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The Lynching of a Jewish Man in Georgia in 1928

Free-Georgia1

My soon-to-be-husband finished his Master's Degree in Radio/Television Journalism in 1957 and was offered a job at a radio station in Macon, Georgia.

We were ecstatic! We'd be married shortly and have a job waiting!

When Bob told his mother, the color drained from her face. "Macon, Georgia?" she asked. "You cannot go there."

Privately, I said to Bob, "your mother cannot tell us what to do!"

"I think she has a story to tell," he replied. "We should listen."

And, so we sat down in the kitchen with a pot of coffee. And here is her story, pretty much in her own words.

"My uncle Karl Bankendorf came to the States with my parents in1905. They were all Polish Jews from a small shtetl - a village called Dobjinsk - just outside of Lodz. He was not young, a guy in his early 30's. He never came to Chicago, but stayed in New York where he had friends. He married a friend's daughter, a woman named Sadie.

"Once he was married, he confided to his wife that his dream was to open and run a small business - perhaps a clothing store. That really appealed to him.

"And so, with the help of his family in Chicago and her family in New York, he borrowed enough money to buy a small dry-goods shop in LaGrange, Georgia.

"I'm guessing that it was the only store of its kind in this small town. The farmers and the town-folk were delighted to have it and the store did well. The community people called it the 'Jew-store' - a common name for any shop that was owned by Jewish people and carried mostly dry-goods.

"Now, Karl and Sadie were doing all right. They lived behind the store; Sadie gave birth to one son, and then to another.

"Black people from the community came to the store, too. And, Karl allowed them to try on clothes. Let me underscore that - it was the 1920's and Karl allowed them to try on clothes.

"This did not sit well with the white farmers in the area. I suppose that he was warned about his indiscretions, but he was young, he was open and he didn't see a problem in letting possible customers try on a pair of pants or a jacket.

"And then, the warning became stern. And worse. A couple of men took Karl in a corner and told him what might happen if he didn't stop letting those n-word bastards try on clothes.

"At this point, Karl and Sadie felt it was time to take a break. They had been in the store, working hard for six or seven years. Karl wrote to his brother, Charles, in Chicago.

"Charles Bankendorf was my father," my future mother-in-law added.

"Yes, come to Chicago for a while," Charles answered.

"But, alas, it was too late. As they were packing and preparing one night, the same two men, armed, broke into the store, came into the back where the family lived and grabbed Karl.

"Even as he screamed and pleaded, they brought him to a tree not far from his shop.....and lynched him.

"Sadie watched the whole thing - crying and screaming as well.

"The next day, she sent the two boys to her own family in New York and was preparing to follow them after she closed up the shop. But, it was too late for her, as well. The same men came into the store that night, shot her, and set fire to the shop and the living area behind it.

"Now, you know," she said, "and now you understand why I don't want you going to Georgia."

"Oh, Mom, that was 30 years ago," Bob said. "The South is different today. I'll be working with men like me, educated, liberal, with a totally different perspective."

"Just try to find something here in Chicago," she asked. "Just try."

And, so he did....and found a news-writing job at a Chicago radio/TV station and stayed there for many years, becoming News Director.

And, now, decades later, with the tumult in our beloved country, with the damage and hurt done to Black men and women everywhere, I wonder. Should we have gone and possibly changed people's minds? Or would we have been laughed at for our foolish, liberal perspectives? Could we have made things better? Or would we have come out worse?

I'll never know. 

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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