AB: ... got a good recording and so if you'd just introduce yourself. Say your full name, tell us, you know, your maiden name, the date, and where we are.
MB: Marjorie Brockman. Good morning. I'm Marjorie Brockman. I was Marjorie Mayers when I went to Brooklyn College. Is that a good sound level?
AB: That's ... well, you know what? I'll play it back. Will you just tell us the date? Today is ...
MB: Oh, what is today? April 7th? Today is April 7th, 2000.
MB: I was Marjorie Mayers when I was at Brooklyn College from '42 to '46, having come from Walton High School where I knew Marion Isaacson and Greenstone. She was a good friend of mine from high school. And actually, I had been accepted at Hunter and decided — 'cause my family wanted me to go to Hunter — I was naturally defiant, I would go to Brooklyn College even though I lived near High Grant Circle in the Bronx and I had almost a mile walk to the Lexington Avenue local to get down to 125th Street where I met all my other friends and we traveled on out to Brooklyn College from there. They came from the West Bronx and I came from the East Bronx. My parents were born in this country, of Russian and Polish origin. My ... my grandfather on my ... my maternal grandfather was a great intellectual and a militant atheist. And the first thing he did with me when I learned how to write my name was schlep me down to the public library and get me a library card. And he was a great influence on my life. He died when I was in my first year at Brooklyn. My father, who had been in World War I, was a very taciturn, sort of strange man, I guess, but a nice guy. And from him I acquired a passion for baseball which and we used to go to the Catholic protectorate which before Parkchester — that huge metropolitan project — was built in the Bronx, that was the Catholic protectorate, famous because the Lindbergh kidnapping money had been exchanged in that area, and also famous when I was growing up because the house of David and the Negro Baseball League used to play there. and I'm probably the only person in your archives who saw Satchel Page pitch before he joined ... [unintelligible]
AJ: The House of David. [unintelligible]
MB: Yes. They played with their beards. And my mother was a dissatisfied housewife. She'd been a legal stenographer before she married. I was an only child for nine years and then they had another child — the rats — my brother, who is nine years younger than I am. I was always interested in political things though I was not a joiner. There were I guess I was sort of an isolate, I was a reader and interested in art. And a very, very, very major contribution to my life was the fact that we spent summers and then, as I got older, other parts of the year in a farm in upstate New York. And that was one of the things that attracted me to the Farm Corps. I thought I really knew rural America. We went to a farm in a little town called Holcut Center which was about a hundred and forty-five miles from New York City and we boarded with a ... a family that was mythical. It was really a nineteenth century English and Irish origin farm family named the Griffins and the Reynolds. There were ... the Griffins were the progenitors of this family. And Loretta Reynolds was a contemporary of my mother's and she was my ideal. She was the most competent and caring and wonderful woman. and I learned how to milk cows and pull carrots and square dance and do all the things you did up there. I ... I was mad for that place and it went on for a long time. Until the last member of the family that I was close to passed away about three years ago I used to go up there regularly, not to stay anymore but just to visit people. So that was a very powerful influence on my youth. The other thing I was involved in as a child was the American Labor Party, which was the left wing party in New York that wasn't the Communist or the Socialist Party. And I did all the things that radical kids did in those days, went to hootenannies — lots of hootenannies. [unintelligible?] Woody Guthrie and other people whose names I can't remember — not Lee Hayes but the black ... Leadbelly. actually, I knew Leadbelly. And that was also a very powerful influence on my life. So there I was. I graduated at fifteen from Walton ...
AB: And the year [unintelligible]?
MB: I graduated in 1941 from Walton and I, as I say, I was accepted at Hunter and decided to go to Brooklyn College. Is there anything else you want to know?
AJ: What was your ... what did your father do for a living?
MB: My father worked in the restaurant equipment business. He had ... he worked with his brother-in-law. He was a salesman, and during the Depression he used to collect what was owed to them in goods. And mostly he serviced restaurants in Sheepshead Bay and we had lots of lobsters when I was a child 'cause he would come home with sacks of them. And when I was a child people used to boil their clothes, so they had large copper pots that sat on the stove. and he would fill that with water before my mother came in from wherever she was and drop the lobsters in it. But that's what he did. He was a salesman. And their place was right opposite what used to be Wanamaker's, which is now K-Mart, where the Astor Wine and Liquor Store was. It was called Atlantic Restaurant Equipment Corporation. So I'm well, rooted in New ... in New York. Excuse me.
AB: And ... and what did your grandparents do in ...
MB: My grandfather, when he came to this country, he had been a courier for a bank. They came from Odessa and he had been a courier for a bank, and when he came to this country he started a small manufacturing business. You probably don't even know the word any more. He manufactured mitty blouses. Do you remember mitty blouses? They were white broadcloth shirts with a V neck and a square collar with ... with a dark blue star in either corner in the back design. And people wore them to school. It was the school uniform, a dark skirt with a mitty blouse and that's what he manufactured. He was not a terribly successful entrepreneur. I used to tell people that he was a militant atheist and my grandmother was a militant snob because we had no ... she wouldn't meet anybody who was an immigrant and who spoke with an accent. And they lived in the Bronx and she managed to avoid anybody in her building. But she was, in her way, a charming woman.
AB: But wasn't she herself an immigrant?
