Match Point: Fighting Racial Discrimination in Druid Hill Park Pt. 3

Posted on November 15th, 2017 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Barry Kessler with Anita Kassof. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part III: An Interview with Mitzi Freishtat Swan Continued

Missed Parts 1-2? Start Here.

BK: Tell us about the follow-up, after the event. What was the trial like?

MFS:  The trial took place in October 1948 in Baltimore City Criminal Court. The judge was Herman Moser. The prosecutor was Alan H. Murell. And the defense attorneys were I. Duke Avnet, Harold Buchman, William Murphy, and Edgar Boyko. The charges against us were conspiracy to create an unlawful assembly in a public park, and violating park rules by refusing to obey orders of Park police. We were also charged with entering into a conspiracy for the express purpose of disturbing the peace. Those were the charges.

And the Park police were called to testify then and they said the same thing they said in Magistrate’s Court, where they mentioned the singing of songs, that and they didn’t like being called names like Gestapo or something like that. And Alan Murrell, in arguing the case, said, “Are we going to substitute in this city, this state, and this land, under our form of government, revolution for evolution?” And Avnet’s defense was, “No matter how much the state tries to hide it, the real issue is what are the rights of our people, and whether discrimination such as this is legal under the constitution of the Federal government and the State of Maryland. What is on trial here is persecution. What is involved are the rights of colored people.” He pointed to the history of persecution along the lines of religion and labor, and declared that in each instance, when these matters came before the courts, the real issues were camouflaged. Judge Moser said at one point, “Assuming this rule is so, I don’t see much sense in a rule banning interracial sports in one section of the park and then selling tickets in another section interracial games such as baseball and the like.” Which is really a very good statement.

So the charges were dropped against 17 defendants for violating park rules. Seven were convicted of conspiring to unlawfully assemble and disturbing the peace. The sentence was withheld pending new trials. They appealed it and they were found guilty of conspiracy. And they had a suspended jail term. The seven charges that were sustained were the people charged with disturbing the peace. They had to drop charges against the players. There was a lot of pressure going on, because there was no law against what they were doing.

AK: Did any of the protesters lose jobs or suffer other serious consequences as a result of their activities?

MFS: I know that most of the black men who worked at the post office were fired. Some of the white protesters suffered some consequences but they didn’t actually lose their jobs. See, a lot of us were students. Some of them went to Maryland, some of them went to Morgan. Some people were postal workers, we had some who had been seamen, and we had some who worked in steel mills. We were a whole big conglomeration of different kinds of people who, in ordinary life, you wouldn’t have met them.

AK: That fall, you started college. Tell us about that.

MFS: I went away to college, to the University of Maryland, and my life got involved in all that. I have to tell you, there were repercussions in college from people who met me, because the press was very negative. The press red-baited us like crazy. Every time the articles came out, everybody’s name was listed. And I would think, oh no, here we’re going to go again with another whole big bunch of stuff in school. It was not welcomed, it was not welcomed.

In my own family, my mother’s sister was appalled, saying, “How could you let your daughter do something like this?” You know, horrible. And, in turn, her son, who was my cousin, had some friends who went to Maryland. And they used to come back with stories that people weren’t talking to me, really digging it in. Actually, some people supported you, but most people didn’t. They did not want to see integration take place. They wanted the status quo. But most people just ignored it.

AK: Were you involved in politics at all at Maryland? Were you still a member of the Young Progressives?

MFS: Yes, we tried to keep a group going but the school made it very difficult to reserve a room. They really didn’t want us to be there. As to the group that had organized the protest, I was away at school, people had different jobs, and then the elections ended and it just fell apart. You’d see some of the people sometimes but it wasn’t a cohesive group.

BK: I wonder if you could go back and tell us a little bit about growing up near Druid Hill Park in terms of the sports and the recreation activities that you and your friends were doing in the park. What role did the park play in your life?

