August 28, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, a landmark event in the struggle for civil rights for blacks and economic opportunity for disadvantaged Americans. At the conclusion of the event, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rallied the participants with a speech that has come to be known as "I Have a Dream." He longed for the day when all Americans could proclaim "free at last."
Forty-three years ago this month, our nation watched the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The images were seared into our minds, along with the sense that our nation had lost a beacon of hope in the ongoing struggle for racial and economic justice. Though he had lived to see many important advances and constitutional guarantees for all Americans regardless of race or creed, Dr. King was murdered before he had made much progress toward another vitally important goal: economic justice.
On Martin Luther King's birthday, we're going to hear a lot of starry eyed reminisces about the glory days of black-Jewish amity during the civil rights movement, and muttered complaints about anti-Semitism among African Americans. And we're going to hear the usual stories about how King wasn't a perfect human being and how he sometimes opposed the things most of the Jewish community supports.
This week I reported on the role Jews played in the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King. It's a fascinating story, and one that many people I interviewed told me remains poorly understood. Often it's reduced to a glib one-liner: Jews supported him, a line captured best by the iconic image of rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking with King in from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.