Archivist to speak on JCRC collections during upcoming Festival of Jewish Life

Archivist Diane Everman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Having a rich and colorful past isn’t always a good thing. Still, Diane Everman knows that when it comes to the history of hate in St. Louis it’s important to learn about what’s come before.

“It’s an amazing array of material,” she said. “It’s proven to be the most diverse of all of the collections that we have in the archives.”

The material she refers to is courtesy of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The local organization recently donated a wealth of documents to the Jewish Community Archives and Everman, the archivist, said the files are only about 20 percent processed. They reveal a compelling and fascinating picture chronicling both hatred in the Gateway City and the Jewish community’s response to it. The details of that picture will be the subject of a presentation by Everman at the Brodsky Community Library at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1. The event is co-sponsored by JCRC and part of the Festival of Jewish Life.

Everman’s talk will focus on the timeframe of the late 1930s through the 1970s, though she notes that the material covers more recent incidents as well. Largely, it talks about groups associated with hatred or racial supremicism.

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“Most of what they have in their collection are documents,” she said. “It contains reports filed from individuals who infiltrated meeting of these groups.”

Newspaper clippings, fliers and posters are also included. In one case decades ago, an individual even criss-crossed the area affixing stickers to various businesses indicating they were Jewish-run, including the Fox Theatre. One of the stickers is now in the collection.

“Almost all of it is paper,” Everman said of the archive, “but there are some images of the Nazi marches in Forest Park by the German-American Bund. It’s very odd during the WWII period to see these individuals marching through Forest Park with Nazi banners and uniforms on.”

Later groups are featured as well including the Citizen’s Protective Association from the 40s and 50s and the National Socialist White People’s Party from the 60s and 70s. Individuals aren’t left out either. Gerald L. K. Smith, a fiery anti-Semitic preacher and political populist, had strong connections to St. Louis. A controversial figure and sometime presidential candidate, he gained a substantial following in the mid-20th century.

The reasons for hatemongers’ seeming attraction to the Gateway City remain speculative but Everman believes the substantial Jewish and African-American populations here may have played a role.

“Part of it is geographic,” she said. “People like Smith used St. Louis as their headquarters primarily because it was in the center of the country. It wasn’t necessarily because there were more people of like mind. It was just convenient.”

St. Louis also has a disturbing history of restrictive covenants –agreements that prohibit Jews or other minorities from moving to a given neighborhood or area.

“It surprised one of my South African volunteers it was in writing,” Everman said of one such covenant. “She was amazed that Jews could not live there.”

Despite the disturbing subject matter, the key lesson, Everman said, was that there was a positive side embodied in the response to bigotry.

“I think it’s good for people to see with these things that there’s a history and that they were dealt with non-violently,” she said. “Some of them unfortunately ran a longer course than some would have wanted but at least there was action. People didn’t sit back. They took a stand. People gathered together to fight this discrimination and anti-Semitism.”

Jean Cavender, director of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, said she was glad the archives were being brought to light and that she hopes the museum might eventually be able to arrange an exhibition around it.

“We think it might be of interest not only to the Jewish community but to the broader community,” she said. “It’s certainly a history well worth knowing about.”

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC, said the archives reveal a great deal about the past of both St. Louis and her organization.

“One of the impetuses for the JCRC being organized was in response to hate crimes and hate speech,” she said. “Really, the JCRC was a very direct response to that.”

She said the agency was happy to contribute the 100 cubic feet of archival material, much of which deals with a wide range of topics, to the community.

“We knew that this was an important part of the history of the St. Louis Jewish community and they belonged in the archives,” she said.

For more information about the Everman talk, call 314-442-3720 or email [email protected].

Festival of Jewish Life

When: Saturday, Jan. 29- Thursday, Feb. 3

Where: Most programs take place at the Staenberg Family Complex of the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur

How much: $5 for most events; $20 for series pass

More info: For general festival information, visit or call Cyndee Levy at 314-442-3754 or Sara Winkelman at 314-442-3268. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 314-442-3771.