Dr. King's Memory and the Jewish Conscience

Barack Obama's Reelection Affirms Enduring Bond of Principle

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By Marc Schneier

Published January 20, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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This year, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 21, the same day that we celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama to his second term as president of the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day also marks the beginning of a year-long observance of the 50th Anniversary of King’s transcendent “I Have a Dream Speech” at the March on Washington that took place on August 28, 1963.

Nearly half a century has passed since that historic day when King stood before an overflow assembly of 250,000 people of all backgrounds at the Lincoln Memorial to solemnly intone, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

The words and ideals of the great civil rights leader of half a century ago continue to impact our consciousness and to resonate more profoundly with each passing year. As a testament to this reality, we honor in conjunction with King’s birthday, an African-American who was re-elected to a second presidential term.

Close to 70 percent of American Jews who voted in the 2012 presidential election cast their ballots for Barack Obama, an expression of the resiliency of the black-Jewish alliance. Similarly, 50 years ago Jews voted with their feet by travelling south in great numbers to take part in the heroic “freedom rides” in solidarity with oppressed southern blacks.

Indeed, throughout the entire trajectory of the civil rights movement, no segment of American society provided as much — and as consistent — support for King as did the Jewish community, even though Jews constituted less than two percent of the overall American population.

It can well be said that the significant role Jews played in the civil rights movement half a century ago was an important contributing factor to the eventual election of an African-American as president of the United States.


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