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David Goldstein, the executive director of the Greater Kansas City Jewish Community Relations Bureau / American Jewish Committee from 1972 until 1998, marched in Selma during the voting rights fight in 1965—twice.  So IREHR sat down with him as he remembered those days, now commemorated in the movie Selma.  

In 1965 David Goldstein served as the executive director of the Jewish Community Relation Council in Indianapolis.  He had already gone to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, and heard from Dr. King, Joan Baez and others. He had thought about joining into Freedom Summer in Mississippi, and was not afraid to publicly admit that the threat of violence, of being killed, had kept him away.  But when Blood Sunday occurred on March 7, 1965, and Alabama State troopers viciously and indiscriminately beat voting rights marchers after they crossed Edmund Pettus Bridge outside Selma, David decided he must go there.  He had seen pictures of the violence on television that night, and heard Dr. King on the radio issue a call for all Americans to come to Selma.

He flew into Atlanta, met two Christian minsters in that airport who were also going to Selma, and the three of them drove to Montgomery, where many others were staying in preparation of going on.  David remembered gathering in front of the Brown Chapel, feeling the excitement in the air, and wondering—along with others—about what would happen next. And when the second march finally began on March 9, David Goldstein was walking in the midst.

They marched through Selma that day, then to the bridge—which he remembers today as being “huge”—they crossed the bridge, knelt and prayed under the eyes of the club wielding troopers, and then Dr. King led them all to turn around and return to Selma.  That night, Rev. James Reeb of Boston was beaten by segregationists and died two days later.  (Readers from Kansas might be interested in the fact that Reeb was born in Wichita in 1927.)

David went back to Selma on March 21, for the big celebratory legally sanctioned march to Montgomery.  This time he went with a local Indianapolis rabbi, they gathered with others, and began the five-day march to Montgomery.  David turned around and went home after the first day, but 25,000 demonstrators paraded on March 25 to the state capitol building—then under the leadership of Governor George Wallace.  David was one of many Jews who marched in Selma, including Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who joined Rev. Martin Luther King on the front line of that third march.  Heschel’s presence was sadly left out of the current film.  There is an ongoing discussion of Selma, the violence and death, and its meaning to the freedom movement then and now. David was a witness to a part of this history.

Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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