In the early morning hours of this day in 1958, 50 sticks of dynamite exploded at the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, Atlanta's oldest and most prominent synagogue. Though no one was injured, the city's Jewish population feared the rise of anti-Semitism reminiscent of the Leo Frank lynching.
The temple was the fourth southern synagogue to be bombed in a year and shook the “city too busy to hate” to its core. Rabbi Jacob Rothschild had outspokenly supported integration for years and in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation, racial tension made the temple an inviting target.
But unlike the Frank lynching, this time Atlanta rallied around the Jewish community. Mayor William Hartsfield condemned the bombings, as did Atlanta Constitution editor Ralph McGill in editorials that won the Pulitzer Prize. Though only one man, George Bright, was tried—and acquitted—for the bombing, the city's response set the tone for the years that followed.
While cities like Birmingham were torn apart by racial violence, Atlanta responded with moderation, perhaps the best legacy of October 12, 1958, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.