Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations

Unit 3, Lesson 2

Analyze how underlying rifts in the relationship between African Americans and Jews brought these groups into more overt conflict in the late 1960s, with a focus on the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school crisis and a poetry slam activity.


Enduring Understandings

  • Underlying rifts in the relationship between African Americans and Jews emerged into more overt conflict in the late 1960s.

Essential Questions

  • What were the areas of contention between Jews and African Americans and how did they manifest themselves?
  • What historical and social conditions moved Jews and African Americans towards different approaches to civil rights?
  • How did Jewish and African American feelings about their respective roles in the Civil Rights Movement change during this period?

Materials Required

  • DVD player & TV or computer & projector
  • The Jewish Americans (DVD); relevant clip begins at 54:33 and ends at 1:07:00. NOTE: This clip is not available online. You will need to obtain a copy of The Jewish Americans DVD to show your class. Check your copy of the DVD in advance to be sure these times correspond to the appropriate clip.
  • Document Study: Growing Rifts (each of the three documents is examined by a different group)
  • Optional: Poetry/Spoken Word Slam banner

Notes to Teacher

This lesson includes four components: a brief overview or review of identification between Jews and African Americans; clips from the PBS television documentary The Jewish Americans (you will need to obtain a copy of the DVD); primary source documents to be studied in small groups; and a Poetry/Spoken Word Slam activity.

If you are teaching all four components, you will need multiple class periods (or a lengthy special program) to cover all of the content and leave enough time for the Poetry/Spoken Word Slam.

Please note that the Will Maslow document included in this lesson makes several strong statements about Black Muslims. You may want to provide additional context on the National of Islam, given contemporary discourse about Islam and anti-Semitism as well as the fraught history of Jews and the National of Islam.

Introductory essay(s)

Tensions in Black-Jewish Relations

by Judith Rosenbaum, Jewish Women's Archive

Introductory Essay for Living the Legacy Unit 3, Lessons 1-3

Siblings in Oppression?

There is a long history of Black-Jewish partnership in the American Civil Rights Movement, and just as long a history of tension and misunderstandings. From the beginnings of organized civil rights activism in the early 20th century, Jews were prominent leaders, participants, and financial backers of the Movement, counting among the founders and lead supporters of organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. On the judicial path toward the advancement of civil rights, Jews played important roles as lawyers and judges.

American Jews have often felt a kinship with African Americans, based on shared minority status and the cultural memory of slavery (albeit a much more immediate history for African Americans). In the mid-20th century, certain conditions contributed to this sense of identification. The recent history of the Holocaust made many American Jews more attuned to discrimination and racism and more committed to opposing it. In addition, the widespread postwar financial success of American Jews bolstered their confidence that the American ideals of equality and meritocracy from which they had benefited could also work for African Americans, not realizing that anti-Black racism made the African American experience significantly different from the Jewish case. For their part, some African Americans, who drew strength from biblical stories of slavery and God's redemption and witnessed Jews' active commitment to civil rights, also saw Jews as partners in their struggle.

At the same time, latent tensions always existed between the two communities. Some Black people, viewing the inequality and asymmetry between the experiences of the two groups, resented Jewish feelings of moral proprietorship in the civil rights struggle. The geographic closeness of the two groups, who often shared neighborhoods (frequently as a result of the exclusion of Black and Jews from other areas) could lead to tension as well. African Americans' main contact with Jews was often in the form of landlords or shop owners, and some resented Jews for making a profit off their community. When many Jews, participating in "white flight," left inner-city neighborhoods for the suburbs and better educational opportunities for their children, their African American neighbors often felt abandoned, blamed for urban problems, and resentful that they did not have the same opportunities to move elsewhere.

These tensions sometimes took explicit shape in public anti-Semitic statements among African Americans and anti-Black statements among Jews. Jews often felt particularly betrayed by African American anti-Semitism, arguing that Black people should be more generous given Jewish support of civil rights and that African American leaders should more quickly and roundly condemn expressions of anti-Semitism in their community when such statements were made.

