Today, the Turkish American Community honors the life and legacy of a remarkable man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to equality, justice and freedom.
Dr. King never wavered from his path of peaceful opposition to segregation and discrimination. Indeed, segregation was still exercised in America, one hundred years after the Civil War, which claimed the lives of over 620,000 people. The Civil War was the bloodiest American conflict ever.
Dr. King faced years of violent opposition by the American government, including arrests, incommunicado detention, severe interrogation and mistreatment. He did not yield. He continued to use the most powerful asset he had -- his mind, his heart, and his ability to speak and persuade millions at home and in the world. Tragically, he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. But he was not silenced.
In the 1999 wrongful death case of King v. Jowers, a Tennessee jury of six whites and six blacks found that Loyd Jowers had received $100,000 to arrange the assassination of King, and that U.S. government agencies were party to the assassination.* The U.S. government reacted hard and fast, and in 2000 the Clinton Administration and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno issued a report discrediting the court's findings.**
Turkish Americans proudly served the cause of equality and justice, standing against segregation. The Turkish Embassy was one of few places in Washington DC where all Americans, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, could meet in peace and be treated with dignity.
The United States Senate warned the Turkish Embassy not to permit African Americans to attend Embassy social events. The US Department of State offered a "compromise" that Black Americans be admitted from the back door of the Embassy. Turkish Ambassador Munir Ertegun responded that all guests of the Turkish Republic would enter through the front door as equals. Maryland police arrested the Ambassador's son, Ahmet Ertegun, for visiting a jazz bar frequented by African Americans and violating segregation laws in Annapolis. Ahmet Ertegun eventually founded Atlantic Records, where he promoted countless African American and progressive musicians.