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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                    MENDEL ROMM, JR.

INTERVIEWER:                MARVIN WEINTRAUB

DATE:                               APRIL 28, 2003

LOCATION:                      ATLANTA, GEORGIA

SPONSOR:                      Mendel Romm Family Fund

CITATION:                      Mendel Romm, April 28, 2003, OHC 10573, p. xx from the Herbert and Esther Taylor Oral History Collection, Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the Breman Museum.

 

Transcript (PDF)

Biography

Mendel Romm, Jr. was born on January 11, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.  His father, Mendel Romm, Sr. was born in 1895.  His mother, Tootsie Goldman, was born in 1899 in Birmingham, Alabama.[.

Their family home was on St. Charles Avenue in the Virginia Highlands area of Atlanta on the outskirts of downtown.  Mendel Romm, Jr. had only one sibling; a brother who died at the age of seven.  At that time Mendel was five years old.  From then on, he was an only child.

The Romms had a large extended family and led an active life.  Mendel’s father became very successful in the insurance business and was a community leader in Atlanta.   

Romm attended Boys’ High School, Sunday school at The Temple, was in the Boy Scouts.  He joined AZA or The Grand Order of the Aleph Zadik Aleph, a youth-led fraternal organization for Jewish teenagers, where he became interested in learning more about Judaism.

He left Atlanta in 1946 to attend the University of Georgia in Athens.  A week after he graduated he was drafted into the Army at the time the Korean War broke out.  Mendel served in Europe and when he got out of the Army and initially went to work with his father in the insurance business. 

Mendel met Anta Pitlick on a blind date.  They were married in 1954 and had four children:  Lisa, Tracy, Amy and Charles, who they called “Chip.”

As an entrepreneur, Romm had a varied professional career.  He invested in real estate, helped pioneer developments in southwest Atlanta, and had a limousine business.  He loved Atlanta and shared his vast knowledge of city’s history as a volunteer at the Breman Jewish Museum and Oakland Cemetery.

Mendel Romm, Jr. died on November 18, 2013 surrounded by members of his family.


Scope of Interview

Mendel Romm, Jr. discusses his life growing up in Atlanta and how the city changed during his lifetime from a town where he could stand on a street corner and practically everyone who passed by would know him, into a booming city of millions.

Atlanta history is woven through Romm’s life, including the civil rights movement and antisemitism.  He was born within four days and a few blocks from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Due to segregation, instead of growing up together and attending the same high school, the two didn’t meet until they were in their thirties.  Romm experienced discrimination both personally and professionally.  He talks about how he dealt with and moved beyond specific incidences, despite the impact on his social and business life.

Mendel talks frequently about his father, Mendel Romm, Sr., who worked multiple jobs at the age of 16 to get ahead, his professional accomplishments in the insurance industry, and his community involvement and leadership.  About his mother, Romm says, “Most people never had a better friend than my mother.”  Romm had a large extended family and he enjoys sharing stories about some of his family members including his Aunt Lena during the interview.

Romm discusses his lack of Jewish education growing up in the Temple where he attended Sunday school as a reflection of the approach to education there, where American history was emphasized.  He talks about learning about George Washington in Sunday school and learning the Gettysburg Address.  He also talks about being active in the Boy Scouts and other organizations he belonged to including AZA, which he joined in high school and learned more about Judaism.

Mendel discusses his years at University of Georgia in Athens, the fraternities there and serving in Europe during the Korean War after he graduated.  When he returned to Atlanta after the war, he tried a stint in the insurance business where his father worked, but found it unsatisfying. He tells stories of some of his entrepreneurial successes and frustrations, particularly in real estate, as Atlanta was changing demographically, socially and politically.

He married his wife Anta and they had four children.  He speaks about all of them and their lives in the interview.  He struggles a bit in discussing his youngest, Chip, who married, moved to New Zealand, and died at a young age.

Mendel’s love of Atlanta and understanding of many of the social, racial, political and economic issues facing the city during his life underscores the conversation.

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