Dear Deedee: From the Diaries of Dori Schaffer…

Dori was a young woman who lived through the 1950s and died in the early 1960s–just before the civil rights movement.  In her day, African-Americans drank from separate water fountains, used different public restrooms, sent their kids to different schools than white-Americans.  And, in some parts of the U.S., they sat in the back of the bus until Rosa Parks took her famous action in the 1950s.

Dori was not black.  She was a young, Jewish woman, but the injustice of racism bothered her just the same.  She was one of those rare people who could see how we’re all connected–that oppression anywhere is oppression everywhere.

As I recall, she was a fan of a singer named Paul Robeson.  A man I never would have heard of if I hadn’t read Dori’s diary.  Robeson became a political activist who criticized racism and imperialism in the U.S.  J.Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, listed Robeson as a threat to national security in 1943.  The FBI and CIA monitored Robeson’s “un-American” activities.  During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, Robeson was accused of being a communist,  prevented from performing in U.S. radio, television or theatrical productions, and the U.S. government banned Robeson from traveling abroad.  His career was severely damaged.  There is even a conspiracy theory that the CIA may have taken part in the mysterious health problems Robeson began having in the early 1960s.

Robeson was an internationally famous cultural icon, particularly for African-Americans in the first half of the 20th Century.  Yet most Americans today have never heard of him.  And I’d be one of them if it weren’t for Dori’s diary.  (For more information on this remarkable man, check out

But you see, I’m going by memory here.  I read “Dear DeeDee,” the published version of Dori’s diary, when I was a child.  After Dori’s death, her mother edited then published the journal entries as a book in her memory.

Dori felt out of place, out of touch within a society that placed limits not only on African-Americans but on women–and ultimately, everyone–male and female, black and white.  It was a conservative era when one didn’t ask questions.  One simply conformed to the status quo.

Dori’s dream was to attend grad school, to pursue a career, but that was considered unusual at that time.  In her day, women got married and had children.  That was all.  I remember Dori stating that it was difficult to convince a university to accept her into grad school.  They were concerned she might get married then drop out of school.  In the early 60s, “good girls” went to college only to snag a husband.  Real women, i.e., “ladies,” didn’t pursue a career unless no man wanted them.

Dori felt like an anomaly.  She saw the social injustice all around her and wanted it to change, but it must have seemed to her that she was the only one who sought that change.  And I’m sure it seemed to her that she was completely alone and unloved for her views.  I say this because Dori committed suicide in 1963.  She would have been about 25 at the time.

Ironically, it was in 1963, the year Dori gave up, that Betty Friedan’s book “The Feminine Mystique,” began to gain popularity, spurring a movement for women’s rights.  And only a year later, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed that illegalized segregation, racial and sexual discrimination in employment and education,  as well as other types of discrimination.  (By the way, for those of you who tout Ron Paul as some sort of freedom fighter, Paul is one of a few contemporary politicians who is actually against the Civil Rights Act.  Check out this link:

In 1972, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was amended to forbid discrimination against women and girls in educational programs or activities funded by the federal government.

Of course, the late sixties saw the anti-war movement, the hippie movement for freedom of expression, peace and love, the birth of the Beatles and rock ‘n roll.  Had Dori lived, no doubt, she would have joyfully participated in these movements.  Perhaps her entire view of the world and of herself would have changed.

How odd that just as Dori had given up and ended her life, an entire movement for social change had begun, a movement begun by millions of people–millions!–who thought just like Dori.  Like Dori, they too each felt alone but unlike Dori they didn’t give up.  Somehow they found each other and that is when the movement began.  It may have started from the lonely thoughts of the sad and the oppressed and the seemingly defeated, but it evolved when those sad and oppressed realized they weren’t alone and began to support each other, to keep each other alive.

As discouraged as some of us may feel while we watch the American neo-conservative movement gravitate toward fascism, it is important to remember the Dori Schaffers of our past and present.  There are at least millions of Doris just waiting, longing or sadly, dying for a change.  Our task is not to give up.  It is simply to find each other.


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