Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Faith Holsaert
Faith Holsaert was born in Greenwich Village, New York in 1943, where she attended the progressive Little Red Schoolhouse starting at the age of four. There she developed a very close relationship with her music teacher Charity Bailey. Unable to rent an apartment downtown because of racism, Bailey moved in with Holsaert's family. After the Holsaerts divorced, Bailey helped raise Faith and her sister Shai. Growing up in an interracial household headed by two women, one Jewish, and one Black, the two girls learned quickly about racism, anti-semitism, and sexism.
At the High School of Music and Art, Faith Holsaert started to attend peace demonstrations and to work with the Harlem Brotherhood Group, doing surveys to target housing discrimination. She encountered the Harlem Brotherhood Group through the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Through an NCCJ summer camp, she met Charles McDew and Diane Nash, who introduced her to Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She first went south during Christmas break 1961, getting arrested at a sit-in and spending one week in jail.
In the summer of 1962, three churches were burned in southwest Georgia, as a response to the civil rights movement. Holsaert decided to take a year's leave after her freshman year at Barnard College to go to Georgia. She worked in a voter registration project in Albany and in Terrell County, which was known as "terrible Terrell." Holsaert thus became one of the first and one of the few white women SNCC field workers prior to the 1964 summer; probably the first Jewish woman field worker and one of the earliest Jewish women on the SNCC staff along with Dorothy Zellner. After returning to school, Holsaert devoted most of her free time working for New York Friends of SNCC through the spring of 1966. She subsequently worked for the back-to-the land movement in New Mexico, the Brown Berets, the anti-war movement and the Southern Conference Educational Fund. She has raised two children. She now lives with her partner near Baltimore, Maryland where she teaches at a local community college and writes about her experiences in the civil rights movement.
Challenging historians' claims of sexism within the civil rights movement, Faith Holsaert emphasizes the egalitarian nature of her experience with the 1964 summer project:
I think particularly of my project director, Charley Sherrod, sexist to the core, and yet it was Charley who said "Faith I don't care whether you grew up in Greenwich Village where no one drives a car. To be a soldier among equals in this movement, you must learn to drive a car. Faith, I don't care whether you want to speak in mass meetings; soldiers in this army are public speakers, and so you must learn to do this.
Faith expresses her revulsion at being confronted with a physical manifestation of segregation when she tries to get her learner's permit. She explains that rather than being channeled into collusion with this system, she recategorized herself racially:
I walked into this long narrow cinder block building that was divided down the middle with just a piece of twine and white people were on one side and Black people were on the other. I just couldn't bear to walk down the white side so I went down the Black side and got a so-called "colored" permit. Then he [Charles Sherrod] wouldn't let me use it because he thought it would be even worse to have me picked up and have the wrong race on my permit. So actually, I never did learn to drive.