History ETDs

Publication Date

Winter 12-21-1973


This study examines the presumption that black antipathy to the Jews represents a recent and tragic shift in Negro-Jewish relations in New York City. Through research into written material supplemented by oral interviews, it attempts to examine attitudes, encounters, and situations which shed light on the history of Negro-Jewish relations from 1880 to 1943. The study begins during the closing years of the 19th century when large numbers of East European Jews and the van- guard of southern blacks both made their exodus to New York.

The Negro's first response to the Jew was to notice a parallel with his own impoverished and oppressed condition. Soon, however, the contrast in the economic and social progress of the Jew compared to the insecure and marginal status of the Negro evoked an ambivalent response. Negroes sympathized with Jews facing massacre in Russian pogroms and disdain as dirty foreigners in New York. However, they were also angry and resentful because Jews were courted at the White House when Negro leaders were unwelcome and Jewish problems received national attention while lynching and disfranchisement of Negroes were ignored.

In the Twenties, in the large Negro community that was now Harlem, ambivalence again characterized Negro feelings for Jews. Negroes and Jews were allies against racism and the Ku Klux Klan, but Negroes were alarmed at Jewish efforts to reopen immigration which to them was a threat to the economic strides they had made during the war. Marcus Garvey's "Buy Negro" campaign also high­lighted the fact that Jews predominated in Harlem's businesses and alleged that Jews blocked Negro aspirations for economic independ­ence. Despite the fact that Harlem's Jewish businesses were often marginal, many Negroes saw them as effective beginnings for social mobility and economic security.

In the Thirties the severity of the depression aggravated anger against Jewish employers, landlords, doctors and housewives. This was often expressed in anti-Semitic harangues by street corner agitators and in resentment against Jewish efforts to aid their persecuted brethren in Germany. In the spring of 1935 ten­sions climaxed in a riot bent on destroying Jewish business in the community.

In 1941 the crisis of America at war seemed to precipitate a shift back to alliance between Negroes and Jews. Their lead argued for a stand together to preserve democracy as the best hope for both. The Harlem riot of 1943, however, revealed how super­ficial the rapprochement and how deep the estrangement between Negroes and Jews. The five hundred or so smashed plate glass windows of 125th Street were a symbol of the hatred Negroes held for Jews and their deep sense of discontent and disappointment with their lot. Both Negroes and Jews had begun in New York at the bottom, but judged against the Jew the Negro had been deprived, despised and ignored. Negro anger against America focused on the Jew for receiving from America what he deemed should have been his.

The pattern which emerges from the study suggests that in addition to the often good side, hostility and resentment developed among Negroes for Jews from the beginning of their encounters. The disparity in their progress into the mainstream of American life grew greater than their mutual identification as victims of oppression and discrimination and permanently influenced their relationship.

Level of Degree


Degree Name


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Ferenc Morton Szasz

Second Committee Member

William M. Dabney

Third Committee Member

Howard Neil Rabinowitz

Document Type


Included in

History Commons