A piece of civil rights history with a poignant link to a New Jersey Jewish community is going on the auction block.
A signed program from a 1963 Shabbat sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, New Jersey is available for sale at Lelands Auction in an online sale that closes January 8.
“The history of the program bridges the gap between the civil rights movement and American Jews,” said Josh Evans, Lelands’ founder and chairman. “It tells people today about that bond that exists.”
The two-page program, which shows some signs of age but is in generally good condition, is from a January 18, 1963 service at which King, then president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke.
The autograph “Martin Luther King” appears on the “Announcements” page. It’s followed by two pages of handwritten notes from the owner of the program, who apparently scribbled as King spoke.
“We understand it [the program] was somebody’s who was there at the service,” Evans said. “The speech [King] gave was similar to ‘The Birth of a New Age’ in 1956. [It tells] the history of how African Americans have felt through the years and the plight they were in in 1963.”
Bidding on the program stood at $1,569 with 11 bidders as of January 7. More information can be found through the [auction house’s website] (http://www.lelands.com/Auction/AuctionDetail/77809/Winter-2015-Catalog-Auction/Sports/Pop-Culture/Lot1096~1963-Dr_-Martin-Luther-King-Jr_-Signed-Shabbat-Service-Program)
King was connected to Temple Sha’arey Shalom through its rabbi, Israel Dresner, who was an activist and deeply involved in the movement for racial justice.
“Israel Dresner was known as the most-arrested rabbi in America,” Evans said. “He and King were really close.”
According to a 2011 New Jersey Monthly profile of Rabbi Dresner, he became involved in the civil rights movement after agreeing to participate in the first interfaith Freedom Ride in 1961. He first met Dr. King in 1962, visiting him in a jail where he was being held on charges of civil disobedience.
“[Dr. Dresner] is still alive and he loves talking about his experiences during that time,” said Rabbi Renee Edelman, Sha’arey Shalom’s current Rabbi. “He was very political, he was very into doing the right thing, and making a change.”
King spoke at Temple Sha’arey Shalom twice, the second time after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. While the congregation was mostly progressive, some of its members protested the extent of Dresner’s involvement with the civil rights movement. However the rabbi refused to back down.
“Judaism teaches the oneness of mankind,” Dresner said in the New Jersey Monthly’s profile. “And it is Jewish tradition to help the poor and the afflicted.”