Some fascinating back-story on Martin Luther King’s recently discovered sermon at a Los Angeles synagogue, which I wrote about yesterday: The February 26, 1965 speech came just five days after Malcolm X was assassinated in New York, and while King sounds calm in his speech, the reality was anything but.
King was 36 years old at the time. Selma was heating up that month, and Malcolm X had just been killed in New York, so King arrived in Los Angeles under heavy guard. It was his first trip west since winning the Nobel Peace Prize. King dined with prominent Westsiders at the Beverly Hills home of Dr. Irving Lichtenstein and attended a screening of The Greatest Story Ever Told at the Cinerama Dome (now the Arclight.) The theater crawled with police because of death threats and the seizure of stolen dynamite connected to a racist group. King also spoke at the World Affairs Council at the Hollywood Palladium. The Times reported that an “overflow crowd” of 1,500 at the temple gave King a warm welcome. That Sunday he returned to Selma.
King’s dinner at the home of Lichtenstein, a prominent ACLU leader, also raised security concerns.
The FBI warned Lichtenstein that someone might attempt to assassinate King in the Beverly Hills surgeon’s home, but the doctor refused to cancel the event. According to a Los Angeles Times obituary, Lichtenstein told the FBI they could attend the dinner, but only if they wore tuxedos like other guests.
Only three years later, of course, those concerns would prove warranted. Looking back, I can’t help but agree with Rob Eshman, who wonders how King would react to today’s war.
Were King still here to take the pulpit of Temple Israel this week, the week that contains a day in his honor, what would he say? What moral leadership would he provide to question, to counter, this deeper descent into the quagmire, this further misuse of noble lives? How would our president and our Democratic leaders fare confronted by a man of such practical and moral clarity? “We’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” Dr. King told the Shabbat worshippers and guests at Temple Israel. And without Dr. King around to guide us, who will?