Few understand the mysteries within old love affairs; not even the lovers themselves. American Jews have had few, if any, relationships as romanticized as the Jewish involvement with the civil rights movement.
But what really happened? Was it unrequited or a serious relationship?
Everyone agrees that it isn’t what it was, but was it ever? Al Vorspan, who led the Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center for many years, told us that the relationship’s ending “broke my heart.”
But Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee, thinks we flatter ourselves. Yes, many Jews have “warm memories of what they did, and they thought their contributions were important, and they still brag about it. It’s true, Jews provided some of the funding; there were Jewish lawyers; there were Jews who volunteered to go South, but I remember Howard Squadron,” who was president of the American Jewish Congress and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, “saying, ‘Our memories of the black-Jewish alliance are simply inaccurate,” Stern recalled. “The alliance was never anywhere nearly as strong as we made it out to be.’ We overstated our role.”
Stern added, “I would say, generally, the Jewish memory of our contributions to the civil rights movement probably exceed the reality by an order of magnitude.”
Like a divorced spouse scissored out of the photo albums, Jewish involvement with civil rights has been minimized or essentially photoshopped out of existence by Hollywood. In the 2014 movie “Selma” (2014), Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the most iconic of spiritual leaders allied with Martin Luther King, was not in the film, completely excised from his famous place alongside King at the very front of the Selma march. Rabbi Vorspan wrote to the RAC that the film emphasized “a trend I have watched for decades with mounting discomfort — the gradual bleaching out of the Jewish role in the civil rights revolution in America.”
Now a second movie, “Marshall,” which opens here Friday, is stirring similar Jewish concerns. Like “Selma,” the new film is “based on a true story.” It centers on a 1941 rape case being tried in Bridgeport, Conn., in which the black defendant is represented by a young Thurgood Marshall, more than 20 years…
Authored by Janine Maureen