Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges
On February 22, 1936, an editorial in the Afro-American paper stated: "Our constitution keeps the South from passing many of the laws Hitler has invoked against the Jews, but by indirection, by force and terrorism, the south and Nazi Germany are mental brothers." The relationship between two disenfranchised groups—Jewish professors who fled Nazi Germany and African-American students — and the unique bond that grew between them is the subject of the powerful exhibit Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges, which will open at Levine Museum of the New South on May 7, 2014.
By the time World War II began on September 1, 1939, Germany had purged itself of its Jewish professors, scientists, and scholars. A number of these academics found refuge in the United States. A few dozen refugee scholars unexpectedly found positions in historically black colleges in the South. As recent escapees from persecution by the Nazis, the refugee scholars came face to face with the absurdities of a rigidly segregated Jim Crow society. In their new positions, they met, taught, and interacted with black students who had grown up in; and struggled with, this racist environment. Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow explores the unlikely coming together of these two groups, each the object of exclusion and hatred, and examines the ongoing encounter between them as they navigated the challenges of life in the segregated South.
Notable professors in the exhibit include: prominent sociologist Ernst Borinski (Tougaloo College), political scientist John Herz (Howard University), and art education pioneer Viktor Lowenfeld (Hampton Institute, now Hampton University). Notable students featured in the exhibit include artist John Biggers (Hampton Institute); Dr. Joyce Ladner (Tougaloo College), the first female president of Howard University; and Dr. Joycelyn Elders (Philander Smith College), the first black Surgeon General of the United States.
In addition, the exhibit features stories of students and scholars with North Carolina ties. Dr. Ernst Moritz Manasse taught at the North Carolina College for Negroes (later renamed North Carolina Central University) in Durham, N.C. Among the students: Charlotte attorney Julius Chambers, Dr Eugene Eaves, Dr Wade Kornegay and Dr Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich.
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow was inspired by Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb's landmark book From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges (Krieger Publishing Company, 1993) and the subsequent PBS documentary by Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler of Pacific Street Films. The exhibit features artifacts, photographs, and interviews with former professors and the students, and highlights the backgrounds of the black students and follows the professors and students as they came together, shared a community on campus, and participated in the Civil Rights movement. Visitors will discover these rich stories, and the impact and contributions of the professors and the students to American life.
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow was created and first exhibited in 2009 by the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. It has traveled to museums across the country since 2010, and will make its first appearance in North Carolina at Levine Museum beginning May 7 through September 14, 2014. The exhibit website www.mjhnyc.org/college includes more highlights from the exhibit
This exhibit is made possible through major funding from the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional support provided by the Helen Bader Foundation; The Lupin Foundation; The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation; public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; the Alpern Family Foundation; and the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation.