Just 10 years ago a young negro minister from Montogery, AL, the leader of a local bus boycott, addressed the national binennial convention of the American Jewish Congress in Miami Beach, FL. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
From AJCongress, it was the first national convention it had ever held in the South. For Dr. King, it marked the first time a negro had been invited to deliver a speech in a Miami Beach Hotel. For the negro community of Miami, it was the first time negroes had attended such a function in a Miami Beach Hotel as guests, taking their places in the audience freely – without segregation of any kind.
Though still in his 20’s, with his Philosophy of non-violence still evolving and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference yet to be organised, Dr. King deeply moved the convention delegates. He spoke eloquently of the obstacles besetting the struggle for racial Justice. He cited the parallels in the experience of the jewish and negro peoples. And he underscored the bonds between the negro and the jews in the common struggle against Racism and oppression. (Excerpts of that address appear below.)
In the fateful decade between his address to the AJCongress convention and his assassination in Memphis, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the great spokesman not only of the negro people but of every american who shared his dream of Justice, of dignity and of Peace for all mankind.
It is a great pleasure to address an audience whose sympathy and understanding of a deep social problem of our age have boldly been expressed, and resolutely supported by deeds and action.
My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.
The story of freedom’s struggle to emerge and root itself in our nation began not in one place, but in several. I would like to mention one of these early incidents not known to many americans.
In the first week of September 1954, 23 Jewish refugees from the Portuguese Inquisition arrived in New Amsterdam on board the sailing ship, the St. Charles. This was the first ship of jews to reach the New World as a community, though jews were members of the crew of Christopher Columbus. Peter Stuyvesant, in a document which he described as “friendly,” asked that these “hateful enemies and blasphemers” get out of the New World. The History of American might have been different had these 23 jews reteated with a beaten spirit. Instead, they peacefully and in dignity asserted their Moral and political right to remain, to settle as equals and to contribute to the building of a new society. As the History of all ages teaches us, no autocrat can dismember of all ages teaches us, no autocrat can dismember or destroy an unfolding truth; and Peter Stuyvesant, with his powerful authority, was ultimately defeated by these 23 determined jews, who remained and became a responsible part of New Amsterdam.
The Governor of Arkansas in his day faced nine negro school children with the same bigotry and distrust as the hate-filled Peter Stuyvesant. They, too, will resist and win against all odds and thereby enlarge the democratic vistas of our nation in the same glowing traditions as the jews of the St. Charles. thus three hundred years apart two struggles for Democracy were waged as American still strives to “proclaim liberty through the world.”
One of History’s most despicable tyrants, Adolph Hitler, sought to redefine Morality as a good exclusively for the aryan race. He bathed mankind in oceans of blood, murdering millions of jews, old and young, and even the unborn. Negroes saw that such hideous Racism, though not immediately applied to them, could sooner or later encompass them, and they supported the struggle to achieve his defeat.
Every negro leader is keenly aware, from direct and personal experience, that the segregationists and racists make no fine distinctions between the negro and the jew. The irrational hatred motivating their actions is as readily turned against catholic, jew, quaker, liberal and one-worlder, as it is against the negro. Some have jeered at jews with negroes; some have bombed the homes and churches of negroes; and in recent acts of inhuman barbarity, some have bombed your synagogues – indeed right here in Florida. As the nazis murdered catholic poles and jews, protestant norwegians and jews, the racists of America fly blindly at both of us caring not at all which of us falls. Their aim is to maintain, through crude segregation, groups whose uses as scapegoats can facilitate their political and social rule over all people. Our common fight is against these deadly enemies of Democracy.
I do not believe the american people, including the decent-minded people of the South, really want two social classes in a grotesque Democracy. They have been misled, their fears aroused, and their negative attitudes encouraged. But, as we together move forward in non-violent pursuit of reasonable goals, the realisation that Injustice is being done must reveal itself.
We, the negroes, need some simple things in order to realise a huge potential. We need equal Education which the Supreme Court declared can only be realised if it is unsegregated. We need representative Government so that the Laws we legislate and obey are our own. We need economic opportunities so that we can bring up our families in security, encouraging our children to higher levels of Education with the assurance that it can be available. The wealthiest nation on Earth can certainly afford this. The nation whose founders believed in Democracy and equality can afford to give these without violating its principles or corrupting its culture. But these things are deliberately and forcibly withheld. Like the 23 jews on the St. Charles, negroes do not propose to reembark and sail away because a few misguided bigots order us to do so. We say, as they did, that the vast majority of people are truly ready to open the doors of opportunity and will do so if permitted to express their will.
With this confidence, we are peacefully, but insistently organising ourselves to vote, to educate our children side by side with white children, and to seek fair-employment practices. These are described by some as extremists’ demands. They are distorted as concealing a real purpose – to intermarry, to establish black supremacy, to introduce lawlessness. But all people of goodwill realise that these things are not our program. If employment, the franchise, Education and brotherhood are extremists’ demands, then the Old and New Testaments are wildly extremist documents. If these are extremist demands, then Democracy itself is extremist and the world needs to reverse its course and move backwards to the age of Monarchs and Tyranny. A job, a vote, an Education, a socially friendly and relaxed community are not a wild dream of centuries in the future. Indeed, if our technologically brilliant age cannot provide these things, it stands on the brink of disaster, for they are the bare minimums of existence in an advancing world. What a bitter irony it is that we have in the past decade created machines that think and with them people who fear to think.
Specifically to you, I ask that you give an example to liberals by speaking our boldly. Today we are finding, too often, a quasi-Liberalism which is committed to the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a Liberalism so objectively analytical that it fails to become subjectively committed. It is a Liberalism which has developed a high bloodpressure of words and an anemia of deeds. You can, with your community-organisation experience, assist in the development of platforms from which white moderates, liberals and others may speak and act toward effective ends. Let us both realise that History has thrust upon us an indescribably important destiny – to complete a process of democratisation which our nation has developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful weapon for world emulation.
The new South which is emerging is not something that will come into being devoid of human efforts. Humanprogress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at History reveals that no level of humanprogress rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Rather, it seems clear that every step towards the goals of Justice and freedom requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle. Social progress is never attained by passive waiting. It comes only through the tireless efforts and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without this persistent work, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational Emotionalism and social stagnation. So we are challenged to work indefatigibly for the full realisation of the dream of brotherhood and integration. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous action.
America, the first nation to electrify the world with a new concept of man’s capability of self-rule without Monarchs or regents, must fulfill the promises of its Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Failing this, no power of nuclearweapons or limitless Wealth can prevent the steady erosion and diminishing of its grandeur in a century of climactic changes.