MSF: The park was a big thing. We used to play tennis there. We also used some of the pavilions for picnics. We used to go out there with a group. Not as the Young Progressives, but just in general to take picnics. They also had baseball games there. I was already too old to go on the playground but I used to pass the playground (I moved near the park when I was about thirteen years old). Where I was living tennis was a big thing. There were a lot of players who were very good. Tennis was a big thing in the neighborhood because the courts were there. These were clay courts but we were also close to the other courts, the concrete courts. I don’t think they use them anymore. I used to walk it all the time because also right where those courts were there was the swimming pool, which was a white swimming pool. So we used to go over there all the time because we used the pool all the time.

"Goofing around" in Druid Hill Park, c. 1945. JMM 2009.7.1 Pictured includes Hy Zlotowitz (Hy Zolet) on left, back center is Royal Pollokoff.

“Goofing around” in Druid Hill Park, c. 1945. JMM 2009.7.1
Pictured includes Hy Zlotowitz (Hy Zolet) on left, back center is Royal Pollokoff.

BK: What about the larger, say, Jewish community around the park? Was there a sense that the protest was the right thing to do or did they respond negatively?

MFS:  Let me give you an interesting story. My grandfather was a cantor in the synagogue. He was very Orthodox and he lived in the neighborhood. And he never, ever said a word against it. Ever. He, I mean he loved me just as much as before.

BK: Did you get the sense that because many people in the Jewish community were progressive that they supported what you were doing”

MFS: I wouldn’t say that. Most of the people were apolitical. They were not the least bit concerned because they were conscerned with their own families and things like that. They were not interested in African Americans in particular. Even people who were liberal didn’t do anything to show their support, in particular. People are afraid to do that.

AK:  Did being Jewish have anything to do with your motivations for joining the protest?

MFS: Oh, absolutely. My mother and father were immigrants to this country and my mother as a child lived in Russia. She came from one of these small towns. And being Jewish there, you were victims of the pogroms, as she was. But she was also a very smart kid, and she could pass the test that allowed her to go into the Russian schools. So she went to the Russian school, but she got hit with stones every day when she walked to school, and taunted. And this was when she was very young, six, seven years old, because she came over to this country when she was 13 or 14. And so my mother always told me those stories about what prejudice does, and I grew up with those stories. So it was just a step forward, that if the Jews are persecuted like that, you know black people were being persecuted the way we were. And so that just fell into my way of thinking.

BK: In your neighborhood and in your daily life did you have any interaction with black people? You were obviously someone who believed strongly in civil rights, but did you actually interact with black people on a day-to-day basis?

MFS: There wasn’t much interaction. You have to understand, the neighborhood was all white, and the only interaction I would have would be at Young Progressive meetings. Other than that, there was no interaction. The schools were segregated, everything was segregated, so there was just no way that there would be any interaction at all. There was no real avenue for meeting African Americans. The movies were segregated, everything was segregated. I mean, there was no crossing anything. So there was no way that you would even know anyone that was African American in your regular life because your regular life just didn’t cross with theirs.

BK: What effect did the protest and the court case have on policies? Did it suddenly become possible for black and white people to play on the courts together?

MFS: It did, but not suddenly. Segregation gradually stopped, because I know that my brother played in the first interracial tennis match in that park, on the same courts, with the Baltimore Tennis Club.

BK: After the protest, did the Young Progressives feel as if they had won a battle against segregation?

MFS: It’s an interesting question. You know, in hindsight, I didn’t realize at the time what we were doing, that is was really such a historical event. We just did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. We hoped that that would be the beginning of a change, but we didn’t know at the time.

Marjorie Greenebaum, Carol Kastner Traub, and Lillian Donahue at the tennis courts in Druid Hill Park, 1950. JMM 2010.24.1

Marjorie Greenebaum, Carol Kastner Traub, and Lillian Donahue at the tennis courts in Druid Hill Park, 1950. JMM 2010.24.1

AK: Now it’s a badge of honor, what you did during the Civil Rights era. When do you think the attitudes began to shift, from your being ostracized or criticized for what you did, to being honored for what you did?

