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

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

Rabbi Max Heller, Zionism, and the "Negro Question": New Orleans, 1891-1911

BOBBIE S. MALONE

Born in Europe and educated in Cincinnati, Max Heller served in a pulpit previously held by a rabbi who epitomized loyalty to the Confederacy. Bobbie Malone's carefully nuanced study shows how and why Heller's ideas gradually diverged from those of his predecessor. Heller epitomized in many ways the marginal man: a Classical Reform Jew and a Zionist; rabbi of an assimilationist congregation and an advocate of cultural pluralism; an outsider and a member of the upper strata; a proponent of the ideas of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington; a man of thought and of action. His various identities as a Jew influenced his attitude toward African Americans and, conversely, were influenced by them to the extent that it is almost impossible to separate the evolution of the two. Heller's is the story of a man struggling with definitions of race and their impact on people's lives.

New Orleanian George Washington Cable was by far the most outspoken and best known of the small band of white southerners who dissented from the increasingly hostile racial climate of the late-nineteenth-century South. Like his other racial nonconformist contemporaries in the region, Cable was a well-established, Protestant native son. Although his outstanding reputation as a writer and his status as a former Confederate soldier guaranteed him some social security, these qualities did not afford him total protection. In 1885, after the hostile reaction to The Freedman's Case in Equity and The Silent South, Cable abandoned both his home and the lonely fight for racial equality.1

No one who remained in New Orleans picked up that fallen banner. But one New Orleanian who was neither Protestant nor a native son

-21-

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