“My friends, here you see the end result of bigotry and intolerance, and whether we like it or not, those practicing rabble-rousing and demagoguery are the godfathers of the cross burners and the dynamiters,” William B. Hartsfield, mayor of Atlanta - 1958.
October 12, 1958 remains a date that will forever live in the memory of this community. On that day, white supremacists calling themselves the “Confederate Underground” placed a bomb made of fifty sticks of dynamite near the The Temple’s north entrance. The explosion caused almost $100,000 worth of damage (approximately three-quarters of a million dollars today), but thankfully resulted in no injuries or deaths.
The bombing was in retaliation for the outspoken activism of The Temple’s senior rabbi, Jacob Rothschild. From the earliest days of his tenure, he criticized segregation and advocated for racial equality. His efforts in support of justice for every citizen, regardless of their skin color, drew the attention of those who feared change. Their actions, however, drew a surprising response.
Leaders and ordinary citizens all rallied around The Temple in response to the bombing. Mayor Hartsfield, quoted above, famously posed for a photo with Rabbi Rothschild in the rubble of the bombing. That photo still hangs inside The Temple.
Ralph McGill, the iconic editor of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper, added his voice to the mayor’s: “You can not preach and encourage hate for the Negro and hope to restrict it to that field,” he wrote. “When the wounds of hate are loosed on one people, then no one is safe.”
Even the president of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, released a statement denouncing the bombing. Support poured in from around the world, helping to cover the costs of repair. The bombing had done about $100,000 in damage (about three-quarters of a million dollars in today’s money). That support is why The Temple’s old social hall was named “Friendship Hall.”
During the first Shabbat service after the bombing, Rabbi Rothschild spoke perhaps the most eloquently. In a sermon entitled, “And None Shall Make Them Afraid,” he said:
“This despicable act has made brighter the flame of courage and renewed in splendor the fires of determination and dedication. It has reached the hearts of men everywhere and roused the conscience of a people united in righteousness. All of us together shall rear from the rubble of devastation a city and a land in which all men are truly brothers and none shall make them afraid.”
Rabbi Rothschild’s spirit of social justice and fiery activism on its behalf has never left The Temple. Social justice has remained a central component of our community’s work. It was appropriate, then, that Rabbi Rothschild’s widow called the dynamite, “the bomb that healed.”
Click on the image below to watch a short video from Georgia Historical Society about The Temple bombing.
1589 Peachtree Street NE | Atlanta, GA 30309 | t 404-873-1731 | A Reform Synagogue | Affiliated with The Union for Reform Judaism