Children of the Blacklist: Ruth Horowitz
The daughter of long time TU members Blanche and Phil Horowitz, and the sister of
conservative writer David Horowitz, Ruth Horowitz is a former New York City welfare
worker with a Masters degree from Columbia University School of Social Work. She
emigrated to Canada in the mid-1970s and worked as high school librarian for
twenty years in the small town near her backwoods home. Finding the Dreamers & Fighters
website by chance, she feels it is a fitting venue to make a personal statement in
honor of her parents and their history of social activism.
Of all the experiences in my childhood that gave shape to the person I am today,
the McCarthy era and the firing of my father from his teaching position by the NYC
Board of Education were perhaps the most significant, both having altered my
I grew up in Sunnyside Gardens where my parents owned one of the
attached brick row houses that bordered a common courtyard. Both school
teachers, they provided a materially comfortable and culturally rich
life—everything I needed to flourish as a child. I was given lessons—piano,
dance, art. We attended concerts, the ballet and theater. All kinds of books
filled the living room bookshelves. We summered together on Long Island, and
my brother and I went off to camp as well. And we always had a car, albeit a
used one. We were clothed, fed, loved. Yet the pervasive cloud of McCarthyism,
with all its attendant fear, hung over us, creating difficulties I could not
negotiate and from which my parents could not entirely shelter me.
Blanche and Phil Horowitz br>in 1964
Blanche and Phil Horowitz met in the 1930s through their membership
in the Teachers Union and much of their life together was dedicated to
improving life for teachers and their students. My mother taught typing
and stenography at Girls' High School in Brooklyn, and my father, English
at Seward Park HS. I was always a little jealous of their devotion to their
work and to the kids they taught; they often stayed after school hours, my
mother most memorably to work with her students on presentations for Negro History
A red diaper baby, I was aware very early on of workers' struggles and of the
suffering of Black Americans under Jim Crow laws. I easily absorbed my parents'
ideals on an emotional level, if not with any sophistication intellectually, namely,
social justice for everyone and a world in peace. Throughout childhood, I had an
adult-sized concern about things kids at school didn't think about.
Considered mature and sensitive by adults, I was actually very confused and scared.
I realized that our family was different, that my parents held unpopular views, and that
there was some element of risk to holding those views. I lived in constant dread
that something I'd say outside the home would have dire consequences for the
parents I adored; I became extremely diffident.
Blanche and Phil Horowitz
with Ruth and David in their Sunnyside living room in 1952.
In the fifties, so great was the fear of a Russian nuclear attack,
we elementary school children were issued dog tags, and were periodically
made to crouch under our desks during air raid drills. My best friend's dad was
a political prisoner and my own family harbored friends being followed by the FBI.
In great consternation, I asked my mother if she and my father would be
going to prison too. Her answer was less than reassuring; I realize in retrospect,
she really didn't know. That kind of unknown threat permeated my childhood. When my
father and his colleagues began to lose their jobs, I worried about my own future,
inviting laughter when I said I wanted to be a teacher but, if I was fired, I would
become a harpsichordist. Funny as that was, I was completely in earnest.
Phil Horowitz was first and foremost a teacher. I was always aware how completely
he loved the English language and its literature, and how connected he was to his
students. At home, he'd regularly recite aloud lines of poetry and Shakespearean plays,
discuss grammatical issues, do crossword puzzles, read to us, and help us with our English
composition. Homework done, he played games with us the evenings my mother attended
meetings. He was the sunshine in my childhood. My father had taught English for 28 years
when he was fired in 1953.
When my father lost his job, I was ten years old. Robbed of his ability to provide
financially for the family, and robbed of much of what gave his life joy and meaning,
my father despaired, and a pall settled over the house. I remember the deep sadness
I felt coming home daily from school to find my father, asleep on the living room couch,
the house dark and quiet. Seeing the toll the investigations were taking on him, my mother
left her teaching job on a disability retirement. Our live-in housekeeper, whose care for
me had been strong and constant, was let go because there was not enough income to pay
her salary. Seemingly overnight, my world changed: I cried all the time, ran away
from school, and had to be transferred out of my 5th grade class.
I'm not sure how long it took, but my father eventually became employed again,
first in a Christmas card production shop where the camaraderie of his fellow
workers helped him regain his spirit, and finally at the private Hawthorne Cedar Knolls
School as remedial reading teacher, returning him to his real vocation.
I write to dispel the notion that Communists were evil people determined to destroy
America. My parents worked tirelessly to make the world a better place to live in for
all people. They were caring parents, good neighbors and good friends. They
contributed to their community in many ways and through work in all kinds of
organizations. I am proud to be their daughter.
Sunnyside Gardens, though not racially integrated, was home to people of different
ethnicities, political affiliations and world views. It was like a small town:
neighbors were generally friendly and helpful. During the McCarthy era, however,
lines became sharply drawn between American Legionnaires (rabid anti-Communists),
Social Democrats (whose kids I somehow knew I wasn't supposed to play with), and
Communists. But there was also a close network of progressive people—not all of
whom were Communists—who made life liveable: those losing their jobs were not
entirely isolated during the worst of McCarthyism. I am grateful for the values
and for the sense of safety they gave me in an otherwise precarious world.
I do not consider myself a political person—my activism is confined to
voting and signing e-petitions—though I continue to follow the struggles of
peoples all over the world fighting for a better life. I hold firmly to the
values my parents instilled in me, especially the underlying principle that everyone
deserves respect. Niggled by a feeling that I haven't done enough, I am just
beginning to find my voice and write.