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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                 AARON LEVY BUCHSBAUM

INTERVIEWER:            HARRIET MEYERHOFF

DATE:                            JULY 30TH 2006

LOCATION:                    SAVANNAH, GA

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Aaron Buchsbaum was born in April 1931 to Herbert and Sarah Buchsbaum. While growing up in the 1930’s in Savannah, Georgia, he was exposed to racism and poverty, which influenced his later career. As a school child at both the Massie School and Savannah High School, Aaron was a skilled tennis player but was discriminated against for being Jewish. He then attended Tulane University, earning a BBA in 1952, and later graduated from Emory University’s Law School in 1954. Aaron then joined the bard of Georgia and the United States Supreme Court. In the 1960’s, Aaron focused on desegregation in Savannah, focusing on the integration of schools and The Savannah Bar Association, which he left in 1980 after the SBA connected itself with venues that promoted institutionalized bigotry. In 1967, he challenged race discrimination in Georgia jury selections, which resulted in desegregating jury pools from property owners to voters. He began the Legal Aid Society of Savannah, which led to his position on the board of the Georgia Legal Services. Later in 1974 then governor Jimmy Carter made Aaron a member of the Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. He retired from his work in the NAACP in 1994 and had an extensive 40-year career as a lawyer for the anti-poverty organization, Economic Opportunity Authority. As well as earning awards from both groups, Aaron was also on the board of the Anti-Defamation League and the Savannah Jewish Council. A lifetime Savannahian, he focused on restoring historic landmarks without condemning neighborhoods to gentrification, and civil rights for disenfranchised communities. After his extensive career in civil rights litigation, Aaron retired in 2007 in Savannah.

Scope of Interview

Aaron begins with his family history, with both sides of his family coming from Eastern Europe. Much of his extended family remained in Savannah, owning local businesses such as the grocery store. Aaron continues with the neighborhood, and how living in the 1930’s did not impact his growing up, or the relationship with his neighbors, even while it was an important historical decade. He tells of his experience at the Massie School, the oldest public school in Georgia, by commenting on his experiences listening to Roosevelt’s speech on Pearl Harbor Day, and running for school president.

Aaron continues by describing Jewish life in Savannah, with the JEA and B.B. Jacob organizing services in the city, but fewer events and services happening further out of town. He tells of his family then joining the Agudath Achim congregation, although the families were still interconnected. Aaron’s paternal grandfather was also an original founder of the Agudath Achim Synagogue. Aaron then comments on the activities of the JEA, and how it compared to the Christian based, YMCA activities and center. Although it was a Christian group, Aaron participated in his local Boy Scouts troop, before entering high school.

Aaron moves to discussing his higher education, including his change from a business degree at Tulane to satiate his family, but moving on to a law degree from Emory University. He tells that after his law degree, he joined the Army Reserve. However, before being sent to Europe, he married Esther Rosenbaum, whom he had met in Atlanta.

Harriet then prompts Aaron to quickly speak on the topic of his children but moves into his Civil Rights activity. He says that although he was not involved in the marches, he was involved in representing people on the issue of integration, as he believed that all people should be treated fairly. He mentions his involvement in the NAACP and the ACLU, and specific cases where he dealt with discrimination. He continues by describing his membership in the Savannah Bar Association, but his dislike that the organization used venues that discriminated against the African American population. However, he tells of his role in desegregating the Savannah Bar. Aaron then describes how the American Bar Association adopted anti-discriminatory policies, but the Savannah Bar did not follow suit, and so he discontinued his membership. He describes his relationship to W.W. Law, and how that led to his role in desegregating more Savannah institutions including businesses and schools, although he didn’t agree with the complete process. Harriet then asks about Aaron’s various community awards, such as his award from the Black Heritage Festival and an annual award from the NAACP for his civil rights work.

Harriet moves Aaron on to his law career. He starts off with Brannen, Clark and Hester, and then moves to his 27-year partner Alan Lowe. Aaron then comments on how his office was on Broughton Street, which brought him full circle from growing up with the other Jewish family-run businesses on that street. He finishes the interview by discussing all his family members that works in Savannah and how his family still owns the Levy Jewelers store.

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