Step by step, brick by brick: Interfaith leaders gather for unveiling of new Dr. King monument

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Rabbi Capers Funnye of Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation gives an invocation at the unveiling of the new MLK monument in Marquette Park on Aug. 5

Bricks were thrown at those marching with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for fair housing practices in Chicago's Marquette Park in 1966. And so, half a century later, that event was marked by the installation of a new monument -- made of bricks.

The monument was unveiled in the park on Aug. 5, exactly 50 years to the day of the march, near South Kedzie Avenue and 67th Street. It consists of a set of three four-sided pillars, set around a circle in the ground bearing a quote by King. 

On all of the pillars' surfaces are carved images and words of that day: the faces of King and the other civil rights leaders who joined him, and their remarks on the day's events. Flanking the monument is a bench, set with colorful tiles made by area residents and children reflecting on their idea of "home."

Some 700 marched with King that day for fair housing practices and were attacked by some 5,000 residents who hurled insults, slurs, bottles, and bricks. King himself was struck in the head with a rock, an image now carved into the monument itself.

What you might not expect to see are the many Jewish references in the monument, including the Tree of Life and the face and words of Rabbi Robert Marx, founder of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. And on one face of a pillar, the word for "home" is etched in a dozen languages, including Yiddish.

Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, spiritual leader of B'nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, and former head of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, was very excited to attend the monument's dedication. 

" Rami Nashashibi was influenced by Rabbi Marx, who marched with Dr. King that day, and who was also one of my teachers," she said. "I remember, as a kid, what happened here, the ugly response the marchers received, and it shaped my view of the world." Nashashibi is the executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, the organization that initiated the creation of the monument.

The message of "home" was echoed by Nashashibi, who said in his remarks at the dedication that he wanted to transform the signs that had met the 1966 protesters reading "Go Home" into signs that read "Welcome Home." He noted that the idea for it originally came from Victor Harbison, who teaches civics and history at Chicago's Gage Park High School, and who had built a temporary monument earlier.

"This is the first permanent monument to King in the Chicago area," Nashashibi said, reminding his listeners that King said that the "hatred and bigotry" he had faced was "worse here than in the South." He also recalled the neo-Nazi marches of the 1970s, and noted that such groups still have offices in Chicago. 

Nashashibi addressed a very diverse crowd, with those of many religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities all reveling in a fulfillment of King's famous "dream" of a day when "all of God's children, black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands." 

Those addressing the crowd were diverse as well. Before Rabbi Capers Funnye of the Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation gave his invocation, he reflected on the wide range of the backgrounds of the participants. 

"Our community has come a long way in 50 years," he said. "The diversity is breathtaking. Dr. King couldn't have imagined … Christians, Muslims, and Jews joining like this. The diversity has special meaning at this special time, as this project has been initiated by our friends in the Muslim community." 

In his invocation, he echoed the "Al Hanisim" prayer Jews offer at Chanukah, saying that here, too, "so few stood against so many." His words were followed by invocations from Christian and Muslim clerics; all three clergymen who gave invocations were African-American. 

Priest and activist Father Michael Pfleger, who was at the march in 1966, offered insights later in the program. He spoke of those who were at the march but did not live to see it memorialized by the monument. "We hear their spirits cry out to us: 'Will you walk? Will you march?' Today we take up that march, to fight against the rocks still being thrown," he said.

Although at one point during the presentation it began to drizzle, the Reverend Jesse Jackson -- who also marched with King that day -- remarked that if the protesters "did not flinch from rocks and bottles, we will not flinch in the face of a few raindrops."

Jackson referred to King as "The King of Hope," and thanked the area's Butay family, who helped raised tens of thousands of dollars for King's cause and even housed him during his Chicago stay. He added that he counts the Chicago march among King's victories, along with the marches in Selma and Birmingham. 

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Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rabbi Capers Funnye (right) and others in front of the MLK Monument.

He also spoke of how King did not hate those who attacked his march, as they had been "taught to behave that way." Such people live on the other side of a "wall," Jackson said, on the side with "ignorance, fear, hate, and violence." He lamented that the work is not done, given the number of killings in Chicago each year and the loss of manufacturing to other countries. "The march did not begin 50 years ago," Jackson said, "and it does not end now." 

Attendees also heard from several government officials, including: Alderman David Moore (17th Ward), Illinois State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, and Chicago Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp. 

There were musical performances, including one by former Ray Charles backup singer Tammy McCann, who sang the Duke Ellington song "Come Sunday," and a provocative poem read by spoken-word artist Kendria "K Love" Harris. She noted that King "left footprints in Chicago … they hit him with a brick and he built a foundation with it."

Sonja Henderson, one of the artists who designed the monument itself, explained that the structure was created to be "harmonious" and to channel "positive energy." The 800-plus bricks that comprise the monument are themselves a reference to the building material common to Chicago's bungalows and therefore recall the 1966 march's focus on housing issues.

"Dr. King's march put a national spotlight on the glaring inequalities that existed in this city," said Emily Sweet, executive director of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council, who attended the dedication. "Unfortunately today, the spotlights are still shining on Chicago, and we know there is much more work to do." 

Standing near the monument, Alderman Michele Smith (43rd Ward), said, "I came to honor the struggle of Dr. King, who was strongly supported by the Jewish community, which took a strong part of the civil rights movement. We should continue to be allies in the ongoing issue facing our community."

The Dr. Martin Luther King Living Memorial Project was supported by community organizers, corporate and philanthropic partners, public officials, religious leaders, and even high school students. The monument is the result of more than a decade of the project's efforts.

The following day, Aug. 6, some 1,000 participants retraced the steps of King's 1966 march in a "1000-Mile March." This was a reference to King's statement about the 1966 march, which he called the "first step on a thousand-mile journey." The community then gathered at the Takin' It to the Streets Festival, at which citizens and their leaders engaged in a discussion of current issues relevant to King's work, and celebrated his legacy in music and art. 

Even after the monument has become a reality, the project's work is not done. Reflecting their desire to create a "living" memorial to King's work, the project helped create the "1,000-Mile Scholars Youth Fellowship Program," which will place energized youth with local social-justice organizations and the "Beloved Community Studio," a space for local artists to convene and collaborate.

Some of King's steps on his "thousand-mile journey" were taken in Chicago. We remember those steps today, and thanks to the monument and the Living Memorial project, we always will.


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