The teaching most often repeated in the Torah instructs us to protect the stranger in our midst. Regrettably, too often in the past the American colonies and the state and national governments rejected the values embodied in this teaching, most notably in the institution and perpetuation of slavery.
Millions of Africans and their descendants were abducted from their homes and enslaved in the American colonies and the United States between 1619 and 1865. Despite the statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” the government of the United States sanctioned slavery until ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Families of slaves were deliberately divided, and illiteracy was imposed upon the slave population. African-American slaves were never compensated for their work during their enslavement period, and emancipation was followed by more than a hundred years of government-sanctioned segregation that continued to deny the descendants of slaves their Constitutional right to equality.
On May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court ended federally-sanctioned racial segregation in the public schools by ruling unanimously that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The decision provided the legal foundation of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
In light of continuing racial tension in our nation, as well as widespread societal ignorance of African-American history and culture, there is a critical need for more comprehensive presentation, preservation, and recognition of the contributions of African-Americans within American society. Such efforts would not only hold enormous educational value and enhance racial harmony, but they would also honor the memory of those who suffered and perished at the hands of hatred and brutality. Memorials, museums and monuments provide a focus for us to reflect upon and learn from the past, and they remind us of the ever-present need to prevent injustice in the future.
As members of a minority group with our own history as victims of discrimination and persecution, the Jewish community is particularly sensitive to the plight of victims of discrimination, and we are cognizant of the dangers that we face in a society where inequity is allowed to persist. In this spirit, and in the pursuit of justice, we are committed to confronting historical wrongs.
Therefore, the JCPA resolves to:
- Support efforts to:
- Acknowledge the fundamental injustice and inhumanity of slavery in the United States;
- Memorialize, in the nation’s capital, the lives of those who suffered and perished as a consequence of slavery in the United States; and
- Promote cultural understanding of African American heritage to further enhance social justice and racial harmony; and
- Seek a greater understanding of these historical realities of American society by working in coalition with other religious, racial, and ethnic groups in supporting the establishment of memorials, museums, and monuments that promote cultural understanding, social justice, and racial harmony.
- Commemorate the decision of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education by encouraging and promoting educational programs for adults and the development of a curriculum in schools, to address the issues raised in this resolution.