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Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jews of Atlanta

Remembering the South’s first racially integrated banquet

Stephanie Butnick
January 18, 2014
Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild and Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1965 banquet.(MARBL)
Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild and Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1965 banquet.(MARBL)

Much has been written about the alliance between Jews and African Americans during the civil rights movement—the rabbis who participated in the March on Washington, for example, and Joachim Prinz, the Newark rabbi and close confidante of Martin Luther King. One especially interesting vignette comes from Atlanta, where the South’s first racially integrated banquet was held in 1965, honoring Martin Luther King Jr. when he returned from Oslo after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The event, organized by Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, drew 1,400 guests, and featured speeches from a number of different religious leaders, including King and Rothschild. Rothschild’s speech, which draws heavily on imagery from Genesis, is worth revisiting on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In Jewish lore there is a legend of Adam as he faced the approaching night of his first day on earth. Darkness–the first darkness he had ever known–was about to envelop of the world–and he was afraid. For how was he to know that night and day were ordained to follow one another for all eternity, that God in His first creative act had decreed that “there be light”–and indeed, had looked upon it and called it “good?” For Adam, this menacing dark might well blot out forever that radiant sun whose rays had brightened and warmed his day of life.

Tablet will not be publishing on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We’ll see you back here Tuesday.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.