MB: Oh yes. but that didn't matter. She had learned to speak the language. And she ... she was sixteen when she came here and they had ... my grandmother and grandfather married in this country. He met her on the boat coming over from Russia. and I took a ... a tour of Russia not too long ago, maybe five years ago, one of those boat tours that goes from Petrograd to Moscow, and there was a lovely Russian journalist, an old man, and his wife. He spoke English and she didn't. And he came to me one day and he said, "You know, my wife says you must be Russian. She says you don't look American. You seem Russian." so I said, "Well, I am American but it's true my grandparents came from Russia." He said, "Yes? When?" So I said ... I thought quickly and I said, "About a hundred and five years ago. It was a long time ago, they came I guess in the 18 — in the early 1890s they came to ... oh sure. They must have, 'cause my mother was born in 1897. And I come from a long lived family. I have an aunt who lives on 63rd Street who's in her ninety-eighth year. She had her ninety-seventh birthday and she's still totally compis mentis and pretty independent. Okay.
AB: And do you know why they left Russia?
MB: Because ... I know that my grandmother had a brother who was trying to avoid being conscripted into the army. I guess ... yes. They left Russia for the same reason everybody else left Russia. It was not fun to be a Jew in Russia. Even if you were a militant atheist you were still a Jew to the Russians.
AJ: What were your family's politics like?
MB: Awful. My ... my grandfather was ... my grandfather was progressive but the rest of the family — well, they were Roosevelt Democrats but they were horrible racists — awful. Until the day they both died I couldn't stand it. But my mother was ... was tolerant of all my left-wing friends, of whom I had a good number.
AB: So what made you left wing?
MB: Reading, I think, and compassion, and one of the great influences on my life was a book — a minor book. It was an archive called Women In The Industrial Revolution. I was also a feminist when I was young. And that book, when it described the women in the coal mines crawling on their hands and knees, with the ... the coal carts attached to their foreheads by heavy straps, absolutely changed my life. I really ... and I did a lot of reading, and the Triangle shirt fire wasn't so far in the background. And I knew ... Oh, and I did a lot of reading about the robber barons in the history of the United States. Yeah, it was reading mainly. And then at some point in my life Mike Quill — does that name mean anything to you? — of the Transport Workers Union entered my domain — my ken. I became aware of him and I really worshipped him. I also got in through him, I guess, or may — I don't know which came first, Mike Quill or the Irish Revolution but I got very excited about the uprisings in Ireland, the Easter Uprising, and I got to be very radical. But it was purely from reading, no particular experience.
AB: Well, how did you meet Michael Quinn ... Mike Quinn?
MB: Mike Quill? At the American Labor Party. I used to go to meetings. Now, that's interesting. Actually, there was someone who lived on the floor of my building, a man named Sparky Friedman who was a taxi driver, he lived across the hall from us and he was a member of the ALP and he was also ... You'll never find him because he is ...
AJ: I just caught the name.
MB: Sparky Friedman.
AJ: Sparky Friedman, the taxi driver. [unintelligible]
MB: [laughs] Yes. That's funny. And he took me under his wing and gave me lots of stuff to read and in it influenced me a great deal. So between that on one side and the rural community on the other side where I could see the changes that were coming during the War when a lot of the guys were called off the farms into the Army and some of ... though some of them got deferrals because they were critical to the producing of food. But that whole community just dropped dead quietly after the war. Very few of those guys came back. and the farms were sold off and ... They couldn't make a living after the War either when the cost of feed got high. I was very involved with droughts and feed costs and stuff like that and that was ... Is this interesting?
AB: It's fascinating.
MB: [laughs] Thank you.
AB: So ... so was your ... were you politically involved when you were a high school student? Is that what you said?
MB: Yes. Yes, I was.
AJ: And did you have a circle of friends who had similar beliefs?
MB: All I can think of is Marion Greenstone. But there were four or five of us at Walton with whom I was friendly who were also politically alert. And we had some wonderful teachers in high school. There was a man, a history professor? He was a teacher named Nicholson. I think that was his name though that may have been my math teacher. Anyway, he was ... he was wonderful, very, very sharp and presented all sides of the picture in American history. There were a couple of them. There was a Mr. Schecter too, who ... we took economics when I was a child, and he was very important too in my development.
AB: So would you as a high school student, were you politically active in the high school or outside of high school?
MB: Outside, outside of the high school. Actually, Walton was so crowded in those days that I used to go to school, I think, from two to six or something like that. And I went to meetings in the evening. I certainly never did anything in the morning. I've always had this pattern of sleeping late and doing things at night.
AB: And so why did you choose to ... to become active with the American Labor Party rather than the Communist Party or the Socialist Party?
MB: I think that was just an accident. That was Sparky Friedman's suggestion that I go to a couple of meetings and meet the people. That's exactly how it happened. It's very interesting to recall that now. Yeah. And I guess I wasn't ... I hated reading "the New Masses."
MB: And that other economic journal. I hated that. I was so boring. Though I did read ... by the time I got to graduate school I had joined the Communist Party. But I started out in the American Labor ... Is all this going on the archives?
AB: Yes. Is that okay or not okay? Should I put it on pause for a moment?
MB: Yeah. [all laugh] Now you know. Did anyone else who's been [unintelligible] Oh, I'm sure Fran Koral did.
AB: She didn't, but we ... we suspected that she was skirting the issue.
MB: Oh. See? I always had a big mouth.
AB: She suggested ...
MB: ... were much more involved than I was. But the Communist Party in ... in North Carolina, we were really involved in racial struggles and that was very much up my alley. And I was also part of the Women's League For Peace and Freedom down there. I guess I was growing up a little bit. I stayed there for five years because, as I say, I got a ... I got married instead of getting a Ph.D.
