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Jewish Businesses on Mt. Vernon and the Civil Rights Movement lesson plan

The businesses along Mt. Vernon Avenue were in the midst of some of the hottest confrontations of the Civil Rights Movement including protests against Jewish business owners in Columbus' King-Lincoln neighborhood.

Historical Context and Overview

The civil rights movement in Columbus came to a head in the Mt. Vernon business district of King Lincoln.

Although many of the causes had happened elsewhere in the city, this was the scene of confrontation. In September 1967, a protest was directed at Marvin Bonowitz, a tailor, because they wanted him to rent an empty storefront for meetings.

When he declined, the next evening, there was a crowd, and bricks were thrown through storefronts of Spicer’s Furniture Store and an African-American owned news shop—and when that owner fired a shotgun, the protestors moved up the street to Bonowitz’s tailor shop. Bonowitz and an employee waited in the back for the police when Carl Brown, much respected African-American owner of the IGA grocery store arrived to chase away the protestors.

According to Bonowitz, the demands of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began to be met within days of the disturbance because the NAACP, the Urban League, the Mt Vernon Avenue Business Association, the Ministerial Alliance, the Baptist Pastors Conference and others worked together.

The plans called for: the creation of 1,000 new jobs above menial labor category within 30 days, African Americans to be hired to the police force, hot lunches at all inner-city schools, the creation of job training centers, and a headquarters for CORE.

For the next several years, Columbus experienced Civil Rights demonstrations and unrest, exacerbated by what many thought was a wave of police brutality. Federal investigators came and went, but the African-American community and a journalist named Amos Lynch—who edited the Call & Post, had the photographs to prove there had been brutality

The nexus of Jewish business owners in African-American communities is a repeated pattern in many urban areas in the United States. Jewish immigration was peaking before World War I, and many families were moving out of New York and the East Coast area to what they hoped would be more opportunity in the Midwest.

Already in Columbus, German Jewish families had arrived and settled into the business community (like the Lazarus family), but at the turn of the 20th century, Jewish families were often coming from Russia, Poland, or parts of Central Europe. In Columbus, Jewish families often settled together on the Near East Side because rent and land was cheaper.

There was the opportunity to settle into the retail world as tailors, grocers, butchers, shoe repairers, dry cleaners, and pawn shop owners. For African Americans who were refused loans from white banking institutions, pawn shops were a useful option.

Standards Alignment

Ohio’s New Learning Standards: K-12 Social Studies

Grade 3, Content Statement 10: Individuals make the community a better place by solving problems in a way that promotes the common good.

Grade 8, Content Statement 22: Choices made by individuals, businesses, and governments have both present and future consequences

HS American History Content Statement 28: Following World War II, the United States experienced a struggle for racial and gender equity and the extension of Civil Rights.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the relationship and perspectives of the Jewish and African-American businessmen as they served the community.

Discuss what is meant by the term “common good.”

Analyze the push and pull factors that led to the establishment of Jewish businesses in King- Lincoln and factors that continued to make the neighborhood predominately African American.

Discuss how individual and government choices presented consequences for the civil rights conflicts and settlement in the King-Lincoln neighborhood and the city.

Discussion Questions

1. What precipitated the conflict on Mt. Vernon Avenue in 1967?

2. How did individual and government choices play a role in creating the conflict and in settling the conflict?

3. How might the conflict have further affected the King-Lincoln neighborhood and other issues within the community?

4. What lasting positive and negative results came out the conflict? Was a “common good” achieved?

5. How did the racial tensions in the King-Lincoln neighborhood reflect broader trends in the civil rights movement at the national level?

External Activities

What happened on Mt. Vernon Avenue is not the entire story of civil rights in Columbus, but it is a good starting point to understanding one neighborhood and the city’s history and evolution.

Read through excerpts of Wil Haygood’s book (pages 207-213 are particularly useful). Have students create a reader’s theater in which many people help tell the story of Mt. Vernon.

A list of characters might include: Marvin Bonowitz, Wil Haygood, Carl Brown, Mayor Sensenbrenner, Roselyn Bonowitz, Veline Barton, James Jordan, Amos Lynch, Chief James Jackson, Aminah Robinson, and a protestor.

Have students create the text for a historical marker to be placed on Mt. Vernon Avenue that describes the importance of the business community and the events of September 1967 (and outcomes).

Fairness, balance of perspectives, accuracy, and a sense of historical importance should be considered in the text writing.

Additional Resources

Bonowitz, Marvin. Mt Vernon Avenue Jewish Businesses in a Changing Neighborhood, 1918-1999. The Columbus Jewish Historical Society, Inc., 1999.

Haygood, Wil. The Haygoods of Columbus: A Family Memoir, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Content from this lesson plan is taken from the Columbus Neighborhoods: King-Lincoln documentary.