Today, the Turkish American Community honors the life and legacy of a remarkable man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to equality and justice.

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, as WWII claimed over 405,000, WWI 116,000, Vietnam 58,000, and Korea 36,000 American lives.

Dr. King faced years of violent opposition, including arrests, incommunicado detention, and severe interrogation and mistreatment. He did not yield. He continued to use the most powerful weapon he had — his mind, his heart and his ability to speak. He was eventually assassinated on April 4, 1968, but not silenced.

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 his son, Ahmet Ertegun, for violating segregation laws in Annapolis. Ahmet Ertegun eventually founded Atlantic Records, where he promoted countless African American and progressive musicians.

Ahmet Ertegun, clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow, pianist Art Hodes, Nesuhi Ertegun, jazz fan (and Ahmet’s future business partner) Herb Abramson, trombonist Jay Higginbotham, trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, trombonist Lou McGarity, tenor saxophonist Lester Young, and Nesuhi and Ahmet’s cousin Sadi Koylin. The men are standing around a bust of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, at the Turkish Ambassador’s Residence. Photo by William P. Gottlieb. William P. Gottlieb Collection, courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.