Sixty years ago this month, the Atlanta region and the nation confronted a hate crime. On October 12, 1958, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, also known as The Temple, a prominent Jewish synagogue on Peachtree Street, was bombed by anti-Semitic white supremacists.
The attack that killed 11 worshipers and injured four police officers and two congregants Saturday afternoon at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh is a tragic reminder of the 1958 bombing in Atlanta for people aware of it.
No one died in the 1958 bombing, which caused extensive damage to The Temple. No one was convicted of the crime. It’s impact, however, was significant.
Melissa Fay Greene (Praying for Sheetrock, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet) is the author of The Temple Bombing.
“I think lots of people come to Atlanta, but they don’t necessarily know what happened in 1958,” Greene said in an interview with 11Alive (WXIA-TV) in early October.
Added Greene: “The side of the building was blown open. It was a tremendous blast. Had Sunday school been in session, as it would have been hours later, children would have been killed.”
From a 2010 review of The Temple in Publishers Weekly:
In 1958, anti-Semitic white supremacists dynamited Atlanta’s oldest Jewish synagogue, whose rabbi, Pittsburgh-born Jacob Rothschild, was an outspoken advocate of integration. A trial of the accused terrorists ended in a hung jury, and a second trial in acquittal.
The Reform Jewish Temple became a rallying point uniting blacks and Jews in efforts for racial justice, and Rabbi Rothschild (who died in 1974 at the age of 62) befriended Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1960 moved home to Atlanta, the scene of many critical confrontations in the early civil rights movement.
Greene recreates these events in a spellbinding narrative written with fierce moral passion and a great sense of historic drama. By delving into the exclusionary policies and attitudes of Atlanta’s white Protestant elite, tensions within the city’s Jewish community, related terrorist incidents and links among right-wing extremist, racist and anti-Semitic organizations, she has reclaimed a forgotten chapter of the civil rights era.