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Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Vivian Leburg Rothstein


Vivian Leburg Rothstein was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1946. Before the rise of Nazism, her parents lived "a very artistic, romantic, European life" in Germany and Holland. An uncle sponsored their emigration to New York in 1937. Her parents separated soon after Vivian's birth and in 1952, Vivian, her mother and her sister moved to California.

Vivian Leburg demonstrated with Congress of Racial Equality in Oakland and San Francisco during her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley in 1963. Having just turned eighteen that spring, she was arrested three weeks later with 700 other people. The next fall she joined the Free Speech Movement, and by late spring, "tired of being just a participant who had to take orders from the leadership without any say in decisions," she decided to go work in Mississippi. In the summer of 1965, she went south to work with Council of Federated Organizations in Jackson, Mississippi, and participated in demonstrations that sent one thousand people to jail. Then she worked on voter registration and school integration in Leake County (which, as she noted, was next to Neshoba County, where Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney had disappeared the summer before).

Rothstein went on to do community organizing in Chicago with Students for a Democratic Society in JOIN--Jobs or Income Now project; worked with Southern Appalachian whites; traveled to Vietnam with a peace delegation, and was an early member of women's liberation in the Westside Group and Chicago Women's Liberation. After directing a large, multi-issue, nonprofit social service agency in California, she has returned to work in the labor movement. She and three good friends--Heather Tobis Booth, Amy Kesselman, and Naomi Weisstein--are working on a book about their experiences in the women's movement.


On June 30, 1965 Leburg wrote her mother:

Yesterday, I was sent to Leake County to work in the new office started there. We are out in rural Mississippi. The closest store is about 5 miles and the closest town about 25 miles. It's beautiful country, and it's quiet and green…. There is no movement around her yet, and if one starts it will be through the efforts of three of us volunteers and about four local people. The office is a tiny shack and was given to us after the man who lived in it died. Water comes from an old pump, and we use an outhouse which belongs to the family next door…

Yesterday I went into Canton with the Movement people down there and integrated a white park. It was really weird. The white people are like animals here. They hate especially us white folks, because they can't understand us at all. It was the first time I have come face to face with any white southerners besides the police. The white people were yelling at us and spitting, but we have a court order which makes the integration protected by the court, so they couldn't beat anyone up.

Vivian Leburg Rothstein with Stella and Carien Wilder, Leake County, Mississippi, 1994
Full image
Vivian Rothstein with Stella and Carien Wilder in Leake County, Mississippi, where Vivian visited them during the 1994 Freedom Summer Project 30th Anniversary Reunion. Stella housed Vivian in 1965 when she was a civil rights worker.
Courtesy of Vivan Rothstein.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Vivian Leburg Rothstein." (Viewed on October 18, 2017) <>.


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