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The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1920s
Edited by Mark K. Bauman and Berkley Kalin
Univ. of Alabama Press
444 pp.; $29.95
Black-Jewish relations have been strained in recent years. The African-American caucuses at several Ivy League universities invited notoriously anti-Semitic black leaders to speak on campus, inspiring passionate debate among students. Scholars and pundits bandy about wildly differing estimations of Jews' involvement in the slave trade. White supremacists, recalling segregationists of the 1950s who claimed that the NAACP was a mere front for a larger and more subversive "Jewish communist" cabal, accuse the "Jewish media" of conspiring to topple the nation's racial and social order. On the other side of the fence, some black nationalist leaders accuse Jews of claiming too much credit for the successes of the civil-rights movement. A new volume edited by Mark Bauman and Berkley Kalin, devoted to considering the role of southern rabbis in the struggles for black civil rights, promises to contribute a historically informed voice to the fracas.
One wishes the editors had not chosen to focus exclusively on rabbis. An investigation of these rabbis' congregants would have been even more fruitful. A study devoted to Jewish laypeople would be particularly valuable because an ex amination of rabbis is almost by default limited to men. The broader historiography on white southerners and the civil-rights movement indicates that white women often formed interracial alliances and took public stances deemed "racially liberal" more freely than white men; one wonders how inclusion of Jewish women would alter historians' evaluation of Jewish involvement in the struggle for black civil rights.
If most Jews and African Americans have at best a hazy notion that there was a Jewish presence in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, there is no clear popular perception of the position(s) southern Jews took toward African Americans during the ...