DESCRIPTION: Eli Evans grew up in Durham, NC. In this excerpt from “The Maids and Black Jesus” in his book The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South, Evans describes the relationship his family had with its black maids. EXCERPT: I was raised Southern-style—by the maid. No one can understand the mystery of the South without delving into this murmuring undertone—a relationship primordial, like parent and child, of discipline and need, shadowing every white Southerner throughout the rest of his life… They are nearly as much a part of me as my parents are: the gentle arms, the stinging switch, bedtime stories, the Jewish dishes they cooked, and the gospel hymns they hummed while sweeping the porch in the white uniforms they picked out in Evans’ United Department store… [Our maid Zola] had high hopes for [her son] Robert, to whom she preached about going to college, and she hugged my mother tearfully when Mother said, “Don’t you worry about paying for Robert’s college, Zola; he’s one more son we’ve got to send through school.”… Once, when Passover came on a Saturday, my mother asked Zola if Robert could come over to help. “I thought we could teach him how to wait on tables,” Mother said. “No thanks,” Zola answered without looking up. “Why not?” Mother asked innocently “…pick up some extra money…it’s a mighty good thing to know.” “Please, Miz Evans. I appreciates it and all, but I don’t want him to learn to wait.”… Zola once invited me to come and watch Robert narrate a Bible story in a Sunday school play. She beamed at me at intermission, and whispered proudly, “No one else here had any white people come and watch them.” Eli N. Evans, The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 255-262.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
For discussion questions and related lesson plan, see http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/civilrights/jews-and-civil-rights-movement-whys-and-why-nots
Time Period: Modern (Spinoza through post-WWII)