal. John Kennedy was a womanizer, as was King. However, they appealed to the positive aspects of human nature, not to the negative.

They would condemn the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists that the current president praised after the Charlottesville demonstration last fall. Certainly, Jesus Christ would condemn them. But remember, Jesus Christ was one of those who died young, just 33 when he was executed in an act of capital punishment by

However, there is so much animus in the U.S. that it appears to be headed toward the same fate as the Roman Empire. The constitutional democracy is in danger, and people seem to be okay with that.

The legacies of these four men as recounted in “Abraham, Martin and John” are in danger of being obliterated. That is sad and shows that we have moved no further toward reconciliation today than we had in the Sixties.

16 views0 comments


bottom of page