A Special Trip to Atlanta, and a New Campaign to Combat Hate Crimes in America

  • August 31, 2015

By Jonathan Green­blatt
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt with  Congressman John Lewis at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank.

 Duane Stork Photography

ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt with Congressman John Lewis at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank.

Last week was a special week for me personally and more importantly, I hope, for the Anti-Defamation League as we began a campaign to ensure every American is protected by a state hate crime law.

In Atlanta, Georgia, near the site of the lynching of Jewish pencil factory manager Leo Frank a century ago (an incident which, coming just two years after the formation of ADL, sent shock waves through the Jewish community and galvanized our work), we launched #50StatesAgainstHate, a nationwide effort to shore up hate crime laws in America.

Along with two dozen groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Council of La Raza, we made a commitment to pass hate crime laws in the five states that do not have them (including Georgia and South Carolina, site of the horrible Charleston 9 murders earlier this summer), strengthen laws on the books in other states so they include crimes against the LGBT community, and train law enforcement on how to prosecute these crimes.

This work embodies ADL’s founding mission: To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.

This dual and complementary mission is what we brought me to Atlanta – to launch this new campaign and to speak with leaders of both the Jewish and African-American communities there, two peoples with very different histories, but a shared commitment to an inclusive America where equal treatment and opportunity are available to all.

Mr. Greenblatt in Atlanta discussing ADL

Mr. Greenblatt in Atlanta discussing ADL's new campaign for tougher hate crimes laws across the country

My family and I celebrated Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) with Congregation Or Hadash, a synagogue that relatives of mine attend which has made social justice a key part of its mission. There, I spoke about the Iran deal and how the Jewish-American community must not let it disagreements over it tear us apart.

The next day, I was honored to take the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s church and center of the Civil Rights Movement. There, we mourned the news of Julian Bond’s death, and then looked forward to the work ahead: including passing a hate crimes law in Georgia. It was wonderful to meet Martin Luther King III and his family who was at the service, and the warm welcome that the congregation gave me – a man of a different race and faith – is something that I will always remember.

On Monday, the anniversary of the Leo Frank lynching, our local ADL leadership was joined by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, and Congressman John Lewis as we marked the somber occasion and kicked off the #50StatesAgainstHate campaign. For those that doubt the Jewish and African-American communities can come together, I say: come to Atlanta and see how ADL and Jewish communal leaders are working together toward shared goals that will protect us both and make our country stronger.

While the weekend was inspirational and invigorating, I am under no illusions that the work ahead of us will take many months – and even many years. But knowing that our cause is just, I know that ADL and our partners will keep at it – day after day – until we are able to say that we honored the memory of Leo Frank and all those killed by hate-filled murderers and passed hate crimes laws in all 50 states.

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