April 4, 2011


Rothschild Lecture: Civil rights movement revealed Jewish, African American links

"There's a difference between history and historical memory—what we think happened.  It's amazing what you learn about history when you actually study it rather than anecdotally listen to it," said Marc Dollinger in the second annual Rothschild Memorial Seminar on March 30.

Tracing the tangled relationship between Jews and African Americans, the two major players in the Civil Rights movement, Dollinger showed their natural correlation in three areas: "There's a common history. Both understand persecution; that's why they came together. Both occupy marginal status in society and share a sense of disenfranchisement. And one that people never come up with: the Judaic argument, that Jews help because tikkun olam [repairing the earth] demands it."

Dollinger said Jewish organizations supported affirmative action, but not quotas. "The goal of quotas in the 1920s was to keep whites in and Jews out. In the 1960s, the goal was to get the non-whites in and the whites out. Jews hated quotas in both eras and never benefited from them." 

But Jews, especially women, did benefit from affirmative action. "Jews as a group were not eligible for affirmative action, but women, as a designated minority group, were best positioned to go to university, to get jobs. Jewish women were the most successful," he said.

Dollinger is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University.

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