Death notice in Sunday, New York Times, Obituary Page, 10/27/02
BRAVERMAN-Dr. Miriam Ruth Gutman,
Miriam Braverman Nov. 26, 1920- October 21, 2002
Librarian, political activist
Miriam Gutman Braverman, professor of Library Science at Columbia University and lifelong political activist, died October 21 in Manhattan.
Dr. Braverman was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in 1920. After graduating with honors from the New Jersey College for Women in 1941 she spent many years in the Trotskyist movement with her husband Harry Braverman, author of the classic study "Labor and Monopoly Capital". Having received a Masters Degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute in 1964, Dr. Braverman worked in the Brooklyn Public Library system as a Young Teens specialist. She was granted a doctorate in Library Science from Columbia University where she taught until her retirement in 1982.
Dr. Braverman was a frequent contributor to The Library Journal, particularly on matters of racial equality, and her 1982 study, " The Langston Hughes Library and Cultural Center: From Experiment to Institution," helped to establish that library as a model for all modern libraries.
Dr. Braverman was a constant goad to the library profession to resist the forces "corroding the human values which libraries exist to serve", as she once put it. In 1964 she participated in the Freedom Summer in Mississippi working to establish schools and libraries for young black students. She was a dedicated anti-war activist and could always be found on the picket lines in local union struggles. Dr. Braverman insisted that "claims of respect for human life were empty rhetoric if librarians continued as merely neutral disseminators of information".
Dr. Braverman is survived by her sister, Jeanette Gutman Bernstein, her son Tom and two grandsons, Matthew Harry and Joel David.
MAMA'S MEMORIES (AND SOME OF MINE)
Jennie Levine Gutman and Miriam Gutman Braverman
These stories of our family are mostly Mama's memories. She was a great storyteller, and when I was little, I was beguiled by them. I would say "Mama, tell me about..." And maybe that's why I remember so many of them.
Mama and Papa came from Belarus, where the Czar had forced so many Jews to live. Stalin copied this idea, but he set up a "Jewish Autonomous Republic" in far-off Siberia, with Birobidjan as its capital. Some Jews, like my father, thought it was a great idea. My mother thought it was a terrible idea. They had many arguments about it. Birobidjan...Birobidjan...it was like a thread that ran through my childhood.
Mama came from a town in Belarus called Zhlobin. Papa came from a Belarus town called Scrieelov. Mama came to the United States about 1906. She was about 16, I estimate. There were no birth records kept. She said her brother Benjamin (Benyomin) was a Bolshevik in the 1905 revolution in Russia. The revolution was crushed, and he asked her to hide a gun that he had. Her father was so frightened for her that he sent her to America -- the Golden Land. I think she went with her brother, our uncle Abraham (Avrum) and his wife, Leah.
The little bit known about Papa's family in Russia comes from Mama. Papa never uttered a word about his family in Russia. You would think that he emerged full grown from the soil of the United States, like Minerva from the brow of Zeus, except of course that as far as I know, the only English he could write was his name on a check. And his accent belied an American heritage. Mama did say that Papa's family was more prosperous than hers --they had an orchard.
Mama's father was a glazier. He would take his horse and wagon, loaded with glass, out on the Russian steppes, seeking peasant huts that needed new windows. He would take her oldest brother Nathan (Nachum) with him, and take Mama too. She was about 9 or 10 -- very young. She adored Nathan. I gather there was not much loving emotion expressed in the family -- they were too busy trying to survive. But Nathan was different. He loved Mama and gave her something she had so little of in life, the feeling of being loved. Mama's job was to protect the glass on the wagon while her father and Nathan did the job. She said she was terrified, because all the little (and maybe big) boys surrounded the wagon and taunted her. Her eyesight was bad even at that young age. The peasant customers, like her own family, were poor, and often paid with a few potatoes or a few kopecks (cents).
Mama described a pogrom. It was not clear, or I do not recall, if this happened to them or to someone they knew in their village. It doesn't matter -- the experience was hardly unique. The Cossacks, who terrorized all of Belarus, came in and tore up their most valuable possessions -- large pillows filled with feathers. The feathers flew all over the place, while the frightened men, women, and children cowered near the stove that they slept by in the winter.
