Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young, accused of a hate crime, was denied a plea deal when he appeared in a Manhattan court on May 29 before Judge Abraham Clott. He is due to appear again on August 2. In April, outside the New York Hilton, Young allegedly yelled anti-Semitic epithets including "you fu.. Jews" at a group of tourists giving money to a panhandler wearing a skull cap and star of David, and physically assaulted one of them.
How ironic that Young, who is African American, plays for the Detroit Tigers, the same team as Hank Greenberg, who in the 1930s, often endured similar anti-Semitic epitheths from fans and opposing players. Greenberg was one of the few opposing players who welcomed African-American Jackie Robinson into major league baseball. They became friends, and Greenberg helped Robinson survive the racism he confronted in his rookie season. As a baseball executive, Greenberg sponsored more African American baseball players than any of his peers.
Does Mr. Young have any awareness of this? Whatever the answer, it is highly unlikely that he has any awareness that Greenberg's actions are not surprising in light of the longstanding overrepresentation of Jews standing up for African Americans.
Judges have enormous leeway in their sentencing. Whether Young ends up with a plea bargain or a fine, the best bet for rehabilitating him from his prejudices is to assign him history lessons focused on Jewish support for African Americans.
The curriculum would include:
In 1909, Dr. Henry Moscowitz was one of the founders of the NAACP; many Jews were among its earliest members. Julius Rosenwald and other Jewish philanthropists played a major role in funding the organization. When Rosenwald died in 1932, the NAACP's executive secretary, Walter White, stated: "no name is more revered and deeply loved among American negroes than that of Julius Rosenwald." Rosenwald also funded the building of 5,300 black elementary schools in the South.
In the 1930s, many German-Jewish professors fled Nazi Germany and came to the U.S. A good number taught at Southern Black colleges. Deeply disturbed by Jim Crow laws which evoked Hitler's anti-Semitic laws, some like Professor Georg Iggers, who taught at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, joined the NAACP. In the 1950s, Iggers became active in Little Rock desegregation battles. Professor Lore Rasmussen taught at Talladega College. In 1942, she and her husband were arrested for dining with an African American in a blacks-only restaurant.
Besides involvement in anti-segregation actions, Jewish professors played an important role in building up the self-confidence of their students and encouraging them to continue their studies and enter professions. Mary Etta Madison, a retired school teacher in her eighties, still sometimes wears a bracelet given to her 60 years ago by professor Rasmussen who she says gave her the self-confidence to pursue her career. (Louis Armstrong never took off the Star of David he wore around his neck in appreciation of the New Orleans Karnofsky family who treated him like a son and bought him a cornet, his first musical instrument.)
Jack Greenberg, became the only white legal counselor for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) in 1949, and, in 1961, succeeded Thurgood Marshall -- who was to become the first African American Supreme Court Justice -- as LDF's Director-Counsel. Besides arguing Brown v. Board of Education as co-counsel with Marshall, Greenberg argued numerous other anti-segregation, anti-discrimination, and anti- death penalty cases.
When it comes to the sixties civil rights movement, estimates as to the percentage of white Freedom Riders, volunteers, and civil rights attorneys, who were Jewish vary from one third to two thirds. Jews made up approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population!
It is unlikely that Young ever heard any of this. By 1966, many in the new Black Power movement rejected the racial integration espoused by Reverend King, and expelled whites from their organizations. Instead of saying "thanks for your help, but it's time for us to move on" to their Jewish supporters, some adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric. I still remember being shocked and horrified upon hearing Stokely Carmichael -- president of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee ( SNCC) in 1966 and Prime Minister of the Black Panthers in 1967 -- whom I so admired, spew forth the vilest anti-Semitism at a San Diego State College talk.
A favorite focus was Jewish landlords and store owners accused of exploiting blacks. These accusations were undoubtedly true of some -- the extraordinary overrepresentation of Jews standing up for blacks does not mean that all Jews were enlightened. However, a number of studies including one done by M.I.T. professor Gary T. Marx and reported in his 1967 book, Protest and Prejudice: A Study of Belief in the Black Community, indicated that a majority of blacks did not consider Jews to be worse than other white landlords and shopkeepers in black neighborhoods.
Many black power leaders dismissed the role of Jews in the civil rights movement, claiming that they were just acting in their self-interest.
Many of us are still trying to figure out how it was in our self-interest -- minorities seeking acceptance routinely identify with the establishment majority not with an even more reviled group. In the early sixties, a Catholic priest (I later found out he was from Mississippi and had been defrocked) assaulted me as I was handing out leaflets in front of Woolworth's on Broadway and 109th street -- we were picketing in support of desegregating lunch counters in the South. When I took him to court, the presiding judge called me into his chambers and recommended my giving up civil rights activities which he said could only harm me in terms of my future career. When I recently asked my friend Stan, whom I met on the picket line," so what was in it for you back then picketing Woolworth's?" I had to rephrase the question three times before he had an inkling of what I was talking about. "It felt good to be standing up for what was right," he finally responded.
The continuing influence of The Nation of Islam's minister Louis Farrakhan's extreme anti-Semitism -- he has described Jews as "Satan" -- propagated by his followers in a variety of public arenas including universities, no doubt play a role in the fact that according to the Anti-Defamation League's 2011 poll 29 percent of African Americans held strongly anti-Semitic views versus 15 percent of the general population.
The good news is that many prominent African Americans including Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Julian Bond, civil rights activist and former NAACP chair, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis have been outspokenly critical of black anti- Semitism. They recognize the Jewish contribution toward civil rights, as did the Reverend Martin Luther King when he stated that "it would be impossible to record the contribution that Jewish people have made toward the Negro's struggle for freedom; it has been so great." They no doubt also appreciate that in the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jews voted for Obama, compared to 41 percent of other whites.
Educating himself with respect to Jewish support for African Americans could just lead Delmon Young to see eye to eye with these prominent figures and join the 71 percent of African Americans who do not harbor anti-Semitic prejudices.