MB: That's interesting that Fran didn't tell you. [laughs] I'll tell her I told you.
AB: Tell her. But then, if you don't mind, if we could digress here a little bit, I'm going to ask a naive question only because I ... I want the answer which is ... So why ... why this hesitation to tell?
MB: because for the last fifty years it's ... Why this hesitation to tell? I guess because we're still laboring under the aegis of the McCarthy and the other committee hearing eras when people were called, friends of ours, and their lives were very much changed — though not ruined. But the most important people — too bad they're not involved in the farm committee — were people who ran a book store in Chapel Hill called the Intimate Bookshop which was the largest bookstore south of Washington DC. It was run by people named Mina and Milton Abernathy. And that was the ... they were great intellectuals, and during the '30s they had been involved in [unintelligible]. They had gotten all the stuff of Faulkner and a lot of the other writers who were involved in the Southern Conference for Human Welfare and all the other ... and they were forced to sell the bookstore when they were called before the ... I forget which committee it was though. Who were the other committees? Walter ...
AB: There were Senate committees, there were House of Representatives committees and then there were State committees.
MB: Yeah. Well, they really suffered considerably. They had to leave North Carolina and come to New York. But we had wonderful friends. We had wonderful clergy friends in North Carolina and very good people in the Women's International League. Some of them were horrified by the left-wing politics of those of us who were left wing. And we were involved in union organizing activities there in Winston Salem. Fran didn't tell you any of this.
AB: It was all suggested.
AJ: It was very oblique. Yeah.
MB: Oh God.
AJ: Now I have to go back and look at the transcript to see exactly what she did and didn't say.
MB: Well, that's interesting. So I'll tell you ... shall I tell you something really fascinating? Her husband, whom you haven't met 'cause he wasn't a farm laborer, got a law degree at North Carolina and was not admitted to the bar so he became a union organizer for the furniture workers. And he spent five years in jail because of a strike tactic that they used which was ludicrous. It was a terrorist tactic. They burned down a factory and ... or a piece of a factory. I don't remember. But he spent five years in he penitentiary. And it was there that he gave up law. He's a brilliant guy, and he became ... somebody sent a magazine on air conditioning in housing and he ... he used to correspond with the owner of the magazine. And when the owner ... the owner was getting old and he thought Dick was marvelous, and when Dick came out of jail he turned the magazine over to him, first as the Managing Editor and then he gave it to him. And Richard Koral, Fran's husband, is now the New York City authority on housing matters. And he started a school — Fran didn't tell you any of this — at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where he trains building superintendents and engineers in how to run machinery and how to take care of air conditioning. And he just lectured at Yale on this subject. And he gets lots of grants and he never went back to law, and he's terrific. And they ... they were the most radical people in the left in North Carolina. I'm so surprised. Okay.
AB: So were you ... did you ... were you called in front of any of the [unintelligible]
MB: I wasn't, no. No. but what did happen was that when I married, I married a guy who was not particularly left wing and he was a southern Baptist. And he was taking a Ph.D. in Romance languages and he got a Fulbright, and we had our housing all arranged in Paris. I had relatives there. And about two weeks before we were to go the FBI came and took our passports away. And not only did we have to give up the Fulbright, that's what's turned me into such a passionate traveler. 'Cause I went through ten or fifteen years without a passport, and then, when I got it back again — I forget when — in the early '60s, I guess, or the late '50s, I started going, going, gone. Yeah.
AB: So then it had consequences [unintelligible].
MB: Yeah, it was a consequence. and I'm sure if I wanted to go under the Freedom of Information Act I would find lots of interesting things in my dossier, so to speak. Have more coffee. I made pots of it.
AJ: Did you want more?
MB: Thank you.
AB: So what ... what kind of ... what were you doing in ... what kind of organizing work were you doing in ... in ... what kind of organizing work or work around race relations were you doing in North Carolina?
MB: Well, Fran and Dick started a school, a literacy program, in Carboro, which was the little mill town next to Chapel Hill where the university was. And it was entirely sharecropping working blacks who came to that school. And also we were involved with Bill Patterson's organization ... I can't remember the name of it any more. But even my husband — who was drafted into the left wing by his marriage — and I would go ... when there were horrible law cases, we would go down to the county ... the eastern shore counties of North Carolina with a ... a lawyer named O. John Roggy. I don't know if that name means anything to you. He was a very important lawyer during the late Roosevelt years. He was sort of the — who's the left wing lawyer who ... Ramsey Clark of his day, only not nearly as left wing as Ramsey Clark, but very, very precise about the law. And we spent time in the eastern districts of North Carolina proving that the jury system was rigged so that blacks were excluded. And then ... so ... and then we went to Winston Salem to help the food ... agricultural and tobacco workers organize in the Rey-- against the Reynolds plants. And we took part in the ... not the early freedom marches — we were too early for that — but we got involved in bus confrontations coming back from the north when you had to change seats when you got to the south. And I was even almost arrested once for sitting in the wrong waiting room of the bus station in Durham. I was coming back from New York with a guy — I'm the only one who remembers his name but how could you forget it — his name was Manny Cudlokis. He was a Greek guy who was a lefty. And he and I were escorting the mother of one of the black kids in eastern North Carolina who was up on murder charges and she had been taken by us to the conference in New York. And on the way ...
AJ: What ... what kind of a conference?
MB: It was Bill Patterson's organization, the American — not ACLU but something like that — ACU, the Congress for Racial ...
