When Jewish refugee Ernst Borinski fled Nazi Germany, he found a new home in very strange place: Jackson, Mississippi. The South was openly a racial hierarchy when he arrived in the 1940s, and Jews were not considered white. Yet Borinski was just one of about 50 Jewish intellectuals who fled the Holocaust and settled in the deep South to teach at historically black universities.
Not all intellectuals who made it to the United States were so relatively fortunate as Albert Einstein, who spent his later career at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Anti-semitism was part of life here, with official and unofficial quota systems in place to limit the number of Jewish students on campuses. Most colleges did not throw open their doors to lesser-known academics seeking refuge from the Nazis, but other organizations, including the American Quakers, did work to place Jewish academics at universities throughout the West and South. They circumvented quotas by dispersing the refugees, even paying their salaries for universities that agreed to hire the German Jews.
Borinski, one of those lesser-known intellectuals, was a judge and lawyer when he left Germany for the United States in 1938. He served in the United States army during WWII and earned his master’s degree from the University of Chicago before he applied for the position at Tougaloo College. His fellow German Jewish intellectuals who found refuge at historically black colleges in the South included economist Fritz Pappenheim and philosopher Ernst Manasse.
They were uniformly shocked by conditions in the South.