MFS: The biggest honor was in 1989, when Barry did the exhibition about Baltimore’s parks and the Baltimore City Life Museums organized a reunion. But earlier, in 1982 or 1983, the Baltimore Tennis Club invited us to come out to their games and we were introduced to their players and the other people that were there. It was the last day of their match. And the young people there had never known that the tennis courts were ever segregated! They had no idea. And that surprised me. I would have thought that parents would have told them.

I tell you, the only thing I really regret is that my husband didn’t live to see when we were heroes instead of people calling us name and everything. We were vilified, and then all of a sudden we were heroes. My grandson thinks what I did was the coolest thing! The youth of today is much different than when I was young. They are more activists, they’re more aware of what’s going on. When I was growing up, most of them couldn’t care less what was happening, so it’s heartening to me – even though some of them I don’t agree with – but that they’re doing something, standing up for what they believe in. I find that very heartening.

Continue to Sidebar 1: H.L. Mencken’s Last Column

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Once Upon a Time…02.17.2017

Posted on November 14th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at jchurch@jewishmuseummd.org

JMM 1994.051.009

JMM 1994.051.009

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: February 17, 2017

PastPerfect Accession #: 1994.051.009

Status: Partially Identified! The adult in this 1980 Walk for Israel photo is Harry Bernstein. Do you recognize the young boy he is standing with?

Thanks To: Nadine Weinstein, Beth Shavitz, Nat Luckman

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Museum Musings From Poland

Posted on November 13th, 2017 by

A blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

I was privileged to spend ten days in Poland on a trip sponsored by the Council of American Jewish Museums with five colleagues from Jewish museums from across the country. During our trip we visited many museums where we explored the different ways that Poles interpret their complex (and often tragic) history. We also had ample opportunity to meet with staff at these museums and to discuss their interpretive strategies as well as to engage in conversation about the difficult task they face in commemorating the history of Polish Jews in a broader context than just the Holocaust.

Here are some highlights from our museum visits:

Museum of the City of Warsaw:

Our first day included a tour of the Old City of Warsaw where we learned about how the city was nearly completely demolished by the Nazis in 1944 following the Warsaw Uprising. The Museum of the City of Warsaw occupies several reconstructed town homes in the Old City. Rather than detailing the city’s history through text panels and recreated spaces, the museum makes innovative use of models, timelines and charts to identify keep events and periods in the city’s history.

Models of the city of Warsaw

A beautifully designed exhibit showcases artifacts, but rather than grouping items in chronological order, they are displayed according to type so that one room houses postcards while another, silver and so on.

My favorite gallery was devoted to mermaids which is the symbol of Warsaw.

Our group of museum professionals was impressed with the clean design of the displays and the interpretive strategy in which one selected object in each case is highlighted. The minimal amount of text allowed for a greater appreciation of the objects.

POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews:

Being able to visit this recently opened museum was one of the impetuses for the trip. Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, the museum’s chief curator and advisor to the director, is an advisor to CAJM and was instrumental in helping to develop our trip itinerary. In preparation for our visit, we read several articles about the museum’s guiding principles and participated in a conference call with Dr. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The museum is immense and includes a resource center, educational program space, temporary exhibition gallery and café. We were most appreciative of the opportunity to meet with several of the museum’s staff, including its executive director and education director and were guided through the core exhibit by its co-curator, Joanna Fikus, who shared fascinating insight into how the exhibit came together.

The Museum is located within the boundaries of where the Warsaw Ghetto once stood and its entrance is adjacent to a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that was erected in 1948.

The museum’s mission is to educate visitors about the entire 1,000 year span of Jewish history in Poland and to highlight the extent to which Jewish history and Polish history are intertwined. The galleries are filled with multi-media displays and interactive stations that provide layers of interpretation and engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Despite the three hours we had allotted to tour the exhibit, we still did not have enough time to see everything.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is stepping into a recreated wooden synagogue that was built with the assistance of an American workshop – a video explaining the construction process can be found HERE.

Praga Museum

A very different kind of museum experience awaited at the Praga Museum within an old Jewish quarter in Warsaw that survived the destruction of World War II. Unlike the other museums where we received guided tours, at the Praga we were left to wander on our own as we encountered dimly rooms filled with a variety of quirky displays interpreting the history of the neighborhood, juxtaposed with contemporary art installations exploring issues such as multiculturalism and geographical boundaries.

