What Went Wrong?: The Creation & Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance

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9780029109106: What Went Wrong?: The Creation & Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance

For nearly a century, blacks and Jews were allies in the struggle for civil rights and equality in America. Sometimes risking their lives, they waged battle in the courts, at lunch counters, and in the academy, advancing the cause of all minorities. Their historical partnership culminated in the landmark court decisions and rights legislation of the 1960s - achievements of which both groups are justly proud. But thereafter, black nationalist activists diverted the movement for civil rights into a race movement, distancing blacks from their traditional allies, and the old civil rights coalition began to disintegrate. Today, relations between blacks and Jews may be at an all-time low. Hardly a month goes by without fresh outbreaks of hostility and conflict. Controversial figures like Louis Farrakhan, Khalid Mohammed, and Leonard Jeffries fuel Jewish fears about a rising tide of black anti-Semitism - fears that were horribly confirmed for many Jews by the anti-Jewish riots in Crown Heights in the summer of 1991 - and blacks respond with bitter charges of Jewish hypocrisy and racism. The facts of the historic civil rights alliance have grown dim for both groups; indeed the very existence of the alliance has been questioned by some black and white historians who claim that Jews were never very important in the movement, while others argue that their interest was a limited and ultimately selfish one. Now it is even claimed that Jews financed the slave trade and conspired with the mafia to promote racist stereotypes in Hollywood. What went wrong between blacks and Jews? Historian Murray Friedman, also a long-time civil rights activist, takes this question as the starting point for the firstauthoritative history of black-Jewish relations in America. Friedman's book traces this long and complex relationship from colonial times to the present, engaging the revisionists at every point. He argues that the future of this important American partnership lies in the outcome o

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From Booklist:

Not only is the traditional alliance between Jews and blacks nonfunctional today, some revisionist historians say it never existed at all. In his introduction to this evenhanded analysis of what went wrong, Friedman, a civil-rights activist, comments: "Such efforts to rewrite history . . . could be dismissed as either bigoted nonsense or moralistic propaganda were it not for the fact that the tension and conflict between the two groups is being deliberately exploited for blatant political ends." Among the experts he cites who support this view is Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the Afro-American studies department at Harvard. Friedman begins his historical retrospective in colonial times and examines the Jewish-African American relationship through the most current events. He presents both sides of the issue throughout, questioning and criticizing Jewish motives, but also dispelling numerous misconceptions about Jews that have been gaining attention lately. For instance, the claim that Jews were responsible for the African slave trade is knocked down convincingly. There is even documentation that "the number of free black planters who owned and worked slaves in the South and the Caribbean was many times greater than the number of Jews." Friedman also provides an insightful examination of the liberal agenda and the integrationist assumptions that permeated the original civil-rights movement, as well as commentary on the black anti-Semitism that seems to be securing a place on some college campuses. Given the ever-present rancor and turmoil, Friedman does not end on a hopeful note. Still, he offers a moving plea for the importance of remembering the past accurately: "One can only hope that American history itself is not rewritten. Once upon a time, Jews and blacks together wrote some of the finest pages in that story, shedding their blood to redeem the promise of American life." Ilene Cooper

From Publishers Weekly:

If the civil rights era was a golden age of black-Jewish relations, "such memories obscure a more complex reality," notes former federal civil rights offical Friedman. Now a regional director of the American Jewish Committee, he takes a fair-minded but somewhat Jewish-oriented look at a relationship that began with the founding of the NAACP in 1909. Proceeding chronologically, he provides a solid account of events, anecdotes and conflicts, often differing with revisionist scholars Harold Cruse and Claybourne Carson Jr., who questioned the motives of Jews who aided the black struggle. While Friedman ably summarizes such flashpoints as the 1968 New York City teachers' strike and the rise of Louis Farrakhan, he doesn't do justice to others, like the 1991 Crown Heights riots. Given that blacks and Jews now "have their hands full sorting out their own problems," Friedman suggests, resignedly, that it may not be possible to normalize relations soon; Jews, he proposes, should simply relate to blacks as they do to other groups, comfortable in both concert and disagreement.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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