Monday, May 29, 2006

Liberating Paris and De-Segregating Los Angeles

Yesterday, May, 28, I went to the 90th birthday celebration of Seymour Robinson and the 60th anniversary of Seymour and his wife Anita. Seymour and Anita are old friends (40 years at least) of my mother. Today is Memorial Day, and I wish to discuss Seymour.

I was seated at the World War II table as each table had a scrapbook giving memories. Seymour is particularly proud of his service during the war. He fought at Omaha Beach during the U.S. landing in Normandy. As a member of the Civil Affair D team, he was attached to the U.S. First Infanty Division which broke through the German lines at St. Lo. Then his Civil Affairs team was assigned to the French Tank Division commanded by General Le Clerc whose mission was to liberate Paris. His Civil Affairs teams was assigned to set up a new government in the 3rd Arrondisment.

As he drove his jeep through the countryside and then the suburbs of Paris, he remembers crowds waved French and American flags cheering them on. Then they entered Paris itself and as dawn on August 24th broke they "were surrounded by growing enthusiastic humanity ..." They discovered they were right in front of the Louvre, but Captain Bell told them their mission was to get to the Place to the Republic, so their group of jeeps headed in that direction, still surrounded by huge numbers of people who made it difficult for them to move but they kept inching foward.

They entered the Place de la Republic where French Resistance fighters had surrounded the headquarters of the Garde Republicain, now occupied by German SS. Seymour's group joined in alonside the Resistance and soon a white flag appeared over the building. Enterting the building they found that in the cells were dead bodies of men who had been shot--all wearing Jewish stars (Seymour is Jewish).

Emerging outside the building, he saw a crowd greeting him and the other American soliders: in the crowd were two elderly men wearing Jewish stars. They asked in English, "Whare is the will of the Americans? Are we still to wear our Jewish stars?" Seymour says, "We were unable to speak. Each one of us spontaneously removed a yellow star from the clothing of the nearest person and attached it to our uniform. A shout went up all around us--'Liberation!-Liberation.' " Later Seymour was awarded the Crois de Guerre from the French government as well as three Bronze battle stars

After he returned to the United States, Seymour went back to his hometown Chicago where he immediately maried his sweetheart Anita. They left Chicago, moving to Los Angeles where they had three children, settling on the westside in the large Jewish community of Pico-Fairfax. He had been active as a reporter for left newspapers during the Depression and was in the late 1940s working as a typesetter, facing McCarthy blacklisting, so he started his own typesetting firm.

During the 1960s Seymour and another friend Maury Mitchell organized the Progress Club at the Westside Jewish Community Center which my parents belonged to. They took part in the large black-Jewish coalition that was crucial in electing Bradley to his first term as Los Angeles's first African-American mayor. Seymour and Anita lived in a Pico/Fairfax neighborhood where blacks were beginning to buy houses. White flight was always a danger, so Seymour organized Neighbors United, a group that tried to stop white flight and keep his neighborhood integrated. Also, the Robinsons worked at desegregating the Los Angeles public schools.

At the luncheon some of Los Angeles's leading black politicans were there: Congresswoman Maxine Waters spoke a tribute to Seymour & Anita. Also Congresswoman Diane Watson and former Councilman Nate Holden were there.

I find a direct line between Seymour's heroic World War II service as well as his carrying those same principals into action twenty years later in Los Angeles, still very segregated in mid-1960s. He was courageous both in war and bringing justice on the homefront, and I salute both him and Anita on their 60th wedding anniversary and his 90th birthday! Congratuatations!

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