Excerpts from panel discussion reflecting back on the civil rights era in Jackson, MI
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.
“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…”
“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.”
“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.”
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Excerpts from panel discussion reflecting back on the civil rights era in Jackson, MI." (Viewed on January 24, 2017) <https://jwa.org/media/excerpts-from-panel-discussion-reflecting-back-on-civil-rights-era-in-jackson-mississippi>.