AB: Oh! Oh yeah.
MB: Was it CRE, yeah, Congress For Racial Equality?
MB: It wasn't CORE. It wasn't CORE.
AB: No, it was one of the Communist Party ... I know exactly what you mean.
AJ: The ... oh yeah. I know ...
AB: Pardon me for that.
AJ: Yeah. Yeah.
AJ: Yeah, we know the one. I remember.
MB: All right. And we had been given a ride.
AJ: To ... to clarify, what years were you ... were you down there?
MB: '46 to '51.
AJ: All right.
MB: Okay. And we were coming back and we had a ride as far as Durham, 'cause the people who were taking us were then going some place else. And they let us off in Durham, and we weren't going to ... Manny and I were not going to leave this woman alone so we sat. And she couldn't sit in the white side, so we sat in the black side very quietly. We weren't making any particular statement. They were ... it was a long wait between buses in those days. And there were a lot of people who had come in from Rocky Mount and other places in the morning who were stretched out on benches sleeping. And we sat down on a bench. And within five minutes a group of policemen came and they started to beat the black people over the soles of the feet to wake them up. And then they collected us and they took us in for questioning. And we said we were students in North Carolina. We were coming back, and we didn't want to leave this friend of ours alone. and so they said, "Well, we're going to have to book you for trespassing." so I said, "Oh, go ahead, book ... " I was scared shitless but I said, "Go ahead and book us." and I said, "Manny, maybe you can go out and call Frank Graham or somebody. He was the president of the university, and he won't like this, his students at the university getting arrested. So they thought about it a minute and they let us go. But I was really scared. And we had other adventures. We would go off to meetings and cars would ... really black back country roads with no lights and cars with their license plates covered with mud or dirty clothes would follow us, and it was very scary sometimes. And sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes it was just gay mad fun. [laughs] And we were ... oh, we were there during the Wallace campaign. And some people were very brave and got hit with eggs and ... who were mostly the flanking movement. Our job was to stay in the back and keep marauders and counter-demonstrators from coming in. We're never going to finish this and I have to go.
AB: Okay. Okay.
AJ: So leaping back, why, other than the fact that your parents didn't want you to go there, did you choose Brooklyn College?
MB: Oh, 'cause I guess there were other ... there were friends. My Marion was going there and I knew ... no. I don't think I really knew Fran until we went to Morrisville. But I had a couple of other friends who were going there. I know there were five of us. Gloria Stern? Maybe Gloria Stern went too. Gloria Goldsmith? I don't know. There were lots of people I used to meet at 125th Street, coming from various parts of the city. And ...
AB: And was it assumed that you were going to college? Was that ...
MB: Yes, it was assumed that I was going to college, yeah. I was very smart.
AJ: And so what was the political environment like at Brooklyn?
MB: Oh, in Brooklyn there was much more ... Well, first of all, there were very few men at Brooklyn college 'cause it was the middle of the war so the men who were left were a little bit strange. But there were some of them who weren't gay or peculiar or disabled in any way and they were all left — they were all political left. And because there was so little social activity — I mean dating and that sort of thing — we were freer to do our thing politically than we would have been if we were in ... I mean, it was a long schlep out to Brooklyn College from the East Bronx. And then you had to do a modicum of schoolwork. And then, the rest of the time was devoted to demonstrations and ... I have a picture taken of myself and two friends that ... sitting on a lawn in Washington. And when I made friends with the friend who's on there again, I said, "What the hell were we doing in Washington?" And she said, "I remember." I said, "How do you remember?" She said, "We went down to protest the lifting of price controls after World War II. There was a huge meeting." So we were involved in everything. I'm just looking for that picture 'cause it's a funny picture. And I have many funny pictures here. I think I came across it the other day.
AB: And were there organized groups on campus or ...
MB: Yes, there were.
AB: A chapter of the ALP or Communist [unintelligible]?
MB: Yeah. There was a chapter of the ALP. There was the YPSL, The Young People's Socialist League, and there was ... I forget what the ...
MB: The Y — the YCL, the Young Communist League. There was ... and the people at Vanguard were ... were very leftish and ... well, I can't find that picture. I'll just show you ... I'll show you a couple of pictures.
MB: These are cute. These are ... Phooey! I wish I could find that 'cause ... And this was taken at Brooklyn College [unintelligible] Oh, it was the day we graduated. That is my dear friend Adel Camelhor whom I've known since I was in the second grade. And ...
AJ: That's a great picture.
MB: And this is me bargaining for rugs in Morocco — that's another part of my life — with a seller of rugs. And this is me with my three little daughters at somebody's wedding, the wedding of my brother as a matter of fact. [chuckles] And that's all I'm going to burden you with.
AB: So how ... how did you end up getting involved with the farm labor project?
MB: Ah, now we cut to the chase. Right? Well, I think — from the background that I've conveyed to you and the fact that I was totally immersed in rural America — that this was an opportunity to get out of the city in the summer, that there were friends of mine who were going, that it seemed like a really ... I knew from my experience at Holcut that they were having a hard time harvesting crops, and this was an organized effort for which ... and you could take an English course, and it was ... it seemed like absolutely the perfect thing to do. I forget if we paid for it. Did we pay for it?
AJ: You paid for ... for housing.
