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The 8th grade protest: democracy in action


Jewish 8th Graders protest against colour discrimination
Philip Roth Writer
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In the 8th Grade, when I was 12, our 8th Grade class refused to participate in a essay-writing contest that was given annually by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the DAR, which was quite a prestigious organisation in those years. Why did we refuse to participate? Because Hazel Scott, the black pianist – later the wife of... I can't think of it... Adam Clayton Powell, the congressman – Hazel Scott was denied entrance into the Constitutional Hall in Washington to give a concert, recital because the DAR, who owned Constitutional Hall, wouldn't allow a black performer. And so our little group of kids, when we were given the assignment to write a patriotic essay for the DAR, refused. This... this is very unlikely, it didn't happen. Refused. And the class was written up in the newspaper, what we'd done, and the class. The president of our class, a guy named Eddie Sable, was interviewed and his picture was in the paper. And then in a nearby grade school, that 8th Grade class refused to participate and that was in the paper as well.

Now the point to make about both of these 8th Grade classes is that there wasn't a black student in the class, there wasn't a black student in the school. All these kids were little Jewish kids – both in my school, Chancellor Avenue School – and the other school, Maple Avenue School – that joined us.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Daughters of the American Revolution, DAR, Constitutional Hall, Washington, Chancellor Avenue School, Maple Avenue School, Hazel Scott, Adam Clayton Powell, Eddie Sable

Duration: 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013