Remarks by ADL National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt

  • August 17, 2015

Remarks as Delivered
The Georgian Club, Atlanta, Georgia

The circumstances of our gathering today are somber, they are serious, but I am really filled with hope. I must tell you, it has been such an extraordinary visit. We had a nice time at Or Hadash Synagogue on Saturday morning. We had a wonderful visit yesterday at Ebenezer Baptist Church which is a remarkable, redemptive and reinvigorating place. We spent the afternoon at the Civil Rights Museum where we had the opportunity to learn about the history that happened right here. Congressmen Lewis played a major role in that.

It was really invigorating as well to have breakfast with a group of ADL’s young leaders. Their energy, enthusiasm, and seriousness are emblematic of what we work for.

I am truly honored to be here with so many distinguished guests, but particularly Attorney General Sam Olens and former Governor Roy Barnes.  It’s a privilege to see Dale Schwartz who worked tirelessly for Leo Frank’s posthumous pardon.  

I also want to acknowledge some of the ADL leadership with us today, including our National Chair Barry Curtiss-Lusher who flew in from Denver to be there today; Deborah Lauter who heads up our Civil Rights Division in New York; dedicated lay leaders from the Atlanta area including Jocelyn Dorsey and Board Chair Steve Pepper, along with local heroes Rabbi Peter Berg and Rabbi Steve Lebow.

I am only three weeks on the job, but I will share that I am deeply impressed by the ADL professionals here in Atlanta, particularly our Regional Director Mark Moskowitz, so I want to thank him and everyone on his team for their hard work on this event – and all they do day-in and day-out in collaboration with local volunteers to make this one of our most vibrant regions in the country.  

Finally, I want to especially thank Congressman John Lewis for being here today.  

Many of us have seen this amazing photograph taken 50 years ago this past March. It shows a line of clergy and civil rights leaders, arms linked, on the march from Selma to Montgomery – Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel…and at the end, John Lewis.

There may not have been two more different people there that day than Rabbi Heschel and John Lewis: One old; one young. One born in Warsaw, Poland; one in Troy, Alabama. One Christian; one Jewish. One black, one white.

Yet, they shared a common belief…in how to put the divine word into action; about what our role is on this Earth; and what it means to be a citizen. As I stand here today, and I think about the examples I would like to set for my own children, Congressman Lewis, you are truly an inspiration. Thank you.

It is impossible not to use this moment to pause and acknowledge that the world lost an incredible champion of civil rights, and really humanity, this past weekend. From his work at the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, to his decades of dedication at the NAACP, and his service in the Georgia Legislature, Julian Bond dedicated his life to social justice. We cannot overstate or overestimate the degree to which his courage and tenacity moved our community – our shared communities and moved our country forward. He was a champion not only for the end of racism, but to put an end to hatred and bigotry of all kinds. Julian Bond once said that the Civil Rights Movement did not begin in Montgomery, it did not end in the 1960s. It continues on to this very minute. I did not personally know Julian Bond, and I regret that, but his work has shaped me as it has shaped so many. All of us are part of his legacy. We at ADL, and I think everyone here in this room, in Atlanta and across the country, extend our condolences to Mrs. Bond and her family and mourn his passing. We also rededicate ourselves to the causes to which he dedicated his life.

Now, turning it back to the moment at hand to the words of Rabbi Heschel who marched with the Congressman. “Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs,” Heschel said after the Selma march. “Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Or, as Congressman Lewis has said time and again, “when you pray, move your feet.” So, I would like to say to you today, that we are here to move our feet.

Today, we come to commemorate one of the iconic tragedies of this state’s history -- and of American history -- the lynching of Leo Frank.

Others have spoken eloquently and wisely about what happened a century ago. For us, at ADL, the Leo Frank case is our history. His wrongful conviction in 1913, gave momentum to a group of Jewish leaders who founded the Anti-Defamation League to pursue a simple, but profound mission: “to stop… the defamation of the Jewish people” and “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.”  

One-hundred years ago, this was a very radical idea.

At the time, it was common for hotels and restaurants to advertise, “No dogs! No Jews!” Mainstream magazines and newspapers featured vulgar caricatures of Jews with hooked noses. Classified ads openly discriminated against Jews; colleges and universities had quotas capping Jewish admissions; and restrictive covenants severely limited the areas in which Jews and other minorities could buy homes. And this is important for our struggle – the discrimination that faced the Jewish community – we were not alone. Other communities, especially the African-American community, faced the same level of discrimination and sometimes far worse.

Clearly, as we think about this shared experience, we know that here in Atlanta, Jim Crow ruled the South. The year Leo Frank was lynched, at least 50 African-Americans were lynched as well. Frank’s death energized inspired the newly-founded ADL, and it also inspired the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.

The thought that Jews should be treated equally, and likewise should -- and could -- help bring about equality and justice for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, LBGT Americans, and Latinos, was -- to many, many Americans – improbable and impossible.

Yet ADL’s founders believed that in order to secure fair treatment for Jewish Americans, fair treatment must be secured for all Americans. They also believed that achieving safety and security for the Jewish community, to live free from the scourge of anti-Semitism, that this was good for the country as well. That mission – that dual mission – those two ideas that we can be for ourselves and also for others, and when we are for others, we are also for ourselves was a very unorthodox idea, and yet today, those two strands of our DNA are indeed indivisible. That makes us who we are and why we continue to fight.

