For a while, I’ve been seeing this meme saying “78% of slave owners were Jewish…” with a grouping of sources at the bottom. I’ve never seen a proper debunking or anything, so I figured I should take a look at the data it provides and see if this contains any truth to it.
The first source is from a book called “The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery”. On this page, it says, “About 5,000 Jews owned one or more slaves – about 1.25% of all slaveowners in the antebellum South.” Weird they would list this source. It doesn’t support the narrative suggested by the meme.
The second source is population estimates over time which tells us very little on its own.
The third source doesn’t tell us much about population or who owns slaves but does provide something interesting, that could be used to purport an active involvement in the African-American slave trade. Until you see that it is from 1920-1921. But, here’s why I say it would give us reason to say Jews were active in the slave trade:
Agriculture picked up over 100 Jews and made up 1.4 percent of the total Jewish enrollment which is higher than a lot of other things. But, since Jews largely lived in the cities they typically clustered towards other jobs, regardless. The agricultural involvement is significant but not enough to warrant deeper digging. Especially when this source was from after the slave trade ended and, as it says,
“The following five branches of study, in the order mentioned, attract the largest number of Jewish students: Commerce and finance, medicine, engineering, law, and dentistry, representing together 84.5 per cent of the total Jewish enrollment in professional schools”
The source also gives us this which shows that the three areas most populated with Jews are Europe, North America, and Africa. This might signify many Jews moved to Africa to help the slave trade move along, but there’s no real evidence to support this claim as far as I know.
The final source is just a Census report from 1860 which doesn’t make any case.
So, this meme lists a bunch of sources that don’t even support what it says. The first of which directly opposes it. But, does that mean there wasn’t substantial Jewish involvement in the African slave trade? Not at all, and it seems to be true there was.
For example, in America, Jacob Rader Marcus found over 75 percent of Jewish families in a group of Southern states owned slaves, and 40 percent of Jewish households across the country owned slaves. This is far higher than the rate that white people did at the peak of slavery.
I would provide more to this article if I could, but I ran into some issues while researching. A lot of websites listed sources which seemed to support the idea Jews had an active involvement in the African slave trade, but 1) they listed primarily books, which I couldn’t access to check the credibility of and 2) these websites were typically anti-Semitic, making me more willing to want to check the credibility. A lot of it comes from Farrakhan’s book The Secret Relationship. It’s been noted that the citations in this book do sometimes support the view, but the footnotes tell a lot of them away. It’s essentially just an attempt to tell people a story that will make them anti-Semitic and hope they don’t double check everything. A lot of papers and books have come out pointing out the book’s shortcomings.
More reliably, it’s been pointed out that Jews weren’t disproportionately involved in America’s slave trade, but if you look to Brazil (where many slaves went), they were.
Regardless, the meme was probably just meant to get people to look up the percentage of Jews who owned slaves and to make them more anti-Semitic. I’ll call this theory bunk.