Marcia Bronstein, Alan Hoffman and David Hyman
On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people showed up for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Sixty years later, the power of that day still resonates.
How could it not?
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
No matter how many times you have seen or heard King from that fateful day, the speech still has the power to move, to inspire and to compel you to think. It makes you realize that while we have come a long way since 1963, so much of that dream is yet to be fulfilled.
The quest for equality was just as present two years later when King was honored by American Jewish Committee with the American Liberties Medallion Award. In his acceptance speech, he talked about how justice and freedom must be a reality for all people.
Inspired by Jewish teachings, he stated that Jews cannot ensure equality for themselves unless it was assured for all and that the attainment of equal rights for the Black community would fulfill America’s highest and most cherished ideals.
King warned of the danger of silence that encourages evil to flourish, and quoted Albert Einstein, who said, “the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate evil than from those who actively commit it.”
King also hearkened back to the words delivered by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a distinguished civil rights leader of his own accord, at the March on Washington.
Prinz told the crowd: “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned in my life and under those tragic circumstances is that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
King told AJC that America must not become a nation of onlookers and could not remain silent. And he warned that freedom needs to look and feel the same for everyone.
“Freedom is like life. You cannot be given life in installments. You cannot be given breath without body, nor heart without blood vessels. Freedom is one thing. You have it all or you are not free. Our goal is freedom.”
It is a goal toward which we must constantly strive and one that remains as essential and elusive as ever.
So, on this Aug. 28, let us all reflect on the significance of what transpired on the hallowed steps of the Lincoln Memorial 60 years earlier and let us recommit ourselves to heeding Dr. King’s inspiring message as we work toward truly providing justice and freedom for all.
AJC is commemorating the March on Washington with a program facilitated by two Operation Understanding (OU) Alumni: Loree Jones and Elliot Weinbaum. They will join us as we commemorate this moment in time 60 years later, reflect on the pas, and have a critical conversation about the current challenges we face as a nation. OU was initially established by AJC as a committee project that would plant the seeds for life-long connections – cultivating allies, building bridges and forging lasting friendships across cultural, racial, and religious borders.
Marcia Bronstein is the regional director, AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey. Alan Hoffman is the AJC regional president. David Hyman is the AJC past president/former OU board chair.