By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

Amy Milligan, Batten Endowed Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Women's Studies, has been awarded two fellowships based on her research on Jewish communities of the South.

Milligan, who also is director of Old Dominion University's Institute of Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding, has been awarded the American Jewish Archives Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman Memorial Fellowship and a University of North Carolina Wilson Research Fellowship, 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 of Selma, Ala., and why so many Jewish people 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.

"Up until now, my research has focused on the history of the community before 1960," Milligan said. "I'm turning my attention to the experiences of the Jews who lived through the civil rights movement in Selma and then stayed in the city after Bloody Sunday."

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

Historically, the residents of Selma are seen as distinct groups - people who identify as white or Black, Jewish or Christian - but there is overlap between them, and they experienced the violence in the city in different ways, Milligan said.

"There were Holocaust survivors in the city who were barely established in the U.S., and they lived through witnessing this same violence," she said. "Most were aligned with the Black community, but they were least likely to speak out because of the 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 legacies of racial inequality," said Elizabeth Groeneveld, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women's Studies.

"Her work provides significant examples of the successes and failures of solidarity and coalition work between Jewish and Black activists in the Southern U.S.," 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 stories of small communities across the state through research, education and programming.

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

"We are laying the foundational groundwork for telling stories that recognize a real richness in these communities and how these Jewish folks are foundational in their cities and communities," Milligan said. "It's a broadening of my Selma research, but these communities don't have the spotlight of the important historical markers. It's a recognition of the stories that can be overlooked if we don't record them."

Milligan's research on these topics will be published in her forthcoming book with the University of Alabama Press.

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