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 4 of 5)

Rabbi Joachim Prinz gave the march’s penultimate speech, wherein he compared the plight of blacks in America to the persecution faced by Jews in Nazi Germany (Prinz had escaped Germany in 1937). His speech is often overlooked next to King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but it was a personal highlight for many Jews in attendance.

Jonathan Rieder:

People wondered, “Who speaks right before King speaks?”

Role Model: Peter Geffen, right, said Martin Luther King greatly influenced his life.
courtesy of peter geffen
Role Model: Peter Geffen, right, said Martin Luther King greatly influenced his life.

Peter Geffen:

[Prinz’s] talk is not even known, let alone remembered next to King’s speech.

Jonathan Rieder:

Prinz had been a major rabbi in Berlin, fled the Nazis in Germany. Prinz’s statement is quintessential of what Milton Himmelfarb called the Jewish particularism, the definition in that period that Jewish self-interest and moral concern converged to create protections for all minorities. Like what goes around, comes around.

Jonathan Prinz:

I think that it is fair to say that despite all the speeches he had given and all the things he had been involved in — including speeches in Berlin during the Nazi regime — I think in his own feelings that was the most important speech he ever gave. It was that for a number of reasons, not the least of which was his attachment to this country. This was very much an expression of his identity with this country, one he came to as a refugee from Nazi Germany and gave him a home and a place that he was very happy in. Despite the fact that English was not his native language, he was a forceful speaker in English and loved English. He identified with the civil rights movement from the moment he stepped off the boat from Germany in 1937. He understood very early on there was a direct connection between the plight of African Americans and the Jewish people. He had to be identified with it.

I was still working as a rabbi in those days, and we shared a pulpit at Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, N.J. When we arrived in Washington, his staff from the American Jewish Congress handed him a draft of the speech. He was one of the great orators of the American pulpit and spoke without notes. There had to be a written speech because it had to be distributed to the press and they had a very strict time limit. He got the draft and didn’t really like it and rewrote it in the middle of the night and handed that rewritten text to his staff in Washington, and they typed it up and distributed it.

Al Vorspan:

It meant everything. I admired him immensely. I love what he said. I think that was absolutely essential in the whole dialogue. My reaction was gratitude to Joachim, that he had insisted that be a part of the program.

Jonathan Prinz:

Elements of what he said were things he had been saying for years, just as Martin Luther King’s speech tied together a lot of things he had been saying for years.

I had seen my father speak many times; the element of seeing him speak before a large crowd was not that unique, and I [wasn’t nervous about] him being able to carry that off.

He didn’t control the agenda, and why they structured it that way [speaking before King], I have no idea. They certainly were aware of his oratorical skills, but they made that decision. He never really talked about that. Mahalia Jackson sang before, and she was incredible. The first thing he said was, “I wish I could sing.”

If you read that speech, it’s amazing how current that speech is; it could be delivered today. It really had two themes in it — one, the theme of silence and that we can’t be silent and onlookers. And boy, are there a lot of silent onlookers today. The second theme is neighbors — the idea we are all each other’s neighbors and living in the same neighborhood.

The speech is amazingly current, and I think that’s something you can say about my father’s career. He was always looking forward and involved, and I think that what’s happened today is many religious leaders are neither current nor really engaged in the world. He was not the only clergyman those days who had a deep involvement and engagement in society. I think today many religious institutions have become very insular.


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!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • 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.