Jews of color on what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to them in 2019

From left, Bishop James Shannon, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery, Feb. 6, 1968. (Charles Del Vecchio/Washington Post/Getty Images)

For many Jewish organizations, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a time to talk about the current state of black-Jewish relations.

There’s a lot to talk about this year, from the controversy over ties between Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory and Louis Farrakhan, to common cause over the rise of white supremacism, to an issue of Commentary magazine that took a pessimistic view of the relationship between African-Americans and Jews.

But for those members of the Jewish community who also identify as black, it’s more complicated than whether the “relationship” is good or bad, up or down.

JTA asked Jews of color to share their thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Their responses range from reflections on their family histories to takes on the Women’s March controversy and race relations in the United States. Here are their answers via email, which have been lightly edited for grammar and style.

Marcella White Campbell is marketing director for Be’chol Lashon, an organization that educates about diversity in the Jewish community.

Marcella White Campbell, right, and family at her son’s bar mitzvah, April 2018. (Courtesy of Marcella White Campbell)

Recently, I brought my children to the Lincoln Memorial, so that they could stand on the stairs with President Abraham Lincoln at their backs and look out over the Reflecting Pool. I wanted to bring to life for them the black-and-white footage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. In our fast-paced society, moving further and further into the future, it’s easy for them to believe that the civil rights movement happened a long time ago. Walking in the footsteps of King, they were able to understand how recently all this occurred, how recently my husband, a white Ashkenazi Jew, couldn’t even have married a Black woman like myself in states across the U.S.

The civil rights movement didn’t happen a long time ago, and that work didn’t cease the moment the last Jim Crow law was overturned. The need to further that work — and keep that history alive — is something our Black and Jewish family intimately understands, and is work I’m proud to support as director of marketing for Be’chol Lashon, an organization that advocates for the diversity that has characterized the Jewish people throughout history and into the present day.

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