I felt right at home seeing a case filled with sewing machine and tailor implements, just like in Voices of Lombard Street.

The museum is housed in a former townhouse that once contained a private shul. The museum has uncovered fresco fragments from the shul that visitors can view.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Book of Names

Our day spent at Auschwitz-Birkenau was difficult and exhausting as we waited in lines and navigated crowds to enter different barracks that house museum displays (daily attendance at the camp can reach as high as 11,000 visitors). We had difficulty finding the personal stories that are so essential to understanding the Holocaust because the interpretation is from the perspective of the perpetrators and not the victims. A recently opened exhibition in Block 27 by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and memorial, seeks to address this issue by displaying photographs and films of pre-war Jewish communities and an enormous book listing names of Jewish victims of the Holocaust that visitors can peruse. This was an especially emotional experience for several members of our group who found listings of family members who perished during the Holocaust.

Auschwitz Jewish Center

A display at the Auschwitz Jewish Center.

I first learned about the Auschwitz Jewish Center when the JMM hosted the exhibition A Town Known As Auschwitz last year. The museum preserves and interprets the rich pre-war Jewish history of Oswiecim (the Polish name of the town) and also includes the only synagogue in town that was not destroyed during World War II.

The only surviving synagogue.

While there are no Jews living any longer in Oswiecim, the museum serves as an important educational and cultural center. We had the opportunity to meet with the museum’s director who talked about how his staff works to teach visitors that there is more to Polish Jewish history than the Holocaust. We found our visit to the Auschwitz Jewish Center an especially meaningful way to end our day spent in Auschwitz and as we ate dinner in a charming restaurant in the town that has become synonymous with the Holocaust, we discussed the importance of making all Poles understand the extent to which Polish Jewish heritage is an integral part of their history.

Galicia Jewish Museum

Our last two days were spent in Krakow, the center of Jewish renewal in Poland, where we learned about the resurgence of interest in Jewish culture. Unlike Warsaw, Krakow was left largely intact (the Wawel Castle served as the residence for the Governor of the General Government, Hans Frank) and its Jewish quarter contains six restored synagogues. Krakow also hosts an annual summer Jewish festival that attracts thousands of people. The Galicia Jewish Museum has been one of the leading institutions in the city’s Jewish renaissance. Our visit to the museum was the perfect way to bring our week to a close as we met with the museum’s director, deputy director and one of their board members. The Museum’s mission is to educate visitors that the Holocaust did not just happen at Auschwitz (so many visitors to Poland stop only at Auschwitz-Birkenau during their stay) and also to continue the story of Jewish history in Poland post-1945 during the communist regime and into the present. 40% of the museum’s visitors are non-Jewish, a reflection of the interest in non-Jews in learning about Jewish culture and history. As at the Auschwitz Jewish Center, we heard about their focus on working with the non-Jewish community as a means of gaining their assistance in preserving Jewish heritage in small towns and cities throughout the country.

We toured the museum’s temporary exhibit The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rwyka from the Lodz Ghetto, a beautifully designed installation featuring original artifacts and interactive stations that reinforced the concept of how focusing on individual stories can bring to life the history of the Holocaust in such meaningful ways.

The core exhibit Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland showcases color photographs by Professor Jonathan Webber and Chris Schwarz from the past 30 years documenting what remains of Jewish life in Polish towns. The exhibit powerfully reminds visitors that in order to learn about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, it is important to look beyond Auschwitz and to visit small towns that once housed vibrant Jewish communities.

I arrived in Poland expecting to learn about the tragic history of its Jewish community in order to enrich my work at the JMM and also to bear witness to the loss of a culture. I was not prepared to visit such a broad array of museums that provide fascinating insight into Poland’s complex and nuanced history. I was inspired by the work that these amazing institutions and individuals are engaged in to ensure that Jewish Polish history is preserved in meaningful ways.

Read more about Deborah’s trip over at JMore: “Touring Poland Was ‘Life-Changing Experience'”

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