Monday, May 25, 2009

For 2 Cents Plain by Harry Golden

There is an exhibit in the Library at University of North Carolina Charlotte on the life and writings of Harry Golden, an author first introduced to me by the father of a friend when I was about 16. Mr. Herman had several volumes of Jewish American humor and Harry Goldens "For Two Cents Plain" was among them.

In 1940 Harry Golden arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina and shortly thereafter he began to publish a 16 page monthly newspaper called The Carolina Israelite. This was no small feat in the Jim Crow South of the day. The name of the paper alone was instantly controversial, as were the subjects of his articles, which ran the gamut from satire of race segregation to the still sensitive subject of Anti Semitism and inter marraige.

One of his most remembered articles is the Vertical Negro Plan, in which he notes that since whites and blacks are not permitted by law to be seated next to one another, and since this was causing so much trouble at lunch counters across the South- why not simply remove the stools and let everyone stand together? This would violate no law and the problem of segregation would be solved.

But he had a more serious side too. He could evaluate and eviserate with a surgeons skill, as evidenced in his famous (at least to me) "Teaching Shylock." This interpretation of Shakespeare's work stands, in my mind, as the final word on what the Bard was intending when he wrote "The Merchant of Venice."

His books are at once insightful, thought provoking and in some instances just plain funny.For those who have never read Harry Golden, this is a chance to look at some writing, done by a lone journalist (typesetting and all advertisements included)who wrote and self published in the style of O. Henry. His stand against bigotry and ignorance will be with us for a long, long time.

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