FALKLAND, BC — One of the most inspiring women in the world was born
Ruchel Dwajra Zylska on April Fool’s Day, 1921, in some insignificant
village in Poland.
When she came to the U.S., she changed her name to Rachel Deborah
and later became Ruth McBride Jordan, the publicity-shy Jewish woman
the subject of one of this century’s most poignant and life-changing
classics, “The Color of Water — A Black Man’s Tribute to His White
It was written by one of her sons, James McBride, after a great deal of
On the weekend, I dusted off the 1996 book and began to absorb this
and unforgettable memoir once again.
However, if it hadn’t been for James McBride, we would have never
tenacity and spirit of his mother. She won’t be appearing on any Oprah
or Charlie Rose shows because the nearly 78-year-old woman keeps her
Only her son, a former staff writer for the Wilmington (Delaware)
Journal, the Boston Globe, People and the Washington Post style section,
has been able to get some insights into her dramatic life.
When James asked his mother if he was black or white, she snapped:
a human being. Educate yourself or you’ll be a nobody.”
And when he asked her what color God was, she quickly replied: “God
color of water.”
“In this compelling tribute to his white mother, James McBride, looks
the face of Ruthie McBride Jordan to uncover his own identity — his
humanity — and finds that he is as much the grandchild of itinerant
rabbi as the child of the all-black Red Hook Projects and that his
had shared this truth with him decades earlier when she explained that
God’s spirit is the ‘color of water,’” wrote the esteemed New Jersey
senator, Bill Bradley.
McBride, who once described himself to a Detroit News reporter as “a
man with a Jewish soul,” besides being a writer, places composer and
saxophonist high on his resume´. However, his mother’s legacy of a dozen
children and their achievements has to take top priority:
Andrew Dennis McBride, B.A., Lincoln University; M.D., University of
Pennsylvania Medical School; M.A. , Public Health, Yale University;
Director of Health Department, City of Stamford, Conn.
Rosetta McBride, B.A., Howard University; M.S.W., Social Work, Hunter
Collage; Staff Psychologist, New York Board of Education.
William McBride, B.A., Lincoln University; M.D. , Yale University
Medicine; M.B.A., Emory University School of Business; Medical Director
Southeast Region, Medical and Scientific Affairs, Merck and Co., Inc.
David McBride, B.A., Denison University; M.A., History, Columbia
University; PhD., History, Columbia University; Chairman of
History Department, Pennsylvania State University.
Helen McBride-Richter, R.N., Hospital of the University of
G.O.N.P., Emory University School of Medicine, Graduate Student in Nurse
Midwifery, Emory University School of Nursing.
Richard McBride, U.S. Army veteran, B.A., Cheney University,
M.S., Drexel University; Associate Professor of Chemistry, Cheney State;
Chemistry Research Associate, AT&T.
Dorothy McBride -Wesley, A.A., Pierce Junior College; B.A., LaSalle
University; medical practice office manager, Atlanta, Georgia.
James McBride, B.A., Oberlin College; M.S.J., Journalism, Columbia
University; writer, composer, saxophonist.
Kathy Jordan, B.A., Syracuse University; M.S., Education, Long Island
University; special-education teacher, Ewing High School, Ewing, N.J.
Judy Jordan, B.A., Adelphi University; M.A. Columbia University
College; teacher, JHS 168, Manhattan.
Hunter Jordan, B.S., Computer Engineering, Syracuse University;
consultant, U.S. Trust Corporation.
Henry Jordan, junior at North Carolina A&T University; customer
purchasing, Neal Manufacturing, Inc., Greensboro, N.C.
However, there’s one name that I missed, and it’s Ruth Jordan, B.A.,
That’s right, the once poor Polish immigrant received her B.A. in
work administration in 1986.
She was 65.
Her father’s name was Fishel Shilsky, a gruff, hard-rock Orthodox
who had escaped from the Russian army and crossed the Polish border and
an arranged marriage wed gentle and meek Hudis, who had been afflicted
Sponsored by her mother’s oldest sister, Laurie, and her husband,
Shiffman, Ruthie came to the U.S. when she was only two and her oldest
brother, Sam, was four.
When Ruthie got off the boat, the Austergeist, on August 23, 1923,
lived with my grandparents Zaydeh and Bubeh on 115th and St. Nicholas in
Manhattan.” She loved her grandparents in their kosher household.
Ruthie considered her father a traveling preacher, except he was a
“He wasn’t any different from the rest of those scoundrels you see on
today except he preached in synagogues and he wasn’t so smooth-talkin’.
Reading the Old Testament and hoping it brought you something to eat,
that’s what you did,” Ruthie told her son, James.
When she was 8 or 9, the rabbi’s family moved to Suffolk, Virginia,
in 1929. “In school the kids called me ‘Christ killer’ and ‘Jew baby.’
name stuck with me for a long time. ‘Jew baby.’ You know it’s so easy to
hurt a child,” the book revealed.
Then Rachel, who changed her name to Ruth, got pregnant by a black
ran off to New York City and had an abortion, according to features
Another black man, Andrew McBride, saved her from a life of
and married her. McBride became a Baptist minister and they founded a
church in Brooklyn’s Red Hook projects.
In 1942, she became a Believer in Jesus.
James McBride recalled that, “Mommy loved God. She went to church
every Sunday, the only white person in sight, butchering the lovely
with a singing voice that sounded like a cross between a cold engine
to crank on an October morning and a whining Maytag washer.”
The author’s real father, Andrew McBride died before he was born, and
Hunter Jordan, Sr., “an elderly, slow-moving man in a brown hat, vest
sweater, suspenders and wool pants seemed to float into my
The tidy “Mr. Hunter” married Ruthie a few months after Andrew D.
died in 1957 and added another four children to make it an even dozen.
James was about six or seven, Mr. Hunter moved the family into a large,
pink stucco four-bedroom house in St. Albans, Queens. In 1972, Mr.
“My mother raised us black because she knew that’s how society would
us — and judge us — as black,” McBride once told the Detroit News.
McBride, a brilliant wordsmith, dedicated ‘The Color of Water’ book,
my mother, and her mother, and mothers everywhere.”
In tribute, here are some of the compliments paid McBride:
Washington Post Book World: “As lively as a novel, well-written,
contribution to the literature on race.”
The Miami Herald: “Poignant … a uniquely American coming of age …
McBride Jordan’s anecdotes are richly detailed, her voice clear and
engaging. And she has a story worth telling.”
The Nation: “Told with humor and clear-eyed grace … a terrific
story … The
sheer strength of spirit, pain and humor of McBride and his mother as
wrestled with different aspects of race and identity is vividly told …
laughed and thrilled to her brood of 12 kids … I wish I’d known them.
glad James McBride wrote it all down so I can.”
Today, despite setbacks from heart surgery, Ruth McBride Jordan is a
traveler and works as a volunteer with the Philadelphia Emergency
shelter for homeless mothers; and works at the Jerusalem Baptist church
Trenton, N.J., in their program to feed the homeless.
The mother of 12 and grandmother to 20, lives in Ewing township with
daughter, Kathy Jordan.
Sources: The Messianic Times, Detroit News, The Color of Water,