joint struggle

Panelists hail Black-Jewish ties at NAACP national convention

Robert Kraft, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates stress the need for Jewish and Black Americans to continue working together to combat racism, antisemitism

Billionaire philanthropist Robert Kraft, Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates, rapper and activist Meek Mill and NAACP President Derrick Johnson stressed the need for Black-Jewish solidarity last night in the face of growing white nationalism in the United States during a panel discussion at the NAACP national convention in Boston.

“People are trying to put boulders between the Black community and the Jewish community,” Kraft said onstage. “We’ve always been uniquely tied together. And I want us to continue that in any way we can build those ties. I’d like to be part of that.”

Kraft said he was “very worried about the country right now,” referring to both rising antisemitism and American incarceration practices and policies.

Kraft, who helped bring Mill to Poland on a March of the Living trip earlier this year, recalled visiting the rapper when he was sent to prison in 2017 for violating his parole by popping a wheelie on his motorcycle.

“I’m looking at this young man who I have deep affection for, and he’s in an orange jumpsuit,” said Kraft, who worked with Mill to help create the Reform Alliance, a group dedicated to changing America’s incarceration police, alongside Jay-Z and a number of other sports team owners. “He could be earning millions of dollars, paying taxes, being with his 7-year-old son and his mom, who was working two jobs… He’s in jail on a ridiculous item, and we’re paying as a society to keep them there because of a crazy bigoted system — so we have to change that.”

Mill reflected on his trip to Poland with Kraft earlier this year, saying he saw similarities between the experiences of Black people in the U.S. and Jews in the Holocaust, though he added that the latter was “more raw and more violent.” Mill said he was willing to join the trip to learn about the Holocaust because Kraft “actually learned about me and my friends and my lifestyle, so when he asked me to go to Poland, I went.”

Kraft said he hoped that Mill could use his social media presence to speak out against antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

“He has 50 million followers, more than three times the population of Jewish people across the globe,” Kraft said. “And there are a lot of young people who are not educated to the facts and aren’t aware… And I wanted him to see [Auschwitz] with his own eyes because he should see the message.”

Kraft also discussed his Foundation to Combat Antisemitism’s ongoing #StandUpToJewishHate campaign.

During the segment, which was moderated by Fox Sports reporter Joy Taylor, the panelists discussed the history of Black-Jewish cooperation in the United States, as well as the current need for it.

“There was a man named Julius Rosenwald from Sears and Roebuck,” said Gates. “There were no Black schools in the South. He paid for 5,000 schools for Black people. This Jewish guy — nobody made him do that, but he did it. And you know who he educated? Maya Angelou, the painter Jacob Lawrence, Medgar Evers, Congressman John Lewis — all graduated from those schools,” he said.

Gates noted that this cooperation went in both directions. “And when Jewish professors had to flee Germany and come to the United States, most people don’t know that 51 professors were relocated to historically Black colleges and universities. Fifty-one Black schools opened their arms for those Jewish professors to have a home. Isn’t that amazing?” he said.

Gates also noted the relationship between Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the 1960s. “The whole civil rights movement from the creation of the NAACP in 1909 through the March on Washington was made possible by an alliance between Jewish leaders and Black leaders,” he said.

“We all remember the nightmare of Charlottesville,” Gates said, referring to the 2017 white nationalist Unite the Right rally. “They were chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us’… But guess what? The day after they were demonstrating against the Jews, they showed up with swastikas, Confederate flags and Ku Klux Klan ropes. That shows you the inextricably intertwined connection between the hatred of Jewish people and the hatred of our people.”

Gates quoted the Black, French West Indies-born thinker Frantz Fanon who wrote in 1952 that “the antisemite is inevitably a negrophobe.”

Kraft said this required all minority groups to work together in a common struggle. 

“Professor Gates is right. It starts with the Jewish people, [but] it’ll go to every other minority group. We have to stand together and stand proud and push back on this to keep the vibrancy of this country,” Kraft said.

Johnson too stressed the need for “coalitions with other communities to ensure that we are not [targeted].”

Gates said he was working on a new documentary series for PBS about Black-Jewish cooperation throughout American history, which he said was meant to show “that we need to reforge our alliance to protect our communities from the white supremacists that are coming after both of us.” Gates added that “the first person to make a donation for the funds we needed to make that series was my man, Robert Kraft.”