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600 African-American Christians fulfill MLK and Coretta Scott King’s dream to visit Israel

Unprecedented gathering follows Holy Land tour of prominent Christian women meeting with Israeli officials

Mrs. Cathelean Steele, First Lady of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference addresses hundreds of African American Christians at a march on Martin Luther King Street in Jerusalem, on July 26, 2023. (Photo: Israel Hardley/ Michael Taylor)

When 600 African-American Christians gathered on Martin Luther King Street in Jerusalem to pay tribute to the civil rights leader, it was the fulfillment of a dream that he carried and that his widow, Coretta Scott King, continued to implement after he was assassinated in 1968.

Underscoring the poignant moment last week was the presence of King’s successors, Dr. Charles Steele, the CEO of the organization co-founded by King – the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) – and his wife Cathelean Steele. 

“We are fulfilling the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King to bring African Americans to Israel,” Cathelean Steele said during the keynote address of the ceremony. “Our job is to bring us back together because of the history we share.”

Steel was also an honorary host of the Women of the Bible, an educational tour organized by Covenant Daughters International. The tour – designed to educate and empower women – brought 150 women in leadership positions from around the United States, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. They met female leaders in Israel including Knesset Member Sharren Haskel, Israel’s First Lady Michal Herzog and Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

Israel’s First Lady Michal Herzog with the tour group

“I believe that Dr. King’s dream and Mrs. Coretta Scott King’s dream is being fulfilled,” Steele said during the tour. “The history of African Americans and the history of our Jewish brothers and sisters is not that different. Slavery is slavery. I don’t care what name you call it by.”

Steele said Mrs. King had been instrumental and “very intentional about collaborating and uniting with Jewish communities in America in a quest to combat racism and antisemitism.”

“She believed that there was an educational benefit to reassuring that Black and Jewish youth understood the struggle that each group experienced as two of the most repressed groups in the world. Personally and professionally, until her death Mrs. King remained a supporter of the Jewish people and of Israel,” Steele said. 

This relationship between Black America and Israel was on the Kings’ hearts since 1959 when they visited the Holy Land. After Martin’s death, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to the Israeli parliament expressing her desire for this relationship to continue.

Bishop Corletta Vaughn( Detroit) Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer ( 1st Lady to Israel COGIC & Founder of Covenant Daughters Intl) Mrs. Michal Herzog, 1st Lady of Israel) Mrs. Cathelean Steele, ( 1st Lady of SCLC) Bishop Ruth Smith(Atlanta) Dr. Elaine Benson ( Houston)

“On April 3, 1968, right before he was killed Martin delivered his last public address and in it, he spoke of the visit he and I made to Israel in 1959. Moreover, he spoke to us about his vision of the Promised Land – a land of justice and equality, brotherhood and peace,” she wrote. “Martin dedicated his life to the goals of peace and unity among all peoples and perhaps nowhere in the world is there a greater appreciation of the desirability and the necessity of peace than in Israel.”

At the ceremony, the bishop to Israel for COGiC , Dr. Glenn Plummer, played an audio clip of what was to be King’s last speech. In it, King described his visit to Jerusalem and he presciently said that, like Moses, he might not make it to the Promised Land.

“He had been here, he and his wife, Dr Coretta Scott King and he wanted us as a people to come here to the Promised Land and that’s what he was talking about then he said he had been to the mountaintop,” Bishop Plummer said. “He went on to say that he might not get there with us but we as a people will get to the Promised Land and here we are having just walked down Martin Luther King Street in Jerusalem.”

Israel dedicated a section of a forest to the Kings and another forest plot outside Jerusalem is dedicated solely to Coretta Scott King. Cathelene Steele received a certificate in honor of her visit to the Coretta Scott King sight from the Jewish National Fund.

Knesset Member Sharren Haskel, co-chair of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, addressed the group at their hotel and noted the mutual struggle of the African-American and Jewish communities in the United States and Jewish support of America’s civil rights movement.

Knesset Member Sharren Haskel, co-chair of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus

“In these days when people are rewriting history and I see so much fake news that is being spread, it is important to remember our roots and our mutual history together that connects us all,” she said. 

After a raucous week in Israel leading up to a vote on legislation in the controversial judicial reform, Haskel said that it was important to her to make time to meet with these women. 

“This real friendship comes from the heart, comes from shared values, comes from shared beliefs,” she said.

Hosting the women on Tuesday at the official residence of the Israeli president, Herzog said, has taken on her role to help empower women and to promote dialogue.

At the march on Martin Luther King Street on Wednesday, the Women of the Bible tour group was joined by Apostle Joshua Giles and his group of 400. 

“This isn’t just a historic moment, this is a prophetic moment which means that we are watching prophecy fulfilled literally even before our eyes,” Giles said. "We are not just watching history, we are a part of writing history.”

The tour group on the Temple Mount

Giles honored the “generals” who have gone before the new generation of African Americans “for all that you had to pioneer to pave the way for us. We have not forgotten you.”

Hassan-Nahoum addressed the group on behalf of the municipality and pointed out that in synagogues this week, Jews were reading the portion of the Old Testament that talks about Moses taking the Israelites to the border of Israel, but not going in himself.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum speaking with the group

“That connects to Dr. Martin Luther King who said you’re going to go to the Promised Land even though I may not take you there. And here we are, in that same week, and all of you are here in the Promised Land without Dr. Martin Luther King – just like the Jewish people came into Israel without the great Moses,” she said. “That to me is the most beautiful parallel of all.” 

Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer serves as president and CEO of Covenant Daughters Television Network and Covenant Daughters International Ministries. She also serves as the 1st Lady of Israel for the Church of God in Christ. She is a member of the ALL ISRAEL Advisory Board.

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