Black Americans' Reaction to the Persecution of European Jews

by Bat-Ami Zucker

Hitler's rise to power in Germany in January 1933 did not create an immediate panic among American Jews. The tragic significance for the whole world of this event was not at once realized, certainly not in the United States. But the Nuremberg Laws, enacted by the Nazi Government in September 1935, depriving all Jews, half- and even quarter-Jews, of citizenship, forbidding intermarriage between Germans and Jews, and stripping the Jews of most civil rights, represented a new level of Jewish persecution by the Third Reich and alarmed Jewish leaders in the United States. All Jewish hopes focused on the United States government, which proved to be indifferent or at best ineffectual.

In the years before and during World War II the United States Congress, the Roosevelt Administration, and public opinion paid lip service and showed some concern with Jewish fate in Europe but consistently refused to permit immigration of Jewish refugees, thus depriving European Jews of the asylum so desperately needed. American gates were shut and barred. "The United States and its Allies," concluded David Wyman in his recent book, "were willing to attempt almost nothing to save the Jews."1 U.S. opposition to immigration in general in the late 1930s grew out of the grave economic pressures, the high unemployment rate, and social frustration and disillusionment. The U.S. refusal to support specifically Jewish immigration, however, stemmed from something else, namely antisemitism, which had increased in the late 1930s and continued to rise in the 1940s. It was an important ingredient in America's negative response to Jewish refugees.2 Overt or disguised, antisemitism was manifested all over the country by many sectors of American society.3 Blacks were no exception. Economic difficulties and daily contact between Blacks and Jews in the large cities of the East and Midwest caused tensions, grievances, and even violent race riots.

Relations between the two groups before World War II were mainly of three kinds: Jewish employers/Black employees, Jewish landlords/ Black tenants, and Jewish small businessmen/Black customers. In these encounters the Jew appeared to the Blacks as exploiter and abuser, whether this was fact or stereotype. "The belief is widespread in the negro community," wrote a Black scholar in 1942, "that a large share of the exploiting landlords are Jewish."4 Discrimination against Blacks in employment and exploitation of Black labor were common charges against Jewish employers in the 1930s and 1940s. The so-called "slave market" in the Bronx5 became the symbol of Jewish maltreatment of Blacks. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that the Jewish landlord, employer, and merchant had become "part of the folklore of black anti-Semitism in the 1930's and 1940's,"6 a promising phenomenon emerged. A large Black organization-the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)7 strongly opposed the persecution of Jews in Germany and the spread of antisemitism in the United States. In fact, apart from the Jews, organized American Blacks were the only group to act promptly against Hitler's "reversion to barbarism"8 and to offer "condemnation of the unspeakable terror ... being inflicted upon the Jewish people in Germany . . . ."9 As early as November 1935, the NAACP published a declaration denouncing Nazi persecution of Jews in the German Reich.10 This declaration launched a pro-Jewish campaign against both Nazi persecution in Europe and antisemitism in the United States during the dreadful and turbulent years 1935-1945.

To all appearances Blacks reacted to the prevailing turmoil in conflicting ways. On the one hand, there were anti-Jewish expressions and violent riots in Black ghettos, with Blacks blaming the Jews for their own exploitation and maltreatment. On the other hand, a large and important Black organization expressed identification with the Jewish fate in Europe and led campaigns against the spread of antisemitism in the United States. Such contradictory reactions raise several questions that are central to the future relations of Jews and Blacks in the United States. First, was the NAACP's seemingly pro-Jewish stand a typical or exceptional Black attitude in the 1930s and 1940s? Second, there is the question of motivation. Why should a Black organization, of all existing groups, take a stand against antisemitism? In 1946, the sociologist Kenneth Clark argued that increased antisemitism in the 1930s and the 1940s answered, among other functions, a psychological need for solidarity and identification with the dominant society.11 If Clark is correct, we must ask why the NAACP, in contrast to white America, defended the rights of Jews in Europe.

Our concern is to discuss the attitude of Blacks to the persecution of the Jews from 1933 to 1945, and its impact on Jewish-Black relations in the United States. Since antisemitism among Blacks has been found to be centered in the larger cities of the East and the Midwest, we concentrated on articles published in those areas. Not every Black newspaper was checked; only those most representative of Blacks' principal tendencies have been cited.12 The NAACP usually supported such tendencies, though it took an independent approach on the issue of antisemitism in the United States.

The records clearly show that the NAACP's pro-Jewish stand in that period was motivated mainly by the Blacks' own interests. Black tactics, as reflected in the Black press and the NAACP's files and activities, were to exploit every possible event in a campaign against the conditions under which Blacks lived. Jewish persecution in Europe presented such an issue. Blacks took advantage of the tragic Jewish fate to point a finger of scorn at their government, Congress, and public opinion. In that sense the NAACP's response, though not its methods, was typical of Black attitudes in the 1930s and 40s. Black antisemitism was, paradoxically, an integral part of the Black response to Hitler. There were thus two conflicting attitudes in the widespread Black response. The NAACP, while denouncing antisemitism as "bigotry," simultaneously justified what it called "legitimate anti-Jewish feelings"13 caused by Jewish exploitation of and discrimination against Blacks. Yet the records cited reveal that even the most notorious antisernitic expressions, which culminated in the years coincident with Hitler's persecution, did not emulate Nazi theories. Black antisemitism was no doubt facilitated by Hitler's theories and the general anti-Jewish atmosphere, yet it did not reveal racial prejudice per se.

