Sisterhood Blog

New Curriculum Highlights Work of Jewish, Female Civil Rights Activists

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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Wallace Roberts, via JWA
Heather Booth plays guitar for Fannie Lou Hamer during the Freedom Summer Project in Mississippi, 1964.

When we think of Jews who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, names like Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel immediately come to mind. Few of us would name Judith Frieze Wright, Heather Tobis Booth or Beatrice “Buddy” Mayer. A free, new online curriculum called “Living the Legacy,” written by Judith Rosenbaum and published by Jewish Women’s Archive is attempting to change that — by shedding light on Jews and the Civil Rights Movement through a distinctly feminist lens.

“Living the Legacy” is a robust guide to the questions Jewish teens today should be considering — not only about Jewish participation in the Civil Rights Movement of 50 years ago, but also about their own political identity and commitment to social justice and human rights.

Organized around themes of personal identity and action, activism and the Civil Rights Movement, and Jewish–African-American relations, the curriculum is a treasure trove of primary and secondary sources, as well as relevant Jewish texts. The curriculum includes archival photographs, letters, sermons, newspaper articles, speeches, transcripts, artifacts, and video and audio recordings. All of these are woven into detailed lesson plans.

Students in grades 8-12 will be exposed to the familiar names and faces of Jewish Civil Rights activists, and they will also meet women who were equally committed to the cause, but whose stories are lesser known. They will learn, for example, about how Booth went South to Mississippi as a participant in the Freedom Summer Project to register African Americans to vote and to run “Freedom Schools” for the African American community. And they will learn about Mayer, who put her desire to foster dialogue and solidarity among Northern and Southern women above her own family life. The curriculum provides insights into how Jewish women acted alongside male Civil Rights activists, but also about how some of their approaches and achievements differed from those of the men.

You do not have to be a professional educator to appreciate what Rosenbaum has done. “Living the Legacy” is a gift to everyone.


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