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The Weight of a Neighbor's Integrity

Shantella Y. Sherman | 8/20/2013, 4:40 p.m.
As the nation looks back at the historic March on Washington, many find the terrain behind nostalgically smoother in some ...
Shantella Y. Sherman

As the nation looks back at the historic March on Washington, many find the terrain behind nostalgically smoother in some areas than the road ahead. Progress requires the loss of some things, but time alone determines if the losses are worth the battle. Clearly, in the case of the Civil Rights Movement, and particularly the March on Washington, the demands have proven worthy of every determined step.

Critics of the March point to high incarceration and unemployment rates, as well as, a disappearing middle class, as proof that the demands for integration had less than the desired effect. I submit, however, that the loss of some ground hinges less on the call for integration, and more on the loss of a type of collective integrity that supported Black entrepreneurs, showered authority and dignity upon Black teachers, and reinforced demands for better schools, housing and equal access with economic boycotts and sanctions.

I am reminded of Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s call to look upon others as extensions of ourselves. Prinz, who served as rabbi between 1939 and 1977, at Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, spoke of the term neighbor as a moral concept that required collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not, ‘the most urgent problem.’ The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem, is silence,” Prinz said during his March on Washington speech.

That level of neighborliness had been demonstrated most effectively during the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts, which required thousands of commuters to rely on the steadfast and unwavering support of others. For 381 days, Blacks, supported by their neighbors, walked, peddled, and carpooled to gain the victory of equal accommodation.

Such collectiveness was also embodied in Viola Liuzzo, a white housewife and mother, who
was killed by Klansmen, following a voting rights march in Alabama in 1965. Liuzzo is the only white female participant in the Civil Rights Movement ever reported murdered for her involvement, though she was hardly alone in her support. In fact, roughly 60,000 white Americans took part in the March on Washington.

Truly, as Dr. King, said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Like Prinz, activist Bayard Rustin, when speaking at the March introduced a series of
demands that, at their core, spoke to the dignity and integrity. Among those demands were: the passage of effective Civil Rights legislation, no compromise, no filibuster, and that it include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, FEPC, and the right to vote; the withholding of Federal funds from all programs in which discrimination exists; that every person in this nation, black or white, be given training and work with dignity to defeat unemployment and automation; and an increase in the national minimum wage so that men may live in dignity.

As the Washington Informer commemorates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we remind our readers to consider the weight of their neighbors' integrity a reflection of their own.