The history of these two minorities-Jews and Blacks-in the United States indicates a continuous struggle for recognition by American society. The similarity between the Black and the Jewish experience in the United States has often been pointed out, and no doubt they travelled along similar paths. Yet it is important to note the differences in the development and accomplishments of the two groups, in order to evaluate the various political, social, and economic positions they held in the mid-1930s, when Black-Jewish relations reached a dangerous low point. Obviously, differences of color influenced the attitude of white society to both groups. A thorough investigation might shed light on the question whether white skin contributed to, or at least facilitated, Jewish assimilation into the wider society. In fact, Blacks even in periods of maximum cooperation regarded Jews as white people, as perforce part of the white majority; even if within that majority they were at times perceived to be different. White Americans too viewed the Jews, even in the days of increased antisemitism, as part of white society, albeit at its margin. Even such a racist author as Thomas Dixon, Jr., writing in the Saturday Evening Post in 1903, denounced the idea that Jews and Blacks had anything in common. The Jews, he argued, are "a white people." They could easily be assimilated into American life because they belonged to "our race," while Blacks could never rise out of their degraded position.14

As for the various economic and social positions the two groups held, there can be no greater contrast than that between the almost absolute alienation and isolation, low status, and poverty of the Blacks in the first four decades of the twentieth century and the gradual but steady movement of American Jews into the middle class and into positions of prominence in American society.15 Jews were experiencing a continuous, though gradual, economic rise. They improved their housing, education, and social status.16 Their rise in status resulted in an extensive and rich organizational life. These new national organizations were active in improving conditions for American Jewry in general and in advancing its acceptance by American society.

Perhaps the most important national Jewish organization was the American Jewish Committee, founded in 1906. Mainly drawn from the elite Western European Jews, it set out to safeguard the civil and religious rights of Jews and to combat discrimination and prejudice. Another important national organization, sharing similar aims, was the American Jewish Congress, founded in 1922, mainly composed of Eastern European Jews.17 The highly developed communal structure in turn produced a sophisticated and articulate leadership class. Louis Marshall, Stephen Wise, David Dubinsky, Morris Hillquit, Meyer London, Sidney Hillman, Benjamin Schlesinger, Henrietta Szold, Louis Brandeis, Horace Kallen and Felix Frankfurter were but a few of the more influential Jewish leaders who attained high positions in different fields of American society.

In spite of these achievements, both individual and collective, American Jewry in the 1930s was still an object of prejudice and discrimination. Antisemitism had long existed in the United States. Histories of American Jewry always open with the anecdote about the first group of Portuguese Jews who landed in New Amsterdam in 1654, only to be greeted with hostility. Be that as it may, overt American antisemitism made its appearance together with the massive migration of Eastern European Jews in the late nineteenth century.18 The antisemites focused mainly upon two conflicting Jewish stereotypes, namely that of the money-hungry, aggressive, vulgar capitalist, and that of the radical leftist who endangered American democratic institutions and the American way of life.19 Discrimination against Jews was pervasive. Certain resorts and clubs refused admission to Jews, and restrictive clauses were commonplace in the housing market. Jews met systematic discrimination in professional and business circles. Jewish doctors could not obtain internships; Jewish lawyers were barred from prestigious law firms. In many universities Jewish scholars were denied positions, and students faced admission by quotas.20

All these examples indicate that although Jews had improved their economic status and achieved significant success, they were, like Black Americans, still denied full acceptance by the dominant society. One might therefore have expected that the common goal of gaining such acceptance would have led to a better understanding between the two minorities and to vigorous cooperation for their common benefit. One might have expected to find a joint campaign to eliminate prejudice and racial discrimination. But research reveals an ambivalent and "not an easy relationship"21 between the two groups, which was later characterized as "a bittersweet encounter."22

A more promising relationship between the two groups did develop as the nineteenth century came to a close. References to Jews in Black writings and speeches of the late nineteenth century tended to paint a positive picture of the Jew23 and pointed to the similar experiences shared by both as second- class citizens. In their attacks on white America, Blacks were usually careful to exclude Jews. Jews alone among whites in America were viewed as a source of aid when Blacks' "resources have been tested to the utmost."24 The Blacks were especially sympathetic to Jewish fate at the time of the Dreyfus affair in the late 1890s. The trial of Dreyfus was compared in the Black press to those experienced by Blacks in the United States; the articles emphasized that, like Blacks, Jews always faced persecution.25

At the beginning of this century the image of Jews in black writings and speeches began to change. Sympathy gave way to disappointment and resentment, culminating in the years following the Great Depression and the emergence of Hitler. The Depression had corrosive effects on Blacks. They were, no doubt, the most injured and frustrated group. In the metropolises of the North where Jews and Blacks came into close contact, it was the Jewish businessman, the landlord, the employer who symbolized the ruthless capitalist, the source of wrongs inflicted on the Blacks.

