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Jewish Women and the Civil Rights Movement 0 Comment(s)

As part of my internship at JHSGW, I helped with research for the creation of the core exhibition for the Society’s future museum with our curator, Christiane. With Christiane’s guidance, I conducted research that both helps the society and interests me -- on women in Washington, D.C. who contributed to the civil rights movement. The American civil rights movement received support from diverse communities and individuals across the country. Washington, D.C. played an important role in the movement as a border between North and South and as the nation’s capital. Jewish women participated in this movement in various ways. Here, I highlight three of the women I have come across in my research to provide a glimpse at the different population of Jewish women in the civil rights movement.

The Activist

Marione Ingram, 1963

Courtesy of Marione Ingram

Marione Ingram (b. 1935) is a Holocaust survivor from Hamburg who immigrated to New York City in 1952. In 1960, she moved to D.C., where she observed the racist policies in place in the American South. She identified with these struggles, particularly the education system’s poor treatment of African Americans, which she compared to the discrimination she faced as a Jewish survivor in German schools after the war.[1] Ingram became involved in Washington’s civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). This led her to volunteer at the March on Washington and eventually join the Freedom Summer project in Mississippi in 1964.[2] By establishing a Freedom School for black students, teaching classes focused on passing literacy tests, and providing transportation for voters, she fought voter discrimination. She eventually faced legal trouble when she was falsely charged with a variety of minor offenses in a police attempt to quell her activism.[3] Following this, Marione Ingram returned to the capital where her activism for local and national issues has never stopped. She has been fighting for D.C. Home Rule, campaigning for Barack Obama, and protesting against gun violence. Her devotion to civil rights is strongly tied to her experiences of exclusion, discrimination, and persecution in Nazi and post-war Germany. Marione Ingram once stated, “My first journey to Mississippi began in Hamburg, where my father…instilled in me the idea that because I survived the Nazi era, it was my sacred duty to oppose racism wherever I encountered it.”[4]

The Politician

Bella Abzug, 1972

Library of Congress

Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was a congresswoman from New York from 1971 to 1977, fighting for many causes, including civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights.[5] Bella Abzug was known as a defender of civil rights before her tenure in the United States Congress due to her legal defense of Willie McGee in the 1940s and 1950s. McGee was a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in Mississippi, and the case exposed Abzug to the role of racism in the Deep South. She received death threats and observed the degree of violence and discrimination to which African Americans were subjected.[6] These experiences strengthened her commitment to civil rights, a cause she took with her to Washington two decades later. She was one of few women in the U.S. House of Representatives, and “established a standard of integrity and chutzpah…that challenges us all to tell the truth and to fight back.”[7] Bella Abzug’s dedication to civil rights was accompanied by a belief in the rights of all oppressed groups, and as a lawyer she struggled, “for the rights of all people…who [had] been attacked by reason of their religion, their beliefs, their sex, their sexual preference, [or] their race.”[8]

The Artist

An Orthodox Jewish woman born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, Eve Arnold (1912-2012) rose to prominence as a photographer with the global photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. Throughout her career her goal remained steady: “to get to the core of things.”[9] During her long and varied career, she spent time in Washington and Virginia capturing photos of the civil rights movement and the integration process. In 1958, she documented the integration crisis in the area with images of prominent political figures like Thurgood Marshall as well as photos of more casual situations like black and white children at a party to introduce students of different races to one another. This collection reveals Eve Arnold’s awareness of the movement in the Washington area at both a political and social level and indicates her desire to display these elements to the American people through her art. You can view Eve Arnold’s photos of the 1958 Integration Crisis and the Non-Violence movement in Virginia on the official Magnum Photos website.
 

These women represent only a small segment of the Jewish women who interacted with the civil rights movement in Washington, D.C. Jewish women came to the movement from all walks of life and contributed to the cause in a wide variety of ways.
 

We are creating the core exhibition for our new museum in which we would like to give women’s stories like these a prominent place. Do you have any objects in your personal collection from the civil rights movement or do you know any Jewish women who were involved in it? Please contact us at CBauer@jhsgw.org or (202) 789-0900.

Rebecca Friedman is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins University, working on a B.A. in History with minors in Jewish Studies and The Program in Museums and Society.

 

[1] Marione Ingram, The Hands of Peace (New York: Skyhouse Publishing, 2015), 27.
[2] Ibid., 81.
[3] Ibid., 128.
[4] Ibid., 9.
[5] Patricia Bosworth, “Bella Abzug,” Nation 277, no. 3 (July 21, 2003): 20.
[6] Leandra Zarnow, “Braving Jim Crow to Save Willie McGee: Bella Abzug, the Legal Left, and Civil Rights Innovation, 1948-1951,” Law & Social Inquiry 33, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 1003.
[7] Debra L. Schultz, Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001), xiii.
[8] Jewish Women's Archive, "Bella Abzug Explains her View of Feminism," (Viewed on July 27, 2016) <http://jwa.org/media/abzug-explains-her-view-of-feminism-as-vision-of-what-we-love>.
[9] Bret Senft, “Eve Arnold: In Retrospect,” Photo District News 15, no. 10 (September 1995): 30.