The Civil Rights Movement and Black Power

The latent tensions became more prominent within the Civil Rights Movement as it moved north and into the cities in the mid-1960s. In the South, Jews – despite having white privilege – clearly did not have the same power as other whites. In the North, Jews did not seem as different from other whites, and were often the ones who wielded the most power in black neighborhoods. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (known as the Kerner Commission), which investigated the causes of the 1967 race riots, found that Jews owned about 30% of the stores in Black neighborhoods like Harlem and Watts and that many of the largest stores were owned by Jews and/or had Jewish-sounding names. (See Jonathan Kaufman, Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times between Blacks and Jews in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1988., p. 137).

The mid-1960s also brought a shift within the Civil Rights Movement from a focus on integration and alliance-building to one of separatism. In 1966, SNCC and other radical civil rights groups made Black Power the new basis of their activism, calling for racial pride among African Americans and black self-determination within the Civil Rights Movement. Proponents of Black Power pointed out that Black people could not achieve true freedom unless they led the movement themselves; otherwise, white people retained a degree of power and authority over them. They emphasized the need for Black self-sufficiency, as well as Black cultural pride (e.g. "Black is Beautiful"), and encouraged white activists to work on their own issues, in some cases expelling white leaders from their organizations.

These ideas were not entirely new; Malcolm X – influenced by his conversion to the Nation of Islam, a Black separatist religious sect – had advocated a platform of separatism in the early 1960s. By the late 1960s, however, Black Power had fundamentally changed the structures and assumptions of the Civil Rights Movement and had inspired new organizations, such as the Black Panther Party, as well as a new wave of "Afro-centrism" in African American culture (as demonstrated by the use of African names, African clothing styles, "Afro" hair styles, etc.).


The Six Day War provided another spur to Black-Jewish tension. After Israel's surprising military triumph in June 1967, many American Jews experienced a surge of pride in Israel, an underdog nation that had succeeded in becoming a power to be reckoned with, and felt a new or renewed commitment to Zionism. Some African Americans also saw the Jewish state as a model for a historically oppressed people empowering themselves. At the same time, many civil rights activists began to develop a more critical approach to Israel, identifying with the Palestinians as an oppressed group seeking self-determination, and castigating Zionism as a colonial, racist movement. These tensions around Zionism came to a public head in 1977, when Andrew Young, a civil rights activist and the first African American Ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization. This meeting sparked an uproar, in which Jews were prominent among those who loudly condemned Young, and which resulted in President Carter asking Young to resign, which he did. Many felt that Jews had forced his resignation.

Ocean Hill-Brownsville

Another symbolic rupture in Black-Jewish relations was the controversy around the decentralization of Brooklyn's Ocean Hill-Brownsville schools in 1968. The city of New York had proposed decentralizing the school system by breaking it into neighborhood districts to be run by community boards. This would give parents a stake in their children's schools and make the schools more accountable to them. Ocean Hill-Brownsville – a majority African American community – was one of the three districts chosen to test decentralization. Parents, with the support of white teachers led by Sandra Feldman, a Jewish member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) union, had already been organizing in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and supported the decentralization plan (which they referred to as "community control," emphasizing that from their perspective, this was an experiment in self-determination, not just a change in bureaucratic models).

The tensions around decentralization focused primarily on the question of whether the community board had the power to hire and fire teachers without regard to the teachers' union's system of due process. Though the issue was about district decentralization and administrative protocol, the situation came to be understood as one that pitted African American interests against Jewish interests. This was in part because parents in Ocean Hill-Brownsville were concerned by the fact that the teachers were overwhelmingly white (and Jewish) and the students overwhelmingly Black and Puerto Rican. In 1967, approximately two-thirds of New York teachers, supervisors, and principals were Jewish (See Kaufman, p. 137). The community board wanted more non-white role models for the students. In May 1968, after months of tension between teachers and parents, the community board fired 19 teachers and administrators whom they perceived as most hostile to the decentralization experiment. The teachers' union, UFT, voted to go on strike until they were reinstated.

