May 8, 2019
Tags: Community, Community-Building, History, Inclusion, Interfaith,
NCCJ has been active in the Triad community since 1937. However, our roots go back another 10 years.
NCCJ was founded in the 1927 in response to a wave of religious intolerance sweeping the nation. To fight the anti-Catholic sentiment surrounding Al Smith’s presidential campaign, a diverse group of faith leaders and social activists formed “The National Conference of Christians and Jews for the Advancement of Justice, Amity and Peace.” This was later shortened to “The National Conference of Christians and Jews,” often known simply as “NCCJ.”
Our founders included activist and reformer Jane Addams and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. They worked to counteract religious prejudice by bringing people of different faiths together to bridge their divisions and build positive interfaith relationships.
One of NCCJ’s most famous early efforts was the Tolerance Trio. The Trio was a group of three faith leaders – a minister, a rabbi, and a priest. Beginning in 1933, they visited hundreds of audiences across the country, asking Americans to embrace interfaith understanding.
In 2018, Public Radio International interviewed a few historians about the Tolerance Trio and NCCJ’s impact on American culture during its first decades:
“[The Tolerance Trio] would travel the country, rent out halls and talk about the stereotypes of Jews being overly interested in money and Catholics wanting to overturn democracy,” says Kevin Schultz, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “They would make jokes, and it was entertainment. People would learn how false these stereotypes were. And they would preach tolerance.”
These traveling Tolerance Trios were a novelty for those Americans who had never seen a rabbi or a priest in person, let alone three clergymen on one stage joking around with each other.
“The idea was to model for the rest of America how people of different faiths could encounter each other respectfully … and show that these were three equal religions,” [says historian] Ronit Stahl.
It was so popular that it spawned more of these trios, which ultimately led to the creation of a National Brotherhood Day in the 1930s, timed to coincide with George Washington’s birthday to underscore the “Americanness” of the day.
This method of fostering dialogue proved successful and popular. Before long, local NCCJ chapters began forming across the nation. In 1937, a group of Greensboro leaders founded the “Greensboro Council of Protestants, Jews and Catholics” – the organization that would NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad.
We began organizing an annual event, the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Citation Award Dinner, to recognize and celebrate local leaders for their extraordinary actions to make our community a better place for everyone.
In 1987, we held the Triad’s first ANYTOWN youth leadership program. First developed in the 1950s, ANYTOWN gives young people a framework for tackling issues of diversity and inclusion through the sort of honest, respectful conversations that have always been central to NCCJ’s work.
We became “the National Conference for Community and Justice,” a name change that reflected our work on a broad range of human relations issues.
By the early 2000s, the national NCCJ office was facing financial trouble. By 2005, it had dissolved. Individual chapters either closed or became independent nonprofits, moving from a unitary structure of governance to autonomous 501(c)(3) organizations.
After the national organization closed, our local chapter of NCCJ became an independent organization – NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad.
NCCJ has evolved to the challenges and opportunities of each new era. While interfaith work remains an important part of our work, we’ve expanded our focus significantly to include issues of race, class, gender equity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and the rights of people with different abilities.
For more than 80 years, we have promoted understanding and respect among all people in the Piedmont Triad. As the region’s oldest human relations organization, we’ve formed close relationships with people and organizations from many different parts of our community. We have strong ties to this community’s past and we are deeply invested in its future.
NCCJ was born out of the belief that respectful dialogue between people from different backgrounds can bring about positive changes in our communities. Today, we remain committed to that core ideal.