Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

From Swastika to Jim Crow

navigation

Broadcast Schedule

Discussion Guide

Get the Video

ITVS


Black-Jewish Relations Pages: 1 | 2

Statue of Liberty The segregationists and racists make no fine distinction between the Negro and the Jew. - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The story of Black-Jewish relations in the United States is a long and complex one.... Jews were among those who worked to establish the NAACP in 1909. African-American newspapers were among the first in the U.S. to denounce Nazism.... FROM SWASTIKA TO JIM CROW creates hope and reminds us of a time in U.S. history when the two communities came together.
- David Horowitz, Washington Review


In the year 2001, the tension between Blacks and Jews remains a visible symbol of America's racial divide. The history of this relationship is a tumultuous one, ironically full of ugly twists and turns interspersed with moments of real human transcendence.

Shared Empathy
Since the time of slavery, Blacks have in some ways identified with the Jewish experience. They compared their situation in the American South to that of the Jews in Egypt, as expressed in Black spirituals such as "Go Down, Moses." The longing for their own exodus inspired the popularity of "Zion" in the names of many Black churches. Black nationalists used the Zionist movement as a model for their own Back-to-Africa movement.

lynching
Public lynching of Blacks in the South

Dachau concentration camp
A group of American editors and publishers in Dachau are shown the corpses of prisoners during an inspection of the camp
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

Over the years Jews have also expressed empathy with the plight of Blacks. In the early 1900s, Jewish newspapers drew parallels between the Black movement out of the South and the Jews' escape from Egypt, pointing out that both Blacks and Jews lived in ghettos, and calling anti-Black riots in the South "pogroms". Stressing the similarities rather than the differences between the Jewish and Black experience in America, Jewish leaders emphasized the idea that both groups would benefit the more America moved toward a society of merit, free of religious, ethnic and racial restrictions.

From the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks and Jews marched arm-in-arm. In 1909, W.E.B. Dubois, Julius Rosenthal, Lillian Wald, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, Stephen Wise and Henry Malkewitz formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). One year later other prominent Jewish and Black leaders created the Urban League. Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington worked together in 1912 to improve the educational system for Blacks in the South.

Thus, in the 1930s and '40s when Jewish refugee professors arrived at Southern Black Colleges, there was a history of overt empathy between Blacks and Jews, and the possibility of truly effective collaboration. Professor Ernst Borinski organized dinners at which Blacks and Whites would have to sit next to each other - a simple yet revolutionary act. Black students empathized with the cruelty these scholars had endured in Europe and trusted them more than other Whites. In fact, often Black students - as well as members of the Southern White community - saw these refugees as "some kind of colored folk."

The unique relationship that developed between these teachers and their students was in some ways a microcosm of what was beginning to happen in other parts of the United States. The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League were central to the campaign against racial prejudice. Jews made substantial financial contributions to many civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. About 50 percent of the civil rights attorneys in the South during the 1960s were Jews, as were over 50 percent of the Whites who went to Mississippi in 1964 to challenge Jim Crow Laws.

More...



Story | Black-Jewish Relations | Racism | Black Colleges | Lessons | Talkback | Film | Resources | ITVS
From Swastika to Jim Crow resources the film talkback lessons learned black colleges racism in Europe and the U.S. the story