Adele Landau Starr
Adele Landau was born on October 1, 1916 in New Orleans. Her mother came from Little Rock and her father from New Orleans. Both parents were of German Jewish lineage. When she was quite young, the family moved to McComb, Mississippi where her father and his brother set up a textile mill. They were the only Jewish family in the county and were part of the business and social elite in the area.
She was raised by black nannies, and as she was growing up separation of the races was simply part of her environment. Likewise, her being Jewish did not have any significant impact on her life as she grew up and graduated from high school.
Her father’s mill closed during the depression, and he took a job with a large textile machinery company in Boston. Only then did she get an inkling about segregation and Jewish identity when she met the Newton /Brookline crowd to which her parents moved. It was in all respects a culture shock.
In 1940, she decided to apply to Radcliffe. When she was interviewed, the admissions office told her not to take the college boards because her previous education was not sufficient. Instead they accepted her based on her interview, and probably because they had had few, if any Mississippi high school graduates.
She made Dean’s list her first year and worked on the school paper. During the summer she had an idea for a fashion column which she tried to sell to a high fashion specialty store in Boston. They were so impressed with her that they offered her a job. At that time, money was tight and her parents did not feel a college education was necessary for a girl. What was important to them was a good marriage to a wealthy man from a “good” (i.e. German Jewish) family. So Adele never went back to school
We met on July 4, 1941, and were engaged in October much to the consternation of her parents since I did not meet their qualifications noted above. It was during this period that Adele showed me her basic character traits and how they would influence many of the actions she would take later in her life.
She had a strong sense of what was ethical and right; she didn’t just talk about it, she took action. For example, at that time there was a strong Father Coughlin contingent in Boston, and a great deal of antisemitism. A young rabbi was trying to set up some inter-faith dialogue and Adele read about him and volunteered to help organize meetings and do follow up publicity.
We were married in 1943 and moved to New York after the war. She was active in the Young Democrats and while pregnant, she joined other young wives in going door-to-door to try to convince voters to unseat Carmine DeSapio, the Tamany Hall leader. They were ultimately successful.
When we moved to Dallas in 1956, she joined the League of Women
Voters. She was instrumental in reaching Governor Connally and convincing him to have the state furnish work books and supplies instead of having the students buy them. This was a League project.
Shortly after moving to Mamaroneck in 1967, she was elected President of the Mamaroneck League of Voters and became active in other local organizations such as College Careers and Westchester Community College for which she did public relations work.
In 1968, during a period of social unrest, she was active in fostering better race relations. She was having a meeting in our living room when the news came about Dr. King’s death. The work of this group continued successfully after this tragedy. The girl from Mississippi had come a long way.
On a national level she spent many years with the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank made up of former senior military officers whose mission was to try to bring some sanity to military expenditures. She conceived and produced a series of half-hour documentaries for TV, the first of which won a prize for the best documentary in its class. In addition, she also produced a series of radio spots to highlight military subjects.
She continued working even when she was ill. Just prior to the 2006 Congressional elections, she and a friend organized fund raising activities to help Congressional candidates in swing districts. They were successful.