Leonard Rogoff | American Jewish History | 85.3 (1997) 195-230
In 1910 the Dixie Publishing Company of Moravian Falls, North Carolina, published The Jew a Negro, Being A Study of the Jewish Ancestry from an Impartial Standpoint by the Rev. Arthur T. Abernethy, A.M., Ph.D. Abernethy–a preacher, professor, and rustic journalist–sought to demonstrate through “ethnology” and “Scriptural proofs” how “the Jew of to-day, as well as his ancestors in other times, is the kinsman and descendant of the Negro.” 1
Behind The Jew a Negro lay a century of transatlantic speculation on the racial status of the Jew. In the American South the problem of the Jew’s racial identity was a footnote to the larger debate on white-black relations, a question pushed forward in the racially unsettled period between 1850 to 1915. Jews were accepted as white, but their precise racial place was not fixed. A long tradition of European folklore, reinforced by an emerging racial science, cast the Jew on the black side of the color line. Southern racial ideology was not distinctly regional but borrowed from the international debate. Ideologies born in the salons of European intellectuals and the academies of New England professors found their way into the sermons of backwoods Southern preachers like Abernethy. Such a work as The Jew a Negro is representative of texts that transmitted cosmopolitan racial ideologies into Southern popular culture.
Jews were a racial tabula rasa upon which anything could be written. Over the course of the nineteenth century, nationalists split races into increasingly discriminating categories. Whether racial theorists defined Jews as Semites or–as became more common later in the century–Orientals, the Jews’ status as Europeans was questioned. The Jews’ color was described variously as white, black, or mixed. The anthropological status of the Jews refiected their social standing. In the American South after Reconstruction, a new social line between Jew and white gentile followed the disengagement of white and black. This separation occurred at a time when the Jews’ color was being questioned. The [End Page 195] immigration of millions of “swarthy” East European Jews exacerbated these racial anxieties, although very few settled in the South.
The Jews who came South entered a bipolar racial society. Did Southern race thinking on the black affect the Jew’s social status? What was the place of the Jew in the Southern racial hierarchy? Southerners as Christians inherited a folkloric prejudice, a color symbolism, that attributed virtue to white skin and evil to black. This bias drew on more ancient theologies and folk beliefs that physiology refiects character. A folklore evolved of the Jew as “dark and ugly” in contrast to the fair and handsome gentile. This folk belief, Sander Gilman observes, originated in the Middle Ages. The Jews’ inner depravity as children of Cain or Satan had a physical sign, traditionally rendered as horns, hooked noses, or discolored skin. Jews were thought to exude a peculiar body odor, and their men were said to menstruate. The Jew’s sallow complexion refiected a diseased soul. The liberal Bavarian writer Johan Pezzl in the 1780s compared the Polish Jew to an “Orang-Utan . . . their necks exposed, the color of a Black.” Adam Gurowski, a Polish nobleman visiting America in the 1850s, “took every light-colored mulatto for a Jew.” John Quincy Adams disdained Florida Senator David Levy Yulee for “the dash of African blood in him,” and Confederate statesman Judah Benjamin, olive skinned and black haired, was immortalized as the “dark prince.” 2
The folkloric biases against Jews found reinforcement in the racial science that emerged from the Enlightenment. Proponents of racial science believed race to be more than a criterion of head size and shape, skin color, or hair texture. They argued that race also implied moral, intellectual, and psychological character, the capability to be assimilated into civil society and granted political rights. Natural scientists and racial philosophers like Carolus Linnaeus and Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, promulgated taxonomies that placed the Caucasian on top and the African at the bottom. Race thinkers usually classified race by three colors–white (Caucasian), yellow (Oriental), and black (African)–or by five, adding brown (Malay) and red (Indian).
Given human diversity, natural scientists debated whether human races emerged from a common origin or derived from separate creations, whether racial characteristics were innate or environmental, and whether acquired traits could be inherited. As these scientists examined zoological [End Page 196] evidence they questioned whether race mixing debilitated or improved the human stock. Across continents scientists, ministers, and self-anointed racial experts debated black origins, assuming the African’s inferiority. Environmentalists, attributing black skin to the effects of the tropical sun, assumed each race was peculiarly adapted to its geography and climate.
Into these arguments race thinkers dragged the Jews. They regarded Jews as a “litmus test” of racial purity because of the Jews’ antiquity, resistance to intermarriage, and geographical dispersion. In 1775 the German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach wrote that the Jewish type was instantly recognizable, but he did not define the distinguishing Jewish characteristics. This assertion of a recognizable but undefinable Jewish type provoked debate for centuries. In 1787 the Reverend Dr. Samuel Stanhope Smith, professor of moral philosophy at Princeton, argued that “no example can carry with it greater authority . . . than that of the Jews” to prove that race was merely the product of “the peculiar characteristics of every climate.” Although Jews “descended from one stock,” Smith observed, they are fair in Britain and Germany, brown in France and Turkey, swarthy in Portugal and Spain, olive in Syria and Chaldea, and tawny or copper in Arabia and Egypt. James Cowles Prichard, the English physician and ethnologist whose Researches into the Physical History of Man (1808) became the authoritative text of early British racial science, denied Smith’s claim that climate alters skin color. He argued that Jews were originally a white people, not racially different from Europeans. The Jewish type remains fixed, Prichard claimed, although intermarriage had varied skin colors. 3
Missionaries and explorers brought to public attention the black Cochin Jews of Malabar, African Jews of Abyssinia, and Chinese Jews of Kaifeng. A new scientific historicism opened Hebrew origins to debate. Jews were described variously as purely Caucasian Semites, dark Egyptians, ruddy Edomites, black Cushites, mixed-blood Chaldaeans, and so on. Such disparate authorities as Dutch-Jewish leader Menasseh ben Israel, British historian James Adair, Puritan clergyman Cotton Mather, and Quaker colonist William Penn speculated that Native Americans were the Lost Tribes of Israel. 4
America with its white, red, and black races was a testing ground for racial speculation. De Crevoceur hailed the new man, the American, whose nationhood, infusing the best of all peoples, was defined by creed, [End Page 197] not race. Yet Thomas Jefferson, who declared in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” wrote in Notes of the State of Virginia that only “natural history” could resolve his “suspicion” about the “different qualifications” of the red and black races. 5
Although the agrarian South was a scientific backwater distant from Northern and European academic capitals, Southern planters, ministers, physicians, and professors read the racial science literature and corresponded with the leading intellectual lights to answer their questions on the humanity of blacks or the legitimacy of slavery. Port cities like Charleston or New Orleans imported fashionable ideologies as well as merchandise. These cosmopolitan centers hosted scientific societies that debated the latest intellectual developments. In their journals and learned societies Southerners argued science and revelation, citing a Buffon or a Blumenbach in defense of their positions. When the Reverend Buckner H. Payne of Nashville found himself engaged in a pamphlet war on the biblical roots of race, he wrote to a Dr. Blackie in Scotland, asking, “What do the Universities of Edinburgh and Bonn teach concerning the origin of the Negro?” 6 Natural scientists like Swiss-born Louis Agassiz, the famous Harvard zoologist, worked the Southern lecture circuit. One infiuential Southern natural scientist, the Reverend John Bachman of Charleston, held a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin.
