Reflecting on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—
50 years ago today

by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History

Rabbi Uri Miller, president of the Synagogue Council of America, recited a prayer during the March on Washington in 1963. It included:

Thou [G-d] hast endowed all men equally with the rights to live, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness…Enable us to understand that our society, the American people is of one piece. That when any part of this society suffers we all suffer.

A video of the entire prayer can be found here.

The day after the March on Washington, Rabbi Miller reflected in a letter: 

I appreciated Dr. Nathan Lander’s [Director of Research of the Synagogue Council of America] presence in Washington and his help to me personally. However I do want to say that our public relations job in Washington was not of the best…

The nature of our work is such that public relations plays a very important part and I think we ought to place it on the agenda of our Executive Committee meeting in September.

The letter is preserved in Box 20, Folder 23 of the Synagogue Council of America records held by the American Jewish Historical Society (call number I-68) here at the Center. The finding aid is available here.

The minutes of the executive committee meeting that Rabbi Miller mentioned are held in Box 7, Folder 2. The document is from Wednesday, September 11, 1963 and notes that “Rabbi Hiat [executive Vice President of the Synagogue Council of America] and Dr. Lander reported of the SCA participation in the march in Washington.”

I found the minutes from the preceding meeting on August 15, 1963 more interesting:

SCA Participation in the August 28th march on Washington: Rabbi Hiat spoke on the march on Washington stating that our testimony in Washington puts us into the position of saying that we approve of this march on Washington and our constituent agencies are participating. Rabbi Hiat said that he personally feels that we should ask our colleagues, rabbis and our congregational bodies for those who cannot be in Washington on the 28th to take time out for prayer and meditation whether in the House of Worship or privately on this day. Mr. Laub added that the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis has chartered a bus for its participants in the march. He said that he just received a letter this morning that one of our leading congregations in Washington, Adas Israel, has opened its doors, at the request of the Urban League and the Jewish Community council in Washington and the United Synagogue, to marchers who may need accommodations – dormitory accommodations. The same action was requested of all Jewish congregations in Washington. Mr. Laub said that USA [United Synagogue of America] is carrying a banner and that the SCA should do the same and issue a statement. A motion was made to endorse the march, participate if possible and issue a statement with the permission of the RCA [Rabbinical Council of America]. Rabbi Adams explained that the RCA was holding its first executive meeting for the summer the following Thursday. Rabbi Regner said that there has been so much publicity that this will be a non-violent demonstration. It was suggested that we should, in an indirect fashion, mention in our statement to keep this a non-violent demonstration. The motion was passed for the SCA to endorse the march.

There are also photos of Rabbi Miller in Washington, giving the prayer and seated near Martin Luther King Jr. by the Lincoln memorial, in Box 45 Folder 9 of the Synagogue Council of America collection. 

American Jewish Congress president, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, also spoke at the march. He immediately preceded Martin Luther King Jr.

The Center partners have many books written by Rabbi Prinz. the Leo Baeck Institute also holds the Joachim Prinz Collection, AR 740. This material has been digitized and is available here.

There are also photographs of Rabbi Prinz, including some with Martin Luther King Jr., such as these photos (here and here) from the American Jewish Congress collection held by the AJHS.

For more information on Jews and the civil rights movement, you can see my blog post on it here.

The Center for Jewish History is also home to additional resources that can help us gain a broader perspective on events affecting modern Jewish life. Explore our collections at search.cjh.org or send an inquiry.

Above photos:

March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Joachim Prinz pictured, 1963. from the collections of the AJHS here at the Center. (American Jewish Congress records, undated, 1916-2006. Call Number: I-77, Box 743, Folder 26, Photograph 004.)

Joachim Prinz speaking at March on Washington, with Bayard Rustin pictured, 1963. from the collections of the AJHS here at the Center. (American Jewish Congress records, undated, 1916-2006. Call Number: I-77, Box 743, Folder 26, Photograph 005)

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