Danielle Kerker

Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities

20142015 Forum on Color

Danielle Kerker


College of Arts & Sciences, 2015

My name is Danielle Kerker and I'm a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in History with a concentration in American History. I hail from Atlanta, GA, and my research interests lie in the histories of the American South and twentieth century Europe. Currently, I am writing my thesis on southern Jewish activism during the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, which investigates where the Atlanta Jewish community stood with regard to the white-black racial divide in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the past year, I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the history of my hometown in greater depth.

“The Implacable Surge of History”: Investigating Jewish Activism in Atlanta During the Civil Rights Movement

Existing works on southern Jewry illustrate how most southern Jews were concerned with self-preservation during the Civil Rights Movement. Many historians have untangled perceptions of southern Jewish detachment from civil rights issues to explain how individuals and communities were torn between their sympathy towards the African- American plight and Jewish vulnerability during a period of heightened racial tension. This project draws connections among the American Civil Rights Movement, the southern Jewish experience, and Atlanta race relations in order to identify instances of southern Jewish involvement in the fight for racial equality. What were the forms of activism Jews chose, the circumstances that shaped those decisions, and the underlying goals behind them? Studying Atlanta’s Jewish communities during the 1950s and 1960s helps broaden the conversation on Jewish activism, raise questions of southern Jewish identity, and uncover distinctive avenues for change. Analysis suggests that, although their story is less known, Jewish organizations and individuals in Atlanta found ways to contribute to the fight for civil rights equality within the context of the Jim Crow South.