February 7, 2023
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The Spingarn Brothers

White Privilege, Jewish Heritage, and the Struggle for Racial Equality

An absorbing account of how two Jewish brothers devoted themselves to the struggle for racial equality in the United States.

In the late nineteenth century, Joel and Arthur Spingarn grew up in New York City as brothers with very different personalities, interests, and professional goals. Joel was impetuous and high-spirited; Arthur was reasoned and studious. Yet together they would become essential leaders in the struggle for racial justice and equality, serving as presidents of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, exposing inequities, overseeing key court cases, and lobbying presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

In The Spingarn Brothers, Katherine Reynolds Chaddock sheds new light on the story of these fascinating brothers and explores how their Jewish heritage and experience as second-generation immigrants led to their fight for racial equality. Upon graduating from Columbia University, Arthur joined a top Manhattan law practice, while Joel became a professor of comparative literature. The two soon witnessed growing racial injustices in the city and joined the NAACP in 1909, its founding year. Arthur began to aim his legal practice toward issues of discrimination, while Joel founded the NAACP's New York City branch.

Drawing from personal letters, journals, and archives, Chaddock uncovers some of the motivations and influences that guided the Spingarns. Both brothers served in World War I, married, and pursued numerous interests that ranged from running for Congress to collecting rare books and manuscripts by Black authors around the world. In this dual biography, Chaddock illustrates how the Spingarn brothers' unique personalities, Jewish heritage, and family history shaped their personal and professional lives into an ongoing fight for racial justice.

About the Author

Katherine Reynolds Chaddock (CHARLESTON, SC) is a distinguished professor emerita of education administration at the University of South Carolina. She is the author of Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College and The Multi-Talented Mr. Erskine: Shaping Mass Culture Through Great Books and Fine Music.


"Well written, thoughtfully researched, excellently sourced, and well organized. The story of the Spingarn brothers is fascinating and provocative, tracing how these two wealthy men became engaged supporters and long-serving leaders in the NAACP, one of the country's most important organizations for racial justice. Chaddock also examines their early lives and their other intriguing professional and personal efforts."

- Linda Eisenmann, Wheaton College, author of Higher Education for Women in Postwar America, 1945–1965

"Katherine Reynolds Chaddock's dual biography of the Spingarn brothers fills a significant hole in the literature on the early NAACP. Chaddock traces their important contributions to the NAACP and analyzes the complex ways in which their racial and socioeconomic privilege and Jewish heritage played a role in these contributions. A must read for anyone interested in these topics."

- Susan D. Carle, American University, author of Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880–1915
Johns Hopkins University Press
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