"The Implacable Surge of History": Investigating Jewish Activism in Atlanta During the Civil Rights Movement

Danielle Rose Kerker, University of Pennsylvania

This paper was part of the 2014-2015 Penn Humanities Forum on Color. Find out more at http://www.phf.upenn.edu/annual-topics/color.


This thesis is divided into three distinct parts. In Chapter 1, I describe Rabbi Rothschild’s civil rights activism and the 1958 Bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple to provide readers with a firm understanding of the various tensions at play, all of which intersect at this crucial event. Chapter 2 details national and local opportunities for Jewish activism, the North/South dichotomy, and black-Jewish relations between individuals and organizations. In Chapter 3, I wrestle with Jewish reactions in Atlanta to sit-ins and boycotts by African-American students, the desegregation crisis, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Together, these three chapters evidence Jewish activism in Atlanta and its influence on the local development of the Civil Rights Movement.

This project draws connections among the American Civil Rights Movement, the southern Jewish experience, and Atlanta race relations in order to identify instances of southern Jewish involvement in the fight for racial equality. It investigates the forms of activism they chose, the circumstances that shaped those decisions, and the underlying goals behind them. In many ways, studying Atlanta’s Jewish communities during the 1950s and 1960s broadens the conversation on Jewish activism, raises questions of southern Jewish identity, and uncovers distinctive avenues for change. Analysis suggests that, although their story is less known, Jewish organizations and individuals in Atlanta found ways to contribute to the fight for civil rights equality within the context of the Jim Crow South.


Date Posted: 17 November 2016