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Jews and the Civil Rights Movement: the Whys and Why Nots

Unit 1, Lesson 3

Assume the roles of Southern Jews participating in a Temple board meeting on whether or not to support Northern Jewish activists staging a protest in town.

Overview

Enduring Understandings

  • Jewish experiences helped shape the responses of both those Jews who supported the Civil Rights Movement and those Jews who did not support the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The relationship of Jews to the Civil Rights Movement is not simple; different communities and individuals had different relationships to the Civil Rights Movement.

Essential Questions

  • What Jewish values and experiences led some Jews to support the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What Jewish values and experiences led some Jews to not support the Civil Rights Movement?
  • Why did some Jews feel ambivalence about civil rights?

Materials Required

  • Document Packet (Document Discussion Guide and 12 Documents)
  • Temple Ohev Shalom Board Meeting handouts (fictional scenario, meeting outline, and eight character descriptions)
  • Props for Board Meeting (e.g. gavel, hats, gloves, etc.)
  • Name cards

Notes to Teacher

This lesson's central activity is a mock debate at a temple board meeting. Plan to teach this lesson across two or three sessions (one for preparation and one for the board meeting itself; a third class session could be used for debriefing and reflection, for discussing your local community's response to the Civil Rights Movement, and/or for reading and discussing the Hebrew Union Congregation letters if you choose not to include those in the preparation for the board meeting). The lesson could also be spread over the course of the day at a retreat or as part of a special program.

The temple board meeting activity will allow your students to explore many different perspectives (southern, northern, lay people, clergy, supportive of civil rights, and unsupportive of civil rights) in a fairly realistic setting, while also providing for a more nuanced discussion than a straight pro/con debate might.

In creating the Temple Board Meeting scenario we have tried to strike a balance between historical accuracy and the realities of the contemporary classroom. For example, in order to present as many perspectives as possible and help your students understand the complexities of civil rights in the Jewish community we have provided documents that range over a broad period of time; therefore, we have not set the board meeting in a particular year. We also have included female board members in our scenario even though it's not likely that there were many female board members in the South during this period, because we know your classes include both boys and girls. (Some characters have stories and names that are gender-neutral.) We have also chosen to use "African American" rather than the term "Negro," which was used at the time and is found in the documents.

Additional suggestions:

  • Use a Jewish values matrix to identify what Jewish values are related to each of the documents and character stories and/or ask students to specifically address which Jewish values they are drawing on when they make an argument or put forward a motion. You can refer to the What's Jewish about Justice signs or find a Jewish values matrix online.
  • Ask board members of your school/synagogue/organization to talk to your students about current controversial issues and how they make decisions about them.
  • Depending on your teaching setting and student population, you may want to consider staging the debate as a public hearing or town hall meeting rather than a temple board meeting.

Introductory Essay(s)

American Jews, Race, Identity, and the Civil Rights Movement

In every generation, people shape their sense of themselves and their place in society within the frameworks defined by their local community and the larger national community. What does it mean to be white? What constitutes Jewishness? (Is it a race? An ethnicity? A religion? A nationality?) The answers to these questions are not fixed but rather are constantly shifting, especially in a modern context in which people have multiple, sometimes competing, identities.

Race may, at first glance, seem to be the most immutable identity – existing "in the blood" or written on one's skin – but it is actually fluid. Before the mid-19th century, European immigrants to the United States were mostly absorbed into the white population, and Jews – though considered religiously "other" and often socially separate – were not viewed in racial terms. But the rise of mass immigration from Europe, beginning in the 1840s, brought in a new wave of immigrants too large to be easily assimilated, and this new social reality of large urban populations with a heavy European immigrant flavor led to a recasting of racial categories and relations. The ruling elite classes (predominantly wealthy, American-born Protestants) expressed their fears of "race suicide" as the "native" stock was infiltrated and overrun by these "inferior races" first from Ireland and then from Eastern and Southern Europe. This immigration wave brought nearly 2 million Jews to the United States, outnumbering the German Jewish elite who had arrived in the mid-19th century and transforming the American Jewish community, which had been predominantly Sephardic (of Spanish/Portuguese origin), into a predominantly Ashkenazi population, as it remains today.

The new racism that arose in response to the immigration wave was rooted in supposed science – intelligence tests and a eugenics movement that focused on breeding "better" people, as opposed to the "feebleminded" Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans. This "scientific racism" justified the passage of legislation that outlawed Chinese immigration (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) and heavily restricted immigration except from Northern Europe (Johnson Act of 1924). The government and businesses limited the social mobility of those "inferior races" who had already settled in the US through policies such as quotas in higher education, corporate hiring restrictions, and, in the postwar period, federal housing loan policies that enforced racial segregation and subsidized the suburbanization of white populations.

In this context of changing perceptions of race, the racial identification of Jews underwent significant shifts. On one level, most Jews were always considered white in that they were permitted to become naturalized citizens – a right reserved only for "free white persons," according to the 1790 law set in place by the first Congress. But during the years of the large wave of immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe (roughly 1880-1924), Jews were counted among the many European groups (the 1911 Dillingham Commission Report on Immigration identified 36 different European races) classified as not quite white, or racially "other." (Some Jews, for example, were classified as "Hebrew.") Who fell into this racially suspect category depended on who was seen as different, unassimilable, or a threat to the nation, as well as who was perceived as providing essential (though devalued) labor. In the 1860s, the Irish were singled out for their savagery and racial weakness; by the end of the 19th century, Jews often bore the brunt of anti-immigration racism, targeted as the racial scourge overrunning and infecting urban areas. Political cartoons, for example, often depicted Jews as dirty, diseased, and criminal. Though expressed in racial terms, this anti-immigrant sentiment also intersected with fears of the rising working class and of political radicalism.

This racial definition of Jewishness, though derogatory when applied by non-Jews, could also serve a positive purpose for Jews. Many Jews embraced race as something that united them – a kind of identity deeper than belief or religious practice, something primal, defying assimilation. Racial identification resonated with a Jewish sense of peoplehood – an identification that was not entirely captured by the definition of Jewishness as solely a religious identity – and fulfilled the desire to preserve a minority identity.