"The exploitation which the Negro suffers from the whites," wrote M. Rosenblatt, who investigated antisemitism in Harlem in 1939 for the Anti- Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, "he therefore experiences from the hands of Jews." Rosenblatt concluded, "the present antagonism grows out of the fact that whenever the Negro comes in contact with white discrimination he can find a Jew to blame."26 A confidential report on antisemitism in Harlem, prepared for the NAACP, reached similar conclusions: "The root of the problem is economic ... people of different nationalities do not naturally hate one another."27 A report from a Black Chicago lawyer to Walter White 28 supported such views. It said that anti-Jewish feelings among Blacks focused on "Jewish merchants . . . who are regarded . . . as some sort of exploiters and as purveyors of inferior goods at extremely high prices "29 The NAACP and its tireless secretary, Walter White, did their utmost to distinguish between antisemitism, which they strongly rejected as "bigotry," and what they regarded as "a legitimate and understandable feeling" of resentment against "Jewish merchants in Negro neighborhoods, who charged high prices for inferior goods."30

However, such sophisticated distinctions were lost in the heat of the anti- Jewish riots in the Black ghettos of northern cities in the 1930s, where antisernitic rhetoric and violence alarmed both Black and Jewish leaders. Leaders of both groups tried to find the causes of the Harlem riots of 1935 and 1939, of the Chicago Black Belt antisernitic campaign of 1938, and of the Baltimore and Philadelphia outbursts, in the poor economic status, the despair, and the frustration of the Blacks there. "The main reasons for the riot," stated the Jewish Daily Forward in its report on the riot in Harlem in March 1935, "lie in the extreme poverty and ignorance of the people in Harlem."31 Within a month a total of 12 articles was published in the three leading Jewish papers-the Forward, The Day and the Jewish Morning Journal-all explaining the "tide of rising hatred" among Blacks as having its source in the desperate economic conditions, and urging the establishment of "an educated program to improve living conditions."32

Instead, Black-Jewish relations deteriorated. "Harlem," reported Mr. Rosenblatt to the Anti-Defamation League four years later, "is a relief city."33 "Among its ruins," lamented the Forward the same year, "one can see helpless individuals, poor and sick people whose wandering gazes testify that life for them is over."34 Blacks blamed Jews for the maltreatment of Blacks. The result, claimed NAACP investigator George B. Murphy in a memorandum to the "Committee Studying Anti-Sernitism in Harlem,"35 was that the Jewish merchant, landlord, and employer represented justly, or unjustly, the exploiter.36

Such a view was duly confirmed by Jewish sources as well. In a report to the Anti-Defamation League, Rosenblatt agreed that "the 'rent-dogging' Jewish landlord, the 'short-weighing' Jewish merchant and the Jewish house- wife make [the Blacks] feel that the Jew more than anybody is trying to keep him enslaved."37 A few Black leaders admitted37 that in the face of hard economic pressures the Jew was an easy scapegoat. "The Jew is handy ... it is safe to scorn the Jew," explained Ralph Bunche, Black scholar and chairman of the Department of Political Science at Harvard University, in 1942.38

Such explanations may account in part for the deterioration in Black-Jewish relations in the 1930s, yet they fail to consider the general anti-Jewish atmosphere in the United States and its impact on American Blacks. When Bunche stated in 1942 that it was "safe to scorn the Jew," he was probably referring to the manifestations of overt antisemitism set loose by Hitler's racial theories. The view, shared by many Blacks, that Jewish accomplishments took place at Blacks' expense, was more easily spread and more openly declared because of happenings in Europe. On returning from a tour of Mississippi, George S. Schuyler, an NAACP activist and a wellknown Black journalist for the Pittsburgh Courier, reported to Walter White that a "surprising number of articulate negroes seems to derive a sort of grim satisfaction from the Nazi persecution of the Jews." "I am seldom shocked by human conduct," he concluded, "but I confess that the callous indifference of our brethren toward this question which bordered on passive anti-Semitism surprised me no end."39 Walter White himself received quite a few malicious and defamatory letters against, "these racketeering gangster Jews, the lowest people on earth."40 These letters argued that Jews were discriminating against Blacks in America, so they deserved what was coming to them.41 George Schuyler, the same journalist who in 1935 was appalled at Black satisfaction in the face of Jewish misery, declared in 1938 that he would be able "to wail a lot louder and deeper if American Jews would give more concrete evidence of being touched by the plight of negroes . . . "42 Chandler Owen, Black Consultant for the Office of War Information and active in promoting Jewish- Black relations, admitted regretfully in 1941 that it was common to hear Blacks applauding Nazi policy against the Jews.43 Nevertheless, generally speaking, such Black antisernitism as was expressed in riots and certain journals did not reflect Nazi racial theories. Its main theme in the 1930s and the 1940s was Jewish exploitation of and discrimination against Blacks. Even the highly antisernitic Chicago Black publication Dynamite, when attacking the Jews stated:

What America needs is a Hitler and what the Chicago Black Belt needs is a purge of the exploiting Jew.44

Economic exploitation rather than racial prejudice was the dominant theme of Black antisemitism.45 Yet at the same time the latter was given a forward thrust by German propaganda and the popular exploitation of the Jew as national scapegoat. In fact, when examining Black response to Jewish persecution in Europe, one should take into account first, that white American society was generally indifferent to Jewish fate during the 1930's,46 and second that Black- Jewish relations had reached a disturbingly low point. Thus American Blacks could easily fit into the general American atmosphere of indifferent passivity in the face of Jewish suffering. In other words, given both the Blacks' own misery and the increased anti-Jewish feeling in white society,47 Black antisernitism would have been the expected behavior. Yet they chose a different path. Motivated not so much by tragic events for Jews as by their own interests, Blacks reacted immediately both to the racist implications of Nazism48 and more intensely still to the meaning for Blacks of Hitler's persecution of the Jews. The issue of Nazi theory was never developed into a thorough analysis. Hitler's "cave-man philosophy" was generally conceived as a threat to democracy and "an utter denial of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith,"49yet it could be used as a comparison with the Black plight in the United States:

At the same time, we cannot forbear to point out that in many particulars, the sufferings of this innocent minority in Germany, Poland and Rumania are strikingly like the sufferings of a similar minority in our own country.50