MB: We did pay for housing, yeah. Very little, fifty dollars or seventy-five or something. And oh, by that time ... I worked while I went to college. That was another thing that took a lot of time. I worked at Macy's on Thursday nights and all day Saturday, and I think the minimum wage in those days was forty-seven and a half cents an hour so I made about five dollars for the two days and I saved a lot of it. And yeah, so ... and Marion and Fran and a lot of other people that I liked ... and I had a crush on one of the guys who was going, Bob Pines, and I don't remember whether the crush developed while I was up there or before I went. But in any case ... and it was ... I do remember one thing — and for fifty-five years ago this is really something — I helped him study for his geology exam. Professor Booth, who was the geology professor, was up there so ... so most of the guys were involved in geology. And I will never forget volcanism, diastrophism [spelling?] and igneous intrusion because that's what he had to remember for his geology exam. All I know about geology, but I do remember that. But it seemed like a wonderful idea. I was really very excited. And of course, we were patriotic and we wanted to make a contribution to our side in the war and this seemed like a good way.
AJ: Once you got up there how did it turn out?
MB: Well, for me it was a disaster. I have ... I ... I told Adina when she came in that she was looking at the woman voted most unlikely to succeed as a bean picker. I have absolutely no physical stamina and it was very hard on me. And how did it turn out? It turned out to be a very interesting experience because we got ... we were outraged at the conditions under which the Jamaican migrant workers were living up there, mostly in chicken coops and with — well, not mostly in chicken coops. They were living in chicken coops. Hold on for a second. Now you've got to turn it up 'cause I've got to have another cigarette.
MB: No, not off. You can turn it up and I can talk into...
AB: That's exactly what I did.
MB: Oh, okay, 'cause I don't want to ... I do my one good deed for the day today. I work at the thrift shop at the National Council of Jewish Women and I don't want to deprive them of my services today, so ...
MB: So we, first of all, we were really in a Grapes of Wrath situation. We discovered that in many cases it didn't pay for him to ship the beans to New York because they were so underpriced. Incidentally, we made fifty cents a bushel for picking the beans and you had to pick thirty-two pounds and make sure the bushel was crowned. And some people, 'cause it was hard — I mean, thirty-two pounds of string beans is a lot of string beans — and you had ... if you wanted to support yourself and pay for your food and housing you had to pick many bushels a day. We were paid that much. And as a matter of fact, I remember going on strike in the middle of the season. But we had discovered that the beans were being dumped into local streams and rivers because it didn't pay for him to expend the gasoline, which was also rationed, to ship them down to New York since beans were getting such a low price on the market. and that infuriated us. It enraged us.
AJ: So he was ... was it government funding or something that he could afford to pay you and then dump the beans? Was he ... or do you know how that worked?
MB: I don't really know.
AJ: There must have been some sort of a subsidy.
MB: There must have been a subsidy for beans at the time. But it re — it reminded us all of the scene of the oranges in The Grapes of Wrath which, of course, we had all read.
AB: And how did you know ... how did you find out they were being dumped?
MB: Because we saw them. One day we were going home in the buses or trucks that picked us up and we saw the guys — the overseers — dumping the beans. What was the man's name? I don't remember. But Fran tells me she remembered.
AB: Farmer ...
AJ: The farmer?
AJ: Something like that. I can ... I can look it up.
MB: And then we discovered he owned the whole county, the gas stations and the motels. I forget what he owned.
MB: Higman? Hindman? Aha, Hinman! And he was not a very charming man. But it was a ... and it was very hard to make contact with the Jamaican workers 'cause they were scared to death. And they weren't used to brash white people. It was like the freedom marches later on. And we were brash young white people, and we couldn't see why they didn't call a general strike immediately. And of course, they didn't know what we were talking about. But they were sensitive to their own mistreatment. We also ... I don't know how we learned it, but we learned that if you put a couple of flat rocks in the bottom of the bushels you could reach thirty-two pounds much faster. Of course, when they dumped the bushels out they got wise to that a stop was put to it. We also weeded corn and that was the most horrible job. [unintelligible] walked between the huge corn stalks with large sort-of-machetes and cut the weeds down. It was a very instructive summer and I lost some of my romantic feeling about rural life. But it was a good summer and I enjoyed it. I roomed with Marion Greenstone and she objected vociferously to the fact that I smoked 'cause she said I made the towels stink, and she's a very meticulous person. I don't know what else to say.
AJ: You said that you went on strike. What happened with that? What was the upshot of that?
MB: We got a dollar a bushel. I think we got a dollar a bushel or we got seventy-five cents a bushel. We got a small increase. And the reason we went on strike was that somebody did the math and figured out — the number of bushels we picked, what he was paying us for them, what the market price of beans were ... we were very economically oriented. And I ... I know the strike was successful. I think it lasted one day. And it was very embarrassing to Professor Booth. [chuckles] He was a ... a very distinguished gentleman and he was not used to dealing with radicals in the ... in the corn and bean fields.
AJ: Is this ... is this Booth or Benedict? Benedict was the guy who ran the ...
MB: No, who was the geology professor?
AJ: It may ... Booth may have been the geographer. Benedict was the guy who was in charge overall. He may not have been up there. [unintelligible]
MB: No, I don't remember him. I remember Booth. and there was an English professor that I ought to remember since I was in her course, but I don't remember her at all. I have no visual recollection of her nor her ... of her name. and she may not even have been a her. She may have been a he.
AJ: Ruth Mohl?
MB: That was it.
AJ: Yeah, she was the Faculty Advisor to the newspaper.
MB: Yes, and she burrowed.
AB: And what did you do when you found out that the beans were being dumped?
