Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Racial Prejudice and a Hyde Park Newsstand in Chicago…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

© May 1, 2013

I came to Hyde Park in April, ’64 from an odd ethnic bubble of only Irish and Jews, mixed together with periodic success on the South Side of Chicago, near 87th Street. Never had any relationships or encountered any black people anywhere.

There were two black girls in my last year at Caldwell School whom no one would talk to. It was stunning. I was both appalled by this situation and I was unpopular as well, so I got it immediately and befriended them. They were suspicious of me at first (and who wouldn’t be?), but then visibly relieved that the ice was broken for them. Except it wasn’t broken.

We would talk in the halls or in the playground, but there was no contact between us out of school. I had no classes with them. I simply didn’t know what to do with a black female friend, at fourteen. It’s a long time ago now, but one of them was named Ardelia Baker, and the other one was named Hazel Dennis.  They probably went to Bowen High School with the other thousands of South Siders.

Even going to Lab School didn’t acclimate me to interacting with black people because the minorities at Lab were rich and I wasn’t in their crowd. Always something.

Opening Bob’s Newsstand in August ’65 changed everything for me, and maybe a tiny bit for Hyde Park, too. If I was to succeed in my primitive wooden shack, I was forced to overcome my hesitancy and learn to initiate conversation with strangers, constantly, and all day, every day.

People in Hyde Park may have eventually taken it for granted that I was comfortable with anyone and a natural at this.  That was never true. Overcoming my shyness was extremely difficult considering what I was doing, selling newspapers, but in school I spoke to virtually no one.  Two worlds, neither one the right one.

Over time, I met thousands of people of every race, discovered interracial marriage existed, made friends, met families, watched the babies grow up over twenty years, hired uncountable black, Mexican and Asian kids, discovered prejudice in black people against Jews, but not me, never me, and we could talk about it.  Bob’s Newsstand was some kind of miniature isolated zone of civilization where race, religion, age and gender were of no consequence and only “could you do your job?” mattered.

I met African cab drivers, Jamaican nurses, black cops, thieves, doctors, prostitutes, ministers, professors, Nigerian university students and Black Jews.  That shack was my own decades-long constant education in becoming human, becoming compassionate and learning to see people for what they were and who they were inside of their skin.

Lab School was a nice experience, occasionally, but that wooden shack on 51st and Lake Park made me into a decent person of the world and taught me the absolute essentialness of tolerance.   I have an education that is no longer available because all the instructors died. I partially write out of a sense of obligation. If I don’t, then whatever they taught me dies with me. I’ve published five books and finished five more, like its a race to record everything. I am unsure what else will be able to be published.

Old men, old women, old cops all pouring tales into me, warning me, teaching me, and then everything I could understand became woven together into a perspective of my own, but a blended perspective.

Finally, there was a girl, Gloria Rogers, simply incredibly beautiful, so well built, and black.  I never had the nerve to ask her out. I always regretted it. Hard to break free of a prejudiced family’s restrictions.  Years later, I learned from a mutual friend that she, in fact, liked me and (maybe) would have gone out with me. That only added to my misery and regret.  She remains eternally 16 in my memory. She left our school our junior year.  Never saw her again. I can never fix that timidity. And stupidity.

Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

 Twitter handle: bob_katzman

4 Comments »

Comment by Herb Berman

May 1, 2013 @ 10:58 am

Fascinating, Bob. Your “street education” was infinitely more valuable and “liberal” than the “liberal education” offered at an elite high school.

I grew up in a prosperous Jewish family in the Jim Crow South. As a child, my only contact with “Negroes” (then the appropriate word) was in their role as servants. But I was blessed. “Our girl” Ethel was a middle-aged African-American and former teacher who made more money as a house servant than as a teacher in a segregated school. She was brilliant (no exaggeration as I later discovered) and well-read. She not only read poems and stories to me, and enchanted me with her own stories, she taught me deep in my bones that racial prejudice was utterly senseless. Ethel was the perfect counter-argument to the racism that lie at the core of my world. Tragically, and this is another story, the world was too hard for her in the end.

Comment by Don Larson

May 1, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

Hi Bob,

I don’t remember Ardelia Baker, but I do remember speaking with Hazel Dennis.

See my link to the 1964 Caldwell Commentator pages 10 and 11:

There were a couple of other black males that were in our neighborhood. i used to play handball with one of then them at Caldwell the summer after we graduated. I got along with them without issue.

At Bowen that was an integrated school and I had friends from probably every ethnicity in that school. It was a great four years there.

When I was an Illinois Bell Telephone Installer, my first 18 months was in the South Chicago district including our old neighborhood. Back then that district was moving out whites and moving in blacks. That was a very educational period for me. I found most everyone is about the same, it was enlightening.

My last two years were in the Hyde Park district and the distinction between the establish black neighborhoods and the predominantly white U. of Chicago area were stark. I found out how terrible most of the inner-city living conditions were. Most of the people were polite and it saddened me to know they had to endure a totally different lifestyle than I did.

When I look back over the years of growing up in Chicago from the Civil Rights Awareness years until I married in 1973, I’m glad I had to see Americans of various races, religions, and philosophies so that I could better fit-in the years that followed.

-Don

Comment by J Steve Adler

May 1, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

O.K. I give up. What was the previous reference to Australia? An earlier note?
Regardless, another great memory recorded!

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