Jews United for Justice

2007 Heschel-King Award
Rabbi Jerome Grollman and Norman Seay


We Wanted to Bind Up Wounds

The Heschel-King Award 2007
Rabbi Jerome Grollman and Norman Seay

The story of Rabbi Grollman

Rabbi Jerome Grollman came to St. Louis in 1948
to this place the United Hebrew Congregation
The heights and lows of his career
lights and darks
When Rabbi Grollman mentioned the lights
he might tear
When Rabbi Grollman mentioned the darks
he might tear
What were some of the heights?

There was a group of us that met at Jewish Hospital
every two weeks for breakfast
we wanted to bind up wounds
It was an 8 AM meeting
I used to get there at 8:15
I had breakfast at home
One of the biggest events in those days
the Jefferson Bank business
(also the city Board of Education
also the Globe Democrat Person of the Year)
The group that met at Jewish Hospital
had what to do
We went to the Jefferson Bank protests
supported them
There were some difficulties in our town
about race and religion

                                                            We Wanted to Bind Up Wounds
                                                            There were some Diffiiculties
                                                            In Our Town
                                                            About Race and Religion

We had some difficulties in our town about race and religion
We decided we would stage a
reconciliation march down Market Street
to the Old Cathedral
it was set for Sunday, November 24,
On Friday November 22, 1963
President Kennedy was assassinated
On Sunday we took a busload from our Temple
more Necessary Than Ever Now
I was President of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association
(I have to admit I didn’t write that speech
they gave it to me)
All programs had been cancelled
TV people were looking for things to cover
we got national coverage.

We went to bat for the Jefferson Bank protests
And the March on Washington, August 28, 1963
And the March from Selma to Montgomery

Highs: the march on Washington.
The rally it was really a love fest.
It had been a long day
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the last speaker
Thank God, I said
(I was sitting in a tree)
When he spoke it was as if nobody else
had said a word

We had busses taking us back to the airport
we drove through the Black ghetto
people lined the streets
they were mouthing thank you
thank you     thank you
Imagine that – thanking us for something
we all should have been doing
I’ll never forget that
said the Rabbi through tears
It was one of the highest times.
I never felt so clean.

                                                            I Was Sitting In a Tree
                                                            It was Like Nobody Else Had Spoken
                                                            Thank you   Thank you   Thank you
                                                            I never felt so clean

Now Selma to Montgomery that was different
we went down on a chartered plane
when we got to Selma
people lined the streets but
they weren’t thanking us
they were holding confederate flags
National Guard cautioned us not to engage them
we had to find sympathetic cab drives
to get us back to the airport
Bill Kahn was on that one
In Montgomery there was a Confederate flag
on top of the Capitol Bldg.
In Montgomery they spit on us.

We also protested against the Viet Nam War
We had a sign on Skinker Boulevard
I loved that sign
I would put all kinds of messages on that sign
Stop the Bombing in Viet Nam
Now you have to clear things through a committee
If you want to get something done
don’t take it to a committee

                                                            If You Want To Get Something Done
                                                            Do Not Take It To A Committee

I was a rabbi at the right time
When Martin Luther King Jr. came to town
The JCCA Jewish Community Centers Association
went to other congregations
They all turned him down
Bill Kahn came to me
I said, sure
He said, don’t you have to go before your Board?

                                                            Don’t You Have To Go Before Your Board?

It was a Sunday night, November 27, 1960
Full house, even the balcony
Dr. King he looked so tired
I suggested he rest beforehand
Bill Kahn had made an excuse to get him out of a dinner party
earlier that night, Bill Kahn drove him around St. Louis
when Dr. King got here, I suggested he rest beforehand
he took a little nap in my red lounge chair 1/2 hour before his talk
I still have that chair at home

He had no protection I think he came alone
I was protecting him
he was really in danger that night
though we were so well protected by the police outside

I remember how I introduced him
I thanked him for being here
He was supposed to have spoken at a Temple of a friend of mine
Bob King in New Haven
he never showed up
‘Cuz he was in jail
I thanked him for not being in jail that night

Afterwards we went downstairs to the reception
everybody was hugging everybody
It was a love fest.

