In a column my father wrote on the eve of the new year in 1934, he recalls seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time 11 years earlier. He arrived on Ellis Island aboard the SS Fort Victoria on Nov. 1, 1923 at age 26, 48 hours after leaving Bermuda, where he worked as a printer for six months.
His entry seemed relatively easy. From the sound of it, he passed the physical and intelligence tests and the interrogations immigrants were put through fairly handily and headed straight for Harlem.
The biggest tests were yet to come: As he put it, he had to learn to be racial, to understand Jim Crow, both the southern and northern varieties. He had to weather the Great Depression and witness America’s promise and its shortcomings.
Although I lived in New York for several years in the 80s and still often see the city as a second home, it was not until this week that I set out like a tourist and visited the Ellis Island Museum and Liberty Island, where I finally saw the Lady up close.
It was probably divine intervention that kept me from there until now. It has so much more resonance.
Happy New Year, dear readers. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
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.
The New York Age, June 30, 2010
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.
The New York Age, June 16, 1934
According to Ellis Island records, my father arrived in the United States on November 1, 1923 from Hamilton Bermuda. He was 26 years old and single. A column that he published on December 16, 1933, notes that he worked for the Bermuda Colonist and Gazette, a daily newspaper, during his six-month stay there. He notes in this column that he had worked for the Age for eight years. Wonder what he did the first two.
The New York Age, November 11, 1933