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In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History

Jews have had a long history of supporting the civil rights movement. From heavily Jewish leadership during the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909, to Jews participating in the March on Washington in 1963, to efforts of Jews today, there has been strong support for the movement among the American Jewish community.

Instead of trying to highlight all of the archival holdings related to civil rights in the U.S., I’m going to focus on three documents I found in the American Jewish Congress archival collection (call number I-77) that is held by AJHS here at the Center. The collection itself is large at 750 linear feet. There is a finding aid for the collection here.

The first historical document is pictured above. It is a report published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People with the American Jewish Congress: Civil Rights in the United States 1952, A balance sheet for group relations. The publication is significant because it was issued in a collaborative effort – even the advertisements for other publications are the same size –  and because both groups thought it was important to document and report the current situation formally. This work is in Box 594, Folder: “Civil Rights in the United States” 1952.

In 1989 a librarian for the Commission on Law and social action conducted an audit of civil rights enforcement agencies. There is an entire folder in Box 222 (“CLSA Administrative: Audit of Civil Rights enforcement agencies correspondence, 1989”devoted to the related correspondence. In her letters, Rhonda Rigrodsky asks various government officials if there has been a report on the effectiveness of states civil rights enforcement agencies, and if she can have a copy. The seemingly simple act resonated with me. The lack of reports and the responses – many scribbled on the original letter and returned  were even more poignant.

A memo from 2005 recounts 14 specific actions the American Jewish Congress performed to support the civil rights movement. The original document is preserved in Box 222 folder “CLSA Administrative: American Jewish Congress Civil Rights Record, 2005.” The actions ranged from legal and legislative to support for research on the effects of racial segregation. It is also mentioned that Will Maslow helped plan the March on Washington in 1963, where American Jewish Congress President Joachim Prinz spoke, and that Dr. King spoke at the national convention of the American Jewish Congress multiple times.

If you are interested in learning more, read these previous blog posts:

Reflecting on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—50 years ago today

Mining the Archives: Jews and the Civil Rights Movement

Above images: Civil Rights in the United States 1952 A balance sheet for group relations. From AmericanJewish Congress archival collection (Call number I-77, Box 594, Folder “Civil Rights in the United States” 1952). American Jewish Historical Society here at the Center.

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