Mississippi wasn’t a prime summer vacation spot in the early 1960s. It lacked the citrus groves and sunny beaches of Florida. Mississippi wasn’t even an ideal place to live for its Black sons and daughters at that time. Hundreds of thousands had already left by the 1960s. They traded the hostility and oppression of the Magnolia state for the Midwest. You can’t fault them for that decision. Given that my maternal grandparents were among these migrants, I certainly won’t.
But while droves of Black Mississippians flooded out of the state in the Great Migration, many remained. And they continued to be denied their human and constitutional rights as American citizens. But they refused to tolerate this state of affairs. And in demonstration of the bravery of youth, dozens of college kids from the north would join them.
Their solidarity wasn’t simply in spirit. No, they hopped buses to go where the action- and the danger- was:
These kids practiced what they preached. They didn’t remain in the comfort of their homes up north, safe from the violence. They rushed headfirst into it. They joined Freedom Summer.
Two Northerners who went to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 were from New York City. Their Names were Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner.
They were Jewish.
Goodman and Schwerner, along with local Black activist, James Chaney, worked to register Black Mississippians to vote.
Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner would pay for this with their lives. All three were pulled off Highway 19 by Ku Klux Klan members who were also police officers. The three young men were beaten and murdered, their bodies disposed of in a shallow grave near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
I thought of these murders often this week, especially Goodman and Schwerner. I read comments from what I HOPE is a minor segment of the Black American community parroting the “genius” rapper’s unhinged rants about “THE JEWS.” The fact that a Black American would boil over in resentment against Jewish Americans is so tragically ill-informed.
That’s not to say Jewish Americans cannot be anti-Black. Anyone can engage in anti-Blackness; the “genius” rapper and his peers have shown this for decades! But to demonize Jewish Americans, out of all America’s “white” ethnic groups, shows an appalling level of ignorance about American history, Black American history, and the Civil Rights Movement itself.
Jewish Americans were the MOST down group for civil rights and were committed to solidarity before it was fashionable to do so. Without Jewish American activism and fundraising, the trajectory of the CRM does not look the same.
A Jewish civil rights activist, Henry Moskowitz, was among the founders of the NAACP when it was formed in 1909.
Joel Spingarn, also Jewish, served as chairman of the board of the NAACP and served a term as president as well. For decades, committed activists like them worked hand-in-hand with BlyAmericans throughout the country, laying the foundation of the grassroots movement that would later blossom into the CRM. Brown versus Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended segregation, was argued by NAACP lawyers.
The importance of the NAACP in securing civil rights for Black Americans cannot be denied. Neither can the role of Jewish Americans in our struggle. They deserve respect for being allies-not in word, but in action. At a bare minimum, they should be acknowledged for this.