Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for November, 2015|Monthly archive page

“To Split Our Country Along Religious or Racial Lines is a Heinous Crime”

In Uncategorized on November 25, 2015 at 9:26 pm

To split our country along religious or racial lines is a heinous crime, to plunge us back into the follies of medieval-ism after the founders of our nation have succeeded in divorcing church and state, is the work of unscrupulous or highly ignorant men.  To say that a man’s religion in anyway affects his standing as a citizen is to deny the principles of Americanism.  It is no more consistent with truth and reason than another plank in the Ku Ku (Ku Klux Klan) platform, that a foreign-born man is not to be trusted as a citizen, in face of the fact that the constitution grants him the full privileges of citizenship and demands that he be given full rights when naturalized.

Rabbi Solomon Fineberg

November 16, 1922

Niagara Falls Gazette

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Rabbi Solomon Fineberg (courtesy “The Evolution of an Ethnic Neighborhood that Became United in Diversity,” by H. William Feder)

Throughout history, many fine individuals have called Niagara Falls their home.  Recently I learned about Solomon Andhil Fineberg, who had served as rabbi at Temple Beth El from 1920 to 1924.  Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 29, 1896, he studied at the University of Cincinnati, and graduated in 1917 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Upon graduation he served with the United States Marines during WWI (from 1917-1919).  When he returned from the war, he studied at Hebrew Union College and was ordained a minister in 1920.  His first ministry was at Temple Beth El in Niagara Falls, New York.

In November of 1922, the Niagara Gazette interviewed him and his statements resonated with me, personally.  The twenty-six year old Fineberg did not mince his words.  There was trouble in the world– trouble in Niagara Falls– and our young rabbi was not about to let it go unchecked.  In fact, he spent the remainder of his life fighting prejudice, intolerance and antisemitism through his written works and through the lecture circuit.  But perhaps it was the happenings in Niagara Falls that paved the way for his most noble work.

Of course, what was going on in Niagara Falls in the early 1920’s was probably not that different from what was going on in the rest of the country.  The “Red Scare” was in full force.  Following the communist and socialist movements in various parts of the world, there were those here that felt the best way to stop this from happening in the United States was to implement policies of discrimination and fear.  The Lusk Committee to Investigate Seditious Activities was set up by the New York State Legislature in 1919 to investigate individuals and organizations suspected of sedition.  Senator Clayton Lusk held fast to conservative views which deemed radicals (and most of the newly arriving immigrants) as “enemy aliens.”  Much of this mentality stretched back to sentiment that was prevalent following the assassination of President William McKinley in Buffalo.  Fear and ignorance was a breeding ground for prejudice and hatred.  The Lusk Committee associated radicalism, specifically anarchism, with immigrants.  Many immigrants were indicted with charges of criminal anarchy.  School teachers were forced to prove their loyalty to the United States by taking oaths.   In Buffalo, on March 19, 1920, 400 suspected “radicals” were arrested.  They were considered “dangerous” individuals merely because of their ethnic origins.

The Ku Klux Klan began to establish itself in Niagara County, and in Niagara Falls, during this time period.  Their agenda was specifically focused on “Americanism,” which to them, meant keeping the population of  Niagara County 100% native-born.  They sought to eradicate Niagara of the immigrant population and they did this through a terrorizing campaign.  The members were also worried about the control of Niagara area schools falling into the hands of “Jews or Catholics.”  The Ku Klux Klan appealed to locals by stating that the immigrants were of a criminal element.  Their main complaint was with the immigrants of the East Side.  Oftentimes, it was said, they actually assisted the city police with various raids on brothels.  They felt that the immigrants had poor morals and could not be trusted.  They often took the law into their own hands.  On April 23, 1923, hundreds of Niagarans were inducted into the Klan at Pekin Cut (near the present site of Niagara County Community College).  After this induction ceremony, about 250 cars filled with klansmen descended upon a park in Niagara Falls at 15th and Weston Avenue.

