Why Was This Humble Jewish Shoemaker Asked To Join a Ku Klux Klan?
April 3, 2016 - table lamp
A midsummer deluge shot streaks of lightning over a tobacco fields. It had been tough to find a place to lift over to eat a lunch on a shoulderless state highway, so we idled in a parking lot behind a camp house. we was pushing with my family behind to Raleigh, North Carolina, from a Outer Banks, and Mom wanted to revisit her 91-year-old aunt, Bo (none of a North Carolina kin goes by a Christian name — there is a Cousin Puddy, Cousin Tink and Cousin Pat-Pat, to name a few). So we wound by farming northeastern North Carolina toward a city of Weldon.
Along State Highway 158, tobacco grew tall; crushed-in cottages, shotgun houses and white-steepled churches dotted a roadside, and immobile swallowed a internal NPR station. As we approached Weldon, an outrageous billboard growing between a pines announced, “Chaining Your Dogs Is Now Illegal in Weldon.” We upheld by a outskirts: a St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church; First Baptist Church; a Deliverance Baptist Church; a rusty towering tyrannise overpass glimpsed between deserted section buildings; Pocket ’n’ Budget Boutique and This ’n’ That Thrift. As we neared downtown, a ABC Liquor on West 3rd was a usually open business on a block. Smooth-worn ancestral plaques summarized a story of a town’s initial (as Weldon’s Orchard in 1745) and a bang it encountered when a Wilmington Weldon Railroad was completed, in a hulk X, in a center of town.
Downtown was unequivocally quiet, that might have had something to do with a charge that had usually blown over, though even so, we came to one retard of section two-story businesses, many of a storefronts dull and with promotion space for rent. On a dilemma was a closed-looking store labeled above a shutter with bluish letters: FRIEDS. On one side of a store a R was missing, and a window arrangement featured antiques (a grandfather clock, a layer though a fireplace) opposite mango-colored paper. “Old Is New Again” was admitted in black paper letters. we stopped to snap a picture, as this was a store where Mom’s cousin Charles worked for years after propagandize and on breaks from college.
In a suburblike cluster of houses a few mins from downtown, we pulled adult to Aunt Bo’s, a split-level with a outrageous yard full of North Carolina pines. Cousin Tessie was gardening out front, weeding a outrageous bed of flowers. Inside, she cleared adult and offering us honeyed tea. It was afterwards that we got a Kittner story confirmed, a story we had initial listened from Cousin Charles months before. (Full disclosure: we after got it reliable by a array of articles in a Roanoke News archives, and found it referenced in variously erudite articles and books.) But until now we had no support of reference, no design of a place he was articulate about. Now, during a list brimful with Wonder Bread, folly and uninformed watermelon (as a Catholic side of my family is usually as unrelenting on stuffing their visitors as a Jewish one is), in maybe a many goyishe place we had ever visited, it was even some-more weird to consider about Louis Kittner’s story.
Louis (born Elias) Kittner was a shoe repairman by trade, a ability he schooled in his internal Poland before he immigrated to a United States in 1912. After brief stints in Philadelphia and in Petersburg, Virginia, he staid in Weldon, a rather back-roads end for an immigrant. He had selected this specific city by going to a sight repository in Petersburg with a coins in his slot and seeking how distant they would get him. Once he arrived, he asked if a city indispensable a cobbler, and was told yes.
Kittner was a tough workman and an desirous businessman, and within 5 years of relocating to town, a shoe correct emporium grew into a sell shoe store and eventually became Kittner’s Department Store, a Weldon buttress and end for shoppers from all over northeastern North Carolina, until 1998. But for a purposes, we are meddlesome in a shoe store given it was inside that emporium that Kittner, one of a few city Jews, was invited to join a internal section of a Ku Klux Klan.
Kittner was during work when a tiny organisation of distinguished internal businessmen came in and pronounced they had a personal matter to discuss: They wanted to entice him to join their club. What was a name of a club, Louis asked.
The Ku Klux Klan, they told him.
Now, Kittner knew this was an unkosher invitation. Although he was a well-respected businessman and renouned with a adults of Weldon, he was a bit of an outsider. And a KKK contingency have famous that Kittner and his vast family didn’t go to any of Weldon’s dozen churches — First Baptist Church on West 3rd, Weldon Baptist Church down a travel on Washington, Grace Church on West 5th, First Pentecostal on Old Farm Road, to name usually a few. The Kittners weren’t even one of a rare families that gathering into circuitously Roanoke Rapids for Catholic Mass on Sunday. Kittner was one of unequivocally few people in Weldon with a unfamiliar accent, and nonetheless he didn’t wear tallit or side curls, or even a yarmulke, he never hid a fact that he and his family were Jewish. What was a KKK thinking?
