Brass Ankle by
(309 Stories)

Prompted By Prejudice

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Rainbow Row,  Charleston SC

I was raised in the Bronx, New York in 50s and 60s when the demographics were such that families in the  borough were predominantly Jewish – like mine – or Catholic.   In fact my friend Kathie, whose family was Moravian,  tells me she was often the only WASP in her class!

And growing up in those relatively innocent post-war years I don’t remember being affected,  or even aware of antisemitism.

Earlier, during WW II my dad served in the Army and was stationed at the Charleston, SC port of embarkation.   As an officer he was given housing and allowed to bring family,  and there in an Army hospital I was born.  (See Captain)

My father spoke little about the war and regrettably I didn’t ask,  and I don’t know if my folks encountered antisemitism on that Charleston Army base.  But I think they did not as my mother spoke of friendships with both Jewish and non-Jewish families,  and of the celebration for my father at the Officers Club on the night I was born.

But my mother Jessie,  the daughter of Jewish,  Eastern European immigrants,  happened to be dark complexioned with dark eyes and very dark hair.   And as a baby I had a head of dark curls,  and both of us tanned by the Carolina sun.

Pushing me in my baby carriage my mother often heard taunts of “brass ankle”  and  “pickaninny”.  The former she learned was a pejorative term for a Creole or a woman of mixed race;  and the latter a derogatory term for a Black child.

While we were fighting hate abroad,  here at home hate continued to raise its ugly head,  and sadly it does still.

Jessie and me,  Charleston 1945

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Characterizations: , moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Regrettably, those taunts (and worse) are still part of the racism of our heritage and are getting worse, I fear, as the far-right leaders (and mouth-breathers on social media, Fox “News” and the like) fan the flames to tear us apart!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Very cute picture of you and Jessie! Those words your mother heard were hurtful and hateful. Unfortunately, lots of people who fought in WWII, the “good war”, returned home to hatred and discrimination. It is frightening how you can live in a situation where no one seems to care what your religion or race or affiliation might be, and how that can suddenly change when you are in a different place and are perceived to be part of a hated subgroup. For example, traveling to parts of certain Southern states, or some parts of any community. Sometimes I think about how the diverse and thriving Sarajevo was destroyed by Balkan wars. Two steps forward, one step back is still progress, if only we can keep that up.

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    What a sad irony for you, a member of one group often singled out for bigotry, to suffer bigotry meant for a different group. Showing, I guess, that there is just far too much of it around.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    So sad that people were/are labeled by their appearance. When my dark-haired daughter ran track in high school, people would ask her what she was. She usually replied “mixed,” which was untrue but shut everyone up.

  5. The sad story of Hitler shaking Jesse Owens hands at the Munich Olympics while our otherwise good President refusing to shake Jesse hand when he returned home.

  6. Thanx for sending me to Google Kevin!
    I read that Hitler gave Owens a small Nazi salute, but not a handshake.
    But indeed Roosevelt did nothing to acknowledge Owens’ achievement, it’s assumed so as not to lose the support of Southern Democrats.

    Ah, politics triumphs morality once again!

    • And not to be forgotten: the head of the International Olympics in 1936 had no objection to the predominance of the Nazi salute during those games. But he (same guy, Avery Brundage) kicked our American heroes Tommy Smith and John Carlos out of the 1968 Games in Mexico City for giving the Black power salute.

  7. Thanx Dale for that uncomfortable truth!

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