Ernst Borinski

(1901–1983) Scholar and Activist

A lifelong advocate for human and civil rights, Ernst Borinski fled Nazi Germany for the United States, where he worked to promote social change.

Borinski was born on 26 November 1901 to a Jewish merchant and his wife in Kattowitz (Katowice), a little town near the border between Germany and Poland. Known to those closest to him as “Bobo,” Borinski was educated as a lawyer and became a magistrate for the town of Kelbra. In 1938, after Adolf Hitler had come to power and begun to institute his “New Order,” Borinski decided that Jews should leave while they could. Borinski gave all his money to “ze conductor of ze train and told him, I am going to take a sleeping pill now. You are to vake me vhen ve have crossed ze border.” He could not convince the members of his family to come along, and all of them except for one brother perished in the Holocaust.

After serving as an interpreter in the US Army’s North African Campaign during World War II and becoming a US citizen in Canastelles, Algeria, while in the field of battle, Borinski returned to the United States and earned a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Chicago (1946). In 1953 he completed his doctoral dissertation, “Sociology of Judge-Made Law in Civil Rights Cases,” at the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1947 Borinski accepted a position at the all-black Tougaloo College in Jackson and he taught there for the remainder of his life. He inspired generations of students, among them Jerry Ward, now professor emeritus at Dillard University, and Joyce A. Ladner, a sociologist and former interim president of Howard University. Borinski encouraged numerous events—meetings, lectures, and German language classes—that cut across racial lines, and his social science lab was an oasis of journals, newspapers, and other related publications that ultimately led to an African study group that included students from nearby Millsaps College despite the dangers faced by participants in integrated activities.

Borinski was also a music lover, and at the conclusion of his annual birthday fete at his home on 23 November 1977, he announced his desire to establish in Mississippi an “academy” of music lovers devoted to the cultivation and practice of early music. The following year, he announced the establishment of the Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music (MA’AM). With the help of Richard McGinnis, who purchased a building in Edwards, Borinski provided a permanent home for the academy. MA’AM held its first public concert on 22 February 1981. In 1978 Max Christopher Garriott honored Borinski’s birthday by commissioning a thirteen-movement, half-hour-long ode, “Welcome, All Ye Colleagues of Collegiate Climes.” Borinski attended every MA’AM concert until his death and insisted that the concerts must continue even when he was no longer around to attend.

Further Reading

  • Rosellen Brown, Life (April 1995)
  • Janne Patterson, in The Voice of the American Civil Liberties Union/Mississippi (Fall 1983)
  • Mississippi Academy of Ancient Music, Ernst Borinski Memorial Concert: Brief History and Synopsis of the Music for the Borinski Birthday Parties, Tougaloo College Archives

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Ernst Borinski
  • Coverage 1901–1983
  • Author
  • Keywords Ernst Borinski
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date February 27, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 13, 2018