You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

August 15: Jews and Lynchings

August 15, 2010

bierfield-grave-2-tweek-copy-w2-1425564269On this date in 1868, the Ku Klux Klan lynched a Jew, S.A. Bierfield, who ran a dry goods store in Franklin, Tennessee. Bierfield was a supporter of Reconstruction who did business with both white and black customers; his employee, Lawrence Bowman, who was black, was lynched with him. The KKK had been founded in Tennessee in two years earlier and was involved in at least 400 lynchings within its first four years of existence. While Bierfield was the first Jew lynched in America, he was not the last: Also on this date, in 1915, a Jewish writer, Albert Bettelheim, convicted of murder in Georgia, was lynched — just two days before Leo Frank. (Jewdayo featured Frank on April 27.) 1915 was also the year that The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffiths’ film that glorified the KKK and lynching, was released throughout the country. Over the course of less than a century, between 1882 and 1968, close to 5,000 African-Americans and over 1,200 whites (including hundreds of Mexicans and other immigrants) were murdered in this fashion.

“What is most disturbing about these scenes is the discovery the perpetrators of the crimes were ordinary peope, not so different from ourselves — merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen, students . . . who came to believe that keeping black people in their place was nothing less than pest control . . .”
—Leon Litwack