Paul Greenberg

Coming out of my cubby, I met a khaki-clad caller at the front counter. A brief conversation ensued.

"Did y'all run an engagement picture of a colored girl on the same page as the white ones yesterday?"

"Yes, sir."

At that the man reached down, took out a large envelope, and placed it on the counter. "This is my daughter's engagement picture," he said. "If you want to run it next to a colored girl's, that'll be fine with us."

Then he nodded goodbye and was gone. My faith in people, in the South, in just plain ordinary decency was restored. No, justice hadn't exactly rolled down like mighty waters, but in those days even a trickle felt like a flood. The man in khaki hadn't made a big deal of it, either, which was another reason it was a splendid moment. I guess that's something else I have Justice Roaf to thank for.

Sometimes the providential works in accidental ways.


The other day I was reading about the life and adventuresome times of the Comtesse de la Tour du Pin, a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette. And of all people, I immediately thought of my immigrant mother. She came from a tiny Polish village way back of beyond, a shtetl called Mordt. From outside Mordt, actually. A place so obscure nobody else ever seems to have heard of it. What could she possibly have had in common with an 18th-century French aristocrat at the court of Louis XVI?

I'll tell you. I made the connection on reading the countess' description of her escape from the mob during The Terror. She was hiding out in Bordeaux when, under the pretense of taking a stroll in the public gardens, she managed to slip away and board a dinghy to the ship that was waiting to take her across the ocean to America and safety. "There is no doubt," she would later recall, "that the heave of the oar with which the sailor pushed us off from shore was the happiest moment of my life."

That's when I thought of my mother. Sarah Ackerman Greenberg always blessed the day -- February 10, 1921 -- when she landed at the Port of Boston and first set foot on American soil. It seems a kinsman who had taken off for America after his house had burned down, the last of a series of reversals, had done well enough here to send my mother passage money. And so she was able to escape the poverty, war and general chaos she'd known growing up in the old country. Not to mention the horror to come in Europe.

Sometimes the providential works in accidental ways.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.