Except for isolated instances, most notably the lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915, anti-Semitism in America never acquired the malevolent levels that it frequently reached in Europe. Discrimination had its greatest effects on U.S. immigration policies during the decades between the late nineteenth century and the era of World War II. The refusal of the United States to admit European Jews trying to flee German Nazism during the 1930’s condemned most of these persons to murder at the hands of the Nazis.
The lure of freedom for Jews can be found in the earliest decades following the founding of the first settlements in what became the United States. The first Jews arrived in
The period from the mid-seventeenth century to approximately 1830 represented the first, albeit limited, immigration of Jews from Europe to the United States. A second period, of greater immigration levels, occurred between 1830 and 1880. It saw the arrival of mostly of German and other western European Jews. The third and largest influx of Jews took place between 1880 and 1924, when most Jewish immigrants were from eastern Europe, particularly from Russia. The search for religious and political freedoms as well as economic opportunities was a primary driving factor during each of these periods. However, the relative importance displayed by each of these issues varied during the respective eras.
Most American settlers during the colonial era of North America were British. What little anti-Semitism they displayed was reflected primarily in attitudes or verbal attacks rather than in statutory legal restrictions. At the time of the late eighteenth century American Revolution, approximately two thousand Jews lived in the North American colonies. New York City and Charleston,
The United States gained its independence in 1783. The U.S.
Even during this period, Jews in the public eye could be subject to personal attacks.
Between 1830 and the 1880’s, the number of Jews in the United States rose to approximately 200,000. Most of this increase was the result of immigration of
Complex reasons prompted the emigration of Jews from Europe through the mid-nineteenth century. Before the 1870’s, most of them left Europe for economic or political reasons, in contrast to later immigrants who fled from lethal pogroms. The decades of the 1830’s and 1840’s were a period of political turmoil that culminated in a series of mostly unsuccessful
Meanwhile, American attitudes toward Jews were undergoing changes as new German, Irish, and other immigrants brought their own prejudices against Jews to America. Attacks on Jews became increasingly common, and acts of discrimination against Jews increased. In Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, Roman Catholic priests told domestic workers not to work for Jewish employers. The speaker of
Puck magazine cartoon lampooning Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe in 1881.
Some eight thousand Jews fought in the
During the decades following the Civil War, Jews increasingly integrated into mainstream American society. Many became prominent merchants. Nevertheless, anti-Semitic discrimination persisted. For example, the prominent businessman
Wholesale changes in the demographics of American Jews, and the response of the country at large, began with the mass influxes that began during the 1880’s and continued into the 1920’s. During those years, nearly 2.4 million Jews immigrated to the United States. Most came from eastern Europe, and most of them settled in the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Poverty was among the forces that drove Jews to emigrate from Europe, but increasingly virulent anti-Semitic nationalism in some eastern European countries was rising to the level of lethal pogroms against Jewish communities.
Educated Jewish immigrants from western Europe integrated into American society relatively easily, but more poorly educated immigrants from Russia were considered by many Americans as less intelligent and of poor genetic stock. As these immigrants’ names revealed their Slavic ancestry, many immigrants
While overt hatred, particularly in the South, was generally directed against members of racial minorities, such feelings were also occasionally directed against Jews. The most blatant example was the 1915 lynching of the Jewish Atlanta businessman
The growing anti-Semitic attitude was reflected most clearly in changes in immigration laws that were directed against eastern and southern Europeans in general, but against Jews from those regions in particular. For example, the
The resistance of the United States to Jewish immigration during the 1930’s was dramatized in the
U.S. immigration policies that had historically discriminated against Jews began to change as well. A bill proposed by Congressman
The last major influx of Jewish immigrants to the United States began during the late 1970’s and continued through the presidency of Ronald Reagan, as emigration barriers in the
Diner, Hasia. The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. In addition to treating Jewish history from a religious viewpoint, Diner addresses economic and cultural changes within the community. A feminist perspective underlies much of the history. Dinnerstein, Leonard. Antisemitism in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Comprehensive history of anti-Semitism that addresses the earliest European Christian biases toward Jews and the influence of those beliefs during the earliest years of Jewish immigration. Chapters divide American history into specific periods, emphasizing the evolution of anti-Semitism and effects on immigration policy during each period. Gerber, David, ed. Anti-Semitism in American History. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1986. Collection of essays analyzing both the roots of anti-Semitism and resultant discrimination against Jews. Subjects such as mythological accusations against Jewish practices, and interactions among Jews and other minorities are covered. Sheldon, Harvey. Encyclopedia of the History of Jewish Comedy. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2008. Although not strictly a history of anti-Semitism, this self-published work addresses the development and use of “Jewish comedy” as a means to address perception of Jews by outsiders. The premise of the book is that one cannot hate if one is laughing. Wenger, Beth. The Jewish Americans. New York: Doubleday, 2007. Comprehensive history of 350 years of Jewish history in America. The book contains extensive first-person accounts of the Jewish experience, accompanied by a large number of photographs.
American Jewish Committee
Displaced Persons Act of 1948
History of immigration, 1783-1891
History of immigration after 1891
Religion as a push-pull factor