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African American–Jewish relations

African Americans and Jewish Americans have interacted throughout much of the history of the United States. This relationship has included widely publicized cooperation and conflict, and—since the 1970s—has been an area of significant academic research.[1][2][3] Cooperation during the Civil Rights Movement was strategic and significant, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The relationship has also featured conflict and controversy related to such topics as the Black Power movement, Zionism, affirmative action, and the antisemitic canard concerning the alleged role of American and Caribbean-based Jews in the Atlantic slave trade.


Early 20th centuryEdit

During the colonial era, Jewish immigrants to British America were generally merchants from London. They settled in cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, generally becoming part of local societies. They were slaveholders when that was the local practice.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe immigrated to the U.S. for social and economic opportunities due to the widespread pogrom in their homelands. They mainly settled in cities across the Northeast and Midwest where manufacturing industries were in dire need of workers, such as New York City, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Jewish immigrants entered northeastern and midwestern cities in the same period when blacks were migrating in the hundreds of thousands from the rural South in the Great Migration; Jews and blacks had a greater variety of encounters, and these were markedly different in urban northern centers and agricultural southern areas.

In the early 1900s, Jewish newspapers drew parallels between the Black movement out of the South and the Jews' escape from Egypt, pointing out that both Blacks and Jews lived in ghettos, and calling anti-Black riots in the South "pogroms". Stressing the similarities rather than the differences between the Jewish and Black experience in America, Jewish leaders emphasized the idea that both groups would benefit the more America moved toward a society of merit, free of religious, ethnic and racial restrictions.[4]

The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League were central to the campaign against racial prejudice. Jews made substantial financial contributions to many civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. About 50 percent of the civil rights attorneys in the South during the 1960s were Jews, as were over 50 percent of the Whites who went to Mississippi in 1964 to challenge Jim Crow Laws.[4]

Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) was an early promoter of pan-Africanism and African redemption, and led the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. His push to celebrate Africa as the original homeland of African Americans, led many Jews to compare Garvey to leaders of Zionism.[5] An example of this was that Garvey wanted World War I peace negotiators to turn over former German colonies in southwest Africa to blacks. In that period stressing self-determination for former colonies, Zionists were promoting a "return of Jews" after 2,000 years to the historic homeland of Israel.[5] At the same time, Garvey regularly criticized Jews in his columns in his newspaper Negro World, for allegedly trying to destroy the black population of America.[6]

The much publicized lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew, in Georgia in 1915 by a mob of Southerners caused many Jews to "become acutely conscious of the similarities and differences between themselves and blacks." Some had an increased sense of solidarity with blacks, as the trial exposed widespread antisemitism in Georgia.[7] The trial also pitted Jews against blacks because Frank's defense attorneys suggested black janitor Jim Conley was guilty of the murder of the white girl. They called him a "dirty, filthy, black, drunken, lying, nigger."[8] Many historians since the late 20th century have concluded that Jim Conley did murder Phagan.[9][10]

In the early 20th century, Jewish daily and weekly publications frequently reported on violence against blacks, and often compared the anti-black violence in the South to the pogroms endured by Jews in the Russian Empire. They were inspired by principles of justice, and by a desire to change racist policies in United States.[11] During this period, the leaders of American Jewry expended time, influence and their economic resources for black endeavors, supporting civil rights, philanthropy, social service, and organizing. Historian Hasia Diner notes that "they made sure that their actions were well publicized" as part of an effort to demonstrate increasing Jewish political clout.[12]

Julius Rosenwald was a Jewish philanthropist who donated a large part of his fortune to supporting education of blacks in the South by providing matching funds for construction of schools in rural areas.[13] Jews played a major role in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its early decades. Jews involved in the NAACP included Joel Elias Spingarn (the first chairman), Arthur B. Spingarn, and founder Henry Moskowitz. More recently, Jack Greenberg was a leader in the organization.[14]

Shopkeeper and landlord relationshipsEdit

Following the Civil War, Jewish shop-owners and landlords engaged in business with black customers and tenants, often filling a need where white business owners would not venture. This was true in most regions of the South, where Jews were often merchants in its small cities, as well as northern urban cities such as New York, where they settled in high numbers. Jewish shop-owners tended to be more civil than other whites to black customers, treating them with more dignity.[15] Blacks often had more immediate contact with Jews than with other whites.[16]

In 1903, black historian W. E. B. Du Bois interpreted the role of Jews in the South as successors to the slave-barons:

The Jew is the heir of the slave-baron in Dougherty [County, Georgia]; and as we ride westward, by wide stretching cornfields and stubby orchards of peach and pear, we see on all sides within the circle of dark forest a Land of Canaan. Here and there are tales of projects for money-getting, born in the swift days of Reconstruction,—"improvement" companies, wine companies, mills and factories; nearly all failed, and the Jew fell heir.[17][a]

Black novelist James Baldwin (1924–1987) grew up in Harlem in the years between the world wars. He wrote,

[I]n Harlem.... our ... landlords were Jews, and we hated them. We hated them because they were terrible landlords and did not take care of the buildings. The grocery store owner was a Jew... The butcher was a Jew and, yes, we certainly paid more for bad cuts of meat than other New York citizens, and we very often carried insults home along with our meats... and the pawnbroker was a Jew—perhaps we hated him most of all.[16][20][21]

Baldwin wrote other accounts of Jews that were more sympathetic.

The first white man I ever saw was the Jewish manager who arrived to collect the rent, and he collected the rent because he did not own the building. I never, in fact, saw any of the people who owned any of the buildings in which we scrubbed and suffered for so long, until I was a grown man and famous. None of them were Jews. And I was not stupid: the grocer and the druggist were Jews, for example, and they were very very nice to me, and to us... I knew a murderer when I saw one, and the people who were trying to kill me were not Jews.[22]

Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested that some black anti-Semitism arose from the tensions of landlord-tenant relations:

When we were working in Chicago, we had numerous rent strikes on the West Side, and it was unfortunately true that, in most instances, the persons we had to conduct these strikes against were Jewish landlords... We were living in a slum apartment owned by a Jew and a number of others, and we had to have a rent strike. We were paying $94 for four run-down, shabby rooms, and .... we discovered that whites ... were paying only $78 a month. We were paying 20 percent tax.

The Negro ends up paying a color tax, and this has happened in instances where Negroes actually confronted Jews as the landlord or the storekeeper. The irrational statements that have been made are the result of these confrontations.[23]


Jewish producers in the United States entertainment industry produced many works on black subjects in the film industry, Broadway, and the music industry. Many portrayals of blacks were sympathetic, but historian Michael Rogin has discussed how some of the treatments could be considered exploitative.[24]

Rogin also analyzes the instances when Jewish actors, such as Al Jolson, portrayed blacks in blackface. He suggests that these were deliberately racist portrayals but adds that they were also expressions of the culture at the time. Blacks could not appear in leading roles in either the theatre or in movies: "Jewish blackface neither signified a distinctive Jewish racism nor produced a distinctive black anti-Semitism".[25]

Jews often interpreted black culture in film, music, and plays. Historian Jeffrey Melnick argues that Jewish artists such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin (composer of Porgy and Bess) created the myth that they were the proper interpreters of Black culture, "elbowing out 'real' Black Americans in the process." Despite evidence from Black musicians and critics that Jews in the music business played an important role in paving the way for mainstream acceptance of Black culture, Melnick concludes that, "while both Jews and African-Americans contributed to the rhetoric of musical affinity, the fruits of this labor belonged exclusively to the former."[26][27]

Black academic Harold Cruse viewed the arts scene as a white-dominated misrepresentation of black culture, epitomized by works like George Gershwin's folk opera, Porgy and Bess.[28][29]

Some blacks have criticized Jewish movie producers for portraying blacks in a racist manner. In 1990, at an NAACP convention in Los Angeles, Legrand Clegg, founder of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation, a pressure group that lobbied against negative screen images of African Americans, alleged:

[T]he century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood denies blacks access to positions of power in the industry and portrays blacks in a derogatory manner: "If Jewish leaders can complain of black anti-Semitism, our leaders should certainly raise the issue of the century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood.... No Jewish people ever attacked or killed black people. But we're concerned with Jewish producers who degrade the black image. It's a genuine concern. And when we bring it up, our statements are distorted and we're dragged through the press as anti-Semites.[30][31]

Professor Leonard Jeffries echoed those comments in a 1991 speech at the Empire State Plaza Black Arts & Cultural Festival in Albany, New York. Jeffries said that Jews controlled the film industry, using it to paint a negative stereotype of blacks.[32][33]

Civil rights movementEdit

Cooperation between Jewish and African-American organizations peaked after World War II—sometimes called the "golden age" of the relationship.[34] Leaders of each group joined in an effective movement for racial equality in the United States, and Jews funded and led some national civil rights organizations.[35] This era of cooperation culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial or religious discrimination in schools and other public facilities, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices and authorized the government to oversee and review state practices.