The case of Jesse Owens, the well-known Black track star, is illustrative of that approach. Owens had won honors in the Berlin Olympics but was refused recognition by Hitler. The event had stirred angry Black reactions and perhaps more than others drew Black attention to Nazi racism,51yet even that was reported against the background of American oppression of Blacks:

Newspapers are criticizing Hitler for not congratulating Owens, yet when he finishes running and comes back here to live among Nordics, will he not meet the same thing from them?52

The treatment of colored people in Germany got surprisingly little notice in the Black press. The German program to sterilize about 600 colored children- offspring of French Africans and German women-in the Rhineland and Ruhr districts was not seriously considered and was simply rejected as "impossible."53

More serious consideration was given to the effect on Blacks of Jewish persecution and the spread of Fascism. The persecution of Jews, warned Black scholars, was only the first stage in the progress of Fascism:

Hitler is our concern not only because of his own actions but also because of the dramatic example he sets for other demagogues both at home and abroad, to follow in his sadistic footsteps.54

Especially vigorous was Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., pastor of the mammouth Abyssinian Baptist Church, the first Black congressman to be elected by Harlem in 1944. Using his column "Soap Box" in New York's Amsterdam News, he denounced Hitler, calling for Jewish-Black unity and immediate action. "The time is growing short for us to do anything to stop Fascism."55 "Anti-Sernitism," he warned Blacks, "is a deadly virus of the American bloodstream;"56 Blacks could not afford to stand aloof because "apathy spells our own doom."57William Pickens, NAACP Director of Branches, summed it up well:

The Negro might as well take notice. This attack on the Jew is an even more definite attack on him ... if they could put the Jew in America at the bottom they would then put the Negro under the bottom.58

This was by and large the approach taken by the NAACP. In spite of its occasional accusations against certain Jewish patterns of behavior,59 it nonetheless led in taking a firm stand against antisernitism as a racist practice. The sympathy for Nazi victims and the stand against antisernitism it expressed in public differed notably from the apathetic or indifferent attitude typical of white America. Following on the anti-Jewish riots in Harlem in March 1935,60 Walter White of the NAACP sent a questionnaire to certain branches of the Association throughout the country, asking for information on antisernitism among Blacks. In an attached letter, White emphasized his conviction "that bigotry should be opposed no matter where it exists or against whom it is practiced."61 The answers received revealed a respectful response to the organization's stand and a readiness to adopt programs to improve Jewish- Black relations.62 During the years 1935-1939 Walter White was busy writing to different officers in the City Council of New York, to the Police Commissioner, and to the Mayor, asking for their cooperation in Harlem.63 Meanwhile, he was gathering data about antisernitism in Harlem and other places, establishing committees, trying hard to find a way to improve interracial relations.64The firm stand of the NAACP executive against antisernitism in general and in the United States and Germany in particular was repeated in the public declarations of the Association from the beginning. The first declaration, in November 1935, denounced Jewish persecution and called for the elimination of antisemitism in the United States:

Intelligent American Negro citizens can offer nothing short of wholehearted contempt for, and condemnation of, the unspeakable terror now being inflicted upon the Jewish people in Germany by the sadistic Nazi government. Our organization ... believe(s) that colored Americans must not be blinded by anti-Semitism in the United States ....65

The Inter-Racial Committee of the District of Columbia, an organization related to the NAACP, published a similar protest in December 1938:

We join with all other people that still adhere to the ethics of our common civilization in protest against the abominable persecution of the Jews, guilty of no offence but their adherence to their religion. We denounce the oppression practiced upon them as a blot upon this age and an utter denial of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith.66

Another Black organization, the National Urban League,67 calling for a permanent committee to find immediate solutions, warned that antisernitism in the South might lead to open strife between the two groups.68 According to Black leaders, Jewish-Black cooperation might succeed in eliminating the causes for interracial tensions and promote a better understanding for mutual benefit. In a speech delivered at the Free Synagogue, New York, on 27 November 1938, Walter White condemned Nazi barbarism and proposed a joint action against bigotry.69He presented a similar plea to Black leaders the same year:

We must join with all those condemning Nazi terror because what happens to one minority can happen to others-a lesson which Jews, Negroes and other minorities must learn in self-defence.70

During the war, NAACP pro-Jewish declarations became more committed. In February 1942 the NAACP Board of Directors 11 pledge(d) its unqualified and unlimited effort on behalf of the persecuted Jews of the world, which includes anti-Semitism in the United States as well as slaughter in Poland."71 This commitment was repeated several times in letters to Jewish organizations.72 In a telegram to Stephen Wise on 30 August 1943, White (speaking "on behalf of NAACP and the American Negroes generally") pledged to do "whatever (they) can to help rescue Jews from the clutches of Hitler."73 The NAACP's firmest stand against antisernitism and in favor of cooperation with "leading Jewish organizations" was reflected in a Resolution adopted by its annual conference in Chicago in July 1944.74 According to Roy Wilkins, acting secretary of the NAACP, this Resolution was "offered from the floor as a feeling of the delegates themselves, and was not planted."75

These declarations and commitments seemed to indicate a sympathetic, pro- Jewish attitude. Yet the Black press and the internal correspondence of the NAACP support the presumption that Black concern for the Jewish cause was motivated by tactical considerations. A popular theme sounded in the Black press was that oppression was no stranger to Black Americans. If the Jews were disenfranchised, so were Blacks in the South. Both were discriminated against in education and employment and were treated with great cruelty. The Philadelphia Tribune, for example, pointed out that it was "hell to be a Jew in Germany," but "twice as terrible to be a black man in the United States":

