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Negro Marchers from Selma Wear ‘Yarmulkes’ in Deference to Rabbis

March 23, 1965
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Hundreds of Negro freedom marchers today wore yarmulkes (skullcaps), in respectful emulation of rabbis who participated in demonstrations in Alabama as Jewish participation in the march from Selma to Montgomery.

The Alabama Negroes called the yarmulkes “freedom caps.” The demand for yarmulkes was so great that an order has been wired for delivery of 1,000 when the marchers arrive in Montgomery later this week for a great demonstration at the state capitol.

The adoption of the yarmulke as a symbol began some time ago when rabbis joining prayer services in a Negro church were asked the meaning of the yarmulke. An explanation was given by a rabbi that one’s head must be covered in the presence of the Lord. The Negro response was that “wherever the freedom movement is, God is to be found there.” While not assuming the Jewish faith, many Negroes adopted the yarmulke as a symbol of their movement.

Dr. Abraham Heschel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, was asked by the Rev. Martin Luther King to take a position of honor at the head of the marchers. He walked with Dr. Ralph Bunche, Under secretary of the United Nations, and the 82-year-old grandfather of a Negro youth slain recently by Alabam police. The rabbi completed the day’s march despite the distance.


Rabbis jailed by Selma police during the weekend for participating in demonstrations conducted Friday evening services in the Selmar Jail, it was learned. Five rabbis recited Hebrow prayers behind prison bars. They have since been released on bond. An estimated 10 to 12 rabbis took part in the march which began yesterday.

Brant Coopersmith, Washington, D.C., director of the American Jewish Committee, was in Selma with instructions from his organization to assist the demonstrators in any way possible. An expert in community relations and human rights projects, Mr. Coopersmith is helping to facilitate the aims of the demonstration. Benjamin R. Epstein, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, led a contingent of ADL officials in the march.

From various cities, Jewish community leaders came to Selma, among them Mr. and Mrs. Don G. Lebby, representing the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Ohio. A considerable number of the white youths who came to Alabama to join the march, affiliated with such groups as the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality, were of Jewish faith.

(Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said in New York today that he will join other Reform rabbis and laymen from all parts of the country participating in the march from Selma to Montgomery. At the same time he called upon the 660 member synagogues of the UAHC to “launch a vigorous educational program to rally public sentiment for the strongest and most effective voting registration bill.”)

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