“All men are created equal”
is a line from the Declaration of Independence.
As Americans looking back at our own history, though,
we know this truth has unfortunately not been very self-evident.
However, it’s important to remember that books have
helped turn the tide of so many injustices throughout time.
The way each of us grows up determines, to a great extent, how we see the world around us and how we relate to others. I am a white publisher who has published a number of books about Black history and health. I have published these books because I think they are important, but the question I have started to ask myself is, “Why do I think they are important?” Now I think I understand why.
When my parents came to this country after World War II, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)—the organization that in 1947 was able to get my parents and I out of an American Displaced Persons Camp in Germany—placed my family in a five-story walk-up located in the South Bronx section of New York City. The neighborhood was a mix of newly-arrived European refugees, Puerto Ricans, and Black people. The kids who I went to school with reflected that neighborhood’s diverse population, as did my friends. When I was ten, we moved to Flushing located in the borough of Queens. It was definitely a very white area at that time, but I didn’t notice. I just saw that there were a lot more trees everywhere.
Thinking back, I find it interesting that my parents never said anything disparaging about Black people. As a young person, I always thought it was because of the discrimination they had faced growing up in an anti-Semitic society—but they never talked much about that. When I was sixteen, they took a trip to Florida’s Miami Beach and gave me a bus ticket to join them there once my classes were over. On my way down, my bus pulled in at a rest stop in Maryland. There was a restaurant there, and I had to use the bathroom. As I made my way through the restaurant, there was a sign hanging above the bathroom door. It said, “No Negroes Allowed.” It wasn’t that I hadn’t heard or seen the N-word or similarly derogatory terms used before, but seeing that sign prohibiting someone from using a bathroom is something that has always stayed with me—and may even had led me to subconsciously reflect on the type of hate my parents had been forced to endure. It may not have been the most significant event to have occurred, but I realize now that it was enough to give me the drive later in life to find and publish books for people in the Black community—which now brings me to our current list of relevant titles.
When I began to work with the Knights of Columbus fraternal organization over a decade ago, I discovered a book that the Knights had underwritten for a history series based on the many influences that different groups of people have had on American society. The groups in the series included the Italian, German, Irish, and Black communities. Written by W. E. B. Du Bois in the mid-1920s at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, The Gift of Black Folk focused on the influence of the Black community on America—and is considered one of the first books ever to deal with this subject. Needless to say, and with the Knights’ blessing, Square One published it.
One day, an acquaintance of mine introduced me to a friend of his—Richard Walker, MD. As an African-American physician, Dr. Walker wanted to write a health book designed specifically for the Black community. Aside from having an amazing background and professional career as a medical doctor, he was also a skilled writer. We published African-American Healthy a year later.
Not long after that book’s publication, one of our authors told me about a project that a Broadway producer wanted to publish. As it turned out, the person he was talking about was the acclaimed and Tony award-winning theatrical producer Stewart Lane. Although white, Lane had long studied and appreciated the struggles and successes of Black performers and creators within the New York theater community. He felt it was time to put together a proper history book on this important topic—and I agreed. After two years of shared work and collaboration, we published a beautiful four-color coffee table book. Its title? Black Broadway. Upon our book’s publication, The Amsterdam News—known throughout the world as one of the oldest American newspapers written for, and still owned by, members of the Black community—went on record and said that our book was “a must-have in every Black family's library.”
And just prior to the COVID pandemic, two more Black-themed projects came my way. Dr. Richard Walker wanted to do an updated and more fully expanded version of his first health book with us. He wanted it to be called Black Health Matters—and in the midst of the pandemic, his new book was released. Around the same time, Fred Engh—founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS)—told me about his experience going to an all-Black college in Maryland to get his teaching degree back in the early ’60s. As it turned out, Fred started to share his own enlightening story in response to my telling him about the experience I’d had at that bus stop in Maryland years before. The thing of it was that Fred was white, and he would become the first white student to attend the all-Black Maryland State College (now called the University of Maryland Eastern Shore). I told Fred that I thought his story would make a great book—and after a few more encouraging calls, he told me that he would commit to the project. The book, entitled Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White, explores the relationships that Fred forged with other students in his time at an all-Black college—and the lessons he learned there that would help shape the rest of his life.
Little did I know the ways in which that racist bathroom sign I saw years before would lead to the publication of some of the most important books my company has released. At this point, what I do know is how much pride I have in these books being published by Square One—and how each of these books can make a significant difference in someone’s life.
Rudy Shur, Publisher
Square One Publishers, Inc.