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Collection Title: Lelyveld (Rabbi Arthur J.) Collection

Collection Number: AM 98-42

Inclusive Dates: 1964

Volume: 1 item

Given By: Provided by the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).

Form of Material:

Photocopy of a front page story in the July 11, 1964 issue of the New York Journal American with banner headline “The Beaten Rabbi: Racists Did This” about the assault on three Freedom Summer volunteers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, Lawrence Spears, and David Owen.

Rabbi Lelyveld was Rabbi of the Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, Ohio and the National Director of the B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation. Spears and Owen were college students from California. They had come to Hattiesburg to assist in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s Mississippi Summer Project known as “Freedom Summer” and had been assigned to assisting black citizens to register to vote. They were walking with two local African American women on their way to instruct black citizens in voter registration procedures when two white men from Collins, Mississippi pulled up in a pick-up truck beside the group and began to beat Rabbi Lelyveld, Spears, and Owen with iron pipes.

The younger men followed SNCC instructions about dropping to the ground and rolling themselves into a ball in order to protect themselves from the blows, but Rabbi Lelyveld remained standing and received the brunt of the attack. He was hospitalized in Methodist Hospital in Hattiesburg. He later told his son, David Lelyveld, that he remained standing in order to prevent the attackers from going after the two young women who were with the group.

A photograph taken by Herbert Randall accompanied the story of the attack, and it was distributed around the world by the wire services. David Lelyveld was in Japan at the time, and learned of the attack by way of an English-language Japanese newspaper. His brother, Joseph Lelyveld, then a reporter at the New York Times, recalled seeing the photograph in the New York Journal American front page story.

David Lelyveld is now Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at William Paterson University, Wayne, New Jersey. Joseph Lelyveld is a retired Executive Editor of the New York Times, and has recently written a book, Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005), which includes an account of the assault on his father.

Through press and broadcast news coverage of stories such as this, the Civil Rights Movement in the South acquired national significance.


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