The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories
Rabbi James A. Wax collection
Repository: Memphis Public Library & Information Center
Collection Description (CRHP): Many of Wax's sermons address civil rights.
Collection Description (Extant): James Aaron Wax was born in 1912 in St. Louis. Wax entered Washington University at St. Louis in 1930 and later transferred to Southeast Missouri State College, where he received a Bachelor's degree in 1935. Encouraged to enter the rabbinate by a Christian clergyman who recognized the young man's gifts, Wax entered Hebrew Union college in Cincinnati, where he was awarded the Bachelor of Hebrew Letters in 1939 and the Master of Hebrew Letters in 1941. Following ordination, Rabbi Wax served congregations in Glencoe, Illinois and St. Louis. While serving the congregation in Glencoe, he married Helen Louise Goldstrom in 1945, and they went on to have two sons, Jonathan Ira and James Aaron, Jr. The Wax family moved to Memphis in 1946 when Rabbi Wax was called to be the Associate Rabbi of Temple Israel. He served as co-Rabbi with Dr. Harry Ettelson until 1954, when Dr. Wax was given the position of Senior Rabbi, which he held until his retirement in 1978. In addition to his work as a member of the clergy, Rabbi Wax took an active role in civic and community leadership and served with many organizations, including The Tennessee State Board of Mental Health, the Memphis Ministers' Association, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Democratic Party and the Urban League. He also served as a teacher at the Memphis Theological Seminary and helped found the Christian Institute at Temple Israel to improve Jewish-Christian relations. Rabbi Wax's deep dedication to justice led him to take a courageous stand on civil rights in the turbulent period following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Rabbi James A. Wax Collection was given to the Memphis and Shelby County Room by Dr. Wax in 1987. The extensive collection contains a wealth of information on Rabbi Wax's involvement in a wide variety of community organizations such as the Tennessee State Board of Mental Health and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Also included are a large number of sermons delivered by Dr. Wax from 1939 to 1977, as well as lectures, speeches, eulogies and miscellaneous religious writings. The papers also contain correspondence from 1954 to 1984, newspaper clippings, photographs, honorary degrees and awards. Finally, the material on Dr. Wax's career is rounded out with a ten-volume scrapbook collection, arranged chronologically, which contains newspaper clippings, programs, letters and awards.
Collection URL: http://memphislibrary.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p13039coll1/id/22
Date(s): 1930s to 1980s
Digital Status: No
Extent: 11.5 linear feet
Related Archival Items: See the Everett Cook collection at this repository for an oral history of Helen Wax, the wife of James Wax.
Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights
African Americans--Relations with Jews
Civil rights movements--Tennessee
Civil rights--Religious aspects--Judaism
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968--Death and burial
Memphis (Tenn.)--Politics and government
National Conference of Christians and Jews
National Urban League
Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, Tenn., 1968