Vindication in Speaking Truth
I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1915 and was the youngest of five children. At the time of my birth, my family was quite wealthy. I had health problems, so very early in my infancy my mother hired a woman to take care of me and to work in the house. She was a black woman from Trinidad named Angelina Corbin. She lived with us, and her bedroom was adjacent to mine. She took care of me—bathed me, dressed me, and fed me—until I started school. She was employed with us for many years. When my father lost most of his money and we could no longer afford to employ her, she remained a friend of the family. We all loved her. My mother, in particular, loved her as a friend. She was of great significance in my life. Where we lived, there were no black people, only some Italians who did truck farming.
My experience growing up with Angelina, with her permission we called her “Annie,” made a lasting impression on me. I took a business trip with my father to Alexander City, Alabama, in about 1930 when I was around fourteen years old. We went by car, and in those days there were no thruways; so if you made two hundred miles a day, you did well. When we got to Washington, D.C., I saw Jim Crow racial segregation for the first time and was astonished. As we continued deeper into the South, the racism became more blatant. This was during the depression, which was terrible for white people but devastating to black people. There was one incident that has remained fastened in my mind. In Georgia, we stopped and I got out of the car. A short distance away, there was a doorless shack. Standing there was a big black woman, who reminded me of Annie. There was a boy in the field about my age. We saw one another. He was in tatters and very thin. I moved toward him. He stayed still and she watched. I had a bag in which there were cookies that mother had baked and given to us.