Posted on July 2, 2019

My Father, the Civil Rights Activist

Russell Eisenman, American Renaissance, September 1995

The recent article about the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march reminds me of some of my father’s experiences as a civil rights advocate. My father, Abram Eisenman, worked during the 1950s and 1960s for the rights of black people in our home town of Savannah, Georgia. He was particularly effective in getting better housing for blacks.

My father ran several times for city council as a civil rights advocate. On one occasion, his overwhelming support among black citizens seemed to give him a good chance of winning. His opponent was a segregationist, whose supporters seemed cocky and who did not make a good effort to get out the vote. However, an amazing thing happened.

As my father told me after the election, “Hosea Williams [the famous civil rights leader and associate of Martin Luther King] came to me and demanded $300 if they were going to support me. I felt it was wrong to be extorted this way and I turned him down. He then got local blacks and some outside blacks to come in and campaign for my opponent, the ardent segregationist. So, I lost the election.”

My father died in 1982, and I learned only later about some of the other problems he had with black leaders. Recently my mother told me that although blacks were grateful for his help and invited him to their social and political functions, they also tried to frighten him into giving them money. They constantly demanded large contributions from him and from the black-oriented radio station for which he worked.

The radio station refused to pay, and my father was unable to give very much. He did not make a great deal of money and spent his savings publishing a newspaper to present his views and advance the cause of blacks. My father had been a popular disk jockey on the radio station, but some blacks complained that a white person should not be on the air for a black station, and he was removed from his job. He then made a living selling ads for the station.

When my father would not give them money, black leaders threatened violence. Some made death threats. The very group he was trying to help was making his life miserable. It was one thing to get death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, who once burned a cross on our lawn, but to be threatened by blacks might seem to be the last straw. Not for my father. He continued his civil rights work. The only real change in his life, besides elevated blood pressure, was to get an unlisted telephone number — not to protect himself from the Klan but from blacks. The worst of the threats came during the 1960s, when my brother and I were away at college, but our parents kept this from us.

Part of the problem was that blacks were starting to emphasize black power, and were less accepting of whites who helped them. Also, according to the black power movement, blacks were god-like and whites were devils. Thus, someone like my father, who was clearly on their side, would be confusing. He did not fit their stereotype of the evil white man, but they sometimes treated him the way they had decided all whites should be treated.

It is easy to imagine the loneliness of a white man, working in the South during the 1950s and 1960s for the rights of blacks. Who would have thought that the people for whom he sacrificed so much would treat him so heartlessly? My father certainly had the courage of his convictions, and I admire his dedication to a cause. However, when I think of him I cannot help but think of Amy Biehl, the young Stanford graduate who went to South Africa on a Fulbright scholarship to “fight oppression.” In August, 1993, as she drove through a black Cape Town neighborhood, she was dragged from her car by thugs who killed her because she was white.