Jews began to arrive in the present-day South during the late 17th century and established community institutions in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, in the colonial era. These communities, along with Richmond, Virginia, accounted for a sizable minority of American Jews during the early 19th century. As Jewish migration to the United States increased, northern urban centers surpassed southern cities as national centers of Jewish life, although a minority of American Jews continued to make their way to southern market hubs in the mid-19th century. From Reconstruction through the “New South” era, Jews played a visible role in the development of the region’s commercial economy, and they organized Jewish institutions wherever they settled in sufficient numbers. In many respects, Jewish experiences in the South mirrored national trends. Jewish life developed similarly in small towns, whether in Georgia, Wisconsin, or California. Likewise, relationships between acculturated Jews and east European newcomers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played out according to similar dynamics regardless of region. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of Jewish life in the South resulted from Jewish encounters with the region’s particular history of race and racism. The “classical” era of the Civil Rights movement highlights this fact, as southern Jews faced both heightened scrutiny from southern segregationists and frustration from northern coreligionists who supported the movement. Since the 1970s, overall trends in southern history have once again led to changes in the landscape of southern Jewry. Among other factors, the continued migration from rural to urban areas undermined the customer base for once-ubiquitous small-town Jewish retail businesses, and growing urban centers have attracted younger generations of Jewish professionals from both inside and outside the region. Consequently, the 21st-century Jewish South features fewer of the small-town communities that once typified the region, and its larger Jewish centers are not as identifiably “southern” as they once were.
The Jewish Experience in the American South
The Catawba Indians
The Catawba Indian Nation of the 1750s developed from the integration of diverse Piedmont Indian people who belonged to and lived in autonomous communities along the Catawba River of North and South Carolina. Catawban-speaking Piedmont Indians experienced many processes of coalescence, where thinly populated groups joined the militarily strong Iswą Indians (Catawba proper) for protection and survival. Over twenty-five groups of Indians merged with the Iswą, creating an alliance or confederation of tribal communities. They all worked together building a unified community through kinship, traditional customs, and a shared history to form a nation, despite the effects of colonialism, which included European settlement, Indian slavery, warfare, disease, land loss, and federal termination. American settler colonialism, therefore, functions to erase and exterminate Native societies through biological warfare (intentional or not), military might, seizure of Native land, and assimilation. In spite of these challenges, the Catawbas’ nation-building efforts have been constant, but in 1960 the federal government terminated its relationship with the Nation. In the 1970s, the Catawba Indian Nation filed a suit to reclaim their land and their federal recognition status. Consequently, the Nation received federal recognition in 1993 and became the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina. The Nation has land seven miles east of the city of Rock Hill along the Catawba River. Tribal citizenship consists of 3,400 Catawbas including 2,400 citizens of voting age. The tribe holds elections every four years to fill five executive positions—Chief, Assistant Chief, Secretary/Treasurer, and two at-large positions. Scholarship on Southeastern Indians focuses less on the history of the Catawba Indian Nation and more on the historical narratives of the Five Civilized Tribes, which obscures the role Catawbas filled in the history of the development of the South. Finally, a comprehensive Catawba Nation history explains how the people became Catawba and, through persistence, ensured the survival of the Nation and its people.
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina
Malinda Maynor Lowery
The Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, including approximately 55,000 enrolled members, is the largest Indian community east of the Mississippi River. Lumbee history serves as a window into the roles that Native people have played in the struggle to implement the founding principles of the United States, not just as “the First Americans,” but as members of their own nations, operating in their own communities’ interests. When we see US history through the perspectives of Native nations, we see that the United States is not only on a quest to expand rights for individuals. Surviving Native nations like the Lumbees, who have their own unique claims on this land and its ruling government, are forcing Americans to confront the ways in which their stories, their defining moments, and their founding principles are flawed and inadequate. We know the forced removals, the massacres, the protests that Native people have lodged against injustice, yet such knowledge is not sufficient to understand American history. Lumbee history provides a way to honor, and complicate, American history by focusing not just on the dispossession and injustice visited upon Native peoples, but on how and why Native survival matters. Native nations are doing the same work as the American nation—reconstituting communities, thriving, and finding a shared identity with which to achieve justice and self-determination. Since the late 19th century, Lumbee Indians have used segregation, war, and civil rights to maintain a distinct identity in the biracial South. The Lumbees’ survival as a people, a race, and a tribal nation shows that their struggle has revolved around autonomy, or the ability to govern their own affairs. They have sought local, state, and federal recognition to support that autonomy, but doing so has entangled the processes of survival with outsiders’ ideas about what constitutes a legitimate Lumbee identity. Lumbees continue to adapt to the constraints imposed on them by outsiders, strengthening their community ties through the process of adaptation itself. Lumbee people find their cohesion in the relentless fight for self-determination. Always, that struggle has mattered more than winning or losing a single battle.