Cover image for Shared dreams : Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish community
Shared dreams : Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Jewish community
Schneier, Marc, 1959-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Woodstock, Vt. : Jewish Lights, [1999]

Physical Description:
xv, 222 pages ; 24 cm
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E185.97.K5 S595 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Many people are familiar with the story of Jewish support for the American civil rights movement, but this history has another side--
one that has not been fully told until now.

"Outlines a compelling image of relations between the two communities.... In Shared Dreams, Rabbi Schneier reiterates our commonality, as upheld by Martin Luther King, Jr., and fuels the reader to continue to work for the advancement of race relations among all God's children."

--from the Preface by Martin Luther King III

Shared Dreams brings to life the impressive, surprising, and long-neglected history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s efforts in support of the Jewish community. This is a story that sheds new light on the commitment and the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities as they have struggled together to fight for justice and civil rights in our nation, and our lives.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Rabbi Schneier contrasts the biblical teachings that inspired King's involvement in the civil rights struggle with the Talmudic teachings that prompted Jewish involvement. He notes that enlightened self-interest was also a motivation for Jews, who recognized their own outsider status. Schneier uses speeches and writings of African American and Jewish leaders to detail the connection between the two groups during the 1960s. Jewish support for King wasn't universal. Southern Jews, with much more at risk, were relatively silent on the issue of civil rights for blacks. Schneier discusses the internecine battles among Jews regarding the nature and extent of their involvement in the civil rights movement. At the same time, King suffered criticism from black nationalists because of his association with Jews, particularly when Middle East conflicts worsened. But King was steadfast in his opposition to anti-Semitism and in his support of Israel. Schneier also details the personal friendships between King and Jewish leaders, particularly King's philosophical kinship with scholar Abraham Heschel, as both men saw a divine plan in the civil rights struggle. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Schneier, founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue on Long Island, wrote this book to foster friendly relations between African-Americans and Jews. Based on interviews and previously unpublished sources, this is a commendable account of the associations Martin Luther King Jr. had with Jews and Jewish organizations. Schneier frankly confronts such issues as African-American anti-Semitism, the left-wing connections of King's important Jewish advisor, Stanley Levison, and the early reluctance of many Southern Jews to endorse the civil rights movement. These kinds of problems were balanced by the vigorous support King received from such Jewish leaders as Morris Abram and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jewish participation in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery and the assistance King gave to the struggle against Soviet repression of Jews. Perhaps the most troublesome episode in the groups' relationship occurred during the Six-Day War, when King's powerful pacifist convictions and the anti-Zionist harangues of several African-American leaders combined to make him reluctant to advocate favoring Israel. However, he never endorsed anti-Israel attitudes and, in the last speech he made before his 1968 assassination, spoke fondly of his trip to Israel in 1959. Schneier's candid, well-balanced presentation is a significant contribution to African-American/Jewish harmony. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This volume, a useful addition to the growing literature on black-Jewish relations, is not as scholarly as some of the other literature, such as Murray Friedman's What Went Wrong? It has the virtue of focusing on a single figure, Martin Luther King Jr., and telling its story through the medium of his life. Schneier (Foundation for Ethnic Understanding) demonstrates King's interest in, identification with, empathy for, and strategic approach to the Jewish community, while simultaneously exploring American Jews' divergent reactions to King and his movement. Although the book has a clearly partisan intent--to provide renewal for the troubled relationship between blacks and Jews--it does not avoid discussing such difficult matters as southern Jewish ambivalence or opposition to the Civil Rights Movement and the antisemitism of militant black leaders during and after King. The author is honest in describing these problems, but he is also content to portray King himself in mostly hagiographic ways. Schneier is far better at narration than analysis; his book gestures toward historical scholarship without really achieving it. Recommended for general audiences and for lower-division undergraduates. A. L. Mittleman; Muhlenberg College



