Thursday, June 18, 2015

For anyone who thinks Jews were not always white in the US

I periodically meet people who think Jews weren't always white in the US. Until today, my stock answer was something like this comment I left at How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America:
Jefferson Davis's Secretary of State was Judah P. Benjamin. If the Confederate States of America thought Jews were white, everyone thought Jews were white.
Nathan C made another essential point at Amazon:
The 1790 naturalization act restricted naturalization to White people, and yet no one in the 150 years of racially restricted nationalization law tried to argue that Jews should be excluded from citizenship because they weren't White.
Today, I came across another reference to Jews being white in the US in the 19th century. In 1889, Charles W. Chesnutt began "What is a white man?" this way:
The fiat having gone forth from the wise men of the South that the "all-pervading, all-conquering Anglo-Saxon race" must continue forever to exercise exclusive control and direction of the government of this so-called Republic, it becomes important to every citizen who values his birthright to know who are included in this grandiloquent term. It is of course perfectly obvious that the writer or speaker who used this expression--perhaps Mr. Grady of Georgia--did not say what he meant. It is not probable that he meant to exclude from full citizenship the Celts and Teutons and Gauls and Slavs who make up so large a proportion of our population; he hardly meant to exclude the Jews, for even the most ardent fireeater would hardly venture to advocate the disfranchisement of the thrifty race whose mortgages cover so large a portion of Southern soil. What the eloquent gentleman really meant by this high-sounding phrase was simply the white race; and the substance of the argument of that school of Southern writers to which he belongs, is simply that for the good of the country the Negro should have no voice in directing the government or public policy of the Southern States or of the nation.
Now, you may quibble with Chesnutt's clichéd comment about Jews*, but it's clear he had no doubt white Southerners would agree that Jews were white.

I'm now adding Chesnutt to the long list of writers that I should read someday.

* I have no idea how much of the South was owned by Jews at the end of the 19th century, though since Jews as a group in the US have always been disproportionately wealthy, he's probably right that they held a large share.

ETA: Slavery and the Jews - The Atlantic: "...slave ownership was much more common in southern urban areas than in the southern countryside. The relatively high proportion of Jewish slaveholding was a function of the concentration of Jews in cities and towns..."

Project MUSE - The Jewish Confederates (review): "Jews served the Confederacy enthusiastically, Rosen tells us, because the antebellum South was relatively free of antisemitism. Not only were the first U.S. senators of Jewish descent southerners, but many southern Jews held other political offices at the state and local levels, and Louisiana produced the first elected Jewish lieutenant governor in American history. Allowed to prosper under Dixie's sun, Jews accumulated wealth (often in mercantile affairs in cities such as New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond), acquired and occasionally traded in slaves, sometimes became planters, defended the peculiar institution, and prioritized their identities as southerners over their Jewish affiliations. Jews from Sephardic families naturally volunteered for Confederate service in order to defend what they had come to regard as their land and country."

Look Away, Already--A review of The Jewish Confederates by Robert N. Rosen

Passover in the Confederacy -

The Jewish Press » » Southern Jews and the Confederacy

ETA 2: I found a discussion about some of David Duke's wilder claims at Jewish Slave Owners in the United States. One commenter, Semaphore, did a good job of putting them in context, and quoted this:
"A few Jews even became prominent slaveowning planters in the Old South ... as successful as these Jewish Southerners were by Southern standards, they represent a very tiny percentage of the 20,000 Jews residing in the antebellum South who could, or would, ever aspire to own a slave. About 5,000 Jews owned one or more slaves - about 1.25 percent of all the slaveowners in the antebellum South." - Rodriguez, Junius. The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, ABC-CLIO, 1997
And this:
"...the official United States census did not include "slaveholder" as a data category until 1860 ...The census showed 12,240,293 of the country's total 1860 population of 31,183,582 lived in slaveholding states. The total number of actual slaveholders was only 393,967. This represents just 3.2 percent of the total Southern population and just 1.26 percent of the nation's population." - Julius, Kevin C. The Abolitionist Decade, 1829-1838: A Year-by-year History of Early Events in the Antislavery
So a much higher percentage of Southern Jews owned slaves than the general Southern population (25% vs 3.2%), but they tended to own them in urban settings rather than on plantations.

ETA 3: Why identitarians are offended by discussing the whiteness of Jews