Giants Among Us

My mentor, Carolyn Goodman, lived a life that few would trade for. She lost two husbands to illness and her middle son to the Ku Klux Klan.

I met Carolyn in 1989 when I was a student in New York. She quickly became my friend and teacher through a relationship that lasted almost twenty years until her death in 2007 at the age of 91. Carolyn was a masterful storyteller, recounting her early activist years, organizing supplies with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to send to the Spaniards fighting Franco in the late thirties. She told me about, and often introduced me, to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement (who often met in her living room), from Julian Bond to now-Congressman John Lewis to John Doar, a champion in the US Department of Justice during the tumultuous sixties. She and I traveled to Mississippi twice, to commemorate the murders of her son Andy and his two Freedom Summer colleagues, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, and the countless other women and men who literally sacrificed their lives to better our country. (link)
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Clearly Progress: A Common Kinship

Often, our politics are not so much a choice as a birthright. Although mine were born half a world and half a century away, perhaps there is some kinship with all of us who make progress what it is: the voyage, slow at times, towards equity.

My story started in the first half of the 20th century. My grandfather, a professor, was kidnapped several times during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and then for good by the North Koreans during the Korean War, never to be seen again. With the devastation that all wars bring upon them, my newly alone grandmother huddled her six children, on the brink of survival and in abject poverty, until somehow, they made it to the United States before the war claimed them.

Fast forward almost half a century.

When I was twenty and in college in New York City, I ran across a viewing of the wonderful Civil Rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize, and specifically, the episode on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Freedom Summer. Coincidentally, the very next day, The New York Times ran a story on the 25th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was to be a bus caravan of young people to Mississippi and back. The article stated that Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman – one of the Civil Rights workers killed that summer – lived in Manhattan. I looked her up in the phone book and told her I wanted to help with the anniversary project. She said, “sure, c’mon over.” Continue reading