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Subtitle Children of the Blacklist

Children of the Blacklist:  Robert Meeropol

Robert Meeropol, the adopted son of former Teachers Union members Anne and Abel Meeropol, is a lawyer, social activist and author. He wrote a memoir with his brother, Michael, We Are Your Sons: The Legacy of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1974), and a solo work, An Execution in the Family: One Son’s Journey (2003).

He is also Director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which, “ … provides for the educational and emotional needs of both targeted activist youth and children in this country whose parents have been harassed, injured, jailed, lost jobs or died in the course of their progressive activities.”

Robert Meeropol
Robert Meeropol

Anne and Abel Meeropol were Teachers Union members who also devoted time to activist causes within the Union. Abel offered his many contributions as a writer. He had gone to De Witt Clinton H.S., received a Masters degree from Harvard, then returned to teach English at DeWitt Clinton for the next 17 years.

Witch Hunt in NYC Public Schools

Now a teacher and a writer, Abel Meeropol wrote the anti-lynching anthem, Strange Fruit. It made its debut as a 1936 poem, Bitter Fruit, which was published in the union’s paper, The New York Teacher. When he added music, it became an entry for the union’s Theater Arts Committee, was produced by the New Theater League and performed for the event by his wife Anne. By 1939, it became Billie Holiday’s signature song.

Abel Meeropol
Abel Meeropol

And by March of 1940, as the witch hunts were gaining prominence, Abel Meeropol was called  to testify before the Rapp-Coudert Committee which investigated Communism in New York public schools. He was asked whether he had donated, or was commissioned by the Communist Party to write, the controversial song. Neither was true, but in 1944, the Meeropols left the Teachers Union and New York, and headed to California where Abel continued as a songwriter.

Songs for All Americans

Under his pen name, Lewis Allan, he and Earl Robinson went on to write, The House I Live In which this time, became the anthem for patriotism as sung by performers from Paul Robeson to Frank Sinatra. Meeropol’s lyrics were written to idealize not what America was, but what it had the potential to become.  Unfortunately in the film short, The House I Live In, a vehicle for Sinatra, the song was whitewashed when the lyrics, “The house I live in, my neighbors white and black…” were excised, much to Abel’s dismay.

With a substantial catalogue of published music, the Meeropols returned to New York in 1950 to face the larger sweep of the Cold War.

Robby Meeropol, one of the couple’s two sons talks below of his arrival on the scene during that era. During the next years, Abel, described by his sons as “gentle” and “funny” continued as a songwriter, and at his memorial in 1986, his Teachers Union friend, Bernie's wife, Honey Kassoy, sang Strange Fruit in tribute.

Activist Tradition Continues

Unintended Consequences

Sophie-Louise Ullman and Robby Meeropol
Sophie-Louise Ullman and Robby Meeropol

By Robert Meeropol

The red-bating 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.

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 theirs since the 1930s 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.

Irving Mauer, Zippy Bauman and Robbie Meeropol
Irving Mauer, Zippy Bauman and Robby Meeropol

After losing her teaching job, Alice obtained a new position as personal secretary to  Shirley Graham Du Bois, the wife of W.E.B. Du Bois. During this period Manny Bloch, my birth parents’ attorney, became my brother’s and my legal guardian. After my 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.

Alice’s firing set in motion a chain of events that led to my being raised in the home of Abel and Anne Meeropol, two wonderful members of the Teachers Union.

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