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

Holocaust Center talks Jim Crow, local civil rights activists


MAITLAND-This summer, The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center extends its conversation about human rights and social justice to a more local focus: the Civil Rights Movement. In a series of workshops running from June 13-16 and presented in collaboration with University of Central Florida's Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow" will discuss how these laws originated and how they were challenged by Civil Rights activists.

"Before you can understand the significance of critical events, you must first know about them," states Barb Thompson, associate director of ODI and the facilitator for the summer workshop. "One of the major goals of sharing these videos and providing an open and safe space to discuss them is to help people learn. The era of Jim Crow is part of the foundational history of racism in the United States."

There is still something about this, on the surface, that seems out of place in a discussion about the Holocaust. Yet this past spring, Yale legal scholar James Q. Whitman's book "Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law" reveals that when Nazi leadership met in 1934 to discuss the creation of the Nuremburg Law, which would legalize discrimination against the Jewish people of Germany, they were talking about the United States. They were talking about Jim Crow. The "American model" would be used by the Nazi party to justify their right to enact the same types of laws. That connection, that shared history, is why the Holocaust Center has chosen to make the struggle for African-American's civil rights a focus of their summer season.

In this way, the Holocaust Center is uniquely positioned to be more than an archive of its own history.

"There is a certain irony to our identity," says the Center's resource educator, Mitch Bloomer. "Although our organization is intrinsically rooted in historical memory, we are forward-looking. Because the study of this history recognizes the roots of racism and prejudice, we understand why it is necessary to examine our present society and pull up those roots that are still in the American soil today." He continues, "Talking about the Holocaust is not a single-issue focus, nor should it be. In fact, we cannot talk about the crime that was the Holocaust but then ignore the suffering and loss that has happened elsewhere or that continues to happen today." 

The Holocaust Center is not about just the past, it is about the past's lessons. In addition, it is about restoring the inherent dignity that comes with being remembered.

This summer, the Center will feature the stories of individuals like Wolf Khan, Harry T. Moore, Clifton Tobias Williams, Jerome Bornstein, and Felix Cosby-names that may not be recognizable to most, but deserve to be. These individuals are from either the Jewish or African-American communities and fought, often together, for civil rights. The goal is not just to educate visitors on this history, although that is important; it is about learning to stand together, and standing against hate. It is about paying respect to the trailblazers who came before us.

"Our hope," says Pam Kancher, executive director of the Center, "is that when visitors read the stories of these individuals, they are inspired to take action against prejudice and injustice. I hope everyone who visits knows that they have the power to make a difference."  

The workshops will be held from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. June 13-16 at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center, located on 851 N. Maitland Ave, Maitland, FL 32751. The three exhibits, titled "Embracing the Dream"; "A Place for All People"; and "The Tuskegee Airmen: The Segregated Skies of WWII," will begin in June and run through the beginning of September. For more information about the Holocaust Center and its upcoming events, visit their website at holocaustedu.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/HMREC.


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