Soon after the Johnson Act effectively closed the door on immigration from anywhere but Northern Europe, conventional wisdom on racial classification moved toward the recognition of three main races: Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid. This meant that the many different European races – including Jews – were consolidated into a monolithic category of Caucasian whiteness, and the primary racial distinction in America became the black/white binary.

Several factors led to this consolidation of whiteness. In light of the severe immigration restriction, those formerly considered "racially other" now posed less of a threat. Without a steady stream of new immigrants, the Eastern and Southern European populations were now predominantly American born, not immigrants themselves, and thus seemed less different and more easily assimilable. At the same time, the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban North and West between 1910s and 1940s threw the distinction between black and white into sharper relief.

The involvement of African Americans in World War II also caused a major shift in racial issues on the home front. The dissonance African Americans experienced between fighting for democracy abroad but being denied its benefits at home led to a surge in civil rights activism, particularly around segregation of the armed forces and the defense industries. As segregation (also known as "Jim Crow") became the central American racial issue, racial differences among whites became less important. By emphasizing the black/white binary, Jim Crow could work to solidfy the whiteness of certain groups, such as Jews, who had previously been considered ambiguously white. Finally, Nazi Germany served as a sharp reminder of the horrific dangers of race-based classifications.

After World War II, Jewishness remained a social distinction but no longer a racial one. For example, Jews were allowed to move into white suburban neighborhoods that the Federal Housing Authority policy determined were only for people of the "same social and racial classes" (though some communities instituted housing covenants that excluded Jews). "Ethnicity" became the new language to describe difference among whites, now seen as cultural – a distinction that further entrenched the black/white divide by implying that racial differences go deeper than cultural differences. The new racial system defined whiteness as the "normal" American state, and blackness as a racial problem.

Many scholars have argued that Jews in the South were the first Jews to see themselves as white, but the case of Leo Frank makes clear that they occupied an ambiguous middle category of racial outsider. In April 1913, a 14-year-old white girl was murdered in a pencil factory in Atlanta, and Leo Frank, a Jewish part-owner and manager of the factory, was convicted of the crime based on the testimony of a black janitor. When his sentence was commuted by the Governor in August 1915, a mob pulled him out of the prison where he was being held and lynched him. That a supposedly white man could be convicted based on the testimony of a black man, and the use of lynching as the method of (illegally) meting out his punishment, demonstrates the contingency of Frank's perceived whiteness.

Throughout the postwar period, the social position of Jews in the South was precarious, despite the fact that Southern Jews were among those Jews with the longest roots in the US. Jews in the South were accepted as part of the social fabric, and in many cities were prominent business people who often ran the local store, but they were also seen as different from other whites and somewhat suspect, and in some cases excluded along with blacks. They had to work hard to fit in, and many Jews were reluctant to take action that would set them apart from the other white community leaders. They felt they needed to assure their own equality and security first, and therefore were often hesitant to engage in overt, public civil rights activism, though some supported civil rights in quiet, private ways.

While for some Southern Jews, association with the Civil Rights Movement confirmed for their white neighbors a lingering sense that Jews were racially tainted, for many Northern Jews, involvement in the Civil Rights Movement served to further solidify Jewish whiteness. Allying themselves with blacks cast into sharper relief the whiteness of Jews – ironically, since many Jews were motivated to civil rights activism by a sense of identification with African Americans and a persistent sense of "otherness" despite having, by and large, "made it" in America.

Today, many American Jews retain an ambivalence about whiteness, despite the fact that the vast majority have benefited and continue to benefit from white privilege. This ambivalence stems from many different places: a deep connection to a Jewish history of discrimination and otherness; a moral imperative to identify with the stranger; an anti-universalist impulse that does not want Jews to be among the "melted" in the proverbial melting pot; an experience of prejudice and awareness of the contingency of whiteness; a feeling that Jewish identity is not fully described by religion but has some ethnic/tribal component that feels more accurately described by race; and a discomfort with contemporary Jewish power and privilege.

And of course, while there is a tendency in the US, where the majority of Jews are of Eastern European descent, to assume a shared white racial identity for Jews, many Jews are in fact not white. Throughout history, Jews have come in all colors and from all places, and have almost always lived multicultural lives. The "mixed multitude" of the Jewish people include Jews from Arab lands (Mizrahi Jews), Jews with roots in Spain and Portugal (Sephardic Jews), and Jews from India, Asia, and Africa, some of whose ancestors may have been separated from the rest of the Jewish community many centuries ago. There are many Jews of color whose families have been Jewish for generations, if not centuries. In an American context that increasingly values diversity, the backgrounds and colors of the Jewish community are also enriched by adoption, intermarriage, and conversion. The Institute for Jewish and Community Research, an organization that studies the demography of the Jewish people, estimates that at least 20% of the American Jewish population is what they term "racially and ethnically diverse, including African, African American, Latino (Hispanic), Asian, Native American, Sephardic, Mizrahi and mixed-race Jews by heritage, adoption, and marriage."

Just as the definition of racial categories in America is always shifting, as illustrated by changes in the options for racial self-definition on the US Census, so, too, does the definition of Jewish identity and the image of what Jewish looks like continue to change.

Lesson Plan

Advance Preparation

Prior to class, read the Temple Ohev Shalom scenario and board member scenarios. Choose the documents that you want your students to use as background for the debate. As you're choosing the documents keep in mind the size of your class, your students' experience working with primary sources, and the amount of time you can devote to this lesson. [Note that the series of letters from and to the Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Mississippi revolve around decisions made by a temple board. The letters touch on many issues relevant to the debate and may be particularly useful for your students. However, if you are concerned that your students may place too much emphasis on these letters, and that the letters may dictate the outcome of the debate, consider distributing them at the end of the lesson.]

Each board member and document included in the lesson plan offers a different perspective. If you find that there are other perspectives you would like to include in this lesson, consider adding additional characters and/or bringing in additional sources (including documents from people from your community who may have been involved in the Civil Rights Movement). For a large class you also may need to create additional characters (pick names and biographical backstories) or ask students to choose their own names and characters. Alternately, you can have students work in small groups of 2 or 3 students to represent each board member found in the lesson plan (this would allow them to discuss their role and views as they prepare for the Temple Board Meeting) or assign some of your students the role of general board members who don't present their own arguments but can ask questions and vote on what the board should do at the end of the meeting. You may choose to take the role of the Temple Board President yourself or delegate that role to a student, depending on the size of your class and the abilities of your students.

Print 1-2 copies of each document and put them around the room for students to read in pairs, looking for ones relevant to their characters. Alternately, you can combine these documents in one packet, and make enough copies for each of your students. Be sure to make a copy of the Document Discussion Guide for each student.If you are doing this lesson in a setting which has a board room or conference room, you may want to arrange to hold your Temple Board Meeting in that room. Make (or have your students make) name cards that they can set out in front of them on the Board table. Feel free to provide other props/costumes that you think would add to the realism of the meeting or help your students get into their roles.

Introduction

  1. If you taught Unit 1, Lessons 2-3, review some of the key concepts about identity with your students. List them on the chalk board, white board, or chart paper.
    1. Each of us has many different identities.
    2. The importance of any one of our identities may shift due to the time and/or place we are in.
    3. Sometimes different parts of our identities can be in conflict.
    4. Our actions in the world are often motivated by the values we hold and these are often related to the groups with which we identify.
    OR

    If you have not done the previous lessons, you may want to list the key concepts on the board and then provide your students with brief examples or ask them for examples as you discuss each point.
  2. Introduce the following new idea by writing it on the board and then discussing it with your students:

    We want to protect our security and that of the people we care about. Sometimes this value is in conflict with our other values.

    You may want to ask the following questions:
    • What are some things that make us feel secure?
    • Who are some people we might try to keep secure?
    • How could our actions cause them to feel less secure?
    • What might be an example of a situation where one's value-based actions might damage someone else's sense of security?
    • How might the issue of risk/danger to ourselves and others challenge our idealism?
  3. Explain that Jews acted the way they did in the Civil Rights Movement for many different reasons based on their different experiences and concerns. The Jewish relationship to the Civil Rights Movement is often painted as a simple one – in which Jews were supportive – but in fact it was quite complex.

Prepare for Temple Board Meeting, Part A: Reviewing the scenario and roles

  1. Distribute the Temple Board Meeting Scenario. Have a student read it out loud.
  2. Explain that each student (or pair of students) will become a member of this Temple Board. They will be assigned a role to play and, using the arguments they gathered from the documents they are about to examine, they will need to present their point of view on this issue based on the fictional character they were assigned. The documents they will be examining include letters, photographs, and statements from the time of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as more recently written descriptions of what life was like during that period. 
  3. Distribute the Board Member Scenarios. You may distribute these randomly or choose ahead of time who you want to play each role. (If you choose not to play the role of the Temple President yourself, remember to hand out this scenario along with the others.)
  4. Give your students time to read over their scenarios, think about their characters, and take some initial notes on their arguments (space for this is provided on the scenario work sheet). They may do this alone, in pairs, or in small groups; you could also organize them in two facing lines or in an inner circle and outer circle so that everyone is facing someone and must engage in conversation. You could have them reflect in writing, in the form of journaling or a more formal letter written in character to present his/her argument to the board (these can then be shared at the end of the board meeting as part of the wrap up).

Prepare for Temple Board Meeting, Part B: Reviewing the Documents

  1. Distribute the chosen primary source documents. Provide each student with a copy of the Document Discussion Guide and go over the directions as a class.
  2. Divide your class into pairs or small groups to examine and discuss the documents around the room/in their packets.
  3. Explain that they can use the documents to get a sense of how their characters might have felt about the Civil Rights Movement and to get ideas for what they might say during the Board Meeting. As they look through the documents, students should identify which documents and arguments are most relevant to their assigned characters and read those most closely.
  4. When all the groups have finished reviewing the documents, have your students come back together as a class. Have the groups share some of the items on their lists. You may want to write their ideas on the board.
  5. If the Board Meeting is occurring at a later time/date, go over when and where the Board Meeting will be held and review what will be expected of them.

Temple Board Meeting

  1. Set up the Board Room
    1. If you have been able to reserve a board or conference room for your class' Board Meeting, take your class to that location.
      OR
      Have your students help you rearrange their desks, chairs, and/or themselves into a rectangle or circle symbolizing a Board Table.
    2. Have your students place their name signs (which you made prior to class or that your students make) in front of them so that others can read their names. They should introduce themselves, in character and using first person language, to the rest of the class.
    3. Provide the Temple President with a copy of the Board Scenario, the outline of the Temple Board Meeting, and a gavel.
  2. Hold the Temple Board Meeting
    1. Have the students debate the issue before the Temple Board according to the outline. The Temple President may call on board members in any order s/he wishes, and may ask additional questions. Everyone should have a chance to share his/her views. Once everyone has shared his/her views, the Temple President may call on people again to counter a point that has already been made. Finally, the Temple President should call for a motion: "We should support the activists." Or "We should not support the activists." Or some alternative or combination. A vote should then be taken.

Wrap-Up

  1. Discuss some of the following questions with your students:
    1. What did you think about as you were putting together your argument for the board meeting?
    2. What do you think were the strongest arguments made during the board meeting?
    3. Were you surprised by how the Board voted? Why or why not?
    4. Why do you think supporting civil rights was such a complicated issue for Jews?
    5. How, if at all, did the experience of participating in this Board Meeting change the way you think about the Jewish community and social justice?
  2. Optional: Revisit the line in Maurice Eisendrath's 1963 letter to the congregation in Greenville, MS, in which he writes that the Union of American Hebrew Congregations "ever strides to tread the narrow path between inaction and reckless action."
    1. What is your take on this statement, having just participated in the Board Meeting? How does one define "inaction" and "reckless action" for an organization? For oneself?
  3. Summarize what the students have done and what they have said they have learned while preparing for and taking part in the Temple Board Meeting. If relevant, let students know that over the next several lessons, the class will be returning to some of the issues raised today and also expanding on them.

Document Studies

Reflections and images - Jewish attitudes toward the Civil Rights Movement

Reflections and images - Jewish attitudes toward the Civil Rights Movement

Document Discussion Guide

Read each text out loud to your group. For each text, discuss and answer the following questions:

  1. Who wrote this text? When? For what purpose and what audience?
  2. Based on this document, how did this person (or these people) feel about civil rights?
  3. Why do you think this person (or these people) felt that way?
  4. What aspects of his/her/their identity do you think motivated him/her/them?
  5. What experiences do you think motivated him/her/them?
  6. What does this person (or these people) have to say about Jews' relationship to the Civil Rights Movement?

For any photographs in your packet, spend some time looking closely at the image. Then discuss and answer the following questions:

  1. What's going on in this photograph?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. What is your gut reaction or emotional response to this photo?
  4. What about this photograph makes you feel that way?
  5. If you were a Jew considering getting involved in the Civil Rights Movement, how might a scene like this influence your decision?
  6. Who do you think took this photograph, and for what purpose and audience?

After examining and discussing all the documents in your packet, fill in the following lists:

Some Reasons Why Jews Supported Civil Rights Some Reasons Why Jews Didn't Support Civil Rights
















Things that made civil rights or being involved in the Civil Rights Movement complicated for Jews








Stayed on Freedom

Melanie Kay/Kantrowitz is a civil rights activist from Brooklyn, NY. Years after first joining the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, she wrote an essay, excerpted below, in which she shared some of her views on why she got involved.

The Civil Rights Movement called for undivided focus on what seemed the primary contradiction of our society. Initially black and white together represented, for Jews, one more permutation of the universalism we had been encountering and articulating for several generations in communist, socialists, and liberal thought; for Jews, the emphasis on common humanity, at least in earlier generations, dovetailed neatly with the pressures of anti-Semitism, both external and internalized. Universalism* had quietly promised an escape from anti-Semitism. ...

In the Civil Rights Movement, I could escape Flatbush**, my parents' clothing store, the world of working-and lower-middle-class Jews, a world I thought of as materialistic. ...Against materialistic stood the world of struggle and change -- I didn't say revolution yet -- along with beatniks, sex, poetry, art, folk music, soul, and funk. Every day I watched my parents leave our Brooklyn apartment to take the subway to work and return home drained, and I, with my seventeen-year-old energy, vowed to live differently...It took me twenty years before I understood that my rebellion had be enacted simultaneously by thousands of young Jews; that it was in fact a collective Jewish rebellion, articulated in a classically Jewish fashion.

*Universalism: A focus on the shared human condition rather than on religious, ethnic or other differences. Also a liberal Christian concept that all people will be saved regardless of religion or sect.

**Flatbush: A neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY known for its large Jewish population.

Details

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, "Stayed on Freedom: Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and After," in The Narrow Bridge: Jewish Views on Multiculturalism, edited by Marla Brettschneider (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 106, 111-112.

An Orphan in History excerpt, memories of Polly Cowan

Paul Cowan was a young civil rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s. His mother Polly Cowan was also a civil rights activist, helping to found Wednesdays in Mississippi, an organization composed of middle-class, middle-aged Northern and Southern women who met in Mississippi to support civil rights work, to learn more about the situation in the south, and to keep an eye on younger activists like her son. In An Orphan in History: Retrieving a Jewish Legacy, Paul Cowan shares some of the Jewish values he inherited from his mother and some of his own experiences in the Civil Rights Movement.

She was too much of an egalitarian to admit she subscribed to the religious idea that the Jews were a chosen people. Yet the subtext of her words carried that message. We were chosen to suffer; chosen to achieve brilliance; chosen to wage a ceaseless war for social justice. Indeed, to her, the struggle for justice was nothing less than a commandment, even though she had no interest at all in the concept of halacha – the intricate system of laws that have bound the Jewish nation together for five thousand years. I don’t think she could imagine living without fighting for the oppressed.…

As I recall her now – with her dazzling smile, her well-cared for, slender body – I think of three separate episodes which suggest the power and the limitation of the kind of Jewishness she tried so hard to instill in me.

In 1964, I was at Oxford, Ohio, training to do civil-rights work in Mississippi. Early one evening we heard that three integrationists, two whites named Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman and a black named James Chaney, were missing in a rural Mississippi town, probably killed by the Ku Klux Klan. It was headline news all over America. We were all terrified – and so were our parents. Late that evening I walked by a phone booth and heard a girl yell at her mother, “Of course I’m still going to go there. If someone in Nazi Germany had done what we’re doing, your brother would still be alive today.” I realized I would never have to say anything like that to my mother. For the earnest, eager cry I had overheard summed up everything I had learned about Judaism since childhood.

A month later Polly and Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women, were on a mission to Mississippi, as part of Wednesdays in Mississippi, an effort my mother had conceived to bring black and white women together. Quite casually, they had decided to integrate a motel near Jackson. At about 8 p.m., Rachel and I went over to visit them. We noticed some white teenagers drinking beer by the motel pool, muttering racist comments. Polly and Miss Height seemed completely unworried.

After my parents died, Dorothy Height told me that a cross had been burned in front of their window late that night. She and Polly doubted they would survive until the next morning. Polly, who talked about her past, her feelings, her work, even her sexual attitudes with complete freedom, had never bothered to mention that part of the episode. Why should she dwell on something that might make her seem heroic? She knew that the people in whose name she was acting—Jews in Hitler’s Europe, blacks in the South—had faced far greater dangers than she ever would. Many millions had died. In her mind, where good manners and good taste were inextricably interwoven with progressive politics, it seemed unseemly to dwell on the few minutes of fear she had faced.

Details

Excerpts are from Cowan, Paul. An Orphan in History: One Man's Triumphant Search for His Jewish Roots (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2002). Permission granted by Jewish Lights Publishing, www.jewishlights.com.

This I Believe - Justine Wise Polier

Justine Wise Polier, the daughter of Rabbi Stephen Wise, worked on behalf of the underprivileged and became the first female judge in New York City when she was appointed to the Children’s Court. In the 1950s she helped focus attention on the issue of de facto segregation in New York City schools. As part of broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow’s recurring “This I Believe” radio news segment, Justine Wise Polier discussed the beliefs that motivated her.

Freedom means many things to many people. From my earliest childhood I saw it through the eyes of my parents as both opportunity and challenge to do battle for those in bondage, to achieve freedom of the spirit and mind for one’s self and one’s fellow men. Blessed by parents whose deepest joy was through service to their fellow men, who were deeply moral without ever being self-righteous, who were profoundly religious and therefore not sanctimonious, I learned that love of mankind became meaningful only as it reflected understanding of and love of human beings.

As an American Jew I have found that the great spiritual and moral traditional given to the world by the Hebrew Prophets have strengthened me in my quest for personal dignity and therefore in the struggle for the dignity of man and the freedom of mankind. The beauty and great traditions of my people as of my home have been sources of strength and inspiration in confronting the difficult problems faced by our generation in these troubled times.

Details

Justine Wise Polier, "This I Believe," 1953. Script from radio broadcast, with introduction by Edward R. Murrow. From the Justine Wise Polier papers at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Permission granted by the Schlesinger Library.

Negro-Jewish Relations in the North excerpt

In recent months, a marked anti-Jewish prejudice has been revealed by Negro publicists.

On November 28, 1959, the Amsterdam News insinuated in an editorial that Jews (“one particular racial group”) dominated the radiology departments of New York City hospitals and blamed the Hospital Department for planning to deny promotion to a Negro roentgenologist and to fill a vacancy with a member of this same racial group. The editorial concluded by asking the Commission on Intergroup Relations to prevent “this type of racism.”…

Simultaneously one senses, although perhaps one cannot prove, an increase of anti-Negro attitudes in the Jewish community. The more important cause for this new fear and hostility is the movement of Negroes into what were formerly Jewish neighborhoods. The classic example is the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Central Park West and West End Avenue and, perhaps, the multi-storied apartment houses on the side streets, remain all-white enclaves but everywhere else the neighborhoods is changing into a slum. The inevitable deterioration of the public schools, the overcrowding in the streets, the increase in “mugging,” all bring about a panic withdrawal, either flight to the suburbs or the more expensive all-white East Side or a determined effort to insulate oneself by sending children to private schools and keeping them off the streets. This new fear and consequent hostility is sensed by Jewish leaders in a new opposition to public school integration on fair housing practice acts and a vast indifference to Federal civil rights legislation relating to suffrage. Judge Leibowitz was voicing this fear when he complained that women in his neighborhood were fearful of walking to their homes from the subway and articulating underlying attitudes when he appealed for a temporary ban on emigration.

Details

Will Maslow, "Negro-Jewish Relations in the North," paper read at the annual meeting of the Association of Jewish Community Relations Workers, Arden House, January 11, 1960. Copy of paper, with note from February 19, 1960, from the Justine Wise Polier Papers at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

Debate on Civil Rights involvement of Union of American Hebrew Congregations

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, now the Union for Reform Judaism, supported the work of the Civil Rights Movement. While many Reform Jews and their congregations applauded the work that the UAHC was doing, some synagogues felt that they were over-stepping their authority. In a series of letters that span a decade, board members of Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville, Mississippi, outlined their position as Southern Jews. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations outlines its position in a response.

Letter from Hebrew Union Congregation to Rabbi Eisendrath, May 1, 1956

Letter from Hebrew Union Congregation from Rabbi Eisendrath, May 1, 1956, page 1 of 2
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Hebrew Union Congregation to Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, 1 May 1956. Hebrew Union Congregation Official Records, Greenville, Mississippi. Permission for use granted by Richard Dattel.
Letter from Hebrew Union Congregation from Rabbi Eisendrath, May 1, 1956, page 2 of 2
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Hebrew Union Congregation to Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, 1 May 1956. Hebrew Union Congregation Official Records, Greenville, Mississippi. Permission for use granted by Richard Dattel.

Letter from Hebrew Union Congregation to Union of American Hebrew Congregations, November 7, 1963

Letter from Hebrew Union Congregation to the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, November 7, 1963
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Bernard Goodman, President of Hebrew Union Congregation to the Board of Trustees, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 7 November 1963. Hebrew Union Congregation Official Records, Greenville, Mississippi. Permission for use granted by Richard Dattel.

Letter from Rabbi Eisendrath to Bernard Goodman, November 13, 1963

Letter from Rabbi Eisendrath to Bernard Goodman, November 13, 1963, page 1 of 2
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Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath to Bernard Goodman, 13 November 1963, Hebrew Union Congregation Official Records, Greenville, Mississippi. Permission for use granted by Richard Dattel.
Letter from Rabbi Eisendrath to Bernard Goodman, November 13, 1963, page 2 of 2
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Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath to Bernard Goodman, 13 November 1963, Hebrew Union Congregation Official Records, Greenville, Mississippi. Permission for use granted by Richard Dattel.

Context for photograph of Neo-Nazi Demonstration

The marchers in this photograph (date and location unknown) are wearing armbands with swastikas on them, which suggests that they are Neo-Nazis. The signs they hold refer to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). On some signs the C in NAACP has been replaced by an overlapping hammer and a sickle, the symbol of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, presumably to suggest that the NAACP was Communist—a charge that at the time was interpreted by some to mean that they were disloyal to the United States. The signs reading "NY Jew Heads NAACP" may refer to Kivie Kaplan, a Jewish man who served as President of the NAACP, 1966-1975.

Neo-Nazi demonstration

Neo-Nazi demonstration
Full image
Permission granted by the American Jewish Archives. Date and location unknown.

The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish In Mississippi excerpt

In his autobiographical book, The Peddler’s Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi, Edward Cohen describes what it was like to grow up with the dual identity of a southern Jew, who is viewed as an outsider both in the south and within the Jewish community.

During recess at Boyd and in gym at Murrah, the teachers organized a game in which everyone would encircle one person in the middle and try to hit him with a soccer ball. The child in the middle desperately tried to dodge the ball and could only end his torment if by luck he managed to catch it. The person who had thrown it would take his turn in the middle. The game was called, by students and teachers alike, “nigger baby.” No one ever remarked on the name. All I could think, as I threw the ball, was that I was glad it wasn’t “Jew baby.”

