Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 25 July |
The Feast of Saint James the Great
home iconInspiring Stories
line break icon

Fleeing Nazi Germany, Jewish intellectuals landed in historically African-American colleges

The Picture Desk/Art Archive

John Burger - published on 02/16/17

Refugees found safety in America in the 1940s, and in turn helped American students

Nazi Germany didn’t want them, and they might not have found such a great welcome in parts of the United States either. But a group of Jewish academics had a profound impact on a particular population in post-World War II America.

According to Heather Gilligan, writing at Timeline, many Jewish professors who left their native Germany in the 1930s found welcome at historically black colleges in the American South.

They were, no doubt, happy to have a place where they could freely practice their academic skills. But many were amazed at what they found.

Ernst Borinski, for example, was one of about 50 Jewish intellectuals who fled the Holocaust and settled in the deep South. He arrived at Tougaloo College in Mississippi in the early 1940s to find what Gilligan termed an “openly racial hierarchy.” And Jews were not considered white.

Gilligan notes that organizations such as the American Quakers placed Jewish academics at universities throughout the West and South, circumventing a quota system on Jews by “dispersing the refugees, even paying their salaries for universities that agreed to hire the German Jews.”

Borinski and economist Fritz Pappenheim, philosopher Ernst Manasse and others were shocked by conditions in the South, according to Gilligan.

“I was entirely unprepared when I came here,” Manasse told historian Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, who first collected their stories in her book From Swastikas to Jim Crow. Manasse did not have a car, and kind African-American colleagues had taken to giving him a lift.

“We had rented the house at this time,” he recalled, “and I was called to the rent office. The neighbors had complained that I had Negro visitors who were not cleaning ladies or something like that.” A month or so later he got a ride again, and was once again called to the rent office. “I was told that the neighbor would not stand for it, and that if it happened again that he would shoot. Not at me, but at him [my colleague].”

Borinski, who became a noted sociologist, created an interracial intellectual salon called the Social Science Forum. He would have his African-American students come early to the dinner and sit in every other seat, so that whites arriving later had to sit next to a black person. Hard to imagine it today, but for many participants, it was the first time they’d had a meal with someone of a different race.

Years later, students would recall the impact these refugee professors had on them. Some of them went on to make names for themselves as well, including civil rights activists Joyce Ladner, former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, and artist John Biggers.

RefugeesWorld War II
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
This morning prayer is easy to memorize
Daniel Esparza
5 Curious things you might not know about Catholicism
Joachim and Anne
Philip Kosloski
Did Jesus know his grandparents?
J-P Mauro
Reconstructing a 12th-century pipe organ discovered in the Holy L...
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been know...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.