According to historian Greenberg, "It is significant that ... a disproportionate number of white civil rights activists were [Jewish] as well. Jewish agencies engaged with their African American counterparts in a more sustained and fundamental way than did other white groups largely because their constituents and their understanding of Jewish values and Jewish self-interest pushed them in that direction."[36]

The extent of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement often correlated with their branch of Judaism: Reform Jews participated more frequently than did Orthodox Jews. Many Reform Jews were guided by values reflected in the Reform branch's Pittsburgh Platform, which urged Jews to "participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society."[37]

Religious leaders such as rabbis and Baptist ministers from black churches often played key roles in the civil rights movement, including Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Selma to Montgomery marches. Sixteen Jewish leaders were arrested while heeding a call from King to march in St. Augustine, Florida, in June 1964. It was the occasion of the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history, which took place at the Monson Motor Lodge.[38] Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, wrote Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jewish Community (1999), recounting the historic relationship between African and Jewish Americans as a way to encourage a return to strong ties following years of animosity that reached its apex during the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn, New York.[39]

Northern and Western Jews often supported desegregation in their communities and schools, even at the risk of diluting their close-knit Jewish communities, which often were a critical component of Jewish life.[40]

Murder of Jewish civil rights activistsEdit

The summer of 1964 was designated the Freedom Summer, and many Jews from the North and West traveled to the South to participate in a concentrated voter registration effort. Two Jewish activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, and one black activist, James Chaney, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi, as a result of their participation. Their deaths were considered martyrdom by some, and temporarily strengthened black-Jewish relations.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1965,

How could there be anti-Semitism among Negroes when our Jewish friends have demonstrated their commitment to the principle of tolerance and brotherhood not only in the form of sizable contributions, but in many other tangible ways, and often at great personal sacrifice. Can we ever express our appreciation to the rabbis who chose to give moral witness with us in St. Augustine during our recent protest against segregation in that unhappy city? Need I remind anyone of the awful beating suffered by Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld of Cleveland when he joined the civil rights workers there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi? And who can ever forget the sacrifice of two Jewish lives, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, in the swamps of Mississippi? It would be impossible to record the contribution that the Jewish people have made toward the Negro's struggle for freedom—it has been so great.[41]

Questioning the "golden age"Edit

Some recent scholarship suggests that the "golden age" (1955–1966) of the black–Jewish relationship was not as ideal as it is often portrayed.

Philosopher and activist Cornel West asserts that there was no golden age in which "blacks and Jews were free of tension and friction". West says that this period of black–Jewish cooperation is often downplayed by blacks and romanticized by Jews: "It is downplayed by blacks because they focus on the astonishingly rapid entry of most Jews into the middle and upper middle classes during this brief period—an entry that has spawned... resentment from a quickly growing black impoverished class. Jews, on the other hand, tend to romanticize this period because their present status as upper middle dogs and some top dogs in American society unsettles their historic self-image as progressives with a compassion for the underdog."[42]

Historian Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz points out that the number of non-Southern Jews that went to the southern states numbered only a few hundred, and that the "relationship was frequently out of touch, periodically at odds, with both sides failing to understand each other's point of view."[43]

Political scientist Andrew Hacker wrote: "It is more than a little revealing that whites who travelled south in 1964 referred to their sojourn as their 'Mississippi summer'. It is as if all the efforts of the local blacks for voter registration and the desegregation of public facilities had not even existed until white help arrived... Of course, this was done with benign intentions, as if to say 'we have come in answer to your calls for assistance'. The problem was... the condescending tone... For Jewish liberals, the great memory of that summer has been the deaths of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and—almost as an afterthought—James Chaney. Indeed, Chaney's name tends to be listed last, as if the life he lost was worth only three fifths of the others."[44]

Southern Jews in the civil rights movementEdit

The vast majority of civil rights activism by American Jews was undertaken by Jews from the northern and western states. Jews from the southern states engaged in virtually no organized activity on behalf of civil rights.[45][46] This lack of participation was puzzling to some northern Jews, due to the "inability of the northern Jewish leaders to see that Jews, before the battle for desegregation, were not generally victims in the South and that the racial caste system in the south situated Jews favorably in the Southern mind, or 'whitened' them."[40] However, there were some southern Jews who participated in civil rights activity as individuals.[46][47]

