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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                     ALAN KOCH (1938-2015)


LOCATION:                        PRATTVILLE, ALABAMA

DATE:                                JANUARY 22, 2012

ID#:                                  OHC 10819


Transcript (PDF)


During the Great Depression:

“[My mother] kept the family alive during the Depression with a cousin . . . B. J. Levy & Son, a department store in Demopolis.  I think she made $100 a month.  They ate at one grandparents’ house . . . a parents’ house . . . ate at one and slept at the other, and made ends meet.  Dad tells a story about taking my brother Jack, who was born in 1932, to the park and entertaining him because he couldn’t find a job.  Mother supported the family.  The family had seen better days.  Like so many others they didn’t ask for or receive a lot of help other than from family, but by the time they retired they had done extremely well.”  1

About Jews in Demopolis, Alabama:

“. . . the peak of the population was probably about 1900 to 1910.  If you figure the white population no more in that time than 2,000 and you had 150 Jews of all ages there, there was a significant Jewish population there.  When my parents’ generation started dying off, the kids like me had gone off and gone to school, and the population dwindled down to now one lone Jewish man, Bert Rosenbush, who’s close to 80 . . . Demopolis, the little town now, has really appreciated the Jewish presence there.  I’ve had any number of generations above mine, and mine, saying that, of all the ethnic groups in Demopolis, the success of that community is in large part due to the Jewish population more than any other.  They were the mercantile group.  I laugh when I look at old newspapers . . . contemporary newspapers . . . and one was lamenting the fact that all the churches in town had bells but the Baptists.  The Baptists needed a bell for their church, and they were trying to raise money, $1 or whatever you could contribute.  I think of the first $50 that they got, $30 of it came from the Jewish population.  I told them over there that the Baptists had to be thankful, for without us Jews they’d have never had a bell in the Baptist church.  There was a warm relationship, and it still continues today.”  4

On dating Jewish girls:

“When I was playing ball in Detroit [Michigan], the only experience I had was I had a date with a Jewish girl and I picked her up.  The Detroit Tigers [baseball team] had given me a red Ford convertible to drive while I was there playing ball.  I picked her up and had this wonderful stereo.  I loved classical music and loved Richard Wagner’s music.  I had Wagner [pronounces it German way: Vogner] music on. I was just the coolest young man you’ve ever seen.  She said, “Do you know whose music you’re listening too?”  I said, “Yes.”  She said, “Do you know he’s responsible for the death of 6 million Jews?”  I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”  She said, “If you have to listen to him, you can take me home.”  Which is what I did.  I don’t think I ever got two blocks from my house before I turned around and took her home.  That was my experience dating Jewish girls for the first 25 years of my life.”    6, 7

On Christmas and assimilation:

“. . . like everybody else, we had a Christmas tree.  All of us worked in stores leading up to Christmas. The Jewish population in Demopolis was no different than the Jewish population in all of these small towns, where there was no rabbi and whose young kids went through the same experience I’ve just described.  They were very anxious to assimilate themselves into the community, and they did everything they knew how to.  My uncle sang in the Episcopal choir. They sang in whoever else had a choir, and if there was some music at the temple the Episcopalians and the Baptists came over and sang in the temple.  If you want to know what happened to the Jews in rural Alabama, they assimilated themselves out of existence.  They wanted so much to be accepted that they inadvertently assimilated themselves away.”   7

“You think that the plantations in the South just disintegrated with the end of the war, but during the war and afterward a lot of those plantations were run by ex-slaves, or blacks, particularly when the owners had been called into service and were in Virginia fighting somewhere.  Those plantations were managed and maintained sometimes by black overseers, and a lot of those . . . If you look at the history, you’ll see some of these old Jewish restaurants in Demopolis, listed as slave owners, but they weren’t slave owners.  Those were . . . they’d be listed with two or three slaves, but it was no different than a yard man and a maid really.  Some are buried in white cemeteries, not necessarily Jewish, but with their owners, the blacks in the white cemeteries.  There was a bond that was certainly different than the image of Simon Legree.  If they weren’t family members, they were well-treated and well-respected and well-liked.”  8

“Was [my father] a segregationist?  Yes.  Did I grow up as a segregationist?  Yes.  That’s all we knew.  When I worked in high school growing up, we had a porter at the store about my age that went to the black school.  We had a great time together, and we really had no problems.   In high school, whites would play football on the field on Friday night. The blacks would play football on the field on Saturday night.  More often than not, you’d find us looking through the fence at them playing on Saturday night and them looking through the fence watching us play on Friday night.  Socialize any way, shape, form?  No.”   8, 9

“My father . . . one of his black workmen at the automobile dealership got arrested in a dry county [alcohol is illegal] for having beer.  Dad was furious, and he said, ‘Come on, Alan. We’re going down to the country jail and get Henry out.’  He got down there, and he told the police chief, ‘I want you to come to my house.  I’ve got beer at my house and I want you to arrest me.  Then we’re going to the mayor’s house. We’re going to have a beer there and we’re going to arrest him.  Then we’re going to your house, and we’re going to try to arrest you unless you let Henry out of jail.’  Henry got out of jail.  ‘Don’t get excited, Jake.  Don’t get excited, Jake.  It’s okay.’  He believed in fairness and equality.  [It was] just [that] the prevailing sentiment then was we’ve got to maintain control.”   9

