This artilce is reprinted from The Village Voice, which sponsored a symposium on black-Jewish conflict.
I was asked to come here to talk about blacks and Jews, but instead I am going to talk about fathers and sons. I am going to make the Earl Wilkins, Roy Wilkins and X Memorial Speech. Earl Wilkins, my father, died many years ago when I was a little boy. Roy Wilkins is my father's older brother. X, I will get to later.
Earl and Roy did not give me a hell of a lot of love because they were busy fighting the battles that had to be fought. But they said to me: hey, kid, you go out there and be honorable and decent any way you can.
And so I did. And there came a time, 22 years ago, when I was a social worker for the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department in Cleveland; I had to go around and touch all those poor people. There were 100 different cases in my casebook. There was all the misery and poverty you'll ever want to see, ever. It was awful.
All of a sudden I realized that, although I wanted to, I couldn't fix all those people. But I could fix some of them by being honorable and decent the way my father and my uncle told me to be. I chose three cases that I thought I could fix. One was a case where a father was in the Ohio State Penitentiary because he had done incest to his daughter and I thought I could help them, and I tried. One was a black woman -- good, descent, smart -- but she had an illness. Somebody took advantage of her and she had had twins. But it was the third case that got me.
If you went into that house, it was like going into a coffin. The people were white and they were pale, and they had blue numbers on their arms. That house smelled like death because the people were scared to go out, and they wouldn't let anybody come in. They only let me come in because I was the man with the money. The woman had been in Auschwitz; the man had been in some other, less well-known camp; and somehow they had survived; somehow they had married; somehow they'd come to Cleveland; somehow I was the government, and I was a kid. Of course, I'd known about the war. I'd had friends at school in Harlem who had been refugees from Germany. But I had never seen this evil in its face that way before. After a while, I gained their confidence. One Day I heard -- I swear to you this is true -- a scratching inside a closet, and I asked, what is that in the closet? And then I opened the door and there was a kid in the closet. The worst-looking, most malnourished kid I ever saw. It was their child, and they were afraid to bring that child out of the closet because they thought Hitler would come from the grave and burn that child.
I said, you can't do this. You can't inflict the pain of history on this child. I will help you find a school for this child. I Did. Then that job was over. It was time for me to come back to New York and practice law, and that's what I did.
It is immoral for anybody to say they are tired of hearing about the Holocaust. If Jesse Jackson said he is tired of hearing about the Holecaust, then Jesse is an ass.
As my father's son, as my uncle's nephew, as a black person in this world, I say to you that there was one band of honor and decency in America and it was Jews and blacks. Not all Jews; not all blacks. But the people who were killed at Philadelphia, Miss., were James Chaney -- he was black -- and Goodman and Schwerner -- they were Jews. To repudiate the Holocaust is to repudiate the child in that closet and it is to repudiate Goodman and Schwerner.
But that is not to say that Jews and blacks don't have fights. Yes, we do. We have a big fight. It's a heavy fight. We did great hurt in the late '60s, when we put Jews and other white people out of the movement. That was to repudiate Goodman and Schwerner. It was necessary for us at the time, but it was a dreadful thing to happen to Jews. But late came Shanker, then came Podhoretz, then came Jews saying, hey, you can't have affirmative action. They said it through DeFunis, they said it through Bakke.
Please listen very carefully, I'm doing the very best I can now.
I have friends in this audience -- black friends, whose faces I have known. Jewish friends whom I love so dearly; when I have pain in the night, they take care of me. But some Jewish people were not prepared to say to us: you are smart people, you are tall people, we respect your minds.
There was a day I went to Harlem to see my little cousin who was in trouble. He was a Black Panther, and he told me as much as I could know about Black Panthers. I came back down to the Ford Foundation, and we were having a discussion about Black Panthers, and I said, "Well, I think I know something about Panthers," and a Jewish man said to me, "No, stop talking, I will explain to you about Blank Panthers . . ." You cannot have a friendship unless everybody is tall and everybody is looking one another in the eye.
So, when everything exploded around Andy Young, a lot of blacks who had hurt about all these things as badly as I do started saying to Jewish people: we are tall people. You do not have to be anti-Semitic to think the Palestinians have some rights; you do not have to be stupid to know that Israel cannot forever be protected by American bombs. Israel will not survive only with American bombs -- South Vietnam learned that Israel will survive only if Israel makes a peace settlement -- some way, some how.
That, really, is all Andy was saying. But for a long time we could not even say that because we were scared to be called anti-Semites. Now, I myself would not sing "We Shall Overcome" with the Arabs. I wouldn't do that. But terrorism is an old as the hills and it will be around. It was there with the Green Mountain Boys; it was there with the Irgun, it was there with the Algerians. Sometimes a just cause can only capture attention through terrorism because people are so primitive and so dumb.
I'm nearly finished now, but I'll tell you, there was this Jew, a friend of Martin Luther King's. He made some money someplace, selling cars, I think. Mr. J. Edgar Hoover thought this Jew had been a communist and that he was going to turn the civil rights movement over to the KGB. And so Mr. Hoover bugged and tapped Martin Luther King because of this Jew. It's hard, it's ugly, but it's just the way it was.
Martin would be out there and people would want to kill him. When I was in the government, the good people in the FBI would call me up and say, don't let Martin go to Brown's Chapel in Selma tonight, 'cause he'll get kicked; and I would find my brother Andy Young, who was born the same month I was, but I didn't even know him. I'd say, Andrew, don't let Martin go to Brown's Chapel Tonight.
Martin was very brave, but that kind of pressure gave him fear in the night. When he was alone in the night, sometimes he would call up this Jew, and this Jew would take care of Martin the best way he could, the best way you could handle a man's fears in the night. After I got out of the government, I came to meet this Jew (and his name was Stanley Levison). He is the person I called X.
There was Earl Wilkins, who can't talk now 'cause he's dead. There is roy Wilkins, who is old now and frail. And there was this Jew who ultimately said, I've got three sons: my son Andrew Levison, my son Andrew Young, and my son Roger Wilkins. And when the sibling rivalry between brother Andy Young and brother Roger Wilkins was so much they couldn't communicate, Stanley would fix it up and they would talk in the Waldorf Towers. He died recently. His widow is sitting right over there -- Bea, whom I think of as my momma -- right next to my daughter, sitting there together. And he left me his watch, right here. He knew blacks were tall people and he dealt with us that way. And in the end I said anytime any Jewish person or any other white person says that I am -- or any black person is -- not as intelligent as whites are, not as tall as they are, not as human as they are, I will scratch at their eyes, with the watch of the Jew, the watch of my father Stanley, strapped around my wrist.