I was very fortunate to have had a wonderful college mentor. His name was Dr. Ernst Borinski, a Holocaust survivor who taught at Tougaloo College (Mississippi) from 1947 until his death in 1985. Only a few Jewish intellectuals like Albert Einstein who fled Hitler's war found work in elite American universities. Some, like Dr. Borinski, went South where they found jobs teaching in mostly private black colleges. This history was brought to the public's attention by Gabrielle Edgecomb, whose book, From Swastika to Jim Crow (1993) laid the groundwork for a PBS documentary in 2000. Later this month the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York will open an exhibition that delves even deeper into this subject. It focuses on the relationship between these Jewish intellectuals, their black students, colleagues, and the segregated communities in which they lived. Some got involved in the civil rights movement. JL
© Estate of John T. Biggers; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY. Art © John T. Biggers Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
NEW YORK, NY.- In 1935, an article in the Afro-American paper stated: “We rejoice that our newspapers condemn German Nazi atrocities. It’s a good sign that they may yet discover the Nazism which is outside their own doors.” The relationship between two disenfranchised groups—Jewish professors who fled Nazi Germany and African-American students — and the unique bond that grew between them is the subject of the powerful new exhibition Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, opening at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust on May 1, 2009. The exhibition will be on view through January 2010.
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow will tell the story of Jewish academics from Germany and Austria who were dismissed from their teaching positions in the 1930s. After fleeing to America, some refugee scholars found positions at historically black colleges and universities in the Jim Crow South. The exhibition will explore what it meant to the students to have these new staff as part of their community, how the students were affected by their presence, and what life was like for white, European Jews teaching at black colleges and universities. The exhibit will look at the empathy between two minority groups with a history of persecution, some of whom came together in search of freedom and opportunity, and shared the early years of struggle in the Civil Rights movement.