Pat Smith and Frank Nelson Wed
A Civil Rights Memoir
Sheila Michaels

This started when I heard that Simon & Schuster (the name is the same, but the business model is so 'over') was publishing Milo Yiannopoulos' new book, Dangerous, for an advance of $250,000. Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart, the far-right news website.

I hold Simon & Schuster rather dear; perhaps because I was excluded. Max Schuster was a dear man, the legal father-in-law of Ephraim London, my natural father, if you follow tortuous family lines. Max was the stepfather of my stepmother, Pearl Levison London, a poet and professor of poetry at New School.

When I visited Max & Rae Schuster in Sand's Point, I used to retire to their library. The women's chatter was tiresome & so often condescending to me: everyone was aware I was there. Max's library beckoned. The books were in chains, lest they be stolen by the likes of me. Max used to pace into the library, watching me closely. Not comfortable having his son-in-law's bastard reading the rare books, which were not really supposed to have the pages turned.

I don't know how many times Simon & Schuster changed hands. It must have been sold & resold in a number of deals, in order to fall to the likes of Breitbart. I find it hard to believe that 'such people' — those who would publish Yiannopoulos--are now in charge. But I think that if there is life after death, then the old-line-Liberal Schuster-London family are uneasy, somewhere.

Simon of Simon & Schuster was the father of the Simon sisters: Carly, Johanna a mezzo-soprano & Lucy, a composer of musicals Max was the sweetie, Simon was the s.o.b. (an anti-feminist term, which I hope has lost its meaning). Classic business practice, I think, good cop/bad cop.

Ephraim London (my biological father) married Pearl in mid-June, 1939. I had been born in early May, far away, in St. Louis, where my mother's husband had found work, & had sent for her. I think hoping to make a fresh start.

Ephraim had some 'splainin' to do, but Pearl was in love. We're brought up to be fools, no?

So, here's how I came to be away from home when Eleanor Holmes & Blyden Jackson & the New Haven Congress Of Racial Equality group came for a wedding that had already taken place, & the new couple was gone to Brooklyn.

That's when Ellie saw Ephraim's photo on my wall & decided I would be a good roommate for the summer, which would have been a good choice if Ephraim hadn't been deeply ashamed of having an illegitimate child & had a fear of having it known. He was a constitutional lawyer with an air of probity, though not a one-woman man.

When Eleanor saw Ephraim's book cover portrait by Arnold Newman, on my wall, she asked why I had it? New Haven CORE had come down in force to New York, to see Pat Smith & Frank Nelson marry, but it was the wrong day.

Eleanor Holmes was a member of New Haven CORE. She was a law student at Yale, then dating Blyden Jackson, who founded New Haven CORE.

Pat & Frank had been members of New Orleans CORE. When you come through a lot of danger together, the group coheres.

The New Orleans group was going to a CORE meeting upstate. It was an all-star group, Rudy Lombard, Dave Dennis, Jerome Smith, Flukie Suarez, & I forget who-all. But they had to drop in to spend time with Pat & Frank.

Pat & Frank — who were barred from marrying by Louisiana's miscegenation laws--decided to marry while their New Orleans home people were on hand. Pat had decided they would marry on April Fool's Day, but this was March 31,

A minister from Washington, DC, named Garnell Rosamond was supposed to perform the wedding. But he called at the last minute, (that afternoon) from Cleveland, to say he wasn't going to make it.

His future wife, Betty Daniels, had been on the almost-fatal Freedom Ride that passed through Poplarville, Mississippi & almost got Pat, Frank, Shirley Thompson & Betty Daniels killed dead.

There was not supposed to have been any action to integrate the bus stop in Poplarville. The group was returning from a jaunt to Mobile, Alabama, to mark Pat Smith's 18th Birthday, really. It was facilities testing: seeing if the Trailways/Greyhound bus station was in compliance with a Federal rule to eliminate the separate waiting rooms & snack stands, & to see whether bus seating had been open to all.

Pat had been an activist in New Orleans CORE for a couple of years, but because she was underage, she had never been allowed to go testing. CORE had a rule that no one under 18 could be on an action, because juveniles could be put away in a juvenile jail until they were 21, & the organization could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Pat had gone on a bus trip with New Orleans CORE, testing the Greyhound & Trailways compliance with facilities desegregation in the South. They'd gone to Mobile, which had made an effort to desegregate. The group had a little holiday before returning home. Frank said Mobile was a pretty well integrated town & they hadn't been stopped, or suffered strange looks, anywhere. It was pretty much an 18th birthday present for Pat Smith.

