WASHINGTON (Jan. 15)
The anniversary of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was commemorated at the Israel Embassy here Wednesday with calls for the restoration of the coalition of whites and Blacks which marked the civil rights movement that was led by the slain Black leader.
Coretta Scott King, widow of the civil rights leader, took note that the Embassy was packed with more than 200 Washington area Jews and Blacks for the ceremony.
“Whenever we gather in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. it must be done as an interracial, a multiracial, a multicultural kind of way,” she said. She said her husband stressed that “we are all part of the same human family.”
This is the fourth consecutive year that the Embassy has marked the birthday of King, who would have been 58 Thursday. The Embassy held the event in cooperation with the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, the Jewish National Fund of America and the America-Israel Friendship League.
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Asher Naim, the Embassy’s Minister of Information, noted that Israelis and Jews everywhere have always admired King’s “courageous leadership” for civil rights and his “rejection of anti-Semitism along with all forms of bigotry.”
Israeli Ambassador Meir Rosenne read a message from Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in which Peres noted King had made “a singular contribution to the moral heritage of humankind.” Peres said that King “identified with the history, faith and ideals of the Jewish people” and was a true heir to the “prophetic vision.”
Coretta King said the observance of her husband’s birthday, of which the official federal holiday will be on Monday, was an opportunity to begin a “new tradition.” She urged a restoration of the cooperation between Black and white students, which marked the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
James Farmer, founder and former national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, also urged the “restoration of the coalition.”
Farmer, who organized the Freedom Bus Rides through Mississippi in the 1960s, stressed that one-third of the persons who rode the buses to bring about integration on the interstate buses in the South were Jews.
He said they did so because “they believed in the brotherhood of man and were compelled by their belief to do something about it.”
Rusty Jackson, community relations director for the Adolph Coors Co., who along with Naim was co-master of ceremonies for the commemoration, also stressed that “Jews and Blacks have shared much.” They “have suffered together and very often against the same enemies, prejudice, bigotry and discrimination,” she said.
Also participating were Washington Mayor Marion Barry Jr., and Isaiah Robinson, vice president of the America-Israel Friendship League. The two Black leaders stressed the need to use the commemoration of King’s birthday for a recommitment to the problems still existing in the U.S. and abroad. This should be done “whether in south Alabama or South Africa, whether in Mississippi or the Soviet Union,” Barry said.
Both also stressed King’s role as a leader for peace with Barry noting King’s hope for peace for Israel and the Middle East.
Coretta King thanked the Israeli government for holding a memorial for her husband last year and Israelis and our “Jewish brothers and sisters” in the United States for the King forest in Israel.
Jeffrey Cohen, representing the JNF, said the forest now has 10,000 trees. He pointed to Lenore Siegelman, program director of the American-Israel Committee to Commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., who planted the first 39 trees, marking King’s age when he was slain in 1968.
On display at the Embassy was the American-Israel Committee’s travelling exhibit, “Hand in Hand for Justice,” which highlights King’s career, as well as Jewish involvement in the civil rights struggle, It includes statements by King against anti-Semitism and in support of Israel and Soviet Jewry.
Siegelman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the exhibit can be rented by schools or organizations and can be used throughout the year.