The Making of an Activist:
Eleanor and Isadore Salkind
Isadore Salkind was born February 9, 1914 in Wilmington, Delaware. His mother, Rose Dektor, was an immigrant from Lithuania. Isadore's father, Nuchum (Nathan) Zalkind, grew up in a Russian Shtettl, Docszhitsky, not far from Minsk. The town was destroyed in the many pogroms that swept Russia in the twentieth century.
When Nathan Zalkind was in his teens, he and his friends went out on the town to celebrate the news that the Czar had agreed to democratize Russia, and were severely beaten by the Czarist police. Within 3 weeks the family scraped up enough funds to ship Nathan to the US.
He didn't like the dirt and bustle of New York, and soon moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where he became a notions salesman and met Rose Dektor. They married and had 5 children: Clara, Isadore, Milton, Etta, and Marcia.
Clara was like a second mother to her two youngest siblings, Etta and Marcia. She became a social worker in New York.
Even as a little boy, Milton was drawn to the piano. His parents, recognizing his talent, gave him piano lessons in Philadelphia. He went on to become a famous four-hand pianist with his wife, Peggy, and was the director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music until his retirement.
Isadore liked school and did well; the teachers were good and they cared. One high school English teacher in particular, George Henry, who later became a Professor of English at the University of Delaware, was especially inspiring and important to Isadore. Mr. Henry was not only a fine teacher, but also a brilliant pianist and painter. In school, Isadore was mostly interested sports &emdash; basketball, football, baseball, and his special friends, Tom Hughes and Robert Reed were high school athletes. Isadore graduated from the University of Delaware in 1935, majoring in secondary education. After college, he went to Washington, DC, and got a clerical job under the New Deal in the Department of Agriculture. He joined the union and became chair of the grievance committee. In Washington, he met Eleanor Franklin, who was dating a friend of his, Danny Driesen. single russian dating sites seeking men
Isadore became a field agent for the La Follette Committee to investigate oppressive labor practices. Meanwhile, he was being politicized by his experiences with the union and the La Follette Committee. In 1940 Isadore transferred to become a field agent for Representative Tolan's Committee on migratory workers.
Eleanor was born on Christmas Day. December 25, 1914, the youngest of four children: Louise, Charlie, Jimmy, and Eleanor Franklin, all born about 3 years apart. Her older siblings were not really happy that she made her appearance on Christmas Day, stealing all the limelight from them.
All four of these children were known as lefties in their youth, and three of them went on to become major forces in leftist causes. What was it that formed these children?
Their parents weren't political &emdash; of right OR left. Their father, William Hopkins Franklin, was a clerk in the Treasury Department in Washington, DC. He was fragile and reserved, and perhaps due to the stress of his job, became more and more withdrawn, had severa breakdowns, and was finally committed to Washington's St. Elizabeth's Hospital when Ellie was in her twenties.
The backbone who held the family together was Mama, Helen Denny Franklin, especially as Poppa became more and more withdrawn. But she was a very straightforward person and not interested in politics or human rights causes, although she did enjoy her church activities.
So what was it that politicized these children? Ellie credits "Poppa" with instilling in her a sense of honesty and equality. Once when Eleanor was about 6 years old she was with a bunch of friends and they were mocking a local Chinese laundryman, "Chink Chink Chinaman". Poppa came by and pulled Eleanor aside, and read Eleanor the riot act for treating a fellow human being that way.
Poppa influenced Ellie to be honest, to have a sense of fair play, and to "treat people right." Charlie, six years older than Ellie, and an exotic free spirit who read widely and sailed to foreign ports as part of the merchant marine influenced Ellie with his ideas of equality, freedom, and alternative forms of governance.
Ellie's first job, when she was in her early twenties, was as a clerk in the claims department of the Elite Laundry. This was a real education. She worked in the office, where everyone was white and where the workers were invited to an annual picnic at the splendid home of the owner. In the laundry room all the workers were Negroes. They were never invited to the annual picnic. The laundry room was steaming hot. About once a week during the summer an ambulance pulled up to the back to carry off a Negro woman or two who were overcome with the heat. All the disertation to researchers.