I believe that too. And it’s why I am so honored to be leading this organization as it embarks on its second century. It is why ADL is committed to securing equality and justice not just for Jewish Americans, but for all Americans -- for African-Americans, for Asian-Americans, LGBT Americans, for Latinos, Muslim Americans, for people of every creed and color, religion and gender no matter who you are, where you are from and who you love.

By marching and organizing, educating and advocating, ADL has helped make a difference. And America has come far. Indeed, very far. But to bring about both of the ADL’s interlocking goals, there is much more work to be done:

  • While Jews are in positions of prestige and power in the U.S. unheard of at the turn of the last century, anti-Semitism persists. And in some places, it is surging.
  • While the Supreme Court has affirmed that anyone can marry, our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community in many states can be fired from a job, evicted from their homes, or denied services just because of who they love.
  • While the Israel is strong and thriving, there is a growing movement — on our college campuses and in many world capitals — to de-legitimize the Jewish state in ways that no other country faces.
  • And while an African-American sits in the White House, and I am privileged to have served in his administration, still we have seen tragedies unfold in the past 12 months in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Charleston, and Staten Island, cities in which we have seen the ‘bonds of trust’ between communities and law enforcement pushed to the breaking point, and sometimes, past that very point.

It is not lost on me that what happened at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston two months ago was unspeakable and horrific; and yet at Ebenezer just a few weeks ago, I spoke with Reverend Raphael Warnock about the Confederate flags, laid about the church to terrorize the parishioners, to terrorize the clergy, and it is simply unacceptable. That evil act harkened back to a darker chapter in American history, and it’s why we need to do something about it.

And yet while federal authorities are pursuing their case against the murderer, and the state of South Carolina is as well, it’s worth noting that South Carolina will not be charging that young man with a hate crime…because the state of South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law.

I believe that without this law and without this charge, the state prosecution is simply incomplete: we cannot properly recognize the clear bias motivation behind these murders. We owe it to the victims to be able to call this crime what it was – and to be able to pursue justice on those specific grounds.

It’s important because hate crimes are meant, through the violence on the victims – to take a toll on the community at large. In Charleston, the shooter told police that he wanted to provoke a “race war.” Let me be clear, hate crimes are not necessarily designed not only to hurt or kill individuals, but to terrorize communities, to instill fear, anger and suspicion.

Hate crimes are not like other crimes. We know that. It’s why ADL drafted pushed for the first model state hate crimes law in 1981, and then worked alongside Congressman Lewis and others to pass the most important federal hate crimes enforcement act law in 2009 that President Obama signed into law. Today, 45 states and the District of Columbia have enacted hate crimes laws, many based on our model statute.

But only 32 states have hate crime laws that include sexual orientation as a protected group. 31 of fifty states extend protections of two disabled Americans, and only 29 states have laws that include gender.  Merely 11 states have hate crime laws provide for gender identity.

Georgia, I am sorry to report, joins South Carolina as one of only five states without a hate crimes law on the books at all.

For the memory of the Charleston 9, for the memory of Leo Frank, for the memories of thousands who have lost their lives or have had their lives changed by a hate crime…we must correct this wrong. We must pass a hate crimes law here in Georgia, in South Carolina, and we must strengthen the protections in all 50 states.

That is why ADL is launching a new initiative called “50 States Against Hate.”

Make no mistake, this is a national effort. We must work not only to enact hate crimes laws in Georgia, South Carolina, and the other three states that do not have them today, Arkansas, Indiana and Wyoming; but also to toughen existing laws so they protect all Americans.  We must labor to ensure that every police department in the country has hate crime policies and procedures in place, including training on hate crime detection and response, and reports their hate crimes accurately to the FBI. We need the data to understand the problem, and we need to educate communities about the impact of hate crimes and the importance of to encouraging victims and witnesses of hate crimes to come forward.  

We at ADL will work with national and state partners because we know we can’t do this alone. I am particularly proud to announce that we are launching this effort here in Georgia with such a diverse group of national and Georgia partners, including the American Jewish Committee, the Feminist Women’s Health Center, Georgia Equality, the Georgia Association of Latin Elected Officials, the NAACP, the Islamic Speakers Bureau and Sojourn.

In the months to come, we will gather other statewide coalitions and recruit other national partners, and together, we will focus on solving this problem. Committed to doing something about the thousands of hate crimes perpetrated each year in the United States.

We will lobby for new laws and better laws.

We will expand our training of law enforcement on hate crime detection, response and reporting.

We will organize our members.

And, yes, we will pray with our feet.

I hope you join us in this effort. Success will not be achieved overnight. It is going to take time, it is going to take patience and persistence. Although it make take several years, ADL has been around for 100 years, and we’re not going anywhere. We learned never to give up. We will continue to work tirelessly until justice is secured and fair treatment for all.

That is the greatest way we can honor the memory of Leo Frank, and others who were lynched., and turn this a day of tragedy into one of triumph.

Thank you and I look forward to working with all of you.

"For the memory of the Charleston 9, for the memory of Leo Frank, for the memories of thousands who have lost their lives or have had their lives changed by a hate crime…we must correct this wrong. We must pass a hate crimes law here in Georgia, in South Carolina, and we must strengthen the protections in all 50 states." Share via Twitter Share via Facebook