With the week leading into Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many events were planned and scheduled to commemorate the local observance of the 45th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Parade.
On Jan. 11, I was able to attend one of these events by watching the documentary “Shared Legacies: The African American-Jewish Civil Rights Alliance.” The film was presented by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Society, Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, and Circle Cinema.
The film has toured the United States and won countless awards since its original release date. The documentary screened at Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s oldest and only nonprofit historic art house theater. A reception was held before the screening with a special reenactment of Coretta Scott King, portrayed by Chautauqua performer Rebecca Marks-Jimerson. She sang “We Shall Overcome” and other songs. Marks-Jimerson is also a board member of the MLK Commemoration Society.
“Shared Legacies” highlights the shared and distinct cultural and ethical values of these two groups. Their collaboration for social justice has changed American history since the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Evidence of this collaboration is the recognition that both African Americans and Jewish Americans have experienced (and continue to experience) adversity and pain.
By acknowledging this suffering, each helped and supported one another. Through this common legacy, they have attained a mutual understanding while working to effect social change for all. It was no easy struggle. They have had to fight against discrimination, racism, ignorance, violence, and even succumbing to death from acts such as bombings, shootings, and lynchings.
By the end of the film, when the lights were raised and the seats began to empty, it left you appreciating the life most Americans, including me, take for granted. It left me wanting to live life the same way those heroes did. Even today, when division among Americans is more pervasive and evident, we should look back, not very long ago, to when our country barely allowed for the rights of so many to be expressed.
The documentary encourages each of us to remember the steps those before us took to create and affect change for the benefit of all Americans. The landscape may seem different, but the playbook is entirely the same. The film conveys the message that if we are united (and not divided), change can be made.
Another recurring theme from the documentary resonated with an African proverb, “If surviving lions don’t tell their stories, the hunters will get all the credit.”
From the Jewish people who survived the Holocaust, they stated the worst part about Nazi Germany were the good Germans who said nothing. Silence throughout history has allowed for cruel acts to happen to vulnerable groups. This is one of the points King makes in his famous “Letter from Birmingham.”
When eight clergymen, seven ministers, and one rabbi urged Dr. King to “wait” amid the 1963 racial crisis after King led a peaceful protest march, King responded with what has been recalled in both the documentary and from several historians as “the most important written document of the Civil Rights era.” In his letter, King writes, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” This was one example contributing to the theme presented in this powerful story of perseverance.
“Shared Legacies” was produced by Spill The Honey, an organization that builds Black-Jewish relations. One of the organization’s visions stated on its website is to “use the transformative power of the arts to change hearts and minds and seek to move people to act for social change.” To learn more about the film or the organization, please visit Spill The Honey for more information.
Unfortunately, the question-and-answer session planned for after the screening was postponed due to the incoming winter weather. The panelists scheduled to participate were Pleas Thompson, president of the Martin Luther King Commemoration Society; Rebecca Marks-Jimerson, MLK Commemoration Society board member; Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado; and Brae Riley, chair of the Social Justice Committee at the Jewish Federation of Tulsa. The program was to be moderated by Dr. Jerry Goodwin, assistant professor in mass communication, Tulsa Community College, and president of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists Pro Chapter.
This event was one of several events in Tulsa leading up to the 45th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Parade on Jan. 15. In light of inclement weather, the parade was canceled and will be rescheduled soon. For more information on events related to MLK Day, visit MLK Tulsa.