Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights

Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights

Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights

Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights

Synopsis

This first comprehensive biography of Jewish American writer and humorist Harry Golden (1903-1981)--author of the 1958 national best-seller Only in America --illuminates a remarkable life intertwined with the rise of the civil rights movement, Jewish popular culture, and the sometimes precarious position of Jews in the South and across America during the 1950s.

After recounting Golden's childhood on New York's Lower East Side, Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett points to his stint in prison as a young man, after a widely publicized conviction for investment fraud during the Great Depression, as the root of his empathy for the underdog in any story. During World War II, the cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and founded the Carolina Israelite newspaper, which was published into the 1960s. Golden's writings on race relations and equal rights attracted a huge popular readership. Golden used his celebrity to editorialize for civil rights as the momentous story unfolded. He charmed his way into friendships and lively correspondence with Carl Sandburg, Adlai Stevenson, Robert Kennedy, and Billy Graham, among other notable Americans, and he appeared on the Tonight Show as well as other national television programs. Hartnett's spirited chronicle captures Golden's message of social inclusion for a new audience today.

Excerpt

Harry Golden was a middle-aged, raspy-voiced, cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving Jewish raconteur from New York’s Lower East Side when he landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, on the eve of the civil rights movement. He spent the next three decades roasting the painful realities of segregation in the warmth of his wit, first in his improbably titled one-man newspaper, Carolina Israelite, and then in more than twenty books, five of which appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.

Golden was an irrepressible contrarian, both humanitarian and mountebank, and an old-fashioned newspaperman who blogged before blogs existed. He was beloved for exalting the little guy—factory workers, prostitutes, shopkeepers—and well known for his voluminous correspondence (and in some cases, real friendships) with the likes of Carl Sandburg, Edward R. Murrow, Billy Graham, and Robert and John Kennedy. He hid a shameful past as a Wall Street swindler and federal convict until his bestselling first book, Only in America, outed him in 1958 in nearly every major newspaper in the country. in 1963, in Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. cited Golden as crucial to America’s soul, even as the intelligentsia of the era were baffled and loudly annoyed by his wide appeal.

Golden might well have served out his working days as a salesman instead of the celebrity he became. He took up the former as a boy in the early years . . .

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