Manhattan College Honors Clarence B. Jones, Lawyer and Confidant of Martin Luther King Jr.

U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres also presented Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D., with the first annual “Dr. Clarence B. Jones I Have a Dream Award.”

Manhattan College and U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres honored Clarence B. Jones, a lawyer and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., commemorating the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. A tireless civil rights activist and former Riverdale resident, Jones played a major role in helping MLK write the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Ceremony Honoring Dr. Clarence Jones and Dr. Mehnaz Afridi

Torres presented Jones with an official statement placed in the Congressional Record, documenting the 92-year old’s role in the civil rights movement and the historic “I Have a Dream” speech. In the 1960s, Jones’ Riverdale home was a center of activity for discussions that fueled the civil rights movement. It became known as King’s “command post north.” 

At the August 30 ceremony, Rep. Torres also presented Mehnaz Afridi, Ph.D., the director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center (HGI) and professor of religious studies, with the first “Dr. Clarence B. Jones I Have a Dream Award” for her human rights activism and scholarship. 

Milo Riverso ’81, Ph.D., P.E., president of Manhattan College, delivered the opening remarks and Brother Daniel Gardner, FSC, executive director, Campus Ministry and Social Action, closed the ceremony with a nondenominational prayer. Councilman Jeffrey Dinowitz and former New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams were among those in attendance. The event was held at the HGI in the College’s O’Malley Library. 

Jones began his address by singing the spiritual “Oh Freedom,” and discussed his rise to prominence as the son of two domestic workers living in Philadelphia. He recalled that his years in Catholic school bolstered his self-confidence and his ability to succeed as an undergraduate at Columbia University in the 1950’s. Jones said it was his wife Anne who offered their Riverdale home to the King family as an informal headquarters before the March on Washington in 1963. 

Rep.Torres began his remarks by playing an audio recording of the “I Have a Dream” speech, reminding the audience of the speech’s lasting power and influence. He referred to Jones as “the last of the lions.” 

“We are here to celebrate a great American and not only a great American, but one of the greatest,” said Rep. Torres. “Dr. King and Dr. Jones inspired a revolution in the very place it mattered most: in the soul of America. Upholding our common humanity has been the life work of Clarence Jones.” 

Rep. Torres then presented Afridi with her award, noting that she has “cast an unspare light on the greatest crimes against humanity…but in the spirit of Clarence Jones, she has harnessed the lessons learned from the worst of our history, to commit herself to building bridges and fostering interfaith bonds, in the hopes of bringing out humanity at its most inspiring.” Dr. Mehnaz Afridi

“I remain persistent in working with all faiths, all races, all genders and all nations for peace,” said Afridi. “I fight for Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christian minorities, and I find that speaking for the other is much more powerful and transformative than speaking for oneself and one's community.” 

In his introductory comments, Riverso emphasized Manhattan’s Lasallian Catholic principle of concern for the poor and social justice. 

“At Manhattan, service to others is not just an abstract, it’s a concept and a call to action,” said Riverso. “We ask our students to recognize their responsibility to uplift those less fortunate and make a tangible impact on our world.”

By David Koeppel