Recent decades have shown a greater trend for southern Jews to speak out on civil rights issues, as shown by the 1987 marches in Forsyth County, Georgia.[48]

Black power movementEdit

From 1966, the collaboration between Jews and blacks started to unravel. Jews were increasingly transitioning to middle-class and upper-class status, distancing themselves from blacks. At the same time, many black leaders, including some from the Black Power movement, became outspoken in their demands for greater equality, often criticizing Jews along with other white targets.[49]

In 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) voted to exclude whites from its leadership, a decision that resulted in the expulsion of several Jewish leaders.[35][50]

In 1967, black academic Harold Cruse attacked Jewish activism in his 1967 volume The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual in which he argued that Jews had become a problem for blacks precisely because they had so identified with the Black struggle. Cruse insisted that Jewish involvement in interracial politics impeded the emergence of "Afro-American ethnic consciousness". For Cruse, as well as for other black activists, the role of American Jews as political mediator between Blacks and whites was "fraught with serious dangers to all concerned" and must be "terminated by Negroes themselves."[51]

Black Hebrew IsraelitesEdit

The Hebrew Israelite group ISUPK, Passover, Harlem, 2012.

Black Hebrew Israelites are groups of people, mostly of Black American ancestry situated mainly in the Americas who claim to be descendants of the ancient Israelites.[52] Black Hebrews adhere in varying degrees to the religious beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism. They are generally not accepted as Jews by Orthodox or Conservative Jews, nor are they accepted by the greater Jewish community, due to their degree of divergence from mainstream Judaism.[53]

Many Black Hebrews consider themselves—and not Jews—to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites.[54] Some groups identify themselves as Hebrew Israelites, other groups identify themselves as Black Hebrews, and other groups identify themselves as Jews.[55][56][57][58] Dozens of Black Hebrew groups were founded in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[59]

Labor movementEdit

Herbert Hill (second from right), labor director of NAACP, with Thurgood Marshall (second from left)

The labor movement was another area of the relationship that flourished before WWII, but ended in conflict afterwards. In the early 20th century, one important area of cooperation was attempts to increase minority representation in the leadership of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). In 1943, Jews and blacks joined to request the creation of a new department within the UAW dedicated to minorities, but that request was refused by UAW leaders.[60]

In the immediate post-World War II period, the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), which was founded in February 1934 to oppose the rise of Nazism in Germany, formed approximately two dozen local committees to combat racial intolerance in the U.S and Canada. The JLC, which had local offices in a number of communities in North America, helped found the United Farm Workers and campaigned for the passage of California's Fair Employment Practices Act, and provided staffing and support for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King Jr, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.[61]

Beginning in early 1962, allegations were made by NAACP labor director Herbert Hill that since the 1940s, the JLC had also defended the anti-black discriminatory practices of unions in both the garment and building industries.[62][63] Hill claimed that the JLC changed "a black white conflict into a Black-Jewish conflict".[62] He said the JLC defended the Jewish leaders of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) against charges of anti-black racial discrimination, distorted government reports about discrimination, failed to tell union members the truth, and when union members complained, the JLC labeled them antisemites.[64] ILGWU leaders denounced Black members for demanding equal treatment and access to leadership positions.[64]

The New York City teachers' strike of 1968 also signaled the decline of black-Jewish relations: the Jewish president of the United Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, made statements that were seen by some as straining black-Jewish relations by accusing black teachers of antisemitism.[65]

Criticism of ZionismEdit

After his retirement, professional boxer Muhammad Ali publicly opposed Zionism.[66]

After Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six-Day War, some American blacks supported the Palestinians and criticized Israel's actions, for example by publicly supporting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.[35] Some, such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, also criticized the Zionist movement.[66][67]

Immediately after the war, the editor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) newsletter wrote an article criticizing Israel, and asserting that the war was an effort to regain Palestinian land and that during the 1948 war, "Zionists conquered the Arab homes and land through terror, force, and massacres". This article led to conflict between Jews and the SNCC, but black SNCC leaders treated the war as a "test of their willingness to demonstrate SNCC's break from its civil rights past".[68]

The concerns of blacks continued, and in 1993, black philosopher Cornel West wrote in Race Matters: "Jews will not comprehend what the symbolic predicament and literal plight of Palestinians in Israel means to blacks.... Blacks often perceive the Jewish defense of the state of Israel as a second instance of naked group interest, and, again, an abandonment of substantive moral deliberation."[69]

