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.
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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.
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Among the estimated 250,000 in attendance were groups from churches and synagogues. Organizers wanted to be as inclusive as possible.

Amy Bookbinder, daughter of civil rights advocate Hyman Bookbinder, who attended the march:

My mother and I arrived the morning of the march. While I sensed the excitement as the speakers addressed the crowd, it was the crowd itself that I recall most vividly — the signs, the chanting, the singing, the holding strangers’ hands, the buses that arrived from places near and far, the wide streets completely filled with people from as far ahead and far behind me as I could see, as we marched together to the gathering place where people stood, sat and leaned on each other in the sweltering heat, to hear the speakers. We were one huge diverse family, and I knew we had come together in common cause and that I was lucky to be there, with these wonderful people.

Proud Participant: Hyman Bookbinder shows off a commemorative pennant.
courtesy of amy bookbinder
Proud Participant: Hyman Bookbinder shows off a commemorative pennant.

Ellen Bookbinder Cohen, daughter of Hyman Bookbinder:

I drove down in a car [from New York] with six people and the car broke down on the way to the march. We heard the speech, but over loudspeakers. The traffic was unbelievable. It was enormous, bumper-to-bumper traffic. But the atmosphere was incredible, the friendliness. I don’t even remember if I met my father there. I remember the warmth, the togetherness, the peacefulness. No violence, no nothing.

Jonathan Prinz:

[My father] spent most of his summers in Europe involved in national Jewish affairs. He flew back for the march. He flew to New Jersey, where we lived, and he and I flew down to Washington.

The stage was the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and on those steps there was seating for a number of people. I actually sat in the first row. It was extremely hot. It was Washington, D.C., at the end of August. The interesting thing about it, I wore a suit and I never took off my jacket, and a lot of people didn’t even though it was blistering hot. A lot of people coming in from church groups were dressed in their Sunday best. The heat didn’t stop people. There are wonderful photographs of people who dangled their feet in the pond to cool off. I sat there from before it started to the very end, and it was sunny, humid, an extraordinarily hot day, but it didn’t matter.

Simon Aronson:

They were fenced in where they were speaking. I went up to the fence, a wooden fence held up by wires erected for the day, and I saw a guy walking towards the fence and wearing sunglasses and a beard, and it was Paul Newman, the actor. I said: “Paul Newman! Paul Newman!” and he sort of waved at me.

Al Vorspan:

It was hot, but the atmosphere was electric. It was the greatest day I’ve experienced in American life. For me as a Jew it was religious, like Yom Kippur, a nation atoning for its sins.

One name you should know: Kivie Kaplan, who became president of the NAACP. I was walking with Kivie and some other people, and we were accosted by a nudnik group on the way. The march brought out idealists, but also crackpots and lunatics. But the guy talking at us was Malcolm X. He knew Kivie and begrudgingly respected him and said you are betting on the wrong horse. This is not the future. This day is phony, and Martin Luther King is as phony as the $3 bill; it’s false leadership. But Kivie bantered right back with him.


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