Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Elizabeth Slade Hirschfeld
Elizabeth Slade Hirschfeld was born on May 21, 1937 in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Cornell University in 1958, she remained on campus working at a variety of science-related jobs. There she learned about the Greensboro sit-ins, and responded to Congress of Racial Equality's call for Freedom Riders. She was on the sixth bus of Freedom Riders, challenging segregation in intra-state travel on the way to Jackson, Mississippi. Along with Carol Ruth Silver and many other women, including Jewish women, she spent several weeks in jail there.
Although Hirschfeld's time with the southern civil rights movement was a life-changing experience, she felt it would be more appropriate for her as a white, northern woman to support the movement from her home base in Michigan through the northern student movement. She learned about organizing and fundraising working with a predominantly Jewish group called Friends of the South. She also lobbied for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party during the Congressional Challenge. Later, she worked with the Farmworkers Movement, and with the Citizen Action Group, a Ralph Nader-affiliated organization. She has done consulting, organizational development and fundraising for women's groups. Hirschfeld raised four children. In the 1980s, she became active in lesbian and Jewish communal activities, and helped start a women's havurah.
On working with Black women in the movement, Elizabeth Slade Hirschfeld remembers that during the freedom rides, "there wasn't the hostility then between Black and white women It was too early. The freedom ride was the pure time. We really hadn't had to work together." When she got out of Parchman Prison in 1961, Hirschfeld stayed with Cordell Reagon's sister, Joy, and another Black woman who had been jailed with them. She recalls their closeness:
We all had to sleep in the same bed. I was in the middle and we had our arms all wound up against each other and for a second, I couldn't figure whose arms were whose. We talked about that and about the closeness for awhile.
Later, the night before their arraignment, the three women went to church where people were singing "We Shall Overcome." When they sang the verse that included "Black and white together," everyone held up and linked their arms." Hirschfeld recalls it as "a very spiritual and joyous moment" in which she thought, "at this second, I'm part of history."