MB: Well, that also precipitated the strike. It was just a concatenation of negative things: the housing for the black workers, the beans being dumped and the fact that he was making a lot of money out of this practically free labor he was getting. And that wasn't the proper division of wealth, that was for sure. So ...
AB: And can you describe a little bit your contact with ... with ... with the migrant workers? I mean, did you actually get a chance to chat with them? Would you? In the field?
MB: Well, I wouldn't call it chatting. Yes, we worked in the same fields and that's how, if I remember correctly, there was such inequities. For instance, water was brought to the field in a milk can, but we had a ladle and separate paper cups, I believe, to drink the water when we wanted a drink. And they didn't. They had to dip their hands in or their hats or something gross and disturbing. They had no indoor toilets. I mean, they were really treated as if they were beasts and they were almost ... you couldn't engage them in conversation, 'cause they didn't know any of the civilities and they certainly ...
[end of tape]
AB: You were saying about ...
MB: And it was really a great revelation to us that there were people ... that if you treated people bestially, they would become beasts. and it really wasn't any political fodder there. all they would say was yes, ma'am or no, ma'am. That was about the extent of it.
AB: Were they families? Were they men, were they women?
MB: They were families, men and women, and ... and I don't really remember whether there were little children, 'cause if there were little children we would have related to them. I don't think so. I think the children — I mean, below twelve certainly — were left home. But the Jamaican government was involved in exporting them here and I think-- I don't remember for sure, but I think there may have been some correspondence with the Jamaican government to which we never received any reply.
AB: Uh huh.
MB: I thought ... did something happen to Hinman's holdings or did he emerge unscathed from the war in the same position?
AJ: I ... I ... I haven't heard anything, but there's not ... there's very little after 1944 in the files.
MB: Okay. That's when we were, 1944.
AJ: You were '43, I think.
MB: '43, Oh. did the project continue after '43?
AJ: Just for one ... one year after, one more year.
MB: Aha. And the war was over in '45.
AJ: what about your relations with ... with the locals?
MB: We didn't have any, we really didn't. We ... we had no transportation. We were on the Morrisville campus and I don't remember any...
AJ: There were ...
MB: Encounters. Were other people ...
AJ: Well, there ... there was some sort of a weekly dance or something at the Grange.
MB: Oh yeah. I don't remember that, I really don't. Probably was.
AB: Because you wonder when you talk about how you seemed sort of alien to the ... to the migrant workers, how did you seem to the, you know, to the locals?
MB: Alien. We were alien. But of course they were easier to make contact or ... I really don't remember that part at all, so maybe I didn't go to the dances at the Grange. I was sort of a wallflower anyway.
AJ: there's one thing that ... that several people have mentioned, and that's one dance where there were some soldiers who came in and that there was ... there was tension. Either that they were, you know, expecting that they were going to get lucky, or ... and that there may have been some anti-Semitic component when they found out that they weren't going to, or there was ... It's something that has come up in various different ... do you remember any of that? [unintelligible]
MB: None at all. None at all. I'm sorry.
AJ: That's okay. You remember a lot of [unintelligible]. But ... but so, what about ... were there different political differences or divisions or conflicts between and among the different groups of students that were there?
MB: There weren't really conflicts. There was a just a ... a core group of us, and then some absolutely passive, non-aligned, non-aware students. I think Robert Pines was one of them. He married a woman named Meryl. Do you have Meryl Pines on your list?
AB: Wait. Is she the person that was quoted as being in this article?
MB: What does she say? You're going to leave me that article 'cause I've lost mine. I've looked for it desperately.
AJ: She's talking about ... about the ... the differences ... just sort of a practical statement about the difference between picking peas and picking beans.
AJ: Meryl ...
AB: Meryl Pajkis or Pushkauf-Pine.
MB: Meryl Pushkauf. Right. Yeah.
AB: Cause she ... they met up there, you think?
MB: Yes. That's where their relationship took off. Oh, who was that on the tractor? Hmm.
AJ: None of the ... none of the photos of the have ... are identified.
AB: Were you involved or do you know about the ... the little newsletter or newspaper called "The Bean Stalker?"
MB: I Oh yeah. I remember that. I think I contributed an article or something.
AJ: We can actually leave you one copy of that as well. We've got ... we've got one edition of it.
MB: Oh, really! Oh, thank you. Oh — The project pleases Galbraith. "Fifty cents a bushel." And the staff: Marion Isaacson, Louise Schneider, Laurel Gotlober — I remember her — Milt Rosenberg I remember, Sarah Lichtenberg and Alice Robbins. Hmm! I remember those people. Oh, okay. And here's the announcement that the soldiers are arriving. Picking ... well, I have a feeling that there were lots of things I didn't participate in. I probably found a seat in a field and read a book.
AB: [laughs] And how much did sort of news about the war and concern about the war enter your ... your daily lives?
MB: In '43? I don't ... what was happening in '43? The European campaign-- oh, when was D-Day, '41?
MB: '44. I don't think it entered our daily lives very much. Does anybody say they remember?
AJ: Just sort of generally that they were keeping up with the news of the war, not ...
AJ: There hasn't been any particular ...
AB: I mean, do you remember ... I don't have a sense of ... of seeing, like, would you, you know, sit around the radio and, you know, listen to the news?
AB: Did you read the newspaper?
MB: No. No. I don't think there were any national newspapers available. Probably Professor Booth got a New York Times and probably told us if anything important was happening. I don't remember sitting around a radio. I don't think there was a radio to sit around unless we brought them up ourselves.
AJ: What did ... what did you do with your free time, besides sitting under a tree reading a book?
