Unintended Consequences

I recently was contacted by Lori Styler who is working on a documentary film entitled Dreamers and Fighters, about the New York City teacher purges during the McCarthy period. I’d been part of a panel entitled “Children of the Blacklist” at a conference some years earlier commemorating the New York Teachers Union. Lori remembered my participation and asked if I would contribute a short statement to the website they are building to promote the film: www.DreamersandFighters.com.

At first I wasn’t sure what to write because Abel and Anne Meeropol left the Teachers Union in the mid 1940’s when they moved to Hollywood, and I did not start living with them until 1954. Then I remembered the story below. (It, or a similar version, will soon be on the documentary’s website, if it isn’t already.)

My first memories of Alice Citron are from when I was about seven years old. My brother Michael and I began living with Abel and Anne Meeropol in early 1954 when I was still six, but I don’t believe we visited with Alice until later that year. She had been a friend of the Meeropols since the 1930’s when they’d been in the Teachers Union together. I remember her as a very warm person with a keen wit.

Before I met Alice she had been fired from her teaching job after she refused to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy period purges. This was quite a blow for her, but surprisingly, it benefited me.

After losing her teaching job, Alice obtained a new position as Shirley Graham DuBois’ personal secretary. During this period Manny Bloch, our birth parents’ attorney, became my brother’s and my legal guardian. After our birth parents’ execution in June of 1953, Manny Bloch set out to raise a trust fund for our education and Shirley Graham became one of the trustees of that fund.

Abel and Anne Meeropol initially had offered to take us into their home after our parents’ arrest, but it was decided that we should stay with relatives at that time. Then after the executions the Meeropols stepped forward again and offered to adopt us. They contacted their friend Alice Citron, who connected them with Shirley Graham, who, in turn, arranged for them to meet with Manny Bloch.

Manny met with the Meeropols, liked them and was favorably disposed. He was aware that Abel Meeropol was the author of Strange Fruit and The House I Live In, and of course, it didn’t hurt that they had Shirley Graham’s recommendation, engineered by Alice Citron. Alice added her own good word, telling Manny that Abel and Anne would be “perfect.” This also carried weight because Manny knew Alice as one of the stalwarts working on the campaign to save my parents’ lives. Manny agreed to the adoption after that first meeting and that’s how I ultimately became Robert Meeropol.

The red-baiting and subsequent blacklisting of Teachers Union members was terrible. But as with so many other events, there were unintended consequences and not all of them were bad. Alice’s firing set in motion a chain of events that led to me being raised in the home of Abel and Anne Meeropol, two wonderful members of the Teachers’ Union.

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