Only months after Hitler seized power in 1933, Jewish intellectuals who had held prestigious positions in Germany’s renowned universities were targeted for expulsion. Those who dared to oppose the edicts were met with brutal suppression. Often leaving with little more than the clothes on their backs, many of these scholars fled to America, hoping to continue their academic careers.
They soon found themselves in a strange and mysterious country, a nation reeling from the Depression and rife with anti-Semitic and anti-German sentiment. While the most famous refugees, like Albert Einstein, were welcomed into the hallowed halls of Eastern academia, most of these refugee scholars faced an academic world that was aloof, if not downright hostile. Much to their surprise, many of them were welcomed into a group of colleges that the vast majority of white American professors ignored — the historically all-black colleges in the South. For the black colleges — including Howard University, Hampton Institute, and Tougaloo and Talladega Colleges — the refugee professors provided the opportunity to add great talent to their faculty; for the professors, the arrangement provided a new home, a classroom of students eager to learn, and an insider’s look at an America that few ever see.
While most of these pairings between Jewish refugees and black colleges began as marriages of convenience, very often they blossomed into love matches that lasted a lifetime.