The support of Palestinians is frequently due to the consideration of them as people of color—Andrew Hacker writes: "The presence of Israel in the Middle East is perceived as thwarting the rightful status of people of color. Some blacks view Israel as essentially a white and European power, supported from the outside, and occupying space that rightfully belongs to the original inhabitants of Palestine."[70] Martin Luther King Jr. criticized this position at the 68th Annual Rabbinical Assembly for Conservative Judaism, "On the Middle East crisis, we have had various responses. The responses of the so-called young militants does not represent the position of the vast majority of Negroes. There are some who are color consumed and see a kind of mystique in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned. We do not follow that course in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and certainly most of the organizations in the civil rights movement do not follow that course."[71]

Affirmative actionEdit

Many blacks have supported government and business affirmative action, while many Jews have not, preferring merit-based systems. Historians believe that this difference contributed to the decline of the black-Jewish alliance in the 1970s, when blacks began seeking ways to build on the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.[35][72][73] As blacks continued to face widespread discrimination and struggled to make progress in society, they began to develop an increasing militancy. Greenberg believes that this increased resentment and fear among Jews.[49]

Herbert Hill's survey of affirmative-action lawsuits found that Jewish organizations have generally opposed affirmative-action programs.[74] A widely publicized example of the black-Jewish conflict arose in the 1978 affirmative action case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when black and Jewish organizations took opposing sides in the case of a white student who sued for admission, claiming that he was unfairly excluded by affirmative action programs.[75]

Anti-Semitism among African AmericansEdit

Some leaders of the black community have publicly made anti-Semitic comments, expressing anti-Semitic opinions held by a wider circle of some blacks, accusing Jews of over-aggressiveness in business relations, loyalty to Israel (rather than loyalty to the United States), alleged participation in the slave trade, and economic oppression.[76] Some analysts attribute black anti-Semitism to resentment or envy "directed at another underdog who has 'made it' in American society".[77]

Black activist Sufi Abdul Hamid led boycotts in 1935 during the Great Depression against certain Harlem merchants and establishments (often owned by Jewish proprietors) which he claimed discriminated against blacks. Some Jews accused him of anti-Semitism for these activities.[78][79]

In 1984 presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young made anti-Semitic comments, which were widely publicized. These remarks were thought to have extended the era of African-American and Jewish distrust into the 1980s.[35][80][81]

In 1991 in Brooklyn, a black mob involved in the Crown Heights riot killed Yankel Rosenbaum, an Orthodox Jew, after a car driven by Jews hit and killed a black girl in the neighborhood. Some commentators believed that the unrest was related to anti-Semitism. The two ethnic groups live in close proximity to each other in this neighborhood, and the Orthodox Jewish community has been expanding.[82]

During the 1990s, anti-Semitism became widespread in the black communities on college campuses, where new historical studies revealed more data on Jewish participation in the slave trade, with some commentators claiming that they had dominated it.[83] Prof. Leonard Jeffries of the City College of New York was a proponent of this idea, but his conclusions have been disputed by major African-American historians of the slave trade, including David Brion Davis.

According to surveys begun in 1964 by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, African Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to hold antisemitic beliefs. There is a strong correlation between higher education levels and the rejection of anti-Semitic stereotypes for all races. Black Americans of all education levels are significantly more likely than whites of the same education level to be anti-Semitic.[84]

In the 1998 survey, blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to have answers that identified them as being of the most anti-Semitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among blacks with no college education, 43% responded as the most anti-Semitic group (vs. 18% for the general population). This percentage fell to 27% among blacks with some college education, and 18% among blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).[85]

Nation of IslamEdit

Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, has made several remarks that the Anti-Defamation League and others consider anti-Semitic

The Nation of Islam, a black religious and political group, expressed several anti-Semitic pronouncements in the late 20th century. The group's founder, Elijah Muhammad, targeted whites in general, and he also asserted that whites—as well as Jews—are devils, implicated in the history of racism against blacks. But he did not consider Jews to be any more corrupt or oppressive than other whites.[86]

