My Mantelpiece: A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice

My Mantelpiece: A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice


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Carolyn Goodman's life was punctuated by tragedy, including a brother's premature death, childhood molestation, a father's suicide, and a son's infamous murder. But hers is foremost a tale of survival, of turning personal anguish into social conscience. When her twenty-year-old son, Andy, was one of three civil rights volunteers to disappear in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, the story galvanized the nation. A half century after the Mississippi murders, this is the first time that a victims family member has expounded about the experience and the myriad emotions from guilt to resolve that it spawned. More than simply a memoir, My Mantelpiece is the story of a century's seminal progressive movements seen through the lens of a remarkable woman's singular journey. **Along with a foreword by National Book Award-winner Maya Angelou, MY MANTELPIECE includes back-cover testimonials from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman John Lewis, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and performer-activist Harry Belafonte.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780984991945
Publisher: Why Not Books
Publication date: 05/01/2014
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Before she passed away in 2007, Dr. Carolyn Goodman collaborated with Brad Herzog to recount a life of courage and conviction, love and loss, tragedy and triumph. A half century after the "Mississippi Burning" murders, this is the first time that a victim’s family member has expounded about the experience and the emotions—from guilt to resolve. More than simply a memoir, My Mantelpiece is the story of a century’s seminal progressive movements seen through the lens of a remarkable woman’s singular journey. Half the proceeds from the sale of My Mantelpiece go directly to THE ANDREW GOODMAN FOUNDATION.

Brad Herzog is the author of more than three-dozen books for children and five titles for adults, including MY MANTELPIECE, the co-authored memoirs of late civil rights icon Carolyn Goodman (with a foreword by Maya Angelou). He has written three critically acclaimed travel memoirs about his travels through small-town America. Brad's five-book nonfiction series for Free Spirit Publishing celebrates inspiring true sports stories reflecting five character attributes--sportsmanship, perseverance, teamwork, generosity, and courage. His series of children's alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press include G IS FOR GOLD MEDAL, H IS FOR HOME RUN, and S IS FOR SAVE THE PLANET, which was a finalist in the National "Best Books 2009" Awards and won a Mom's Choice Award. As a freelance magazine writer, Brad has been honored several times by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), including a Grand Gold Medal for best feature article of the year. He has been interviewed on "The Today Show" and "Oprah" and has been profiled in publications ranging from People magazine to Reader's Digest. Brad ( lives in California with his wife and two sons.

Maya Angelou was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. The foreword to My Mantelpiece is her last known work to be published before she dies on May 28, 2014. 

Read an Excerpt

My Mantelpiece

A Memoir of Survival and Social Justice

By Carolyn Goodman, Brad Herzog, Eric Braun

Why Not Books

Copyright © 2014 The Andrew Goodman Foundation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9849919-4-5



On my mantelpiece sits a photograph of a young man with thick, wavy black hair and eyes dark with the depth of understanding. It is Andy, my middle son. My oldest son, Jonathan, and my youngest, David, both look like me. But Andy was the image of his father, Bobby. He had his father's walk, his father's hands, his hair, his mouth, his soft brown eyes. His whole face had a soft quality to it, but there was an intensity of purpose behind it. Every time I looked at the photo of that face, which was often, I thought of the last time I saw it.

Like his father, Andy was the kind of person who didn't harbor malice. If he was angry, you knew it. If he was sad, he showed it. There was an honesty about him that allowed a remarkable range of emotion. However, being the middle son, Andy always seemed to play the role of the mediator. When Jonathan and David would argue, it would be Andy who would intervene. There was something soothing about his demeanor, something mature about his judgment. I remember a particular incident in school, for example. One of his classmates, despite being very small for his age, always seemed to pick on bigger kids, possibly because he felt so insecure himself. One day, several classmates cornered the kid, piled on top of him, and started to beat on him. When Andy walked by, he pulled them off of the boy. He was always strong, but I was more impressed by his strength of character. It was just like him to intervene. "Look," he told his classmates, "I know Joey's a pest. But one at a time. It's only fair."

