Anti-Semitism has had a long history among African Americans. In the 1920s, for instance, the “buy-black” campaign of the black-nationalist leader Marcus Garvey was explicitly targeted against Jews, and Garvey later spoke admiringly of Adolf Hitler.
In February 1948 the black writer James Baldwin acknowledged how widespread anti-Semitism was in his community, writing: “Georgia has the Negro and Harlem has the Jew.” Baldwin later succumbed to such views himself when he wrote that while Christians made up America's true power structure, the Jew “is doing their dirty work.” He went on to denigrate Jewish financial support of civil rights organizations as mere “conscience money.”
Malcolm X, too, was a vociferous anti-Semite both publicly and privately. According to author Murray Friedman, when Malcolm met with representatives of the Ku Klux Klan to solicit their support for his project of black separatism, he "assured them" that "it was Jews who were behind the integration movement."
The prominent role that Jews played in the American civil rights movement did little to diminish black anti-Semitism. When the movement first began to gain traction in the late 1950s and early 60s, the front-line troops in the Montgomery bus boycott and then in the lunch-counter sit-ins were all blacks; but among the whites who soon rallied to the cause, a disproportionately large share were Jews. The Freedom Riders rode in integrated detachments, and two-thirds of the whites, Murray Friedman reports, were Jews.
A few years later (1964) came the “Mississippi Summer,” a black-voter-registration project conceived and organized by a Jew, Allard Lowenstein. According to Friedman, Jews made up from one-third to one-half of the white volunteers who took part. Of the three volunteers who lost their lives in the project, two -- Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman -- were Jews.
In his book Blacks and Jews, Paul Berman reports that Jews contributed one-half to three-quarters of the financial support received by civil rights groups in the 1960s. The organizational support they provided was equally pronounced. All over the United States, Jewish organizations assigned staffers to work on civil rights initiatives. In those days, writes Berman, “it was almost as if to be Jewish and liberal were, by definition, to fly a flag for black America.”
Then, just as the struggle for civil rights achieved its cardinal victories with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many of its black activists began to turn away from their original goals, taking up instead the cause of “Black Power.” The driving motive of Black Power was the venting of rage over racial humiliation, a rage that the earlier civil rights movement had insisted on subordinating to the strategy of nonviolence and sublimating in the rhetoric of Christian love.
This rage manifested itself within the civil rights movement's own organizations, where the presence of whites in leading positions -- and indeed at all levels -- was now regarded as an intolerable affront. CORE and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which had been on the cutting edge of the fight for integration, suddenly became racially exclusive.
With whites in the movement redefined as oppressors and opportunists, and with so many of the whites being Jews, some of the new hostility was bound to assume an anti-Jewish tone. In 1968, during a New York City school strike, leaflets were distributed by blacks attacking Jewish teachers as “Middle-East murderers of colored people.”
In more recent decades, a number of leading black activists -- some immensely popular and influential -- have become vocal exponents of anti-Semitic.. Stoking the fires of racial grievance and victimology, they aim to imbue fellow blacks with contempt for, and envy of, Jews. Some of these anti-Semites serve as Imams or ministers at major mosques across the country. Others work as chaplains in America's prison system. Others have established themselves as leaders of the contemporary civil rights movement.
City College of New York professor Leonard Jeffries, for instance, contends that “rich Jews who financed the development of Europe also financed the slave trade.” He charges that Jews have greatly exaggerated the horrors of the Holocaust, and he once described Jewish academicians who disagreed with his views as “slick and devilish and dirty and dastardly.”
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan also has a long, well-documented history of diatribes about the "white devils" and Jewish "bloodsuckers" who purportedly decimate America's black community from coast to coast. He has referred to Judaism as a "gutter religion," and to Adolf Hitler as "a wickedly great man."
In January 1984 Jesse Jackson referred to Jews as "Hymies," and to New York City as "Hymietown," during a private conversation with a black Washington Post reporter, Milton Coleman. Jackson assumed -- largely because of what he perceived as his racial bond with the black reporter -- that the references would not be printed in the media. But a few weeks later, Coleman would permit the slurs to be included in another Post reporter's article on Jackson's poor relations with American Jews. News of Jackson's comments set off a firestorm of of controversy. Jackson at first denied having made the remarks, then accused Jews of conspiring to defeat him. Finally, in late February of 1984, Jackson delivered an emotional speech admitting that he had made the remarks in question, and and seeking atonement before national Jewish leaders in a New Hampshire synagogue.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton is another prominent African American whose anti-Semitism has frequently been on public display. In 1991, for instance, after anti-Semitic riots in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section had erupted in response to a Hasidic Jew's accidental vehicular homicide of a black child, Sharpton organized angry demonstrations and challenged local Jews –– whom he derisively called "diamond merchants" –– to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Stirred in part by such rhetoric, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks continued rioting for three days and nights, killing an innocent rabbinical student named Yankel Rosenbaum in the process.
Four years later, Sharpton led an ugly boycott against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned clothing store in Harlem, New York. The street leader of the boycott, Morris Powell, was the head of Sharpton’s “Buy Black” Committee. He and his fellow protesters repeatedly referred to the Jewish proprietors of Freddy’s as "the greedy Jew bastards [who are] killing our [black] people." The subsequent picketing became increasingly menacing in its tone, until one of the protesters eventually shot four whites in the store and then set the building on fire –– killing seven employees.
According to Nation of Islam spokesman Malik Zulu Shabazz, Jewish conspirators possessed exclusive foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks and saved their own lives that day by not going to their jobs in the World Trade Center. In 2002 Shabazz said: "Kill every goddamn Zionist in Israel! Goddamn little babies, goddamn old ladies! Blow up Zionist supermarkets!"
Shabazz's mentor, the late Khalid Abdul Muhammad, characterized Jews as “slumlords in the black community” who were busy “sucking our [blacks’] blood on a daily and consistent basis.”
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the longtime pastor of Barack Obama during the latter's years in Chicago, was asked by an interviewer in June 2009 whether he had spoken to President Obama since the latter had taken his oath of office five months earlier. Wright replied: "Them Jews aren't going to let him [Obama] talk to me.... They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is."
In a May 2006 appearance at UC Irvine, the Oakland-based Imam Amir Abdel Malik-Ali referred to Jews as "new Nazis" and "a bunch of straight-up punks," telling them directly: "The truth of the matter is your days are numbered. We will fight you. We will fight you until we are either martyred or until we are victorious."
Quanell X, the former national youth minister for the Nation of Islam, was quoted thusly in the Chicago Tribune: "I say to Jewish America: Get ready … knuckle up, put your boots on, because we're ready and the war is going down ... Black youth do not want a relationship with the Jewish community ... All you Jews can go straight to hell."
Adapted partly from "Facing up to Black Anti Semitism," by Joshua Muravchik (December 1995).