Virginia Jewry in the School Crisis:
Anti-Semitism and Desegregation
A YOUNG Jewish attorney in a small city in central Virginia was discussing school desegregation with a non-Jewish friend. “I hear that the president of the NAACP is Jewish,” remarked the latter. Within twenty-four hours almost everyone in the Jewish community had heard the story, and next day a Jewish defense agency was phoned for information. When the Virginians learned that Arthur B. Spingarn of New York, the NAACP’s president, was indeed Jewish, there was grim silence at their end of the line. The knowledge that a Northern Jew was head of the leading organization for Negro rights had shaken the security of this Virginia Jewish community.
The incident illustrates the special problem Southern Jews face today, at a time when American Jewry generally is enjoying an unparalleled prosperity, and discrimination against Jews is being steadily reduced. The Southern Jews’ problem stems from the possible consequences of the struggle over desegregation, the region’s most severe crisis since Reconstruction. Many Virginia Jews feel “caught in the middle,” fearful that any action they may take in the public school controversy will lead to an increase in anti-Semitism. For the Old Dominion is currently a major battleground in the Southern effort to nullify the Supreme Court school decisions. “Massive resistance” was first decreed by Senator Harry Byrd’s long-entrenched political machine in 1956. A powerful, organized segregationist movement soon sprang up to mobilize that resistance. Now Virginia’s laws have collided with the rulings of Federal courts. Nine public schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk have been closed under state legislation which demands shutdowns when Negro children are enrolled. Early this year, Arlington and Alexandria faced similar battles. Although hastily organized private schools and tutorial systems have been seeking to provide a temporary and makeshift education, almost 13,000 youngsters are presently receiving inadequate schooling or none at all.
About the Author