The Historic Role
of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
in the Civil Rights Movement
Fifty years ago, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory demonstrated courage and leadership as he stood arm in arm and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other African-American leaders for the cause of Civil Rights on the March on Selma. This iconic photograph, captured on March 26, 1965 and published on the cover of Life Magazine, will live forever in the memories of Greek Orthodox Christians. Archbishop Iakovos would not let the threat of violence against him and others prevent him from marching with Dr. King for equality.
Archbishop Iakovos expressed the following sentiments, “I came…in order to show our willingness to continue this fight against prejudice, bias, and persecution. In this God-given cause, I feel sure that I have the full and understanding support of our Greek Orthodox faithful of America. For our Greek Orthodox Church and our people fully understand from our heritage and our tradition such sacrificial involvements. Our Church has never hesitated to fight, when it felt it must, for the rights of mankind; and many of our Churchmen have been in the forefront of these battles time and again.”
In 2005, Coretta Scott King, King’s widow, highlighted the importance of Archbishop Iakovos’ support to the movement, “At a time when many of the nation’s most prominent clergy were silent, Archbishop Iakovos courageously supported our Freedom Movement and marched alongside my husband, and he continued to support the nonviolent movement against poverty, racism and violence throughout his life.”
On March 7, 2015, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios continued to demonstrate the longstanding commitment of the Orthodox Church to fight against racism and to defend human rights when he joined President Barack Obama and other major civic and religious leaders to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
President Obama embraced Archbishop Demetrios and noted the significance of faith in the Civil Rights Movement. Congressman John Lewis, who walked the bridge on Bloody Sunday 50 years prior, asked Archbishop Demetrios to offer a prayer for the people of Selma and for the Nation.
At the conclusion of the events, Archbishop Demetrios made the following statement to the press, “Today we remember the fight, the faith, the persistence and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and we also remember the courage of Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory and their time together here in Selma. It is a very significant and moving day, a day of deep emotions, thankfulness to God for what was achieved, and fervent prayer for the work that lies ahead.”
The Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical, and Interfaith Relations has launched a website that highlights the role of our Archdiocese in the Civil Rights Movement. The website can be accessed by clicking on the web address: www.civilrights.goarch.org
You may also view historic YouTube videos at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKNMwp-uzXU&feature=em-subs_digest
On March 26, 2015, a discussion was held at the United Nations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery in which Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory participated. The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the United States of America to the UN, the Delegation of the European Union to the UN, and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council at the UN.