King’s legacy celebrated at Highland Park synagogue where he spoke in 1966
By Judy Masterson firstname.lastname@example.org | @JudyReport January 19, 2014 4:00PM
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is shown at Congregation Solel in Highland Park on June 30, 1966. The visit, which came as activists were organizing to protest unfair housing practices along the North Shore and in Chicago, was made under heightened security. King’s standing-room only talk was preceded by a performance of the youth choir from First Baptist Church of North Chicago. | FILE PHOTO
CHICAGO FREEDOM MOVEMENT
The Chicago Freedom Movement, the most ambitious civil rights campaign in the northern United States, protested from 1965-1967 for an end to discrimination in housing, education and employment. It also tackled issues including health care, crime and criminal justice, and community development. In January 1966, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his family moved into an apartment in a ghetto on Chicago’s West Side. That summer, after lengthy, often rancorous negotiations, King and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley announced an agreement: the protests and marches would stop and white city leaders would promote fair housing. The latter promise went unrealized until Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act − after King’s assassination in 1968.
Updated: February 21, 2014 6:23AM
”Declaring education the “civil rights issue of today,” members of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke nearly 48 years ago, were addressed by two Waukegan High School students during the fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Shabbat.
The Friday service echoed the Obama administration’s current push to expand access to college for low-income minority students. Andrea Flores and Topiltzin Gomez, both from immigrant Mexican families, spoke of facing discrimination and struggling to achieve despite low expectations. They thanked Solel for partnering with Waukegan-based Envision Scholars to mentor Waukegan High students who seek admission to top universities. Flores has been accepted at Stanford. Gomez will attend Yale.
Flores said the efforts of King and others “led my parents to believe that this was a great country.” She said her mother and father sacrificed everything to give their children a better future.
Gomez thanked Solel for “pursuing justice and equality for all.” He said he is a beneficiary of King’s legacy and that he often asks himself why some people are born into poverty and ignorance.
“Why do youths my age look at a border, see hope, cross and find death?” Gomez asked. “Why am I the blessed one? Why am I a product of thousands of hours of hard work that were not my own?
“Then It came to me that our lives are not our own,” Gomez said. “We are a continuation of a legacy.”
King visited Solel, 1301 Clavey Road, on June 30, 1966, 10 days before leading a freedom rally at Soldier Field in Chicago. By late July of that year, the Chicago Freedom Movement, aimed at ending discrimination in education, housing, and employment, was staging marches in all-white neighborhoods on the city’s southwest and northwest sides.
The Shabbat wove together prayers in Hebrew and songs from the Civil Rights movement, sung by the Solel Choir, including “We Shall Overcome,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a new spiritual, “Pray With My Feet,” written by Phillip Orem, the congregation’s accompanist and composer-in-residence.
The service also recalled the integral role Jews played in advocating for King’s ideas. In 1965, members of Solel and the synagogue’s founding rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf, marched with King from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., Rabbi Robert Marx, who led Solel from 1973 to 1984, served as King’s principal Jewish advisor in Chicago.
The congregation sponsored an interracial summer camp, tutored students at Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing project and participated in fair housing campaigns along the North Shore.
King was invited to speak at Solel, at Wolf’s urging, by the North Shore Fellowship of Rabbis and during the visit, the civil rights leader raised funds for the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“It’s an incredible history to live up to and to continue,” said Solel Rabbi Evan Moffic. “This congregation, before any other synagogue in North America, was devoted to civil rights. To continue that legacy is a tremendous honor and responsibility and I feel it every day.”
Robin Shapiro, Solel’s liaison for Envision Scholars, said that Flores and Gomez brought relevance to a civil rights message “that people tend to tune-out on now.”
“They showed how we personally and as a congregation and a nation can continue to fight,” Shapiro said. “We are not done. The fight is being waged on a daily basis in Waukegan, Ill., for example. It’s really important we all band together again without any regard for color, race, creed or nationality to be part of a single dialogue.”
Solel member Judy Bederman of Highland Park, called the MLK Shabbat an inspiration.
“This synagogue has a long history of social action,” said Bederman, who noted that she “didn’t get to Selma because I was changing diapers.”
“It’s important for us to hear these kids,” Bederman said. “The further you get away from being that age the harder it is to look forward, because you’re always looking back.