May 28, 2004
from “Journal-isms” By RICHARD PRINCE
A light-skinned longtime editor of the Afro-American newspapers had a son who decided to pass for white — and both father and son appeared this week on CBS-TV’s “Sunday Morning.”
Ralph Matthews, 76, whose father was also an Afro editor, said he was “bemused” by his son’s action. The younger Matthews, 37-year-old screenwriter David, “says it was not until college that he finally realized what a rich heritage he was giving up,” according to the piece by CBS correspondent Erin Moriarty. The story was keyed to the new book, “Passing: When People Can’t Be Who They Are,” by New York University professor Brooke Kroeger.
David Matthews’ mother was Israeli. His elementary school in Baltimore, he said, was 20 to 30 percent white, and “I just noticed that they got more attention. Teachers assumed that they somehow had more on the ball.” As he walked every day to school in a primarily white neighborhood, “I knew all I needed to know about where I wanted to be as I watched the property values — the Volvos as opposed to burned-out, you know, Cadillacs.”
“When people would ask you what your dad did, what would you say?” asked Moriority.
“I would say he was a journalist,” David Matthews replied.
“David, whose father was a newspaper editor, would just avoid mentioning which newspaper,” Moriarty told viewers.
Ralph Matthews told Journal-isms he started at the Afro as a cub reporter in 1950, working for the Afro newspapers on and off until 1986, when he had been managing editor for 10 years.
According to “The Baltimore Afro-American: 1892-1950” by Hayward Farrar, Matthews Sr. was the Afro’s answer to H.L. Mencken, who was writing for the Baltimore Sun. He “became a power in the Afro, serving as the theatrical editor, city editor, managing editor, and editor of the Washington Afro-American. A witty and acerbic man, Matthews had one or two columns in the Afro-American from the 1920s onward. In them he lampooned sacred cows in the black community, such as the black church and its ministers, black politicians, black society and the institutions of marriage and family.”
David Matthews was “raised entirely by his father after his mother returned to Israel,” the piece said. Asked what he thought of his son’s “passing,” Ralph Matthews said on the show,”I call it doing what you have to do.”
Moriarty told Journal-isms she had plenty of positive reaction to her piece. Viewers said they talked about it at work on Monday “and were talking about it for the rest of the day.”
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January 29: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: “Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles. March 13:“ The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public Library. March 25: “Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City. August 7: “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court,.” AEJMC, Toronto.