In September, the debate over decentralization erupted into further acrimony when Albert Shanker, the head of the UFT, distributed copies of an anti-Semitic leaflet that had been put into the mailboxes of teachers at the junior high school in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. The focus of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville controversy now became black anti-Semitism. The community board accused Shanker of deliberately fanning fears of anti-Semitism and defended itself against these accusations, pointing out that more than 50% of the teachers they had hired to replace the striking teachers were Jewish.

In November, after two months of strikes, the Board of Education suspended the community board, ending the experiment in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. But the debates over the role of anti-Semitism in the community continued, further enflamed by the reading of an anti-Semitic poem written by a student in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and dedicated to Albert Shanker on the radio show of Julius Lester, a black writer with a weekly show on WBAI. (Lester later converted to Judaism and became a professor of Jewish Studies.)

Affirmative Action

Another educational issue that divided some African Americans and Jews in the 1970s and beyond was affirmative action. Many Jews were wary of affirmative action programs for several reasons: having benefited from meritocracy, they believed strongly in individual merit as the basis of equality of opportunity; they had negative associations with any program that smacked of quotas, which historically had been used to exclude Jews from schools, clubs, and workplaces; and they perceived that Jews would not benefit from policies that gave preferential treatment to African Americans over whites. The case of Marco De Funis, a white Jewish man, highlighted the Jewish perspective on this issue. In 1971, De Funis was denied admission to the University of Washington Law School. He brought a suit against the school claiming that he had been the target of discrimination because other students with admission scores below the cutoff (as his were) had been admitted while he had not. The original trial found in De Funis' favor, but the Supreme Court of Washington reversed the decision. Because De Funis was Jewish and affirmative action already a heated issue in the Jewish community, the case attracted a great deal of attention from Jewish organizations and the Jewish press, with a range of viewpoints expressed both in favor and in opposition to affirmative action policies. In 1974, the case came before the Supreme Court and organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League submitted briefs supporting the original decision. (The US Supreme Court ultimately decided that the case was moot because De Funis, who had been provisionally accepted to the school while the case was pending, was about to graduate.)

Over the years, other incidents, such as Jesse Jackson's off-the-record reference to New York as "Hymietown" (using "Hymie" as a derogatory term to refer to Jews) during his 1984 presidential campaign, and the riots between Blacks and Jews in the heavily Hasidic and West Indian Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1991, have flared tensions between the two communities, provoked in Jews a mixture of anger and nostalgia about a perceived "golden age" of Black-Jewish relations, and made the subject of Black-Jewish relations one of public concern, addressed in mainstream media. Of course, some argue that there never was a real alliance, just a checkered history of connections and collaborations. But for some African Americans and Jews, this history of cooperation led to higher expectations regarding their relationships with one another than with other whites, and when those expectations were not met, the disappointments on both sides were even sharper.

Lesson plan


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  1. If you have not done the lesson Jews and African Americans: Siblings in Oppression?, explain that many American Jews identified with African Americans because they felt both groups shared a history of oppression and slavery. (Think of the song, Go Down Moses, an African American spiritual that was added to the Passover Seder in the 1960s, which became symbolic of that relationship.) Some African Americans, however, felt that there was a big difference between the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt in the biblical period and African American slavery and oppression in more recent times.


    If you already have done the lesson "Jews and African Americans: Siblings in Oppression?" review with your students what they learned in that lesson.
  2. Ask your students:
    • What is powerful about the analogy of Israelite slavery in Egypt and African American slavery in the U.S.? What "works" about this analogy for African Americans? For Jews?
    • What are some limitations of the analogy of Egyptian slavery and the African American experience?
    • Why do you think some African Americans might have resented the comparison?
  3. Explain that latent tensions between Jews and African Americans began to come to the surface in the late 1960's and the Civil Rights Movement began to fracture as African American leaders spoke of Black Power, whites (including Jews) were forced out of many civil rights organizations, Jews accused African Americans of anti-Semitism and saw the meritocracy that had worked for them threatened by affirmative action. (See essay for further details.)

