The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

November 6, 2013

Library program this evening will offer Jewish history lesson


TARBORO — A part of Carolina history that’s often overlooked will be the topic of a 7 p.m. program today at the Edgecombe County Memorial Library.

Dr. Anton Hieke will discuss “Jewish Georgia and the Carolinas During the Reconstruction Period: 1863-1877” in the library’s Pender Room.

“It will educate people on the Jewish population here,” said Pam Edmondson, local history and genealogical specialist at the library. “I’m looking forward to it; I’m very excited.”

This evening’s program is free, and is part of the Friends of the Library’s 60th anniversary celebration. Refreshments will be served at the program.

Tonight won’t be Hieke’s first visit to Tarboro. The University Halle-Wittenberg graduate and Wolfen, Germany native came here in 2009 to conduct research for his dissertation on German families leaving their homeland and adapting to their American culture.

When asked why he came to Tarboro to do research, Hieke responded, in a 2009 interview with The Daily Southerner, “You had a synagogue, numerous families – and good records.”

“We had the second synagogue in the state here,” Edmondson said.

The synagogue on Main Street was built circa 1895. After the Jewish population moved out of the area, by the mid 20th century, the synagogue was used as a community building by different organizations and churches until it was torn down in 1975.

Local historian Monika Fleming wrote on page 90 of her book “Edgecombe County: Along the Tar River” that there were about 100 “faithful Jewish worshippers in the area” by 1880. She also wrote in her book, on page 89, that one newspaper article in the 1870’s referred to two blocks of Main Street as ‘Little Jerusalem.’” Fleming notes on page 91 that Jews managed several businesses in Tarboro in the late 1800’s, including a hotel, an opera house, and an ice cream saloon.

“A large section of the downtown was a Jewish section of town and they married into a lot of the established families around here,” Edmondson said.

Fleming elaborated on the prominence of the Jewish families, on page 91, stating by 1900, many Jewish immigrants built “beautiful Victorian mansions along north Main Street, demonstrating that they were a part of the financial elite of the town.” Among those houses is the Lichenstein-Alley House, now painted red and known for its horseshoe-shaped entry.

Most of the original Jewish settlers were gone by 1920, and the second and third generation settlers often converted to other religions, as noted by Fleming. Nonetheless, Jews played a prominent role in the Reconstruction Period of Tarboro’s history, which Hieke will discuss in further detail in his presentation at the library this evening.

The library is at 909 Main St.