The summer before, when Frank had stepped down from the train in New Orleans, for orientation in New Orleans, before heading to jail in Jackson, MS, Pat had turned to Jean Thompson, her best friend, & said "That one's going to marry me."

Frank was the son of a Sicilian Mafioso & a Polish/German-Jewish gangster's moll. But, he was very blond, pretty innocent looking & very unsuspecting.

Jean said she replied, quite sensibly, "_______, you crazy!"


There were a bunch of sister groups in New Orleans CORE. Pat & her older sister Carleen were activists. So were Oretha & Jean Castle. Jean Thompson & her sisters Shirley & Alice were activists. I don't think there were any brother groups, but I'm not positive that Rudy Lombard's brother was not active, sometimes.

After being jailed in Jackson, Frank Nelson returned to New Orleans, I think to court Pat Smith. She was something! Pretty enough, but what a fabulous personality. She could wrap herself in a towel & look soingie.

As they were returning home from Mobile, the bus stopped in Poplarville, MS, a pretty insignificant little hamlet. The bus driver got down for some reason, & left the bus parked at the general store.

Pat Smith & Shirley Thompson got down to walk around, when the bus had idled a little too long. I think they walked into the White waiting room, such as it was in a tiny Mississippi hamlet. I think the place was also the grocery, the sheriff's office & the jail. The 'Law' came out & menaced Pat & Shirley. Frank got down from the bus to defend them. The Mafia had a code of honor — about one's wife--that had been drilled into him.

The Sheriff tried to push Frank down. Frank pushed back. He wouldn't have done that, but I think he was caught by surprise. Everyone was under arrest.

Betty Daniels was the designated observer.

According to CORE's rules of order, someone in any group was designated to not participate, but to have pocketsful of nickels to call in to someone waiting by the 'phone, at home base. The observer was to report what was happening.

No one was supposed to be doing any protest, at the time. But, in any Civil Disobedience action, we always had a non-participant, reporting.

The bus driver pulled away, leaving everyone. Jean Thompson, still on the bus, was struck mute.

Betty Daniels hid on the floor of a telephone booth, after reporting in. A group of men circulated, looking to see if there was anyone else in the group, but they didn't see Betty.

A Negro garage assistant spotted Betty Daniels hiding on the floor of the telephone booth.

He tried to hide her, locally, but couldn't find anyone to take her in. (They had children & lives to live, in Poplarville.) He was going to just let Betty hitchhike, but changed his mind because he wouldn't have let his own daughter hitchhike to New Orleans on an unlit road. But Betty had to lie on the floor of the truck he borrowed, hidden under a blanket. He drove at night, with his headlights off. She never heard his name. He turned right around, when she got to her house — where everyone was looking for her — & he drove straight back to Poplarville.

N.O.CORE raised the money for bail, that night, & Attorney Lolis Elie drove up in the morning. They had Frank Nelson in the cell from which they'd lynched Mack Parker & had repeatedly told him that. But The Mafia gives you a little more sang-froid than being a Good Ole Boy.

Lolis paid their bail & the Sheriff/grocer told them to get out of town, NOW.

They had a movie-chase ride back to N.O.. When they crossed into Louisiana the one friendly New Orleans TV crew was waiting & that stopped the Klan guys.

That was November 4nd, 1961, two days after Pat Smith's 18th birthday.

I think there wasn't much to do in New Orleans in the winter, & Pat's Mother, "Su" wanted them to get married. There were anti-miscegenation laws in Louisiana, so they could not get married in New Orleans, or any of the surrounding states.

They came to New York & moved in with Peter Nemenyi, in Brooklyn.

Peter was the half brother of Bobby Fisher, the chess champion. Bobby's mother had married a Mr. Fisher when they were revolutionaries in Russia. They had a daughter. Mr. Fisher shipped out on a fishing boat & spent the WWII in Peru. I believe they never saw each other again.

Mr. Fisher, Mrs. Fisher, & Dr. Nemenyi were all Jewish. Bobby Fisher's rabid anti-Semitism never made any sense, of course.

Peter knew Bobby when he was a child, & was quite fond of him. Their father had left Peter with a little money, to look after Bobby.

Mrs. Fisher — a quixotic woman--was angry with Paul Nemenyi & decided not to acknowledge him as Bobby's father. I think it had something to do with the atomic bomb. She did accept money for Bobby's support.