In 1993, Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad called Jews "bloodsuckers" in a public speech, leading to widespread public condemnation. The Nation of Islam's current leader, Louis Farrakhan, has made several remarks that the Anti-Defamation League and others consider anti-Semitic. He is alleged to have referred to Judaism as a "dirty religion" and to have called Adolf Hitler a "very great man"; Farrakhan denied these claims[87][88][89][90][91] but a tape obtained by The New York Times supports the claim that he did and that he praised Hitler.[92]

Elijah Muhammad claimed that blacks—not whites or Europeanized Jews—are the chosen people.[93] Louis Farrakhan, has also claimed that African Americans are the chosen people. In a 1985 speech, Farrakhan said "I have a problem with Jews ... because I am declaring to the world that they are not the chosen people of God. ... You, the black people of America and the Western Hemisphere [are]."[94]

Alleged role of Jews in the slave tradeEdit

Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews "the bible of new anti-Semitism"

During the 1990s, much of the Jewish-black conflict centered on allegations of anti-Semitism made against studies of Jewish involvement in the Atlantic slave trade and allegations that they were over-represented as prominent figures in it. Professor Leonard Jeffries said in a 1991 speech that "rich Jews" financed the slave trade, citing the role of Jews in slave-trading centers such as Rhode Island, Brazil, the Caribbean, Curaçao, and Amsterdam.[32] His comments drew widespread outrage and calls for his dismissal from his position.[95]

Jeffries cited as a source The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews (1991), published by the Nation of Islam.[96] That book alleges that Jews played a major role in the African slave trade, and it generated considerable controversy.[96] Scholarly works were published which rebutted its charges.[97] Mainstream scholars of slavery such as David Brion Davis concluded that Jews had little major or continuing impact on the history of New World slavery.[98] Most held fewer slaves than non-Jews in every British territory in North America and the Caribbean. Except in Brazil, Suriname, and Curaçao[99][100]—they did not play leading roles as financiers, shipowners, or factors in the transatlantic or Caribbean slave trades.[101]

Tony Martin of Wellesley College included The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews in the reading list for his classes, leading to charges of anti-Semitism against him in 1993.[102][103][104]

Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University called the book "the bible of new anti-Semitism" and added that "the book massively misinterprets the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotations of often reputable sources."[105]

Racism among JewsEdit

The counterpoint to black anti-Semitism is Jewish anti-black racism.[106] Some black customers and tenants felt that Jewish shopkeepers and landlords treated them unfairly and were racist. Hacker quotes James Baldwin's comments about Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem to support his racism claim.[106]

Hacker also quoted author Julius Lester, who wrote: "Jews tend to be a little self-righteous about their liberal record, ... we realize that they were pitying us and wanted our gratitude, not the realization of the principles of justice and humanity... Blacks consider [Jews] paternalistic. Black people have destroyed the previous relationship which they had with the Jewish community, in which we were the victims of a kind of paternalism, which is only a benevolent racism."[107]

In his 1992 essay "Blacks and Jews: The Uncivil War," historian Taylor Branch asserted that Jews had been "perpetrators of racial hate." He noted that 3,000 members of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, founded in 1966 in Chicago, were denied citizenship as Jews when they moved en masse to Israel. The Americans claimed that they had the right of citizenship as Jews under the Israeli Law of Return. Under the law, the only people recognized as Jews are people who are born Jews (having a Jewish mother or maternal grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or grandfather), and people who convert to Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative Judaism.[b]

Branch believed that the rejection of the Chicago group was based on anti-Black sentiment among Israeli Jews.[108][109] Branch was criticized by Seth Forman, who said the claims seemed baseless. He said that Israel had airlifted thousands of black Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the early 1990s.[110] A group of American civil rights activists led by Bayard Rustin investigated the 1966 case. They concluded that racism was not the cause of the Black Hebrews' rejection in Israel. They were considered a cult rather than a group of historic Jewish descendants.[111]

Historian Hasia Diner writes: "Never a relationship of equals, [many blacks] assert, Jews sat on the boards of black organizations and held power in black institutions but never allowed for the reverse. [Jews] gave money to civil rights organizations and demanded the right to make decisions by virtue of the power of their purses."[112]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ In 1953, Du Bois revised The Souls of Black Folk for its fiftieth anniversary; it was the only time he changed its text. He made fewer than ten edits, and two of them were to this passage, which he changed from "The Jew is the heir of the slave-baron ... and the Jew fell heir." to "Immigrants are heirs of the slave-baron ... and foreigners fell heir."[18] He explained his changes in a paragraph he asked his publisher to add at the end of the chapter:

