cohen richard martin luther king jr
Richard Cohen, right, with Martin Luther King Jr., 1963

Richard Cohen

Class of 1943

Inducted 1999

It was Cohen, who devoted his life to working for Jewish and social justice causes, who helped organize the March on Washington. At the time, he was public relations director and associate executive director of the American Jewish Congress, an organization with which he was associated for 22 years. He worked closely with Rabble Joachim Prinz of the AJC, who at the march spoke just before King did. His essay on another noteworthy event of the time — the march from Selma to Montgomery — is part of the educational packet on the civil rights movement at New York’s Museum of Tolerance.Richard Cohen was a public relations advisor to some of the nation’s largest Jewish organizations as well as a civil right activist who, while Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, stood right next to him.

In 2000, the College honored him by unveiling a new resource center carrying his name, a place where students could watch videotapes and videodiscs about advertising and public relations.

Cohen was born in New York in 1923 and attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx before enrolling at CCNY, where he was editor-in-chief of The Campus. Following his graduation, he was an Air Force navigator in the Pacific Theater during World War II. When he returned to civilian life, he worked in New York and Paris for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was formed to help resettle Jewish refugees from Europe. He came back to the United States in 1955 and subsequently went to work for the AJC.

In 1979, together with his wife, Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen, he formed his own public relations firm, Richard Cohen Associates. His clients included the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group comprised of 50 small bodies; the 22-member American Zionist Movement; the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union of Reform Judaism); the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors; and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.

Cohen also took part in several presidential campaigns, writing Israel-related speeches for Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Henry Jackson, Gary Hart and Walter Mondale. He was an organizer and director of two conferences in Brussels (1971 and 1976) on freeing Soviet Jewry and in 1971 wrote what was reported to be the first book on that struggle: “Let My People Go.”

Cohen died in 1994. He was 71.