About the congregation
Even if they didn’t always support me
they understood me
I had to do what was right
I was always this way
even when I was a kid

I was a rabbi at the right time
I loved preaching
There’s no preaching
anymore
It’s been a nice ride
I believe social justice is religion in action
I wouldn’t have become a rabbi if not for that.
God has been good to me
I was the kind of rabbi I wanted to be
I miss Skinker Boulevard
People came to me off the street in trouble
I loved that
I miss that
Out on 141 – that doesn’t happen.

 

 

Mr. Norman Seay
I Decided To Stay [Right] Here

[at the Urban League, February 5, 2006]

He came here 6 times in the 50s and 60s
the first time in 1954
Dr. King
We started the King celebration in ’71
We formed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee in ’70
We had three goals:

  1. to name a street in his honor
  2. to create a holiday in his honor
  3. to get a bridge renamed in his honor

The King celebration
the first year we met at the Berea Presbyterian Church
we had two services at the same time
the second year we held at the Washington Tabernacle Baptist Church
We chose the street – Easton – for the Martin Luther King Boulevard
it was a street known by African-Americans

And we got our bridge too
(it used to be called the Veterans Bridge)
In 1986 began the Federal celebration of the King holiday

We formed CORE
Committee of Racial Equality
We began in 1947 in the home of a Jewish couple
Maggie and Irv Dagen in University City
The first project
The counter at Stix, Baer, and Fuller
first floor
which finally opened its lunch counter to everyone
in 1954
We practiced passive resistance
always polite
forbidden to show anger

CORE came out of the National Conference of Christians and Jews
We were in high school
We started meeting with students from Soldan High
Soldan High was predominantly Jewish

We would get together once a year at Soldan
I went to the old Vashon which is now Harris Stowe
My interest was in discussion
One of the first projects was brought to us by
T. D. MacNeil
a sleeping car porter
who demonstrated against Carter Carburetor
they did a lot of business in World War II
They wouldn’t employ Blacks
My first introduction to the
Civil Rights Movement
                                                                                                            My Interest Was In
                                                                                                            Discussion
In 1955 to 1957 I was in the Service
I wanted to go into the Marine Corps
they wouldn’t admit me
so I was drafted into the Army
I wanted to go to Europe
and I did
I considered that my travel to Europe

The Jefferson Bank
The Bank was the focal point
but it wasn’t just the Bank
We wanted them to hire four more Black tellers
That was on Jefferson and Washington
There were no Black employees
except lower level

We used the direct
non-violent approach
as taught by Gandhi and others
They refused
We brought it to the attention of the public
I was in jail for 90 days
We heard the sound of the demonstrators outside
while we were in jail
They took us in and out of the jail
to the Work House.

                                                                                                            We Brought It
                                                                                                            To the Attention
                                                                                                            Of The Public

We expected the clergy to be more active
but we found they weren’t that supportive
They called us
irresponsible

August 30, 1963, the March on Washington
AND the protest at Jefferson Bank --  same day --
Dilemma: I decided to stay here
                                                                                                            I Decided to Stay
                                                                                                            Right Here
It was on a Friday
The Bank closed and we left
I thought we were clear
We surrendered to the Sheriff the following Sunday
We got out by Court’s permission
then we went back
It went all the way to the Supreme Court
On February 13, 1967, the Supreme Court declined to intervene

As a single event
I think the boycott of Jefferson Bank
was the most significant episode in the history of civil rights
in the state of Missouri, said Raymond Howard,
CORE’s attorney, who would later serve in the Missouri House and Senate.

We not only helped the Banking industry, said Mr. Seay,
but other industries
with Pressure
There’s still work to be done

                                                                                    There’s Still Work To Be Done

I went to the Crate and Barrel the other day
(they have a good ice cream across the way there)
there must have been 60 employees in the Crate and Barrel
Two Blacks!

I began as a teacher
I requested to be placed in an integrated environment
I was Director of Economic Opportunity at University of Missour St. Louis
under Marguerite Ross Barnet
in the early 80s
I am retied from UMSL

Health and Welfare Council
Human Development Corporation
St. Louis Housing Authority
Today I’m a retiree from the University of Missouri
St. Louis

I’m honored.

You see — Dr. King – all of us
we ignored hostility

The non-violent resister
has faith in the future

                                                                        The non-violent resister
                                                                        has faith in the future