When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my sisters and I were forbidden from buying anything from Mr. Laby’s corner store. Mr. Laby, who was Jewish, ran the store with his wife (who was much nicer than her husband). There was no issue of him not hiring black clerks, because the store was strictly a family run operation. Mr. Laby treated his neighborhood customers with disdain – there were no white people in the neighborhood, so we were the store’s customer base. My sister Ellen-Marie told me that Mr. Laby also was known for shortchanging children! One day, I ventured into the store with my friend and neighbor Freda Williams. (I was not buying anything myself, so technically was not disobeying my parents.) After buying her candy, Freda asked Mr. Laby for a bag for her purchases. He refused, she insisted. I had a feeling this was a not the first time this ritual had played out. Mr. Laby proved no match for Frieda and, finally, exasperated, he handed Frieda the bag, which she immediately crumbled into a ball and threw back at him! We ran from the store as he yelled at us in Yiddish.
Like all the other rules in our house, I thought the Laby’s store prohibition was instituted by my mother. But given my father’s strong feelings about Blumsteins — did he really call them “Hitlers?” — I think Ebenezer may have initiated our family boycott.
There are some interesting bits of historical information, such as Marcus Garvey’s wife’s divorce complaint and his eventual deportation and the acquisition of the Schomburg collection by the Carnegie Corporation. Schomburg has particular meaning to me, as it was at the 135th Street library that I found these columns. Didn’t know the Amsterdam News tried to go daily – for a day. I didn’t know anything about Florence Mills, a well-regarded singer, dancer and comedienne who died of tuberculosis.
Why my father chose June 30, 1934 to reprint a list of 1927 events from another publication is beyond me.
Long before the Montgomery bus boycott, leaders in Harlem were calling on members of the black community to refrain from spending their money in stores that refused to hire them. Blumstein Department Store was a primary target. In this column it looks as if Koch’s Department store made some concessions, but Blumstein was a harder case. “This reminds us to ask: What attitude have the Blumstein taken towards Hitler?” Ebenezer asks. “Are they among the thousands who indicted him recently in Madison Square Garden for his inhuman treatment to non-Aryans? If they are not, we are surprised. If they are, they might ask themselves the questions: Are we not also guilty to a similar attitude towards the Negroes of Harlem?” The reference to “Little Man,” appears to be an attack on William H. Davis, the publisher and part owner of the New York Amsterdam News. It appears that Davis suggested that the advocates of the Blumstein boycott had ulterior motives. My father suggested that Davis sold out for advertising dollars.