I’d worked at cultural anonymity since that first Rosh Hashanah when I was six, just as my predecessors had done when they moved the Sabbath to Sunday. I had been, at different stages of my life, proudly Jewish, then proudly southern, often simultaneously both, and it had always seemed possible to resolve or at least ignore the inherent contradictions. But during the civil rights struggle, my two selves, southern and Jewish, were torn apart.

I was profoundly ambivalent about the coming revolution, as were, I think, most of the Jews in Jackson. One part of me was deeply ashamed of and angry with Mississippi—with the Clarion-Ledger’s daily incendiary rhetoric about “mongrelization” and “race mixers,” with those surging riot police for that one moment I’d been in their path, with the idiocy of my classmates and their racial slurs, with the mulish intransigence of our leaders…Every new arrest, every new racial murder, made me want to disown my native state, which, along with Alabama, was nationally synonymous with prejudice and hatred.

Yet when I read the pious articles condemning Mississippi in the New York Times and the more strident screeds in the Village Voice, my southern side would get its back up, with contradictory and equal passion. Self-righteousness had always brought out the rebel in me, and the northerners who’s taken it upon themselves to cure our ills seemed fueled with a healthy dose of it. I knew things were desperately wrong in Mississippi, but, having a southerner’s pride, I didn’t like being told by outsiders how to fix it. They’ve got plenty wrong in their own backyards, I thought of the busloads of shining-eyed white students coming down like missionaries.

Details

Cohen, Edward. The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), 150-152.

The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South excerpt

Eli Evans grew up in Durham, NC. In this excerpt from “The Maids and Black Jesus” in his book The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South, Evans describes the relationship his family had with its black maids:

I was raised Southern-style—by the maid. No one can understand the mystery of the South without delving into this murmuring undertone—a relationship primordial, like parent and child, of discipline and need, shadowing every white Southerner throughout the rest of his life…

They are nearly as much a part of me as my parents are: the gentle arms, the stinging switch, bedtime stories, the Jewish dishes they cooked, and the gospel hymns they hummed while sweeping the porch in the white uniforms they picked out in Evans’ United Department store…

[Our maid Zola] had high hopes for [her son] Robert, to whom she preached about going to college, and she hugged my mother tearfully when Mother said, “Don’t you worry about paying for Robert’s college, Zola; he’s one more son we’ve got to send through school.”…

Once, when Passover came on a Saturday, my mother asked Zola if Robert could come over to help. “I thought we could teach him how to wait on tables,” Mother said.

“No thanks,” Zola answered without looking up.

“Why not?” Mother asked innocently “…pick up some extra money…it’s a mighty good thing to know.”

“Please, Miz Evans. I appreciates it and all, but I don’t want him to learn to wait.”…

Zola once invited me to come and watch Robert narrate a Bible story in a Sunday school play. She beamed at me at intermission, and whispered proudly, “No one else here had any white people come and watch them.”

Details

Eli N. Evans, "The Maids and Black Jesus," in The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005) 255-262

Stephen S. Wise statement to the Sub-committee of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare

Stephen S. Wise was a Reform rabbi who had dedicated his life to issues of social justice within and outside of the Jewish community. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and also served as the president of the American Jewish Congress. His daughter Justine Wise Polier also worked on behalf of underprivileged people. The quote below comes from Rabbi Wise’s testimony, as President of American Jewish Congress, during a Senate sub-committee hearing relating to discrimination in employment in
1947. [Exact date unknown.]

Our movement recognizes fully that equality of opportunity for Jews can be truly secured only in a genuinely democratic society. Accordingly, we seek to fight every manifestation of racism, to promote the civil and political equality of all groups and persons in America, and to support measures designed to safeguard civil liberties and to build a better America. We regard ethnic discrimination, whether directed against Jews, Negroes, Chinese, Mexicans, or any other group, as a single and indivisible problem and as one of the most urgent problems of democratic society.

Details

Stephen S. Wise, President, American Jewish Congress, “United States of America, Before a Sub-committee of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, holding hearings on S. 984, a bill to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, religion, color, national origin, or ancestry.” CLSA Reports, American Jewish Congress, New York. Source provided by Marc Dollinger and the American Jewish Archives.

Comments by Rabbi Milton Grafman about national Jewish leadership and the position of southern Jews

Milton Grafman was born in Washington, D.C., but spent most of his career as the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham, AL. Like many southern rabbis, Milton Grafman found himself caught between the realities of southern Jewish life and civil rights activists. He worked towards integration, but was opposed to disruptive protests that could lead to violence and undermine local, more moderate efforts. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Grafman said the following in an interview with a rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College, who was working on a paper entitled “The Southern Rabbi and Civil Rights”:

“The Jewish leadership cannot travel faster than the rest of the population…we have to live with these people day-in and day-out. A freedom rider comes down, and a marcher, and a demonstrator… and I don’t know what he accomplishes, very frankly, except he goes back and he’s a hero—and he doesn’t have to live with these people. But we do, and our people have got to live with them…the only way we can be effective is to work with the Christians who are willing to be active in any given program—and certainly in the field of civil rights.”

Details

Krause, Allen. The Southern Rabbi and Civil Rights, unpublished paper, 1967, Civil Rights, Box no. 1747,
American Jewish Archives, p. 82. Source provided by Marc Dollinger and the American Jewish Archives.

Excerpts from panel discussion reflecting back on the civil rights era in Jackson, Mississippi

In 2001, the organization Facing History and Ourselves hosted a panel discussion with three individuals who had lived in Jackson, Mississippi during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. The following excerpts are taken from responses by the three panelists to a question about the experiences of Jews in their community who were not involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Manny Crystal
“In my experience, in our business we never experienced that [pressure against Jewish businesses found elsewhere in the state]. We always worked black and whites together. We had blacks supervising people over whites. Now I use that in comparison to the time I went to Cleveland, OH, in the same period. And I toured a plant with 1,200 employees. And when we got back to the owner’s office…I said, ‘Johnny do you notice anything different about this plant?’ He said, ‘no.’ I said, ‘Johnny there’s not one black person in this plant, I said not even a janitor, a sweeper, nothing.’ So I asked the owner why. You know Cleveland is a very ethnic community also. He said ‘Manny, if I hired one black, everybody would walk out.’ We didn’t have that experience in the south. We had the ability of people working together; they didn’t socialize together. I think this is one of the big misinterpreted facts about the whole civil rights community. In the south we were always associated with blacks in the working community, in the living community. And up north that wasn’t true. So you didn’t have that inter-relationship that we have here. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know…”

