Black-Jewish Relations in the 21st Century
"Go tell it on the mountain" were the words spoken by countess slaves throughout the southern United States during their times of hardship. Although these words began as a slave spiritual referencing Jesus, they soon came to be redefined in reference to the civil rights movement and the notions of freedom and justice. The new freedom song, as it was called, referenced Moses, a Biblical Jewish prophet who not only freed the many Jewish slaves from bondage in Egypt, but also led our people into the Promised Land. Innumerable African-Americans prayed for their own Moses to deliver them to freedom in America, a new Promised Land.
This summer, my internship is at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Like most political science majors, I could have applied for a job on Capitol Hill and worked pushing paper in a House or Senate office, but I wanted to do something I found more meaningful. The black and Jewish experiences, in the world and in America, are not very different. The NAACP works as hard now as ever to eradicate injustice and inequality throughout the United States.
Many Jews played an important role in the African-American civil rights movement of the 20th Century. Throughout the first half of the 1900s, many Jewish leaders throughout the country emphasized the similarities between the black and Jewish experience. These Jews had just emigrated from racist and segregated societies in Europe, where simply being Jewish was enough to force you into a separate school, neighborhood and socioeconomic class. When Jews came to America, seeking "new world" justice and equality, they were shocked to find Jim Crow racism ruling the South. They recognized the struggle for civil rights and joined the fight to eliminate racism. The NAACP was founded in 1909 by a group of African-Americans and Jews, who formed a common bond to fight discrimination.
This is why working for the NAACP is such a meaningful internship for me. Both Jews and African-Americans have come a long way since the end of the civil rights movement, but the battle is not yet over. I am working on a project for the NAACP researching discriminatory practices used by local U.S. Department of Agriculture officials in the South against black farmers. These farmers still face grave injustices and bigotry in the 21st century. The U.S.D.A. is meant to provide aid and financial assistance to struggling farmers, but on the local level has almost always favored struggling white farmers over struggling black farmers. Injustices like this still exist in America today, and there is still a major struggle for civil rights within the African-American community.
My Jewish values have led me to this internship. I have been taught as a Jew that social justice and civil rights are universal. In the Torah, it says, "cursed be the one who misdirects the blind person on his way...cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the stranger, the orphan, the widow" (Deuteronomy 27:18-19). My religion is one that values the morals of social justice. My desire to work at the NAACP is rooted in these principles. I am proud to be a part of the Religious Action Center and the NAACP, two organizations that make sure that these values will continue for generations to come.
Charlie Tripp is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program, interning at the NAACP.