Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement, by Debra L. Schultz

Article excerpt

New York: New York University Press, 2001. 229 pp. $26.95.

Bravo! Debra Schultz's long-awaited book on the civil rights activism of women who are Jewish is an important contribution to the literature on Jews, feminism, race and the civil rights era, class struggle, and the legacy of Jewish political activism.

Schultz utilizes oral histories of fifteen Jewish women to develop her analysis. When I first read that this was her research method I was concerned. Oral history can often be a significant source of insight and information. Yet I must be honest: I had long been waiting for this book that I thought was intended to fill a gap in our understanding of Jewish women's activism, and I needed a lot out of it. There is some writing on Jews in anti-racist movements, but those studies tend to focus on Jewish men. There are some studies on women in the civil rights movement, though if Jewish women are mentioned their Jewishness is erased and they are thrown together with a cluster of white Christian women. I wanted a work that could help me to build my knowledge of Jewish women's political involvement -- how they saw themselves, how they were seen. I felt a real need to clarify the stresses on Jewish women in a time when I knew it was not easy to articulate the Jewishness of one's progressive and radical politics. We needed more research on women's agency, risk taking, commitments to causes ofjustice -- and particularly Jewish women's experiences with all of these -- at a time when the languages and conceptual frameworks of second wave feminisms were not yet at our command. In short, I wanted analysis. I wanted solid historically grounded, detailed, and nuanced analysis of Jewish women's dating, feisty, thoughtful, and caring political work. In Debra Schultz's Going South this is what I got -- and much more.

The oral histories help Schultz to develop a very careful and thoughtful understanding of the complexities of the era and complications Jewish women faced working to be a part of it. The book is not only an oral history, however. The book utilizes the oral histories in conjunction with extensive research in the literature and history of Jewish communities in the U.S. South, Jewish feminism, Jewish political activism and identity, the role of Jews in an emerging multicultural politics in the U.S., the civil rights era up to the beginning of Black Power, and the origins of mass-based mid-century anti-racist activism and coalition building. This book is a feminist analysis, steeped in the post-1970s spectrum of Jewish feminist examinations of Jewish women inside and out of the Jewish community. …