Digital Project Proposal: Southern Temple Bombing Timeline

As stated in my Print Project Proposal, historians of American Jewish history and the Civil Rights Movement pay scant attention to southern temple bombings during this era. Additionally, there is no academic scholarship or digital resources solely dedicated to this subject — the incidents are confined to one chapter or stuck in a mere footnote. To remedy this gap in scholarship and to create the first comprehensive, interactive resource on southern temple bombings during the Civil Rights Movement, I will create a timeline of the following bombings and bomb threats:

  • Temple Beth-El in Charlotte, NC on November 11, 1957
  • Temple Emanuel in Gastonia, NC on February 11, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Miami, FL on March 16, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, AL on April 28, 1958
  • B’nai Israel in Little Rock, AR (date currently unknown)
  • Agudath Achim in Alexandria, VA (date currently unknown)
  • Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (The Temple) in Atlanta, GA on October 12, 1958

I will probably use StoryMaps, so I can embed newspaper clippings, newscasts, oral histories, photographs, court documents, and other primary sources for each incident. I will also use secondary sources, such as Clive Webb’s Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, Leonard Dinnerstein’s “Southern Jewry and the Desegregation Crisis, 1954-1970,” and Melissa Faye Greene’s The Temple Bombing to provide the necessary context around antisemitism, Black-Jewish relations and Communism during the time period and within the southern region. Hopefully, this digital resource will be helpful to historians and students of American Jewish history, Black-Jewish relations, the Civil Rights Movement and white supremacy, as well as any person interested in learning more about this topic.

Here are some of the research questions I hope to answer with this digital platform and resource:

  • How do the temple bombings differ between states?
    • Examine the differences between white supremacist groups and their intimidation methods before the bombing, the response of temple leadership, those within the Jewish community and those outside (Christian, Black and other relevant communities)
  • In what ways are they similar? Are there any visible patterns between incidents?
    • Do white supremacists attack random temples or those with strong leadership and activism? Those with tight-knit communities?
  • Did the temple bombings strengthen or weaken the temple’s activism during the Civil Rights Movement?

I am not 100% sure on my plans for outreach yet, as well as using StoryMaps as a platform. It seems a little clunky to me and not as smooth as I had hoped for interactive storytelling. However, compared to TimelineJS, it allows for more multimedia content. If anyone has any suggestions on other platforms, I would love to hear them!

-Rachael Davis

Print Project Proposal: Remembering Southern Temple Bombings

Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, I belonged to a tight-knit and thriving Jewish community; I spent many days of my week teaching Hebrew to children or partaking in multiple social justice initiatives at “Shalom Park,” the center of Jewish life in the city. Here, the Reform synagogue, Conservative synagogue, Jewish Day School and Jewish Community Center (JCC) were all right next door to each other, allowing for easy collaboration and fostering of friendships among families. I also had the opportunity to visit other southern synagogues and meet many other Jewish teens in nearby states, like Florida and Georgia, all throughout high school.  

However, it was not until last year that I discovered my synagogue and all the others I visited had something dark and tragic in common: they were all targets of bombings during the Civil Rights Movement.

From The Temple Bombing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958; https://www.gpb.org/news/2014/03/25/remembering-the-temple-bombing-and-how-it-changed-atlantas-jewish-community

According to historian Clive Webb, white supremacist groups, such as the Confederate Underground and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), believed integration was part of a Zionist-Communist plot that would allow Jews to take over the country. Of course, this antisemitic theory was baseless, but southern white supremacists also began to feel increasingly threatened by rabbis who were outspoken advocates of Black civil rights. Such beliefs and fears resulted in *8 southern Jewish temple bombings from November 1957 to October 1958.

*Note: While Webb states that are 8 temple bombings, he only mentions 7. I need to do further research to try to find the eighth temple targeted.

