remembering the march

At 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, past is present for many

Robert Kraft, Jonathan Greenblatt and Sheila Katz were among the event’s speakers

Alex Wong/Getty Images

CEO of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft speaks as an interpreter signs during the 60th Anniversary Of The March On Washington at the Lincoln Memorial on August 26, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Ahead of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., 60 years ago today, Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who fled Germany in 1937, spoke out against Nazis in the same spot. 

Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, addressed the crowd of about 250,000 just ahead of King. 

“I speak to you as an American Jew,” Prinz said on Aug. 28, 1963. “As Americans we share the profound concern of millions of people about the shame and disgrace of inequality and injustice which make a mockery of the great American idea.”

On Saturday, a new generation of leaders stood before tens of thousands of people gathered in the same spot to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. 

Prinz’s words “still resonate,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, whose organization participated in the original march, said in his address. “They tell us: stand up in the face of hate, speak out and don’t stand idly by.”

“In 1963, we came here to this place alongside Dr. King and so many other leaders,” Greenblatt continued, “ to demand equal rights, justice and fair treatment to all. Now today, we’ve come here once again to demand equal rights, justice and fair treatment to all.”

The fates of the Jewish and Black communities, Greenblatt added, are “intertwined” and “indivisible.”

Many of the speakers at Saturday’s event, which was organized by Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the Drum Major Institute, paid homage to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated five years after the first march. 

Rabbi David Wolpe called King “a modern prophet” as he quoted the biblical prophet Micah. 

“Micah looked at the world, a world filled with darkness and despair,” Wolpe said. “And he said that each of us will sit under our own vine and fig tree and there will be none to make us afraid. And that is what we pray for. That candle, that moment, that promise, that dream that we listened to 60 years ago. And God-willing with God’s blessing once again, listening to each other, we can hear the echoes and the promise of that dream again.”

Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, noted that her organization participated in the original march. Pointing to the upcoming Jewish holidays, Katz suggested that “as the high holidays compel us to repair, we also act together. As our kehila kedosha, our holy community, we draw strength from one another. We remind ourselves that we stand in a long line of people of every race and creed willing to stand firm for the values we believe in. We remember Dr. King’s refusal to be satisfied ‘until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

Rabbi Heather Miller, Lacey Schwartz Delgado and Yolanda Savage Narva also spoke.

Though most of those who addressed the crowd had not yet been born when King delivered his most famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, many of the event’s speakers invoked the civil rights activist and tied his work to present-day efforts to build bridges between communities and fight hate.

“Standing on these steps 60 years after Martin Luther King gave his penultimate speech is a very emotional moment for me,” New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who was 22 at the time of the first march, told the crowd. “I watched the speech live on television. The clarity, power and cadence of Dr. King’s words and his delivery was like nothing I had ever heard before. His speech truly moved me and it moved the nation.”

In 1963, Kraft was a newlywed; his first wife, Myra, he said, “had come to events in Washington herself to stand up for change that was so needed then, and unfortunately is still needed now. As a young Jewish couple in 1963, the Holocaust was very much still in our hearts, having lost family members in the horrific atrocities that occurred only 20 years before in the ‘40s. 

Seeing echoes of Nazi Germany in the U.S. at the time, Kraft said, was “unsettling and uncomfortable.” 

“Against this backdrop,” Kraft added, “we were so proud to know that Jewish people were among the most active of non-Black groups participating in the civil rights movement.” 

Actor Sasha Baron Cohen, who as a college student in the U.K. wrote his thesis about the American civil rights movement and traveled to Atlanta to conduct research, reflected on long-standing ties between the Jewish and Black communities. 

“I’ve never forgotten how I was welcomed by the staff of the King Center and the people of Atlanta,” Baron Cohen said. “There, I learned about how Black Americans and Jewish Americans — and people of so many faiths — linked arms together, went to jail together, sacrificed their lives together and achieved historic victories together for civil rights.”

Many of the day’s speakers shared concerns about a resurgence in hatred and intolerance that has had deadly consequences for minority communities.

Evil, Imam Abdullah Antepli, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, explained, “says racism is a Black problem, homophobia is a gay problem, Islamophobia is a Muslim problem, antisemitism is a Jewish problem. It divides us. It says Black churches are different than Black mosques. It divides us, weakens us, if we assign these forms and manifestations of hate to particular communities.”

“The hatred Dr. King stood against is the same hatred we’re seeing in communities across the nation more and more today,” Kraft said. “We saw what happened with that kind of hate in Germany in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and we saw the way it ripped the fabric of the country apart in the ‘60s. Today, it is our job to fight all hate: hate against blacks, Jews, Asians, Hispanics and members of the LGBTQ plus community, so that history does not repeat itself.”

Haley Cohen contributed to this report.

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