“When I was playing ball again in Birmingham, one of the white boys from Pennsylvania gave us hell about living in the South until his parents put their home on the market and found out blacks had moved in the neighborhood and the value of the house had gone down.  His attitude was, “Why in the hell did they move into that white neighborhood.  They knew that wasn’t for them.”  That’s the point I’m making.  Blacks as a race were fine, but blacks as individuals were not.  It was just the opposite in the South.  Blacks as individuals were fine, but the fear was if the blacks get in the majority, that’s the total, we’re in trouble.”   9

On the results of co-authoring an article in the newspaper on race relations:

“Next morning I had a call from the general manager, and Gil Hodges, who was the manager [of the Detroit Tigers], to come to the office.  They printed the story.  “You know about this story?” “Yes, sir.” “You know what it says then.” “Yes, sir.”  What it said was everybody in the South wasn’t a racist, that I was from a ‘Black Belt’ of Alabama which was not named for the color of the people but the color of the soil.  I thought that everything was grossly exaggerated to substantiate the Civil Rights Act.  Quote: “I haven’t been to a lynching in years.” End quote.  That did not go over well with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] in Washington.  They threatened to boycott the ball games unless the Senators did something about their problem child.  So they did.  They optioned my contract to Honolulu [Hawaii], the Pacific Coast League.  I said, “Why Honolulu?”  They said, “Because it’s the furthest place from Washington that they play organized baseball.”  “That’s not necessary.  I think I’ll quit and go home and go to law school, if there’s still a Constitution left by then.”  My sense of humor got me in trouble for ever and ever and ever.”   13, 14


Alan Koch’s family on his father’s side came to the United States in the late 1880’s. His great- grandmother brought two sons to Meridian, Mississippi, where they knew a family.  She left them there and went back to Germany.  One brother stayed in Meridian and married there.  The other brother, Alan’s grandfather, came to the Demopolis, Alabama area and married Alan’s grandmother.  They lived in and around Demopolis until they moved to Montgomery in retirement. 

Alan’s mother’s side of the family (named Tannenbaum) was in Mobile, Alabama probably as early as the 1840’s, after coming into New Orleans, Louisiana.  This was not Alan’s immediate family.  His immediate family came to the United States primarily right after the Civil War, and moved up the river system from Mobile to a small town, like so many other Jewish residents.  His mother’s maiden name was Goodman, and she lived and grew up in Starkville, Mississippi.

Alan grew up in Demopolis, and went to Auburn University on a baseball scholarship.  He went on to play baseball professionally, eventually with the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Senators.  After he left the sport, he earned a master’s degree in history and a law degree at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  After a short stint as a lawyer, he had a career in the health care field until his retirement in 1999.  Alan died in 2015.


Alan discusses his family history and how both sides of his family came to the United States in the 1800’s.  He describes how his parents ended up in Demopolis, Alabama and what did there.  His father was an automobile dealer and farm implement dealer, and his mother worked during the Great Depression to keep the family alive.  Alan continues with a description of what his parents were like.

Alan describes what it was like growing up in the small Southern town of Demopolis as a Jew.  He was not raised with any kind of prejudice, nor did he experience any.  The Jewish community was respected and appreciated, and Jewish business owners played an important role in the economy of Demopolis.  Alan reflects on his own Jewish upbringing in a small town with a small Jewish population and expresses that he wishes he had a stronger Jewish education and knew more about Judaism. 

Alan talks about his experience with the way blacks were viewed and treated when he was growing up and then later during desegregation when George Wallace was the governor of Alabama.  While Alan was an apartment manager during law school to help pay for his expenses, he was responsible for the first integrated apartment building in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Alan shares stories about his years as a professional baseball player, his subsequent law school experiences, and his eventual career in the health care industry.  The interview combines humorous stories with interesting descriptions of growing up in a small Southern town as a Jew, experiences in other parts of Alabama and other parts of the country, and living during segregation and desegregation. 


Alabama State Health Planning and Development Agency



Auburn University—Auburn, Alabama

Automobile dealers


Baseball, professional

Baseball cards

Birmingham, Alabama

B.J. Levy & Son—Demopolis, Alabama

Black Belt

Bryant, Paul William (Bear)

Camps, summer

Cemeteries, Jewish


Christmas trees

Civil Rights Movement

Civil War

Demopolis, Alabama

Detroit tigers (baseball team)

Dreifuss family

Emanuel, Baruch (Rabbi)


Farm machinery sales

Fraternities, Jewish

Frohsin, Frances Koch

Frohsin, Leon

Frohsin, Louis

Frohsin, Ralph

Great Depression, 1929


High Holy Days

Hodges, Gil


International Harvester

Jewish-Black Relations

Jewish-Christian Relations

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Koch, Alan

Koch, Hazel Goodman

Koch, Jacob Levy

Koch, Jack

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan


Levy, B.J.

Levy, Jerome

Meridian, Mississippi

Mississippi College for Women—Columbus, Mississippi

Mississippi University for Women—Columbus, Mississippi

Mobile, Alabama

Montgomery, Alabama

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

New Orleans, Louisiana

New York University—New York City, New York


Prattville, Alabama



Religious education, Jewish

Rosenbush, Burt

Rosenbush Furniture Company—Demopolis, Alabama

Rosh Ha-Shanah

Rotary Club



Starkville, Mississippi

Sunday school

Tannenbaum family

Temple B’nai Jeshurun—Demopolis, Alabama

Threefoot family

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

University of Alabama—Tuscaloosa, Alabama

University House Apartments—Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Wagner, Richard

Wallace, George Corley

Washington Senators (baseball team)

White supremacy groups

Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) 


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