Obituary and Memorial

Alfred M. Loeb, Presente

December 10, 1926 – October 25, 2006

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to Sojourner House in Rochester N.Y.
My father died this morning.  He had been on a respirator for several days and decided to be taken off the machine. He and I had a complicated relationship and hadn’t spoken for several years.  But grief knows it’s own timeline and even the profoundest of separations are widened by death.
Alfred Morton Loeb, my father; was a civil rights activist, a computer scientist, a skier who was involved in alpine sky rescue and back country ski camping into his seventies, an avid cyclist (until a year and a half ago when, at the age of 78, on a 30 mile bike ride, he hit a car that was going through a stop sign.)  He was an amazing photographer, whose work has yet to be catalogued and given its proper due. He could fix anything and everything.  He loved classical music but didn’t understand poetry and hated rock and roll.
He is survived by: his wife of 57 years, my mother and biochemist Marilyn Rosenthal Loeb, my sister, Judith Whitaker and her two children: Caleb and Maya, my brother, Andrew Loeb, my son, Leon and me.
Despite the chasm between my father and me: the bridges burned, the broken spirits, the heartbreaks on both sides of the divide; he gave me who I was. So much of what we receive in life is monetary and material.  When I was five years old He bestowed upon me the most precious of endowments, the most valuable of inheritances: knowledge of my purpose in life.  There are deciding moments in all purpose driven lives.  Here is the telling of that moment in mine when my course was determined for me; when I knew what I would do with my time on this rock.
My Father’s Yellow Feet
By Emma Rosenthal

