Samuel L. Scheiner was a Jewish attorney who headed the first independent, statewide Jewish community relations agency in the United States to organize against antisemitism in Minnesota from 1938 until his retirement in 1974. He was a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School.
In 1938, Jewish leaders in the Twin Cities and Duluth formed the Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota in response to a rise in public antisemitism, which was on the rise throughout the United States in the 1920s. The 1938 Minnesota Governor’s election tipped the balance, however, when Farmer-Labor candidate Elmer Benson, who had Jewish staff members, was specifically attacked for his Jewish connections. Once formed, the organization investigated the pro-fascist, antisemitic climate in the state.
The Anti-Defamation Council incorporated and was renamed the Minnesota Jewish Council in May 1939. Scheiner was responsible for reviewing reports of antisemitic incidents and running outstate offices. The Minnesota Jewish Council, although independent, cooperated with the national Anti-Defamation League.
Scheiner protested anti-Jewish remarks, leaflets, and swastika graffiti. He also exposed attempts by real estate agents, resorts, and employers to subvert Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws, whether by using code words such as “selected clientele” or bald statements such as “Gentiles preferred.” His tactics included private negotiations, letter-writing campaigns, requests for apologies, threats of boycotts, and tracking letters to newspaper editors. His research into antisemitic practices in labor unions led to the creation of the United Labor Committee for Human Rights.
During World War II, the Council’s attention turned to overt antisemitic activities, like discrimination against Jews in the armed forces with regard to housing, hotels, resorts, restaurants, and related matters. Reports of discrimination were investigated and reforms attempted. At this time, the Council also worked for passage of fair employment practices acts locally and statewide. The organization’s wartime appeal was patriotic in nature, stressing national unity during a time of crisis and likening fascism abroad to racial and religious prejudice at home.
After 1946, the Council broadened its activities.It now investigated discrimination by creating alliances with wide-ranging community and national organizations and supporting more liberal immigration policies, as well as the Civil Rights struggle and civil liberties, separation of church and state, and inter-religious cooperation.
Scheiner served on the Governor of Minnesota’s Human Rights Council from its inception in 1941 until his death. He received many awards for his human rights work and his commitment to religious and racial minorities.
Minnesota Historical Society Digital Finding Aid, Jewish Community Relations Council collection
Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest website, Jewish Community Relations Council . http://www.jhsum.org/?s=Samuel+L.+Scheiner
Weber, Laura. “‘Gentiles Preferred’: Minneapolis Jews and Employment 1920–1950.” Minnesota History 52, no. 5 (Spring 1991): 166–182.
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