Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kinship and Conflict

Levine Museum of the New South houses many exhibits that foster community connections. One of which, Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges is on view through Sept. 14, 2014. In the exhibit, it discusses the not widely known connection between several Jewish refugee professors who came to the U.S. during WWII and ended up teaching at Historically Black Colleges.

By 1939, Germany had already purged itself of Jewish professors, scientists and scholars- many of which came to the U.S. looking for refuge. Some of these immigrants found unexpected positions at historically black colleges in the South, where they struggled with their newfound racist environment. While it might have seemed like an odd pairing, both Black and Jewish communities stood on the common ground of being oppressed figures in society. The relationship between Jewish teachers and African American students blossomed into a kinship fueled by empathy towards what Jews had endured in Europe and what Southern Blacks were going through in the United States.
Bonnie Gurewitsch, curator of the Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow exhibit, had never heard of Jewish refugee scholars teaching at colleges for black students before watching the film. Earlier this year, Gurewitsch told this blog about the challenges that came along with curating this exhibit:

Outlining a story that would accurately reflect the experiences of the refugee scholars and the black students, then finding the artifacts that would illustrate the main points of that story, and setting the story in the three-dimensional setting of an exhibition. We decided to create parallel background areas, one for the scholars' backgrounds and their immigration to the US, and a second for the background of the students and their decisions to go to college. We brought the two story strands together in the central section of the exhibition-the encounter, and showed the effects of the encounter on both groups.”


In the Charlotte community, there is a history of kinship between the Black and Jewish
communities. During the Civil Rights Movement, many Jewish were able to understand what it was like to be the “other.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama and was quoted saying, “I was praying with my feet.” Harry Golden, longtime Charlotte resident and publisher of The Carolina Israelite, was known for his commentary on race relations in the South.


In order to better understand how Black-Jewish relations had impact on Charlotte and beyond, Levine Museum is hosting Kinship & Conflict: Black/Jewish Relations, a panel conversation featuring Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth-El, and Dr. Ronald Carter of Johnson C. Smith University. Moderated by Jackie Fishman, the program begins at 7 p.m. on today, and is free to attend. Reservations are requested. 

Kinship & Conflict: Black/Jewish Relations
Today at 7:00 p.m.
A conversation with Rabbi Judy Schindler, Temple Beth-El, and Dr. Ronald Carter, Johnson C. Smith University, moderated by Jackie Fishman.
Free to attend. Reservations requested. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

History ACTIVE 2014: Connecting the Carolinas to the Diaspora

From July 14-16, Levine Museum took twelve students to Charleston, South Carolina, to complement their week-long intensive on the African Diaspora and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  Throughout the trip, students were asked to reflect upon the histories that they learned and connect them to their own lived experiences as well as think critically about current social issues.

While Charleston is often associated with Southern hospitality and its tourism, at one point this city was the largest slave port in the United States.  Students visited historical sites such as the Old Slave Mart Museum and Magnolia Plantation’s slave cabins where they were exposed to the idea of the African Diaspora and the spread of African culture in the Americas.  As students embraced a side of history that is not often taught in schools, they were forced to explore their own identities and personally connect to the stories shared with them.

Students were also pushed to challenge traditional history and how it has been told.  For example, many tour guides compared Sullivan’s Island to Ellis Island, since 40% of the enslaved people brought to the U.S. were first brought to Sullivan’s Island.  While Sullivan’s Island was a harbor for the African Diaspora, students recognized the discrepancy in comparing voluntary migration to the involuntary movement of a people.

Additionally, while on Sullivan’s Island, students visited Fort Moultrie, which neighbored the “pest houses” –places of quarantine where the enslaved were first brought to make sure they were free from communicable diseases.  At Fort Moultrie, students recognized the irony in the juxtaposition of a pest house and a church.

Many students were surprised at how much of our culture today originates from the African slave trade, yet is not credited.  Students were able to explore music, dance, food, language and local history in both Charleston, as they were in Charlotte, in order to get a better understanding of the impact of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  Participants met with local community members who shared their talents, skills and knowledge to help students better understand the African influence on the Carolinas today.

As participant Victoria Banks stated, “Africa is a book no one knows we’re reading.”
We hope all of the students will continue to recognize and credit untold histories and compel others to connect their own identities to the world around them.

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Did you know Charleston was the largest slave port in the United States? Have you visited any of these historical places?