When I hear “Archbishop Iakovos” and “civil rights,” I immediately recall that famous cover of LIFE, with the powerful Greek Archbishop standing next to Martin Luther King, Jr. during King’s legendary 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto an August 14, 1963 Los Angeles Times article in which Iakovos argued against public civil rights demonstrations.
Don’t get me wrong — Archbishop Iakovos was opposed to racism, and he supported the civil rights movement. But he told the LA Times that he wouldn’t participate in a planned demonstration in Washington, DC, even though the National Council of Churches (in which Iakovos was a leading figure) was involved.
“I am for civil rights and equality,” Iakovos explained, “but I think that if we believe we have some sort of moral influence over our congregations we should limit ourselves to that task and not try to exert influence in massive demonstrations.”
He continued, “Too often the demonstrators go home and say, ‘I did my part,’ but refuse to carry through. How many of them are willing to live with Negroes as neighbors, or give them a job or train them for a skill? In those areas lie the long-range benefits.”
What about Orthodoxy and the black population? “Our doors are open to all who care to worship with us,” Archbishop Iakovos said, but then he added, “though of course it is difficult for one of a non-Orthodox background to come into our faith.”
Just a couple of months before this, both Iakovos and Martin Luther King had been named to the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race. The 20 or so months that followed must have changed the Archbishop’s views, because in March 1965, Iakovos joined King in his Selma march.
This article was written by Matthew Namee.