In the months since my book came out in May 2015, I’ve heard from many people who knew Golden, or knew of him, who remember reading his books or watching their parents read them — and who have now read mine. Their comments, questions, praise and quibbles have been wonderful to read. The best letter, however, came from a man named David Kiel. With his permission I quote it here. No writer could ask for a better reaction to her book.
Dear Ms. Hartnett,
I am writing to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated your biography of Harry Golden and how very much I admire the quality and depth of the research, and the engaging writing as well as the balanced perspective you provided of Harry Golden’s contributions without overlooking his misdeeds and foibles…
Not only did your book reveal previously unknown incidents and facts about the history of the South and the state of North Carolina where I grew up, but it helped me understand the broader significance of what I was living through as a teenager in High Point, N.C. You connected the dots from local events to the national mood and politics. One reason I felt the book to be so meaningful and poignant is that I think it helped me understand and feel closer to my father, who like Golden was both an admirable, and at times difficult, character.
My father, the son of immigrant parents, came from NYC to High Point in 1948 where he settled my mother and sister and I while he traveled the state to sell furniture for the Berkline Corporation and other companies. He was active in the community in a way that made southern Jews a bit uncomfortable — an echo of the waves that Golden made. He was an activist in favor of the Federal School Lunch Program when that was considered a Socialist idea; he helped establish the first Jewish War Veterans post in the state in High Point in 1954, and asked Golden to come up from Charlotte to speak at the Tercentenary celebration of Jewish settlement in the United States — a move that raised eyebrows locally. In the 1980s he helped form the NC Holocaust Commission to combat the voices of Holocaust deniers which were being heard. (He had been in Germany after WWII with the Counterintelligence Corps, and attended some of the sessions of the Nuremberg Trials.)
Anyway, though neither of my parents went to college, we were subscribers to the Carolina Israelite (and Commentary, and the New Yorker) and I read “Only in America” and “For Two Cents Plain” in high school. I remember going one night to Stern’s in Greensboro which was a Jewish style restaurant and a special treat, and Harry Golden was sitting at a table across the way. My father pointed him out to us in hushed and reverent tones.
It was so interesting to me to read about his close relationship with Carl Sandburg…and it certainly makes a lot of sense to hear about his relationships with political leaders of all stripes, but especially the Kennedys and other leading Democrats. Most moving to me was the fact that he was in direct contact with and was a friend to black civil rights leaders on the national level and fully engaged with the local African American community in Charlotte as well. I was surprised to learn he spent time at Highlander Folk School. He walked the walk as well as talked the talk…and wrote the talk.
I also enjoyed hearing about his connection to Billy Graham and his cordial relationship with James J. Kilpatrick and other people who held different religious or political views. My father used to say that when he started in the furniture business (which involved calling mostly on furniture store owners in small towns) that his bosses said to him “Morris, there are two things you must never talk about with your customers: politics and religion.” Of course he endlessly discussed and debated politics and religion with customers and they loved him for it, another connection to Harry Golden’s winning manner.
I took a long time to get through the book, so as to savor and explore the feelings, thoughts, and memories that it aroused. It certainly helped me understand parts of my life better, and helped me see Harry Golden with adult eyes and understand him as influential, if fallible, as a colorful character and as a real mensch.
Thanks so much for writing this.