Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

The work must continue to bring about racial equality


Geraldine Thompson and Dr. Bernard Kahn

Sunday's Bagels and Grits program was a very enlightening program. Hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, the event was a featured part of the community's 50th anniversary commemoration of the Civil Rights Act.

Featured speaker, Brad Herzog, spoke about the book "My Mantelpiece," which he coauthored with Carolyn Goodman, who was the mother of Andy Goodman, one of three Civil Rights workers killed in the "Freedom Summer" of 1964.

Herzog worked with Goodman for many years, collecting her stories, and getting to know her and her family. She passed away at the age of 91 without completing the book. Herzog and his wife self-published the book on the anniversary of Andy's death. Herzog became very close with the family, and during his talk, it was obvious that he is still moved by Goodman's story today. He shared with the 150 attendees that gathered stories of Philadelphia, Mississippi where Andy Goodman, 20, Mickey Schwerner , 24, and James Earl Chaney, 19, went missing on June 21, 1964. The three were in Mississippi as volunteers working on the "Freedom Summer" project of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to register blacks to vote in Mississippi. While Goodman knew how dangerous this could be, she just couldn't tell her son not to go, due to her own commitment to justice throughout her life. Herzog went on to tell the painful history of the years that followed the death of these three young men, and the overall inability to bring their murderers to justice. The story he tells is more than just a memoir, but a wakeup call to all that there is still work to be done.

After Herzog spoke, the program continued with a panel discussion moderated by UCF Professor Terri Fine. The panel members were Judge Emerson Thompson, Commissioner Samuel Ings, Professor Scot French and Rabbi Steven Engel. Each was given time to speak about the history of the civil rights movement, the relationship of the Jewish and African-American communities or their view of what still needs to be done 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. Judge Thompson spoke about growing up in Jacksonville amid the KKK in the era of the civil rights movement. Commissioner Ings shared his relationship with the Jewish community and Israel. Professor French gave an interesting talk about the ties of the abolitionist movement to the civil rights movement, sharing a story of a Jewish business owner in the Panhandle during the time of the abolitionist movement.

JCRC President Ina Porth and author Brad Herzog

There has been a long-standing history of Jewish merchants being the only business people willing to allow African-Americans to shop in their stores. Rabbi Steven Engel agreed with this, and spoke about the civil rights movement in the South, and how closely the Jewish and African-American communities worked together. Rabbi Engel went on to speak about the rift that has developed in this relationship, explaining that much of it comes from the Jews moving out to the suburbs, leaving behind the African-American community in the urban areas. This created a sort of geographical segregation. Both Judge Thompson and Rabbi Engle pointed out that without time spent together learning about each other and learning with each other, divisions and misunderstanding occur due to pure lack of knowledge of the other. Judge Thompson went on to talk about going to the University of Florida, and being the only black man in his classes. He realized that he had never met Jews, or other people, and had never had the opportunity to form friendships outside of the African American community. Once he began to meet different people, he realized that we are not all that different. All of the panelists spoke of the need for continued work in bringing equality to the African-American community. All are hopeful that this will be the start of a renewed relationship in our Central Florida community between the Jewish and African-American community.


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