Fighting for Social Justice During the Jim Crow Era

Written by Tova-Beck Friedman, Director of Red Father

It is rewarding when a documentary you worked on for some time appeals to a wide audience. We screened RED FATHER in diverse venues — from Human Rights to Jewish to African Diaspora Film Festivals — and were pleased to always find enthusiastic and interactive viewers.

RED FATHER is the story of Bernard Ades, a Jewish lawyer who fought for racial justice during the Jim Crow era. Researching the topic was, for me, an eye opening experience, from reading Joseph Moore’s MURDER ON MARYLAND’S EASTERN SHORE: RACE POLITICS AND THE CASE OF ORPHAN JONES, to grasping the extent of the prevailing racism. Going through photographs of lynchings, I was overwhelmed by the fact that nothing was done behind closed doors — everything was in the open, “On the Court House Lawn,” as Sherilynn Ifil’s book title suggests. White folks dressed up in their Sunday best, looking straight into the camera, treating the event as entertainment.

Ades was born into an affluent Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland. Radicalized by the Great Depression, he leaves the comfort of his surroundings to fight for equality. Believing in Communist ideals, he joins the Party and works as a lawyer to defend African Americans in capital cases. When the white judicial establishment takes revenge and tries to disbar him, young Thurgood Marshal joins the defense team — the first African American to defend a Caucasian litigant in Maryland. Thurgood Marshal will later use the outcome of his defense, In Re Ades, to successfully argue in front of the Supreme Court in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education which resulted the end of segregation.

Bernard Ades’s story is narrated by his daughter. She admires the father who confronted legal racism, fought fascism in Spain, and was repeatedly blacklisted. Nonetheless, she does not spare her criticism of the Communist Party’s conduct. She ends the film with a powerful and poignant statement: “I also have great sympathy for the ideals that he had and even that the Party had, of equality and social responsibility for one another… but those ideas were poisoned by the way the Soviet Union behaved …They poisoned the well and that is very sad and it also defeated his ideas — those of them that were noble.”

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