Martin Luther King Day gives Greeks yet another opportunity to recall “one of our own” and to recollect a great man who sided on the right side of history.
I’m a proud owner of one of the original magazines that featured the Rev. King and Archbishop Iakovos from the 1960s. It was a gift from a dear friend— Taso Pardalis— who gave it to me in recognition of my work— of our work— to bring together Greek Americans.
Although it was memorialized on the front page of that Life Magazine for all the world to see and validate, Archbishop Iakovos of (then) North And South America worked behind the scenes for many years on social justice issues— including the plight of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.
In his early years in America, he worked tirelessly to assist immigrants and their assimilation into the American mainstream. He was a force for ecumenism and uniting people. In 1959, shortly after being named archbishop, he called on Pope John XXIII in the first meeting of an Orthodox leader and a pope in 350 years. The encounter set the stage for a historic meeting between the pope and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964.
He remained a lifelong foe of racial intolerance. He opposed the Vietnam War, voiced support for Soviet Jews’ rights and tried to influence Arab Christians to work for peace in the Mideast.
A champion of civil and human rights, he had the courage to walk hand in hand with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, a historic moment for America which was captured on the cover of LIFE Magazine on March 26, 1965.
He vigorously supported the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights legislation exclaiming when the first bill was passed:
“Glory to the Most High! May this mark the beginning of a new age for all humankind, an era when the Word of God charts and guides our lives”.
Iakovos leadership in difficult times offers hope and guidance to new generations of leaders who themselves struggle on a daily basis to promote what they believe to be right, at this moment in history.
People like Chrysovalantis Kefalas and Theane Evangelis who are taking up the fight for the “civil rights issue of our generation” are two people who come to mind who themselves have had their own “marches” in history.
Truth be told, I wasn’t around back then but I did hear from elders growing up that Iakovos’ decision to march alongside the Rev. King wasn’t a popular thing to do— even amongst his own flock.
I experience racism and even anti-semitism on an almost regular basis from top leaders of our community and average folk alike and have to wonder what it was like for Iakovos back then— all the more reason to remember this great man for siding on the right side of history back then. Like Kefalas and Kapur today, I can only imagine his struggle when he had to face people amongst his own ranks and community and defend his bold position.
Follow my blog by adding your email address here.