On Sunday, February 11, 2018, over 160 people gathered at Temple Beth-El of Las Cruces to hear a speech and a voice echoing down to us from the past.
On March 12, 1961, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Temple Emanuel in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rabbi Joseph Klein of Temple Emanuel introduced Dr. King that night. Following his retirement from Temple Emanuel in 1977, Rabbi Klein made his way to Las Cruces to serve Temple Beth-El until 1984.
Before he left town to return to the northeast, he presented Temple Beth-El member Frances Williams with a cassette tape copy of a recording of the King speech. Eventually, KRWG was given the opportunity to enhance the audio.
Rabbi Klein’s granddaughter Laura contacted Temple Beth-El a few days before our program to let us know that the family had the original reel-to-reel tapes of the talk and the question-and-answer session following.
Temple Beth-El and the Dona Ana County Branch of the NAACP co-sponsored this gathering.
The NMSU Gospel Choir presented music to begin and end the event, and a local panel set a context for King’s talk and responded to King’s words,
Many of us who heard the speech on February 11 were impressed with its resonance for today, not only in the realm of race relations, but for other societal issues as well.
Dr. King noted how people might approach the situation in 1961 with optimism, pessimism and realism, recognizing how the United States had come a long, long way in treating African-Americans with dignity and equality, after the Brown v. Board school desegregation decision by the Supreme Court in 1954, and the registration of 1.3 million African- Americans in the South (but that was out of 5 million possible voters).
This paragraph touched us all, as we, in our time, all too often fail to engage in respectful conversation: “For too often in the South, we find ourselves seeking to live in monologue rather than dialogue. No greater tragedy can befall a community than this tragedy of seeking to live in monologue. Men hate each other often because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they can’t communicate with each other. They can’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other. And so that is a real challenge of this hour for the people of good will in the white South to rise up and take over the leadership and open the channels of communication and thereby make for a smooth and peaceful transition.”
And, finally, Dr. King called on people to be willing to be maladjusted “to the evils of discrimination...to religious bigotry...to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” He concluded, “it may well be [that] the salvation of our world lies in the hand of the maladjusted.”
One of the songs presented by the NMSU Gospel Choir at the beginning of the program was of my own creation, based on Psalm 133, verse 1: “How good and how pleasant it is when we sit together.” The lyrics continued: “Are we destined to live in a world divided? We still can see clearly what makes us united. When we feel the ties that bind us, love and understanding will find us.”
On that day, hearing Dr. King’s voice, we realized that we still share that hope for understanding and unity.