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April  25, 1923, The Naples Record

On July 2, 1923, 5,000 klansmen paraded down Falls Street to Main Street.  This event was considered the very first convention in New York State of the Ku Klux Klan.  In the year 1925, it has been documented that the Ku Klux Klan burned about 40 crosses throughout Niagara County.  The First Baptist Church was actually bombed in Niagara Falls, and in August of 1924, cards were sent to various Niagara Falls residents who were threatened to “get out” because they were not “100% American.”  Also, in May of 1924, sadly, the Orthodox Jewish Cemetery on Military Road was vandalized and desecrated.  The lock upon the gate was broken and a copy of the sacred Mourner’s Prayer was slashed.  A wooden cross was nailed to a nearby tree.  William Feder wrote in his landmark work, “The Evolution of an Ethnic Neighborhood that Became United In Diversity,” that for an immigrant on the East Side of Niagara Falls, it was…a time of fear.

Many of the immigrants who lived on the East Side—refugees fleeing terrible humanitarian disasters (such as the Armenians), the carnage of WWI, poverty, and religious persecution—came to Niagara Falls with only the clothes on their backs.  Numerous stories exist today because families have passed them down, and because they were documented in our newspapers, in the records of the International Institute and in books.  Social settlement workers, such as Miss Elizabeth Howe, from the International Institute, took these people under their care and assisted them with the process of becoming American.  They helped them find work, places to live.  They brought them health care, taught them English, helped them to fill out their citizenship papers.  They often went above and beyond and even accompanied individuals to court proceedings and supported them when prejudice came their way. Our Niagara immigrants were not readily accepted by those who felt that America must be a “white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant” America.

But then, there were people such as Rabbi Fineberg.  People who were not afraid to speak out against injustice, prejudice and cruelty.  It was said that he was one of the only ones (locally) to speak out against the Ku Klux Klan.  I found the words he used in 1922 just as relevant today.  He must have felt that he lived in dire times.  Poor Miss Howe (the social settlement worker who founded the International Institute in Niagara Falls and worked so tirelessly to assist the new immigrants) had only died the day before this interview.  Rabbi Fineberg knew that there was a grave problem in the world but he also knew that there will always be good people… and lucky for us the Constitution of the United States would set forth a shining example of what it truly means to be an American.

Below is Rabbi Fineberg’s entire interview.

Rabbi Fineberg Flays Un-American Gangs that, under Mask of Patriotism, Seek to Destroy US Institutions

Niagara Falls Gazette, November 16, 1922

Militant Head of Temple Beth El, Stripped for Action, Bores through the Tenants of an Association that is said to have formed a branch in this city.

Rabbi Solomon Fineberg, Temple Beth El, is ever to the fore in rebuttal when he feels the constitutional rights of his fellow Americans are assailed.  Interviewed today as to his opinion of the Ku Klux Klan, a branch of which is reported to have organized here, the rabbi said in part:

No more insidious menace to American democracy and government has ever been devised than the masked organization of mobs known as the Ku Klux Klan.  Claiming that they are the defenders of the constitution and avowed enemies of Catholics, Jews, Negroes and all foreign born, these leaders of violence, hatred and rank injustice are threatening to destroy the very principles upon which our government is founded and to prevent all harmony and cooperation in our land.

How any group of men can claim that they are acting in the spirit of American fair-play, or that they are establishing the principles of our constitution when they meet in the dead of night, form themselves into a self-appointed court, accuse some citizen of a crime, decide that he is guilty without having even told him that he was to be tried and then proceed to seize him and horsewhip, tar and feather or even murder him, how a gang of men can do this and claim that they are supporting the constitution seems to me unfathomable.  How dare they claim that they are guarding American justice, which is insured in the Constitution by the following clause?

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”

That is what the Constitution of our country demands in every case so that no innocent man shall by any chance be condemned and in order that the laws may be enforced by a group of men who have been openly acclaimed by all.

Then how can the Ku Klux Klan presume to conduct such utterly illegal trials and to perpetrate atrocities in the name of good government?  Is this defending orderly government? Is theirs the way to insure freedom?  Let every man who feels that a neighbor is guilty of wrong-doing bring him to justice through orderly and public court procedure.  If he decide without due process of law that the neighbor is guilty and presume to punish him without due process of law, might now other citizens turn about and practice such methods on the presumptuous one, until endless feuds of injustice and blind hatred result?