MB: Well, we had classes. We had a lot of classes and we were supposed to do reading for them. I don't remember what course I was taking. do you know what course I was taking?
AJ: Don't know specifically ... everybody seems to have sort of not had very much to say about the classes.
MB: I don't remember [unintelligible] all, but I do remember that we did go to classes. We schmoozed. We yakked. We washed our hair. We certainly didn't go shopping 'cause there was no place to shop, which was good. And mostly we just socialized. I don't even remember if there was beer up there. I don't think there was.
AJ: What was the food like?
N. Heavy, not ... not terrible. Not good but ... We had peanut butter and banana sandwiches to take to the fields with us every day, or peanut butter and jelly. That was it. And I think we had a cafeteria-like dinner with something heavy. Breakfast I don't think I ever got up in time for. I was lucky to get out to the truck in time to go off.
AB: And ... and did you have a sense that for some of the students there was an opportunity to ... to go to church or go to synagogue or ...
MB: Yeah. I don't know about synagogue, but I had a feeling people did things on Sunday that I wasn't doing, yeah. We didn't work on Sunday. We worked on Saturday. Yeah.
AJ: You worked on Saturday?
AB: And were you able to support yourself through the summer or did you have to ask ... get money from home?
MB: Well, I don't remember. But I have a feeling I got some ... five or ten dollars every couple of weeks from home, 'cause I really was terrible at this. I was on the absolute low end of the totem pole. It was largely a social experience for me, I mean, you know, social in the broadest sense of the term.
AB: And ... and what did you ... while you were working, did you talk, did you concentrate, did you sing, did you ...
MB: Yeah, all of the above. we ... we talked. And I do remember that it was really stoop labor but I learned to sit down and squeeze along the rows so that ... I hated that work. It was hot, hot and tiring and boring. I think we sang, but I don't remember talking. We'd yell at each other occasionally.
AB: What did you sing? Do you remember?
MB: No, no, probably sea shanties or a hootenanny song or ... I don't remember.
AB: [laughs] Did ... did your body change?
MB: I gained weight from the heavy gravyed food. But I always gained weight. It was ... it's been my life-long problem. I can't really dig up any more, I hope I've been ...
AJ: It's been wonderful.
AB: Was ... when you came back was there ...
MB: There were a couple of reunions, I think, but we immediately got involved in ... in things we did during ... when we were in the city. And I think there was some suggestion that we might go back again for the second year, which was rejected by almost everybody I knew. I don't know anybody who went back again. It was essentially a ... a revealing and sort of a cynical experience after we finished, though it's an experience I'm very glad I had — even though I don't remember very much of it. I'm sure it must have been important in my life. But I can't really tell you any more. I'm sure there were ... there were nasty songs about Hinman — "Hinman is a pig." Whether we sang them in the field I don't know. But Professor Booth was largely the overseer of our work. I don't think we-- except for the weighing process at the end of the day, I don't think we had any of Hinman's goons working the fields with us. They would bring us the water and come back at the end of the day and weigh the bushels and made a note of how much we were to be paid. I don't know ... I don't even remember if we were paid daily or if we were paid at the end of the week or none of the above.
AB: And when you came back, what ... what did you complete your studies in?
MB: English and psychology. And then I went off to graduate school in psychology.
AJ: And how did you choose North Carolina?
MB: I was telling Adina that somebody got me a job — a friend — with an industrial psychologist named Bill Chrisy in 1945. I remember I was working with him when VJ Day happened in August, and he suggested I go to graduate school. Like I said, I was nineteen, I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I could do. And I applied to five or six different universities. And he knew Fredrick Dashiel who was head of the department at North Carolina and they gave me a graduate assistantship which paid my tuition and sixty dollars a month living expenses. And I went, and it was a very interesting experience.
AB: And was that the norm in those times that, you know, your peers, other young women, were going off to do graduate work in ... in whatever — in psychology?
MB: Yeah, or English or economics. Yes it was, accept those who got married. I don't think they went to graduate school.
AJ: And then ... So what was the ... the arc of your career after ... after North Carolina?
MB: An arc. Some arc. Well, you recording this? I really am persona non grata. After I applied for a ... a job in the Public Welfare Department of North Carolina where there was a lot of work to do, and ... oh, my husband's Fulbright was taken away from him and we got very restless down there and some.. we had connections, social connections, with some of the young men who worked for various eastern European embassies. Oh, this is weird. Why are you bringing all this up? And we met a couple of guys from the Soviet Embassy and they were running a ... something called the Soviet Information Bulletin. And they hired us to move to Washington and become staff members of the Soviet Information Bulletin where there were lots of interesting people working. And we were immediately declared spies by the United States. We worked there for a couple of years and then the Russian staff was declared non grata so the bulletin folded. And my husband went to work for the American Council of Learned Societies, and I went to work for I.F. Stone when he was founding the Little Weekly.
AB: The Weekly. Uh huh.
MB: In Washington in '52 or '53 — '52 I think it was. You want some water?
AJ: No, it's just a mint.
