WHEN WE BREAK THE RULES:
Black-Jewish Connection and the Unsolved Murder of William Seidler
Note to advance readers: These are partial endnotes for Part One of RULES. As I convert my remaining endnotes to the more accessible style seen in Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, they will be added here.
Archival collections cited in this writing sample are abbreviated as follows.
JCRC = Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia Records, SCRC 230, Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
SCRC Bulletin Clippings = George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Clippings Collection, Biographical, SCRC 169A, Special Collections Research Center. Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
WILPF = Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom Records, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
WF = New Hampshire World Fellowship Center records, 1919-2013, MS-1105, Rauner Special Collections Library. Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Prologue: March 18, 1971
[IMAGE] Police summary of William Seidler’s death: Commissioner Joseph F. O’Neill, “Confidential: Slain Jewish Merchants 1968-1973” (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Police Department, April 10, 1973), n.p., Box 175, Folder 19-21: Slain Jewish Merchants 1968-1973 (City of Phila. Police Department), JCRC.
On March 18, 1971: Rich Sapok, “Merchant Slain in N. Phila.,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 19, 1971, 5, Newspapers.com.
…she never opened her shop again: Miriam discusses never returning to the store in an interview circa 1989 for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom newsletter, n.d., DG 043: “Biographical information: Miriam G. Seidler,” WILPF.
The shooter was never apprehended: O’Neill, “Confidential: Slain Jewish Merchants 1968-1973,” 1973; William R. Macklin, “A Volunteer Who Doesn’t Fit the Mold,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 1998, sec. D, 1, 7, Newspapers.com.
Police labeled the crime a holdup: O’Neill, “Confidential: Slain Jewish Merchants 1968-1973,” 1973.
…seven years earlier, when a massive riot: For a contemporary account of the 1964 Columbia Avenue riot, see Lenora E. Berson, Case Study of a Riot: The Philadelphia Story (New York: Institute of Human Relations, American Jewish Committee, 1966).
“The scene of the murder”: Charles Montgomery, “Store Owner Is Slain in North Phila. Holdup,” Evening Bulletin, March 19, 1971, 35, Box 2, Folder 13: Obituary: Bill Seidler, 1970, WF.
Most of the area’s white families had moved on: The rapid decline of North Philadelphia’s Jewish population is illustrated by a 1970 report of social workers providing aid to the last few Jews they were aware of in the area. Bessie K. Stensky, “The Strawberry Mansion Project on the Aged: A Report on A Reaching Out Effort by the Jewish Family Service of Philadelphia,” November 1970, Box 179, Folder 2, JCRC. On the conditions affecting both white and Black Jews in North Philadelphia after the mid-1950s, see chapters 4, 5, 8 and 11 of this work.
Black families, who had been denied those homes and subsidies: On anti-Black racism and discrimination in postwar housing benefits, see Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright, 2017).
Decades of North Philadelphia residents: Scholarship on culture and politics in Black North Philadelphia tends to appear within larger works on Black Philadelphia history, such as Matthew Countryman’s Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).
Certain white politicians: The premier Philadelphia politician to capitalize off of overtly racial 'law and order' discourse was police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo. See chapter 9 and Timothy J. Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).
At the scene of the crime: Sapok, “Merchant Slain in N. Phila.,” 5
…a Black Muslim merchant shook his head: Montgomery, “Store Owner Is Slain in North Phila. Holdup,” 35.
…the murder of William Seidler shocked the neighborhood: Sandy Padwe, “My Philadelphia: Believed in People - But He Met Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 1971, Metropolitan Page, 39, Newspapers.com.
At his memorial: Padwe, “Believed in People - But He Met Death,” 39; Associated Press, “Slain Storekeeper Eulogized by Black Panther Party Members,” Standard-Speaker, Hazelton, PA, March 30, 1971, final edition, 19, Newspapers.com.
…“a lot of people warned Bill Seidler”: Padwe, “Believed in People - But He Met Death,” 39.
The block’s butcher: Dennis Kirkland and Edward Eisen, “Neighbors Take Up Arms After Merchant’s Death,” Philadelphia Inquirer, March 20, 1971, final City edition, sec. A, 1, Newspapers.com.
Lawrence Alseeoldal, whose elderly Black mother: Montgomery, “Store Owner Is Slain in North Phila. Holdup,” 35.
…the butcher’s son: Kirkland and Eisen, “Neighbors Take Up Arms After Merchant’s Death,” 1. Black merchants seem to have armed themselves earlier than white merchants. Kitsi Burkhart and Alfonso Brown, Jr., “Slain Storekeeper Helped Neighborhood,” Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, PA, March 20, 1971, n.p., “William Seidler,” Bulletin Clippings.
Optometrist Murray Rosenberg: Kirkland and Eisen, “Neighbors Take Up Arms After Merchant’s Death,” 1.
