Kevin MacDonald writes:
“This does not follow. One surely can’t argue that because one Jewish politician in one state opposed desegregation that Jews did not have a decisive influence on the Civil Rights movement in general. South Carolina by itself could not withstand the onslaught against desegregation given that the laws against segregation were national in application.”
That’s certainly true.
It would be a mistake to generalize about American Jews on the basis of one example. The Strange Career of Solomon Blatt tells us a lot though about the Southern Jewish experience. From Colonial America through the Civil Rights Movement, Southern Jews never developed into a hostile minority in the way that they did in the North.
“Throughout the desegregation crisis that beset the South after the Second World War, African Americans and Jews in the region took no united action. In the Southern states at least, there was never any alliance between the two peoples.”
In Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr. couldn’t persuade the local Jewish community to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In Birmingham, the downtown department stores which were at the center of the 1963 demonstrations were owned by Jews who had enforced the local segregation laws for generations.
In Selma, the downtown stores had names like “Cohen’s, Levy’s, and Rothschild’s,” and Selma’s Jews had produced three former mayors and seven ex-presidents of the Selma Chamber of Commerce. Jews had always been members of the Selma Country Club and had even played a role in building it.
Sheriff Joe Clark’s official spokesperson was a Jew named Sol Tepper who was a diehard segregationist. When hundreds of Northern Jews arrived in Selma to participate in the Selma-to-Montgomery March, the local Jewish community attempted to persuade them that Selma was really a nice place for Jews to live:
“Mayor Joe Smitherman remembers asking Jewish members of the chamber of commerce to arrange a meeting with Jews who had journeyed south to join the demonstrations. The merchants were encouraged “to talk them out of being arrested” and “to assure them that we aren’t that evil of a community.” A delegation was duly dispatched, including prominent businessmen Sam Barton, Jacob Bendersky, and Maurice Hollonborg, but their efforts were unsuccessful.”
In South Carolina, we have already seen that Solomon Blatt was the Speaker of the House, and he used his power to oppose the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, no one in the South Carolina legislature was more opposed to integration.
In Mississippi and Alabama, large numbers of Jews joined the Citizens’ Councils and many of those who did genuinely supported the massive resistance movement and were ardent segregationists. Alabama’s Jews supported George Wallace’s campaigns and often appeared in public with him to oppose federal intervention.
Throughout the South, Jews more or less supported the status quo or were passive bystanders to it, and there was no organized pressure coming from Jews in places like Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma, and Albany – the key battlegrounds in the Civil Rights Movement – to overthrow the South’s racial caste system.
It is certainly true that tons of Jews did come to the South to participate in the Civil Rights Movement: the Freedom Riders, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, SNCC volunteers, to work as volunteer lawyers, etc. Virtually all these Jews came from the Northern states like the Gentiles who came with them to stir up trouble.
Some of these Gentiles never went home: James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Boston; Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopalian from New Hampshire; Viola Liuzzo, a fanatic from Detroit. The entire Unitarian national convention came to Selma along with legions of Northern Protestant ministers and Northern Catholic priests.
In 1963, the Jim Crow South was a segregated island in an integrated United States. The South’s racial caste system had no parallel in the Northeast and Midwest which had been integrated since Reconstruction or in some places long before. The North’s culture at the time was boiling over with hippies and beatniks while Southern college campuses were rioting against integration.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the South during the Civil Rights Movement was more like a foreign country than part of the United States. In terms of its racial and cultural decline, the North had far more in common (in the 19C and 20C) with Great Britain and Canada, maybe even France, than the Southern states.
You could go one step further and compare the North’s relationship with the South to France’s relationship with Algeria or Britain’s relationship with Rhodesia where large numbers of Arabs and blacks fueled an unsuccessful White resistance to the insanity that had captivated the metropolitan central government.
By themselves, Southern Jews (who were a fraction of 1 percent of the population) weren’t inclined to challenge the South’s racial caste system. The South’s honor roll of race traitors – Harper Lee, Clifford and Virginia Durr, Morris Dees, Howell Raines, Frank Johnson, Paul Hemphill, these were all from Alabama – have tended to be White liberals.
The presence of so many notable White race traitors combined with the relative disinterest of Southern Jews in the Civil Rights Movement and the fact that virtually all the civil rights demonstrators (Jew or White) came from the Northern states gave White Southerners the impression that it was all the work of “outside agitators.”
Note: I should emphasize here that the author says that 80 percent of the South’s Jewish population are now transplants. None of this implies that there isn’t a Jewish problem in, say, Atlanta or South Florida in 2013.