Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:1-2 (Spring 2006)

A Pioneering Work

David R. Parsons on
The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South
by Eli N. Evans

Billed as an "instant classic" when originally published in 1973, The Provincials is considered the first genuine attempt to chronicle and interpret the development of Jewish life in the American South. Interspersed with the personal recollections of the author, a native Jewish Southerner, the book's first edition has remained the authoritative source on this subject for nearly two generations, prompting an updated edition with four added chapters and a new photograph section.

Eli N. Evans, a skillful storyteller, initially recounts his early years growing up in the tobacco town of Durham, North Carolina during the civil rights struggle that transformed the South. His father was elected as Durham's first Jewish mayor in 1951 and was returned to office five more times by a racially divided electorate that valued his liberal Jewish sensibility, as he helped steer the city away from the violent discord besetting so many other Southern towns.

Evoking both the charms of the South and the hatreds and tensions that marred it, Evans focuses on a central question: how had Southern Jews navigated their way between the white Christian majority and the oppressed black minority for over three hundred years? To answer it, he traces the emergence of a unique "Southern Jewish consciousness" that was able to view both Confederate general Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King as sympathetic, Moses-like figures. A Welcoming Environment

Based on his own family's story as well as extensive interviews, historical research, and the localized studies and limited surveys then available, the author assesses that on the whole Jews have felt welcome in what came to be known as the Bible Belt. They found acceptance as part of the white race while often serving as the only merchants willing to treat blacks fairly and with compassion for their impoverished condition.

There were, of course, exceptions in the form of anti-Semitic incidents. In one case, Union general and future president Ulysses S. Grant issued a military command - soon rescinded - that all Jews be driven from the defeated state of Tennessee. This may have been the only time America flirted with the idea of an expulsion of Jews.

Evans also discusses his efforts to maintain his Jewishness under the constant challenge of a predominantly Christian culture. He notes that, in this region marked by strong religiosity, many Protestants showed greater respect for Judaism than Jews had experienced elsewhere in the Diaspora. For Evans, the "black Jesus" he encountered in "colored" churches usually lacked the intimidating quality of the "white Jesus" of the Anglo-Saxon churches. Sometimes his chapter on resisting proselytism descends into mockery. Nevertheless, Evans provides unusually candid insights into Jewish thinking about Jesus.

The book's conversational prose and interweaving of family memoirs with a broader historical narrative give it a special appeal, though it suffers somewhat from a lack of clear chronological or thematic order. A pioneering work, The Provincials inspired a new area of scholarship on Jews in the South. The revised version adds little to this growing body of work. Evans continues, however, the story of his own family with lyrical power, including the deaths of his father and mother, a well-known Hadassah activist.

As a whole, the book makes clear why Jewish communities are flourishing today in Southern soil.

*     *     *

DAVID R. PARSONS heads the Media Department of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The above book review appears in the Spring 2006 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.

Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (, the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad.

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A Psychoanalytic View of Contemporary Anti-Semitism by Avner Falk

A New (or Perhaps Revived) "Uninhibitedness" toward Jews in Germany by Andrei Markovits

The Politics of "Transmigration": Why Jewish Refugees Had to Leave Switzerland from 1944 to 1954 by Simon Erlanger

Deconstructing Memory and History: The Jewish Military Union (ZZW) and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Laurence Weinbaum and Dariusz Libionka

The Improvement in Israeli-South Korean Relations by Yaacov Cohen

Technology and Jewish Life by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Avraham Wyler

The Columbia University Report on Its Middle Eastern Department's Problems: A Methodological Paradigm for Obscuring Structural Flaws (At issue) by Noah Liben

Book Reviews:

Review Article
: Eran Lerman on Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism by Dore Gold, and Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude by Robert Baer

Herbert Eiteneier on Djihad und Judenhass: Über den neuen antijüdischen Krieg by Matthias Küntzel

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Deutsche Zustände by Wilhelm Heitmeyer (editor)

Nelly Sayagh on La Guerre d'Oslo by Joel Fishman and Efraim Karsh

Michéle Mazel on Arguing from the Constitution by Jeremy Rabkin

Shalom Freedman on Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

Chaim Waxman on Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Future by Ben Shapiro

Isi Leibler on Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Joel Fishman on La France, Israel et les Arabes: le double jeu? by Freddy Eytan

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Élèves sous influence by Barbara Lefebvre and Ève Bonnivard

Françoise Ouzan on Les frontières d'Auschwitz: Les ravages du devoir de mémoire by Shmuel Trigano

Michéle Mazel on Le dossier Lyon III by Henri Rousso

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany 1945-1953 by Jay Howard Geller

Manfred Gerstenfeld on De Drie van Breda: Duitse oorlogsmisdadigers in Nederlandse gevangenschap 1945-1989 by Hinke Piersma

Stephen G. Donshik on American Jewry's Challenge: Conversations Confronting the Twenty-First Century by Manfred Gerstenfeld

David R. Parsons on The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South by Eli N. Evans

Sarah Schmidt on Jews and Australian Politics by Geoffrey Brahm Levey and Philip Mendes (editors)

Jewish Political Studies Review


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