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The Color of Water

The story of a black boy growing up under the care of a white mother.

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Transcript of The Color of Water

Meet Ruth Jordan McBride and James McBride. Growing up wasn't always easy for either of them, especially during times of such great change. Growing up is never easy. It's even harder when you are faced with racial prejudice. But when all you know about your family's past is your mother's first name, what do you do? You dig! Ruth McBride Jordan hid her past from her mixed race children. However, James McBride was curious... Just like James, we are going to dig up Ruth's past... Ruth was born April Fool's Day, 1921 in a small town in Poland. Growing Up an Orthodox Jew Her birth name was Ruchel Dwajra Zylska. Her father was "Tateh", a gruff Jewish rabbi who did things his way. Her mother, "Mameh", was a meek, pretty lady who contracted polio, which left her face disfigured. Ruchel's father never really loved his family. They were his property. It got so bad, Ruchel wanted to run away. The family arrived in the US August 23, 1923. This was at the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance This was a time of fine arts reformation in Harlem, New York. This era was characterized by people of African descent sharing their ideas of the arts through visual paintings, poems and song lyrics, jazz and blues music, and provocative dancing. Famous people of the time included: *Moe Berg: MLB catcher
*Frederic Alexander Birmingham: Editor of Esquire Magazine
*James Reese Europe: musician
*Hubert Harrison: "The Father of Harlem Radicalism"
*Harry Houdini: Magician
*Scott Joplin: Pianist And many others! Things to do at the time:

*Attend rent parties
*Visit several "speakeasies"
*See Duke Ellington
*Dress like a flapper You had to find a way to express yourself. To express herself, Ruchel's name had to be changed when they moved to America. She became Rachel Deborah Shilsky. There were also other drastic measures to be taken. “Of course I had something to run from. My father did things to me when I was a young girl that I couldn’t tell anyone about. Such as getting in bed with me at night and doing things to me sexually that I could not tell anyone about.” pg 42 Teenage Years Rachel got pregnant in 1939 by her black boyfriend, but she had an abortion. She chose to leave her family in 1939. Coincidentally, that was the same year she met James' father, Dennis. Her father disowned her in 1941. A year later, her mother died. Rachel changed her name to Ruth. Ruth felt so guilty about leaving her mother with her father. New York, New York In 1942, Ruth moved in with Dennis and converted to Christianity. They had their first child together in 1943! Ruth and Dennis got an apartment in 1950, the same year they started the New Brown Memorial Baptist Church. The church was upkept until 1957, when Dennis died. James was the last child of which Dennis was father. James McBride Mixed Child of God *Born in 1957
*Began kindergarten at 5
*Called a "n------" at 10 James was raised with 11 other kids, meaning he had to fight for attention as a youngster. His mother raised him properly, teaching him that God made us all in His image and loves everyone equally. “My brothers and sisters were my best friends, but when it came to food, they were my enemies. There were so many of us we were constantly hungry, scavenging for food in the empty refrigerator and cabinets.” pg 65-66 As he grew older, James became ashamed of being seen with his WHITE mother. James grew up in the era of Black Power and Civil Rights. Black Power 1966 was a big year for everyone. There was discussion about the superiority of races. Since James was mixed, he saw both sides of the prejudice. Malcolm X, a fighter for black rights, was killed in 1965. The Black Panthers brought fear to everyone. James' siblings would march around the house singing empowerment songs, with titles such as "N------- Are Scared of Revolution" and "On the Subway". James was scared for his family. There was violence everywhere, toward people of every race. Civil Rights Despite the violent approaches to gain rights, there were people who chose to fight with peace. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of those people. While others screamed and criticized black people, this man brought about a harmonious view of how all people are created equal. This ideal embodied what Ruth had taught her children. They needed to live in unity, not animosity. Growing Up James
After James was born, Ruth remarried a man named Hunter Jordan. He provided for the family. When he died, the family basically fell apart. “I was obviously hiding, and angry as well, but i would never admit that to myself. the marvelous orchestrated chaos that mommy had so painstakingly constructed to make her house run smoothly broke down when daddy died, and mommy was in no fixing mood...She, in turn, suffered more, having no one to help her keep the younger ones in line...I ignored it.” pg 140-141 James dropped out of high school and began to use drugs; he was also in a gang. In an effort to pull James out of his funk, Ruth sends him to his older sister Jack. Living with her helps James to see how his life would end up. He turns his life around and heads home with a plan in mind. Dreams of the Future James returned home and finished out high school. His mom had pushed each of his older siblings into college through sheer willpower, and she wasn't going to give up on James. “My high school grades were sour, my SAT’s low, but my musical and writing abilities were strong and I had good recommendations. To my utter amazement, the school accepted me. Mommy was completely happy when I told her the news. she hugged me and beamed, put the acceptance letter in her shoebox under her bed, and bragged to anyone she saw....I was the eighth straight child she sent to college.” pg 189 Ruth had great aspirations for each of her children, and she made sure they reached their full potential. Life After College This brings us to the present. College Boy 1979: graduated from Oberlin 1980: received Master's in Journalism 1982: Worked for "The Boston Globe" It was at this time which James met an acquaintance of his mother's father, which sparked his curiosity to find out more about her past. 1988: Worked for "The Washington Post" James' seach for the Shilsky family ended in August 1992. In August 1993, Ruth went home to Suffolk to find the place where she had started. In October 1994, the 40th anniversary of the New Brown Memorial Baptist Church was celebrated. Ruth's story came to an end January 9, 2010, when she died in her home in Ewing, New Jersey. However, her legacy still lives on. All of Ruth's children: Andrew
and Ruth Have attended and graduated from prestigious universities around the country.
All are extremely successful in life.
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