NEW YORK – It wasn’t quite as large, momentous or memorable as the March on
Washington, but the March down Woodward Avenue in Detroit with Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. in April 1963 drew estimated crowds of 125,000 locals.
those were Avern Cohn, Allen Zemmol and Irving Tukel of Detroit, all young
lawyers at the time who were active supporters of King’s message.
83, remembered the march as “jammed” with people.
“I don’t think there
were more than four or five thousand white people there,” Tukel recalled of the
“We were just there to show solidarity.”
Cohn, who at the
time was active the Detroit chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and
is a United States District Judge for eastern Michigan, said he remembered Dr.
King’s speech “was very stirring.”
“We were slowly breaking down barriers
at the time,” Cohn said. “There was all sorts of Sturm and Drang in the South,
and in Detroit there were all kinds of activity, and there was still substantial
discrimination. Schools were still segregated.”
Cohn was a cooperating
attorney with the ACLU, for which he sat on the board and occasionally took
assignments defending protestors who had been arrested.
“Jews were in the
forefront of combating racial prejudices,” Cohn remembered.
“There was a
sense of solidarity with the civil rights movement. We began to develop a
black-Jewish dialogue; Jews and blacks would meet and discuss the common state
of affairs of the day.”
For Tukel, 77, the tensions were most palpable
when he went down to Greenwood, Mississippi in August 1964 with the National
Lawyers Guild when he was in his 20s.
“In August of 1964, we all had the
same goal, which was the enlargement of civil rights in the United States,”
He recalled driving from Detroit down to Jackson, Mississippi
and then to Greenwood, a drive he described as “fairly scary,” even though his
only mission was to deliver some case files to a local judge in Oxford,
“I was a young lawyer, very idealistic,” he said. “As every
generation does, we thought we could change things.”
Tukel recalled that
the Jewish community of Metro Detroit, which he said in those days numbered 80,000
or 90,000, “stood up as a community” in the early 60s and helped steer the
leadership organizations like the National Lawyer’s Guild and the United Auto
Worker’s Union toward supporting civil rights.
In March 1964 Zemmol went
down to Mississippi to help black Americans register to vote.
weeks after we arrived, they found the bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman,”
Zemmol remembered, referring to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael
Schwerner, the one black and two Jewish civil rights activists from New York who
were lynched in June 1964. Tukel, who arrived in Mississippi right after the
three bodies were found recalled the high tensions in the
“Everyone was on edge,” he said.
Zemmol went to
Mississippi to help black Americans register to vote.
“I remember the
first town we went to, there were six guys standing in the door of the
courthouse,” he said. “We just stared them down.”
The next town they went
to, Zemmol recalled another “group of thugs” standing around “fixing a car with
“There could have been a violent confrontation,” Zemmol
Fortunately, he said, nothing happened to him.
73, said he remembered going down to the South as a 22-year-old law student at
the University of Chicago to help write and file legal complaints on behalf of
Goodman is the son of Ernest Goodman, who was the president
of the National Lawyers Guild and founder of the United State’s first
interracial law firm, Goodman, Eden, Millender and Bedrosian.
civil rights movement started to happen, people started mobilizing and
protesting, and getting arrested and beaten,” Goodman said. “So obviously you
need lawyers to assist that movement.”
The elder Goodman convinced the
National Lawyer’s Guild to open an office in the South to assist southern
lawyers and help bring in other lawyers from around the US.
forget these things,” Goodman mused.
“We started an omnibus integration
lawsuit in Danville, Lynchberg and Hopewell, Virginia.
The next summer
, Danville exploded,” he said, referring to the violent clashes between
the high schoolers black community in Danville and police that Dr. King
himself called “the worst police brutality he had seen in the South.”
recall people in Virginia who supported the Civil Rights movement were shunned
in general,” Goodman said. “But those few white people who were friendly were
Jewish. We’d go to this little restaurant owned by this Jewish guy who treated
us like kings.”