When Andy was a child, Jackie Robinson was his hero. It was typical. We lived closer to the Bronx than to Brooklyn. Andy had plenty of glittering Yankees to choose from. Yogi Berra. Mickey Mantle. Whitey Ford. Instead, he chose one of the underdog Dodgers: a pioneer, an activist, someone who knew the burden of representing more than just himself. When he learned that Jackie lived only a few blocks from his school, Andy asked him to come speak to his classmates. And Jackie did. Andy became as much a hero to his classmates as Jackie. That was typical, too. Andy wasn't an aggressive person in any sense of the word, but as his paternal grandfather would say, he was a doer. You don't just talk; you do. That was Andy.

He was an activist all of his life. At age fifteen, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for a Youth March for Integrated Schools. At seventeen, he and a friend journeyed to West Virginia by bus to examine firsthand the poverty of Appalachia. At nineteen, he took a job as a summer counselor at a camp for underprivileged children. Then, in the spring of 1964, he stood in the doorway of my bedroom one afternoon with an earnest look in his soft brown eyes and said, "Mom, I'd like to go to Mississippi."

The Mississippi Summer Project, as they called it, was an effort by the Council of Federated Organizations to flood the state with hundreds of northern college students. The volunteers would form "freedom schools" to teach disenfranchised blacks about their constitutional rights and would engage in a massive voter registration drive. The New York Times called it "one of the most ambitious civil rights projects yet conceived," but many people involved with the project, we later discovered, secretly believed that the inevitable violence against these so-called Yankee do-gooders would direct the nation's attention to the intolerable conditions in the state. It was a recipe for martyrdom.

In the previous seven decades, nearly six hundred known lynchings had taken place in the state—the most in the nation. The violence against blacks had been particularly staggering in the ten years since the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Having been told that separate is inherently unequal, Mississippi had simply become more entrenched.

I remembered a horrific event that had happened when Andy was eleven, the murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy on vacation from Chicago who reportedly whistled at a young white woman in a store deep in the Delta. Three days later, his body was found in the Tallahatchie River. Barbed wire had been used to tie a cotton gin fan to his neck. His killers were acquitted by an all-white jury. Two weeks earlier, a black man named Lamar Smith who had organized blacks to vote in a recent election had been shot dead by a white assailant in broad daylight while dozens of people watched. The killer was never indicted because no one would admit to seeing a white man shoot a black man.

I recalled the case of Mack Charles Parker, a twenty-three-year-old black man accused of raping a white woman. Three days before his case was set for trial, a masked mob took him from his jail cell, beat him, shot him, wrapped him in chains, and threw him in the Pearl River. The local law enforcement apparently was aware of every move. The men were never convicted. Two years later, Herbert Lee was murdered by a state legislator for working to register black voters. Louis Allen, a black man who witnessed the crime, endured several years of arrests and threats. On the day he was making final arrangements to move north and away from that hateful place, he too was killed.

And, of course, I knew about Medgar Evers, the NAACP field secretary and patron saint of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, who told a crowd in 1963, "I love my children, and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, and die gladly, if that would make a better life for them." Five days later, he was shot in his driveway, collapsing near a pile of shirts he was carrying that read "Jim Crow Must Go." An outspoken member of the White Citizens' Council was arrested for the murder. The murder weapon was registered to him and held his fingerprints. Several witnesses testified that he had asked directions to Evers's home. It took three decades to convict him.

Even then, the names of the towns were like dark bruises on my memory. Money, Mississippi. Poplarville, Mississippi. Jackson, Mississippi. Liberty, Mississippi. I couldn't help it. The Deep South put fear in my heart in 1964. Mississippi was a terrifying word.

