Some people who are well-known and widely respected in their time nevertheless slip out of the public consciousness as the days march on. For Harry Golden, that's a particular shame, because it's not too much of a stretch to say that Harry anticipated the moment we live in when he was writing in the late 1950s. I'd even go so far as to say that in some very small measure Harry is responsible for Barack Obama. If nothing else, Harry's life -- from immigrant to convicted stock manipulator to famous writer, journalist and advocate for civil rights -- is a fascinating story, one that Harry himself knew could happen "Only in America."
And, as you'll see below, Harry had a knack for clarity -- a skill that would serve us well in the next few months.
Harry Goldhirsch was born in Galicia in 1902. By 1905, his family had settled on the Lower East Side of New York. In his early 20's, Golden ran a "bucket shop" stock brokerage that speculated on his client's purchases and skimmed profits. He spent three years in jail for stock manipulation.
Upon release, he worked in his brother's hotel operations, then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. There, in 1942, he founded The Carolina Israelite, a sporadically-issued newspaper written entirely by Golden. The paper became highly influential in Jewish communities throughout the country. Golden wrote a unique mix of Jewish humor and socialist thought, espousing integration, civil and labor rights and cultural pluralism with a light touch. His first book, a collection of his Israelite essays titled Only in America, became a best-seller and a successful play. Golden became a regular contributer to The Nation and Commentator, a frequent television guest and a lecturer.
On the topic of integration, Golden was best known for two Swiftian ideas. One was the Vertical Negro Plan. Golden had noted that integration naturally occurred at the checkout line at the grocery store, but not at the Woolworth's counter. His solution: Eliminate chairs. The other, the White Baby Plan, involved integrating movie theaters by assigning a white baby to each black moviegoer. The absurdity, of course, made the point.
I have a copy of Golden's second book, For 2c Plain, that I picked up secondhand when I knew nothing of him. It's full of reminisces about his childhood, but also includes trenchant observations about politics and the liberal causes of the late 1950s. I'd like to share one in particular with you. Here's Golden toward the end of an essay about the Eisenhower legacy:
...[T]he fat cats who wanted Eisenhower in the White House have no legitimate complaints about how he defended their policies... As soon as they were in the driver's seat, the professional Republicans knew that "creeping socialism" was here to stay; they knew that if they so much as suggested tampering with social security the working people who got them to Washington were going to get them out just as quickly. But Eisenhower was still braving the blasts and talking about too much spending and how important was individual merit. The New Deal and the Fair Deal were the way things were going to be.Except that they only hold the House at the moment, the only real difference in the GOP is the level of crazy. The GOP leadership, I'm convinced, knows that they are between Scylla and Charybdis: between the 'toons on their fringe and their future relevancy. They know their future depends on reining in the Tea Party, but they have to proclaim fealty to its ideals for fear their Party disintegrates. The current shutdown battle is not about Barack Obama and the Democrats at all. It's about the threatened schism in the Republican ranks. Harry Golden would have seen it immediately. Watch for yourselves; I think, if not now, at some point you'll agree.
The astute professional Republicans saw this immediately. Still they let Eisenhower fight the conservative battle.
Update -- Had to add this: Harry's papers are housed at UNC Charlotte. In the notes for the file, I came across this:
President Richard M. Nixon pardoned him in 1974.Seriously -- Only in America.