Ellie then got a job in circulation department of the Washington Post newspaper. As part of her job she organized parties and projects to increase circulation. That was a education in organizing that served her well in her later years as an activist.
Perhaps the biggest reason for these children becoming politicized was the general atmosphere. The country was in the middle of the great depression. There was radicalism in the air. John Lewis was very active and quoted everywhere, there were discussions in the newspapers and everywhere about worker's rights, democracy, socialism, and equality.
Ellie met Isadore Salkind during this period when she was working at the Washington Post. Isadore was attracted to this vibrant girl, but she was "taken" and was dating his roommate, Dan Driesen. Both Dan and Isadore were organizers: Dan for the American Communications Association, and Isadore for the La Follette Committee to investigate oppressive labor practices and for Representative Tolan's Committee on migratory workers.
The winds of war were blowing. Eleanor and Danny were married, and Danny was drafted into the army. Isadore was feeling restless and eager to fight Facism at the front. He could have been deferred because of his government job, but he didn't want the deferment and asked Congressman Tolan to cancel it.
Isadore joined the army in February, 1941. At first the army tried to give him a desk job, which Isadore protested, but finally a Major allowed him to take an airplane mechanic test. He passed, and trained in airplane mechanics for 6 months in Biloxi, Mississippi. After training he was shipped to Florida, where he found that all his fellow boot camp enlistees had already been shipped out to the front. Army intelligence had discovered that Isadore had been a "premature anti-fascist" (imagine that!) and didn't want him in the regular army. Instead they had him sent to the quartermaster's corps.
In Washington on a furlough, Isadore ran into an old friend, Ed Pritchard, who was a big shot in the FDR administration and was close to Senator La Follette. With Isadore at hand, Ed called the army and said, "I got a fella heah wants to get his ass shot off &emdash; you got any objections?" Within 3 days Isadore was sent for training as a Gunner II, and his group was shipped to Idaho for further training as an air crew.
After a couple of months of training on B24s, Isadore' crew was sent overseas, flying to the Azores, North Africa, and then stationed in Cerignola in southern Italy. They flew 30 missions, over Germany, Yugoslavia, Austria, and Hungary. They were shot up several times, but no one was hurt, thanks to the pilot, Ed Durkee, who was referred to as God by the crew.
The war was drawing to an end. Isadore had joined a de-Nazification unit in Germany, first as a soldier, and then, after his discharge, as a civilian. Isadore learned that Dan had died in Germany in the explosion of an ammunition dump which he had been guarding, and he went to Washington, DC to pay his respects to Dan's widow, Ellie. He had always been attracted to Ellie, and now she was available. They went out together a few times and fell in love and were married August 26, 1946 on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River.
Isadore and Ellie moved to Chicago where Isadore worked as an organizer: first for the United Electrical Workers, and then for the Mine Mill, & Smelter workers. He was sent to New Mexico to settle a strike that had torn the union apart, and Isadore and El lived there in Carlbad and El Paso doing organizing and strike work.
They worked for the union movement in Carlsbad, El Paso, and Chicago. Then Isadore was asked to set up a "work adjustment center" for emotionally disturbed people in San Francisco, so the pair moved to Berkeley.
Ellie got a job at the Berkeley School Board, which at that time was VERY conservative. She had signed the loyalty oath which was required at the time, but the school board checked with the FBI and determined that she had been a member of the communist party, so they fired her and told her that she would not get another job in any school district in the Bay Area.
In the fall of 1961 Ellie was walking down Derby street, depressed at her failure to find a job, when a leaflet blew against her feet. It was from Cecilia Horovitz and said "We're going to organize for peace. Come and join us." It was like a message from on high. El went to that first meeting of what became Women Strike For Peace, and later Women For Peace. Others at the meeting included Madeleine Duckles, Emily Lewis, Alice Hamburg, Libby Mines, and Pam Ford.
There followed many years of activism on the part of both Isadore and Eleanor, with Women Strike For Peace, Women For Peace, Elders For Survival, the Grey Panthers, KPFA, and the United Farm Workers.