That was where my son was asking permission to go. A place still twenty-two years away from electing its first post-Reconstruction black congressman, twenty-three years from removing a ban on interracial marriage from its constitution, and thirty-one years from actually ratifying the federal constitutional amendment outlawing slavery. A state with a chief executive, Governor Ross Barnett, who physically blocked the integration of the University of Mississippi after claiming, "The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him." And in the terrible words of many Mississippians themselves, the only thing worse than a nigger was a nigger lover.

But the reasons why part of me so wanted Andy to stay were the same reasons he wanted to go. The state with the largest percentage of blacks in the country had the lowest percentage of black voters. Only five percent of Mississippi's half a million African-Americans were registered to vote in 1960. In eight of the state's thirteen mostly black counties, not a single African-American citizen had ever voted. My son wanted to be a beacon of light in the heart of darkness. How could I deny him?

Only a couple of years earlier, Andy had been helping his father as a laborer on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge, which spans the Harlem River. He was working there one day when he heard a shout and turned to see a man holding on by his fingertips. He was a heavy man, a black man named Roosevelt. He had slipped and was clinging to the side of the bridge. Andy rushed over and, mustering all his strength, grabbed him and pulled him to safety. It was a physical feat, less courageous than instinctive. But looking back, it seems like such a metaphorical message. Andy's desire to head south was just as instinctive, perhaps more courageous, similarly warranted. Essentially, it was a grander, more figurative attempt to pull others to safety. Andy risked his life saving one man. Why not do the same to save thousands?

I suppose my past flashed before my eyes, too—growing up during the women's suffrage movement, organizing on behalf of dairy farmers during the Depression, joining the fight against Spanish fascism, protecting friends from the McCarthy witch hunt. I had fought for what I had believed in. I had found and loved a husband who had done the same, fostering in me a greater sense of the greater good. It could be that I thought back to the tragedy of my own parents—a mother devoid of compassion, a father lacking fortitude—and embraced the notion that my son was a spiritual reflection of myself.

Bobby and I later realized there was no way in the world we could have said no to Andy. Our lives, our values, would have had a hollow ring. While Bobby was away building whirler cranes that repaired ships in the navy yard in Philadelphia during World War II, he had written a sweet, poetic note to me. Bobby was a civil engineer for a living, but he was always a poet at heart. This particular letter referred to our then-one-year-old son, Andy. "Teach our son to tread softly," he wrote, "and make his walk through the woods ... of this world the symphony of our dreams." But because Andy was, indeed, the symphony of our dreams, his will would not allow him to tread softly.

There again, he was his father's son. Nearly three decades earlier, when he, too, was a twenty-year-old with so much of the world on fire, Bobby won an oratorical award at Cornell University for a speech titled "A Plea for Active Pacifism." He spoke these words: "Sometimes, even if he must do it alone and his conduct seems mad, a man must set an example and draw out men's souls from the mire of the swamp, and spur them on by some act of righteous indignation that this great idea may not die."

But Bobby wasn't home on that spring morning in 1964 when Andy, standing in the doorway, said, "Mom, I'd like to go to Mississippi."

As thousands of thoughts raced through my mind, I could only stammer, "Let's wait for your dad to come home."

Other parents refused their underage children permission, but I just couldn't deny him. I wanted him to go, and I didn't want him to go. Here was my son, whom I wanted to protect and save from anything hurtful, and yet it wouldn't have felt right saying, Well, let the other guys go, but don't you go. It would have destroyed our values. It would have devastated our son. Bobby later gave Andy the answer I knew he would.

As Andy was preparing to leave, having packed his duffel bag, I threw in some bandages, gauze, and iodine when he walked out of the room. I knew where he was going. I knew he would become intensely involved, as he always did. I thought he might get pushed around a bit, perhaps even thrown in jail. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would be the last time I would see him.

