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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       DON KEMP

                                            SHERRY BLANTON


DATE:                                  AUGUST 11, 2010

LOCATION:                          ANNISTON, ALABAMA

NUMBER OF PAGES:           22

Transcript (PDF)


Don Kemp’s parents, Rudolph Alfred Kempenich and Margareta Sybilla Nathan KempEnich, came to Alabama from Emmerich, Germany in 1937.  The town was near the border with Holland, and they were able to move money and possessions across the border in preparation for their departure.  Their departure was accelerated when the Gestapo began questioning them, and that day in 1937 they left Germany suddenly, crossing the border into Holland and then boarding a ship to the United States.

Don’s father’s family was scattered throughout the world, in Brazil, Palestine, and France.   Because many of Don’s mother’s family members were in Alabama by then, his parents made the decision to join them there.  His brother Alfred was born in 1939, Don was born in 1942, and his sister Margaret was born in 1947. 

Don’s great uncle had become president of a fabrics factory in Anniston, and when Don’s parents first arrived his father worked in the factory doing time and studies work.  He then opened a bowling alley and later started another fabrics factory to complement the uncle’s factory.  That factory, which he eventually sold, is still in Anniston today.

Don grew up in Anniston, and throughout his childhood, he attended the segregated public schools and Sunday school at the temple.  He became bar mitzvah, participated in the North Alabama Federation of Temple Youth, and attended Camp Blue Star, an overnight Jewish summer camp.  His parents and another couple built summer homes in the country on a pond, and Don has fond memories of spending summers there. 

After graduating from the University of North Carolina, Don returned to Anniston to work in his father’s factory.  He was introduced to his wife, Gail Sopkin, when he attended the funeral of the father of a college roommate from Florence, South Carolina.  While there, the friend’s mother and Gail’s mother decided Don and Gail should meet, and they later married.  Gail passed away in 1988. 

Don’s parents were active in the community, participating in Jewish life as well as in civic organizations.  They supported and participated in the peaceful desegregation of Anniston.  When they became naturalized citizens, they shortened the family name to Kemp at the suggestion of the judge.  Don’s father lived to be 89, and his mother was 95 when she died.  Although the community has changed and the Jewish community has diminished, Don still lives in Anniston and fondly recalls his family history there. 


Don explains why and how his parents came to the United States and settled in Anniston, Alabama.  They had been living in Emmerich, Germany, and left in 1937.  Don’s mother’s uncle had come to Anniston and, over time, other family members joined him there.  Don discusses the livelihoods of his family members in Anniston and describes his experiences growing up in a small Southern community, both as a Jew and during segregation. 

The interview includes descriptions of the temple and the Jewish community, the economy of Anniston and the family businesses, segregation and desegregation, and personal stories from his childhood and of his family.  Don describes how the Jewish community and the broader community have changed over time.  Many white families began sending their children to private schools or moving to surrounding communities.  Many young people have moved away, in favor of larger cities, and many of the factories that supported the community are now gone. 


19 Rabbis


Alterman, Rosalie Hirsch

Anniston, Alabama

Anniston, Alabama—Bus burning (1961)

Anniston Army Depot

Annistonian (restaurant)—Anniston, Alabama


Bar mitzvah

Baylinson, David (Rabbi)

Blacks—Relations with Jews

Blanton, Sherry

Bloom, Paul Irving (Rabbi)

B’nai B’rith

Bowling alleys


Bynum, Alabama

Camp Blue Star

Caro, Alfred

Caro, Helen

Carpentry trade

Catskill Mountains

Cattle industry and trade

Chelsea Industry—Massachusetts

Civil rights era

Classy Ribbon—Anniston, Alabama

Committee of Unified Leadership

Congregation Beth Israel—Gadsden, Alabama—Bombing (1960)



Ellis Island, New York

Emmerich, Germany

English language

Florence, Alabama

Florence, South Carolina

Food industry and trade

Fort McClellan—Anniston, Alabama

Fort Worth, Texas


Freibaum, Julia

Freibaum, (Levi) Lee

Freibaum, Metha

Freibaum, Solomon

Gadsden, Alabama



Giershagen, Germany

Gordon, Hyman

Gordon, Selma Hirsch



Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1942)


Integration, schools


Jasper, Alabama

Jewish-Christian relations

Jews, flight

Jews, Persecution

Jews—Relations with blacks

Judaism, Reform

Judaism, Orthodox

Judaism—Customs and practices

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Kemp, Alfred Max

Kemp, Don

Kemp, Gail Sopkin

Kemp, Margareta Sybilla Nathan

Kemp, Margaret Jean

Kemp, Rudy Alfred

Kempenich, Rudolf Alfred


Ku Klux Klan




Nathan, Carl

Nathan, Henrietta (Henny)

Nathan, Henry

Nathan, Sophie Nathan

North American Federation of Temple Youth

Oxford, Alabama





Selma-Montgomery March (1965)

Soldiers, United States

Sterne, Myra Hannah

Sunday school

Summer camps


Tape-Craft—Anniston, Alabama

Temple Beth-El—Anniston, Alabama

Temple Beth-El Sisterhood—Anniston, Alabama

Textiles, industry and trade

University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, North Carolina

White supremacist groups


Yellow star

Youth-Societies and clubs



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