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Growing Rifts

"Negro-Jewish Relations in the North" - Introduction

Will Maslow was a Jewish attorney and civil rights leader, and served as Director of American Jewish Congress from 1960 to 1972. This is an excerpt from his paper read at the annual meeting of the Association of Jewish Community Relations Workers on January 11, 1960. The paper deals with anti-Semitic tendencies in the African American community and the development of anti-African American tendencies in the Jewish community. Marking it "confidential," Maslow sent copies of the paper to his colleagues at American Jewish Congress, in preparation for their dinner meeting with African American leaders the following month. Though typically historians speak of the "breakdown of the black-Jewish alliance" in reference to the late 1960s, this earlier document identifies tensions between Jews and African Americans that already were present and under discussion in 1960.

Negro-Jewish Relation in the North, Excerpt on the Causes of Anti-Jewish Attitudes

…Anti-Semitic outbursts in public are like the iceberg, seven-eighths of whose bulk is concealed below the ocean surface. Our primary concern should be with the underlying attitudes which do not find their way in print.

I see three primary causes for these current anti-Jewish attitudes. Most important of all is that Negroes and Jews are economically and geographically separated. The ordinary Negro’s image of the Jew is that of an exploiter, a landlord or rent collector, an employer of domestic labor or of factory help, or a retail shopkeeper, frequently a credit merchant, whose prices are higher than those of stores outside of Negro areas. When the relationship between Negro and Jew is exclusively commercial and where inevitably there is suspicion of exploitation or sharp-dealing, one can understand the distrust, hatred and fear generated by such encounters.

Another potent generator of anti-Jewish attitudes is the new Negro Moslem or Negro nationalist movement. These “Moslems” are of course not followers of Islam and their leaders are not trying to convert their followers to Mohammedanism. This movement is essentially a nationalist drive emphasizing the African background of the Negro and repudiating Christianity as the white man’s religion. The cult does not stop here. It has become pro-Arab and openly anti-Jewish.

The third potent generator of Negro anti-Semitism is the increasing numbers, income and influence of Negroes in the North, the consequent emergence of a Negro middle class and the ensuing conflict between the new Negro business and professional man and his Jewish competitor.

Nine million Negroes or half their total number now live outside the 11 states of the deep South. The largest centers of Negro population are now in the North, not the South…

In our Northern metropolitan areas, Negroes are jammed into black ghettoes, prevented by anti-Negro restrictions from living where their income would permit. These population clusters, however, allow Negroes to elect city councilmen, judges and district leaders from among their own members and to clamor for an equitable division of patronage. Where Jews have moved from a changing neighborhood, the hold-over Jewish politician or office holder must soon give way to a Negro…

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 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...

Details

Maslow,Will. “Negro-Jewish Relations in the North,” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of Association of Jewish Community Relations Workers, January 11, 1960.) Confidential copy sent to Justine Wise Polier and others on February 19, 1960 (document from Polier’s papers at Schlesinger library).

"Negro-Jewish Relations in the North" - Discussion Questions

  1. Review: Who wrote this document? When was it written?
  2. What audience was this document written for? How might that have influenced its content and format?
  3. According to Maslow, how do some African Americans feel about Jews? What are the causes of these feelings? Explain them in your own words.
  4. What are the causes of anti-Black feelings in the Jewish community? What types of actions are these feelings translated into?
  5. In his speech, Maslow was responding to Jewish fears of Black Anti-Semitism. How might this fear have been used by Jews to cover their own racist feelings?
  6. Which of the feelings and issues expressed in this document are still relevant today? Which are no longer relevant?

Sharing Outline

Your group should be prepared to share answers to the following questions with the class as a whole and to respond to 2-3 additional questions from your classmates:

  1. Who wrote your document? What audience was it written for? When was it written?
  2. Share a twitter-length summary of your document.
  3. What was something in your document that seemed shocking?
  4. What was something in your document that seems relevant today?
  5. What was something in your document that no longer seems relevant today?

"Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White" - Introduction

In 1967, James Baldwin, an African American novelist, poet, and civil rights activist, wrote an article trying to explain why after all that Jews had done for the Civil Rights Movement some African Americans could be anti-Semitic. The document below is an excerpt from Baldwin's article, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

Negroes are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White, Excerpt on the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the African American Community

…The root of anti-Semitism among Negroes is, ironically the relationship of colored peoples – all over the globe – to the Christian world. This is a fact which may be difficult to grasp, not only for the ghetto’s most blasted and embittered inhabitants, but also for many Jews, to say nothing of many Christians. But it is a fact, and it will not be ameliorated – in fact, it can only be aggravated – by the adoption, on the part of colored people now, of the most devastating of the Christian vices.

Of course, it is true, and I am not so naïve as not to know it, that many Jews despise Negroes, even as their Aryan brothers do. (There are also Jews who despise Jews, even as their Aryan brothers do.) It is true that many Jews use, shamelessly, the slaughter of the 6,000,000 by the Third Reich as proof that they cannot be bigots – or in the hope of not being held responsible for their bigotry. It is galling to be told by a Jew whom you know to be exploiting you that he cannot possibly be doing what you know he is doing because he is a Jew. It is bitter to watch the Jewish storekeeper locking up his store for the night, and going home. Going, with your money in his pocket, to a clean neighborhood, miles from you, which you will not be allowed to enter. Nor can it help the relationship between most Negroes and most Jews when part of this money is donated to civil rights. In the light of what is now known as the white backlash, this money can be looked on as conscience money merely, as money given to keep the Negro happy in his place, and out of white neighborhoods.

… In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man – for having become, in effect, a Christian. The Jew profits from his status in America, and he must expect Negroes to distrust him for it. The Jew does not realize that the credential he offers, the fact that he has been despised and slaughtered, does not increase the Negro’s understanding. It increases the Negro’s rage...

Details

Baldwin, James. "Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White," New York Times Magazine, 9 April 1967.

"Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White" - Discussion Questions

  1. Review: Who wrote this document? When was it written?
  2. What audience was this document written for? How might that have influenced its content and format?
  3. According to Baldwin, how do some African Americans feel about Jews? What are the causes of these feelings? How does Baldwin's language help communicate these feelings?
  4. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was a sense that Jews and African Americans were in this fight together. How does Baldwin's article expose the undercurrents of separateness that existed between the two communities?
  5. Some activists cite the Holocaust as a reason they got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Based on the article, how does Baldwin view Jews' "use" of the Holocaust? What is your reaction to what he says?
  6. The title of Baldwin's article suggests that African Americans see Jews as "white people" first and only then as Jews. How do you think this compares with how Jewish people saw themselves during the Civil Rights Movement? How do you think American Jews see themselves today? How do you think other minority groups (Latinos, Muslims, etc.) in America today see Jews? (See Unit 1, Lesson 1 for information and activities relating to the characterization of American Jews as "white folks" and to the racial and ethnic diversity of American Jews.)
  7. Which of the causes of anti-Jewish feeling described by Baldwin do you think still exist today among some African Americans? Among some members of other minority groups? Among some Jews?
  8. Some of you may have been surprised that this article appeared in the New York Times Magazine. Why do you or don't you think this issue was "worthy" of national news coverage at the time? Do you think black-Jewish relations should be covered by national press today? Why or why not?

Sharing Outline

Your group should be prepared to share answers to the following questions with the class as a whole and to respond to 2-3 additional questions from your classmates:

  1. Who wrote your document? What audience was it written for? When was it written?
  2. Share a twitter-length summary of your document.
  3. What was something in your document that seemed shocking?
  4. What was something in your document that seems relevant today?
  5. What was something in your document that no longer seems relevant today?

"The Basis of Black Power" - Introduction

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC – pronounced "snick") was founded at Shaw University in North Carolina in 1960. SNCC played a major role in the civil rights movement, organizing and participating in many projects including Freedom Ride, Freedom Summer, and the March on Washington. Though originally working towards a goal of integration, in the mid-1960s many SNCC leaders began to promote a new focus on Black Power. In 1966, SNCC published a position paper on Black Power, an excerpt of which appears here.

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Position Paper: The Basis of Black Power, Excerpt

If people must express themselves freely, there has to be a climate in which they can do this. If blacks feel intimidated by whites, then they are not liable to vent the rage that they feel about whites in the presence of whites--especially not the black people whom we are trying to organize, i.e., the broad masses of black people. A climate has to be created whereby blacks can express themselves. The reasons that whites must be excluded is not that one is anti-white, but because the effects that one is trying to achieve cannot succeed because whites have an intimidating effect. Ofttimes, the intimidating effect is in direct proportion to the amount of degradation that black people have suffered at the hands of white people.

Roles of Whites and Blacks
It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest. The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of change seem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and saying that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.

…What does it mean if black people, once having the right to organize, are not allowed to organize themselves? It means that blacks’ ideas about inferiority are being reinforced. Shouldn’t people be able to organize themselves? Blacks should be given this right. Further, white participation means in the eyes of the black community that whites are the “brains” behind the movement, and that blacks cannot function without whites. This only serves to perpetuate existing attitudes within the existing society, i.e., blacks are “dumb,” “unable to take care of business,” etc. Whites are “smart,” the “brains” behind the whole thing…

Black Self-Determination
The charge may be made that we are “racists,” but whites who are sensitive to our problems will realize that we must determine our own destiny.

In an attempt to find a solution to our dilemma, we propose that our organization (SNCC) should be black-staffed, black-controlled, and black-financed. We do not want to fall into a similar dilemma that other civil rights organizations have fallen into. If we continue to rely upon white financial support we will find ourselves entwined in the tentacles of the white power complex that controls this country. It is also important that a black organization (devoid of cultism) be projected to our people so that it can be demonstrated that such organizations are viable…

It means previous solutions to black problems in this country have been made in the interests of those whites dealing with these problems and not in the best interests of black people in the country. Whites can only subvert our true search and struggles for self-determination, self-identification, and liberation in this country. Reevaluation of the white and black roles must now take place so that white no longer designate roles that black people play but rather black people define white people’s roles.

Too long have we allowed white people to interpret the importance and meaning of the cultural aspects of our society. We have allowed them to tell us what was good about our Afro-American music, art, and literature. How many black critics do we have on the “jazz” scene? How can a white person who is not part of the black psyche (except in the oppressor’s role) interpret the meaning of the blues to us who are manifestations of the song themselves?

Details

Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee:"The Basis of Black Power."
http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/sixties/HTML_docs/Resources/Primary/Manife...

"The Basis of Black Power" - Discussion Questions

  1. Review: Who wrote this document? When was it written?
  2. What audience was this document written for? How might that have influenced its content and format?
  3. What emotions do some African Americans feel? How are these emotions expressed in this document? Do you think Jews would have been surprised by these feelings?
  4. What tensions between African Americans and whites existed at this time? What evidence can you find of these tensions in this document?
  5. Near the beginning of the document the author states that African Americans are not "anti-white." Based on this source, do you agree or disagree? What is your evidence?
  6. What role does SNCC want to see whites play? What role does SNCC want to see blacks play? How are these roles different from the roles white and blacks have been playing in the Civil Rights Movement up to this point? How do you think many whites (including Jews) may have felt about these new roles?
  7. Black Power was a new way for African Americans to respond to the tensions they felt in the Civil Rights Movement. What is new and/or different about the actions and policies suggested in SNCC's position paper?

Sharing Outline

Your group should be prepared to share answers to the following questions with the class as a whole and to respond to 2-3 additional questions from your classmates:

  1. Who wrote your document? What audience was it written for? When was it written?
  2. Share a twitter-length summary of your document.
  3. What was something in your document that seemed shocking?
  4. What was something in your document that seems relevant today?
  5. What was something in your document that no longer seems relevant today?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Growing Rifts." (Viewed on July 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/documentstudies/growing-rifts>.

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