Unlike most other documented southern communities with a Jewish presence, Durham lacked a long-term and powerful German Reform base. Evolving from East European labor-class roots, many members of the Jewish community interacted directly with African Americans of equal or higher status. Durham's uniqueness was compounded further by the introduction of transplanted Jewish intellectuals into the local university ranks. In this maelstrom all sorts of variations appeared: bilateral coalitions, Orthodox and Conservative activism, reticence to act, Jewish / black political and business leadership. The economic history of the city and common class interests served as major factors in the relations among Jews, blacks, and the general community.
The Jews of Durham, North Carolina, occupied a middle ground between the African American and white Christian communities. Though Jews did not suffer the legally sanctioned, racial prejudice accorded blacks, their religion and foreign origins cast them as outsiders. The Jews' history of poverty and discrimination made many Jews sympathetic to blacks, but they were cautious to express that sentiment. Though they acceded to the racial codes, Jews in their personal relations with African Americans often sought to ameliorate the harsher aspects of segregation. A few Jews became civil rights activists, but none joined the rabid segregationists. Jews tended to be racial moderates, and Durham's rabbis reflected these community values.
Relations between Jews and blacks in Durham were in large measure shaped by the city's economic history. Durham, which was not incorporated until 1869, was the prototypical New South city. In the postbel