Sue Eisenfeld: Jews in the American South
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What did Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington do to help African-American children in the South?
Sue Eisenfeld teaches nonfiction in the M.A. in Writing program and the M.A. in Science Writing program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Forward, Civil War Times and many other publications and have been listed as Notable Essays of the Year five times in The Best American Essays.
Eisenfeld grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and as an adult moved to Virginia, where she became especially interested in Southern history and the Civil War. After discovering, almost by chance, the graves of Jewish Confederate soldiers in a Richmond cemetery she decided to investigate the little-known history of the Jews who arrived in America before the Eastern-European influx at the end of the 19th century, and who settled in the South.
Her new book Wandering Dixie: Dispatches from the Lost Jewish South is the result of this research. In it she travels to nine states from South Carolina to Arkansas, exploring the small towns where Jewish people once lived and thrived. She also speaks with the only Jews remaining in some of the “lost” places and visits areas with no Jewish community left—except for an old temple or overgrown cemetery.
Aside from the strictly Jewish history, she includes other topics in the book, for example, the history of the South in general, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement, music, etc. For each town that she writes about she includes its racial makeup and some history, giving the reader a good global view. While the book makes a very entertaining read, there are also extensive notes and sources listed for those who would like to delve further into the subject.
Sue’s physical and historical journey also became a personal one; in every chapter she reflects on her own subjective reactions to each encounter, and at the end of the book she analyzes the experience as a whole, and how it changed her life.
For more information on the Jewish South, visit the website of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life.