Protest against Rosenburgs' Execution, New York, 1953
My mother told me we were going to join the march to protest the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. I was terrified. I’d heard about the violence perpetrated by angry bystanders against people protesting outside of Sing Sing Prison. If I could have figured out a way to say no, I would have, but my mother framed it as a moral obligation and I knew, despite my fear, she was right.
Protest Against Rosenberg Execution
We took the subway into Manhattan and joined a crowd of people already marching. Just as I feared, people, mostly young men, were shouting curses and anti-Semitic remarks, hurling bottles and cans, threatening to kill us all. My mother, angry at the injustice of the execution and the taunts from the bystanders, speaking from years of attending protest marches, said, “Ignore them. They feed on your fear.”
Easier said than done. I couldn’t stop shaking, especially after a bottle hit the man marching next to me, seeing the blood gush from his head. A woman put her handkerchief against the wound and suggested he leave, but he refused. “I’m not letting those bastards win.”
My shaking got so bad I could hardly walk. I felt like I was going to throw up. Then, from behind, I heard singing. As people heard they joined in. I knew the song. Knew the words. “We shall not, we shall not be moved. We shall not, we shall not be moved. Just like a tree that’s standing in the water, we shall not be moved. “
People around me sang, their voices strong and clear. I began to sing with them, and as my voice found its power, my fear disappeared. I felt proud to be part of history, part of thousands of people protesting injustice. For the rest of the march, I walked with newly found resolution. When I saw a can coming toward me I deflected it. It seemed that as the curses and yells grew stronger, and the bottles and cans more numerous, my courage strengthened.
I took my mother’s hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back, smiling her approval. One of the few times in my life that my mother and I were in accord, doing what we knew was right, in the company of thousands who were marching for justice.
What gives you courage in a difficult situation?
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.