July 3, 2013
Nothing gray about it: Bill Gray was good for the Jews
Two stories came together for me this week: The death of Bill Gray and President Obama’s trip to Goree Island, the Senegalese island that is said to have been the spot from which countless Africans were sent to the Americas as slaves.
What’s the connection? Back in 1989, the summer after 10th grade, I took part in a black-Jewish coexistence program called Operation Understanding, which, among other things, involved a trip to Goree Island. The program, then just a few years old, was the brainchild of the late businessman-philanthropist George Ross and Gray, who was then a fast-rising member of Congress.
I can’t claim to have had any sort of relationship with Gray, who was the highest-ranking African American in Congress when he abruptly left his post as House majority whip in 1991 to become the president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund (where he raised billions). But he certainly made an impression on me. And, more to the point, on our hometown — Philadelphia.
Gray was the kingpin of Philly’s rainbow coalition, a grouping of establishment/integrationist minority politicians and Jewish liberals that wrested power away from the more racially polarized camp of two-term mayor Frank Rizzo. Looking back, as a
And, as many Jewish activists from Philadelphia will tell you, he walked the walked as well.
Here’s a message I got from Betsy Sheerr, a JTA board member and, more relevant to this conversation, a longtime member of JAC , a bipartisan Jewish women’s political action committee “committed to the special relationship between the US and Israel and a social agenda that includes reproductive choice and separation of religion and state”:
As the Jewish Exponent notes in its obituary, Gray was there on Israel and Soviet Jewry.