A Personal History of Blacks and Jews Part 1- by Marceline Donaldson

Racism, when it has become “structured” into a society and into its institutions, is a very complex thing. We like to think it is an “unfortunate incident” which happened because the person to whom it happened was complicit in some way. It is not. Every action you take is governed by the bigotry structured into the society in which you live which has successfully structured that bigotry into every core and every cell of its existence. The experience of bigotry is not a one time experience. It is all day everyday for those who are the “minority.” It is also an all day everyday experience for those who are “white.” Their lives move ahead beyond their talents and contributions to this society because of the fact that they are in the “better than” group.

Step out of your house and it starts. Stay in your house where bigotry wafts in with the very air you breathe – it is constantly ongoing and just as constantly denied. Bigotry happens – denial follows and is given credibility.

The United States has much to deal with to become the society it claims to be and the main thing is its bigotry which was installed at its beginnings with the way American Indians were treated and with slavery.

The Rittenhouse case deals mainly with the structural/institutional racism of the Court system. It has been a showcase for all to see how this structural racism works – how and why it was set up – what is to be gained by the “better than” group through the existence of institutional racism.

My background and growing up years is totally intertwined with what happened in the Courts and with what happened on the streets which came before today’s Court system. This “street happening” brings to the forefront the relationship between Blacks and Jews – which is fraught with much bigotry itself and so much more.

What didn’t come out to the general public, until after the verdict is that the men killed were Jews. They were characterized and described as “white.” That is far from the truth. Maybe it is my age, but I remember when Jews were as ostracized as blacks and when the “n” word was applied and Jews were called that and worse – all names most blacks would know and recognize. It is thought today that those words applied only to Blacks. Blacks were and are called “nigg…”. They are not the only group so called by the Northern European-ancestry group. It is spread around to the rest of the world encouraging it to pick up and use those names. East Indians are another group to whom the “n” word was applied, especially when England colonized their country.

Let me give you an example of Black-Jewish relationships and what happens in these United States – from my own background:

Way back when I was a young child my grandfather used to bring me regularly to #1 Audubon Place in New Orleans when he picked me up (grandparents visiting rights) and he had business with Sam Zemurray or just went to visit. I loved the house. I especially loved the dining room with its Spanish feel and walking through the wrought iron decorative gates into the dining room.

My grandfather would announce his appearance by calling out to the cooks to put water in the soup because O.C.W. had arrived. Everyone thought that was funny. I also spent many a summer’s day at the Zemurray home outside of New Orleans. A kind of life I loved and embraced quickly. When we arrived, my grandfather was there to visit with Sam Zemurray and someone working on the estate was called to take care of me. Mostly that meant taking me out in a canoe on a pond from which we could see people walking around in the distance which I was told was to admire the azalea garden open to the public. I never did see that azalea garden, but I saw pieces of it because whenever a shipment of azaleas arrived at the Zemurray estate my grandfather was called and we went out to pick up the latest truly beautiful plant for his garden. Before he died my grandfather had an exquisite azalea garden in his front and back yards all from those shipments.

Other times, we went to one or the other Zemurray estate because my grandfather, with his Columbia University education, tutored two of the Zemurray children. My grandmother was a regular visitor with her skills put to use and my mother was named Doris Taylor after Doris Zemurray – Sam Zemurrays’ daughter.

It is a long involved story which needs to be told in full because it shows the beginnings of a corporation which today is dumped on because of how it developed. The story of its Black/Jewish start is nowhere to be found. That has been “whitewashed.” Could that be the history those in control wanted to hide and wound up instead with a company considered “inhumane” by others?

My great-grandfather was an Episcopal priest. He was the Rev. Dr. David Franklin Taylor. There was a strong connection between one Jewish family and one Black family way back when. My great-grandfather was a close friend of “old man”Zemurray”, the founder of United Fruit. A company which today has a horrendous reputation including in the fields of racism and more. Back then it was clear and uncontroverted that the company was founded by a Jew, but grew because of this alliance between this one Black family and this one Jewish family.

“old man” Zemurray, as he was called then, founded United Fruit by going to the docks in New Orleans with an ice cream-type push cart. The kind that would appear in most neighborhoods with the man pushing the ice cream cart jingling his bells and calling out for the children to hear and they came running with their nickels and dimes to buy ice cream.

In New Orleans there was more than one kind of such push cart. Hot tamales were sold on the street in the same way. As I recall, a dozen hot tamales from such a cart cost 45 cents.

In New Orleans, “old man Zemurray” had such a cart full of ripe bananas he picked up from the docks and some given to him by those on the ships that came into the docks. They could not be sold to the stores, for which the other bananas were sent because they were ripe and they would be black by the time they reached the stores for which they were intended. Zemurray’s business grew rapidly. He had a business selling a product for which he paid nothing. So very quickly, he went from the push cart selling bananas on the street, which is how he started United Fruit, to a business hiring employees mostly from Honduras.

Mr. Zemurray’s problems grew with his business, as happens to most who start new businesses. His were mostly personnel related. The people who came to the United States to work at United Fruit came from Honduras and had a very different culture, a different way of living and that began to cause major problems. My great-grandfather was the priest/rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (a part of the Anglican communion). Most, if not all of those from Honduras were members of that Anglican communion and so Rev. Dr. Taylor and Mr. Zemurray formed an alliance beyond friendship into business. Rev. Taylor would work with the people United Fruit employed to help them acclimate to this American culture and Mr. Zemurray was then free to dramatically grow his business.

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