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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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The Port of Galveston has welcomed thousands of people to North America looking to build a life free of oppression, war, and persecution. Tens of thousands arrived, searching for a better life for themselves, their children, and future generations.
Texas, one of the most diverse places in the country, became so in part due to immigration from around the world. Galveston Island has been the doorway to one of the most significant immigration movements from Europe to the United States. It is known today as the Galveston Movement. A joint effort from organizations around the country to bring Jewish Immigrants through Texas to ease overpopulation in the Northeast.
Due to antisemitic viewpoints and actions taking shape in Eastern Europe and Russia beginning in the 1880s, the united states saw an influx of Jewish immigrants to the East Coast. Rampant poverty and overcrowded conditions in the major cities of the North Eastern United States were becoming a significant problem and leading to disease outbreaks such as Yellow Fever. To curb population issues and avoid rising American antisemitism, an immigration assistance plan was implemented by several Jewish organizations across the United States. Between 1907 and 1914, to divert Jewish immigrants fleeing Russia and Europe away from East Coast cities. The operation coordinated the arrival of over Ten thousand Jewish immigrants through the Port of Galveston and into Texas and the American West.
Based in Galveston, the Jewish Immigrant Information Bureau led the movement to prevent an anticipated rise in antisemitism in Eastern Cities. This organization sought a suitable alternative point of immigration and settlement for the influx of immigrants. A few cities were considered to support the wave of migrants. The top contenders were New Orleans, Charleston, South Carolina, and Galveston.
Although the 1900 storm devastated the island just seven years before, Galveston was selected due to its thriving port, current liner services to Europe, and small urban center. The compact nature of Galveston would not encourage permanent settlement but closer access to the economic opportunities in Texas, the Midwest, and the Western United States.
The "Galveston Committee," led by Jacob Schiff in New York City, coordinated the recruiting efforts of the London-based Jewish Territorial Organization and the Jewish Emigration Society of Kyiv. They coordinated the reception and relocation of the Jewish Immigrants' Information Bureau, based in Galveston.
Rabbi Henry Cohen of Temple B'nai Israel here in Galveston was the humanitarian face of the movement. He would coordinate the funding from national efforts to local organizations and meet ships at the Galveston docks to help guide the immigrants through the cumbersome arrival and distribution process. Most immigrants would board a train and continue to the countryside to begin their life of opportunity in the United States.
The Official Galveston Movement arrivals began in 1907, and in 1909 substantial numbers of immigrants began to arrive through the port of Galveston. Of the 50,000 arrivals between 1906 and 1914, over 10,000 were Jewish. Not all Jewish immigrants were diverted to Galveston. Many ports throughout the country received arrivals of Jewish immigrants. It was nevertheless a significant flow into Texas given Texas' relatively sparse population. Assimilating to American life was difficult for many, as working on Saturday, the Sabbath day in Judaism, was not always agreed upon. Communities around Texas featured many stores and merchant shops founded by Jewish Immigrants through Galveston.
The end of the official movement became apparent as the effort was focused on bringing laborers into the United States and rejected many women, children, and unskilled men. Infighting between the United States and European organizations halted progress. European Jews did not recognize Texas and the Southwest as the America of their dreams; the area satisfied no religious or nationalistic expectations for them. By 1914, the primary movement had slowed down, but Jewish immigrants still arrived, continuing to shape the country.
Galveston, Texas, continued welcoming immigrants from around the world for the next few decades. Many cultures, religions, ideas, and sentiments have shaped Galveston Island and Texas, making us into what we are today. For Tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants, Galveston was the first piece of America they experienced before starting their new life. Galveston: an international city and gateway to the United States.