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Carolina Israelite

Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Carolina Israelite
    Book Description:

    This first comprehensive biography of Jewish American writer and humorist Harry Golden (1903-1981)--author of the 1958 national best-sellerOnly in America--illuminates a remarkable life intertwined with the rise of the civil rights movement, Jewish popular culture, and the sometimes precarious position of Jews in the South and across America during the 1950s.After recounting Golden's childhood on New York's Lower East Side, Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett points to his stint in prison as a young man, after a widely publicized conviction for investment fraud during the Great Depression, as the root of his empathy for the underdog in any story. During World War II, the cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and founded theCarolina Israelitenewspaper, which was published into the 1960s. Golden's writings on race relations and equal rights attracted a huge popular readership. Golden used his celebrity to editorialize for civil rights as the momentous story unfolded. He charmed his way into friendships and lively correspondence with Carl Sandburg, Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, and Billy Graham, among other notable Americans, and he appeared on theTonight Showas well as other national television programs. Hartnett's spirited chronicle captures Golden's message of social inclusion for a new audience today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2321-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Harry Golden was a middle-aged, raspy-voiced, cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving Jewish raconteur from New York’s Lower East Side when he landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the eve of the civil rights movement. He spent the next three decades roasting the painful realities of segregation in the warmth of his wit, first in his improbably titled one-man newspaper,Carolina Israelite, and then in more than twenty books, five of which appeared on theNew York Timesbestseller list.

    Golden was an irrepressible contrarian, both humanitarian and mountebank, and an old-fashioned newspaperman who blogged before blogs existed. He was beloved for exalting the...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Putting Down Roots in the Goldeneh Medina
    (pp. 9-48)

    Leib Goldhirsch, father of the boy who would become Harry Golden, was a predictable man. Whenever he prepared to leave the family’s tiny tenement flat on the Lower East Side’s Eldridge Street, he would enact the same ritual: put a foot up on the chair by the door, then wait for his wife to rush to his side with a polishing rag. As soon as she bent to her task, the elder Goldhirsch would moan, “Oy, mein vei’idike rikken!(Oh, my aching back!).” The joke was always the same—she was polishing,hisback ached.¹

    Golden found his best story...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Heading South
    (pp. 49-78)

    “After the World’s Fair flopped in ’40, Harry traveled around, working and kiting checks,” Richard Goldhurst remembered. “He wound up in Charlotte in ‘41 on one of his peregrinations around the South.” Charlotte is not the first place one would imagine a Socialist-leaning New York Jew with a felonious past would choose to launch his personal journal. But in the early 1940s Golden began to trade on connections he had made during his stints with the New York papers and went to work for theNorfolk (Va.) Times-Advocateto sell ads and continue to write content for “puffs.” It was...

  6. CHAPTER THREE A New Life and a New Cause in Dixie
    (pp. 79-112)

    As the war years gave way to the promise of the 1950s, Golden was a fixture in Charlotte, waddling from the post office to the newsstand six days a week and driving a rattling car to outlying mills and businesses to sell ads. He was on his own now with theCarolina Israelite; the patron entanglements were over. When he wasn’t peddling ads or writing, he served as a resident expert on matters Jewish, foreign, or anything seen as plain unsouthern. The Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians counted on Golden to provide the Jewish view on everything from Noah’s ark to...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Brown, Flames, and Fame
    (pp. 113-144)

    It was a gently warm spring day, just after lunch. Golden finished the short piece he was writing for the June 1954 issue of theCarolina Israeliteand heaved himself out of his squeaky desk chair. He headed out the door for the short stroll down West Trade Street to see Ken Whitsett, a Charlotte native and talented commercial artist. The men had met years earlier when Golden handled Blumenthal’s advertising, and they knew many of the same newspaper types around town. Whitsett had been a cartoonist for theCharlotte Observerand had founded an engraving company in the early...

  8. A section of illustrations
    (pp. 145-156)
  9. CHAPTER FIVE Scandal and Resurrection
    (pp. 157-188)

    Just about two months after the joyful publication-day lunch at the Plaza, Golden’s editor got another big surprise, this one as painful as the first one had been delightful. William Targ sat at his desk reading a letter over and over, stunned by its contents: Harry Golden, the anonymous letter-writer said, was a crook and a felon who had changed his name and lied to hide his prison time.

    Targ tried to shrug it off; he got a lot of mail, and some was bound to come from crackpots. His name and title at World Publishing were easy to find,...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Ghosts and Great Men
    (pp. 189-218)

    The early 1960s were a heady time for Golden. He was famous—as one of America’s most popular Jewish figures looked to for editorial comment as civil rights events increasingly occupied newspaper columns and TV airtime, as a commentator forLifemagazine on one of the century’s most watched international events, and as an acquaintance of the charismatic Kennedy clan. The early years of this decade saw him, quite literally, all over the map.

    In 1960, Golden and much of the rest of the world were riveted by the news that “veterans of the Jewish underground,” as Life put it,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Grief, Hope, and Black Power
    (pp. 219-244)

    Even in his grief, Golden was not moved to make a martyr of John Kennedy. He did not mourn the romantic “Camelot” image promoted so aggressively by Jacqueline Kennedy and others in the inner circle. Nor did he disdain Lyndon Baines Johnson, as did his friend Robert Kennedy and many other loyalists. Golden had not lost his knack for enjoying friendships with people outside his political circle. His compeers naturally included rivals such as Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy.¹

    Golden was among those political writers who watched with close interest Johnson’s positioning of himself on civil rights issues. Six months...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The Real Iron Curtain
    (pp. 245-260)

    For a man whose exercise consisted of rolling his desk chair to a file drawer four feet away and who remained hydrated mostly by bourbon, Golden was surprisingly healthy. His gallbladder fought back now and then, he had two prostate cancer scares, and he suffered the usual irritants of one’s later sixties; but when he collapsed late one night in December 1966, it was the first life-threatening illness Golden faced. It was nearly his last. His friend, physician Raymond Wheeler, rushed him to Charlotte Memorial Hospital and was at his side when he went into surgery. Wheeler was a comforting...

  13. EPILOGUE Only in America
    (pp. 261-268)

    Back in Golden’s heyday, who could have imagined that the daily news sources of choice for millions of people in the twenty-first century would be niche cable channels with clear political biases or comedian-commentators serving up the latest happenings in Washington? Or that blogs and YouTube would exist and make politicians’ fumbles impossible to sweep under the carpet? The seriously wounded newspaper business and a world in which anyone with a cell phone can become a broadcaster combined to dig up and replant the playing field in ways unthinkable in Golden’s era. As he would have said, in his raspy...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 269-326)
    (pp. 327-342)
    (pp. 343-344)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 345-359)