Patience in the face of wrong and an orderly legal battle against the wrong, even though it seem slow and wearying, is the only safeguard of American liberty.  The Ku Klux Klan way, or as it has often been called, the Ku Ku way, is not only un-American, but it is savage and uncivilized.  Only those who are willing to abide by the processes of securing justice prescribed by the constitution and who are willing to place confidence in due processes of law are true Americans in spirit and heart.

It would be impossible to present in less than a volume all the charges that should be made and publicly brought to the attention of all thinking men against the principles of the Ku Klux Klan.  Here are a group of men who are sworn to secrecy and vow to another that they will not reveal before a court of law any fact concerning another except in the case of murder or rape.  Consider what a mob might do, hooded and masked, working in the dead of night, assured that their acts will never be betrayed, that the only witnesses of their deed, the men working with them, will never reveal what has happened!  How splendidly criminals and cut-throats would fit into such a group!  Is this not a dangerous situation for honest and right-thinking citizens to invite?

Incidentally, I might say, that the methods, laws and oath and mystic sounding rigmarole of the Ku Klux Klan and quite a number of their acts have long been discovered by men outside of their group; and their appeals to malice, prejudice and bigotry have not gone unnoticed.

Aside from burning a few churches, such as the Catholic Church at Naperville, Illinois, running some good men out of town, as at Birmingham, Alabama, and even shooting a few, as was done in other parts of the South, the Ku Klux Klan is responsible for an insidious and dastardly propaganda against various groups of American citizens.  It may be news to some, but such boycotts and commercial warfare has been encouraged by the Klan that an attempt was made to have members forswear the smoking of a certain brand of cigar because a Catholic was at the head of the firm.

To split our country along religious or racial lines is a heinous crime, to plunge us back into the follies of medieval-ism after the founders of our nation have succeeded in divorcing church and state, is the work of unscrupulous or highly ignorant men.  To say that a man’s religion in anyway affects his standing as a citizen is to deny the principles of Americanism.  It is no more consistent with truth and reason than another plank in the Ku Ku platform, that a foreign-born man is not to be trusted as a citizen, in face of the fact that the constitution grants him the full privileges of citizenship and demands that he be given full rights when naturalized.

Fortunately, the defense of the Jew, Catholic, Negro and foreign-born will not have to come from any members of these groups. There are enough, and more than enough, splendid American-born white Protestant citizens of our land who are speaking out against this society of organized bigotry.  But as one born in this country, who has known no other home, who will never dwell in any other country, I protest against the implication that there is no equality or religious freedom in the land of my birth.  I was taught differently in American schools and shall do what I can to see that those standards are maintained.

I feel that my place in America is not dependent on the tolerance or indulgence of any group of men.  I’m working for the good of this country and obeying its laws.  It is just as much my country as any other man’s.  And let anyone who thinks of joining the Ku Klux Klan to take up arms against the men of other faiths consider well the implication of belonging to such a group.  What will he say to the hundred and sixty thousand Jewish young men who offered their lives in the defense of this country and the hundreds of Catholics who fought alongside of them along with the Protestants and Negros in defense of this land?  Proportionately they turned out in such numbers and served as bravely as any other groups.  This may quickly be ascertained at the Public Library where books may be had on the service rendered by each.

Let the Klansman consider well before he organizes to “defend this government” by a secret organization outside the constituted authorities. Is this government so weak and tottering that he must bolster it up and deny  such men as Charles M Schwan, Judge Julian Mack, Samuel Untermeyer, Congressman Julian Kahn, Senator David Walsh, Governor Alfred Smith, Supreme Court Justices McKenna and Brandeis, and endless other Catholics and Jews, the opportunity to cooperate in the defense thereof?

The Ku Klux Klan is a menace of the very worst kind because it grossly misinterprets the spirit of America.  Our courts and legislatures, police forces and militia, combining the efforts of all good citizens of all faiths, are the only organized and proper administrators of public affairs, and any secret body usurping their functions will deal a blow to American liberty.  On this subject I wish everyone could read an article in the American Bar Association Journal for October by Hon. Henry D. Clayton, Judge of the Federal District of Alabama.

Recently the noted journalist William Allen White, that splendid Roosevelt type of American, was proud to announce that the Ku Klux Klan had failed to effect an organization in this home city.  “To the eternal credit of Emporium be it said that no suckers could be found here with ten dollars to throw away.”  It is regrettable that the same could not be said for the community of Niagara Falls.