My Jewish mother and her beautiful black blood
I was delivered with great difficulty as Mum was thirty–nine. Nine days later she suffered an horrific haemorrhage at home. By the time she arrived at Emergency she was, for all intents and purposes, clinically dead. Her blood pressure was nearing zero over zero. Nowadays one would imagine her organs, with my father's consent, would have been removed for transplants.
What had happened? Evidently the thoroughly inebriated retiree had forgotten to remove the placenta.
An alert was put out on Philadelphia radio stations that a 'young mother of a newborn' needed rare ORh Negative blood transfusions or she would die, and would anyone with this blood type please report to the hospital without delay?
Immediately a number of African Americans came to the hospital and their blood saved my mother's life. Her recovery from the ordeal was long and arduous but I am forever grateful to those donors that I was able to know her; until the day she died in 1989 she referred to September 28th 1953 as her 'second birthday.' Although she was fair and blue eyed she had always had thick 'African' hair and liked to point out that she now had "100% African American blood."
In the 1930s my mother had been a tireless worker for the Department of Public Assistance in Philadelphia, toiling alongside the African American man she wanted to marry, Harry Jackson. They were case workers who visited families drowning in hideous poverty. She admonished the local butchers who sold the welfare recipients maggoty meat, who in turn told her "It don't matter – they won't know the difference, they're animals." She and Harry never married but she never forgot him.
After post–war demobilisation my mother worked for the United Service for New Americans placing Holocaust survivors in jobs. She also gave one day a week to USES, the United States Employment Service, where a handsome job–seeking Jewish civil engineer eventually became her husband; she used to tell us " spotted this guy and knew he would be the father of my children." Dramatic but true. My father had marched on Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the 1930s to protest the exclusion of a black man from a civil engineering organisation and throughout their lives my parents were passionate supporters of the rights of African Americans to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'
Likewise the magnificent Margaret Melton and Josephine Rowe, my mother's companions who had such a profound influence on my sister's childhood and mine, were black women who helped shape our view of the world in our lifetime pursuit of 'menschlichkeit' – decency.
Jump forward to 2013: For the past five years or so I have been at the receiving end of hundreds of emails from many sources denigrating Barack Obama as a 'Manchurian Candidate,' a 'Fifth Columnist', a 'Muslim!' and a 'Nazi who wishes to destroy Israel.' I like to tell these people that I first heard Obama speak in 2004 in my native Philadelphia and was moved to tears when he recounted the sight of a group of grey–haired white men giving out 'Obama for Illinois Senate' leaflets in Chicago. He told us that an aide whispered in his ear 'Those guys were Klansmen once upon a time.' When Obama was elected president in 2008 I was broadcasting live on Pan African television and when I emerged from the studio into the control room every work station was inhabited by a weeping young African. All I could think of was how thrilled my late parents would have been to witness a man of color being elected President of the United States. How my mother, who I like to think was one of the soldiers who influenced Harry Truman to desegregate the military, would have exploded with joy at the sight of the Obama family dancing the night away at the Inaugural Ball. I thought of Josephine, who used to talk about 'a Negro who will one day be 'The One' but when the president–elect gave his acceptance speech my email correspondents were already saying the array of eagle–topped flags and Michelle's black and red color scheme were indicative of a 'Nuremberg' rally.
As the New Year arrives I beseech my Obama–hating emailers, some of whom are of my faith, to understand what it meant to me to be raised by principled liberals who wanted equality for all – a central Jewish tenet – and what it means to me to be a white citizen of a nation with a non–white head of state. May Barack Obama live out his term and may my parents, who imbued my sister and me with pride in our heritage and respect for that of all races, be inscribed in the Book of Life.
And may the African American men and women who gave blood to save my mother's life enjoy eternal grace.
Originally published in The Jewish Forward.
Carol Gould has written for The Guardian, The Jewish Chronicle and The Daily Telegraph; she is the author of Spitfire Girls and Don't Tread on Me – anti–Americanism Abroad and has appeared on BBC Any Questions? and many other UK broadcasts. Twitter: @Karashgould