“Dr. King was my spiritual mentor. He declared that none are free until all are free. There are many rabbis doing a great work among the Jewish people.”
“Dr. King was my spiritual mentor. He declared that none are free until all are free. There are many rabbis doing a great work among the Jewish people. I have been called to a special ministry – America’s spiritual growth. African Americans and the Jewish people share a common past of slavery and bondage – the Hebrews in Egypt and Africans in America. There is an equivalent experience of suffering…”
Rabbi Ben Kamin
On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, Kamin will launch the official release of his newest book – “Room 306” – at the National Civil Rights Museum, which encompasses the Lorraine Motel site. His featured book talk is slated for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
A San Diego clergyman, Kamin’s book is designed to bring to bear a composite of perspective and reflections of Dr. King’s assassination in downtown Memphis. It gives voice to prominent civil rights leaders and clergy, including Memphians Maxine Smith and the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles.
Reflecting on the fateful day that Dr. King was fatally shot, Kamin told The New Tri-State Defender that he was “not just a white bystander, but a young Jewish boy watching the aftermath unfold with strong anguish and concern. The golden age of nonviolent resistance gave way to rage-fueled riots in more than 100 cities all across America. Room 306 became a critical focal point in the movement.”
He said “Room 306” is a kind of sequel to his first book, “Nothing Like Sunshine.”
“’Nothing Like Sunshine’ was a memoir that recounts my coming of age in perspective of the civil rights movement. My flashpoint experience came one day after Dr. King was killed, April 5, 1968. I was in the tenth grade at Woodward High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Black, Jewish Appalachian, white – our school was a microcosm of America’s racial make-up,” said Kamin.
“I had attended a Hebrew Day School of 11 graduates prior to Woodward High. I was in the band, and my best friend was Clifton Fleetwood, the band’s drum major. We just always hung out – we ate together, skipped classes together. We spent the whole day together at school. It was a remarkable time at our school when race was truly blurred. This was quite extraordinary in the 1960’s.”
There was great anxiety and fear in the air, following Dr. King’s assassination, said Kamin.
“My parents wanted me to stay home because they were afraid for me, but I wanted to go to school. I wanted to be with Clifton and my fellow classmates. When I got to school, the campus was covered with about 400 students – all African-American – staging a sit-in.
“I spotted Clifton, and I called to him as I walked toward where he was sitting. I wanted to join my classmates. I just wanted to help,” Kamin recalled.
“Clifton raised his hand and shouted, ‘No, this is not for you.’ That one event in Memphis changed us forever. After that, we were still friends, but it was never the same.”
Kamin searched for Clifton after they left high school, finally locating him in 2006.
“We talked, and he remembered everything. For 36 years, I thought my friend rejected me that day. He told me that he was trying to protect me from violent protesters. It was all just a terrible misunderstanding all those years. What happened on the balcony of room 306 changed all of us forever.”
And the struggle over race continues,” said Kamin.
“We elected a black president, but we haven’t selected a colorblind society. America continues to falter on that issue.”
(For more information on the National Civil Rights Museum’s April 4 Commemoration, call the office at: 901-521-9699.)