Dr. King’s Clarion Call for Soviet Jewish Freedom Remembered on MLK Day

A mural commemorating Dr Martin Luther King Jr., in Chattanooga, TN. Photo: Reuters/Billy Weeks.

A 1966 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urging justice for the persecuted Jewish communities in the USSR has been reissued to mark the annual US holiday honoring the civil rights leader, who was tragically murdered in 1968.

The speech by Dr. King was delivered to the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry on what was billed as a “nationwide telephone hook-up” on Dec. 11, 1966.

On Monday, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ) — a US NGO supporting Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union — distributed the speech online in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

Opening his remarks with a famous John Donne quotation — “No man is an island entire of himself” — King said that these words affirmed “the interdependence and interrelatedness of mankind … particularly when we think of the plight of three million Jews in the Soviet Union.”

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“Jewish communal rights are deprived by the Soviet government of elementary needs to sustain even a modest level of existence and growth,” King said.

King noted that while “Jews in Russia may not be physically murdered as they were in Nazi Germany, they are facing every day a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide.”

He argued that African-Americans could “well understand and sympathize with” the plight of Soviet Jews.

“When you are written out of history as a people, when you are given no choice but to accept the majority culture, you are denied an aspect of your own identity. Ultimately you suffer a corrosion of your self-understanding and your self-respect,” Dr. King explained.

King ended his comments with a clarion call for action.

“We cannot sit complacently by the wayside while our Jewish brothers in the Soviet Union face the possible extinction of their cultural and spiritual life,” he said. “Those that sit at rest, while others take pains, are tender turtles and buy their quiet with disgrace.”

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