This is a heartbreaking story. Or rather two stories. It is the story, on the one hand, of Rachel—whose father was always, always angry. He was always raging at the world; always trying to right wrongs. He had no time to love his two daughters and so they learned not to expect love. And on the other hand, it is the story of Rachel’s father, a Jewish kid from New York, the army sent to Alabama and put in charge of the Housecleaning unit. An all-black unit. In the world of segregation there wasn’t much difference (to the “real white men of Dixie”) between an African-American kid and a Jewish kid.
That was the first lesson the men learned—men from the North and men from the South. But they learned too how cruel segregation was; how poisonous. They learned it the hard way. Because Rachel’s father would not accept the way his men were treated. He fought for them. He fought the whole system, the whole town. It ended in an explosion and death. And the man Marty Fleischer was when the army took him and sent him to Alabama died in that conflagration. An angry, haunted man took his place. A man whose anger at the world would infect his two daughters, his wife.
And all that, as Singer points out because “cruelty is so simple, really. You just turn your back on your own humanity. … You see symbols instead of the life in front of you. The pastor saw the chance to bring a Jew into the fold instead of a man simply repairing broken items to supplement a meager army pay. The bus driver saw a big black man looming toward him, instead of a confused and flustered young soldier trying to figure out the right thing to do. Willie had seen a white man who screwed over his men, instead of a man so indignant over their treatment that he was misguidedly driven to do something about it.”
And it is Willie who tells Rachel Marty’s story. Willie, who used to get together with Marty to drink and just chat after work who tells her about how her father became the angry man she knew. And that telling helps Rachel learn to show her love. It does not set things right; nothing can ever do that but it gives hope. And maybe in the end, that is all any of us can hope for in the end.
It is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story. It is the (mostly) true story of Judy Singer’s own father. It is a story of our past that needs to be told and that needs to be heard. I recommend it.
Product Name: In the Shadow of Alabama
Product Description: In the Shadow of Alabama by Judy Reene Singer