The persecution of Jews in Germany by the Nazi government is deplorable, stupid and outrageous. The persecution of colored Americans by Americans is cruel, relentless and spirit-breaking.76

Opportunity, a monthly published by the National Urban League, drew an analogy between the manifestations of race prejudice against Blacks in America and against Jews in Germany:

Between Hitler's treatment of the Jews and America's treatment of the Negro, you may pay your money and take your choice.77

Such analogies paved the way for use of the terrible fate of the Jews in Europe to promote Black interests. American Blacks, comparing persecution in Germany and the United States, seized the opportunity to point a finger of scorn at the administration, and to arouse public attention to their own misery.78 Such deeds, argued Walter White in 1938, "have shamed America before the world for a much longer time than persecution under Adolf Hitler."79 in a memorandum sent to White in March 1938, concerning a communication issued by the State Department to 29 countries inviting cooperation in providing a haven for refugees from Germany and Austria, Roy Wilkins strongly urged taking advantage of the opportunity "to call attention to the plight of the Negro in this country."80On the same day White cabled Secretary of State Cordell Hull expressing precisely the same position:

We would be even more enthusiastic if our government could be equally indignant at the lynching, burning alive and torture ... of American citizens by American mobs on American soil.... Consistency demands that we be equally alert and forthright against denial of common decency of treatment within our own borders.81

In a reply to Max Yergan, Chairman of the International Committee of African Affairs, who demanded a Black "firm opposition to the reactionary and potential fascist forces," White suggested that the Blacks should "utilize . . . the concern over anti-Semitism to call attention more vigorously than ever before to bigotry against the Negro here."82 "It is grand," argued White in a private letter, "for America to point the finger of scorn and criticism at Germany for its treatment of the Jews, but America should clean up her own back yard simultaneously."83 White took every opportunity to clarify and manifest the NAACP's views. Using a rally, initiated by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York, against the persecution of Jews by Nazi Germany, he called on all speakers there "to call attention of audience to the fact that while we denounce Nazi barbarism in Germany we should clean up our own back yard." He urged the speakers "to stress need of simultaneous American action to wipe out bigotry based upon racial hatred" in the United States.84

The evidence indicates that when American Blacks adopted a proJewish policy in the 1930s and at the begining of the 1940s, they were initially motivated by their own interests. Though there need not necessarily be a contradiction between a pro-Jewish stand and the desire of Blacks to promote their affairs; nevertheless, to have exploited the terrible persecution of the Jews even for a just cause must pervert the moral substance of their support. Theirs was not a support originating in real concern for the Jewish fate, but rather a tactical means of calling attention to their own degraded status, to the discrimination and prejudice manifested against them by white America. When their cause called for a pro-Jewish policy, Blacks were the first to announce it, but when Jewish performance failed to come up to their expectations, Blacks answered with hostility. In fact, the Black attitude to support from and for Jews was torn in opposite directions. On the one hand they expected more from the Jews than from other groups, especially in the face of Jewish persecution in Europe. "Negroes," admitted Kenneth Clark, "seem to be more sensitive to racial insults and unjustices when the source is Jewish."85 On the other hand, they rejected what they considered the condescension expressed in the Jewish concern for Black rights. Irvin Mollison, attorney and NAACP activist in Chicago, stated in his report to Walter White that "Negroes ... resent the patronizing and condescending attitude of Jewish people in respect to Negroes."86 Kenneth Clark, referring to an institute on Judaism and race relations designed to help Blacks and held in 1945 by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, complained: "What would Jews . . . think if a conference of Negro leaders were to devote a round table to the problem of 'The Jews in the United States.'?"87 Thus Jewish ignorance about Black aspirations was a real hindrance to understanding the problems that eventually created tension between the two groups. Similarly, Black misinformation about Jews and Jewish concerns, especially during and after the Holocaust, added to the mutual misunderstanding.

American Jews should have realized earlier than they did that both groups needed each other. A Jewish readiness to accept Blacks on equal terms as equal partners might have helped to create a healthier relationship and a sounder, more lasting alliance. In the years succeeding World War 11 legal and political conditions of Black Americans underwent intense change. Blacks had become an electoral factor to be considered by both parties and in fact were a major element in any Democratic presidential victory. Before the war the Jews had been atypical among whites in their public commitment to Black civil rights, but twenty years later they were no longer unique in this respect. Henceforth, the Blacks did not have to rely solely on Jews when their "resources have been tested to the utmost."88 Moreover, Blacks were beginning to feel confident about speaking for themselves. They grew more self-reliant and less dependent upon the good will of "liberal" whites. Consequently, there was a corresponding decline in the need for Jewish support.

These changes were met with great disappointment by certain Jewish groups and individuals, who stood helpless and unprepared in the face of the disintegration of the Black-Jewish alliance they had so much hoped to maintain. Such Jews went to great lengths to prove that their motives for involvement in Black affairs stemmed only from an historic bond of empathy and sympathy. In the Blacks' alleged support and commitment in the 1930s and 1940s they found proof of a natural and long-lasting tie. When in the years following World War II it became obvious that Jewish expectations were not to be realized, Jews felt betrayed and deluded. Instead of a promising relationship, the rift between the two groups widened, and antisemitism again began to increase among Blacks. No doubt the years 1935- 1945 were crucial for both Blacks and Jews. A sober Jewish appreciation of Blacks' real motives and needs might have changed the path that eventually led to the antagonistic attitude of American Blacks toward Jewish groups in the 1960s.89

In sum, American Blacks were among the first to react against the persecution of Jews in Europe, and they actually devoted much effort to eliminating Black antisemitism in the United States. In view of the tragic events of the Holocaust, the fact that this support of the Jews was mainly motivated by self- interest cast a shadow of doubt upon it. Nevertheless, a lesson for better relations in the future may be drawn from that experience. A Black-Jewish alliance was and still might be possible, but only when both groups understand and respect each other's special concerns and work together as equal partners for their mutual benefit.