The year I was conceived, the FBI took out a freshly pressed manila file, put my last name on the file tab, and waited for my birth to fill in the rest of the information.
My father was just another Jewish activist so there was little doubt that this child; his first born, who would be raised in red swaddling cloths, on picket lines, boycotts and demonstrations; would need to be monitored.  That year,  my father, a staunch supporter of gun control, a man who despised gun ownership, placed a loaded shot gun beneath my parents’ bed because of threats on his life, on our lives, because of work he was doing in fair housing.  In that bed, over that loaded gun, I gestated for nine months.
I was five when he went to Selma to march to Montgomery with Dr. King.  By court order only 200 marchers would be allowed to travel the full distance to be met by a larger rally in Montgomery, if and when they finally arrived.  I was unaware of the danger and was only filled in awe.  Jewish freedom riders did not always arrive home safely.    My daddy was going to march for freedom. Freedom; a word that would echo through my home for many years.
This was the second march.  The first one ended in a bloody riot when the police attacked the marchers and they were forced to turn back. My father was gone for the longest time but all I really remember were the calloused deformities he had when he came home.   His feet recovered from that journey but he still bears hard yellow reminders of that long march.  I remember him resting on his bed after he had returned. I looked at those bruised, yellowed feet and said with all the determination my five year old spirit could muster;  “The next freedom march you go on Daddy, I’m going with you.”
The next march I remember was a memorial service in Philadelphia, as with other cities all over the world.  Someone had shot Dr. King.  I remember standing in the line of humanity, I remember the air on my skin, I remember the green, green lawn of the arboretum, I remember the somber spirit of the crowd, I remember the voices echoing through microphones and speakers.  I remember being nine  years old,  and somebody had shot Dr. King.
A year later my father made plans to take a bus to Washington D.C. to march against the war.  These were safer times to march, but the sting of the fifties, the threats against his life, the assassination of the Rosenbergs, the McCarthy witch hunts, Cheney, Shverner and Goodman, four little girls, Malcolm, Evers, King and many others, still were fresh in his mind.  He would not take me.  It wasn’t safe.
I had to go.
This was freedom and I had promised his calloused yellow feet that I would go on the next march. “If a man does not have something he is willing to die for he is not fit to live”  I said as I quoted Dr. King.  It was 1969. I was almost eleven years old.  I’m not sure how much I understood about rice paddies, napalm and imperialism, but my father was going and I had to go with him.
I had to go.
There was no way I could let him go without me.  I argued and polemicized with him for days until he finally conceded that he would take me.   My mother packed us reubens for lunch and he made me wear a dress so that we would look respectable, no torn blue jeans for us.  It was a green sweater and a matching skirt that just reached my knee.  I remember.  I remember because it was a cold day in Washington in 1969, November 15.  I remember the bus and the old woman who gave me brownies to eat and the edges had been burned in the pan.  I remember the rows and rows of yellow busses, I remember the button, long since lost, a white hand forming a peace sign against a black silhouette of the capital building.  I remember seeing the marble buildings of the Capital and L’Enfant Plaza, with its large light bulb street lights, the Washington memorial.  I remember the pro war protesters telling me to go back to Russia, a place my ancestors had lived in and died in and could never return to.  I remember the smell of marijuana, the chanting and the singing, the speakers, the crowds.  I really remember the cold, my stockinged legs, the cold air and no protection from it, but most of all I remember not caring that I had to get up at four in the morning, not caring that the air burned my skin, not caring that I was hungry or thirsty.  I just cared that I was there, that he brought me and that I would do this again many, many times.
I am sure that my initial FBI file has swollen and perhaps fills many boxes. For years my mail has sporadically arrived opened and the clicks on the phone are reminders that very little is truly private. My name appears on hit lists and blacklists. I receive the occasional death threat. I turn away from cameras at demonstrations unless I know the photographer.  And I have photographed them too.  (I have my own files.)  There may yet be a day of reckoning.
I am tired of police officers in uniform holding video cameras.  I am tired of the cops who come right up to me and shoot my picture while I stand under a red banner.  Most of all I am tired of the ones out of uniforms;  the G-men and women who sit in on meetings and pretend to fight for freedom, who feign that longing in their eyes, all the while taking notes and foaming discontent within the group.  I know we have made mistakes, over the years of organizing I have seen movements come and go, groups break and splinter.  I only wish I new which mistakes were ours, which discord was truly part of the movement and which was caused by infiltration, government espionage and counterintelligence programming.
I wish I knew.
I march with my small child and keep my eyes on the baton yielding men with helmets on horseback.  I am ready to grab up my child with the power of motherhood and run if need arises.  I am afraid for him in demonstrations, I am afraid for him as he grows into a man in a society afraid of its youth but I bring him.  He never had to ask.   “No blood for oil” was one of his first sentences and for years he would point to the Federal building and call it “Peace now.”  I carried him on the picket line of the L.A. teachers’ strike and nursed him between picket duty and cluster meetings.  I carry my father with me too.  He doesn’t march with me any more, not in form, but he is there in spirit and I remember his feet, his calloused feet he brought back form Alabama and the promises I made to them.  I will always remember those feet.

Alfred M. Loeb, Presente

December 10, 1926 – October 25, 2006

One response to “Obituary and Memorial

  1. Emma, this was such a deeply moving piece. My own father passed away when I was 22 years old. My mother, who had become a Quad after my birth, was the dean of a private Catholic boarding school–the one in which I lived for 14 years, the one where schoolmates-wishing for my tears- would crush living birds on the pavement until I was forced to finish them with my own hands. I would meet again my old teachers, later in life, who never knew that I was the daughter of thier Headmistress. My father, a kind old drunk who lived in a houseboat with 2 dogs and a goat named Tanya, rescued me each summer. His old truck chugging to meet me, a box of damp and ill fitting thrift store clothes for me in the front seat. I would spend the summers filling my beach-brown belly on sour mangoes, urgently peeling back the moist pages of Thoreau and Mowat. My most formative memory of my dad was fishing, about a mile off shore from the Hutch Island power plant. I was swimming in the ocean when I suddenly became aware of several large and harmless nurse sharks cruising below me. I panicked, and screamed for him to throw the ladder and help me in the boat. My dad asked why I was afraid (he had noticed the sharks hours ago) and I told him I was afraid one of them might hurt me. He laughed. He pointed his heavy sausage hand towards the shore, where the waves lapped at the largest nuke plant in the country. He said “buddy, there are plenty of things you need to be afraid of. Plenty. Those big girls down below aren’t who is going hurt you though. Hell, you fight along side them. They are your sisters.”

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