The Workmen’s Circle in Birmingham

The Workmen’s Circle—Arbeter Ring in Yiddish—is a Jewish fraternal organization devoted to progressive politics, the labor movement, and Yiddish language and culture.  In its heyday, there were Workmen’s Circle chapters all across the United States, including here in the South.  While most people would associate the group’s secular Yiddishkayt and left-wing politics with the more urbanized North, there were chapters in 15 Southern cities, and also chapters to be found in Florida’s urban hubs of Miami and Miami Beach.

Arbeter Ring Branch 303, Birmingham

“Arrangement-Committee of the Forty Year Jubilee of Branch 303 in Birmingham, Alabama.”

The picture above comes from In Southern States, a Yiddish-language journal published in 1949 for the thirtieth conference of the Workmen’s Circle Southern District.  In it, the leaders of Birmingham‘s Branch 303 stand on the front steps of their “lyceum” building, where the group ran a Yiddish lending library, hosted lectures and discussions, and, from 1924 to 1927, operated a Yiddish school in the afternoons.

In Birmingham, like in other cities, the founders and leaders of the Workmen’s Circle Chapter were primarily immigrants who arrived in America in the early years of the twentieth century.  Most of them had belonged to the
Bund
in Europe, and brought their socialist beliefs with them to America.  Based on this picture, it seems that Birmingham’s Branch 303 was dominated by the Sokol family, who make up more than a third of the  members pictured.

If you are familiar with the Sokol family, or if you know of anyone who might have information on the Workmen’s Circle (Arbeter Ring) in Birmingham or other Southern cities, please be in touch!  This is a fascinating aspect of Jewish life in the South, but it has been largely forgotten.

Discover More

Natchez, Mississippi: The Place to Be for Jewish History Lovers This Fall

For me, it’s the river that won my heart. In the summer of 2007, I was traveling in a hot ...

There’s Something Special About The South

Before I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 2003, I had only a passing familiarity with the South. Yes, I had ...

Last Year in the Deep South, This Year in Jerusalem

Hi! Remember me? It’s Missy! Last May I was finishing up my ISJL Education Fellowship with visits to two different ...