Bea Gotthelf:
“Well, I’m not disagreeing you… [but] my husband worked for a while with my father’s business, which was laundry and cleaning. And Harold got a phone call from a friend who was in the white citizen’s council, saying, ‘Do you have a man working there?’ I’ll say by the name of John Smith. And he said, ‘Yes I do.’ And he said ‘We want you to fire him. His child is one who is trying to integrate the schools, and we want him fired because of that.’ And my husband said, ‘I’m sorry, but he’s worked here for a number of years, he’s a good employee, and I won’t fire him for that.’ And this good friend said, ‘Well you’ll be sorry, you’ll lose customers, and there’s no telling what will happen to your business.’ So after that they had to hire a private detective to patrol the building, which they did for about a week, and then they decided nothing was going to happen. After our temple was bombed, they [African Americans] got together and marched from one spot to the Temple, to show their solidarity with the Jewish community, and I thought that was a very wonderful thing that happened.”

Elaine Crystal:
“I think that honestly those of us who were active were shunned by some of those in the Jewish community. They wanted to stay in the background and didn’t want to be up-front in any way. They felt that by hiding, they would not be noticed and would not be affected by it, but of course everybody is affected by it, as we know.”

Details

Transcript from video of panel discussion at Facing History and Ourselves’ 2001 Civil Rights Tour, Jackson, MI,
Jewish Community Breakfast.

Temple Bombing, Atlanta, Georgia

Bombing of The Temple, Atlanta, Georgia
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Mayor William Hartsfield with Rabbi Jacob Rothschild after bombing. Photo courtesy of The Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation in Atlanta).

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum and wife after bombing of their home

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum and wife after bombing of their home
Full image
Rabbi Perry Nussbaum and wife after bombing of their home. Courtesy of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life.

Handouts

Fictional Scenario

Fictional Scenario

Temple Ohev Shalom is an old congregation in Mississippi. Its members represent a cross-section of the community. Some of the wealthier members have made it possible in recent years to build the synagogue's current building, which includes a beautiful sanctuary, a spacious social hall, and an expanded school wing.

A few days ago a group of Northern civil rights activists, including a number of rabbis, arrived in town. Word on the street is that the group is planning to protest the segregation of lunch counters in town. One of the rabbis traveling with the civil rights activists has also been in touch with the congregation's rabbi and president and is hoping that members of the congregation might provide housing for some of the group, since local whites-only hotels haven't been very welcoming. The president and rabbi agree that this is a matter for the temple board and have called an emergency meeting to decide what the congregation should do.

Board Meeting Outline

Board Meeting Outline

(to be led by Temple Board President)

  1. Call Meeting to Order
    1. Bang gavel and say: I'm calling the Temple Ohev Shalom Board Meeting to order at { time } on { date }.
    2. Read the Temple Ohev Shalom Board Scenario (above), which explains the situation before the Board.
  2. Sharing of Opinions
    1. Ask anyone who wants to share their opinion on this issue to raise his or her hand.
    2. Call on board members one at a time, in any order you wish.
    3. You may ask questions of the board members to help clarify their opinions.
    4. Make sure that everyone has a chance to share his or her opinion.
  3. Counter Points: Provide an opportunity for board members to counter the opinion of anyone who spoke earlier.
  4. Motion/Vote
    1. Ask someone to make a motion. The motion could be to:
      1. Support the activists
      2. Not support the activists
      3. Other (suggestions from Board—perhaps a more specific action)
    2. Ask someone to second the motion.
    3. Vote on the motion by calling for those who are in favor of the motion to raise their hands and then those who are against the motion to raise their hands.
    4. Count the votes for and against.
    5. Announce whether the motion passes (majority votes for the motion) or not (majority votes against the motion).

President

President

You grew up in this town, went away to attend college and earned your law degree, and then returned to practice law. While you and your family have been members of Temple Ohev Shalom for a long time, this is only your first year as president of the temple. You want to do the right thing for both your community and your temple. Realizing that the issue of supporting these Northern civil rights activists is one with far-reaching implications for you, your family, and your temple, you don't want to make this decision by yourself. You are relying on the good people on the temple board to help you make the right decision.

You see your role as judge and/or moderator. You will run an organized board meeting (see the Board Meeting Outline) and try to get the best information and opinions from your board members, while trying not to inject your own opinion too much. Of course, as an attorney you're good at asking questions to get the clearest picture possible.

Preparation for running the Board Meeting:

  1. Review the Board Meeting Outline and be sure you understand your responsibilities.
  2. Review the documents the class studied earlier.
  3. Review the lists made by your group after discussing the documents.
  4. Make a list of issues that you think would be important to deciding whether or not to help the Northern civil rights activists.

Rabbi

Rabbi

You grew up in the North, where you also attended college and rabbinical school. This is your first pulpit and you have been with the congregation for five years. You believe in the prophetic tradition of Judaism that teaches Jews to be a light unto the nations and to care for those less fortunate than themselves. At the same time, you are concerned for your congregation's safety, both individually and as a whole. This is especially true having recently read about a synagogue which was bombed in another Southern community. You’ve also heard that in some communities, rabbis and their families have been specific targets of violence.

