The Jews Who Marched on Washington With Martin Luther King

50 Years Later, Recalling Moment That Changed History

Fifty Years Ago: Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. as the two prepared to speak at the historic March on Washington in 1963.
getty images
Fifty Years Ago: Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. as the two prepared to speak at the historic March on Washington in 1963.

By Seth Berkman

Published August 27, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 5)

Often unrecognized in making the march possible is Arnie Aronson, who advocated for civil rights for six decades. In the months leading up to the march, secret meetings were held at Aronson’s house in Rye, N.Y., where many of the logistics for the event were debated and eventually finalized.

Al Vorspan, former director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s commission on social action:

Arnie Aronson was indispensable. He was one of the great Jewish leaders of our generation. Arnie and Roy Wilkins [of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] were like twins. When those two set their minds to planning something, it was unbreakable. All parties leaned on Arnie for civil rights advice. He was the guy with the tools but never the publicity or grandstanding.

Hand in Hand: Arnie Aronson, far right, marches on the National Mall.
getty images
Hand in Hand: Arnie Aronson, far right, marches on the National Mall.

Simon Aronson, son of Arnie Aronson:

This was just before my 20th birthday, and I was home in Rye for the summer. I remember two meetings — there may have been more at our home. They would’ve been in June and July of ’63.

There were a few questions standing in the way. One was, ‘Where are we going to meet?’ Because if we met at SNCC’s [The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s] offices, it looks like SNCC is leading. People were ready to call the march off. There were a lot of politics [with] people threatening to back out at the last minute. So it was trying to find a neutral place and also trying to stay out of the limelight. What my father and Roy did was to invite pretty much all the leaders to our house. They all came in and sat around our dining room table — we had a modest house — and they spent the afternoon dishing things out. I remember shaking the hand of Martin Luther King.

Bayard [Rustin] was the real hands-on, full-time operational structurer of the march. Port-o-potties were a big question. Where do you put them? How many do you need? If it’s hot, what do you do with overheating? Bayard was in charge of all of that.

I know they also talked about orders of the speeches. That meant a big deal to black leaders.

We had a little upstairs and could peer through the banister and see them talking in the dining room. My mother would serve cookies or coffee. These meetings were two to three hours. I remember my father would tell me he wanted public pressure on the Kennedy administration to pass civil rights legislation, primarily aimed at jobs. My father was disappointed in the 1964 [Civil Rights] Act; he thought the bill was emasculated. The march worked in making it a national issue, public awareness, but the bill that passed itself he thought was a real loser.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.