Fifty years ago, an estimated quarter of a million people assembled in front  of the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The  event unified a multitude of races, genders and religions, capped by the iconic  image of Martin Luther King Jr. visualizing his dream for equality.

Many American Jews were active participants and leaders in the march. Arnie  Aronson was a little-known but crucial organizer; Rabbi Uri Miller recited the  opening prayer; Rabbi Joachim Prinz delivered a stirring speech just before  King’s historic words.

The Forward spoke with descendants of these men and others who took the stage  and filled the National Mall on August 28, 1963. Here, in their own words, are  their memories and their assessment of what the March on Washington has come to  mean half a century later.

Jonathan Rieder, sociology professor, Barnard College:

The Jewish involvement in the march in many ways embodied a very resonant  moment in Jewish cultural life in America, as well as a high point of the  black-Jewish alliance. A lot of individual Jews felt bad for blacks and felt it  was an important thing to support. Groups like the American Jewish Committee and  the American Jewish Congress were utterly committed to the march. They saw it as  central to being a Jew.

Jonathan Prinz, son of Rabbi Joachim Prinz who spoke at the march (listen to his speech  here):

The idea of a march like that — doing what individuals and small groups had  been doing in the South — was a very exciting thing. There were many people who  thought this would be a disastrous activity, that there would be violence,  asking, “How can these people get together?” That it would be a thing of  trouble.

Peter A. Geffen, founder of the Heschel School, in Manhattan;  volunteered for King during the 1960s:

Leading up there was all kinds of fear of being anti-American, but it was an  astounding example of American civil society standing before the Congress and  president and saying, “We must now have change.” Everything was different from  that moment on.

Batya Miller, daughter of Rabbi Uri Miller, who recited the day’s prayer at the  march:

[My father] was rabbi of Beth Jacob in Baltimore at the time. For years  before the march, he had been giving sermons on civil rights to his congregants  who were not always sympathetic. One of my most vivid memories as a young girl  in Baltimore was the drive my father and I took through the black ghetto; he  wanted me to see how poor black people lived. And so his participation in the  march as president of the Synagogue Council of America was not merely formulaic,  but very personal for him, and the best way possible to personally contribute to  the advancement of racial justice.

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