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

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

return to school with decency and good behavior. Their advertisement attracted national attention and evoked a letter of commendation from President Eisenhower.

Members of the clergy offered to usher the black students into the former white schools, but the director of public safety issued an order that only those adults who had official reasons to enter schools were to be permitted to do so.

While police stood twenty-four-hour guard duty at the schools, 2 February came and went. Except for a hoard of media photographers from everywhere, it proved (to everyone's relief) to be a day without incident.

Two days later I spoke to Jane Whitehill, a junior at Granby High. Janie, whom I had confirmed a year earlier, had been outspokenly integrationist when she was interviewed on Murrow's program. I asked her how integration was proceeding. Only one lone black girl had been admitted to Granby High. Janie told me that on the first day of regular classes, she and a group of her Jewish friends had entered the cafeteria and seen the black girl by herself in the cafeteria line. They invited her to join them for lunch. This evoked cries of "nigger-lover" from passersby. There seem to have been no other difficulties.

Even before our Norfolk schools reopened, I recognized that there would be die-hard segregationists in Norfolk. On 27 January I sent a letter to Governor Almond (see appendix F), and copies to our state senator and representative, urging that for the sake of peace in the public schools, qualified private schools should receive financial underwriting. I received warm acknowledgments from all three. Evidently the legislature shared my views, for one of its first enactments was to allocate $250 a year to any parent who could prove that his child was seeking private schooling to avoid integration. This law remained in force for several years until integrated schools became the norm.

That battle was not easily concluded. The city council brought countersuits, as did the commonwealth's attorney. The NAACP had to fight them in court to prevail in the long run. So far as I was aware, Norfolk's Jews accepted the integration of the schools without vocal opposition and, for the most part, with considerable relief. From then on, if the matter came up in conversation, my congregants tended to extol my role and seemed grateful for my leadership through a difficult period.

At the height of the fray I said from my pulpit, "If the South ever relaxes on interracial relations, the blacks will get a better deal in the South than in the North." That prophecy seems to have been validated when Virginia became the first state to elect a black governor.

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