Next month, New York University Press will publish That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South by Caroline E. Light (Harvard University). The publisher’s description follows.
“It has ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor,” declared Kentucky attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas in 1856. “Their reasons are partly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race and character which has supported them through so many ages of trial and vicissitude.” In That Pride of Race and Character, Caroline E. Light examines the American Jewish tradition of benevolence and charity and explores its southern roots.
Light provides a critical analysis of benevolence as it was inflected by regional ideals of race and gender, showing how a southern Jewish benevolent empire emerged in response to the combined pressures of post-Civil War devastation and the simultaneous influx of eastern European immigration. In an effort to combat the voices of anti-Semitism and nativism, established Jewish leaders developed a sophisticated and cutting-edge network of charities in the South to ensure that Jews took care of those considered “their own” while also proving themselves to be exemplary white citizens. Drawing from confidential case files and institutional records from various southern Jewish charities, the book relates how southern Jewish leaders and their immigrant clients negotiated the complexities of “fitting in” in a place and time of significant socio-political turbulence. Ultimately, the southern Jewish call to benevolence bore the particular imprint of the region’s racial mores and left behind a rich legacy.