Norfolk's Jews and Integration
To the Editor:
I read with interest Murray Friedman’s accurate portrayal of “Virginia Jewry in the School Crisis” (January). However, I would like to add some observations from Norfolk, Virginia, and to point out that the dilemma here is not limited to Jews but extends to all liberals.
On September 24, 1958, the following resolution was presented for adoption by the Norfolk Junior Chamber of Commerce: “That, we, the members of the Norfolk Junior Chamber of Commerce, believe that public education is vital for the preservation of civic and religious liberty in the United States of America. Therefore, not as segregationists or integrationists, but as realistic public spirited citizens who wish to maintain public schools, we resolve to give public support to every effort to keep public schools open by every legal and honorable means.”
At this meeting, the resolution was adopted by a small majority. Thereafter, immediate steps were taken to rescind the resolution at the next regular membership meeting on October 8. Both the opponents and the proponents of the resolution contacted every member and solicited his support. Only half the membership attended the October 8 meeting, although the issue was serious; the original motion was rescinded. There was little discussion, since neither side could be persuaded by words. The defeat was due in some part to these factors: (1) the organization relies upon the public for support and the members feared a loss of this support if a stand were taken. In fact, a scheduled civic show was dropped when exhibitors learned of the original stand favoring public education and canceled their contracts to exhibit; (2) the organization relies upon the local government’s support and the local government was opposed to the original position taken by the organization; (3) several influential members threatened to resign if the original motion was not rescinded.
In discussing the school situation with a leading figure in the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, I was told that bankers and other prominent businessmen simply refused to take any public position for fear of loss of business. Whatever side they favored would alienate a large segment of the community. That the lack of any high school public education would in itself be detrimental to the community could not move them to make a public pronouncement. The problem has progressed to the point where there is no middle ground; you must be for segregation; if not, you are automatically for integration.
The Norfolk City Council has cut off all funds for public education beyond the 6th grade level effective February 1. Now there will be 17,000 children without any public schools where there were 10,000 before. Many people would rather abolish all forms of public education before permitting any integration.
With this background in mind, is there any question why the Norfolk Jewish Community Council voted overwhelmingly not to take any public stand on the issue? Could it have done otherwise? There is no doubt in my mind that any public stand by the Jewish community as such will stimulate anti-Semitism. It is indeed a sad state of affairs, but this is the true situation. The future is dim.