Text Study: Growing Rifts

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  1. Divide your class into three groups. Give each group a different document to read and discuss. (If you have a larger class, have multiple groups examine each of the documents.)
  2. Have your students read the documents out loud in their groups and discuss the related Discussion Questions. Each group should be prepared to present their document using the Sharing Outline provided in their discussion guide.
  3. After the groups have read and discussed their documents, call them back together. Have each group present its document by sharing its answers to the following questions. (Group members can take turns answering questions; if multiple groups have the same document, ask them to come up together or split the questions below between them.)
    • Who wrote it? What audience was it written for? When was it written?
    • Share a twitter length summary of their document.
    • What was something in the document that seemed shocking?
    • What was something in the document that seems relevant today?
    • What was something in the document that no longer seems relevant today?
    After hearing the presenting group's responses, invite the other students to ask one to three additional questions of the presenting group.
  4. Guide the class in drawing (preliminary) conclusions based on what they have just learned from the three presentations. Review the following:
    • What were the areas of contention between Jews and African Americans and how did they manifest themselves?
    • What historical and social conditions moved Jews and African Americans towards different approaches to civil rights?
    • How did Jewish and African American feelings about their respective roles in the Civil Rights Movement change during this period?
    • Discuss: We have read the opinions of three people so far. Do you imagine these documents represent the majority opinion at that time? Why or why not? How can we know?

"Jewish Americans:" Growing Rifts Part II

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  1. Explain that two events that took place in New York City can be seen as a case study of what we have been discussing in class.
  2. Show your students the clip from PBS' Jewish Americans that begins at 54:33 and ends at 1:07:00. (Check your copy of the DVD in advance, to be sure these times correspond to the appropriate clip.) (David Grubin, Series Creator. The Jewish Americans, PBS, 2007.)
  3. This clip of Jewish Americans covers three areas. You may choose to show and discuss each piece separately or show and discuss the whole clip. The clip breaks down like this:
    1. 54:33 – Separation, Black Power, the idea that slavery & immigration are different
    2. 57:06 – The events of the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott
    3. 1:04:00 – Julius Lester's radio show and the poem "Jew Boy"
    Based on the issues that come up during the sharing of the three documents discussed above, choose 3-5 questions from those below to discuss with your students:
    • How would you describe what happened in the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott in your own words? (The teacher should fill in any significant details that the students left out)
    • How did the African American parents feel about the schools? What did they want to accomplish? How did the teachers feel?
    • Black Power moved from a focus on integration to a focus on self-determination. How do you think Black Power influenced the actions taken by the African American community in Ocean Hill/Brownsville? (Note to Teacher: The issues surrounding Ocean Hill/Brownsville had to do with communities taking power/responsibility for their local schools. The School Board described the new system as "decentralization" while the community described it as "Community Control.")
    • Why do you think the African American parents were surprised at being labeled anti-Semitic? Do you think their actions were anti-Semitic? Why or why not?
    • In what ways were the Jewish teachers threatened by the instituted changes? How did they react? Why do you think the Jewish teachers were surprised at being labeled racist? Do you think their actions were racist? Why or why not?
    • Which issues that were raised by the documents you read earlier can be seen in the way the Ocean Hill/Brownsville school boycott played out? If possible, reference specific documents.
    • How would you describe what happened with Julius Lester's radio show in your own words? (The teacher should fill in any significant details that the students left out.)
    • How do you think the student who wrote "Jew Boy" felt? What kind of language does the poet use that makes you think this?
    • What did Julius Lester want to accomplish by broadcasting this poem? Do you think he succeeded in his goal? Why or why not? What might he have done differently?
    • How did Jews feel about "Jew Boy"? Do you think they overreacted? How else might they have reacted?
    • What do you think the author intended with this poem? How do you think having it read on the radio impacted the way the poem was received?
    • We don't have any information on how the author felt about her poem being read on the radio. What do you imagine her reaction might have been?
    • Which issues that were raised by the documents you read earlier can be seen in Julius Lester's radio show? If possible, reference specific documents.
    • How do you think these events and feelings relate to the current relationship between Jews and African Americans today?
    You may want to let students know that Julius Lester converted to Judaism approximately fourteen years after this radio broadcast, and discuss any reactions they may have to learning that. (Note: in the next scene in The Jewish Americans, Julius Lester talks about being Jewish.)