Chapter One The "New Moses" To avoid involvement in behalf of a just cause ... is to live a sterile life. It is the quality of life that one leads that gives it meaning and value, not its length. From the saying of Jesus: "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it," I draw the fullest meaning and implication for my life.... The exhortation of the prophet, "Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue," rings constantly in my ears. --MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. It is now more than thirty years since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was brought up by a father who had been a pastor. He had trained to be a pastor. He started out in life as a pastor. Almost by accident, he entered a public arena that took him far from his pulpit and his congregants in Montgomery, Alabama. Yet, despite his reluctance to start out on this road, despite his occasional bewilderment that he had become a "new Moses" for his people, he led a revolution that changed the social structure of America and how America thought about itself and how it showed itself to the rest of the world.     He was born Michael King on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia; his name was formally changed to Martin Luther King, Jr., some six years later. His mother, Alberta Williams, was the daughter of Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and founder of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). When Williams died in 1931, he was succeeded in his church pulpit by his son-in-law, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr. One of the early combatants in the war of discrimination against blacks, Martin Luther King, Sr., also known as Daddy King, was a proud and ambitious man, who labored hard in the fields of his religion. In addition to Martin Jr., Daddy King and his wife had two other children: Christine and Albert Daniel.     The King household was loving and comparatively well-to-do. Not until Martin Jr. began to attend the Younge Street Grade School did he really experience discrimination: White children he had played with in his neighborhood were no longer allowed to play with him. Growing up with America at war in Europe and the Pacific, King attended a special accelerated program at the University of Atlanta, then returned to Booker T. Washington High School to graduate in 1944. At the age of fifteen, he enrolled at Morehouse College. He was undecided about a future career and considering law and teaching as possibilities, but he felt no pull toward the ministry. Rejecting the religious emotionalism of the church and its literal interpretations of scripture, he favored liberal European-American theological and philosophical ideas.     King's exposure to Morehouse President Benjamin Mays and the Christian social activism espoused by his teachers--and his own readings of the theologians Paul Tillich, Henry Nelson Wieman, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Reinhold Niebuhr--caused him to change his mind and enter the ministry. He was ordained in 1947. His father quickly helped him become assistant pastor of Ebenezer, though he was still a student at college.     In 1948, King graduated from Morehouse and went on to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he was one of six blacks in a student body of 100. At Crozer, his preaching skills helped make him a standout: he was elected president of the student body, honored with the Pflaker Award as outstanding student, and given the J. Lewis Crozer Fellowship. After graduating in 1951, he used his fellowship to attend Boston University's School of Theology, where he received his Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1955.     While a student at Boston University, he met Coretta Scott, a music student who was active in social movements and shared King's pacifist views. He married her on June 18, 1953, at her family's home in Marion, Alabama. Around that same time he accepted the position of pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. From the very beginning, he preached to parishioners about the importance of registering to vote, about being involved in community affairs and the need to join the NAACP.     The South was about to undergo some major upheavals. Blacks, oppressed since being brought here from Africa to be slaves, had been kept down after the Civil War by a raft of new laws passed during Reconstruction. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson introduced a new legal concept, "separate but equal;" which was applied to the continuation of segregation in public schools. Though black schools were supposed to receive funding, physical plants, and staffs all equivalent to those given to white schools, black children actually received vastly inferior educations than did whites because neither the quality nor the quantity of funding, buildings, and staffs for them ever came close to what white children enjoyed.     In 1951, the NAACP filed a class action suit to overturn the Plessy decision. Combining several national cases, the overall suit came to be called Brown v. Board of Education (of Topeka, Kansas) . In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" was unconstitutional because it deprived blacks of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.     The decision ignited a social revolution as well as a vitriolic backlash in the South: White Southerners were shocked by Brown . Many predicted violence or even a new attempt by southern states to secede from the union if the federal government attempted to make good on the Court's ruling. The day of the [Supreme Courrt's] decision--May 17, 1954--became known as Black Monday. In rural Sunflower County, Mississippi, a former Mississippi State football hero named Robert "Tut" Patterson, finding himself so tormented by the implications of Brown for his young daughters that he could not sleep at night, set to work to form the first chapter of the Citizens' Council, a segregationist committee of white businessmen. Within two years [the Council had] 85,000 members in Mississippi and 60,000 in Alabama as well as countless chapters across the South from Texas to Virginia. ... [I]n an atmosphere of mounting hysteria, southern politicians assured their constituents that forced integration would never come.     On December 1, 1955, America's second revolutionary shot was "heard 'round the world." In Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Parks was ordered to give her seat on a bus to a white person. She refused. Her act of defiance, resulting in her arrest, sparked the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which organized a bus boycott that lasted 382 days. Though not wanting a leadership role, Martin Luther King, Jr., was induced to become its president. "We were just looking for an agreeable figurehead," said Montgomery leader E. D. Nixon later, "and we got a Moses."     The year 1956 was pivotal in King's life. He was arrested for the first time on January 26 for speeding. Four days later, his home was bombed. Through it all, King adopted the Gandhian philosophy of passive resistance, hoping it would not "defeat or humiliate" the opponent but [also] "awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent" and thereby create "the beloved community." [H]e [also] distinguished between seeking to defeat the "forces of evil" and "persons victimized by evil" [and lastly he] asserted that the underlying principle of nonviolent resistance was "agape"--that is, "an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return." This principle enabled King to merge Gandhian precepts with his Christian beliefs: "When we love on the agape level we love men not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves them."     In November, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that segregation on buses in Montgomery was unconstitutional. A few weeks later, Martin Luther King was one of the first to board an unsegregated bus.     