Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915

Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915

Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915

Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915

Excerpt

This study describes and analyzes the Jewish experience in a major American city during the seven decades prior to the outbreak of World War I and the disruption of mass immigration. Belonging to the genre of local Jewish history, it differs from most other works of its kind in subject, conceptualization, and methodology.

No section of the United States has received less attention from students of American Jewry than the South, and the reason is not difficult to fathom. Southern Jews have always been small in numbers, scattered, and usually distant from the major centers of American Jewish life. Consequently, they have remained on the fringe of the collective Jewish consciousness. Although approximately half of the 2,70O Jews in the United States in 1820 lived below the Mason- Dixon line, this proportion declined markedly in the face of changing patterns of immigration, settlement, and economic development. Only 14 percent of American Jews resided in the South in 1878, 5 percent in 1907, and 7 percent in 1968. And while the number of southern Jews increased during these nine decades from 32,000 to 394,000, their proportion of the region's population rose from only 0.2 to 0.7 percent. They were, as one writer recently observed, "the provincials, the Jews of the periphery . . . out there on the rim where it didn't count--for the great Jewish drama in America was being played elsewhere."

If their small numbers and distance from the major Jewish population centers account for southern Jewry's having been neglected by historians, this does not make their experience any less dramatic or interesting. Merchants in a region dominated by an agrarian . . .

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