Wrap-up: Poetry/Spoken Word Slam

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  1. Have your students come up with one word which comes to mind when they think about the documents they've read and the video they watched today.
  2. Pass out chalk/dry erase markers/markers and have as many students as possible write up their words on the board or butcher paper. If you have time you can create a graffiti wall instead. Rather than adding one word each, invite students to freely write and draw their responses to the documents and video, and then circle key words and images to use in the next part of the activity.
  3. With students' input, choose five words from the list that you think are evocative (without being too provocative).
  4. Have your students write a poem/short story/spoken word piece about the tensions that arose between blacks and Jews at the end of the 1960s. Whatever they write must include the five words from your list, (which remain up on the board/paper). Each student should be prepared to perform their work in a Class Poetry/Spoken Word Slam. (For more information about Slams and conducting one in your class, you may want to check out the following web sites:,,, and
  5. At the end of the Poetry/Spoken Word Slam, you may want to discuss with your class the issues of cultural appropriation. The idea of poetry slams and the type of poetry often performed at such events is based on African American poetry styles. Poetry Slams and Spoken Word Slams have become incresingly popular among teens and young adults of all backgrounds. Here are a few questions for discussion:
    • What kinds of cultural influences do we see in the Poetry Slam or other parts of our everyday life?
    • Where do these cultural influences come from?
    • What does this have to do with race? What does this have to do with power?
  6. Options for your Poetry/Spoken Word Slam:
    1. Depending on time, students may write their poetry/short story/spoken word in one class session and perform at the poetry/spoken word slam during the next class.
    2. Consider making, or having your students make, a Poetry/Spoken Word Slam banner that can be hung in your classroom when you hold the Slam.
    3. Consider inviting other classes and/or parents to attend your Poetry/Spoken Word Slam.
    4. Consider having students judge each others performances based on criteria you provide.
    5. Consider inviting other teachers to judge the students' performances based on criteria you provide.
    6. Students may write their poetry/short story/spoken word in class or as a homework assignment.
    7. Consider using the Poetry/Spoken Word Slam as a transition into the lesson Growing Tensions: Part II, which deals with Affirmative Action.
Document studies

Growing Rifts

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"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...

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...

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?

Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee:"The Basis of Black Power."…

"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?

Black Power Movement

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A movement that developed in the late 1960s that emphasized the need for black self-sufficiency, as well as black cultural pride. Many of its leaders believed that African Americans needed to take a more militant approach and take control of the Civil Rights Movement. This led many organizations to remove their white members and leaders.

Teacher resources

Ocean Hill-Brownsville: Unleashing American Liberalism

Kahlenberg, Richard D. “Ocean Hill-Brownsville: Unleashing American Liberalism,” New York Sun, May 8, 2008.

The Jewish Americans

Grubin, David, producer. The Jewish Americans. PBS, 2008. Clip about Freedom Summer and emergence of Black Power available at Clip about the Ocean Hill-Brownsville experiment can be found at:

Time magazine cover, Black vs. Jew: A Tragic Confrontation

Time magazine cover, “Black vs. Jew: A Tragic Confrontation,” January 31, 1969. Online image of cover and link to accompanying article.,16641,19690131,00.html. Letters to the editor in response to the article found here:,9171,838904,00.html. Note: the "Black vs. Jew" cover image appears in the Jewish Americans clip.

Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times between Blacks and Jews in America

Kaufman, Jonathan. Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times between Blacks and Jews in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Growing tensions I: Black-Jewish Relations." (Viewed on April 17, 2024) <>.