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Exhibit Explores How Jews and Blacks Fought Together for Civil Rights

American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY and Boston, MA
Black demonstrator holding American Jewish Congress sign in front of State Capitol, Montgomery, Ala., at climax of Selma-to-Montgomery march, March, 1965

More than 50 years removed from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, a new Milwaukee exhibit is shining a light on the collaborative efforts of two groups in the struggle.

The Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s exhibit Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rightsexamines the relationship between Jewish and African-American people - both nationally and in Milwaukee itself.

Molly Dubin, the museum’s curator, and Ralph Hollman, retired president and CEO of the Milwaukee Urban League and co-chaired the exhibit planning committee, say they are excited for the opportunity to explore "the rich history of advocacy between the Jewish and Black communities."

Dubin tells the story of German and Austrian Jewish professors who fled Europe for the United States in 1939-1940, during the apex of the Nazi regime: "[These professors] were met at mainstream universities with anti-semitism and general xenophobia that was very ubiquitous at the time. They end up getting positions and being accepted in historically Black colleges." She says that this story is explored in the film From Swastika to Jim Crow.

Hollman explains that in the early 1900s when African-Americans were migrating from the rural south "the NAACP was founded. In 1910, the National Urban League was founded. Both organizations were founded in order to provide assistance to African-Americans who were making this transition [from south to north]."

Credit Ebony Magazine; November, 1967; courtesy of the periodical archives of the Milwaukee Public Library
Ebony Magazine; November, 1967; courtesy of the periodical archives of the Milwaukee Public Library
Milwaukee demonstrators gather on the grounds of St. Boniface Church for a Fair Housing Rally denouncing discriminatory housing practices in the summer of 1967.

"Interestingly enough, the Jewish community was very prominent in getting both organizations established," he continues. "That's a fact that few people know about and that this exhibit helps shine a light on."

"I really think this is a must-see exhibit," Hollman says, "because it shows both locally and nationally how the Jewish community and African-American community worked together to overcome discrimination and achieve some basic civil rights."  

He says that this historical perspective is essential. "That is so important, especially at this time in our nation's history, where we see a lot of divisiveness, hatred and bigotry. And we don't need that. We need to show examples of how we can work together to get things done."

Hollman says that he wants the exhibit to foster greater aspirations for the two communities. "It's great to have a one-time exhibit and everybody feels good and everybody goes home. It's more important to have some ongoing dialogue and action, where people are working together on some of our common challenges. So I hope that this exhibit is going to be the springboard to make that happen."

The exhibit is open through late March at Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

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