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.
More on Carolyn Goodman, 1915 - 2007
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Carolyn Goodman, 1915 - 2007." (Viewed on September 27, 2023) <https://jwa.org/weremember/goodman-carolyn>.