    In the foregoing chapter, "Jews" have been mentioned five times, and the late Jacob Schiff once complained that this gave an impression of anti-Semitism. This at the time I stoutly denied; but as I read the passages again in the light of subsequent history, I see how I laid myself open to this possible misapprehension. What, of course, I meant to condemn was the exploitation of black labor and that it was in this country and at that time in part a matter of immigrant Jews, was incidental and not essential. My inner sympathy with the Jewish people was expressed better in the last paragraph of page 152. But this illustrates how easily one slips into unconscious condemnation of a whole group.[19]

    See The Souls of Black Folk#Textual changes for further information.
  2. ^ The law also provides certain rights to the spouse of a person recognized a Jew, the children and grandchildren of a person recognized as a Jew, and the spouses of the children and grandchildren of a person recognized as a Jew.


  1. ^ Greenberg, pp. 1–3
  2. ^ Webb, p. xii
  3. ^ Forman, pp. 1–2
  4. ^ a b "From Swastika to Jim Crow: Black-Jewish Relations". ITVS. Archived from the original on October 2, 2002. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Hill, Robert A., "Black Zionism: Marcus Garvey and the Jewish Question", in Franklin, pp. 40–53
  6. ^ Saul S. Friedman, 1999, Jews and the American Slave Trade, pp. 1–2
  7. ^ Diner, p. 3.
  8. ^ Melnick, Jeffrey (2000). Black–Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2000, p. 61.
  9. ^ Lindemann, Albert S. (1992). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank) 1894-1915. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-44761-4., page 254
  10. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 435
  11. ^ Diner, Hasia R. "Drawn Together by Self-Interest", in Franklin, pp. 27–39.
  12. ^ Diner, p. 237
  13. ^ Friedman, Saul, Jews and the American Slave Trade, p. 14
  14. ^ Kaufman, p. 2
  15. ^ Golden, Harry, "Negro and Jew: an Encounter in America", in Adams, p. 571
  16. ^ a b Cannato, p. 355
  17. ^ DuBois, W.E.B. (1903) The Souls of Black Folk quoted by Andrew Hacker in Adams, p. 18
  18. ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). "Note on the Text". The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxv. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9.
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Works citedEdit

  • Adams, Maurianne, Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, 2000.
  • Bauman, Mark K. The quiet voices: southern rabbis and Black civil rights, 1880s to 1990s, 1997.
  • Berman, Paul, Blacks and Jews: Alliances and Arguments', 1995.
  • Cannato, Vincent The ungovernable City, 2002.
  • Diner, Hasia R. In the almost promised land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915–1935
  • Dollinger, Mark, "African American-Jewish Relations" in Antisemitism: a historical encyclopedia of prejudice and persecution, Vol 1, 2005.
  • Forman, Seth, Blacks in the Jewish Mind: A Crisis of Liberalism, 2000.
  • Franklin, Vincent P., African Americans and Jews in the twentieth century: studies in convergence and conflict, 1998.
  • Friedman, Murray, What Went Wrong?: The Creation & Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance, 1995.
  • Friedman, Saul, Jews and the American Slave Trade, 1999.
  • Greenberg, Cheryl, Troubling the waters: Black-Jewish relations in the American century, 2006. ISBN 978-0691058658
  • Hacker, Andrew (1999) "Jewish Racism, Black anti-Semitism", in Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, Maurianne Adams (Ed.). Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
  • Kaufman, Jonathon, Broken alliance: the turbulent times between Blacks and Jews in America, 1995
  • Martin, Tony The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches from the Wellesley Battlefront, 1993
  • Melnick, Jeffrey Paul, A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song, 2001.
  • Melnick, Jeffrey, Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South, 2000.
  • Nation of Islam, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, 1991.
  • Pollack, Eunice G, "African American Antisemitism", in Encyclopedia of American Jewish history, Volume 1 By Stephen Harlan Norwood.
  • Salzman, Jack and West, Cornel, Struggles in the promised land: toward a history of Black-Jewish relations, 1997
  • Salzman, Jack (Ed.) Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews, 1992
  • Shapiro, Edward, Crown Heights: Blacks, Jews, and the 1991 Brooklyn Riot, 2006.
  • Webb, Clive, Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, 2003.
  • Weisbord, Robert G., and Stein, Arthur Benjamin, Bittersweet encounter: the Afro-American and the American Jew, Negro Universities Press, 1970
  • West, Cornel, Race Matters, 1993.

External linksEdit