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

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

Civil and Social Rights Efforts of Arkansas Jewry

CAROLYN GRAY LEMASTER

Carolyn Gray LeMaster traces the efforts of a series of rabbis who served in a state with a very small Jewish population. In Arkansas, as in other states where civil rights were linked with labor activities, issues of race and class were almost inseparable. Although congregants often advocated silence, one civil rights activist succeeded another, and the rabbis saw their activities mirrored by committed Jewish laypersons and by ministers from other denominations. They were never totally isolated. They worked through their pulpits to sway opinions and through ministerial associations and public boards to change policies. LeMaster demonstrates how individuals served as role models for others who consciously followed their paths. All of these support systems eased the way for reform. This essay raises a peripheral issue begging for further study. Jewish women appear to have been less reluctant to speak out than the men. Although some of the women's actions had impact on their husbands' occupations, they may have felt freer to act because repercussions were less likely. Could Jewish women have been that independent, or did their actions reflect what their husbands believed and might have done under other circumstances?

The history of Arkansas Jewry provides a revealing case study of Jewish efforts to procure social and civil rights for all peoples. This chapter presents information on the subject from the turn of the century to the 1950s and then gives an account of the Jewish involvement in integration efforts that began in 1957 with the crisis at Little Rock's Central High School.1

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