UMass Amherst Jewish Affairs

Jewish Affairs

Bridges and Boundaries Revisited:
African Americans and American Jews

September 11–October 22, 1999
Fine Arts Center, University Gallery
UMass Amherst

"Bridges and Boundaries"

A major exhibition on the history of African Americans and American Jews began its national tour of seven cities in the fall of 1999. First stop—the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Bridges and Boundaries Revisited” portrays the histories of African Americans and American Jews, and the relationship between these two groups, through paintings, sculpture, posters, cartoons, photographs and other media.

The exhibition was produced by The Jewish Museum of New York, in collaboration with the NAACP and the American Social History Project at the City University of New York.
In part, it reconstituted an exhibition of the same name from the early 1990s; but the new exhibition was also expanded in scope so as to be of interest to groups beyond Jews and African Americans.

Together with a new class on the history of Black/Jewish relations in the U.S. (which also premiered in Fall 1999), the exhibition represented an extraordinary achievement for the University, capping a four-year effort by the Office of Jewish Affairs to improve Black-Jewish relations by elevating the level of campus discourse on this historically complex and emotionally charged issue.

"Sanctuary" linocut

The Office of Jewish Affairs had been in correspondence with The Jewish Museum since August 1997, urging them to reconstitute the original "Bridges & Boundaries" exhibition, and with the director and curator of the University Gallery, encouraging them to bring the newly-reconstituted exhibition to UMass Amherst. By also contributing a substantial portion of the cost of the exhibition, OJA made the dream a reality.

The exhibition began with a desire to explore the historical relationships among African Americans and American Jews in order to understand the roots of the current tension between the two groups.

It became clear during the development of the exhibition that even before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the interaction between the two communities had been marked by periods of cooperation as well as conflict.

"Bridges and Boundaries Revisited" presents seven historical periods where the paths of African Americans and American Jews have crossed in meaningful and complex ways during the course of the 20th century.

Frontispiece to Carl Ernst Bock's "Das Buch vom gesunden und kranken Menschen"

The exhibition explores the themes of ethnic identity, shared cultural beliefs, experiences of marginality, and visions of social justice. It also examines the interaction of the two groups in union activities and radical politics during the 1930s and 1940s as they struggled for worker solidarity along racial lines, and the legal battles and freedom marches of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the later ideological clashes over issues such as community control of schools and affirmative action.

“Bridges and Boundaries” opened at the University Gallery in the Fine Arts Center on September 11th and ran through October 22, 1999. It subsequently travelled to six other venues including the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Above: A linocut by Wilmer Angier Jennings, "Sanctuary" (1946) depicts Jews fleeing persecution
during World War II. Photo courtesy of The Museum
of the National Center of Afro American Artists.

Right: Frontispiece to Carl Ernst Bock's "Das Buch vom gesunden und kranken Menschen" (published in Leipsig, Germany in 1893). In the 19th century,
European medical anthropologists viewed Eastern European Jews as one of the
"dark-skinned races"—a prelude to the extreme racialism of the 20th century.

For more information...

Exhibition text panels (PDF, 8pp, 32KB)

Quotes used in the exhibition (PDF, 6pp, 32KB)

Bridges and Boundaries exhibition links Jewish, African American past
(The Jewish Advocate, 10/1/99)

Breaking down 'Boundaries'
(Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 9/22/99)

History of Black/Jewish Relations in the United States
A new 3-credit course which premiered at the University in Fall 1999

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