Lela Green gestured at a doctor’s office: Kitsi Burkhart and Alfonso Brown, Jr., “Slain Storekeeper Helped Neighborhood,” n.p.
…old man gunned down heartlessly: Seidler’s death seemed to fit neatly into the racialized narratives both of politicians like Rizzo and of crime reporting in the U.S. in the 1970s. See Melissa Hickman Barlow, “Race and the Problem of Crime in ‘Time’ and ‘Newsweek’ Cover Stories, 1946 to 1995,” Social Justice 25, no. 2 (1998): 149–83.
Seated with a longtime reporter: Larry Fields, “It Takes More Than Guns to Kill Widow’s Ideals,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 1, 1972, 2, 26.
Chapter One: A Slap in the Face to the Angel of Death
The sky feels very close: Visual impressions of the city are from my personal experience since the 1980s, with specific research visits to the 1900 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue in 2019. See historic images of Columbia Avenue at https://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/Search.aspx.
So let us pause first: "1930 United States Census, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Digital Image s.v. ‘Beatrice Bullard,’" 1930 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com; "Marriage License, Grant Bullard to Clara Davis," December 22, 1919, Robeson County, North Carolina, Office of Register of Deeds, Lumberton, North Carolina Registers of Deeds, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, Volume Unknown; p. 12, Microfilm. Record Group 048. Ancestry.com; "1910 United States Census, Wahee, Marion, South Carolina, Digital Image s.v. ‘Mattie Davis,’" n.d., Roll: T624_1451; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0075; FHL microfilm: 1375464, 1910 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com; "1880 United States Census, Wahee, Marion, South Carolina, Digital Image s.v. ‘Melvina Wright,’" n.d., Roll: 1235; Page: 336C; Enumeration District: 102, 1880 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com.
She was a shy Black woman: Barbara Easley-Cox, interviewed by April Rosenblum via telephone, July 26, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 19, author’s possession.
Her parents had been raised in the Carolinas: Barbara Easley-Cox, interviewed by April Rosenblum, Philadelphia, PA, May 19, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 2, author’s possession; "Marriage License of Grant Bullard to Clara Davis.”
…in one of the early waves of the Great Migration: For a brief introduction to periodization of the Great Migration, see Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Vintage 2011 ed. (New York: Random House, 2010), 217–18.
…Philadelphia’s old immigrant neighborhood: The Bullard family lived in Philadelphia’s seventh ward, the same area studied by W.E.B. DuBois in his classic work, The Philadelphia Negro. Barbara discusses the neighborhood in her interview with Muhammad Ahmad (Philadelphia, PA, video cassette, 1991, Barbara Easley-Cox Papers, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and throughout our interviews on May 19, 2009 and July 2, 2009 (Philadelphia, PA, MP3 audio files & transcripts, author’s possession).
They had rented this apartment: Barbara Easley-Cox, interviewed by April Rosenblum via telephone, August 25, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 1, author’s possession.
It came first from the airwaves: “Staid Old Philly Blows Its Top,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 18, 1945, 1, 3, Newspapers.com.
First came the signal from the mayor: William C. Farson, “Philadelphia Roars Salute to Victory,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1945, 1, 4, Newspapers.com.
Readying themselves for a turbulent night in the city: Farson, “Philadelphia Roars Salute to Victory,” 1, 4.
In San Francisco, thousands had filled the streets: “Riots End Liberty for 100,000 in Navy: San Francisco Quiet Again After Battles in Streets Cause Deaths of 10,” New York Times, August 17, 1945, 6.
Photographic tributes captured the night’s joy: “Staid Old Philly Blows It’s Top,” 1, 3.
The second article hinted at why: Ernest Johnson, “V-J Day Presents Special Problems,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 18, 1945, 1, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
“Growing like a spectre now is the prospect of unemployment”: Johnson, “V-J Day Presents Special Problems,” 1.
Only recently, wartime needs had forced companies: Robin D. G. Kelley notes that this progress was slow; it was not until 1944 that wartime employment opened up significantly to African American workers. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (Simon and Schuster, 1996), 164.
…like the one Beatrice’s husband, Joseph, had at the Navy Yard: Barbara Easley-Cox, interviewed by Muhammad Ahmad, 1991.
“Attention is beginning to focus upon threats of outbreaks”: Johnson, “V-J Day Presents Special Problems,” 1.
Three miles west of Beatrice Brooks: “Red Cross Workers To Relate Experiences,” Philadelphia Tribune, January 13, 1945, 16, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
At age four, in 1912, she had immigrated: "Marian Greenberg [subsequently ‘Marion’], SS Volturno Passenger Manifest,” November 14, 1912, Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, 1820-1957, Microfilm Serial T715, roll 1975, line 1, page 205; Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36, Ancestry.com.
