18 Jan

MLK weekend has become a weekend of recalling one man. There are others, along the way, to remember at this time, too. Marion Anderson was the songstress whose numbers on the DC mall eclipsed the attendee numbers at Dr. King’s speech. Marion, supported by Mrs. Roosevelt, was pivotal in the Rights Of Civility. Song proved to be the ingredient bringing color together.

There is another story, a story of a boy born in “Back of Town”, the Battlefield, New Orleans. “Back of Town” was the name for Na’leons poor neighborhood.

The child’s start in life was less than auspicious. His dad abandoned the family soon after the boy was born. His mom sold what she had- herself. A grandmother took the boy and his sister in, giving them a home and a steady heart.

This child rocked. He had a gift for music that set toes tapping. Soon enough, long before ‘boy bands’ were the rage even before he, the boy, was of age, along with three other children, he was singing in the streets, truly, for his supper. He lived off coins walkerby’s threw at them.

Gifts and God come in mysterious ways. The Karnofsky family, Lithuanian immigrants felt for this 7 year old child. The Karnofsky’s brought him in to their home. They fed him. They nurtured his soul. The child learned to knew tenderness, kindness, love and acceptance.

Mrs. Karnofsky would aidle-aidle-dee-dum-dee the boy to sleep each night, singing with him, together, Russian Lullaby’s. Their repertoire would include Russian songs, and, Jewish songs. The Karnofsky’s are Jewish which meant this child got the gift every Jewish mother saddled her one-day-maybe-maestro with, a musical instrument. The boy had talent. The boy went on to become a composer and a professional musician incorporating the mama-lashen, mother tongue melodies in compositions in to tunes he wrote, like St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

The Karnofsky’s adoption of this street singing 7 year world, were the thread that tied this child, talent and reach for the sky together.

Years later, the boy wrote a book about his Jewish family. And he wore a Jewish star, a Magen David, tribute to the Karnofskys who made him part of their family, in 1907. The little black boy from the streets grew, up speaking fluent Yiddish. The boy said his adoptive Jewish family taught him “how to live real life and determination.” He said, he saw discrimination times 2, against himself and against the poor Jewish family who brought him in to their hearts and home. The boy wrote in his book of his “discovery that this family was also subject to discrimination by “other white folks’ nationalities who felt that they were better than the Jewish race… I was only seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.”

The boy said, ““Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans… It has given me something to live for.”

The boy lives on in his jazz music. He himself, rarely interjected himself in to politics instead his music led him to a global platform of bringing people together in peace, music. The Karnofsky’s live on in New Orleans’ Karnofsky Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to putting musical instruments ” into the hands of an eager child who could not otherwise take part in a wonderful learning experience.”

The boy’s name?


Always remember that civility is color blind



  1. ccjneditor January 18, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    Read your article. Thought you might like to see this one. The photos of the Karnofsky family (three at the top) had never been published before.


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