The Spingarn Brothers by Katherine Reynolds Chaddock

The Spingarn Brothers by Katherine Reynolds Chaddock

White Privilege, Jewish Heritage, and the Struggle for Racial Equality

An absorbing account of how two Jewish brothers devoted themselves to the struggle for racial equality in the United States.

In the late nineteenth century, Joel and Arthur Spingarn grew up in New York City as brothers with very different personalities, interests, and professional goals. Joel was impetuous and high-spirited; Arthur was reasoned and studious. Yet together they would become essential leaders in the struggle for racial justice and equality, serving as presidents of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, exposing inequities, overseeing key court cases, and lobbying presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

In The Spingarn Brothers, Katherine Reynolds Chaddock sheds new light on the story of these fascinating brothers and explores how their Jewish heritage and experience as second-generation immigrants led to their fight for racial equality. Upon graduating from Columbia University, Arthur joined a top Manhattan law practice, while Joel became a professor of comparative literature. The two soon witnessed growing racial injustices in the city and joined the NAACP in 1909, its founding year. Arthur began to aim his legal practice toward issues of discrimination, while Joel founded the NAACP’s New York City branch.

Drawing from personal letters, journals, and archives, Chaddock uncovers some of the motivations and influences that guided the Spingarns. Both brothers served in World War I, married, and pursued numerous interests that ranged from running for Congress to collecting rare books and manuscripts by Black authors around the world. In this dual biography, Chaddock illustrates how the Spingarn brothers’ unique personalities, Jewish heritage, and family history shaped their personal and professional lives into an ongoing fight for racial justice.

Year first published: 2023

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