…Jews all around her followed news of the Russian Revolution: The importance of the 1917 revolution to U.S. Jews is illustrated by the headlines in the Yiddish Forverts, the most widely-read Jewish immigrant newspaper in the country. After news of the Tsar’s fall, stories of food prices and war immediately lost their place on the front page, replaced by giant headlines such as “A New Light Rises Over Russia!” and “Nicholas Arrested.” A full page of stories included “The Latest News,” “The Duma Committee and the New Cabinet,” “What a New York Magazine Correspondent Saw with His Own Eyes in the Streets of Petrograd,” “The Russian Revolution Lives!,” “How the News Was Received in London” (my translation). Tony Michels captures some of the street-level response to the news in two works focused on New York, A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005) and “The Russian Revolution in New York, 1917–19,” Journal of Contemporary History 52, no. 4 (October 2017): 959–79.
A Black woman named Adella Bond: On the 1918 Philadelphia riots, see Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2010) and Vincent P. Franklin, “The Philadelphia Race Riot of 1918,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 99, no. 3 (1975): 336–50.
…poet James Weldon Johnson dubbed it the Red Summer: Imani Perry, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, Ebook-Adobe Digital Edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 50.
Yiddish writers wrote ringing denunciations: Hasia Diner discusses the phenomenon of Yiddish-language newspapers identifying white riots against Black communities as pogroms in In the Almost Promised Land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915–1935 (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1977), 43, 229.
…a family of lively female role models: On Miriam’s sisters see Sara Solovitch, “Women of Peace Who Fight Onward,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 25, 1983, sec. A, 20. On her mother see Teresa Jaynes, “Folk Arts of Social Change: Excerpts from an Exhibition,” Works in Progress: Magazine of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, Winter 2000, 13.
Her teachers worked hard to shape the students into elite young ladies: “High School Girls Present Christmas Play (in ’News of the World Told in Pictures’),” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 23, 1926, 17; “500 Alumnae Dine,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 1926, 2, Newspapers.com.
…young women so coveted hard, flat waif-like frames: “Just How Much Is It Safe to Reduce?,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 25, 1926, Magazine, 6.
She had been born into a Yiddish culture: Among the Yiddish songs which compare dark eyes to black cherries are "Baym Oybsheyd," Yiddish Songs Sung by Ruth Rubin (New York: Folkways Records, 1978), "Oy dortn, dortn, ibern vaser," Ruth Rubin, Jewish Life: The Old Country (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007) and "Dreyt zikh arum mayne fenster," Elvira Grözinger et al., “Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin”: jiddische Lieder aus den St. Petersburger Sammlungen (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2008). For the original connotation of "zaftik" versus the euphemistic English usage, see Michael Wex, Just Say Nu: Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won’t Do) (New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2007), 70-71.
Even her class yearbook editors struggled to understand: Miriam’s high school yearbook writers recorded her nickname as “Money,” probably a misreading of her family pet name, the Yiddish Monye, or Manye. “In politics,” they wrote, “it would be hard to find a more fiery suffragette,” and suggested she was destined to be a lawyer or politician, then groped further to compliment her: “or since her nickname is Money, she may yet turn out to be a real estate agent.” The Record of the Class of June, 1926 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Philadelphia High School for Girls, 1926), n.p.
She was the kind of girl who delighted: Deborah Zubow, interviewed by April Rosenblum, Philadelphia, PA, May 26, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 62-63, author’s possession.
…the only one to have an American childhood: “Marian Greenberg, SS Volturno Passenger Manifest,” November 14, 1912.
She marked the end of her senior year: Solovitch, “Women of Peace Who Fight Onward,” 20; WILPF newsletter, “Biographical information: Miriam G. Seidler,” n.p
In the fall, the Inquirer printed a picture: Untitled photographic spread, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 10, 1926, Rotogravure section, 4 (electronic page 112), Newspapers.com.
They celebrated May Day: WILPF newsletter, “Biographical information: Miriam G. Seidler,” n.p.; Laurie Ann Alexandre, “The John Reed Clubs: A Historical Reclamation of the Role of Revolutionary Writers in the Depression,” MA thesis (California State University, Northridge, 1977), 57–58.
…musician with a college education: Templar (Yearbook): The Annual of Temple University, vol. VIII (Philadelphia Pennsylvania: Temple University, 1930), 99, https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p245801coll12/id/55043.
…he had grown up in cramped working-class quarters: “1910 United States Census, Philadelphia Ward 39, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Digital Image s.v. ‘William Seidler,’” 1910, Roll: T624_1409; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0973; FHL microfilm: 1375422, 1910 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com.
