"Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow" To Highlight Untold Civil Rights History

The Civil Rights Movement in America is taught in most every history class. We grow up with knowledge about segregation, sit-ins, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet, there are still important aspects of the time period that don't get as much focus. That void is about to be filled by the upcoming art exhibit "Beyond Swastika to Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges," where some of those untold stories will finally come to light.

The exhibit is based on the book From Swastika to Jim Crow by Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, which tells the stories of German scholars who were exiled from Nazi Germany, and who found careers at historically black colleges during America's dark and violent Jim Crow period. The book eventually became the basis for an ITVS documentary, and later, an exhibit created and circulated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

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The exhibit, which has traveled around the country, is arriving in Miami thanks to a collaboration between the Coral Gables Museum and FIU faculty Dr. Asher Milbauer, director of FIU's exile studies program; Dr. Michael Gillespie, director of humanities in an urban environment; and Dr. James Sutton, associate professor and English department chair.

To support the exhibit, FIU has created a series of panels, screenings, lectures, and other events, including a staged reading of The Hampton Years, a play by Jacqueline E. Lawton, which focuses on the relationship Austrian refugee painter and educator Viktor Lowenfeld had with African-American artists Samella Lewis and John Biggers. The professors came to learn about these hidden stories after Milbauer came across Edgcomb's book.

"As a professor of literature, among other things, I also taught Holocaust literature and exile literature, literature of immigration and so on, and I was aware of the difficulties many intellectuals faced when they were confronted with...discrimination and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany and that many of them were dismissed from their posts," Milbauer said. "Not everyone was an Einstein," he said, referencing how Albert Einstein was able to secure a position with New Jersey's Institute for Advanced Study after he left Nazi Germany.

"Most of them were very fine scholars, but there were many obstacles for them to be able to get out of Germany, and, as a result, many perished. But some did find a way to the United States in spite of the roadblocks."

However, America was not always hospitable to Jewish immigrants due to the country's own anti-Semitism and racism. The search for job security led these scholars to historically black colleges in the South, where they'd have to balance the white community's unease and the black community's struggle toward gaining equality.

"I was... dumbstruck by how unaware people were of this particular moment in America with so many universal implications," Milbauer said. This, along with the support of fellow colleagues including English associate professor Joan Baker, inspired Milbauer, Sutton and Gillespie to bring "From Swastika to Jim Crow" to Miami in order to educate the public on this time in history.

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Monique Jones

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