David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Prejudice


• Near Christmas, at her school in Youngstown, Ohio, eight-year-old Mary Carter Smith waited eagerly to give her teacher a gift. When the time arrived, each of the children lined up and presented the teacher with a gift. The teacher smiled at the children and accepted their gifts, with one exception. When Mary gave her teacher her gift — a white handkerchief with pink edging — the teacher did not smile, but lifted the handkerchief up by the corner, dropped it into a wastebasket, then looked over Mary’s shoulder and smiled at the next child in line. At home, Mary cried, told her grandmother what had happened, and asked, “Why did she do that to me?” Her grandmother explained, “Child, you are colored, and that makes a big difference to some people.” Fortunately, good teachers also worked in Youngstown. A substitute teacher named Mrs. Showalter told the class about George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. As an adult, Ms. Smith recalled, “That was the first time I had heard of anyone my color doing anything worthwhile.” Another teacher, Miss Gilbert, told her that she would grow up to be Somebody. Ms. Smith did become Somebody — she became a famous griot (storyteller).

• African-American woman writer Ida B. Wells wrote passionately about how blacks were treated in racist America. While teaching in the public schools, she wrote weekly articles for The Living Way, but when white politicians learned that she was writing the articles, they made sure that she was fired from her teaching job. Because of this, she bought a newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech, and continued to write against injustices, such as when three black businessmen were lynched when they opened a grocery store in competition with a white businessman. A mob destroyed the offices of the Memphis Free Speech, and she moved on to New York, where she again bought a partial interest in a newspaper and wrote against racism.

• In 1961, Haki R. Madhubuti joined the United States Army. At boot camp, there were 197 white men — and only three African-American men. Stepping off the bus, Mr. Madhubuti carried a copy of Here I Stand, by the African-American singer, actor, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. The drill sergeant seized the book, said something racist, tore the pages out of the book, and gave a page to each new recruit — with orders to use it as toilet paper. Today, Mr. Madhubuti is a famous African-American poet.

• Before World War II, Liz Carpenter, author of Getting Better All the Time and Ruffles and Flourishes, ran for vice president of the student body of the University of Texas — and was the first woman to be so elected. Her campaign posters said, “If you would vote against me for vice-president of the student body solely because I am a woman, you are a son of a ….”

• In 1951, environmentalist Rachel Carson published her best-selling book The Sea Around Us. She received a number of fan letters, including some from sexists. One man wrote his letter to Miss Rachel Carson, which was correct, but then he began his letter with “Dear Sir,” explaining that he had always felt that men were intellectually superior to women.

• Investigative reporter I.F. Stone was not welcome at the National Press Club after 1941 because he had brought a black judge as his guest for lunch. He tried to apply for readmission in 1956, but he could not find enough journalists to sponsor his application. Finally, he was readmitted in 1981, 40 years after having a black judge as his guest for lunch.

• American author Laura Z. Hobson (nee Zametkin) was proud of her Jewish heritage. At a dinner party, someone said, “Some of my best friends are Jews.” Ms. Hobson spoke up: “Some of mine are, too — including my father and mother.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


The Funniest People in Books — Buy:



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