Science in the South deferred to scripture. As orthodox Christians, most Southerners were monogenists, holding for the common origin of the various races as children of one God. They drew elaborate genealogies of racial origins that reconciled Genesis and anthropology. Jews were descendants of Adam and Eve whose tribal roots traced to Noah’s son Shem while blacks were commonly regarded as descendants of Noah’s son Ham. Some ministers noted that Noah’s curse of servitude actually fell on Canaan, and the scriptural authority of the black’s Hamitic descent was heatedly debated. Although some thought that the races diverged after the fall of Babel, most ascribed racial divisions to the Flood. A diverse group of anticlerical racial scientists and radical fundamentalists traced the black to a separate creation of pre-Adamite origin. For some of these polygenists the black was not human but a beast. An anonymous minister in Augusta, Georgia, answered the question “Who and what is the Negro?” by arguing that the black was [End Page 198] Nachast, the snake in the Garden of Eden. 7 The mythology of the black’s beastly origins endured into the twentieth century.
As the nineteenth century progressed, racial science grew in its determinism. By midcentury Americans were increasingly speaking of their manifest destiny as Anglo-Saxon racial destiny. In achieving their national ambitions white Americans enslaved the African and vanquished the Indian. Nativist fevers gave rise to the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothings, whose popularity peaked at midcentury. White Southerners, committed to the defense of slavery, began asserting their region’s distinct values and their superiority to those of the North. Racial extremists saw mixed blood as degeneration into negroid bestiality and incivility In 1850, Robert Knox’s Races of Men appeared in England and was well received in America. “Race is everything,” Knox declared. He did not think that Jews could be assimilated into the Anglo-Saxon race, referring to the “African character of the Jew, his muzzle-shaped mouth and face removing him from certain other races.” 8
The most infiuential racial thinker of the nineteenth century was Count Arthur de Gobineau, whose Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines (1853-55) became the bible of scientific racism. Abstracting from linguistics, Gobineau posited the concept of an Aryan race, particularly its Nordic strain, that sat atop the racial hierarchy. Whether Arabian, French, or Polish, the Jewish type, he argued, remained “relatively pure.” Consequently, he found that “they all look alike . . . . The Semitic face looks exactly the same . . . as it appears on the Egyptian paintings of three or four thousand years ago, and more.” While Gobineau wrote admiringly of the Jews as an intelligent white people who had created a civilization in barren Palestine, he later warned that historically Jews had undergone a “semitic fusion,” a “blending with black blood,” that made them a threat. 9 [End Page 199]
A goateed Southern gentleman, Josiah Nott of Mobile, Alabama, proved to be America’s most indefatigable propagandist for racial science. Educated in New York and Philadelphia medical schools, Nott was well versed in continental racial theory. He traveled in European intellectual circles, where he was well received as the spokesperson for what became known as the American School of Anthropology. Nott was a polygenist who wanted to “cut loose the natural history of mankind from the Bible” and place anthropology on a scientific footing. In 1856 he selectively edited and published Gobineau in English as The Moral and Intellectual Diversity of the Races. He embarked on the lecture circuit as the frontman for the father of American racial science, Quaker physician Samuel Morton of Philadelphia. Morton had assembled nearly a thousand skulls to support his thesis that the races were separate creations traceable to specific geographic regions. Pouring mustard seed and lead shot into hundreds of skulls, Morton divided humanity into five races. Morton’s measurements of brains in cubic inches yielded 92 for the Teuton, 89 for the Semite, and 83 for the African. In Crania Aegyptica Morton reported that the sculpture of the temples of Luxor and Karnak demonstrated the persistence of African and Jewish racial types to the present day. 10
In 1850, at a conference of the newly founded American Association for the Advancement of Science in Charleston, Nott lectured on “An Examination of the Physical History of the Jews in Its Bearings on the Question of the Unity of the Races.” His magnum opus Types of Mankind (1854), which he published with the English-born Egyptologist George R. Gliddon, contains a chapter entitled “Physical History of the Jews.” It opens as follows: “This historical people furnishes so striking an example of the permanence of a Caucasian type.” Morton had measured the mummified skull of an Israelite from the catacombs of Memphis, Nott reported. Its measurements compared exactly with modern Jewish crania and differed markedly from antique crania of Africans and Egyptians. Comparing a Chaldaean effigy to a prominent Alabama Jew, Nott observed that Jews have remained unchanged “from Mesopotamia to Mobile for at least 5,500 years.” Though Jewish skin may be bleached in the North, tanned in the South or “occasionally mingled,” these were merely “temporary” changes. 11 [End Page 200]
In “Physical History of the Jews” Nott included letters from Jewish authorities endorsing his views. Isaac Leeser, mentor of traditional Judaism in America, concurred that “in all essentials, the Jews are the same [as] they are represented on the Egyptian monuments . . . fair . . . identical with the Europeans like all other white inhabitants of this continent. All Jews that ever I have beheld are identical in features.” A letter from Rabbi Morris Raphall of New York, who believed that slavery was justified biblically, explained that black Malabar Jews and Jewish Negroes in Africa were descended from slaves manumitted by Jewish masters. Chinese and North African Jews were “of really Jewish descent” and were therefore “white.” 12
In his Charleston lecture Nott used the example of Jewish racial fixity and purity not to comment on the social or political status of modern American Jews but to advance his anthropology. His larger intent was to attack the biblicism and monogenism of the English ethnologist James Prichard. Among those attending Nott’s lecture on the Jews were the zoologist Louis Agassiz of Boston and the Reverend John Bachman of Charleston. Like many Southern clergymen, Bachman was affronted by the polygenist challenge to Genesis and was shocked to hear Agassiz support Nott. In print and pulpit the two locked into a public debate that echoed across the South. Their issues were the fertility of hybrid species in zoology, the accuracy of Genesis, and the sources of African inferiority, which both monogenists and polygenists assumed. Their arguments made more reference to the mule than to the Jews, the ostensible subject of Nott’s lecture that provoked the debate. 13
The Jewish racial question was not a social or political issue in the antebellum South: whatever anti-Semitism Southern Jews encountered was primarily economic or religious. Jews suffered office holding dis-abilities under constitutional religious tests in Maryland until 1826 and in North Carolina until 1868. Jews were widely suspected as financial speculators. In 1846 John C. Calhoun complained that Jews were “notoriously a race of brokers, bankers, and merchants.” “Race” in the vernacular lacked its scientific connotations other than to suggest that Southerners looked upon Jews as a class. Such categorical denunciations of Jews became more commonplace during the Civil War and Reconstruction. In 1862 a public meeting in Thomasville, Georgia, called for the “banishing” of the town’s Jews. Yet across the South Jews gained [End Page 201] racial acceptance. Along with its code of race the South held a code of hospitality. The demonizing of the Jew was directed against the mythic Shylock and Christ-killer rather than the local Jewish merchant, who was more often welcomed as a neighbor and honored as a citizen. In Raleigh, Charleston, Richmond, and New Orleans Jews intermarried with leading gentile families. 14
As historian John Efron notes, the “relative insignificance” of Jews in a country’s anthropological literature refiected social tolerance and acceptance. In neither British nor American ethnology were Jews an obsessive theme. Monogenists and polygenists cited the example of the Jews in proof or refutation of ideological positions on the innate or environmental origins of race. When in 1867 the Reverend Young of Nashville wrote Dr. Blackie of Scotland to inquire about European thinking on black ethnology, Blackie cited the Jew as but one case study among many that illustrated how all races were a “cosmopolite” mixture descended from a common ancestor. “The Negro and European were two extremes of a very long gradation,” Blackie argued, and he discussed the “Jew” in the context of the “Arab” and the “Hindoo.” Although Blackie noted a distinctively Jewish nose and lips, he observed that the Jews “have assimilated in physical character to the nations with whom they reside.” Young turned to Blackie for confirmation that “ethnology” was subordinate to “divine truth”; the Nashville minister’s real concern was the challenge that Nott’s polygenism presented to the orthodox interpretation of scripture. 15
The science that placed the Jew as racially similar to Europeans denigrated the African as an inferior race or species that could not be improved by emancipation, suffrage, or education. As a justification for white supremacy, the American School of Anthropology found fertile ground in the South. By 1871 Types of Mankind had gone through 10 editions, and by 1900 it was still in print. Although leading racial thinkers like Morton claimed to be in service of science and eschewed politics, Nott was an ardent Southern apologist and propagandist for “niggerology.” One of the American School’s intellectual citadels was [End Page 202] Charleston, where a medical college and natural history museum sponsored publications and conferences. John Hammond, governor of South Carolina, stated that the “doctrine of Races” proved the “philosophy of subjugation.” William Gilmore Simms’s Southern Quarterly Review praised Nott’s Types of Mankind as “highly creditable to the learning and talent of the south.” 16
The racial literature added fuel to feelings of “white racial exclusiveness” in the South. In antebellum Southern society blacks and whites had lived together in separate spheres but in close proximity. After the upheaval of war and Reconstruction, the South renegotiated its race relations. For over sixty-five years following Emancipation, customs and then codes of segregation became established. In response to black aspirations in politics, economics, and education, whites sought to separate themselves from blacks by law. In the lower South, mulattos, who before 1850 had enjoyed special social status by virtue of their white blood, were now seen as part of an undifferentiated black mass, and Southern society became biracial, intolerant of ambiguity. 17
As the postbellum South reinvented its social order, the question of the Jews’ race became significant not merely as a case study of biblical interpretation or anthropological speculation on the origins of the African but also in terms of the Jews’ position in the Southern hierarchy of social place. In 1867 “Ariel,” Nashville clergyman and journalist Buckner H. Payne, published The Negro: What Is His Ethnological Status? It reiterated polygenist arguments that dehumanized the African as a species apart. “The Jews, the descendants of Shem, in every country . . . belong to the white race,” Ariel wrote. “We know then, on Biblical authority, with mathematical certainty, that they are not Negroes, either before, at nor since the fiood, but white.” In 1875 a pseudonymous racial pamphleteer, Sister Sallie, endorsed Ariel’s views in The Color Line, a book dedicated to “Organizing the White People of the South.” Sister Sallie contrasted the beastly Negro with the children of Abraham: “Jews, as far as we know anything of them, are all white persons, and all history concurs in the same.” 18 At this time, too, Zebulon Vance, North [End Page 203] Carolina’s most venerated politician, began delivering a philo-Semitic speech, “The Scattered Nation,” on the Chatauqua circuit with the expressed intention of rebutting “objections to the Jew as a citizen.” He claimed that “whilst no people can claim such an unmixed purity of blood, certainly none can establish such antiquity of origin, such unbroken generations of descent” as can Jews. Identifying the Jews as a Semitic race, he found them closer statistically in height, reach, and width to Europeans than to Africans. Vance expressed outrage that civilized Jews, fiesh of the Savior, should suffer discrimination as if they were barbaric, uncivilized Africans. Vance called the Hebrews “our wondrous kinsmen.” 19
The encomium on the Jews became a setpiece in popular lectures and journalism into the early twentieth century. For fifteen years after its first delivery in 1874, “The Scattered Nation” was preached repeatedly from lecterns and reprinted in virtually every journal and newspaper across the South. In 1888 the North Carolina Tobacco Plant newspaper rhapsodized, “What a wonderful race of people is this Jewish race . . . well may they be proud of their race.” Widely published was the famous retort to an anti-Semitic insult, attributed variously to Benjamin Disraeli or Judah Benjamin, that the Jews were priests in the temple of Solomon when the Anglo-Saxons were barbarians in the caves of Gaul. So commonplace were these paeans that in 1894 H. T. Ezekiel of Richmond thought that the philo-Semite “must have his doubts or there would be no need for such asseverations.” In 1901 Dr. A. B. Arnold of Baltimore complained testily about “the incessant laudations lavished on the Jewish people.” 20
More often, Southern Jews shared the Southerners’ “romantic racialism” and assented to the view of themselves as members of a pure, fixed, uniform white race which had preserved its lineage since antiquity. Taking the environmentalist position, in 1879 an editorial writer in The Jewish South of Atlanta asserted that “the clime of the South is about the same as in the Holy Land, and the peculiar features of our race are therefore better preserved here.” Thirty years later a Jewish newspaper, The Temple in Louisville, quoted Jewish communal leader Charles Morris: “From the sunny cotton fields of our southland to the icy gold fields of the north, you will find the Jew–the same.” On scientific authority, Morris claimed “by virtue of their aristocracy of blood . . . the [End Page 204] Jews are the purest blood people.” When Chicago’s Rabbi Emil Hirsch in the Reform Advocate scorned claims of Jewish racial purity with the comment “race pride is ridiculous,” the Jewish South conceded that Jewish blood had become mixed, but “dissented when [Hirsch] characterizes race pride as ridiculous.” The editorial admonished Hirsch, who had held rabbinical posts in Baltimore and Louisville, that “religion or race . . . shows in a man’s face . . . the ‘race’ lives.” 21
Though classifying Jews as white, the racial literature also contained seeds that ultimately undermined the Jewish position. Race theorizers invariably claimed the authority of logic and evidence, but their arguments were confused, contradictory, and incoherent. Even when establishing the Jew as purely white, racial thinkers assumed the persistence of a Jewish Ur-type in dark Persian or blond French Jews, but the uniquely Jewish element eluded definition. Hereditarian claims of Jewish racial purity confiicted with obvious Jewish diversity across environments. Citing a Dr. Pressell, Vance ranked Jews from the “lowest” unintelligent Arab-Asians, to the “Talmudical” North African-East Europeans, to the “most intelligent and civilized” Central and West Europeans, who “have become simply Unitarians or Deists.” Vance’s racialism was Eurocentric rather than philo-Semitic. Over the course of the century, racial splitting became increasingly discriminatory as whites sought new labels–Teuton, Nordic, or Anglo-Saxon–to dissociate themselves from other races. Morton’s own craniometry had shown the Semite skull to be inferior to the Teuton. In Types of Mankind Nott listed the Hebrew as Caucasian, but then observed in The Negro Race: Its Ethnology and History (1866) that Jews are a “very mixed race.” 22 For racial radicals it was an easy segue from the scientific “mixed” to the infiammatory “mongrel.”
Darwinism overthrew the American School of Anthropology. Evolution documented the common origin of the races and made mockery of the thousands of years of evidence that Morton and Nott cited on the walls of Egyptian temples. Natural selection and variation accounted for human variety. But the prejudicial belief in the existence of a racial hierarchy merely shifted its scientific ground.
Social Darwinism revived racial consciousness as the naturalistic survival of the fittest. Its proponents ranked races on an evolutionary [End Page 205] scale and justified imperialism abroad and white supremacy at home as race war–the subjugation everywhere of supposedly inferior peoples of color. The new science of genetics, which was consonant with Darwinism, gave racialism authority. The writings of Francis Galton, the Englishman who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, were well received in America. Although Galton felt “honoured” to chair a London conference of “eminent Jews” on the race question, he also decided “that the Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.” 23
As the century progressed, European race literature grew increasingly vitriolic in its determinism. The formation of a unified German nation state had unleashed an anti-Semitic reaction against newly emancipated Jews as they aspired to attain political rights and join the majority culture. German anthropologists justified a racial nationalism that effectively removed Jews from the body politic. England was more liberal and by midcentury had removed most Jewish political disabilities. English racial literature (with the notable exception of Knox) had not been overtly antagonistic toward Jews. The link between race and religion was fully expressed by Anglo-Israelites, who believed that the English (and northern Europeans) were blood descendants of the northern kingdom of ancient Israel–the B’rit Ish. Anglo-Israelitism spread in middle-class Protestant circles after 1840 and peaked at the turn of the century. Queen Victoria herself claimed Davidic descent for the English royal family. John Wilson, whose Lectures on Our Israelitish Origin (1840) popularized the idea, affirmed the biblical origins of modern Jews as descendants of the southern kingdom of Judah but then argued that these Jews had contaminated their blood by intermarrying with heathen tribes. Jesus, some Anglo-Israelites argued, was not a Jew but an Aryan; a Gaulilean, not a Galilean. 24
The idea that Jews were “‘black’ or, at least, ‘swarthy’” prevailed in late nineteenth-century literature and persisted well into the twentieth century, particularly in Germany. Karl Marx labeled Ferdinand Lassalle, “the Jewish nigger,” questioning his head shape and parentage. Houston Stewart Chamberlain thought Jews had interbred with Africans during their Alexandrian exile. Freud was labeled a “‘black’ Jew” and wrote of himself as a Mischling, a half breed with “Jewish-Negroid features.” 25 [End Page 206]
Eugenics and physical anthropology only exacerbated the taxonomic confusion. Commonly, Jews were categorized as Asiatic or Oriental, and thus not European. Anthropologists, including some Jews, used such terms as West Asian-Oriental, Western Asiatic, Semitic Oriental, Nomadic Oriental, Eurasian, or Alpine-Himalayan. Speculations were rife about the Jews’ descent from Mongoloid or Turkic Khazars. Even the great debunker of racial science, Franz Boas, wrote, “What we ordinarily designate as a Jewish type is, as a matter of fact, simply an Oriental type.” When American immigration laws excluded Asians–the Chinese in 1882 and the Japanese in 1907–voices were raised that “the Hebrew race is essentially Oriental . . . there is at least ground for objection to unrestricted Jewish immigration.” 26
Jews, in the prevalent spirit of race pride, often referred to themselves as Oriental, but the label also carried connotations that pushed Jews on the wrong side of the color line. Orientalism was a transitional step in discoloring Jews as whites. The Jewish Chronicle of Mobile in 1909 quoted Rabbi Emil Hirsch: “The American looks upon the Jew as an Oriental and upon Orientals as a people fond of extravagant display and personal show and careless of personal cleanliness.” Oriental racial attributes–sensuality and dirtiness–stereotypically belonged to the darker races. 27
The eugenics movement intensified racial anxieties, and antiimmigrant proponents played on fears of racial contamination. Charles Davenport, founder of American eugenics, called the offspring of intermarried Jews “halfbreeds” who were more likely to be infertile. Race scientists reported the Jew’s short stature and diminished lung capacity, warning of signs of “physical degeneracy” that would pollute American blood. Dr. J. G. Wilson of New York in a Popular Science article, “The Crossing of the Races,” warned: “We are becoming a smaller and a darker race . . . instead of the race of tall blondes we once were.” Among all immigrant groups, Wilson pointedly feared that a Jewish “racial substitution” threatened to diminish “Anglo-Saxon ideals.” 28
In the late nineteenth century a Jewish racial science emerged in defense. Russian-born German anthropologist Samuel Weissenberg systematically studied the physical anthropology of diverse Jewish populations [End Page 207] across Europe. He argued that Jews comprised several racial types not distinguishable from other Europeans. The Southern Jewish press reported Weissenberg’s scientific explorations of Jewish types. Even more widely distributed were the writings of English folklorist Joseph Jacobs, who claimed Jews were racially pure. Jewish blood had a “prepotency” that allowed it to dominate any racial mix. He claimed “cerebral development” had enlarged Jewish skulls. Jacobs, who relocated to New York in 1900 to edit the Jewish Encyclopedia, became the recognized authority on the Jewish race question in both the popular and Jewish media. 29
Southern Jews had no regional perspective on the question of their racial identity but expressed views as varied as the international debate. Southern Jews, too, took up the race-war battle cry–with all its categorical confusions. Texan Leo Levi, in an 1895 address to the New Orleans YMHA, admitted that Jews possess some undesirable Oriental traits, but he asserted that Jews have endured for two thousand years by “survival of the fittest” and “natural selection.” Jews “abstained very generally from intermixture of blood.” In 1900 Omaha’s Rabbi Abram Simon, a native Tennessean, endorsed the view that selective breeding could only improve the stock. He claimed that “only savages are racially pure.” The Jew was a “composite racial type” like all “the highest civilizations.” Ten years later Rabbi Barnett Elzas of Beth Elohim in Charleston argued against intermarriage on the basis of the “stern law of preservation.” He denied that mixing would improve the race and condemned the “suicidal policy of self-extinction by means of assimilation.” Jews sought to dignify their heritage as a people apart while minimizing their difference with their neighbors. Echoing Blumenbach from the eighteenth century, The Temple editorialized, “Nearly everybody can tell a Jew on sight, and yet it is very difficult to define the typical Jewish characteristics.” 30
In the South as whites closed ranks after Reconstruction those without racial definition were suspect. Racial intermingling became less commonplace, and in the 1870s Southern states began enforcing laws forbidding interracial marriage. From 1889 to 1915 racial extremism ascended in the South. Race radicals depicted a “new Negro” who, freed from civilizing slavery, was retrogressing toward a natural state of savagery. By the 1890s mulattos and miscegenation became obsessive [End Page 208] themes in Southern writing, and after 1905 “race suicide” became a popular subject. Southern rustic journals, like Wilber Franklin Phelps’ Menace, spread the racial gospel to hundreds of thousands. In contrast to liberals who saw assimilation as improving the national stock, eugenicists cited statistics demonstrating that hybrid, mongrel, mixed, or amalgamated species were infertile, inferior, and debilitated. From 1880 to 1910 customs of racial separation were encoded in laws of segregation, beginning with railroad cars and then moving toward political disfranchisement. With the defeat of black-Republican government, Southern Redeemers reestablished white supremacy as a ruling principle. 31
In the South fears of racial amalgamation evolved into a paranoid concern with “invisible blackness,” observes historian Joel Williamson. That Jews were sensitive to black stereotyping is suggested by an 1898 advertisement in the Jewish South of Richmond for “anti-kink for straightening kinky and curly hair.” Forced to choose by the color line, some light-skinned African Americans “passed” as whites while others, like author Charles Chesnutt or NAACP leader Walter White, chose to identify as black. A Charlottesville African-American editor found himself unable to answer the question, “What is a Negro?” Negro was “an idea,” a social and political construct. 32
Certainly the social discrimination that American Jews began experiencing in the late nineteenth century owed to class resentments against Jews as parvenus, but the distaste was expressed as racial. Hoteliers Henry Hilton and Austin Corbin set off a national storm when they excluded Jews beginning in 1877 with the celebrated rebuff of Joseph Seligman in Saratoga. Dismissing the testimony of a converted Jew at an 1879 meeting of the Society for Suppressing the Jewish Race, Corbin retorted that the “society opposed the Jews only as a nasty and vulgar race and not on account of their religion.” Mr. Hilton “quite agreed.” 33
Jews were too small a minority in the South to present the social, political, or cultural challenge to Southern whites that their coreligionists had posed for Northern whites, but discrimination followed the South’s urbanization and integration into the national economy. In 1879 a Jewish Atlantan observed, “The Hiltonian process, is thus far, not introduced in the South, for in this section of the country there does not exist these race prejudices.” That same year an Atlanta Jewish clothier [End Page 209] dismissed the Seligman episode as “literally impossible in this city or state . . . there is no distinction of race or religion. Jews who are respectable go everywhere.” Twenty years later Atlanta’s Jewish Sentiment lamented, “there is prejudice against the Jews everywhere.” 34
Jews in New South cities experienced this discrimination most forcefully. In 1897 a Jewish newspaper in Richmond reported “Jews and the Gentiles do not mix.” In 1901 an article in a Jewish journal in Mobile observed, “The Jew is seldom assailed because of his profession of Jewish faith . . . yet the association between Jew and Gentile” was greater in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth. In 1887 a Jew was a founding member of Altanta’s exclusive Gentlemen’s Driving Club, but by 1915 neither its successor, the Piedmont Driving Club, nor the Capital City Club counted another Jew among its 600 members–despite the Jews’ acceptance into high circles of commerce. Southern elite anti-Semitism, in the absence of many Jews, refiected the region’s adoption of national mores. 35
Race became the criterion of social standing. Philo-Semitic Mark Twain wrote in 1899 that the “persecution of the Jews . . . on the score of religion, I think it has already come to an end. On the score of race prejudice and trade, I have an idea it will continue . . . race prejudice cannot be removed.” Who can fail “to realize that social recognition has a biological basis?” asked Thomas Pearce Bailey, a leading race apologist (though not an anti-Semite), in Race Orthodoxy in the South (1914). “Blood will tell.” 36
The origins of this stereotyping of Jews as a racially dark people predated the massive East European immigration, but the arrival of two million Jews from Eastern and Central Europe between 1880 and 1924 intensified anxieties. In the early 1900s, with the black subordinated by legalized segregation, race baiters stirred up hatred against Southern and Eastern Europeans, primarily Italian and Slavic Catholics and Russian Jews, who were seen as a threat to Anglo-Saxon cultural and political hegemony. Though many racial thinkers split Jews–generally along Sephardic and Ashkenazi lines–belief in the uniformity of race persisted. Native-born Southern Jews of German origin unhappily found themselves categorized with their newly arrived East European coreligionists. [End Page 210]
While some German Jews in the South affirmed their racial solidarity with the East Europeans–glorifying the spiritual unity of Israel, expressing race pride in the immigrants’ industriousness and rapid rise–others adopted attitudes of racial disparagement toward the greenhorns. The Russians were “cattle.” The Jewish South quoted English novelist Hall Caine, who used a typically racist stereotype in describing the Russian Jew as “a child of nature.” In 1909 Mrs. Adelaide Hirshfield of Mobile devised a grand plan to place immigrant Romanian Jews in the Alabama cotton fields “to supplant the lazy negro.” 37
The South, even more than other regions, had at first welcomed immigration as a means to alleviate agrarian and industrial labor shortages and to ensure continued white dominance. In the 1880s Southern states formed boards of immigration to attract farm and industrial workers. From 1903 to 1907 several Southern states sent agents to Europe, but few immigrants settled in the South. Even though the numbers remained low, Southern congressmen, who had once endorsed free immigration, later turned solidly antiimmigrant as the Eastern and Southern Europeans began surpassing northwestern Europeans. Antiblack Southerners joined a coalition of restrictionists that included labor unionists, patrician New Englanders, anti-Catholic midwesterners, and anti-Mexican and anti-Asian Westerners.
