Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (M.L.K.) eagerly entered the University of Illinois, Chicago campus Student Union, during my Junior term. He was promptly escorted, without fanfare to the stage lectern, in a special room prepared for his presentation
He explained the purpose of his trip to Chicago. King passionately weighed-in on the notorious state of “Slumlord” living conditions endured by so many African-Americans residing within Chicago. From the days of their migration north, most were coerced into restricted Chicago neighborhoods. He then drew the attendees attention to the poorly maintained, frequently bug and rat infested apartments, located not that distant from the more appealing, “White” area housing.
Always understood were the turf borders that kept blacks and whites separate; as well as the consequence should blacks or whites, either by accident or design cross into the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time.
King went on to reveal with an air of disbelief that in his many years of protesting unjust and ugly circumstances in the deep South, including the brutality of lynching’s and remorseless segregation; he never experienced such intense, vicious hatred and anger, as he endured during his Chicago protest appearances. At that point, several individuals scattered throughout the audience began to loudly "Boo."
He continued, unphased, as if these antics were of little consequence. Still, I was embarrassed by the disrespect shown and more so by my reticence to silence the perpetrators. A fellow student then leaned over and whispered, while expressing a facial smirk that his father owned several “slum buildings.” Again, I was silent.
Reverend King took a few brief questions before being escorted out by the promoters of the event. I stood up to leave, but paused as Dr. King looked in my direction and I felt his eyes lock into mine.
Not that long afterwards, I signed up for the first Black-American History course offered at the newly constructed University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus. The program was under the direction of Professor Arna Bontemps, a renowned Black Poet and friend of Dr. King.
I found myself a welcomed minority in that class prominently populated with African-American students, including "Fruit of Islam" Black Muslim members. I was intent on expanding my knowledge of little-understood Black experiences in America.
I found it enlightening and, yet at the same time, painful. It helped crystallize my sense of the injustice borne over the centuries by both; my brothers and sisters of color, and my people, Jews, as well. Levels of mal-treatments and indignities would unfortunately follow both for many years to come.
Among my classmates, few knew Jews or anything of our Jewish history or culture, that is aside from unflattering historical stereotypes. During passionate classroom discussions over the course of the term, I found myself respected as a Jew articulating a better understanding of who we were and what we stand for.
That was then and this is now.
African-Americans seemingly are receiving a stronger acceptance; yet as too many assimilate to America's present day inconsistent values, I fear, some are succumbing to sick assertions that the Holocaust never happened, or was greatly exaggerated and believing unfounded evil characteristics ascribed to Jews centuries earlier and being reinvigorated.
Seemingly angry Blacks, Whites, Gentiles, Muslims, and others are looking for someone or group to assign blame for every indignity or calamity that our society is experiencing.
Apparently, Jews have been and still are proving easy scapegoats.
Repeated, baseless claims about Israel have become the norm, and by extension, Jews are accused of promoting Apartheid, Ethnic Cleansing,and other degradations targeting Palestinian Arabs. These claims are being brought about by those who appear to foment violence between Jews and Arab individuals. Sadly, these thoughts have found welcoming breeding grounds on too many college campuses across America.
Combative incidents seem to be overlooked or minimized by authority figures, even as threats intensify. Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as others of their ilk appear to instigate opportunities to disparage Jews and those who support Israel. The hostile confrontations that get media attention appear to further incentivize the anti-Semitism gradually encircling our great nation. This being more so when met with silence from too many, including Jews, and African Americans, who because of a shared history should know better.
This has enabled a present day ‘gaslighting’ tactic that has mesmerized too many American young people, including political officials, against Jews. Each seemingly conveniently overlooks or is taught to deny Jewish contributions to better opportunities for Black students to learn and to prosper.
Fitful individuals join the ranks with those who subscribe to the belief that the ends justify the means when it comes to target Jews for undeserved blame, even in the face of their many positive contributions to better the lives of fellow Americans.
Just as their plight necessitated involvement of Federal legislation to assure the message that vicious hate and educational stumbling blocks won’t be tolerated against African-American students via Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; we Jews now need a comparable safety net to assure our young Jewish students their opportunity to be educated free from vicious intimidation.
As we honored M.L.K. on 1/16/2023, I could not imagine him approving of the way Jews are currently being disrespected and even physically attacked in today’s American society. He would not stand down quietly, in the face of torment endured simply for practicing the Jewish faith.
Dr. King should be remembered; not only for championing his People from bigoted hatred, but also as a friend and supporter of Jewish rights, including their Israel legacy.
Bruce Portnoyis author of the Geo-political thriller novel, First the 'Saturday People', and then the ...and op-ed contributor to various media sources. He lives in Illinois.