Monday, January 17, 2022

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Legacy

Today, as we celebrate and commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is tempting--but risky--to speculate about what he would think, say, and do if he were still with us today. I cringe any time someone talks about a specific niche issue that did not exist during Dr. King's lifetime and then declares exactly what Dr. King would have supposedly thought about that niche issue. 

Although it is presumptuous to assume to know what Dr. King would have thought about issues that did not arise during his lifetime, his words and actions help us understand what he thought about some issues that existed during his lifetime and still exist today. Attorney Clarence Jones played a major role as Dr. King's trusted lieutenant during the 1960s. No one is more qualified to speak about Dr. King's core beliefs. In an April 2006 article titled The Man Who Kept King's Secrets, Douglas Brinkley relates what he learned from his interviews with Jones:

Curiously, King and Jones also shared a deep mutual respect for Judaism. Influenced by [civil rights activist Stanley] Levison, they had developed into staunch supporters of Israel. "Jewish Americans, along with a few guys like Rockefeller, financed the civil-rights movement," Jones explains. "And Martin's sentiments regarding Jews were not opportunistic, as some have claimed. It was real. He consistently sought to maintain the historic coalition and alliance with leaders of the Jewish community." According to Jones, King took great solace in the teachings of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, author of the 1923 classic I and Thou.

"As King interpreted Buber, there were 'I-Thou' people (Good Samaritans who had a relationship with God) and 'I-It' people (folks like the Black Power cabal that were self-centered)," Jones maintains. "He loathed anti-Semitism and was enraged by the rise of the Black Power movement, of guys like Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and others who wanted to reduce the leadership role of whites in black organizations. Martin would question how anyone who had any familiarity with the biblical and political history of the Jewish people could have anything but the most profound admiration and respect for the Jewish community."

No one can say for sure what Dr. King would think, say, and do if he were alive today, but based on his consistent statements and actions it is reasonable to assert that Dr. King would condemn without equivocation and hesitation the antisemitism and anti-Zionism spouted by self-proclaimed "progressives" the same way that Dr. King condemned the antisemitism and anti-Zionism spouted by Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and H. Rap Brown. "Self-centered" is a perfect way to describe many people and organizations who are more interested in what they can do for themselves under the guise of activism than what they can do for others.

A little over two years ago, Jones condemned antisemitism--and Black antisemitism in particular--in the strongest possible terms

Throughout this year, the Anti-Defamation League and others have repeatedly cited the unprecedented incidents of antisemitic terror occurring in our nation. As Rabbi Joachim Printz memorialized in his speech immediately before Dr. King took the podium at the March on Washington, he said these words, "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 under those tragic circumstances was 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…America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent."

I believe that King would call upon the moral leaders of the Black community to lift their voices in support of our Jewish brothers and sisters, a community from out of the trauma of the Holocaust, understood persecution and hate, that stood with the Black community during the Civil Rights Movement. I know because I was there. I made the phone calls to Jewish labor leaders and donors, attorneys, educators and rabbis. So today, I call upon the African American community to condemn antisemitism with the same vigor that we condemn its evil twin of racism.

"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated." The wisdom of King once again. And in this light, I further call upon leaders of the Black and Jewish communities, to rekindle the great alliance that led our country in the expansion of civility and civil rights for all people. Together, we must continue to be the moral compass that America so desperately needs.

Next month, Jan 15th, 2020, our nation will again commemorate our national weekend celebrating the legacy of Dr. King. The twin issues of ubiquitous gun violence and resurgent anti-Semitism and racism should be the cornerstone of next year's commemoration of Dr. King's 91st birthday. And please consider joining me and other leaders across the nation in partnering with the Philos Project's campaign against antisemitism and racism as they provide leadership and education on this issue. Visit or email for more information.

No one--not even Dr. King's family--can say for sure what Dr. King would have thought or said about Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter, and other ideologies and movements that emerged after he was assassinated, but to the extent that any ideology or movement promotes antisemitism Dr. King would have condemned that antisemitism the same way that he condemned the antisemitism of the Black Power movement and the Nation of Islam. 

During TNT's otherwise enlightening and moving "In the Arena" episode today, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson asserted that anyone who claims to support what Dr. King did in the 1950s and 1960s must also support Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter because CRT and BLM respresent the continuation of Dr. King's work--but, to the significant extent that CRT and BLM promote antisemitism there is no doubt that Dr. King would be appalled, as should all of us.

It is important to remember that Dr. King fought and died promoting the dream/goal that we would one day live in a society in which each person is judged by the content of his (or her) character. Any form of hatred--including but not limited to antisemitism--is the antithesis of Dr. King's dream.

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