The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1990s

By Mark K. Bauman; Berkley Kalin | Go to book overview

Introduction

MARK K. BAUMAN

The study of black-Jewish relations has evolved into a hotbed of controversy among historians. Virtually every aspect of the historiography is open to revision and debate as a result of the paucity of scholarly groundwork and the implications for heated contemporary discussion.1 As is frequently the case, the profession is far from immune to social biases and the problems of presentism because scholars' race, religion, politics, and other background elements often influence their interpretation.

In the broadest sense, one school of thought perceives of Jews as tending to treat African Americans more humanely than do other white groups. Likewise, African Americans are perceived as viewing Jews as a class separate from, and more moderate than, the majority of white society. The other position sees little difference between the ways Jewish and African Americans interact and the ways other ethnic groups in the United States and African Americans behave toward each other.

Actually, both camps accept the existence of gray areas and differ primarily in emphasis. For example, both recognize that some Jews took active roles in the modern civil rights movement. Disagreement revolves around whether these Jews were disproportionately represented and motivated by a prophetic mission or whether they were few, secularized, and motivated by self-interest. Was there a real "coalition," or was the coalition "mythical"? Both camps also agree that Jews participated in slavery but disagree over whether the involvement was of primary or secondary importance.

Evidence is available to support the interpretations of both camps,

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