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

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

"Hamans" and "Torquemadas": Southern and Northern Jewish Responses to the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1965

MARC DOLLINGER

Marc Dollinger offers a problematic view of Jewish participation in the struggle for black civil rights, reflecting the interpretations of Leonard Dinnerstein and especially John Bracey, Jr., and August Meier. In this view, although some northern and southern Jews participated actively in a positive way, most adapted to the racial mores of their time and place and strove first and foremost for acceptance. Reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dollinger implies that those who believed in racial justice and yet remained largely silent were perhaps as much if not more of the problem than the outright racists. What is the responsibility of those who remain silent out of fear or simply apathy? This is a question of strategy as well as values and deserves further scrutiny.

In 1963, at the height of the civil rights movement, Rabbi Richard Winograd, interim director of University of Chicago Hillel, journeyed to Birmingham, Alabama, to protest racial segregation. Local African American leaders hailed the rabbi as a man committed to high moral ideals, but the Jewish community opposed Winograd's effort and criticized him for his high-publicity venture. "I had the feeling," the rabbi explained in reference to two great villains in Jewish history, "that we somehow were the Hamans and Torquemadas" to southern Jews.1

Although one might expect a spiritual leader to admonish his southern coreligionists for their stand on civil rights, Winograd refused. "I was not fully convinced," he explained, "that we had a right to place the Jewish community of Birmingham in a more dangerous position than we are willing and able to place ourselves." From a moral point of view the rabbi believed "the scales were very even." Instead of lamenting

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