Kittner told his visitors he didn’t consider he was authorised to join this sole club, as he was Jewish. The visitors looked puzzled. They told Kittner that maybe he had a indicate — they would have to check and see if they were authorised to entice a Jew. Kittner pronounced that, regardless, he would have to kindly decline. The visitors apologized for a misunderstanding, and Kittner and his family never got any difficulty from a KKK. They continued to be perceived good by their neighbors and a well-to-do of Weldon, and business never suffered.
Shortly after his KKK invitation, Kittner was staying late in a shop. This was not surprising — he favourite to work during night when all was quiet, and a few of his children were there to assistance with a easier tasks. Washington Street was dim and wordless outside. That’s since it hold Kittner by warn when a turmoil began, a sounds of footsteps and voices. A gloomy heat grew brighter and brighter; a voices rose. He and a tiny Kittners went to a window, where they watched group dressed in white hoods and carrying fiery torches make a round in a city square. Kittner forked to any male and told his children who was who.
One of a children asked how his father could tell, given a men’s faces were covered.
Because, he said, indicating down to their feet, brownish-red and black smudges manifest next a hem of their robes, we never forget a singular span of boots we make.
The KKK was both virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic, so that should have been dual depends opposite Kittner. Plus, as a KKK historian Nancy MacLean records in her 1994 book, “Behind a Mask of Chivalry: The Making of a Second Ku Klux Klan,” a KKK took advantage of a uptick in anti-Semitism after World War I, a accurate time duration that Kittner’s business began picking adult in Weldon. And nonetheless Kittner was not a visibly eremite man, that should not have mattered to a KKK, as a group’s principal problem with a Jews was with their adroitness in business, not their religiousness. One of a KKK’s categorical aims was to “drive out Catholic, Jewish, and African-American entrepreneurs,” given they believed that these businessmen took divided event and business from Protestant whites. The kicker here is that a KKK had a special loathing toward a Jewish entrepreneur, or a “cosmopolitan” or “International Jew,” as they dubbed him, an successful businessman with deceptive secular ties. Wasn’t Kittner a Weldon chronicle of usually that image?
The KKK members who had sidled into Kittner’s store and invited him to pointer adult looked past all these pillars of their organization’s unequivocally existence and suspicion that Kittner was a good male notwithstanding his Jewishness. Or maybe they had no thought that Kittner was a Jew; they had expected never met one, nonetheless by a late 1910s Weldon had several Jewish families, and several businesses in city gimlet their names: Kittner, Freid, Zaba, Farber Josephson, Samet. They had even determined a tiny assemblage in Weldon by then, Temple Emanu-El — of that Kittner was a founder.
Whether a KKK couldn’t brand a Jew or they could and didn’t know they were ostensible to hatred one, it is a rare proposal. What fascinates me so many about this whole story is a singular space that Kittner assigned in a South, and in a United States, as a Jew, a kind of in-between temperament that still exists generations later. Of march some Jews faced discrimination, such as Philip Leinwald, a storekeeper in farming Rowland who perceived a melancholy minute from a KKK in 1921, an instance that Leonard Rogoff minute in 2010 in his book, “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina.” There were large other instances, including a famous lynching of Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915, though there were also many cases like Kittner’s, a box of being treated as one and a same as white gentiles though meaningful that diagnosis could change during any moment.
I have spent a lot of time in a South, not usually given my mother’s family is from Raleigh, though given a Jewish side, my father’s, has Southern ties, too. My consanguine grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. She survived a Lodz ghetto, 3 thoroughness camps, a Dresden bombing (as a munitions bureau worker laborer) and a Death Mar before she was released by a Russians. After descending for a hastily American infantryman from Brooklyn — Grandpa Herb — in postwar Germany, she assimilated him in New York. But he longed to get out of a city, and she was usually so blissful to be in a States during all that she didn’t argue, and so a dual of them went south. After spending time in Charlotte, North Carolina; Amarillo and Pampa, Texas; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; they staid in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In a few of these towns they were a usually Jews. In others they assimilated tiny though clever Jewish communities. Grandma stressed to me that she faced tiny taste for being Jewish. She and Grandpa were Reform (and she still is), though they fasted on Yom Kippur, hold a Passover Seder and illuminated yarzheit candles. They never hid a fact that they were Jews. Sure, in Pampa they were a usually ones, though no one set glow to a cranky in their yard. However, we remember visiting a dual of them in Tulsa when we was little, a outing we done mostly given it was usually a four-hour expostulate from Kansas City, Missouri, where we grew up. My sister Phoebe and we woke adult to find Dad and Grandpa Herb out on a front porch, contemplating a damage: it was a anniversary of Kristallnacht, and in respect of a occasion, some strikebreaker around a dilemma crushed a potion around a flare during a feet of Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway.
