James Baldwin and the Jewish Freedom Riders

Satisfactory Essays
When the call went out in the summer of 1961 for volunteers to ride buses throughout the South to help integrate public transportation, a large percentage of the people who made a commitment to take on this dangerous assignment were Jews. To be exact, nearly two-thirds of the Freedom Riders were Jewish which is “quite an amazing feat for a minority which made up less than 2% of the entire American population” (Weinblatt 5). Although Jews and African Americans are two very distinct, and often opposing, cultural groups in our society, the great struggle to end racism in America meshed these two groups tightly together. Their shared motivations, expectations and experiences in dealing with white racists during the civil rights movement are amazingly similar, especially when they are compared in the writings of African American essayist and activist James Baldwin and the personal recollections of the Jewish Freedom Riders. It is important to first discover what the reasons were for these Northerners (Jews and Baldwin) to travel into the South at around the time when the civil rights movement was just beginning to pick up speed. Baldwin decided to return home from Europe and venture into the South because he felt a great sense of guilt and helplessness while reading newspaper accounts about a young black woman who was humiliated and intimidated by white crowds in North Carolina while she was just trying to attend school. He experienced a powerful sense of outrage that “…made me furious, it filled me with both hatred and pity, and it made me ashamed. Some one of us should have been there with her!” (“Take Me to the Water” 383). Similarly, the young Jewish volunteers were motivated by a sense of moral indignation at the mistreatment of African Americans, feelings based on the persecution that their own cultural group has suffered at the hands of bigots for centuries. One activist remembers having mixed feelings as he left his mother and wondered what she “… a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria, thought as I boarded that train to join the fight for other people's freedom” (Honigsberg 7). It was mainly an overwhelming need to become personally involved, to do their part, in the fight for equal justice that was the driving force for both African Americans like Baldwin and the Jewish Freedom Riders.
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