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The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Conflict

Intellectual Struggles between Blacks and Jews at Mid-Century

Glen Anthony Harris

The history of Black-Jewish relations from the beginning of the twentieth century shows that, while they were sometimes partners of convenience, there was also a deep suspicion of each other that broke out into frequent public exchanges. During the twentieth century, the entanglements of both groups have, at times, provided an important impetus for social justice in the United States and, at other times, have been the cause of great tension.
The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Conflict explores this fraught relationship, which is evident in the intellectual lives of these communities. The tension was as apparent in the life and works of Marcus Garvey, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin as it was in the exchanges between blacks and Jews in intellectual periodicals and journals in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The Ocean Hill–Brownsville conflict was rooted in this tension and the longstanding differences over community control of school districts and racial preferences.

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Lexington Books
Pages: 226Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-0-7391-6683-3 • Hardback • May 2012 • $90.00 • (£60.00)
978-0-7391-7602-3 • eBook • May 2012 • $85.00 • (£54.95)
Glen Anthony Harris is associate professor in the Department of History at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Chapter 1: In the First Decades of the Twentieth Century
Chapter 2: From Franz Boas to Richard Wright
Chapter 3: The 1940s: Impeded Perceptions
Chapter 4: Liberalism and Identity in Post-War America
Chapter 5: The Commentary Factory
Chapter 6: What Once was Old is Now New
Chapter 7: The Radicalization of the Civil Rights Movement
Chapter 8: What Liberal Alliance? The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Conflict
About the Author
In The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Conflict Glen Anthony Harris synthesizes and analyzes the works of the major thinkers of these groups and chronicles the nature of the relationship between them during the twentieth century. Harris’ scholarship is balanced and sound and his analysis intriguing. Thoroughly examining and critiquing the works of prominent twentieth century Jewish and black intellectuals, this book demonstrates how the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict represented a convergence of many historical issues that united and divided Jews and blacks.
Learotha Williams, Tennessee State University

Repelling a tendency to debate black/Jewish relations through personal interaction and communal contact, Glenn Anthony Harris provides a thorough discussion of the exchanges and debates between black and Jewish intellectuals throughout the 20th century. Moving beyond a linear historiography, which imagines the pre-1960s as the golden age of black/Jewish relations and the subsequent decades as one of conflict and tension, Harris’ exceptional research forces complexity and depth on this continually important subject. A story of liberalism, radicalism, and the battle to remake America, The Ocean-Hill Brownsville Conflict offers insight into the often competing and difficult dialogues between black and Jewish intellectuals elucidating how even in disagreement these debates propelled the movement for justice and equality forward.
David J. Leonard, Washington State University

Devoting one chapter to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict that pitted African American district leaders against Jewish teachers and administrators, Harris (Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington) intriguingly explores at greater length the intellectual and conceptual roots of that clash. He examines the ideas of Jewish and black intellectuals ranging from Franz Boas, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Kenneth Clark, and Ralph Ellison to Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise, Nathan Glazer, and Norman Podhoretz. Baldwin stated bluntly in the headline of his 1967 New York Times Magazine essay that 'Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White.' The psychologist Clark proved more hopeful about black-Jewish relations, although self-identifying Jewish liberals or social democrats—some later turned neoconservative, such as Podhoretz—increasingly expressed concerns by the 1960s. Podhoretz's Commentary magazine was at the heart of many of the intellectual squabbles, including those involving Ellison, who insisted that northern liberals had devolved into 'the new apologists for segregation.' Harris aptly examines the radical turn of the civil rights movement; his chapter on the New Left-Old Left clash fits less neatly. He concludes that US black and Jewish intellectuals sought different things, with the former desiring free engagement and the latter wanting an orderly existence protective of their interests. Summing Up: Recommended.