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On this #MLKDay, even as there are forces seeking to divide us, we need to recall & renew the Black-Jewish coalition for civil and human rights: judahkhaykin.com/uncategorized/…
As White Nationalism ascends and hate crimes grow, and as old wounds between the Jewish and Black communities have been reopened, and even as some push a message that Jews are attacking the Black community, this piece seems even more timely than when I wrote it.
Today, many have shared sentiments about the Black-Jewish coalition during the civil rights era. But the history of Black-Jewish solidarity extends well beyond the 50s/60s civil rights era, in both directions. I should know; I am its beneficiary: judahkhaykin.com/uncategorized/…
As it happens, Jews whose families came from what was once the Russian/Soviet domain owe a particular debt to the Black community in America, who showed tremendous solidarity with their "Jewish brothers across the sea."
In the late 1800s, the Tsarist regime enacted discriminatory laws akin to Jim Crow. Worse, waves of mass anti-Jewish mob violence, often encouraged, sanctioned or ignored by authorities, swept E Europe, leaving 100s of thousands of Jews murdered, communities destroyed.
African American journalists such as Timothy Thomas Fortune wrote articles illuminating the plight of Jews in Russia comparing it to the Jim Crow South, and condemning the Russian regime as “the worst form of despotism the world has ever seen.”
African American lawyers drafted resolutions calling on the tsar to rescind the discriminatory laws and urged the U.S. government to “offer asylum to these people” if the regime did not act to halt the “indignities and barbarities practiced on the Jews.”
Black churches took up collections, raising considerable funds to send overseas to help rebuild Jewish communities destroyed by antisemitic violence.
Decades later, the Jews of the former Russian empire found themselves suffering under state-sponsored antisemitism, this time from a Leftist regime. Many Black leaders who had come out of the Black-Jewish civil rights coalition came to the aid of Soviet Jews.
Dr King never limited his concern to the suffering in his own country/community: “I can not stand idly by, even though I live in the U.S. & happen to be an American Negro, & not be concerned about what happens to my brothers & sisters who happen to be Jews in Soviet Russia."
"For what happens to them happens to me and to you, and we must be concerned."
Bayard Rustin became a leading voice for Soviet Jews. Rustin worked w/ Sen Henry Jackson to pass landmark legislation that tied US trade relations to USSR's treatment of Jews. The Jackson-Vannick amendment put human rights, for the 1st time, at center of int'l & trade relations.
We have achieved much together: “The success of the civil rights movement in raising the consciousness of America was made possible by the coalition we had with the American Jewish community.” - Dr. Clarence Jones, former advisor and personal counsel to Dr. King
The times call with moral urgency for a renewal of the Black-Jewish coalition. In solidarity and partnership with one another, there is yet much we can, and must, achieve.
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