A ten-year-old boy came home from Sunday school one day and told his parents what he had learned. "Our teacher told us," he said, "that Moses was a tough fighter whom God had sent to rescue the Israelites and lead them to freedom. When they came to the Red Sea, Moses ordered his engineers to build a pontoon bridge and they all crossed over to the other side. Then they turned and saw hundreds of enemy tanks rumbling onto the bridge. Moses grabbed his walkie-talkie and radioed to headquarters. His bombers came zooming down, blew up the bridge, and the Israelites were saved."
"Amazing," said the boy's father. "Is that really what your teacher told you about Moses?"
"No," replied the boy, "not exactly. But if I told it the way she did, you would never believe it!"
Today we do believe in almost unbelievable things because we have seen them happen. We believe that righteousness can do the impossible; and we have living proof of it here this evening in our honoured guest, Dr Martin Luther King. He has not commanded the waters to divide-not even those of the Mississippi-because divisiveness is alien to his nature. His are greater miracles-calming turbulent cross-currents, changing their abortive courses, and bringing separate streams together in a mighty flow to nourish the freedoms of our land.
Many of us here this evening-including Judge Proskauer, Morris Abram, Jacob Blaustein, and myself-come from the Deep South, and with that background have an especially strong feeling in welcoming Dr King tonight, for all of us would agree, I am sure, that when the history of these times is written, Martin Luther King will be recognized not only as one of the greatest leaders of our era, which he is but also as one of the greatest friends the South ever had.
The American Jewish Committee established the American Liberties Medallion in 1955 to publicly acknowledge exceptional contributions to the advancement of the liberty of man. Its recipients over the past ten years include men of attainment in many fields: Judge Learned Hand, Senator Herbert H. Lehman, Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, Father John LaFarge, Dean Erwin Griswold, Jacob Blaustein, Dr Reinhold Neibuhr, Judge Thurgood Marshall, Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Yet over and above their individual achievements in religion, in government, in education, in industry and in the law, each of these men, in his own way, has responded to a common call, the call of faith-what Dr King calls an "audacious faith" in the destiny of mankind and in our ability to make dignity and equality into tangible realities for every human being.
Today, as never before, our advance toward this destiny is guided and speeded by a modern Moses; and the modern "Pharaohs" must give way. "We shall overcome" is more than a slogan; it is the gospel truth. And we have asked you here tonight, Dr King, because we know what you are and wish to say once again, clearly and publicly, how deeply thankful we are that America has you to rely upon in these times.
The American Liberties Medallion of the American Jewish Committee is awarded to men and not to movements. It signifies our awareness that every noble movement is an expression of nobility in certain individuals. As Emerson put it, "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." We are here to honour such a man, a man of noble spirit, a man of God, a man in whom the entire human race may take pride.
Dr King, I now present to you, on behalf of the American Jewish Committee, the American Liberties Medallion. The inscription reads: "Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., leader and servant of peace and freedom, for exceptional advancement of the principles of human liberty. May 20, 1965."