The principal manuscript sources for this paper are the NAACP Papers, Library of Congress, the Manuscript Division. I wish to thank Mr. Guy Kohn for his most helpful assistance and the NAACP for permission to consult their records.

1. David S. Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (New York, 1984), p. 5.

2. Antisemitism in the United States during that period was confirmed by public opinion polls. See Charles Stember, ed., Jews in the Mind of America (New York, 1966), pp. 53-62.

3. Public opinion expert Elmo Roper on the spread of antisemitism, New York Times, 11 Apr. 1945, cited in Wyman, Abandonment of the Jews, p. 9.

4. L.D. Reddick, "Anti-Sernitism among Negroes," The Negro Quarterly (Summer, 1942): 115.

5. A place in the Bronx where Jewish women looked for domestic help. Blacks accused Jewish housewives of exploiting poor Black women. The Jewish press shared such criticism. See for example M. Danzis, The Day, 11 Dec. 1939: "And to our shame, be it said, that Jewish women too come to buy the labor of dark slaves in the slave markets of the Bronx. Daughters of the people who were first to raise their voice against slavery ... help this trade in slave labor."

6. Archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, American Jewish Committee Records, GEN 10, Box 258, Race Relations, 1958-1959: "Negro-Jewish Tensions," unpublished study prepared by Lucy Dawidowicz for the American Jewish Committee, Oct. 1958.

7. One of the largest civil rights organizations in the United States. It was established in 1909, following a national conference in New York City, to "uplift the colored men ... by securing to them" full equal rights. See Library of Congress, Manuscript Division [hereafter cited as LC, MSS Div.], Arthur Spingarn's Collection, Box 30: NAACP-Purpose-First Annual Report, 1 Jan. 1911. In the 1940s it had 1,600 branches in 45 states and a membership of half a million. See ibid, Box 62: NAACP Press Release: "Forty Years of Progress-The Story of NAACP," 2 Feb. 1949. It maintained national headquarters in New York City, governed by a national board of directors; regional offices in San Francisco and Dallas; and a bureau in Washington, D.C., employing a total of 80 workers. Its official organ is the Crisis. Since its beginning Jewish individuals and organizations have been active in NAACP's activities and fundraising. Joel Spingam, a Jew, was chairman of the Board in 1914-17, president of NAACP from 1931-1939.

8. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 1, Series C, Box 208, Anti- 192 Bat-Arni Zucker Semitism 1935-1938: Address by Walter White, "The Nazi Terror-My Reaction," at the Free Synagogue, 27 Nov. 1938.

9. Ibid.: press release, "N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Denounces Nazi Pogroms," 18 Nov. 1935.

10. [bid.

11. Kenneth B. Clark, "Candor About Negro-Jewish Relations," Commentary (Feb. 1946): 13.

12. The Crisis, Opportunity, The Amsterdam News, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Washington Tribune, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Afro-American, The Norfolk journal and Guide.

13. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: Walter White to L.F. Coles, 20, 24 Dec. 1935; ibid., Group 1, Series C, Box 277, Jews 1939: White to William Hastie, 20 July 1939.

14. Saturday Evening Post, 19 Aug. 1903, quoted in Philip S. Foner, "Black- Jewish Relations in the Opening Years of the Twentieth Century," Phylon 36, no. 4 (Winter 1975): 364.

15. For conditions among Blacks, see Rayford W. Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, new enl. ed. (New York, 1965); Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro and Modern Democracy (New York, 1944).

16. Nathan Goldberg, Occupational Patterns of American Jewry (New York, 1947).

17. Naomi W. Cohen, Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1966 (Philadelphia, 1972).

18. Jacob J. Weinstein, "Anti-Sernitism," in The American Jew-A Composite Portrait, ed. Oscar 1. Janowsky (New York, 1942), pp. 183-204; Corey McWilliam, A Mask for Privilege: Anti-Sernitism in America (Boston, 1948); John Higham, "Social Discrimination against Jews in America, 1830-1930," Publication of the American Historical Society 47 (1957): 1-33.

19. Daniel Bell, "The Grass Roots of American Jew Hatred," Jewish Frontier 11 (June 1944): 15-20; John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns Of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (New Brunswick, NJ, 1955), pp. 66-67, 92-94, 160-61.

20. Ludwig Lewisohn, Upstream: An American Chronicle (New York, 1922); Lee J. Levinger, Anti-Sernitism: Yesterday and Tomorrow (New York, 1936), p. 145; Lawrence Bloomgarden, "On Changing Elite Colleges," Commen- tary 29 (Feb. 1960): 152; Stephen Steinberg, "How Jewish Quotas Began," Commentary 52 (Sept. 1971): 67-76; Corey McWilliams, A Mark for Privi- lege, pp. 8-39; Maurice J. Korpf, "Jewish Community Organization," The American Jewish Year Book 39 (1937-1938) : 61-62.

21. Leslie A. Fiedler, "Negro and Jew-Encounter in America," Midstream 2, no. 3 (Summer 1956): 11.

22. Robert Weisbord and Arthur Stein, Bittersweet Encounter, The AfroAmerican and the American few (Westport, CT, 1970).

23. Philip Foner, "Black-Jewish Relations": 359-61.

24. New York Age, 18 May 1889, and The Colored American, 29 Apr. 1889, quoted in Foner, "Black-Jewish Relations": 360-62.

25. Ibid., pp. 360-61.

26. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: memorandum from M. Rosenblatt to Anti-Defamation League, 23 Apr. 1939.

27. Ibid.: Confidential Report on Anti-Sernitism in Harlem to Walter White, writer unknown, 9 July 1939, p. 2.

28. Walter White, Black lecturer, writer and leader, is rightly identified with the NAACP. White, more than any other individual, was the champion for the Black cause when it most needed help. Assistant Secretary from 1918 to 1929, Acting Secretary from 1929 to 1930, and a vigorous, powerful Executive Secretary till his death in 1955, he was appreciated not only by his people but by the Jewish community as well. See, for example, Editorial, The Jewish Labor Committee Reporter, Apr. 1955.

29. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: Irvin Mollison to White, 17 Dec. 1935. For an elaborated argument by a prominent Black, see Chandler Owen, "Negro AntiSemitism: Cause and Cure," National Jewish Monthly 57, no. 1 (Sept. 1942): 14-15.

30. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group II, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: Walter White to L.F. Coles. Ibid., Group I, Series C, Box 208, Anti- Sernitism 1935-38: White's confidential letters to Claude McKay, 23 Dec. 1938. Ibid., Box 277, Jews 1939: White to William Hastie, 20 July 1939; White to Hubert Delany, 15 Sept. 1939.

31. Editorial, Forward, 22 Mar. 1935.

32. Editorial, The Day, 21 Mar. 1935.

33. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: memorandum from M. Rosenblatt to Anti-Defamation League, 23 Apr. 1939.

34. "Agitation in the Streets of Harlem Against Jews," Forward, 18 Oct. 1939.

35. The Committee was initiated by the NAACP after the riots of 1939.

36. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group II, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910-1939: memorandum from George B. Murphy, Jr., to the Committee Studying Anti-Sernitism in Harlem, 30 Sept. 1939.

37. lbid.: memorandum from M. Rosenblatt to ADL, 23 Apr. 1939.

38. Foreword to L. Wedlock, The Reaction of Negro Publications and Organizations to German Anti-Semitism (Washington, 1942), p. 9.

39. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: George S. Schuyler to Walter White, 22 Dec. 1935.

40. Ibid.: J.B. Moran to Walter White, 12 Jan. 1937.

41. Ibid.: L.F. Coles to White, 18 and 21 Dec. 1935.

42. Pittsburgh Courier, 26 Nov. 1938, quoted in Wedlock, The Reaction of Negro Publications, pp. 57-58.

43. Chandler Owen, "Should the Negro Hate Jews?" Chicago Defender, 8 Nov. 1941.

44. H. George Davenport, Dynamite, July 1936, quoted in Wedlock, The Reaction of Negro Publications, p. 79.

45. Clark, "Candor about Negro-Jewish Relations," pp. 13-14.

46. Henry Feingold, The Politics of Rescue: The Roosevelt Administration and the Holocaust, 1938-1945 (New Brunswick, 1970); Arthur Morse, While Six Million Died; A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York, 1967); Haim Genizi, American Apathy: The Plight of Christian Refugees from Nazism (Ramat Gan, 1983).

47. Between 1934 and 1939, 105 antisernitic organizations were formed; compared with 14 which were active in the years from 1915 to 1933. See Hasia R. Diner, For the Almost Promised Land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915-1935 (Westport, CT, 1977), pp. 240-41.

48. Harry Jandory, "Hitler Seeks to Wipe Out All Colored Races," The Philadelphia Tribune, 17 May 1934; Bagnall, "Fascism, Nazism Bad for Negro," ibid., 31 Mar. 1938.

49. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group I, Series C, Box 208, AntiSemitism 1935- 38: Resolution adopted by the Inter-Racial Committee of the District of Columbia, 7 Dec. 1938.

50. Ibid.

51. See especially Editorial "Fascism Now Means Something," The Crisis, Sept.1936.

52. Editorial "Hitler and Owens," The Philadelphia Tribune, 13 Aug. 1936.

53. Editorial "Sterilization Program Proposed by Germany," The AfroAmerican, 17 Feb. 1934. For German correspondence concerning the sterilization program see, Zvi Bacharach, Racism-The Tool of Politics: From Monism toward Nazism [publ. in Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1985).

54. Ralph Matthews, "Why Hitler Is Our Business," The Afro-American, 8 Oct. 1938.

55. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., "Soap-Box," The Amsterdam News, 19 Feb. 1938.

56. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Marching Blacks: An Interpretive History of the Rise of the Black Common Man (New York, 1945), p. 66.

57. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., "Soap-Box," The Amsterdam News, 18 Mar. 1938.

58. William Pickens, "German Fascists and Free Speech in America," The Norfolk Journal and Guide, 11 Mar. 1939.

59. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 1, Series C, Box 208, AntiSemitism 1935- 38: White to Victor Riddey Ridder, 1 Nov. 1938; White to Claude McKay, 23 Dec. 1938.

60. Beginning on 19 March, Black mobs, led by Sufi Abdul Hamid, ravaged the business district of Harlem leaving behind them four dead, damage to property amounting to one million dollars, confusion, and fear. See ibid., Group II, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910-1939: memorandum, Rosenblatt to Anti-Defamation League, 23 Apr. 1939.