MB: Oh, and the arc of my career ... And then, when he could no longer support me, he suggested, since I had very good writing skills, that I should go to work in advertising. I said, "Advertising! That's so bourgeois." And he said, "Well, it may be, but my brother does that. He has an advertising and public relations firm in New York." So I went to work in advertising, and after that ... was in that for a long time and I even became ... I went to work for Goldenberg's Department Store and then for the Hecht Company and then for Henry J. Kaufman Advertising Agency, where I was a copywriter and I had a wonderful copy chief and we said very funny things to each other. And then I became advertising manager of a small furniture store called Peerless Furniture. And then I got divorced. Yes, I got divorced. And by that time I was working in President Johnson's skirmish against poverty in the Washington Concentrated Employment program, and that was very interesting. I worked with a lot of young black kids who were on the cusp of going to jail or who were on parole or on probation, and I worked with an actor — a black actor — named Bill Terry who was involved in the first production at Arena Stage of "the Great White Hope." and he came out to the employment center and we worked in improvisational theater with them. We even put on a production of "Waiting For Godot." The day that Martin Luther King was assassinated we were giving a production of — oh God, what the hell is his name? Anyway, "Letters From The American South," in which I played a white slaveholder and one of the kids was playing a Negro slave. And we had to cancel the performance. I made the announcement of the assassination and that was the beginning of the riots in Washington. And then I decided I didn't want to live in Washington any more. And I came to New York and I went, after about nine months of looking for a job, I became first Assistant Director and then Associate Director of a program in drug addiction at Downstate Medical Center where I worked for twenty-three years. I was the clinical Assistant Professor. Clinical Assistant Professor? Yeah, that's what I was. We had a marvelous director who was very good at getting academic titles for people who were doing largely administrative work. Finally, I ... I did lecture once or twice a year to the third-year medical students on drugs and administration of same. And that's what I did. That's ... and now I'm retired and it's lovely. And I travel a lot. And I went into business with Morocco for a while. I imported rugs and painted wooden furniture and jewelry and belts — this is not one of them — and I made eighteen trips to Morocco. That was while I was still at Downstate. And I moved into this apartment six years ago. And I go to Hunter College. And I'm [unintelligible] I've always aspired to. I love it.
AB: And ... and through all those jobs you were raising children?
MB: Yeah, I have three daughters. Yeah. Sometimes it was hard. I had a very good support system. Strangely enough, the landlord ... when I moved back to New York I found an apartment in Park Slope. It was a ... a brand new renovation by a very eccentric and charming man who became a support system for me, who now lives in Italy. And here he is. And he took care of me and my children and he saw to it that my rent didn't go up too much. And I ... I had a good support system in ... because my husband, who was always slightly nutty, became terribly nutty and his lawyer, who was a friend of ours, appealed to me not to ask for child support payments any more, so I raised those three. One went to Barnard, the oldest one — Lucy with her head down. And Susan, the next one, went to Smith though she did come out [unintelligible] she went for two years. And Emily went to Tufts. They were ... and I avoided the pierced eyebrows, pierced navels. They were never into drugs. They were basically very good kids, except I had some problems. Marion ... when my kids had a fight with me, the two younger ones who were only a year apart, they used to escape from my house on Seventh Avenue and run off into the night. And two or three hours later I would get a call from Marion Greenstone. She was their Rock of Gibraltar. And Marion said to me one day ... I said, "Oh God! That's where they are." and she said, "Yes, Marjorie." I said, "Well, I'm glad they're there. Keep them. I don't want them back again." And she said, "Marjorie, how can you say such things about your own children." I said, "Well, if you can't say them about your own children whose children can you say them about?" [laughs]
Start Again Here
AB: And through, as you're describing your ... your professional work life, what ... what were your political involvements during this time?
MB: Nothing. Nothing. My heart was in the right place, though I always ... Well, that isn't true. I was always in ... the thing that really draws me is racial matters and I was always involved in ... I was in left wing groups in Washington, but mostly it was picketing Woodward and Lathrop and eating ... finding a place to eat in Washington. When I moved to Washington, if you wanted to go out and eat with a black friend, there were only two places you could go. One was the American Veterans Committee cafeteria and the other was someplace in a black neighborhood. I can't even remember where. So we were involved in integration. And I was ... I guess I was still involved in WILPF, the Women's International League For Peace And Freedom and ... but I was no longer a member of anything. I was an ad hoc member of things. Yeah, it really ... well, after I was declared an American spy and worked ... oh, those years were interesting, when we worked for the Russians, because we used to get invited to all of the big affairs at the eastern European Embassies. Oh, yes. And my husband, who played the piano very well and we had no piano, arranged with the Ambassador from Poland ... we had been invited to a Ray Lev concert at the Polish Embassy and they had two magnificent grand pianos. And he had said to Madam Ambassador that he would love to play. And she arranged for him to come one afternoon a week and play their piano. And I think we had them to dinner in our little tiny apartment. And they kept the car and chauffeur waiting outside which really was amazing on that block. We had some fun. and there were a lot ... Oh, yes! And then we moved into a ... a place in Washington that was famous. They said if you put a wall around Trenton Terrace it was called, it was way out in Southeast Washington. If you put a wall around ... and I remember how much we paid for rent. We had a beautiful two bedroom apartment with walk-in closets for eighty-one dollars and eighty cents a month.
MB: And that was where my children were born. And they said if you put a wall around Trenton Terrace, you would encapsulate all the reds in Washington.
MB: And ... yes. We had lots of left-wing companionship there and we were involved with that in Washington. But in New York not, except that I had ... I made it a point to have lots of black friends and I enjoyed that a lot. And I still do
AB: That's a fantastic ...
MB: That's the story of my life. My God!
AJ: It's a shame you couldn't remember anything, but it was ... [laughs]
MB: [laughs] I'm sorry.
AJ: No, it was wonderful! It was amazing.
MB: You should have come five years ago. I would have remembered more.