Originally published 04/28/2013
George Frederick Thomas in 1896. Courtesy of the author.Jews were, in a sense, the “Negroes” of the Russian Empire. The discrimination and violence they suffered under the tsars -- which forced over a million to emigrate to the United States in the decades around the turn of the nineteenth century -- is one of the reasons their descendants empathized with black Americans and played a major role in the civil rights movement. Even earlier in the twentieth century, the anti-Semitism that had compelled Jews to emigrate from Western Europe led their leading figures to support black activists and to help found the NAACP and the National Urban League. American blacks reciprocated, and for much of the twentieth century shared a sense of solidarity with Jews that was motivated by their common goal of social justice.