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Carolyn Goodman

Psychologist, Civil Rights Activist
1915 – 2007
by Ruth Messenger, President, American Jewish World Service

Carolyn Goodman died on August 17th, 2007 at the age of 91 after an extraordinary life during which she made significant contributions to the field of psychology; spoke out and organized for civil rights and broader social change; supported young leaders across the United States who fought for social change and became an icon for many who had known her in the various parts of her life.

Dr. Goodman was politically active throughout her life, engaged in many of the left struggles of the 20th century-early on the fights against McCarthyism, for greater national and international democracy, for quality education. She was married to Robert Goodman, they had three sons and were visible in many causes during the 1950s. In 1964, their son Andrew went to Mississippi to work for voter registration for the summer and became one of the three civil rights workers who were disappeared and murdered by the Klan in Neshoba County. Without any question, of course, this was the most difficult challenge Carolyn faced in her life.

From that moment on and until her death some 43 years later, Carolyn Goodman worked tirelessly to honor Andy's memory by continuing to speak up and speak out on civil and human rights issues; by helping promote the work of young activists; and by being willing to travel to Philadelphia, Mississippi in 2005 when she was close to 90 to testify at the trial of a Klan leader who had been recently indicted and who was, partly because of her bravery, found guilty of manslaughter in the deaths of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner.

It is amazing that not only before but after Andy's death Carolyn worked as a psychologist, developing new concepts and designing programs that made a dramatic difference in people's lives. Born in New York she was educated at Cornell, the City University of New York and Columbia University Teachers College, she worked for many years at The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY where she was a specialist in an early intervention family therapy program for families at psychiatric risk. She eventually established and ran the PACE Family Treatment Center, a program for emotionally disturbed mothers of young children and wrote widely in various professional journals about this work.

At the same time as she continued her professional work, Carolyn and her first husband established the Andrew Goodman Foundation, which she ran with both her first and second husbands [Robert Goodman died 1969, she married Joseph Eisner in 1972 and he died in 1992] and which supports a variety of social causes. On various occasions Carolyn met with young people, urged them to take on world challenges, ran essay contests for them and celebrated the winners enthusiastically, spoke in different settings about the importance of supporting the next generation and encouraging them to be involved in healing the world.

At the Mississippi trial, Goodman read a postcard her son wrote on the last day of his life. Dear Mom and Dad," it read, "I have arrived safely in Meridian, Miss. This is a wonderful town, and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful, and our reception is very good. All my love, Andy."

Often and painfully she said in interviews that she believed that even if she had known the outcome she would have let Andy go to Mississippi: I still feel that I would let Andy go to Mississippi again … [E]ven after this terrible thing happened to Andy, I couldn't make a turnabout of everything I believe in. (C. Goodman in a 1965 interview with the New York Times)

I knew Carolyn Goodman because Andy was in my sister's class in grade school and high school, and our families were in some of the same circles. When the Mississippi murders occurred I was a young adult activist, a few years older than Andy, and the impact of his death, of the risks of activism, of someone I knew dying for a cause all had a profound effect on me.

As I continued my own career in politics and in social change work I often called on Carolyn to speak at various events or was called by her to help with various aspects of her professional or her advocacy work. She was always a forceful woman, clear about what she believed, committed to encouraging others' activism. The fact that she was doing this after and partly because of a loss that I could not fathom added to the impact she had on me. I always enjoyed our occasional encounters, loved listening to her talk about her work, and learned from her about standing up for what you believe in and about investing in the next generation.

"Carolyn Goodman, z"l" - Jeremy Burton

If you were in any way involved in NY progressive Jewish activism in the past few decades, or were a student at the City University's Queens College, chances are you met Dr. Carolyn Goodman, who passed away on August 17, 2007 at the age of 91.

Dr. Goodman first came to national prominence in the summer of 1964 when her son Andrew (a QC student), along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, was famously killed during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The Upper West Side psychologist ..., went on to dedicate herself throughout her life to the social justice mission to which she and her husband had raised and sacrificed their son. This was hardly new to her. She had been a farm worker organizer in her youth, and was active in US support for Spanish Republicans during the civil war.

I first met her during the '89 marking of Freedom Summer's 25th anniversary, when she spent some time back at QC to help inculcate a new generation in progressive values, always and clearly rooted in the Jewish tradition and her upbringing.

In 1999 I had the chance to work with her when I was co-organizing (through JFREJ) the Jewish participation in civil disobedience after the police killing of Amadou Diallo, an African immigrant. Despite her already advanced years, she proactively sought to be involved, and brought her credibility, celebrity, and historic connection to the earlier civil rights work, to our cause. She was a key figure in bringing Jews into this new civil rights movement as Jews, anchoring our community's role as a credible and reliable ally to a new movement for New York at a time when most mainstream Jewish organizations wouldn't take on the issue.

No parent should ever have to bury their child and her passing is the close of the era when the parents of those Mississippi Summer students stood as living legacies to their own children. She deserves (along with her deceased husband) all due credit for raising her son with his values. She deserves even more to be remembered for her own part as a role model, not just as a Jewish mother, but as an activist and as a force for justice.

goodman.jpg - still image [media]
Full image
Carolyn Goodman.
Photo: Andrew Goodman Foundation.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Carolyn Goodman, 1915 - 2007." (Viewed on August 31, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/goodman-carolyn>.

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