Amy Milligan wins two fellowships to further her research on Southern Jews « News @ ODU

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Amy Milligan, Batten Endowed Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Women’s Studies, received two fellowships based on her research on Jewish communities in the South.

Milligan, who is also director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University, received the Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman Memorial Fellowship from the American Jewish Archives and a Wilson Fellowship from the University of Carolina du Nord, supported by the Documenting Social Change Library Fund. Both are residencies for the 2022-2023 academic year, starting this summer. She will spend a month in Cincinnati for the AJA Fellowship and time at UNC later this summer.

Much of the work Milligan is known for focuses on the history of the Jewish community in Selma, Alabama, and why so many Jews left the community. For the UNC fellowship, titled “Trouble in Selma: Jews, Race, Rights, and Conflict,” Milligan will focus on the Jewish community specifically during the era of the civil rights movement.

“My research so far has focused on the history of the community before 1960,” Milligan said. “I turn my attention to the experiences of Jews who lived through the civil rights movement in Selma and then stayed in the city after Bloody Sunday.”

Bloody Sunday took place on March 7, 1965, when peaceful protesters were gassed and beaten by police at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Historically, residents of Selma have been considered distinct groups — people who identify as white or black, Jewish or Christian — but there is an overlap between them and they have experienced violence in the city in different ways, a said Milligan.

“There were Holocaust survivors in the city who were barely established in the United States, and they lived witnessing that same violence,” she said. “Most were aligned with the black community, but they were the least likely to speak out because of lingering fear.”

Collecting the stories can help repair the trauma of communities that have experienced or are currently experiencing violence, Milligan said.

Her research is “thoughtfully conceptualized, with timely relevance as the United States grapples with the legacy of racial inequality,” said Elizabeth Groeneveld, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women’s Studies.

“His work provides significant examples of the successes and failures of solidarity and coalition work between Jewish and black activists in the American South,” Groeneveld added. “She is an exceptional storyteller, whose work promises to deliver a thoughtful and illuminating meditation on the work of racial reconciliation that will appeal to a wide readership.”

In addition to the UNC Fellowship, Milligan’s other project, titled “Alabama’s Small Jewish Communities,” will expand on work she has done with the Alabama Folklife Association, which seeks to preserve the histories of small communities across the country. State through research, education and programming.

She collaborates with community historians in 10 small Jewish communities to share stories, resources, and knowledge about the big picture of Jewish life in Alabama, which is largely unpreserved.

“We’re laying the groundwork to tell stories that recognize real richness in these communities and how these Jews are fundamental to their cities and their communities,” Milligan said. “It’s an expansion of my research on Selma, but these communities are not in the spotlight of important historical markers. It’s an acknowledgment of stories that can be ignored if we don’t record them.”

Milligan’s research on these topics will be published in his upcoming book with University of Alabama Press.

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