Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow tells the story of Jewish professors who fled Nazism and came to America in the 1930s and 1940s, finding teaching positions at historically black colleges and universities. The exhibition explores the encounter between these scholars and their students, and their impact on each other, the Civil Rights Movement, and American society.
The exhibit is inspired by Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb’s landmark book From Swastika to Jim Crow: Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges (Krieger Publishing Company, 1993) and the subsequent PBS documentary by JoelSucher and Steven Fischler of Pacific Street Films. The exhibition includes artifacts, photographs, and two new films, by Sucher and Fischler, featuring both the professors and the students. It begins with the dismissal of the refugee scholars from German universities and continues through their search for positions in the United States. The exhibition then highlights the backgrounds of the black students and follows the professors and students coming together to teach and learn and to share a community on campus. The exhibition includes their mutual participation in the Civil Rights movement and concludes with a look at the impact of the contributions of the professors and the students to American life.
Exhibition highlights include:
• Receipts for the $28 in fines Professors Lore and Donald Rasmussen paid for having lunch with a black civil rights colleague at a black café in Birmingham. Eating in a public place with someone of the other race without a seven foot high separation wall was considered “incitement to riot.” Prof. Lore Rasmussen and her husband were arrested. When Prof. Lore Rasmussen was free to go, she was not allowed to ride home alone with her black student, so she stayed in jail with her husband until bail was posted for them by a black dentist.
• Paintings by Prof. Viktor Lowenfeld and his student John Biggers show their influence on each other’s work. Biggers went on to get his Ph.D. from Viktor Lowenfeld at Penn State University, and then chaired the art department at Texas State University (later Texas Sout
hern University), where he stayed until his retirement in 1983. His work is in the permanent collections of the MoMA and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among other institutions.
• Spice box brought from Germany by Professor George Iggers to the United States. He taught at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. Prof. Iggers and his wife, Wilma, were involved in the Civil Rights movement and spearheaded a challenge to the Little Rock Board of Education in the 1950s. Prof. Iggers was one of the first white members of the black fraternity Phi Beta Sigma.
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges was created and is circulated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, New York City.
Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges is made possible through major funding from the Leon Levy Foundation. Additional support provided by the Helen Bader Foundation; The Lupin Foundation; The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation; public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; the Alpern Family Foundation; and the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation.