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Race: Are we so different

A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative

November 4, 2013 at 12:53 PM

Race project | ‘There still aren’t enough people who have become tolerant’

Lorraine Salkins

Lorraine Salkins calls RACE: Are We So Different? “a wonderful exhibit.” (Photo by Ashley Stewart)

Lorraine Salkins knew it all, even the small details.

The New York native didn’t need RACE: Are We So Different? to tell her about discrimination when she visited the Pacific Science Center with her neighbors last month.

She had her memories.

“It’s (the exhibit) trying to show the public what was, and still is, discrimination. It’s nothing I didn’t know,” she said. “There still aren’t enough people who have become tolerant.”

Salkins, who lives in a University District retirement community, spent her time at the exhibit scanning photos, reading stories and sharing her own.

Salkins grew up in the Bronx, in a neighborhood that accepted her Jewish faith. It wasn’t until later in life that she experienced prejudice.

“It was only once, and once is enough,” she said.

Working in the 1950s, she didn’t think to tell her coworkers that she was Jewish. Then they started making remarks about people of her faith.

“They’d say derogatory remarks about your religion,” Salkins said. “They stopped when they found out who I was.”

She also didn’t need a display to tell her what it was like for veterans in the 1950s who tried to buy a house in the Long Island suburb of Levittown. She had experienced that, too.

“Everybody knew about Levittown,” she said. “There was a Jewish builder called Levitt. He built so many houses there for the boys coming back (from the war) that it was like a city.”

She and her friends gathered around the exhibit display GI Bill: An Unequal Opportunity to read about two veterans: Herb Kalisman, who bought a house in Levittown with a low-interest mortgage through the GI Bill, and Eugene Burnett, who was turned away because of his race.

Money was the barrier between Salkins and a Levittown home.

She and her husband were engaged when he returned from World War II and tried to settle in Levittown, but they couldn’t afford a down payment on the $6,000 house.

“They weren’t very expensive,” she said. “But he had just returned from the service and didn’t have a job.”

In a crowd of her University District neighbors, Salkins took a moment alone to study the display before heading to the bus home.

“I enjoyed the day,” she said. “It’s a wonderful exhibit.”

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