Charles Marsh: Anti-civil rights violence did not subside at the end of Freedom Summer. Klan terrorism became more random and unpredictable in the three years following. Moderate whites and blacks became targets of violent arrests and harassment. Increasingly, the klan directed terrorist campaigns against Jewish Mississippians--not just Jewish civil rights workers--who emerged in the klan's paranoid imagination as the driving force behind the civil rights movement.
Shortly before Thanksgiving of 1967, a bomb ripped through the home of Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, just weeks after his Temple Beth Israel's newly constructed building had been greatly damaged by a klan bombing. The explosion destroyed the kitchen, dining room, living room, and parts of a bedroom. Miraculously, neither Rabbi Nussbaum, who publicly supported desegregation, nor his wife was harmed; both had been asleep in their back bedroom.(1) When firemen, reporters, police officers, and neighbors arrived at the scene, Arene Nussbaum, the rabbi's wife, was found standing beside the rubble of the explosion, crying hysterically, picking splinters of glass from her hair, face and clothing. As journalist Jack Nelson tells the story, Nussbaum stood beside his wife in his bathrobe, saying over and over that while this was the work of Ku Klux Klan, the "atmosphere of violence" was the work of Christian leaders who did nothing to change it.(2) His first thought turned to Douglas Hudgins. "Go call Hudgins," Nussbaum said to Reverend Ken Dean, a neighbor who had been awakened by the explosion. "Tell Hudgins that he needs to make a public statement against all this violence." (3)
When Dean called the First Baptist pastor early the next morning, Hudgins told him he resented his call and was capable of taking care of his own business. He should never call him again.(4) Dean explained that Rabbi Nussbaum simply wanted Hudgins to use his influence to condemn the klan violence, but Hudginshung the phone up without replying. Less than an hour later Dean returned to the Nussbaum's house, and was surprised to find Hudgins and Nussbaum standing on a pile of scorched two by fours that had once been the back porch. Alongside Nussbaum and Hudgins stood Governor Paul Johnson and Lucian Harvey, Jr. a friend of Hudgins and current president of the Jackson Rotary Club who often described his friend and pastor as a man "well-liked by Jew and Gentile."(5) While Charles Quinn from NBC filmed the scene, Nussbaum waved his finger in Hudgins' face and shouted: "If you had spoken out from your pulpit after the synagogue was bombed and told your people it was wrong to have done that, this wouldn't have happened!"(6) Hudgins tried to tell Nussbaum he was deeply sorry about what had happened, but Nussbaum was not interested in pastoral platitudes. He continued, "Don't tell me now how sorry you are. Those sons-of-a-guns attacked me and my family! They've attacked my house! I don't want to hear how sorry you are!" Hudgins was shocked, as were the Governor and Mr. Harvey, that Rabbi Nussbaum would dare "deliver such an attack on Mississippi's most prominent religious figure."(7) But Nussbaum was not finished. "Doug, if you're really sorry about this," he said, "get on the pulpit Sunday and tell your people this is wrong. Talk to those segregationists that fill up your church."(8)
With that he turned to Ken Dean, who as the Director of the Mississippi Council on Human Relations had always considered himself allies with Nussbaum in a common struggle against racial prejudice. Nussbaum exclaimed, "You're a white Christian--a Baptist, the worst kind for Jews. You've got a responsibility for what happened too. It's the Sunday-school lessons from the New Testament in Baptist churches that lead people to commit such terrible acts."
On the Sunday morning after the bombing, Nussbaum listened by radio to Hudgins' weekly broadcast of the worship service at the First Baptist Church. The sermon was a typical example of Hudgins' otherworldly piety. He made a general reference to the terrorist attack, saying it was regrettable that houses were bombed and wrong to bomb another man's house. He did not mention Nussbaum by name, nor did he mention that the house bombed most recently had been the rabbi's. "The Lord works in mysterious ways," the minister concluded on the subject, before turning to an exposition of a scriptural text. (9) Nussbaum found Hudgins' words outrageous.
In his cryptic remark, Hudgins was not so much saying that klan violence had a divine though inscrutable purpose. More than anything else, Hudgins was retreating to a piety that disconnected language from reality, which fashioned a serene, self-enclosed world, undisturbed by the sufferings of blacks and Jews.
(1) Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 68.
(2) Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 71.
(3) Kenneth Dean, Interview
(4) Cited in Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 71.
(5) Lucian A. Harvey, "Nomination of Douglas Hudgins to the Golden Deeds Award Committee," January 12, 1968.
(6) Cited in Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 71.
(7) Cited in Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 71.
(8) Cited in Jack Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 72.
(9) Hudgins cited in Nelson, Terror in the Night, p. 76.