We stood in my study in the apartment eight floors above West Eighty-sixth Street. It is the same study I used for another four decades. It didn't change much over the years, although, of course, everything around it did. When I hugged my son for the last time, perhaps I gripped him a little harder than usual. Maybe I looked at his face a little longer. Andy seemed so young, so strong, so beautiful. He had just turned twenty. He will always be twenty to me.

And I said goodbye.

There are forty names inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, names of people who died during the struggle in the years between the Brown decision and Martin Luther King's death. Of the forty victims, nineteen were killed in Mississippi. One of them is my son.

I allowed him to go there, and I was both guilt-ridden and proud, and I devoted the rest of my life to making sure he did not die in vain. I permitted him to go to Mississippi because that is who he was. And it is who I was, too.



The socks. I always remembered the socks.

Maybe it was simply the distraction, or perhaps the lack of abstraction. It was something fixed on which I could focus for a few moments while the rest of my world seemed to spin out of control. Maybe it was the sheer repetition of the act, over and over again until it was seared into my fragile psyche. My later psychological training would reveal how the brain can attach profound significance to certain objects during times of overwhelming emotion. But I was five years old. All I knew was that my brother, my playmate, my protector had been taken from me in the blink of an eye.

For some reason, the traumatic moments that would have been so vivid amid the tragedy didn't linger in my memory. There must have been an anxious drive to the emergency room, a turn for the worse, frantic nurses rushing by, an interminable wait, a somber doctor, a gasp, perhaps a sobbing collapse to the cold hospital floor. There must have been a funeral. Those recollections were lost in the haze. But not the socks.

Was it a few days after Eddie died? Was it weeks later? My mother sat on my bed, straight-backed, laundry by her side. She picked up one small sock, searched vacant-eyed for a moment, found a match, and silently rolled them up together. Then she did it again and again, two by two by two, as the tears flowed down her cheeks. Just rolling socks and crying, rolling and crying, rolling and crying. I sat next to her, mesmerized. It was the first time that I could ever recall seeing tears in my mother's eyes. Perhaps the last time, too.

Looking back, maybe I sensed a certain symbolism in the need to pair them up. One sock is useless, abandoned, discarded. And that's my other recollection.

I dimly recall a procession of mourners arriving at the big house in Far Rockaway, New York. I sat by the window and watched as they trudged up the steps of the wraparound porch, paused uncomfortably for a moment, adopted what they felt was an appropriate expression of condolence, then rang the doorbell. Several of the women carried dishes—cakes and casseroles and such—and I thought it seemed like such a strange tradition. As if we were sad because we were hungry.

The whisper of voices in the dining room and living room soon grew in volume, and as I stared up at the men holding their hats and the women in their black dresses, I caught snippets of talk about inconsequential things. Why isn't anybody discussing it? Eddie died. Don't they know? Soon, the doorbell didn't ring anymore. The door was left unlocked. People simply walked in, somewhat haltingly, yet as if they had been expected. It all seemed so unnatural.

Come in, come in. Don't talk about it. Come in.

Once in a while, someone would notice me. They would smile sadly or place a light hand on my shoulder, and then they would turn their attention to the sponge cake or the tuna casserole or the neighbor from down the street who suddenly required an immediate handshake. Maybe they didn't know what to say to me, or they thought that I couldn't fully comprehend the situation, or they feared I was too fragile for condolences. Maybe, conversely, they figured children are resilient. Surely, they had their reasons. But I felt very much alone, like a single sock.

It is ironic, of course, that over the ensuing generations my life was so often defined by my response to the death of a loved one. Later, I ultimately chose to confront hurt rather than be overwhelmed by it. Yet in this, the first loss of so many, some of my earliest memories are of people wishing to avoid the subject altogether.

In nine decades of observing, a lifetime of analyzing and hypothesizing and extrapolating, I did not learn one damn thing about the meaning of life. Frankly, I never quite came to the conclusion that there is such a thing. But it was not the meaning of life that interested me anyway; it was the meaning of people. Through my years as a daughter, wife, and mother, through my efforts as a psychologist and an activist, I often wondered: What are the roots and influences that form a person? What makes us ... us?

