Learning at the Margins

The Creation and Dissemination of Knowledge among African Americans and Jews since the 1880s


September 7-9, 2017
Conference at the GHI Washington
Conveners: Elisabeth Engel (GHI) and Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson (University of Augsburg), Kierra Crago-Schneider (USHMM), Yvonne Poser (Howard University)

African American and Jewish populations have cultivated relationships with each other that drew on their respective histories as marginalized minorities since their arrival in the United States in the late nineteenth century. Jewish immigrants generously funded African-American industrial education in the post-Reconstruction South; Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) offered refuge for prosecuted German-Jewish scholars during the 1930s and 1940s; and Jewish women and men supported the African American Civil Rights Movement as Freedom School teachers. Examples such as these highlight that much of the African American-Jewish relationship evolved from their “mutual education,” which aimed to overcome structural disadvantages and social inequalities in American society, while going beyond traditional concepts of education. African American and Jewish ways of teaching and learning ranged from ad-hoc street teach-ins to the production of films that thematized shared histories of resistance and survival tactics, and as such index a broad impact on American history and culture. Thus, African American-Jewish educational relations shaped a wide variety of “communities of practice,” in which people from both groups actively contributed knowledge, skills, and resources to create a shared epistemic framework.  

This conference aims to explore the history of the epistemic frameworks that emerged within the educational spheres African Americans and Jews created and shared since the 1880s, when Jews and African Americans first moved into similar social and economic spaces in the US. By looking at the long dureé of Jewish and African American relations in the United States, this interdisciplinary conference invites scholars to expand the concept of African-American and Jewish relations beyond narratives of similarities, ephemeral encounters, and short-term political alliances. The conference sessions will be organized around the key concept of the exchange of knowledge within academic and nonacademic communities. Our project thus approaches the history of African-American/Jewish relations not only with regard to their exclusion, but also through a focus on the collaborative production and application of knowledge to highlight the entanglements that were involved with the African American and Jewish quests for empowerment.

Potential topics include, but are not limited to:

  • African American and Jewish concepts of knowledge and education
  • African American and Jewish educational institutions, including museums and other forms of public history
  • The impact of migration on minority education
  • How the Nuremberg Laws, the Holocaust, Jim Crow, and lynchings influenced and affected African American and Jewish perceptions of one other
  • The experience, perception and impact of German-Jewish refugee scholars and other Jewish scholars at HBCUs
  • The role of education and community organizations in Black and Jewish political activism
  • Public representation of African-American/Jewish educational relations
  • The role of public media and the film industry in shaping African-American/Jewish relations
  • The role of class, gender and space regarding African-American/Jewish educational relations
  • The role of faith groups, youth groups, national advocacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP & Urban League in shaping African American/Jewish Relations

The conference will be held in Washington, D.C. and the sponsors will cover transportation and lodging for all presenters. Proposals of no more than 300 words along with one-page c.v.’s should be sent to Susanne Fabricius (Fabricius@ghi-dc.org) by December 15, 2016.