The cover of our September 4 issue, reprinted here, showed Neal Borovitz, rabbi emeritus of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, carrying a Torah, walking next to a man carrying an American flag.
That man, dreadlocked, African American, gray-bearded, seemingly middle-aged, wearing a hat that said NAACP and like Rabbi Borovitz wearing a yellow T-shirt that said “America’s Journey for Justice,” called himself Middle Passage.
A 68-year-old disabled Navy veteran, Middle Passage was not born with that name but took it, in commemoration of the terrible journey, also called the Middle Passage, that took newly enslaved, shackled, brutalized Africans across the ocean to their lives of servitude and misery.
Middle Passage – who often was called Middle, MP, or Colorado, in a nod to the state where he lived – completed about 920 miles of the march before he died on September 13. He made the walk, in the brutal southern summer heat, from Selma, Mississippi, to Spotsylvania, Virginia — ironically the scene of some of the Civil War’s bloody battles — before he was felled by a massive heart attack.
He had grown up in Natchez, Mississippi, as one of five sons of a single mother who worked many jobs to support them, earning almost nothing but never giving up. Like her, he never gave up; as he walked, he would yell “Show me some love” to people he passed, onlookers and state troopers alike.
Most of the rabbis we interviewed talked about being deeply moved by Middle Passage’s depth of soul, his compassion, his desire to be a role model, and his hopefulness.
In an interview he gave to his hometown newspaper, the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain, before leaving for the march, he said, “Youngsters today are not understanding. They think everything is free. You have to stand up for something . . . It’s time for everyone to start participating in government.”
May his memory be a blessing.