Civil Rights era affected Jews

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 21, 2003

At the beginning of the civil rights movement in Selma &045;&045; generally regarded to be 1963, when the first mass meeting for voter registration occurred &045;&045; Jews were still a potent driving force behind Selma’s thriving business community.

At the time, say some Selma Jews and African-Americans still living here, the relationship between the two groups was cordial and mutually beneficial.

Though members of the Jewish community favored the black right to vote, they say, the bond between the groups began to strain as voter registration battles heated up and so-called &uot;outsiders&uot; came to Selma.

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For a Jewish people long accustomed to discrimination and degradation &045;&045; though not in Selma, old-timers say &045;&045;

the civil rights turmoil burdened Selma’s Jews in ways they would have been hard-pressed to predict.

Though, as Leet and the remaining Jews in Selma explain, nobody in town was really &uot;left out.&uot;

Adds Hanna Berger, 61, a native Selma resident, &uot;There was a range of views then, but a lot of it was fear. People with businesses had to beware so they wouldn’t be run out of town.&uot;

Run out of town, that is, for appearing too sympathetic to the black cause.

The strain of the times, though &045;&045; and the resulting backlash for some Jewish business owners &045;&045; never completely broke the bond between the black and Jewish communities.

It’s a testament to the cooperative spirit, says Frederick Douglas Reese, 73, a Selma Civil Rights Era pioneer, retired Selma City Schools assistant superintendent and Selma City Council member.

As for the 1960s’ struggles, Reese says: &uot;You can understand some of the resentment on the part of the Jewish business owners during that time. Anything that would have subtracted from the business community and reduce profits in a sense would not have been welcome.&uot;

But that, of course, has come and gone. Area Jews though &045;&045; the few left in Selma &045;&045; still face uphill battles. A few Christian friends still just don’t get it, says Ember, by way of a recent conversation he recalls.

Ember just grins at the recollection …