The shared humanity and vision of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jewish leaders during the Civil Rights Movement forged a special bond between two alienated peoples in the United States at one of its darkest hours.
Over 50 years later, King’s son, Martin Luther King Jr. III, sat beside Natan Sharansky in Jerusalem to further that dream by presenting three Israelis with the 2016 Unsung Hero Awards for championing the rights of the country’s marginalized Ethiopian community. The awards come from the Drum Major Institute, a civil rights organization established in 1961 by the senior King and his Jewish advisor, Harry Wachtel. It was later revived in 1999 by Wachtel’s son, William, and King’s son, who serves as president.
On Sunday morning, King joined forces with Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to honor singer Idan Raichel, former Ethiopian Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata, and journalist Anat Saragusti, for their activism on behalf of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.
Noting his incarceration, and the protests in the US that helped eventually set him free while multiple operations to bring thousands of Ethiopians to Israel were being carried out, Sharansky said being with King’s son in Israel felt like coming “full circle.”
“It is a very symbolic thing, and many people do not know that the leaders who fought for Soviet Jewry in America all came from the Civil Rights Movement,” said Sharansky at the gathering at JA’s headquarters on King George Street.