You believe it's your role at temple board meetings to both listen to what your congregants have to say, but also to be a teacher and leader, sharing with them relevant teachings from the Jewish tradition.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Jaimie Greenbaum

Jaimie Greenbaum

You grew up in the South, though not in this particular community, and actually only moved here a couple of years ago. Your oldest son was in high school at the time and was not very happy about having to move and leave all his friends behind. Maybe that's why he chose to go so far from home for college. Now he's a student at a fancy Northern college. He and his friends from college have become involved in the Civil Rights Movement and are coming to town to participate in the protest. The last time he was home, over the Jewish holidays just a couple of months ago, you had a long discussion with him in which he shared many of his reasons for becoming involved in the fight for African American equality. You are impressed by your son's resolve and have sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement, but also are concerned for his safety. You feel it is your duty to represent your son's reasons for protesting.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier, develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Abe Rosenberg

Abe Rosenberg

You grew up in this town and at this temple. In fact, your family has belonged to this temple since it was founded a few generations ago. You have known many of your neighbors since childhood. A number of years ago you started your own business. It's not very large, but it serves the white community well and supports your family (including two young children). You work very hard to make the business successful. You joined the local community civic organization when they invited you because you think membership will be important to growing your business. You are one of only a few Jewish members, and you try to keep a low profile. Recently, this organization honored you as Businessman of the Year.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Alex Stern

Alex Stern

You grew up in this town, and at this temple. Your family was never very religious, but you learned many Jewish values at home by watching your parents support the Jewish community and help those less fortunate than you, both African American and white. As a teenager, you helped out in your father's dry goods store, sometimes working at the register and sometimes helping out behind the lunch counter. When your father could no longer run the business, he sold it to you and your spouse. You've continued the store's tradition of serving both white and African American members of the community, many of whom also knew your father. Continuing the family business is a matter of pride, as well as your own family's means of financial support. You think African Americans should be treated fairly, but recently, you've heard rumors that the African American community is planning to boycott all white businesses downtown. You have heard that this has happened in other communities with devastating results for Jewish businesses. You hope that your store's reputation for being fair to all shoppers will keep it from being boycotted along with the other merchants. You also hope that the store's reputation for serving African Americans won't cause white customers to boycott your store.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Sarah Goldsmith

Sarah Goldsmith

You and your husband moved to this town soon after you married. Your husband works in town, making a modest salary, but enough so that you can stay home to take care of your children. You're president of the temple Sisterhood and teach at the temple's Sunday school, where your three children attend classes. During the week, your children attend the local public school. One of the reasons you chose a house in your neighborhood when you moved to town was because the schools were so good. Recently, you've been reading about how Northern civil rights activists want to integrate Southern schools. Your sister, who lives in Chicago, has told you about the integrated schools that her children attend and how the quality of the education dropped when African American children began attending the school. You're concerned that the same thing might happen here if the civil rights activists get their way.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Jess Martin

Jess Martin

Your family has lived in this town for generations and done very well for themselves. With such deep roots in the community, you travel in many of the same social circles as your wealthy Gentile neighbors, though you remember a time when your family couldn't belong to their clubs due to "restricted" membership rules. As a child, you had a nurse. The family also employed a maid to help your mother and a driver for your father. All of these workers were African American. Even today, you employ an African American couple who take care of your home and drive you where you need to go. This makes you feel that you have connections to the African American community and understand their needs and desires. Your family has always been a big supporter of the local Jewish community – chairing various committees and auxiliary groups, contributing generously, and participating in services and special events. In this you have tried to set an example for the younger generation, but it seems that rather than support the Jewish community many younger Jews are supporting causes outside the community and you're concerned that civil rights will become just one more cause that prevents local Jews from taking care of their own people. You consider yourself a good Jew and a good Southerner.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Martha Tannenbaum

Martha Tannenbaum

You grew up here and then moved to New England when you went to college. After college, you stayed up North and became a school teacher. You did your part to support the war effort during WWII in the hopes that the war would be won quickly and your family members trapped in Nazi Europe would survive. Unfortunately, at the end of the war, you found out that your mother's entire family had died in the concentration camps. About five years ago, since you had never married, you moved back to town to take care of your aging mother. Fortunately, you were able to find a job teaching in the local public school. You see similarities and differences between public education in the North and in the South, but what's most important to you is that every child gets a good education. You belong to Temple Ohev Shalom because it's the temple your family belonged to when you were a child and your roots are very important to you.

Preparation for taking on the role of your character:

  1. What values (be as specific as possible) are important to your character? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  2. What are your character's experiences/concerns (be as specific as possible)? What in this description made you draw those conclusions?
  3. Based on these values and experiences/concerns, would your character support a) home hospitality for civil rights activists and/or b) members supporting the protest?
  4. Return to the documents you read earlier and identify the most relevant documents and arguments based on what you know about your fictional character.
  5. Using both what you know about your fictional character and the arguments from the documents you read earlier develop your argument for the board meeting. You may use the space below to outline your argument.

Traditional Jewish Texts

Vocabulary

Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Currently known as the Union for Reform Judaism. It is an organization that provides services to and represents Reform congregations all across North America. Its affiliates include professional organizations for rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators, and temple administrators.

Atlanta Temple Bombing

Atlanta Temple Bombing

On October 12, 1958, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple in Atlanta, GA, known simply as The Temple, was bombed. The bombing took place early in the morning and no one was injured. Claiming responsibility for the bombing, a voice identified as "General Gordon of the Confederate Underground" told a member of the press: "We bombed a temple in Atlanta. This is the last empty building in Atlanta we will bomb. All nightclubs refusing to fire their Negro employees will also be blown up. We are going to blow up all Communist organizations. Negroes and Jews are hereby declared aliens." The group is thought to have been targeting The Temple's Rabbi, who was a known supporter of civil rights. This bombing is referenced in Driving Miss Daisy.

Teacher Resources

"A Jewish View on Segregation," a 13-page pro-segregation pamphlet written by an anonymous Jewish author associated with the White Citizens Councils, is available online through the University of Southern Mississippi Digital Collections: digilib.usm.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/manu&CISOPTR=1948. You may want to consider using this document for a homework assignment or extension activity. (Note that other pamphlets dealing with segregation can also be found in the digital collection.)

Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, http://www.isjl.org/history/archive/. Includes rich encylopedia entries on individual Jewish communities across the South.

Dollinger, Marc. "Hamans and Torquemadas": Southern and Northern Jewish Responses to the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1965," (Chapter 7), Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, "Stayed on Freedom: Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and After." In Marla Brettschneider, ed. The Narrow Bridge: Jewish Views on Multiculturalism. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996).

Eli N. Evans. The Provincials. (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997.)

Schultz, Debra L. Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

Neo-Nazi demonstration
Full image
Permission granted by the American Jewish Archives. Date and location unknown.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jews and the Civil Rights Movement: the Whys and Why Nots." (Viewed on December 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/jews-and-civil-rights-movement-whys-and-why-nots>.

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