5. Redemption and the Jews in Montgomery
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5 Redemption and the Jews in Montgomery During the two hundred years of its history, Montgomery, Ala­ bama, has had only two Jewish mayors. One was a Republican, Henry E. Faber, who served from 1870 to 1875,and the other was a Democrat,Mordecai L. Moses, who served from 1875 to 1881. The Jewish identity of the two men, their party affiliation, and the fact that one succeeded the other form a little noticed but very revealing aspect of the story of Reconstruction, and it is the subject of this article. Henry Faber was born in Bavaria. He came to Ala­ bama in the late 1850s, in his early twenties, and settled in Prattville, where he sought to establish himself as a merchant. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Faber was twenty-­ four and unmarried, and so was a prime candidate for Confederate conscription . But he was also a naturalized citizen, and he apparently took his oath of allegiance to the United States very seriously. He therefore moved across the river to Montgomery and joined one of the city’s fire companies , a membership that exempted him from the draft. Shortly thereafter he married Ellnora, a native of New York, who was only seventeen. As the Confederate draft tightened, he enlisted as a private in the Montgomery Home Guard in August 1864,a position that virtually insured that he would see no action. Despite the fact that he thus became a Confederate veteran, it is clear that through­ out the war, he was quietly but decidedly hostile to the Confederate cause. When the Ala­ bama Republican Party was established in 1867, Faber at once embraced the movement and soon became a strong proponent of equal rights for the newly freed slaves.1 In the meantime,Faber had joined Montgomery’s Jewish synagogue and become an active participant.The congregation was at this time in a period of transition that was creating significant strains within it. Chartered in the spring of 1852,the congregation initially was open only to German speakers. Its constitution required that all meetings be conducted in German and all minutes and records be kept in German. But in May 1863, just as Faber was joining, the membership adopted a new constitution. Debates and records were now to be in English, and membership was opened to any Jew age Redemption and the Jews in Montgomery / 111 eighteen or over.2 Faber apparently was enthusiastic about these reforms and soon sought to push them further. In April 1866, he was elected the congregation’s treasurer and promptly offered a resolution calling the dues imposed on members “unjust and overbearing.” That summer he successfully sponsored an amendment to the 1863 constitution placing the members in six income classifications and proportioning their temple assessments accordingly. And in the fall he obtained the adoption of a regulation giving members in arrears on their assessments six months to pay before they could be expelled. These actions apparently made Faber very popu­ lar, especially with the poorer members of the congregation, and he became a leader of its reform forces. In 1868 he was elected one of its trustees.3 However, the currents of reform that had been unleashed by the new temple constitution in 1863 encountered firm resistance from more conservative elements of the membership. After repeated clashes, the congregation voted to dismiss Rabbi M. H. Myers in June 1866, and the temple was without a rabbi until the summer of 1869. Faber championed the appointment of Dr. E. B. M. Brown as rabbi, and in August 1869, he succeeded in persuading the membership to appoint Dr. Brown to a one-­ year term. But Brown lasted only six months, and in February 1870, the congregation voted to fire him.4 In Oc­ to­ ber 1870, the leader of the conservative forces, dry goods merchant Leopold Waldman, obtained a one-­ year term for Rabbi Adolph Moses, but the bitter divisions within the membership continued. At the annual temple meeting the following April, Waldman defeated the leader of the liberals, commission merchant David Weil, for vice president by two votes on the third ballot, but only after president Albert Strassburger threw out as illegal two votes that had made the first two ballots ties. In July, Rabbi Moses was given a sec­ ond one-­ year term by the margin of a single vote.5 In the meantime, Henry Faber had taken his reformist convictions into city politics. There had been a municipal election in...


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Subject Headings

  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1951-.
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