The Temples Targeted:

  • Temple Beth-El in Charlotte, NC on November 11, 1957
  • Temple Emanuel in Gastonia, NC on February 11, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Miami, FL on March 16, 1958
  • Temple Beth-El in Birmingham, AL on April 28, 1958
  • B’nai Israel in Little Rock, AR (date currently unknown)
  • Agudath Achim in Alexandria, VA (date currently unknown)
  • Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (The Temple) in Atlanta, GA on October 12, 1958
From the Temple Bombing in Atlanta, Georgia in 1958; https://www.gpb.org/news/2017/02/25/janice-rothschild-blumberg-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-temple-kate-tuttle-on

How could I belong to a synagogue and be so involved in the community for years and not know anything of this history? After I learned this information, I began to ask my friends at the other targeted synagogues, and they also had no idea about the bombings.

This dilemma inspired my main research questions:

  1. How do the southern temples discuss the history of the bombings on their personal websites? Do they work to keep the memory of the attack alive? Or do they attempt to bury it and silence it?
  2. How do mainstream websites, like Wikipedia, discuss the history of the bombings and attempt to preserve the memory of the attacks? Do they have any information on the attacks at all?
  3. How do the two websites differ in their information and retelling of the attacks? Is there a clear bias? Significant historical gaps?

To answer the first question, I will examine the personal websites of the synagogues listed above. Many of them have “About Us” or “History” pages online.

Screenshot taken from https://www.the-temple.org/history

For the second question, I will search the incidents on Wikipedia, as well as conduct a basic Google search to see what other websites may appear. I am willing to examine current (last ten years) news articles written on the incidents for this project. Many outlets discuss the incidents on their anniversaries or to connect them to current antisemitic events in the country.

Screenshot from personal Google search

For the last question, I will mainly look at the sources the two websites use. I will also compare their historical facts to the scholarship of Clive Webb, the author of Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, and Leonard Dinnerstein, the author of “Southern Jewry and the Desegregation Crisis, 1954-1970,” to properly assess possible historical gaps. Webb and Dinnerstein are the only two scholars who have thoroughly researched the bombings.

As far as I know, there are no existing projects that are similar to mine — this topic is severely under researched and historians of the field rarely go in-depth on the incidents. On the bright side, there is an archival collection of the Atlanta temple bombing in the Civil Rights Digital Library, but it only contains a singular news clip.

With this project, I hope to bring more awareness to these incidents. I would also like to inspire others (and myself) to further research southern temple bombings, possibly correct wrong information of these attacks online, or even provide the crucial historical information to the websites, in order to expand public knowledge of this time period and the southern Jewish communities.

-Rachael Davis

Introduction: Rachael Davis

Hello! My name is Rachael Davis and I am a first-year History PhD student at American University. I am from Charlotte, North Carolina and received my bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. All throughout my undergraduate career, I mainly studied the early American Supreme Court. However, my life changed after I read Melissa Faye Greene’s The Temple Bombing, a book on southern Jews, white supremacists and civil rights activism. Since then, I have been reading as much as I can on American Jewish history, southern Jewish women and Black-Jewish relations from the founding of America to present. I hope to write my dissertation on southern Jewish women and their involvement in the desegregation of schools in their communities, as well as the divergent experiences of racism and antisemitism in the twentieth-century South. 

In the future, I hope to become a professor of American Jewish history, write books (historical and fiction) and focus on making history as accessible and approachable as possible. I would love to explore different mediums, such as podcasts, documentaries, video games and more! I believe this class will help me gain the skill set to interact with a plethora of digital tools and sources, as well as help me get the ball rolling on some digital projects I have been drafting in my head! There are so many important and enthralling stories on southern Jewish women throughout history — they should not be confined to ink and paper!

I am obsessed with technology and social media, but I really only know how to work with iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro. I am very eager to learn more about the other platforms we will be using this semester, especially Audacity and HistoryPin. 

Lastly, I do not have too much free time, but when I do, I love to read fiction novels and memoirs, watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for the 100th time, play Animal Crossing and eat baked goods, especially chocolate chip cookies. I cannot wait to get to know you and learn with you this semester! 🙂