Click to Donate

It was an epochal event in America, a marquee trial that riveted the nation – and was then swiftly forgotten. In 1927, the case of Sapiro v. Ford brought deep-seated American strains of xenophobia, racial prejudice, and religious intolerance into the headlines. In the end, it became an historic milestone for American Jews, the moment when hate speech went up on trial.

March 1927: David sues Goliath in Detroit.  David is a Jewish lawyer named Aaron Sapiro. He came from nothing: a son of impoverished immigrants, Aaron was nine when his father, a peddler, was killed by a streetcar. Aaron was one of seven children; his mother was forced to place him in an orphanage.

Now a lawyer, Sapiro is taking on the wealthiest man in America. Henry Ford. Aaron Sapiro had enraged the auto tycoon from a thousand miles away. In an era when Big Busi­nesses like Ford boomed, Sapiro fought for the little man. Hiram Johnson, a progressive governor of California, hired the young lawyer to help struggling farmers band together in cooperatives – essentially, unions of small-scale farmers. It worked. Then Sapiro came to the rescue of cotton growers in Mississippi, tobacco growers in Kentucky, potato growers in Utah, and finally wheat growers in Saskatchewan (where he’s still regarded as a hero). The New York Times called him "the leader of one of the greatest agricultural movements of modern times."

Sapiro’s success provoked a reactionary reaction. Henry Ford ran a malicious smear campaign in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent. One piece was nakedly titled Jewish Exploitation of the American Farmer's Organizations, and it singled out Aaron Sapiro, saying he wanted “to turn American agriculture over to the international Jews, to spread Communism and Bolshevism among our people.”

There were no laws forbidding hate speech in America in 1927.  But Sapiro sued the Colossus of Detroit all the same – for libel.  He wanted vindication for himself, and for all Jews.

Ford was the most famous anti-Semite in the country; he’d distributed millions of pamphlets with the incendiary title The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem. A life-size portrait of Ford hung right beside the desk… of Adolf Hitler. "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration," the Nazi said. But Ford had plenty of fearsome company in the mid-1920s.  America was teeming with racism and religious bigotry.  Congress had just cracked down on immigration from non-white countries.  The Ku Klux Klan boasted well over 2 million members, and in 1925 some 50,000 of them paraded in full terrorist regalia down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.  Hatred was virulent in America.

But Aaron Sapiro had the courage to fight it. Sapiro v. Ford was the first time a Jew opposed anti-Semitic slander in an American courtroom. Sapiro’s legal challenge against hate speech was literally unprecedented, and he was doing it against an American giant with unlimited resources.

Astonishingly, it worked. Sapiro on the witness stand was unflinching and brilliant.  In the end, Henry Ford himself backed down. He issued a retraction, and even agreed to shut down The Dearborn Independent forever.  It was a monumental triumph in American Jewish history. Sapiro had forced the most powerful and vocal practitioner of hate speech to condemn its use. No laws resulted… yet.  But out of this case came the idea that hate speech inflicted harm on minorities, and those who uttered words of bigotry and racism could be held accountable. 

Aaron Sapiro died alone, largely forgotten. But his work was the first step ever taken to combat hate speech in the courts.  Many have stood on Sapiro’s invisible shoulders. The Jew Who Sued Henry Ford will rediscover a lost Jewish hero, a man of the people who had the courage to make a difference. 

Today, with hatred for and violence against Jews once again rising to a lethal boil in America, we need to remember and celebrate Aaron Sapiro.  As António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has said, “Hatred is a danger to everyone – and so fighting it must be a job for everyone.” Perhaps, then, we are all heirs to the monumental task that Aaron Sapiro took on in Detroit.  He will not be replaced.

Donate now to help us tell this urgent story.

Donate via Credit Card or eCheck



Personal Info

Billing Address


Secure transaction provided by Stripe
Summary of your donation
Donation period Total
Sapiro: The Jew Who Sued Henry Ford FAQ
Is my donation tax deductible?
Depends on a few factors like if you received a reward in exchange for the donation and the value of your donation above that rewards cost, etc. You may contact the nonprofit you donated to directly to receive information on whether or not your donation is tax deductible. Nonetheless, the emailed receipts you will receive for your donation is the documentation you need to make it tax deductible.

Is my donation and credit card info secure?
Yes, the security and confidentiality of your information is our highest priority. We will not sell, trade or share your personal information with anyone else, nor send donor mailings on behalf of other organizations, and we will only share personal information if you have given us specific permission to do so.

How do I know that my donation was made successfully?
You will receive an emailed receipt immediately after your donation is submitted and your credit card is processed. Your donation will also show up on your bank or card statement within 1-3 business days.

Do I get a receipt?
Yes, a receipt is sent to your email inbox once your donation is processed. Please be sure to keep a copy of your receipt for tax purposes. If you select a recurring donation, you will be sent an individual receipt each period when your donation is processed.

Is my donation private?
We will not share or sell a donor's personal information with anyone else, nor send donor mailings on behalf of other organizations.