Converging cultures shape Atlanta's civil rights history



ATLANTA - Rabbi Analia Bortz of Or Hadash Synagogue chants the ancient Hebrew words for “justice, justice, you shall pursue.” It's an enduring Biblical directive for the Jewish people.
Bortz learned it as a child from her father while growing up in Argentina under an oppressive military regime.
"We were always with this ghost that if you speak too much, you will disappear," Bortz said.
The teachings of her faith inspired Bortz to take action as a teenager, joining her country's pro-democracy movement.
"If you want to pursue justice, you have to speak up for yourself and for the others," Bortz stressed.
The same pursuit permeated the American Civil Rights Movement and its epicenter in Atlanta, where the region's Jewish community, and activists like Sherry Frank, played a key role.
"There's a history of blacks and Jews marching together, dying together, registering folks to vote," Frank said.
She and longtime friend, civil rights icon John Lewis, founded Atlanta's Black Jewish Coalition in the early 1980s, around the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
"She's been a wonderful friend, wonderful supporter, and I love her like a sister," Lewis said of Frank.
Like Lewis, Frank's involvement began decades earlier.
"There's a comfort level in Atlanta with the black and Jewish community that I don't think exists anywhere else,"  Frank said.  "Its roots are in the Civil Rights Movement."
Also, there is a shared history of institutionalized persecution, bigotry and slavery.
"People will still pick on blacks and Jews before they pick on most other folks," Frank added. "We're still the target of people's hate and, unfortunately, that is one of the things that bind us."
The ties that bound the two cultures are many. One is the 1958 bombing of the Midtown Temple over the rabbi's relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr.  
Another instance occurred in 1968, when the Jewish owner of the Atlanta Motor Hotel opened his doors to African Americans attending Dr. King's funeral.  Also, Georgia lawyer Morris Abram won the landmark Supreme Court case granting equality to black voters.  
Each was a step toward justice -- a theme that flows through the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Downtown Atlanta.
"I think that the pursuit of justice is something that we want to embody," said center Vice President of Marketing Judith Service Montier. "We want to have the community, to have the world know that the Center is a place where yes, we're seeking to give a voice to the voiceless, yes, we want to inspire and empower people, but we also want to do that in a way that enables us to pursue justice throughout the world."