…not only a match but an inspiration: Fields, “It Takes More Than Guns to Kill Widow’s Ideals,” 2, 26.
It was a spring weekend in 1932: “New York, New York Index to Marriages, New York City Clerk’s Office, v. 3: Marriage of William Seidler and Miriam D. Greenberg, #6281, 1932; New York City Municipal Archives, Manhattan, Ancestry.Com.
Bill had landed a respectable position: “Public Is Invited to Girls’ Music Contest,” Bristol Daily Courier, May 28, 1932, 1, Newspapers.com.
…a national boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany: “Nazi End Boycott on Jews,” Sunday News, Lancaster, PA, April 2, 1933, Volume 10, Number 30, 1, Newspapers.com.
That summer, American Jews gathered: Rafael Medoff, “American Jewish Responses to Nazism and the Holocaust,” in The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America, ed. Marc Lee Raphael (Columbia University Press, 2008), 293.
The consequences of failure were clear: Dick Levins, “Touch Red,” in Judy Kaplan and Linn Shapiro, Red Diapers: Growing Up in the Communist Left (Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1998), 261.
Bill and Miriam travelled west: The Seidlers were likely in Aberdeen by fall 1935, as Miriam is pictured among local junior college students for 1935-1936. Associated Students of the Grays Harbor Junior College at Aberdeen, The Nautilus (Yearbook) (Aberdeen, WA: Grays Harbor Junior College, 1936), 14, 21.
Bill found work: Bill’s employment is referenced in "United States World War II Draft Registration Cards," Card for William Seidler, Serial No. 948, Local Draft Board 9, Houston, Harris County, Texas; The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 1356, U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, Ancestry.com.
As the threat of war escalated in Europe: Isolationist fears of being pushed into war led to an increase in visible antisemitism not only at the grassroots but in the halls of legislative power. Edward S. Shapiro, “The Approach of War: Congressional Isolationism and Anti-Semitism, 1939–1941,” American Jewish History 74, no. 1 (1984): 45–65.
…the couple settled in in Houston: “October16, 1940, Draft Registration Cards for Texas,” 10/16/1940 - 03/31/1947, The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box 1356, Fold3.com.
…Bill joined the Symphony: “News From The Boys Serving In The Armed Forces of Uncle Sam,” Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, August 8, 1943, 5, Newspapers.com.
Years later, Miriam would shiver: Deborah Zubow, interviewed by April Rosenblum, Philadelphia, PA, July 12, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 23, author’s possession.
Still, at least in Houston: H.S. Linfield, “Statistics of Jews,” The American Jewish Year Book, Vol. 33 (September 12, 1931, to September 30, 1932 / 5692), 1932, 69.
Irving Wadler, Bill’s fellow musician: Bobbie Newman, “Growing up with the Houston Symphony,” Houston Symphony (blog), January 24, 2011, https://houstonsymphony.org/growing-up-with-the-houston-symphony/.
Now she was asking to become a citizen: Here, as in many official documents, her name was misspelled. Miriam’s own hand always recorded her given legal name as “Marion,” a spelling typical in the U.S. for boys. "Marian Seidler Petition for Naturalization (1940)," Naturalization File 5275, Texas District Court, Houston; Page 42, Texas Naturalization Records, 1852-1991, Ancestry.com.
The court clerk recorded a few essential details: "Marian Seidler Petition for Naturalization (1940)."
He registered with the local draft board: “United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, Card for William Seidler”; “October 16, 1940, Draft Registration Cards for Texas.”
They were expecting a baby: “1942 Births,” Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, n.d., 2154, Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (microfiche). Texas: Texas Department of State Health Services, Ancestry.com.
The following summer, Miriam gave birth: “1942 Births,” Texas Department of Health, 2154.
“David” was likely a tribute to Miriam’s father: “Death Certificate for David Greenberg,” June 3, 1933, Pennsylvania death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90, Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ancestry.com.
But any Eastern European Jew would have recognized: Jacob Zallel Lauterbach, The Naming of Children in Jewish Folklore, Ritual and Practice (Cincinnati: CCAR, 1932), 21-22, in Omi Morgenstern Leissner, “Jewish Women’s Naming Rites and the Rights of Jewish Women,” Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, no. 4 (2001), 172, note 101.
…an “open hunt” of the Hebrew race: Deborah E. Lipstadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933- 1945 (New York: Free Press, 1993), 159–60.
It was time to leave Texas: Miriam recalled that Texas’ antisemitic atmosphere made her unwilling to remain in Texas without Bill. Kathleen O’Donnell, interviewed by April Rosenblum, Philadelphia, PA, July 12, 2019, MP3 audio file & transcript, 23, author’s possession. “News From The Boys Serving In The Armed Forces of Uncle Sam,” 5.
Further endnotes will be added here as they are formatted. Thanks for reading!