Rev. Frank Spritzer Civil Rights Activist

By Michel Spitzer

On the eve of Barak Obama's inauguration, we are moved to think of the many who fought the good fight for equal rights in this country.   Such names as Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman – both from NYC, and James Chaney of Meridian Ms. come to mind as victims/MARTYRS of those terrible but historic times. There were so many others who sacrificed their lives so that we who have survived these many, often tumultuous, decades can witness the swearing in tomorrow (January 20, 2009) of President Barak Obama, true evidence that this country is teachable and resilient despite a long and difficult journey.   

Frank Spitzer, our brother and friend to so many Forest Hills alums, was one of those fighters who tragically left us early, but who, in his short life, worked hard to ensure that the “colored” community in Bellport, Long Island, where he preached, shared in some of the opportunities that his white parishioners perhaps took for granted ... like early education, day care, etc.  He and his wife, Babs, formerly Babs Stokes of Summer Street, created a Head Start program in their church within a short time after their arrival and actively recruited black families to join.  Most of these were families who lived on the other side of the Long Island Railroad’s tracks in an area that resembled the shanty towns of the deep South.  

That Frank grew up in Forest Hills Gardens, essentially a “closed” community, was not insignificant in helping him decide on one of his primary missions as a minister – to help the disadvantaged.  It bothered him that while we applauded the accomplishments of African-Americans in sports, entertainment, the arts, etc. the only real contact most of us had with people of color in our early years was in their roles as maids or handymen.

Fred Bruning, in a full page Newsday editorial following Frank’s death, wrote of him:  “And, although, in the pulpit, he was a relentless advocate of his beliefs, we could see immediately that his commitment exceeded ideology: that he really was a man of love.  He said what to many in that congregation were unpopular things but always his voice was gentle.  He left no doubt that the dignity of every man was to be recognized and respected, certainly the dignity of those who disagreed with him.  It is a tribute to his character, I think, that many who had no use for his ideas had a great affection for the man who thought them.”   Many might think of our new president as having these attributes.  

So, in celebrating the dawn of a new chapter in our history, we acknowledge the many – including Frank – who brought us to this point
.


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