The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a key force in the civil rights movement, was launched on this date in 1957, the brainchild of Martin Luther King, Jr., who became the SCLC’s president, Ella Baker, who was the organization’s sole staffer for several years, Bayard Rustin, and Stanley Levison, a Communist attorney and businessman. The organization was formed by some sixty black ministers and leaders as a follow-up to the hard-fought victory of the Montgomery Bus Boycott victory. Levison had been treasurer of the Manhattan branch of the American Jewish Congress and a champion of left-wing causes, including the defense of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the campaign against the McCarran Internal Security Act. He played a significant fundraising and strategic advisory role on behalf of the SCLC.
“American Jews played a significant role in the founding and funding of some of the most important civil rights organizations . . . In 1909, Henry Moscowitz joined W.E.B. DuBois and other civil rights leaders to found the NAACP. Kivie Kaplan, a vice-chairman of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations . . . served as the national president of the NAACP from 1966 to 1975. Arnie Aronson worked with A. Philip Randolph and Roy Wilkins to found the Leadership Conference. . . . From 1910 to 1940, more than 2,000 primary and secondary schools and twenty black colleges . . . were established in whole or in part by contributions from Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald. . . . Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.” —Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
JEWDAYO ROCKS! Donald Fagen, co-founder, vocalist, keyboardist, songwriter and main man of Steely Dan, born on this in 1948.
Eight thousand New York social workers, many of them Jews, went out on strike on this date in 1965 in protest of oversized caseloads and low pay. Two locals led the strike: the independent Social Services Employees Union, a militant union that had just won bargaining rights for 6,000 caseworkers, and DC 37’s Local 371, which represented supervisors and clerical workers. Mayor Robert Wagner fired all the strikers and threw nineteen leaders (women and men) in jail for two weeks, yet the unions won the strike after twenty-eight days — the longest labor action by public employees in the history of New York City — with support from organized labor and the civil rights movement, and in coalition with incipient organizing efforts among welfare recipients. Among the strikers’ gains were 9 percent raises, impartial arbitration, 100 percent city-paid health insurance, the first union education fund for city workers, the right to bargain on a wide range of issues, and an automatic clothing grant for their clients.
“Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, NYC’s militant social service workers pushed a vision of strong worker-client alliances in a broad anti-capitalist working class movement. These city workers were disproportionately Jewish, and saw the need for strong alliances with the city’s African-American poor. . . . [In the 1960s] Most of these social workers were Jewish and working with Black and Latino clients. Later, when African-American social workers led the union, it did less to ally with clients than in 1965.” —The Rank and Filer
The Civil Rights Act of 1968, commonly called the Fair Housing Act, which outlawed discrimination in the sale, rental, financing and advertising of housing based on race, color, religion, sex (1974), national origin, disability (1988) or family configuration (1988), was signed by President Lyndon Johnson on this date in 1968, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Jewish organizations, notably the American Jewish Congress and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, took an early leadership role in the campaign for this law, and in every state “there is evidence of some major contribution from Jewish groups,” according to analyst Duane Lockard, including “money to finance campaigns, staff to coordinate and direct activities, lobbying and intralegislative assistance, substantial legal advice and assistance in the drafting and in the defense of civil rights laws.” Anti-Semitic discrimination in housing had peaked and begun to fade in the 1940s and early 1950s — and Jewish housing developers such as William Levitt (Levittown) had actively practiced racist discrimination in building the American suburbs — yet Jewish support for the legislation, within Congress and through the civil rights movement, was solid and critical. Passage of the bill was also strongly influenced by the March 1, 1968 publication of the Kerner Commission report on “race riots” during the 1960s, which pointed to housing segregation as moving America “toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” The legislation gave no strong tools of enforcement, however, and has sadly failed to produce racially integrated neighborhoods throughout the country.
“Integration has certainly not hurt us . . . (but) any homebuilder who chooses to operate on an open occupancy basis, where it is not customary or required by law, runs the grave risk of losing business to his competitor who chooses to discriminate.” —William Levitt
On the very first day I came to the Jewish Currents office as the newly hired assistant editor in 1978, the veteran editor Morris U. Schappes handed me a pamphlet reprint of Louis Harap’s 1975 series, The Zionist Movement Revisited [PDF]. Jewish Currents magazine, Schappes explained, was not Zionist because it did not view Israel as the Jewish homeland, nor did it consider Jews living in other lands to be in a state of “exile” or living in a “diaspora.” The magazine had been shaped ideologically, he continued, by a pre-state, Marxist view of Zionism as a “bourgeois nationalism” that ignored issues of class and depended upon European imperialism for its success. Nevertheless, Jewish Currents had always supported Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, viewed the country as a kind of global affirmative action for Jews after the devastations of the Holocaust, and was happy, he said, to express pride in Israel’s achievements. In short, JC was “non-Zionist, pro-Israel.” [click to continue…]
Dr. Paul Bermanzohn, the son of Holocaust survivors, was among 15 members of the Communist Workers Party who were wounded or killed on this date in 1979 in an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, North Carolina. Dr. Michael Nathan, the chief of pediatrics at the Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, a [...]
Red Auerbach (Arnold Jacob Auerbach), the coach of the Boston Celtics who drafted the first black player in the National Basketball Association, Chuck Cooper, in 1950, and then fielded the first all-black starting line-up in 1964, was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on this date in 1917. Auerbach was a stand-out college basketball player who developed [...]
Julius Rosenwald, the part-owner and head executive of Sears, Roebuck & Co. and one of the more progressive philanthropists of American capitalism, was born on this date in 1862 in Springfield, Illinois. Rosenwald became a clothier through apprenticeship in New York City and eventually became the exclusive supplier of men’s clothing for Sears, Roebuck. Following [...]
My return home from the army after World War II was not completely free of unpleasantness. For one thing, I learned that shoeshine boys had raised their price from ten cents to a quarter. Was this why we had fought against the evils of fascism?
Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire, the sweatshop conflagration that took the lives of 146 workers and set in motion a process of protest and legislation that yielded labor and factory reform in New York State. Read our online coverage of the centennial here. Today is also the date on which the [...]
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel received a telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this date in 1965, inviting him to participate in the third Selma-to-Montgomery march for civil rights two days hence. The first march, on March 7, had met with murderous police violence; the second, on the 9th, had backed down from a [...]