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Fight against Fear

Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights

Clive Webb

Publication Year: 2001

In the uneasily shared history of Jews and blacks in America, the struggle for civil rights in the South may be the least understood episode. Fight against Fear is the first book to focus on Jews and African Americans in that remarkable place and time. Mindful of both communities' precarious and contradictory standings in the South, Clive Webb tells a complex story of resistance and complicity, conviction and apathy.

Webb begins by ranging over the experiences of southern Jews up to the eve of the civil rights movement--from antebellum slaveowners to refugees who fled Hitler's Europe only to arrive in the Jim Crow South. He then shows how the historical burden of ambivalence between Jews and blacks weighed on such issues as school desegregation, the white massive resistance movement, and business boycotts and sit-ins.

As many Jews grappled as never before with the ways they had become--and yet never could become--southerners, their empathy with African Americans translated into scattered, individual actions rather than any large-scale, organized alliance between the two groups. The reasons for this are clear, Webb says, once we get past the notion that the choices of the much larger, less conservative, and urban-centered Jewish populations of the North define those of all American Jews. To understand Jews in the South we must look at their particular circumstances: their small numbers and wide distribution, denominational rifts, and well-founded anxiety over defying racial and class customs set by the region's white Protestant majority.

For better or worse, we continue to define the history of Jews and blacks in America by its flash points. By setting aside emotions and shallow perceptions, Fight against Fear takes a substantial step toward giving these two communities the more open and evenhanded consideration their shared experiences demand.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. C-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The completion of this book has been accompanied by a considerable expenditure of sweat and tears but, fortunately, no blood. It is a pleasure after so much time to be able to thank those people who have endured my endless requests for personal and professional...

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pp. xi-xx

On January 17,1987, Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led a small procession of demonstrators through Forsyth County, Georgia. They were there to protest the total exclusion of black residents in a county where the Ku Klux Klan had...

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1. From Slavery to Segregation

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pp. 1-22

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the racial attitudes of southern Jews were determined above all else by their relationship with the white Gentile majority. Anti-Semitism has never been a pervasive force in southern life. As a result, Jews secured widespread...

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2. Black Perceptions of Jews

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pp. 23-42

Shortly before 6 A.M. on December 20,1956, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boarded a bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, chose a seat toward the front, and sat back to enjoy the journey. After more than twelve months, the Montgomery bus boycott was...

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3. The Resurgence of Southern Anti-Semitism

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pp. 43-68

By the early 19505, Jews appeared to have carved a comfortable niche in southern society. The years immediately after the Second World War witnessed a resurgence among American Jews. After the troubled interwar era, when institutional anti-Semitism had spread throughout the United States, Jews reestablished their patriotic...

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4. Protesting against the Protesters

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pp. 69-87

If any good can come of tragedy, it is the determination that it will never happen again or, if it should, that at least one will be prepared for it. In the early twentieth century, American Jews organized a number of agencies designed to combat the resurgent forces of anti-Semitism. Founded in 1906 by a group of wealthy German Jews, the...

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5. Jewish Merchants: Caught in the Crossfire

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pp. 88-113

Since the late nineteenth century, Jews have played a prominent role in the southern retail trade. Some of the more successful merchants appear to have achieved the American dream. Having started out as poor immigrant peddlers, they eventually established...

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6. Jewish Segregationists

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pp. 114-146

Looking back on the desegregation crisis, the white liberal journalist Pat Watters observed, "One of the sadder phenomena across the South was the figure of the lonely, fearful Jew who sought to outbigot his white neighbors, not merely a member but a leader, often, in the Citizens' Councils." Council membership lists are hard...

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7. Female Reformers

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pp. 147-168

It seemed a familiar story. On March 20,1955, members from across the country assembled in New Orleans for the twenty-first annual convention of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). At an unspecified point during the proceedings, a resolution was proposed, pledging support for the immediate integration of public...

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8. The Rabbis

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pp. 169-216

In January 1956, delegates from across the southeastern states assembled in Birmingham, Alabama, for a regional meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The keynote address was delivered by Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn of Boston. As he stood before the assembled audience, Gittelsohn issued a "powerful and...

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pp. 217-220

By the early 19705, the relationship between African Americans and Jews in the South had changed. For the first time, that relationship was shaped by national rather than sectional concerns. Three factors explain this transformation....


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pp. 221-268


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pp. 269-294


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pp. 295-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780820340098
E-ISBN-10: 082034009X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820322681
Print-ISBN-10: 0820322687

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2001