"Let us realize that history has thrust upon us an indescribably important destiny — to complete a process of democratization which our nation has developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful weapon for world respect."
This might have come from Barack Obama's Tuesday inaugural address. It didn't. America's second-most important black leader, Martin Luther King Jr., spoke these words in Miami Beach almost exactly a half-century ago.
That speech, one of two King doozies Riptide dug up from the Miami area in the late 1950s, is a monster. He spoke to the American Jewish Congress at the Carillon Hotel, which had long prohibited blacks from sleeping in its elegant rooms. Indeed, laws forbade blacks from even being in Miami Beach after 9 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Back then, Miami was a mecca for Jews in the South, which is why King decided to address the American Jewish Congress here May 14, 1958. The AJC and the ACLU had both recently opened their first offices in the South here, to some degree in an attempt to end segregation. The city was also dealing with a two-year-long recession, just as it is today.
King's speech compares the Jews' struggle against Hitler to blacks' efforts to end segregation. It sounds prophetic. "There are Hitlers loose in America today [who]...as economic problems become more severe...will seek to divert people's minds and turn their frustrations and anger to the helpless, to the outnumbered. Then whether the Negro and Jew shall live in peace will depend upon how firmly they resist."
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The Obama administration has lots of challenges. Race is only one. But the top guns would do well to listen to King's description of the Jewish/black partnership: "Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility."