Feb 11, 2010

Jewish Ties to Black History Month

February is Black History Month and we would like to highlight two unique stories that have ties to African Americans and Jewish Americans.

Carolivia Herron (author of the acclaimed Nappy Hair) based her book Always an Olivia on her unique ancestry. In the story, an elderly black grandmother passes on the story of her family's Jewish origins to her young granddaughter, Carol Olivia. As family members flee the Spanish Inquisition, are kidnapped by pirates, and eventually sail to America, one daughter in each generation is given the name Olivia, from the Hebrew Shulamit, meaning "peace," to honor the Jewish part of their ancestry.

Always an Olivia reminds us that Jewish people have a variety of backgrounds. It's a great introduction to tracing your family's lineage, or doing a classroom project on family trees and ancestry. Many times, what makes us different can actually bring us closer together.

Dr. Herron is an acclaimed storyteller, professor, and tikkun olam activist based in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Dr. Herron, including her creative process and her thoughts on being an African American Jew, here is a fascinating interview from emPOWER Magazine.

In their new book Hot Pursuit, authors Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon re-imagine the fateful car ride of three Civil Rights workers in 1964 Mississippi. Mickey Schwermer and Andrew Goodman were young Jewish men who came from New York to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer, when many organizations worked to register black voters and establish better schools during a time of segregation and inequality. There they met James Cheney, another worker. While riding together on June 21, 1964, the three men were stopped for a false traffic violation and taken to jail. They were released later that night, only to go missing before they could make it back home. Their bodies were found weeks later; they had been brutally beaten and shot.

Hot Pursuit tells an important story and reminds us of the value of tikkun olam. James, Mickey, and Andrew devoted their lives to fighting segregation and improving the lives of others. We remember them during Black History Month as we look back at how far we've come, and think about what we can do in our own communities to educate others about tolerance.

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