Paul Nemenyi was an hydrologist. Although Paul was a staunch vegetarian Pacifist, I think he might have designed the trigger of the atomic bomb. That was the one part that had been lacking.

Bobby Fisher was conceived when Paul Nemenyi--a refugee from Hitler--was working on the 'atomic pile' at the University of Chicago. Peter, a teenager at the time, was in England, escaping the Nazis, who definitely wanted Paul Nemenyi's expertise.

After the war, Peter joined Paul, briefly, in Hanford, Oregon. Peter was immediately drafted, but he decided to go, since he would not be involved in the war effort, near Trieste, and was able to go to Black Mountain College on the GI Bill.

Paul died thereafter, & Peter took his degrees in mathematics at Princeton. My oral history with Peter is on

Peter was active in the nonviolent movement, and that was where Frank Nelson & Peter became friends.

Pat wanted to get married on April Fool's Day, but that plan went very slightly awry.

Being New Orleanians, Pat & Frank's wedding (EVERYONE in NOLA swears to having been there) just morphed into a party, when it became apparent there would be no minister or ceremony.

Then, Jerome Smith had to make a beer run. You remember how badly he stuttered? Bad, bad, bad: no one knows how he ever made himself clear.

When Jerome got to my corner grocery, the guy behind him, turned out to be a defrocked minister (alcoholism) who still had his license. Jerome brought the defrocked minister back. I was making creamed shrimp & told them to sit & have a drink while I finished & EVERYONE screamed me down.

So the wedding went on, I was barefoot. Everyone crowded into the room with the closets & I couldn't get to my shoes.

The shrimp curdled, but you know white folks can't cook. The NOLA CORE people partied on & then went back to their hotel.

My roommate, Mary Hamilton, fitted a door--we'd taken it off the street — into the doorway between her bedroom & the living room, & said 'goodnight'.

Pat & Frank had gone off to Peter Nemenyi's, in Brooklyn, where they were staying.

But there was a subway breakdown. Pat & Frank were on the train platform & decided to come back to the party. But, the party had broken up.

I had pulled out my big sofa bed, & was about to retire. Pat & Frank decided to spend their wedding night in bed with me, rather than go out, again.

About then, a bass player I had been dating showed up for the party. He pretty much convinced me to go with him to stay with his parents in Bed-Stuy. They had a nice town house on a quiet block.

Which is how I happened to be away, in Bed-Stuy, when New Haven CORE turned up on April Fool's Day, for the wedding.

Eleanor Holmes (Norton) was at Yale Law at the time & had been offered the summer internship at Brennan, London & Buttenweiser, that Marion Wright (Edelman) had had, the year before.

Ellie saw the Arnold Newman photo of Ephraim, on the bedroom wall. She asked Mary why it was there. We NEVER said, "Oh, that's Sheila's illegitimate father." We always said he was "sort of an uncle": or something similar. Illegitimacy was shameful. The onus was on me, of course: as if I had somehow chosen to be a bastard. Ephraim & my mother were definitely off-the-hook.

Ephraim was a big-time legal star. Ephraim's book, with the Arnold Newman photograph on the back covers, was the 2-volume, boxed (Simon &Schuster) "Law In Literature" & "The Law as Literature" (a very popular law-school graduation gift).

Max Schuster was Ephraim's father-in-law, but the set was a best seller for more than a decade: maybe two. Ephraim had won all the nine cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

Since Mary was going South as a CORE Field Secretary, I needed a roommate. Mary agreed for me, & I didn't have a chance to tell the truth until Ellie returned for the summer. Yes, we had telephones, but you would not believe the mess that New Haven Core had created for itself, & I have told enough tales out of school. I had nothing to add to their tsuris. They escaped prosecution, but it was touch-&-go.

I was going South later in the summer. Ellie thought it would be very nice to share an apartment with the boss' niece.

Ephraim did not want to have the truth come out, & he avoided Ellie as if she were poison. He & I had dinner twice a month at the Harvard Club, when Pearl was away. It was civilized & discreet.

When Pearl was home, we had dinner on the maid's night off & Pearl cooked. Peter London, their son, swore she never lit a flame when Chang, their house man, was away. I know I ate, so maybe he left food for us.

Ellie was very put out: Ephraim had so much to teach her. As she pointed out, he was being very nice. He didn't need to have any contact with me at all.

I was sort of out of sympathy on that one.

Copyright © Sheila Michaels. 2017

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