If you have not been following Clare Kinberg’s Looking For Rose series in the Washtenaw Jewish News you are missing out! Each month since December 2019 Clare has explored race, class, history, Judaism and more through the lens of her Aunt Rose’s life. It has been a joy to follow, to read the series, you can click on each issue of the Washtenaw Jewish News here. Learn more about the series in Clare’s own words below.
Clare Kinberg on the ‘Looking For Rose’ Series:
For forty years, beginning in 1975, I tried to find my father’s sister Rose, an aunt I’d
never met. I grew up in St. Louis, in an Ashkenazi Jewish family I had been raised to
believe was completely segregated from African American families. But the separation
was a lie.
I now know that sometime in the late 1930s my Aunt Rose moved to Chicago with her African American husband Zebedee Arnwine. Her young son from an earlier marriage, Joey, remained behind with her mother and siblings. On the day in 2016 when I found
Rose’s death certificate on the internet, I learned she had died at the age of 76 in a
hospital in South Bend, Indiana. Her last residential address was in Vandalia, Michigan,
about two hours directly west of my home in Ypsilanti where I live with my wife Patti and our two adopted African American daughters. Vandalia was founded by abolitionist
Quakers and several free Black families, some of whom had been manumitted prior to
the Civil War.
I found my Aunt Rose’s unmarked grave in a small church cemetery among some of
the oldest Black residents of Cass County. The first time I stood near Rose’s burial plot,
I resolved to write a book about her.
Now, after five years of research and prodding, I’ve met the descendants of her
friends and the people among whom she is buried. I’ve found the places in Texas and
Oklahoma where Mr. Arnwine lived when the area was still Indian Territory, learned how the Underground Railroad shaped southwest Michigan, and unearthed stories of Jewish communities in small town Michigan.
My wife Patti and I moved to Michigan looking for a decent place for an interracial
family to raise our daughters. Unbeknownst to me, my Aunt Rose had moved to
Michigan sixty years earlier. She settled on the shore of Paradise Lake in 1943 when
she was 35 years old. Looking at her decisions through the lens of my own life, I
suppose that Rose and Mr. Arnwine similarly were looking for a place where an
interracial couple could live safely. Patti and I spent so much time analyzing the
demographics of places where we might live, thinking about which Black and Jewish,
interracial and lesbian communities our family would come to call our own. This story is
shaped by the conversations I wish I could have had with Aunt Rose.