Fight against Fear
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Fight against Fear

Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights

Title Details

Pages: 328

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 09/01/2003

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2555-2

List Price: $34.95

Fight against Fear

Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights

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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

In the uneasily shared history of Jews and blacks in America, the struggle for civil rights in the South may be the least understood episode. Fight against Fear is the first book to focus on Jews and African Americans in that remarkable place and time. Mindful of both communities' precarious and contradictory standings in the South, Clive Webb tells a complex story of resistance and complicity, conviction and apathy.

Webb begins by ranging over the experiences of southern Jews up to the eve of the civil rights movement—from antebellum slaveowners to refugees who fled Hitler's Europe only to arrive in the Jim Crow South. He then shows how the historical burden of ambivalence between Jews and blacks weighed on such issues as school desegregation, the white massive resistance movement, and business boycotts and sit-ins.

As many Jews grappled as never before with the ways they had become—and yet never could become—southerners, their empathy with African Americans translated into scattered, individual actions rather than any large-scale, organized alliance between the two groups. The reasons for this are clear, Webb says, once we get past the notion that the choices of the much larger, less conservative, and urban-centered Jewish populations of the North define those of all American Jews. To understand Jews in the South we must look at their particular circumstances: their small numbers and wide distribution, denominational rifts, and well-founded anxiety over defying racial and class customs set by the region's white Protestant majority.

For better or worse, we continue to define the history of Jews and blacks in America by its flash points. By setting aside emotions and shallow perceptions, Fight against Fear takes a substantial step toward giving these two communities the more open and evenhanded consideration their shared experiences demand.

In this volume, Webb continues the revision process with the most important book on the subject and a must read for anyone interested in multiple areas of research. . . . Webb offer[s] outstanding additions to the literature and point[s] the way for future research.

—Mark K. Bauman, American Historical Review

Webb's research is both broad and deep. . . . [His] account is the fullest narrative that we have of what southern Jews would, could, and did do to help African-Americans.

—Leonard Dinnerstein, Reviews in American History

The strength of Webb’s study is his illumination of the context within which southern Jews operated. . . . Webb understands the dynamics of southern urban life and the diversity of southern Jewry.

Journal of Southern History

With lucid prose, telling personal vignettes, and drawing extensively on archives and interviews, the author fleshes out many new details about southern Jewish behavior and the context within which it must be understood. He sensitively recreates the anxieties, compelling emotional traumas, and heroism of those who did flout southern segregationist sentiments.


Fight against Fear deepens our understanding of Southern Jewish civil rights politics considerably.

—David Sheinin, Outlook

An exceptionally well written, well researched book. It is an indispensable volume for those who are interested in the history of Jews in the South and those seeking to understand the many-sided historical relationship of blacks and Jews in the United States.

North Carolina Historical Review

Corrects conventional views about the response of southern Jews to the civil rights movement. It is revisionist history at its best.

Jerusalem Post

Fight against Fear adds much-needed complexity to all too often hastily scripted depictions of southern Jewishness during the Civil Rights movement. Webb aims to demonstrate the diversity of southern Jewish action and reaction. . . . With Fight against Fear, both sides—repressive and embattled—receive their due.

—Eliza R. L. McGraw, Southern Cultures


Southern Jewish Historical Society Book Prize, Southern Jewish Historical Society

About the Author/Editor

CLIVE WEBB is a lecturer in American history at the University of Sussex.