Riverdale event to celebrate legacy of MLK speechwriter Clarence Jones
Wednesday’s event is being organized by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which Jones helped write
(Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
RIVERDALE, N.Y. — Sixty years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, one of the men who helped draft it, his friend and attorney Clarence Jones, is set to speak on Wednesday at Manhattan College in Riverdale, a heavily Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx.
Jones, who assisted King in drafting the first portion of the famous 1963 speech at Jones’ house in Riverdale, is scheduled to speak to the local community about Riverdale’s connection to the March on Washington and his commitment to Black-Jewish unity. The event is organized by Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), whose district includes Riverdale.
“I am commemorating the legacy of one of Dr. King’s closest confidants, Clarence Jones, who resided in Riverdale in the lead-up to the March,” Torres told Jewish Insider ahead of the event. “Clarence Jones embodies [the] unity that is needed now more than ever. [He] sees the fight against antisemitism as a continuation of his civil rights activism.”
“We are all bound together in the struggle against hate and extremism,” said Torres, a pro-Israel progressive and the only openly gay Black man in Congress. “An America shaped in the image of Clarence Jones is an ideal we’re striving for and celebrating. Celebrate we will in Riverdale.”
Jones, 92, was standing just a few feet away when King delivered his historic “Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Jones has been a longtime activist advancing the cause of civil rights. In recent years, he’s promoted Black-Jewish relations. Jones recounts Jewish contributions to the civil rights movement in his new memoir, Last of the Lions, published this month.
Jones said in an interview with MSNBC on Monday that despite progress, America still faces similar challenges as it did six decades ago.
“I am telling you that there’s a level of violence, and there’s a deep level of antisemitism in this country,” Jones said. “I’m not trying to cry wolf. I’m not trying to scare you. I’m just telling you what I see.”
The killing of three Black individuals at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla., by a white gunman in what is believed to be a racially motivated attack — on the same day as the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington — was a chilling reminder of Jones’ words.
Attendees on Wednesday are expected to include notable leaders in the Riverdale Jewish community, including Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, principal of the Modern Orthodox school SAR Academy.
“I’m honored to be a part of the event,” Krauss told JI. “I know there are national events to commemorate the March on Washington, but I’m happy we have a local one.”
Krauss said he plans to attend alongside a few SAR teachers and students, noting that the group would be larger if school were back in session.
“Even though it’s still summer break, we find it important to participate,” Krauss said. “It’s important to connect with our community and with the values of August 28, 1963. Those values include betzelem elohim, everyone is created in God’s image. Standing up for justice and against injustice, those are important values for ourselves and our kids.”
The Riverdale event comes amid commemorations held around the U.S. throughout the week to mark the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.
At the original march, Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who fled Germany in 1937, spoke out against Nazis just ahead of King’s speech. Prinz, then the president of the American Jewish Congress, told the crowd of about 250,000 lining the Reflecting Pool on Aug. 28, 1963: “I speak to you as an American Jew. 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.”