Monday, April 1, 2013

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How and Why Did Jewish Involvement in the Civil Right Movement Develop?
In 1909, when four Jews were among the sixty multiracial signers of the Call to National
Action resulted in creation of the NAACP, the Yiddish newspapers on New York's Lower East
Side were already equating lynchings of African Americans in the South with pogroms against
Jews in Russia. During the next half century, organizational bonds and political cooperation
between African American and American Jewish communities gradually matured. The
culmination in 1964 was Mississippi Freedom Summer when over half of the white students
who journeyed south to fight for black voting rights are estimated to have been Jewish. Those
drawn to the civil rights movement gave diverse reasons, and selfless idealism on behalf of
others coexisted with enlightened self-interest in uprooting prejudices that also victimized
Martin Luther King, Jr., from a 1965 interview, in A Testament of Hope: The Essential
Writings (1986), p. 370:
"How could there be anti-Semitism among Negroes when our Jewish friends have
demonstrated their commitment to the principle of tolerance and brotherhood not only in the
form of sizable contributions, but in many other tangible ways, and often at great personal
sacrifice. Can we ever express our appreciation to the rabbis who chose to give moral witness
with us in St. Augustine during our recent protest against segregation in that unhappy city?
Need I remind anyone of the awful beating suffered by Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld of Cleveland
when he joined the civil rights workers there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi? And who can ever
forget the sacrifice of two Jewish lives, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, in the
swamps of Mississippi? It would be impossible to record the contribution that the Jewish
people have made toward the Negro's struggle for freedom--it has been so great."
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c. 1998 by Jew Watch

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