Holocaust museum examines Jewish persecution and Jim Crow
Before World War II officially began, Germany was purging Jewish professors, scientists and scholars from the work force. Deprived of their livelihoods, some found refuge in the United States.
A few dozen of them took jobs working for historically black colleges in the South. Persecuted for their identity in Nazi Germany, they came face-to-face with the absurdities faced by their students in a rigidly segregated Jim Crow society.
A new exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, "Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow," explores the unlikely coming together of these two groups, each the object of exclusion and hatred, and examines the ongoing encounter between them as they navigated the challenges of life in the segregated South.
Through historical objects, photographs, texts and artworks such as "The Gleaners" by John Biggers, visitors learn the stories of two disenfranchised groups brought together in search of opportunity and freedom.
In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum plans a variety of special programs:
• "Racial Laws -- Nuremberg and Jim Crow": 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13. Leading Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum and Mary Lee Webeck, director of education at the Holocaust Museum of Houston, will discuss whether a shared suffering under anti-minority legislation was a motivating factor in the alliance between American Jews and blacks from World War II through the Civil Rights era.
• "An Afternoon for the Family": 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6. Storytelling focused on Patricia Polacco's book, "Mrs. Katz and Tush," followed by an art activity designed for 6- to 10-year-olds with family members. Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny is the storyteller.
• "An Afternoon of Film": 1:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13. After a screening of the documentary "From Swastika to Jim Crow," Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, will facilitate a conversation with Gwendolyn DuBose Rogers, one of the students taught and inspired by a Jewish professor at Talladega College in Alabama. Rogers taught in the Chicago Public Schools; she also was a curriculum consultant to Head Start; the director of the Early Childhood Center at Walt Disney Magnet School; director of the education department of the Chicago Urban League; and director of the Department of Internal Affairs for the Chicago Park District.
• "Jim Crow in the North": May 22. A panel discussion on restrictive housing practices in Chicago and the North Shore will include fair housing advocate and attorney Ed Voci, North Shore historian and professor emeritus at Lake Forest College Michael Ebner and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen.
• Civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19. Lewis will speak as part of the Donald and Sue Pritzker "Voices of Conscience" lecture series. Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; at 19, he helped organize the first lunch counter sit-in in 1959 and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
In May 1961, he participated in the initial Freedom Ride, during which he endured violent attacks in Rock Hill, S.C., and Montgomery, Ala. In 1964, he helped to coordinate the Mississippi Freedom Project, and, in 1965, Lewis led the Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights that became known as "Bloody Sunday." He was elected to Congress in 1987.
If you goWhat: Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow
When: Opens Friday, Feb. 4
Where: Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie
Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday evenings, 5-8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
More information: ilholocaustmuseum.org or (847) 967-4889