61. See for example, ibid.: White to Mollison, Chicago, 11 Dec. 1935.

62. See for example, ibid.: Mayone Brown, editor of Louisiana Weekly to White, 16 Dec. 1935; Irvin Mollison to White, 17 Dec. 1935; Homer Brown, Pittsburgh, to White, 17 Dec. 1935; J. Gayle, New Orleans, to White, 20 Dec. 1935.

63. Ibid., Group 1, Series C, Box 277, Jews 1939: White to Mayor La Guardia, 18 and 20 Sept. 1939.

64. Ibid., Group II, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910-1939: memorandum for the "Committee Studying Anti-Sernitism in Harlem," George Murphy, Jr., to White, 30 Sept. 1939. Ibid., Group I, Series C, Box 277, Jews 1939: White's initiatives among Jewish and Black editors, expecially meetings on 26 Sept., 28 Nov., 16 Dec. 1939; White to Commissioner Hubert Delany, 26 Sept. 1939. The purpose of these meetings was "to talk informally and to advise plans for carrying the work of removing causes of friction and misunderstanding." On White's reaction to riots in Chicago, see ibid., Box 208, Anti-Sernitism, 1935-38: White to Earl Dickerson, Chairman of the Committee to Investigate Anti-Sernitism in Chicago, 25 June and 14 July 1938.

65. Ibid.: press release, "N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Denounces Nazi Pogroms," 18 Nov. 1935.

66. Ibid.: Resolution adopted by the Inter-Racial Committee of the District of Columbia, Dec. 1938.

67. The National Urban League was founded in 1910 in New York City as a professional community services agency for the purpose of securing equal opportunity for Blacks. Its activities centered in the fields of education, employment, housing, and health and welfare services. See "A Fair Chance in the Race of Life" (New York, National Urban League, 1962). In 1935 the League included 43 affiliates with a total national and local budget over $400,000. The official publication of the League is Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, founded in 1922.

68. "Declaration," Chicago Urban League in Chicago Defender, 25 June 1938.

69. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group I, Series C, Box 203, AntiSemitism 1935- 1938: Address by White "The Nazi Terror-My Reaction, " 27 Nov. 1938. For White's correspondence with Jewish leaders, see ibid., Box 277, Jews 1939.

70. Ibid., Box 208, Anti-Sernitism, 1935-1938: "Statement" for Amsterdam News, 15 Nov. 1938.

71. Ibid., Group 11, Series A, Box 363, National Jewish Women's Organiza- tion 1943: White to Stephen Wise, 20 Feb. 1943.

72. Ibid.: White to Mrs. Spitzer, Chairwoman, Conference Committee of National Jewish Women's Organizations, 29 Apr. 1943. [bid., Box 330, Jews 1942-1944: Telegram Roy Wilkins of NAACP to New Currents, Jewish Monthly, 30 Apr. 1943.

73. Ibid.: Telegram White to Wise, 30 Aug. 1943.

74. Ibid.: "Resolutions" NAACP Annual Conference Chicago, July 1944.

75. Ibid.: Roy Wilkins to Prof. Emanuel Chapman, Executive Board of the National Committee to Combat Anti-Sernitism, 9 Apr. 1945.

76. Philadelphia Tribune, 12 Oct. 1933, 5 July 1934, quoted in Wedlock, Reactions of Negro Publications, pp. 33, 92.

77. Kelly Miller, "Race Prejudice in Germany and in America," Opportunity 14, no. 4 (Apr. 1936): 105.

78. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 1, Series C, Box 208, AntiSemitism 1935- 1938: Resolution adopted by the Inter-Racial Committee of the District of Columbia, 7 Dec. 1938.

79. Ibid.: Telegram, White to Cordell Hull, 25 Mar. 1938.

80. Ibid.: Memorandum, Roy Wilkins to White, 25 Mar. 1938.

81. Ibid.: Telegram, White to Cordell Hull, 25 Mar. 1938.

82. Ibid.: Max Yergan to White,25 Nov.1938; White to Yergan,30 Nov.1938.

83. Ibid.: White to Dr. Ames, 18 Nov. 1938; see also White to William Robson, NAACP, 19 Nov. 1938.

84. Ibid.: White to Mayor La Guardia, 8 Dec. 1938; see also White to Senator King, Utah, 15 Nov. 1938.

85. Kenneth B. Clark, "What Negroes Think About Jews: A Positive Transition," The ADL Bulletin (Dec. 1957): 6.

86. LC, MSS Div., NAACP Papers, Group 11, Series L, Box 7, General File, 1910- 1939: Irvin Mollison to Walter White, 17 Dec. 1935.

87. Kenneth B. Clark, "Candor About Negroes": 10.

88. The Colored Americans, 29 Apr. 1899, quoted in Foner, "Black-Jewish Relations": 362.

89. See, for example, Paul H. Levenson, "The Image of the Jew in the Negro Community," Jewish Currents 16 (Sept. 1962): 7-12; B.Z. Sobel and L. May, "Negroes and Jews; Minority Groups in Conflict," Judaism 15 (Winter 1966): 3- 22; Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, "Negro Anti-Sernitism," Jewish Spectator 29 (Mar. 1964): 3-4; Morris Schappes, "New Developments and New Tensions in Negro- Jewish Relations," Jewish Currents 17 (May 1963): 4-25; Emanuel Muravchik, "Troubled Allies," Jewish Life 30 (Mar.-Apr. 1963): 9-16. For the conflict as reflected in the eyes of a Black leader, see Roy Wilkins: "Jewish-Negro Relations: An Evaluation," American Judaism 12 (Spring 1963): 4-5.

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