Swarthy Jews and Italians might be invisible blacks. Southern antiimmigrant rhetoric refiected antiblack anxieties. Senator Furnifold McLendel Simmons, boss of the North Carolina Democratic machine, cautioned “men of Anglo-Saxon blood” against “negro domination” and “the degenerate progeny of the Asiatic hoards” [sic]. Congressman John Abercrombie of Alabama warned, “The color of thousands of them differs materially from that of the Anglo-Saxon.” His fellow Alabaman, Oscar Underwood, contrasted the “pure whiteness” of the older immigration to the tainted “Asian and African blood” of the new. In 1904 South Carolina limited its immigration bureau to “white citizens . . . of Saxon origin,” while in 1910 North Carolina specified “Teutonic, Celtic, or Saxon.” 38
In polite society the Jew, like the black, became a Problem or a Question. Nathaniel S. Shaler of Kentucky, who served as Dean of the [End Page 211] Lawrence School of Science at Harvard, in The Neighbor: The Natural History of Human Contacts (1904) wrote consecutive chapters on “The Hebrew Problem” and “The Problem of the African.” Shaler, a Southern apologist, noted that racially “the Israelite has not the tenth part of the value of that which parts us from our African neighbors.” Shaler wrote sympathetically of Jews, yet he wondered why personal acquaintance with blacks decreased prejudice while the opposite seemed true with Jews. An immigration restrictionist, he advocated forbidding entry to “those who are not of our race except the Jews,” although he did not want the “degraded among these.” 39
Eugenics and race science provided a vocabulary that reinforced Southern antiimmigrant prejudices. Particularly Southern was the sexual obsession with racial intermingling. Southern anti-Semites employed racial imagery that evoked the Jew as a perverted dark Other. In 1898 a Virginian, a Jewish convert to Christianity charged with wife beating, was described as “swarthy of complexion and of Jewish extraction.” Tom Watson, the agrarian Georgia demagogue, appealed to class and economic resentments, but he used racial language to infiame the masses against Leo Frank. In 1915 Watson wrote, “Every student of sociology knows that the black man’s lust after the white woman is not much fiercer than the lust of the licentious Jew for the Gentile.” Though Watson denied any “racial dislike” of Frank, he captioned a picture of him in Watson’s Magazine with imagery that evoked African stereotypes: “Note the Horrible Lips, the Nose, and the averted eyes of Leo Frank–a typical pervert.” Rape, in eugenic terms, constituted racial defilement. Southerners, with their romantic exaltation of race, glorified Southern white womanhood and reacted violently to its violation. The two most brutal outbursts of Southern anti-Semitism–the lynching of Leo Frank and the castrating of Joseph Needleman in North Carolina in 1925–both involved alleged attacks on women. 40
“The more closely linked to sexuality,” E. J. Ayers notes of Southern black-white relations, “the more likely was a place to be segregated.” Harry Golden observed that a Southern Jewish merchant may have civic and business dealings with white gentile men for twenty years without the “social union” of “meeting the wife.” Jews and gentiles separated at clubs and resorts. Golden called this custom “segregation at sundown.” [End Page 212] In 1910, when Senators Joseph Bailey of Texas and Hernando Money of Mississippi praised Jews for “their race pride and persistent efforts to preserve their racial identity,” they were also, by implication, lauding Jews for racially segregating themselves. On Klan Day at the Texas State Fair in 1923, Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans asked the crowd, “Would you have your daughter marry a Jew?” 41
Fears of Jewish racial contamination had roots in religious difference. The folklore of Jews as racially pure and venerable coexisted with the countermyth of Jews as racially mixed and sinful. In The Negro a Beast (1900) the fundamentalist Charles Carroll of Missouri laid the groundwork for The Jew a Negro. Caroll’s book sold into the thousands, its message appealing to poor rural whites likely unacquainted with Jews. Carroll argued that blacks were high-grade apes who imitate humans but lack souls, “monstrosities” without “rights social financial political or religious . . . not even the right to live.” He described race mixing as original sin and traced it to biblical Hebrews who will someday perish in a well-deserved apocalypse. Implying the Jews’ invisible blackness, Carroll wrote that the ancient “Israelites had persisted in amalgamation for so long a period that their mixed-blooded progeny were not distinguishable from pure whites.” Although Carroll did not concern himself with modern Jews, his demonizing of ancient Hebrews paved the way for modern racial anti-Semites like Abernethy. Southern Christians saw the Jews among them as living relics of the biblical people. If a tenet of Jim Crow stated that “a person having any Negro blood whatsoever is, with all his descendants, forever and eternally of the Negro race,” than the modern Jew bore the taint of his or her ancestors. 42
Abernethy did not specifically cite Carroll, nor did he share Carroll’s antiscientific bias. But the parallelism of the books’ titles suggests a desire to emulate Carroll’s success by pandering to popular race prejudice. As a self-promoting hack, Abernethy purveyed viewpoints that were unoriginal. He advertised dubious degrees and claims of ordination, but he was not a marginal figure. Abernethy held editorial and ministerial posts in New York as well as North Carolina. He was later Poet Laureate of North Carolina, and President Franklin Roosevelt honored him as [End Page 213] “Ambassador of Sunshine.” Author of 50 books, he claimed that his syndicated columns reached 7,125,000 readers. 43
Although Professor Abernethy tried to maintain the disinterested tone of the natural scientist in The Jew a Negro, the minister proved incapable of sustaining it, and the “impartial standpoint” yielded to a racist, pulpit-pounding, anti-Semitic screed. Southerners wrestled more with making biblical sense of race than with coming to terms with its anthropology, and their ears were more attuned to evangelists than to scientists. Severing Christianity from its Jewish roots, some religious white supremacists annointed the Anglo-Saxons as the chosen people. In The Jew a Negro Abernethy wrote that Christ “was exalted into the Godhead” as a “tall blond with amber hair and beard, blue eyes, clear complexion.” One popular Protestant hymn underscored the color symbolism that linked race and religion: “precious is the fiow that makes me white as snow . . . nothing but the blood of Jesus.” 44
The “one-drop” rule meant that even the slightest suggestion of African blood typed a person as irredeemably black. Whites began looking beyond skin color to hair, feet, and fingernails in search of tell-tale clues of African origin. In The Jew a Negro Abernethy rested his case on a study in 14 Southern states of “the tell-tale finger nail formation,” a trait that he felt indicated the Jews’ African origin even when skin turned white and hair grew blonde. Abernethy concluded, “Thousands of years of effort to throw off their nigresecence have failed to eradicate those race characteristics, and the Jew of to-day is essentially Negro in habits, physical peculiarities and tendencies.” 45
Abernethy’s two primary cited sources, W. Z. Ripley and Charles Woodruff, wrote popular, foundational texts of the eugenics movement. In The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men (1905) Woodruff, a U. S. military physician in the Philippine service, warned of the threat to American hegemony here and abroad by unrestricted immigration. Abernethy’s preface included his lengthy correspondence with Woodruff, whom he quoted: “The original Jews were . . . short, dark people of the long headed type . . . It would be better to say that the Negro descended [End Page 214] from the ancient Jewish type or Mediterranean race. It is hardly correct, ethnically, to reverse the sentence.” Woodruff claimed that the Ashkenazim, who comprise ninety percent of Jews, are “Asiatic converts,” while the Sephardim, who comprise but ten percent, are of Semitic blood, African in origin. Although he claimed that “some of our best and most valuable citizens are of the Jewish faith,” Woodruff also warned against the “dense masses” in city slums, those of “lower races in civilization” who comprised “actually a species of animal under domestication” kept alive by Aryan sanitation. Abernethy took Ripley’s Races of Europe (1899) as his second major source. Based on his claims of 2,500 physical measurements of Jews, Ripley concluded that “the boasted purity of descent of the Jews is . . . a myth . . . . The evidence of the sacred books bears out the . . . theory of an original dark type.” He left it to the reader to decide whether “modern Jews” descended from the biblical people. 46
Curiously, the word “immigration” never appeared in The Jew a Negro, although that was the focus of national eugenicist literature. Racial nativism was stronger where immigrants were fewer. Abernethy wrote from a mountain town with few blacks and no Jews in a state with the smallest percentage of Jews in the country. Little in rural Southerners’ experience acquainted them with modern Jews. Southerners like Abernethy received a traditional education built on the twin pillars of the Bible and classical literature. Southerners took less comfort from the modernist language of eugenics and anthropology than from the regional vocabulary of race, family, ancestry, and religion. As a program, eugenics made less headway in the South than it did in the North or West. But blood, exalted by romantic cults of the Teuton and Anglo-Saxon, remained important to Southerners. While Southerners like Abernethy claimed aristocracy of blood for themselves (as indeed did the Jews), other Americans looked upon the South as the most illiterate, diseased, and impoverished of all the nation’s regions. The craniometrists and eugenicists not only disparaged the African American and immigrant Jew but also ranked the poor Southern white, the hick and hillbilly, among the “feeble-minded,” retrograde classes. 47 In diminishing the Jew as a “Negro,” Abernethy, as a race-proud Appalachian, advanced his own position. [End Page 215]
The appeals to American blood resonated among poor Southern whites, particularly among agrarians dislocated by the New South industrial economy. Abernethy reclaimed the blood privilege of the Anglo-Saxon American and blamed Jews for every alien, modern import, from Wall Street finance to the Higher Criticism. He wrote in defense of poor rural whites and spoke the country prejudices of the dispossessed. Mary Phagan, the murdered girl in the Frank case, came from such a newly urbanized, millworking family. Frank’s opponents passed out cards asking Georgians of “true American blood” to boycott the stores of those whose blood was “streaked.” In Faulkner’s Sanctuary Clarence Snopes, a lowlife Southern white personified, speaks as an “American” against a Memphis lawyer: “The lowest, cheapest thing on earth aint a nigger: it’s a jew. We need laws against them. Drastic laws.” 48
Politically, nativist forces in both North and South called for limits on the immigrant franchise. In the urban North the rising number of immigrants presented an electoral threat to Anglo-Saxon political hegemony. Without necessarily singling out Jews among the immigrants, Ripley, Shaler, and Woodruff as well as some New England patricians had spoken of limiting the franchise to save “our government in the future, when our higher types begin to die out,” as Woodruff put it. 49 Significant numbers of immigrant voters did not reside in the South, but the South had the political precedent of Jim Crow. Writing in the era of poll taxes, literacy tests, and white primaries, Abernethy argued that after “the Negro is eliminated from the citizenship of the United States . . . the American government will turn its attention to the alien Hebrew.” Evangelist Sam Jones, too, wanted “foreign hoards” [sic] removed from the ballot. In 1890 former governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton linked Negro franchise with suffrage for “the Anarchist, the Communist, the Nihilist, and all the other scum of the European nations.” In 1913 Bryan County, Georgia, eliminated Jews from grand and petit juries. 50
Eugenics drew a line of hygiene, of “cleanliness,” that quarantined Jews socially. Anti-Semitic rhetoric had long characterized Jews as [End Page 216] “dirty”–in the 1860s Richmond newspapers complained of a “dirty greasy Jew” and “unkempt Israelites”–but eugenics injected new connotations into these epithets. Immigrant Jews with their supposedly weak constitutions, ghetto filth, and gross sensuality were thought to be a public health menace. A Lithuanian immigrant child in a Southern town recalled how a non-Jewish playmate’s mother, fearing contamination, would not let him share a glass with her son. Eugenicists traced social ills to disease, and the Progressive Era was obsessed with campaigns for public health. Not only were Jews allegedly dirty, they were also parasites who finance but do not produce. Eugenicists considered economic parasitism the Jewish racial disease just as they thought the Irishman was susceptible to alcoholism, the Italian to crime, and the African to lust or laziness. Southern agrarians like Tom Watson appropriated this rhetoric against “parasitic” Jews in their defense of the “worthy working poor.” Jews were socially segregated. 51
From at least the early 1800s and continuing into the 1960s, Jews were often distinguished from whites in common speech. This stereotyping prevailed among both blacks and whites regardless of region. In the American vernacular a “white” Jew might denote an honest businessman or a Jewish friend in contrast to a “black” Jew, who was not to be trusted. An R. G. Dun agent’s credit report noted of one Indianapolis Jewish merchant: “We should deem him safe but he is not a white man. He is a Jew.” When Felix Frankfurter was nominated for the Supreme Court, Senator William Borah of Idaho received a protest letter that whites, not Jews, belonged on the Court. 52 This language also prevailed in the Southern lexicon. In 1893 The Times of Richmond cited a police report on an altercation between a “white man” and a “Polish Jew.” The owner of a Georgia resort explained to his Jewish friend that as a “white Jew” he could swim in the lake, but other Jews were unwanted. Some white Protestants in Atlanta spoke of the Russians as “black Jews.” “Everyone was black or white and then there were the Jews,” Atlantan Nancy Thal recalled of the 1950s. As late as 1961 Dean John Buhler of the Emory University Dental College was still asking applicants to indicate whether their “race” was “Caucasian, Jew, Other.” Blacks, too, both North and South, spoke of Jews and whites. As defense lawyers in the Leo Frank trial pointed to a black suspect, a black newspaper in [End Page 217] Chicago questioned, “Is the Jew a white man?” Black folklore included a genre of jokes about a “Colored Man, a Jew, and a White Man.” 53
There were instances in the South where a Jew was taken for a black. An anthropologist observed that Southerners commonly regarded a Jew as a mulatto and recalled a New York Jew who complained about his problems traveling in Southern states. In 1912 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a darkly complexioned Russian Jewish man entered a stylish cafe with a fair-skinned white woman and was chased from the premises by enraged whites who took him for a black. 54
When white Southerners looked at Jews, they saw blacks in close proximity. In a society where consorting with blacks rendered one a social outcast, Jewish merchants, starting with the Germans, catered to black trade. When impoverished East Europeans arrived in Southern cities, they often found homes bordering black neighborhoods. White Southerners saw prominent Northern Jews identify with blacks as a black-Jewish alliance formed in the early twentieth century. Brothers Joel and Arthur Spingarn served as leaders of the National Association of Colored People, founded in 1909, and Julius Rosenwald built black schools across the rural South. Communist labor organizers, many of them Jews, were suspected of radicalizing black workers. And in 1931 New Yorker Sam Leibowitz provoked an anti-Semitic storm in coming to Alabama to defend the Scottsboro Boys. 55
