Martin Luther King Jr. would have much to appreciate about race relations in Washington, D.C., were he alive today. As a metaphor for racial harmony, the story of the temple at the corner of Sixth and I streets NW in Chinatown is hard to beat. The domed structure was built by the Adas Israel congregation in 1906, when downtown was an ethnic mix of Jews and Italians, Greeks and Irish, Chinese and blacks.

By the 1950s, Adas Israel's congregation had moved up Connecticut Avenue and beyond, and it sold its synagogue to Turner Memorial A.M.E. Church. Turner's congregation filled the pews and its choir's voices lifted the dome for 50 years. In 2002, Turner moved to Prince George's County with its congregation and put the temple up for sale. Three developers, among them Abe Pollin, bought the building, refurbished it and established the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

The congregations celebrate and sing together throughout the year. And around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, they join at the synagogue for an MLK Shabbat service. The seventh annual gathering was held Friday night. Turner's choir sang along with Rak Shalom, an a capella group from the University of Maryland.

All broke bread together after the service; Martin would have felt at home.

But would King have felt at ease with the way the nation's capital and its politicians have handled race relations over the past four decades? Would he see a color-blind city where the content of one's character prevails?


We can seem to be as hyper-segregated as any city in the nation. Shop for glassware at the Crate & Barrel in Spring Valley on Massachusetts Avenue and you'll see a white and wealthy town; have a bite at Mama Cole's in Old Anacostia and you'll come away thinking you are in an all black city. But if Martin Luther King walked into Masa 14 -- a bar and restaurant a few blocks south of 14th and U streets, where the 1968 riots commenced -- he would see a mix of races that would make him think his "dream" had come to life.

Martin would feel equally fulfilled at Ben's Chili Bowl.

Our politicians have helped and hurt the cause of racial harmony. Marion Barry rode the idealism of King's integrationist themes into office, then he turned blacks against whites time after time. Tony Williams ran a race-neutral government for eight years, and it calmed the city after Barry's constant irritation. Adrian Fenty ran the government as if race did not matter. It did. He ignored everyone -- equally -- but blacks took umbrage at getting the back of his hand. And they tossed him out.

Now comes Vincent Gray, who won the mayor's race in part because of his motto -- One City -- through which he hopes to bring the races and classes together. Many of his black supporters would prefer he make it their city again, but that would wind up satisfying only a few, and Martin would not be among them.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at