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Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech

  • Publication: Stanford University Press
  • Research area: Legal history

6/27/2012, Victoria Saker Woeste, Stanford University Press

This book provides a startling new interpretation of a scandalous episode in the life of Henry Ford:  his side career as a publisher of antisemitic literature and propaganda.  Using never-before discovered evidence from the Ford archives as well as private collections from lawyers and civil rights leaders involved in trying to stop Ford’s libelous newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, this book shows how deeply involved Ford was in the operation of his newspaper, how he invited the libel lawsuit that was filed against him in 1925, and how he maneuvered to end the litigation out of court.  These newly discovered sources also reveal deep divisions among Jewish civil rights lawyers and religious leaders over how to handle the Ford matter and why they disagreed on the usefulness of resorting to law to answer hateful publications.  Throughout the twentieth century, American courts have generally declined to recognize the category of hate speech as an exception to free speech rights under the First Amendment.  Yet in order to end the embarrassing litigation, Henry Ford apologized to American Jews for the one thing he would never have lost on in court:  the offense of hate speech against all Jews as a group.  The case and its ambiguous resolution reveal the tensions in law and culture between individual freedoms and the status of those seeking equality on the basis of group identity.

Multimedia

The Happiness Boys, Yiddish folk musicians and publishers of the parody "When Henry Ford Apologized to Me" (1927)

Album art, From Avenue A To The Great White Way: Yiddish & American Popular Songs 1914-1950 (Sony, compact disc, 2002)

Photo Gallery - Detroit Book Launch, June 26, 2012

Photo Gallery - Historical Pictures

Video - Professor Woeste discusses Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech

Audio - "Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me," The Happiness Boys

Links

Stanford University Press Book Site

Amazon Book Site

News

Book Review - American Studies, Volume 52, Number 3, 2013, pp. 119-120 (Article)

Book Review - The Journal of American History, September 2013

Huffington Post Op-ed  - "Apologies and Atonement" - August 2, 2013

American Jewish History Journal - Book Review - July 9, 2013

Huffington Post Article - "Henry Ford: Behind the Myth," June 7, 2013

ABF News Article - Dr. Rafael Medoff Reviews Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech April 24, 2013

ABF News Article - "Victoria Saker Woeste Headlines at the Musuem of Tolerance," October 29, 2012

ABF News Article - "ABF Research Professor Victoria Saker Woeste Launches New Book on Henry Ford in Detroit, MI," June 26, 2012

ABF Press Release - "New Book on Henry Ford Libel Trial Sheds Light on History of Hate Speech," June 14, 2012

Professor Woeste lectured about Louis Marshall in Syracuse, NY on 9/13/12. Click here for a soundbite from a local Syracuse radio show that covered her visit. On 9/19/12, Woeste was also interviewed on local Channel 9 News in Syracuse. Click here to view the broadcast.

Contact

Contact the author at vswoeste@abfn.org.