With the African-American migration to the North after 1915, Southern black folklife fiowed into the national mainstream, often through Jewish interpreters. Jews, racially less threatening than blacks, became purveyors of African-American culture to whites. When an Al Jolson, George Jessel, George Burns, Fanny Brice, or Eddie Cantor blackened up, their racist caricatures marked them as having assimilated into Americans, but they were also confirming one way Americans looked at Jews. Jolson introduced jazz style into the minstrelsy: “I like to sing the low down blues.” In the 1920s Sophie Tucker, the first Red Hot Mama, brought African-American blues to white audiences. Black music and literature redefined American culture. Music critics attributed the popularity of jazz not to the African Americans who originated it but to [End Page 218] the Jews who became agents of its dissemination. The Dearborn Independent headlined, “Jewish Jazz Becomes Our National Music” and dismissed the African American art form as “Yiddish moron music.” 56 George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Ernst Bloch brought Afro-American themes into the concert-hall, the temple of high culture. Music critic John Tasker Howard characterized jazz as the “Jewish interpretation of the Negro,” and high-brow cultural guardians accused Jews of infecting American culture with African primitivism, sensuality, and sexual depravity. Jews numbered among the most prolific writers and performers of coon show songs. Jewish vaudeville companies toured the South, and by 1920 radio brought Tin Pan Alley into living rooms. Abernethy, citing the New York press, castigated popular music and blamed it on the Jew’s lack of artistic taste. 57
In a reversal of roles, an ethnic caricature of black Jewface emerged. Tom Hefiin of Alabama spoke sardonically on the House fioor of a Yiddish-speaking “Negro” who was arrested in New York by a Yiddish-speaking Irishman and was taken before a Yiddish-speaking judge. In 1909 The Temple of Louisville reprinted the satire, “That Jewish Nigger,” about a black youth, Chaim Rosenwasser, who explained to his greenhorn Russian relatives “in good Yiddish” that “Russian people get burned coal-black within a few years after landing on account of that fierce American sun.” Such parodies, which drew on vaudeville stage types, were intended as spoofs, but they revealed the underlying confusion about race and ethnicity, heredity and environment. In what became a literary museum of Jewish curiosities, the Southern Jewish press printed reports of black Jews in the Sahara and Timbuctoo, of the black Jews of Cochin, of a black African in Hartford fiuent in Hebrew, and of Sam Wolskowi, a black Jew in New York from northeastern Egypt. “What the public mainly wants to know,” a newspaper asked, “is there really a Jewish negro tribe anywhere on the globe?” 58
Jews and gentiles, both black and white, commonly drew parallels between the oppression of Russian Jews and Southern blacks. Northern [End Page 219] Jews were far more likely than Southern Jews to assert such commonalities. When the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia described the 1898 Wilmington race riot as a pogrom, Herbert Ezekiel of Richmond responded indignantly, “The comparison of Jews and negroes is, we had always thought, a pastime of our Christian neighbors and one which we, of all people, should not countenance.” Ezekiel admonished, “There is nothing in common between the two races in this section.” When the Northern Jewish Review stated that “the negro is what he has been made to be by those who should have raised and educated him, the same has been the case with the Jew,” the Jewish South rebutted: “The fact of the whole business is that physiology and contemporaneous events are to the effect that negroes are intellectually, morally and physically an inferior race–a fact that none can deny.” 59
Jews were not exclusively regional in their racial thinking anymore than other Americans. Rabbi Max Heller of New Orleans was one Southerner who acknowledged parallels in the Jewish and African American experiences of oppression. He also spoke admiringly of Booker T. Washington. Heller was unable to comprehend why “scholarship or gentlemanliness in the negro . . . does not or can not make him the superior of any white man.” Heller’s “respect” and “esteem” for an African American like Washington contrast sharply with the illiberal views of Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. In 1894, when Washington wrote that “the black man, like the Jew or white man” should choose carefully his branch of business, Wise retorted that Washington had committed a “scientific blunder” and needed “a lesson in primary ethnology.” “All Jewish Americans are Caucasians,” Wise responded and chastised Washington for expressing a “secret malice that invariably marks a servile nature seeking to assume a feeling of equality with something higher, which it does not possess.” 60 Wise, who had scolded abolitionists, was sensitive to Southern Jewish feelings.
Jews themselves never achieved any consensus on their racial identity nor even what to call themselves. Judaism’s leading lights had pontificated on the meanings of “Jew,” “Hebrew,” and “Israelite,” some echoing assimilationist German Jews by describing themselves as Americans of the Mosaic faith. J. L Ezekiel of Richmond argued that the terms were “synonymous,” though he admitted the label “Jew” had “in [End Page 220] popular estimation . . . an unsavory odor” in that it designated race. In 1911 the congressional Dillingham Commission on immigration published 41 volumes of documents and testimony on whether the Jew ought to be classified as a separate race. Communal leaders Mayer Sulzberger, Cyrus Adler, Simon Wolf, Simon Guggenheim, and Louis Marshall asserted unequivocally that Jews did not constitute a race. Solomon Schechter and Lewis Dembitz of Kentucky countered that indeed “the Jews are a race.” Professor Morris Jastrow of Philadelphia argued that the Jews could be considered a race for “anthropological and sociological purposes” but not in a “political sense.” Leo Levi, B’nai B’rith president, wisely warned that it was hopeless for the State Department to resolve the issue when it posed one of the most “vexing questions of controversy among Jews.” 61
In 1912 Nahum Wolf refiected in the North American Review, “Recent anti-Jewish publications abroad are zealously disseminating the idea that the Jews are an inferior race.” The turn of the century witnessed a rash of racialist literature in the popular media by anti-Semites like Burton Hendrick, a New England historian, and E. A. Ross, a Wisconsin sociologist. Werner Sombart’s The Jews and Modern Capitalism and Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, fundamental works of German anti-Semitism, were published in English translation. Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race (1916) drew the one-drop analogy that “the cross between a white man and a Negro is a Negro . . . The cross between any of the three European races and a Jew is a Jew.” The national advocates of psychological testing–Carl Brigham, Robert Yerkes, Lewis Ternan, and H. H. Godard–warned that America had imported 2,000,000 immigrants whose “average intelligence” was nearer that of the African than of the white. They disputed assumptions of Jewish intellectual superiority. The Jews were a “racial medley,” claimed eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard in a widely quoted popular magazine article, “The Pedigree of Judah” (1926). Stoddard described a Jewish “Negroid strain” that showed itself in “frizzy or woolly hair, thick lips, and prognathous jaws.” 62 This international racialist literature persisted little changed from 1900 into the 1930s. [End Page 221]
Southern literature on race drew from that of the North. A national mass-circulation media disseminated racial ideology. In 1900 the Jewish Chronicle of Mobile asked, “Is there a Jewish question?” The Chronicle’s answer was, “Pick up the newspapers and the magazines . . . Why, one would think from the number of articles appearing in the prints on the Jew that all other subjects have been worn threadbare.” Newspapers and popular magazines like McClure’s, Popular Science, or Saturday Evening Post brought eugenic debates down South. In espousing anti-Semitism, provincial Southerners like Abernethy were aspiring to join the cosmopolitan world. Southerners found justification for their antiblack views in Northern antiimmigrant racial rhetoric. Products of Eastern campuses, the South’s leading academicians brought cosmopolitan ideologies to provincial campuses. Many of these professors, including Abernethy, had studied at Johns Hopkins, which served as an intellectual bridge between North and South. 63
“The whole world is interested in the subject of the Jews as a race,” the physician and anthropologist Maurice Fishberg observed in 1911. Contemporary writers on racial subjects cited Fishberg, a Russian-born Jewish immigrant, as the foremost scientific authority in America on the Jewish racial question. He collaborated with Franz Boas and Joseph Jacobs and corresponded with Samuel Weissenberg. Studying surveys comparing 150,000 Jewish and non-Jewish European children, Fishberg stated bluntly, “we do not know of any absolutely pure races.” After personally measuring 4,200