I concluded that each of us is a puzzle of sorts, a collection of interconnected pieces, some larger than others, some more obvious, all of which interlock to form the complete person. Each of the puzzle pieces is a part of the origin of ourselves.


Excerpted from My Mantelpiece by Carolyn Goodman, Brad Herzog, Eric Braun. Copyright © 2014 The Andrew Goodman Foundation. Excerpted by permission of Why Not Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Maya Angelou 1

The Mantelpiece 7

Letting Him Go 9

Pieces of Me 19

A Child of Hope 32

The Company of Men 33

Distance 45

Melodies Unheard 56

The Poet and the Sword 57

One Arm Over the Other 71

Tupper Lake 80

A Bar of Contentment in a Sea of Song 81

The Zest of Their Leaping Eyes 91

Letter from Philadelphia 117

Footsteps 119

A Short While Towards the Sun 131

The Equation of Life 149

Saving Myself 151

Justice 175

Fling Stars 188

No Twilight 189

Remembrance 197

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

Maya Angelou closes by saying, “Not knowing that by standing up for Right, he’s actually doing the right thing for himself.” How did Carolyn Goodman live by this credo?

“The Mantelpiece” p. 8 – Carolyn describes life as “a wondrous, colorful, tragic, flawed, intimate and epic work of art.” What about her biography fits these descriptors? How was her life both intimate and epic?

“Letting Him Go” p. 17 - Carolyn permitted her son Andy to go to Mississippi because that is who he was and who she was as well. How does she demonstrate this in her memoir?

“Pieces of Me” p. 22 – After her brother Eddie died, Carolyn’s memory of this early loss is of the people around her avoiding the subject of his death. How did this early memory affect how she handled the losses later in her life? p. 23 – What did Carolyn mean when she said, “freedom spawned me”?

“The Company of Men” p. 34 – How was the fact that she preferred the company of men expressed in Carolyn’s life story? How do you think this was connected to her feelings about her mother and her father?

“One Arm Over the Other” p. 77- How does the metaphor of her swim test at Echo Lake apply to the events and obstacles in Carolyn’s life?

“A Bar of Contentment in a Sea of Song” p. 87- What does Carolyn’s choice of music at her funeral reveal about her life?

“The Zest of Their Leaping Eyes” p. 91 – As she thinks about her younger sister, Helene, Carolyn eventually realized that fortitude inspires more than achievement. Do you think that applies to Carolyn’s life as well?

p. 116 – How do Carolyn’s two surviving sons, Jonny and David, demonstrate their caring about distant injustices and the people closest to them, despite the major differences between them?

“Footsteps” What “footsteps” did Andy follow in his decision to go to Mississippi? How did her realization of this affect Carolyn’s dealing with Andy’s fate?

“A Short While Towards the Sun” Of all the tributes to Andy Goodman, which, in particular, resonated?

“Saving Myself” p. 161-After her husband Bobby died, Carolyn asked, “How will I know what is magnificent?” What do you think she meant by that? How did Carolyn save herself after the loss of her son and her husband?

“Justice” Why did Caroline choose to go to Mississippi for the first time in 1989? Do you think it was cathartic for her?
p. 179 – “…heroism is not a matter of traveling beyond the traditional limits of human experience; it’s about immersing oneself within the human experience.”How did Carolyn immerse herself within the human experience on this trip to Mississippi and at other times?
p. 187 - Did the outcome of the trial in 2005 help Caroline deal with the terrible events of 1964? Explain.

“No Twilight” p.191 – When told that his mother was arrested at age 83 protesting the killing of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, David Goodman shrugged and said, “Well, that happens from time to time.” What do you infer about Carolyn and David from this description?
p. 196 – “What’s there to do? I would always wonder instead: Is there time to do everything?”

Do you think Carolyn felt that she had time in her 91 years to do everything? Explain.

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