Barbara Drucker Smith Reminisces

PREJUDICE

In the 1930’s there was a sign at the Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach that read, “No dogs or Jews allowed.” In 1942, I was in the second grade at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Newport News, Virginia. One day in early December, I started singing a Christmas Carol in class along with my classmates. My teacher stopped the singing and reminded me in a loud voice how inappropriate for me to be singing Christmas Carols. I stopped singing, flushed with embarrassment to be spotted singing and to be singled out for it in front of my peers. I knew why she did this as she was Jewish and so was I.

A six-year-old classmate asked me to go with her to a service. I did and it was in a tent crammed with people. Taking center stage was a loud-voiced man giving a continuous damnation and hellfire sermon. When people were asked to come forward, my friend tried her best to drag me to the front to accept Jesus as my savior so that I would be saved. But I repeatedly refused which left her confused and me mortified at even being in the situation.

Another six-year-old friend invited me to go swimming at the James River Country Club.  I ran to get ready. Mother stopped me and said that the club is restricted. Jews are not welcome as members. I wanted to go anyway, but I did not go. Later in my teens, this same girl needed a ride to her tennis date at the same club. I drove her there wearing a
slack outfit. She was in a short white tennis outfit. As I let her out I felt left out knowing that I was not allowed or welcome to play on those courts.

One December, I got out of my first grade class and started walking home. An older boy started throwing stones at me and screaming “Jew, where are your horns”. I ran as fast as my feet would go and blocks later I no longer heard his voice so I looked around, saw no one, and slowed down to a trot. When I got to the curb near my home, I sat down. A car screeched to a halt just missing a dog by a hair. I put my hands in my lap and started crying partially for the dog being saved but mostly for my hurt feelings at the insults, stone throwing, chase, and overt prejudice of the older boy. I later learned that Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses in Italy does have horns. Michelangelo mistook the Hebrew word that means both sacred light and horns. The Hebrew text reads Moses’s head is surrounded by sacred light.

As a teen, I developed a camaraderie with a non-Jewish boy interested in folk music. He would play his guitar for hours on my front porch and I would sing the folk songs. He asked me out to go on a movie date. My parents refused to let me interdate. I was heartbroken. He felt hurt and could not understand why I wouldn’t go with him. This shows that prejudice is a two-way street. We ended up going to an every-Saturday-night ritual of musicians and artists that gathered at the home of a musical couple so that we could be part of a group that enjoyed music. We both took piano lessons from the same teacher. Eventually, our friendship petered out and we went our separate ways.

When I went to College, there was a quota system at many of the prestigious colleges … At my College only 10 per cent of the freshman class could be Jews.

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8 Comments

Filed under nonfiction

8 responses to “Barbara Drucker Smith Reminisces

  1. Daniel

    What is the point of this post? It seems like this is the start to a story that is going somewhere, but it ends very abruptly. If the point is to show that prejudice exists (and always has), welcome to life. I don’t think anyone would argue that we have overcome racism and bigotry.

    The post would be much more valuable if it was followed by some content or at least an explanation of where the text fits with the author’s published works.

    — Daniel

  2. I think this post is a well written description of the emotions felt as Barbara was growing up as a Jewish girl. She points out the hurts that were felt not only as being the one whose religion was in the minority but also how the prejudice was also shown toward a friend of hers for not being of the same religion. Prejudice can be a two-way street. I personally grew up in a small community where it was almost unheard of to meet someone outside of the Christian church but now consider myself fortunate to have friends with many backgrounds.

  3. Joan

    Like Daniel I wondered what the purpose of the post was. Only at the end did I understand what the author’s point was. The problem is I almost quit reading half way through.

    I’d love to see the post expanded and researched further. Hey, there may be a book here Barbara! Is prejudice usually a one-way street or has it always been a two-way street?

  4. Rocio

    The first sentence caught my eye because it reminded me of stories I would hear from my mom from when she was younger. It struck me as strange that people could post a sign similar to Barbara’s–this one reading “No dogs or Mexicans allowed”–in a town about two hours from the Mexican border. Popular saying for the prejudiced, even thirty or so years later and a couple thousand miles away from the Cavalier Hotel.

  5. Shannon-Gray

    I understand the meaning and I would also love for the entry to expanded on. I’m sure Barbara has many stories and what a story to tell. Thanks for sharing Barbara.
    Shannon-Gray

  6. quite interesting article. keep up the good work.

  7. Perhaps you can tell me where the source of your post is from? I am inquisitive about learning a lot of about it.

    • I found the passage on my desk one day, exactly as posted. I believe Barbara Smith can be reached through her publisher, Louraine Publishing: 120 Selden Road, Newport News, VA 23606

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