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September 27, 1991 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-09-27

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Recalling And Rebuilding
The Black-Jewish Coalition



y deepest thanks to
Histadrut for the
great honor of this
award, which is truly
undeserved . . . I also want to
thank each of you for the
warmth of the friendship
which you have extended to
me from the first day of my
arrival here in Detroit in
1960, in high hopes of par-
ticipating with you and the
whole Michigan progressive
coalition of that era — the
Williams coalition — in the
building of a new and open
All of our hopes were high,
and our vistas were clear
then. I remember the old 13th
District League of Women
Voters meetings where I first
met many of you, and the
Democratic party, all the
union halls, such as the one
in which I attended my first
Histadrut dinner with Abe
Zwerdling and Bruce Miller,
the National Lawyers Guild,
and all the many movement
meetings and fund-raisers,
crises and triumphs of the
We — Jews, blacks and the
others of our coalition — were
unified in our goal and in our
definition of social justice,
then. Some of us died for it,
together. And in our plans for
living, governing ourselves,
and prospering in brother-
hood together.
But the world has turned
out to be far more complex
than most of us realized at
the outset, and it has also
turned out that the human
character, and the dynamics
of the group, have certain
universal characteristics,
even in the most altruistic of
Many terrible and hateful
things have happened since
then, and today we as groups
seem to be more polarized
than ever before in history. Of
course, my group has not
made any new friends along
the way either.
I suppose history tells us
that when even the most
idealistic of movements is
unable to crest before a new
generation of leadership
matures, the clarity of its in-
itial vision is shattered. On-
ly the most abrasive voices

can be heard, and its moral
force is lost.
The French revolution was
followed by the Reign of Ter-
ror, and then a return to dic-
tatorship. The communist ex-
periment led full circle to
Stalinism. The Third World
abounds with examples; and
even glasnost and
perestroika, if no better life is
soon produced, still may lead
back to dictatorship.
Our second generation
leadership now challenges
even the goals of the move-
ment you and I started out in,
together — integration and
assimilation, and the fun-
damental concept that
separation can never be
equality. And, once the urgen-
cy of absolute Jim Crow
(which is totally unknown to
this generation) had been
lifted, the games of power,
both economic and political,
became not only possible but
attractive to the cynical.
So we have the spectacle to-


Anna Diggs Taylor is a
federal district judge in
Detroit. These remarks were
delivered last week at the
Histadrut dinner, which
honored Judge Taylor.

Judge Taylor:
Wearing a yellow badge.

day of our most oppressed fall-
ing under the spell of the
dark arts perfected by Gover-
nor Faubus, Senator Bilbo
and Adolf Hitler. Power is far
better maintained by divi-
sion, fear and hate than
with reconciliation and in-
These games have, of
course, never ceased among
the far larger and more
powerful number in our socie-
ty who have never intended to
share the American Dream
among all her people. They
have succeeded now in mak-
ing the struggle for human
dignity a zero sum game,
which can be won by one
minority group only at the ex-
pense of another.

The crossfire between these
poles has become so intense
that the 'more thoughtful
have withdrawn from the
field because conciliators are
destroyed as traitors.
This is not our finest hour
as a community, but I know
the depth of our reservoir of
good will and know that we
will come together again. We,
blacks and Jews, share too
much in the tragedy of our
history, and our mutual year-
ning for social justice is too
great for us not to meet again
to build the city on the hill,
which we must for our grand-
children's peace.
I ask you, though, to con-
sider for a moment what I
think is a crucial difference
between us now that might
help you to understand the
bitterness of many of our
younger generation, who
have given up the striving of
my generation and descended
into a hell which is now call-
ed the underclass.
I still have the souvenir of
my first Holocaust dinner, a
key fob which is inscribed
Zachor, "Remember!' It ad-
monishes Jews to remember
the millions killed, the
futures and families
destroyed, and the wearing of
a yellow badge which told
society you were to be shunn-
ed, to be despised, distrusted
and ghettoized.
I look at my key fob often
and think that, thank God,
you must be told to remem-
ber. It is over, and with the
help of the Lord you have
triumphed as a people. You
must be reminded.
But I do not have that good
fortune yet. The blackness of
my face, an immutable
characteristic, has been
designated equivalent to a
yellow badge in my country.
However great my or my
children's accomplishments
may be the badge decides our
status. It cannot be removed,
so our only hope for full inclu-
sion is to erase its deeply
seated meaning in America.

The blackness of
my face, an
characteristic,- has
been designated
equivalent to a
yellow badge in my

I may win a Nobel Prize, in-
vent blood plasma, or have
the voice of the century, but
when I walk into a new group
I am not an individual. My
yellow badge is all that's
seen, and the eyes I meet
reflect back to me only
dismay, suspicion and a secret
scorn. I would be shunned, if
possible, and I am ghettoized.
This . is the life of every
black in America, however
high we may rise. Vernon Jor-
dan, Andrew Young, and all

thouse door in my face as they
push by me.
We need never be reminded
of our badges; and our lives
have been rich and fulfilling
nevertheless. To us, such af-
fronts are small, and some-
times amusing.
But think of the pain and
bitterness of the many others
among us who can't even get
started, regardless of merit,
and who can plainly see that
it is their badge which freezes
the faces they encounter —

Artwork from Newsday by Ned Levine. Copyright! 1990. Newsday. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

their peers in accomplish-
ment can tell you of being
ordered to fetch a drink or
park a car, when in their
evening clothes. Women reach
for their purses at all the sur-
rounding tables when my
husband and I are seated in
a restaurant; and strange
lawyers en route to my court-
room will still slam the cour-

the badge of the color of their
skin. They stop trying, and
they hate. They become too
bitter to even understand
their hate.
dangerous for all of society,
your grandchildren as well as
mine, and it is reaching the
outer limits of sanity today.
Please try to remember that
pain, with each of us you
meet still wearing the badge.
Remember to look past it. See
the person.
Charles Reznikoff has writ-
ten a beautiful description of
the Jewish people as produc-
ing ". . out of the slaves of
Babylon and Rome . . . out of
the greatly wronged, a people
teaching and doing justice;
out of the plundered, a
generous people; out of the
wounded a people of physi-
cians; and out of those who
met only with hate, a people
of love, a compassionate peo-
That is true of the Jewish
people, and with your under-
standing and that of others of
good will it can be true of my
people as well. That is my
I thank you again for your
friendship, and for this award.



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