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February 9: Alice Walker and Mel Leventhal

February 9, 2014
12 Aug 1970, New York, New York, USA --- Alice fusses over Rebecca as Mel watches. Miss Walker's novel is about a family of black southern sharecroppers. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBISAlice Walker, whose many accomplishments include a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Color Purple (1982), was born in a sharecropping family in Georgia on this date in 1944. In 1967, Walker married the activist Jewish civil rights attorney Mel Leventhal, with whom she lived in Jackson, Mississippi. They were very possibly the first legally married interracial couple in the state following the Supreme Court’s banning of miscegenation laws. Walker and Leventhal divorced in 1976 and raised their daughter Rebecca in two-year shifts (which Rebecca Walker described resentfully in her memoir, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self). In recent years, Alice Walker has been devoted to the Palestinian solidarity movement and has actively supported boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. She refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew; she has likened Israel to Nazi Germany and accused it of “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “cruelty and diabolical torture.” Israeli settlements, she recently wrote, are based on the idea that “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” a lesson she “learned from my Jewish lawyer former husband. This belief might even be enshrined in the Torah.” Such words have led the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman to criticize her as wanting “the uninformed reader to come away sharing her hate-filled conclusions that Israel is committing the greatest atrocity in the history of the world,” while Tikkun’s Michael Lerner has described her as “dismissive and put-downish” and her “perception of the Jewish people” as “largely ignorant of the tradition of Jews that we represent . . .” “Leaving no question about how she felt about her son’s marriage to a shvartze (a pejorative Yiddish term for a black person), Miriam Leventhal sat shiva for her son, mourning him as dead.” —Evelyn C. White, Alice Walker: A Life