“May We Learn to Endure Freedom and Love”

Speech delivered by Rabbi Robert Marx with Dr. King at Soldier Field in 1966

History remembers its villains; it forgets its victims. Tyrants and despots, monarchs and dictators–their names are preserved in the annals of mankind. Who, however, recalls the names of the men and women and little children, who, through no fault of their own, have seen their own lives ruined and who rest in nameless graves.

No rabbi can participate in an occasion such as this without recalling what happens when such a demonstration on behalf of freedom is made impossible by government or military tyrannies. We who have seen the slaughter of six million of our brothers can only shudder in cognizant agony at the thought that our Negro brothers are still dying to purchase the same freedom for which we too have bled and died.

Audience at Soldier Field, 1966

Unfortunately the fall-out of prejudice and discrimination maims and wounds, not only its present victims, but leaves its scars upon unborn generations as well. The legacy being unwanted is a miserable inheritance.

I remember reading the story of a Jewish girl standing behind a fence in a Nazi concentration camp. Day by day she saw uniformed S.S. troops pass by. One day, in her terror, this Jewish child called out: “I want to hate; I want to wear a uniform; I want to murder; I want to be a Nazi.”

Are not parallels between this experience in a concentration camp and the experiences of millions of our fellow citizens who daily can look out only from their high-rise slums upon a community that flaunts its uniform of affluence to usher into this world another generation of deprived and rejected children who bear in their minds the scars if their fathers’ suffering?

The Civil Rights Movement is now at an historic juncture. Violence or pacifism, demonstrations or behind the scenes activity, legislative pushes or quiet enforcement–these are a few of the dilemmas we face. There are those who would counsel a wait and see attitude. This advice has always been the posture of those who have little faith and less courage. More great causes have been defeated by temerity and by silence, than by all the forces of the enemy.

The truth is that there is not merely one course of action–there are many roads–there are many options. But we must not be paralyzed by fear– even if we cannot accept every facet of the Civil Right agenda. It is just at the time when the issues seem most complex, when progress seems most imminent, that the man of faith must say: My conviction and my deeds do count– now–at this hour– at this moment. To do less is to be silent. It is to say: I could have saved the world, but I did not, for I was afraid.

There is an old Hebrew saying: The real exile in Egypt was that the people learned to endure it.” May our generation never learn to endure slavery. May we never learn to endure enslavement. May we never learn to endure prejudice and hatred. May we learn to endure freedom and love.

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