Mama found a place to live on the Lower East Side in New York City. If you go to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum you will see apartments just as Mama described: usually four rooms. She lived with the family from whom she rented space, and I use the word "space" advisedly. The family, Mama said, consisted of the wife (the balabusteh), the husband and two children. There were also four boarders: Mama and three others. Each had a bed. There was no closet space; they banged a nail in the wall above each bed and hung their clothes on it. To go to bed they had to slide in under the clothes.
Mama worked in a garment factory, but she didn't want anyone to think she was just an ordinary garment worker. She worked on SAMPLES. But she also walked the picket line in the historic 1909 garment strike when the whole industry was shut down; that founded the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. It was in January, she said, and so cold that if you used your handkerchief it would instantly freeze.
Mama and Papa met around 1908 in the apartment of mutual friends on Avenue B and 12th Street on the Lower East Side. (It is now predominantly Hispanic and known as Loisida). They married and moved to Perth Amboy. Why Perth Amboy? Papa was a carpenter, and they heard from Chachie Simkin, who was a plumber, that there was work there. They knew the Simkins because Mama and Goldeh (we knew her as Gussie) Simkin came from the same town in Russia.
I do not know much about the early years in Perth Amboy. If Mama talked about them, I've forgotten.
I was born in 1920. The twenties in the USA were remarkable for their great prosperity, fueled by the industry around that new invention, the automobile. The stock market was going up and up, and for people like our family the United States was truly "die goldeneh medina" the golden land. Papa built a business, the Perth Amboy Construction Company, I believe it was first called. He had 40 men working for him. He built the first hangar at Newark Airport. We had a house with two bathrooms. (Imagine, in those days that was for the really rich people!) We had a maid. One of the rooms in our house was a library -- with books. It was a wonderful collection of Jewish books. The only book in English that I remember was an encyclopedia. We had a record player and wonderful records, including one that my brother Cy and I remembered so well: Caruso singing a selection from the opera "The Pearl Fishers".
It was in the 1920s that our grandfather, Mama's father, died in Russia. Mama and Papa decided to bring our grandmother to the United States. At that time Congress had passed a bill to limit immigration from Russia, Poland and the Slavic states, and the quota from Russia was filled. So Papa went to Dave Wilentz, as I remember the story, who ran the Democratic Party in New Jersey, and he saw to it that whatever steps were needed to bring our grandmother here were taken. They were, and she came.
She lived with us for a while. Mama knew that the Bubeh (as we called her) loved jewelry from the five and dime store, so she bought some, and the Bubeh and I sat on her bed fingering the shining stuff and oohing and ahing. She was a sweet little woman, who was very religious. She went to shul every morning, until she had a stroke. Her final years were spent in the ward at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn.
And then came 1929. The stock market crashed and all the fantasies fell apart.
Like most people, Mama and Papa did not know about economic depression. "It's only temporary. Prosperity is just around the corner." The men worked for Papa without pay for six weeks, until it became clear that the business was gone. The most searing memory I have is of a working man from the shop, who knocked on the door and came in, bellowing he could not pay his rent, his children were hungry, and he wanted his wages. I don't remember what happened next. I think he tried to attack Papa. It was terrifying.
In one way we were lucky, in that Mr. Alpern, a German Jew, the president of Perth Amboy Trust Company that held our mortgage, did not throw us out on the street when they took over the property for non-payment. He liked Papa and let us stay there and pay rent. This was in the early years of the 1930s.
The business, and everything Papa owned, was lost in the Depression. There was no money -- none. In order to bring some money into the house, Mama went door-to-door selling ladies' corsets. I remember one evening; it was a Friday and, though we were not religious, Friday night dinner was special. Papa and Davy sat in the sun parlor waiting for Mama to come home, hopefully with some money. She did -- $2.50, which at that time was enough to buy some groceries.
It was in those difficult years that I graduated from high school, 1937.
With a scholarship and a waitress job in the college dining room, I was
able to go to college -- New Jersey College for Women, part of Rutgers
University, now known as Douglass College. Papa needed to pay a small
amount. I did not know how much, but I found out the hard way. I was called
in to the bursar's office and told that I could not go to class because
my father had failed to pay $75.00. It made me kind of mad, and I said
to the bursar, "Is this an educational institution or a business?"
which, believe me, did not endear me to him. I was due in my economics
class (how appropriate). I went to the professor and told him I would
like to come to class, but the bursar said I couldn't until my father
paid the $75.00 he owed. Professor Hopkins said that if he didn't see
me, he could not say I was there. So I went to class, and sat in the last
row. The 15 other girls in the class sat in the first two rows. The door
opened, and the bursar's