The Racist in the Room

I recently read Black students at New York University (NYU) are demanding separate living quarters. This brought back memories of the civil rights cause during my college years. It was in a land long ago and faraway called Northwestern University. In my years there 1955-59, Civil rights were at the forefront. Brown v. Board of Education had just been decided in May 1954, opening the floodgates against “Separate but Equal.” Northwestern had only recently dropped quotas in admissions. This was especially important to Jews and probably allowed me to be admitted. At the time, reformers felt allocations unfair, even unAmerican. People should be judged not on religion, Race, or sex, but on their own merit.

The next year, a picture was no longer required to accompany admittance applications. We felt this would make it harder to discriminate, especially against people of color. More students might go to a school that formally banned or limited them.

During my years on campus, we did away with the divided Greek rush. At the time, many national Fraternities and Sororities banned pledging people of specific racial and religious backgrounds. Greek houses were forced to remove these restrictions, or they would have to leave the campus. Jewish fraternities, heretofore rushed separately, were included in one combined rush week. Our house over the following years and most others became integrated. We felt this was a great accomplishment. This was college as it should be. Bringing people of different backgrounds and ideas together to broaden our outlook and improve our critical thinking. Bull sessions got a broader perspective.

One might ask why Jews and their organizations were at the forefront of these reforms? The simple answer is Jews were no strangers to discrimination. We thought the wider freedoms were spread, the better and safer it would be for us. Where it was legal to discriminate anywhere, it always adversely affected Jews. Best to get rid of the restrictions and let people be free to live and grow wherever. The more we mingled together, the more we would see each other as individuals. We might find we have more in common than what divides us.

It was in this vein, Jews were strong supporters of the Civil Rights Movement. They provided significant financial backing to the NAACP. My Aunt and Uncle were always holding fundraising meetings at their apartment. On-campus we did the same.

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