Vital Signs

White Liberals, Black Racists

On March 3, 1994, ABC-TV's Nightline devoted its half hour to the question of deteriorating relations between blacks and Jews. As background, the program showed clips of newsreels from the civil rights era, the "halcyon days"—and years—of unity between Jews and blacks in the 1950's and early 60's. The narration then jumped to the 1980's and 90's with statements by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan and by his spokesman Khallid Abdul Muhammad attacking Judaism as a "gutter religion" and Jews as "blood-suckers of the black community." Unfortunately, the guests. Cornel West of Princeton University and Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, seriously distorted the history of black/Jewish relations.

True, blacks and Jews did work together in the civil rights movement, and the emblem of that unity was forged in blood during Freedom Summer 1964 when three activists were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi: Chancy, Goodman, and Schwerner—a black and two Jews. But even in the 1950's and 60's neither all Jews nor all blacks were sympathetic to the civil rights movement. For example, while a student at Tulane University in my native New Orleans, I was one of the first to join the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in I960. Quickly, nearly half our members were whites, mostly Southerners, and some were Jewish Southerners....

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