As the bus boycott received national attention, King became a hero of the nascent civil rights movement. A star had been born, a new Moses had arisen, who would lead his people out of bondage. And so, in January 1957, Southern black leaders converged on Ebenezer Baptist Church to form a new resistance movement--the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King was made its first president. That year, he traveled almost a million miles and delivered about two hundred speeches. In March, he traveled to Ghana as a guest of the new government and completed his first book, Stride Toward Freedom , published in 1958.     Because of the new demands on him, King realized that he could no longer fulfill his commitments to his congregation in Montgomery. Resigning his position at Dexter, he moved back to Atlanta and resumed a co-pastorship with his father of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.     Now that King had a center-stage position in the black freedom movement, the State of Alabama took an overly enthusiastic look at him, his friends, and his finances. In 1960, a Montgomery grand jury indicted him for falsifying his tax returns. But the attention of the Federal government would be even more intense. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, took a special interest in King after the minister chided the FBI for having no black agents. For the imperious Hoover, this was a personal attack. Through wiretaps, listening devices, and actual physical surveillance, Hoover documented King's SCLC activities, personal conversations, dalliances, and the conversations of friends and associates. Hoover would harass King for the rest of his life, even suggesting that King commit suicide before "improprieties" were revealed.     As the civil rights movement's tactics changed from economic boycotts to sit-ins and freedom rides and marches that were easy targets for the tear gas and fire hoses of police and state troopers, King met with President John F. Kennedy in the White House in October 1962 to press for more federal action for civil rights.     Arrested at yet another demonstration in April 1963--this time in Birmingham, Alabama--King used his time in jail to write "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," which would become a key document of the Negro revolution. His experiences in Birmingham became the essence of his next book, Why We Can't Wait (1964).     Birmingham marked a seminal change in America's view of blacks. After seeing newspaper and television images of protesters--men, women, and children--being attacked by dogs, water hoses, and baton-swinging police, a growing sympathy for blacks encouraged more whites to participate in the civil rights movement. Partly because of that, more than 250,000 people--blacks and whites--converged on Washington on August 28, 1963, for what would be the largest civil rights protest ever held in the United States.     On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered one of the most inspiring speeches of all time: Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro is still not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.     "From every mountainside," pleaded King, "let freedom ring.... If America is to be a great nation, this must be true. So let freedom ring." King oratorically went from state to state and coast to coast, tolling the bells of freedom and envisioning "that day when all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, `Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"     In December, Time magazine anointed King Man of the Year. But only when Lyndon Johnson became president after John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 did civil rights move close to the forefront of the White House's priorities. Johnson deemed it time for a Great Society to emerge in America, one in which poverty would be eradicated, opportunities would expand, and blacks would have equal rights and equal opportunity. Many blacks assumed this was the beginning of a new era.     The summer of 1964 saw the passage of a national civil rights bill, but it was not enough to quell the riots that broke out in Northern cities. In July, the SCLC launched a people-to-people tour of Mississippi to help sister groups--the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)--get Negro voters to register. The campaign was called the Mississippi Freedom Summer.     Also in 1964, for the first time, King came out in favor of a political candidate: Lyndon Johnson. King was appalled by the regressive politics of the GOP's presidential candidate, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, and he appreciated the president's efforts to advance civil rights legislation. In October, after returning from a special audience with Pope Paul VI in Rome, King learned that he had won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.     In January 1965, while leading a voter registration drive in Selma called Project Alabama, King was jailed after leading a protest march to the Dallas County Courthouse. In February, he met in the White House with President Johnson, who assured him that he would do his utmost to ensure Negro voting rights. In March, King again gained national attention when he led the Selma-to-Montgomery march. In July, thirty thousand people marched for civil rights in Chicago, where King was stoned by counter-protesters for involving himself in Northern affairs. Early in August, King went to Washington to attend the culmination of years of work: the signing of the Voting Rights Act. At last, one of his fondest dreams had become law.     During this time, King concluded that the war in Vietnam was unjust and publicly announced his opposition. He said, "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government."     This began a downward spiral in King's influence. His opposition to the Vietnam War divided supporters who were upset that he seemed to be mixing two different matters--war and civil rights--under one mantle. It also brought to the fore more radical, more violent black groups when members scorned King's nonviolence. Seeking to give whites pain and anguish similar to what they had inflicted on blacks, they advocated Black Power and separatism. As a result, financial support waned for the SCLC and other leading civil rights organizations.     On April 4, 1967, King spoke at The Riverside Church, an interdenominational church, in New York City. Amid clergy, scholars, and other opponents of the war in Vietnam, he declared: These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.... Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.... When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response ... [but] of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.... Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.     On March 28, 1968, despite warnings of danger, King led six thousand protesters in Memphis in support of the city's striking sanitation workers. Six days later, he delivered his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech at a rally for the strikers: Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.     The next day--April 4, 1968--an assassin's bullet ended King's life. Cities burned and ghettoes exploded. "Moses" was gone. The man whose eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord was now in the hands of the Lord. But his dream didn't die with him--a dream of the "day when all God's children ... will ... join hands and sing, ... `Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" The death of his dream would take more than bullets from an assassin, more than the death of one man. It would require the death of the entire American experiment--and the American promise--of democracy and freedom and equality. King's greatest gift was that the words of the prophet, "Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue," rang constantly in his ears, as did the words of the Constitution, "to form a more perfect Union." Through justice, King wanted to better the United States, maybe not to make it perfect--that is too ideal a goal for any institution made by human beings. But he never ceased trying to remind us that we should reach for perfection, however elusive that might be. And that by reaching, we would be a finer nation and a finer people. Copyright © 1999 Marc Schneier. All rights reserved.