Thousands of Jews Participate in Unprecedented Civil Rights March
Menu JTA Search

Thousands of Jews Participate in Unprecedented Civil Rights March

Download PDF for this date

An extraordinary mass turnout of more than 200, 000 persons, gathered here for the cause of full rights for American Negroes, heard appeals today by two rabbis to the American people to support that struggle as a matter of basic moral right.

The tremendous throng exhibited a discipline that caused police officials to marvel. There were only two arrests, one of them an adherent of the American Nazi party, who was seized when he defied police orders against making a speech at the Washington Monument to foment disorder.

An unexpectedly large number of rabbis, Jewish leaders and organizational representatives from throughout the country appeared for the March for Jobs and Freedom. What struck many observers, however, was the very large sprinkling throughout Negro groups of Jewish young men and women. Many of the Jewish young people carried placards bearing sayings from the Old Testament in both Hebrew and English lettering.

While the vastness of the assemblage made exact estimates impossible, some observers said they believed that between 10,000 and 15,000 Jews took part in the march. Some of the youths sang Israeli folk songs and were joined by non-Jewish marchers.


Jewish leaders interviewed at the Lincoln Memorial described the event and the Jewish participation as successful beyond expectation. It was apparent that many Jewish participants came as individuals, while most of the organizational representatives consisted of lay leaders, Jewish organizational professionals and rabbis.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz, president of the American Jewish Congress, told the marchers that it was not “merely sympathy and compassion for the Negroes of America” that had motivated Jews to support the Negro fight for equality but even more “a sense of identification and of solidarity born of our own painful historic experience,” Rabbi Prinz, one of the ten chairman of the March, also told the gathering that when he was living under the Nazi regime as a rabbi in Germany, he learned that, in the face of danger to freedom, “the most urgent, the most disgraceful problem is silence. A great people had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hatred, brutality and murder.”

He warned that the American people “must not become a nation of onlookers. It must not be silent, not merely black America, but all America. It must speak up and act, from the President down to the humblest of us, and not for the sake of the Negro but for the sake of America.”


Rabbi Uri Miller, president of the Synagogue Council of America, delivered a prayer in which he called on the assemblage to make sure it was not voicing empty words “nor even sincere ideals projected into some Messianic future, but actualities expressed in our society in concrete and tangible form now.” Rabbi Miller voiced hope that the demonstration would “sensitize all Americans and especially those in positions of power and authority to this concept of equality.”

The rabbi prayed that there be understanding, that “when we deprive our fellowman of bread and dignity, we negate the Tselem Elokim–the image of God in man–and delay the fulfillment of His Kingdom,”

Police arrested Karl Allen, deputy commander of the American Nazi Party, when he sought to make a speech on the Washington Monument grounds designed to agitate against the march.

The Nazi was taken into custody after police had warned the Nazis that they could neither display insignia nor placards, nor speak in a manner that might foment violence. They were screened off by more than 100 police officers and military policemen from the Civil Rights marchers. After the arrest of Allen, the Rockwell group–estimated at 100–left, threatening to continue demonstrations later.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund