Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jews in the Civil Rights Movement
This weekend we honor civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King, Jr, who helped pave the way for a new era of racial integration in America. But he didn’t do it alone. In honor of MLK Day weekend, enjoy a sampling of our past year of special coverage on Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, online and in print.
In July/August, Marc Fisher of The Washington Post brought us on a journey back to Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the year of 1964. During that long, hot summer, the Jews of Hattiesburg met their northern cousins on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement—and the two didn’t always get along.
Reader David Goldstick recalls his experience defending the Freedom Riders as a young attorney just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Reader Avis D. Miller recalls fighting against housing discrimination, inspired by the plight of parents who had faced housing discrimination as Jews.
Rachel Nierenberg Pasternak and Rachel Eskin Fisher, producers of the documentary film Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent, tell the story of a remarkable rabbi who bridged two peoples. By connecting the Civil Rights Movement to his experience as a rabbi in Germany under the Hitler regime, Prinz forged a powerful connection between blacks and Jews.
Two more personal stories: Reader Batya Miller tells the story of how her father, an Orthodox rabbi, led a key interfaith rally for civil rights. Meanwhile, Harriet Fischer Englander recounts her eye-opening experience as a Freedom Rider traveling from NYU to Maryland.
Murray White shares the story of his father, Lee C. White, advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, who inspired the presidential speech that spurred the Voting Rights Act. “It is universally regarded as one of the high points—if not the high point—of LBJ’s presidency,” says Murray White. Meanwhile, Edith Claman tells her family’s experience desegregating a North Carolina Factory Desegregation—and what happened next.
This essay by Dina Weinstein delves into the contribution of Mendy Samstein, one of the movement’s few core, long-time Jewish staff members and an architect of Freedom Summer.