Since my father was in high school, Grandma has told her story of flourishing a Shoah, vocalization during propagandize and church and to interfaith groups. At Tulsa’s Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, where until recently she served as a visitors’ guide, a Holocaust vaunt does not open with a swastika or a sketch of Hitler. Instead, a KKK dress hangs in a entrance. Many of a visitors, mostly students, don’t know what a Jew is or have never met one, though they commend a white-hooded robe.
“Hate is hate,” Grandma says.
Back in Weldon, a cousins spoke to us unequivocally rarely of a Kittners. They also worshiped a other few internal Jewish families they knew. The Jewish stores always sole to blacks, they said, a use that historically was not kept by all whites. The cousins told us that a KKK still operates in a area, mostly in circuitously Roanoke Rapids, and a people are not ones they wish anything to do with.
But a cousins were also weirdly rapt by Judaism, reiterating to my father, my sister and me how many appreciation they had for a “people.”
This is an opinion we have listened unsolicited not usually from white Southerners, though also from whites in general: a former employer who asked for definitions of hideously mispronounced Yiddish phrases and begged me for information on “the Hebrew people”; classmates and acquaintances who would confess to me that they had always been rapt by Jews or that they had always had a “thing” for them, for us. This exoticizing could also have a many darker turn. Going behind to Kittner’s realm, Rogoff writes — in “Down Home” — about a Jewish businessman in Hendersonville, North Carolina, who found a male station outward his emporium not wanting to buy anything; he wanted to see if a shopkeeper unequivocally had horns.
The weirdest instance I’ve gifted in terms of a non-Jew being rapt by my Jewish standing was not from a white chairman though from a black one, an ex-boyfriend who told me he felt like he could describe to me improved given we was Jewish instead of “just white.” He could speak to me about certain things and that we would “get” them in a approach that white people wouldn’t, he said. we reminded him that we am still white.
“It’s different,” he replied.
In a way, he was right — Jews in America still occupy a in-between space that Kittner found himself stranded in 100 years ago. Some historians disagree that Southerners welcomed Jews, that Jews were reputable for their loyalty to sacrament and family (code for carrying a lot of kids) and for their work ethic. Harry Golden, a Southern Jew who wrote about this temperament in his 1974 book “Our Southern Landsman,” claimed that Southern Jews were treated a same as other whites: “Race alertness in Dixie resulted in advantage to a Jew as a white man. Differences between whites were submerged in a multitude that was rapt with progressing a subordinate standing of blacks.” So maybe within a white hierarchy they were not during a tip though in a South, where white supremacists wanted to keep a blacks down, a supremacists infrequently let what they saw as groups between whites blur into a background.
But Rogoff, in his 1997 letter “Is a Jew White?” claims that perceptions were some-more varied, job Jews a “racial tabula rasa on that anything could be written,” and posing a question, “What was a place of a Jew in a Southern secular hierarchy?” though ever giving us a clear answer.
But it’s an infrequently protected in-between space, a space we have historically been means to tighten if need be, by acclimatization — a name change, conversion, flitting in ways that other discriminated-against populations haven’t been means to get divided with as easily.
Kittner benefited from white payoff behind in a 1920s in farming North Carolina, and white American Jews advantage from a same payoff today. Acknowledging this payoff does not meant forgetful about or voiding a taste we once faced or a atrocities of a Holocaust (and a payoff that was revoked behind then). Instead, it is an acknowledgment that we can use those practice from a common memory that are such a outrageous partial of who we are as a people, to assistance us empathise with and strech out to blacks, who currently still face an assault of discrimination, injustice and violence. we haven’t nonetheless schooled if Kittner ever used his singular position to assistance out his black neighbors and friends, though we like to consider that he did.
Sophia Marie Unterman’s many new story for a Forward was “My Search for a Male Shiksa.”