August 6, 2015 • THE VILLAGER | PAGE 3
A life of learning and social change At 82, Centennial’s Ellie Greenberg isn’t done yet
Elinor Greenberg – known as Ellie to her friends – was a strange neighbor when her family built a house in what was then greater Littleton in the late 1950s. Having received her master’s degree in speech pathology in 1954, she was on the faculties of the University of Colorado and Loretto Heights College at a time when many women were attending the June Cleaver school of stay-athome moms. Greenberg and her late husband Manny were also Democrats during a period when the south suburbs were strongly dominated by Republicans. What’s more, the Greenbergs were outspoken civil-rights activists, even as segregation and white flight to the suburbs were playing out in Arapahoe County. Last but not least, the family was Jewish. “One of my motivations for moving out here is I wanted my children to grow up knowing what it is like to be a minority,” Greenberg said. “I felt that was a much better preparation for life.” As the mother of three continued her career and education for decades, eventually receiving her doctorate in 1981, Greenberg found time to take a leadership role in Littleton’s small, but passionate, civil-rights movement, eventually welcoming an unlikely visit from Martin Luther King Jr. “My career was in higher education, but it was about creating access to opportunity,” Greenberg said. Decades later, the activist-educator would travel to Germany’s Dachau concentration camp as part of a high-profile delegation that would be the basis for a local television documentary called Journey for Justice. Over the years, Greenberg would author nine books, including 2008’s critically popular A Time of Our Own: In Celebration of Women Over Sixty. Greenberg, now 82, has not slowed down as she continues running her consulting and publishing firm, while organizing the annual Colorado Feminist Luncheon and writing narrative poems reflecting on the aging process and other topics. On Saturday, Aug. 8, Greenberg will participate in Denver Days at New Hope Baptist Church where Journey for Justice will be screened and followed by a panel discussion with some of the surviving visitors to Dachau.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1932, Greenberg’s parents were descendants of Ukrainian Jews who had
fled persecution before and after the turn of the century. Greenberg says at an early age she understood the historical connection between Judaism and social activism, citing wisdom of the ancient Jewish sage Hillel. “It is our obligation to be concerned with justice and equality. It’s all in the Torah,” the Littleton activist explained. “It’s what Judaism is about.” After spending much of her childhood in New Jersey, Ellie and Manny settled in what was then called Littleton – now west Centennial – just as the introduction of Martin Marietta was spur- Centennial’s Ellie Greenberg helped ring job growth and organize Martin Luther King’s visit to a south-suburban Littleton in 1964. Photos by Peter Jones housing boom. “Everybody on this block was a Martin engineer, “We went on about education, except my house,” Greenberg said employment and housing, all the in the home where she still lives. things we were working on.” Although King was larger than “Then, they brought in their first life, the Littleton activist was taken black engineer.” When a real estate agent learned aback by what she perceived as his that the couple who had just made relative shortness of stature. “He was standing around these a successful bid was black, he changed the locks on the doors, big bodyguards and I looked eye to eye with him,” she said. “We alGreenberg said. But as it happened, it was the ways see him behind a podium and agent – not the black couple – who think of him as a big guy.” When the civil-rights leader fihad picked the wrong neighborhood. Greenberg and others had nally arrived at Littleton’s Grace founded the small, but passionate, Presbyterian Church, he was met Littleton Council for Human Rela- by supporters, as well as those who tions, which lent both advocacy and were not so sure. “The room was full of chambermoral support when the couple took of-commerce types and Realtor the issue to court. That activism did not come types with their arms folded, just without a price, as the group be- waiting to see what the heck he came a social pariah. Bomb threats would say. But he was just magnifiwere made on the council’s church cent,” Greenberg recalled. During his extemporaneous meetings and the Greenbergs’ speech, King tied events in Littleton house became a popular site for and across the United States to what toilet-paper brigades. “A neighbor came over and said, was taking place around the world. “As we struggle to break down ‘You’re going to make our property values go down. Why are you the barriers of discrimination in our siding with all these Negroes?’ He nation, we are struggling in the final went on and on and on. There were analysis to save the soul of our napeople in the neighborhood who tion,” he said, as heard in the Rocky Mountain PBS documentary, When were very upset,” Greenberg said. a King Came to Town. “… The peoples of the world are looking to A visit from a King In 1964, as both Congress and America. They are asking questions the Colorado General Assembly about our commitment to this demwere mulling fair housing, Rev. ocratic creed. They’re wondering King came to northeast Denver to whether we are really committed or meet with the Black Ministerial whether these are just words written Alliance. Somehow, the Littleton down on thin paper.” group was able to convince the recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient to make a diversion to the lily-white suburbs. “We went down in our little station wagon and had this marvelous talk with him all the way down Broadway,” Greenberg recalled.
My career was in higher education, but it was about creating access to opportunity. - Ellie Greenberg
developed degree programs for Native American mental-health workers, among other efforts. In 1993, as skinheads rallied at the state Capitol and neo-Nazism was seeing resurgence in Europe, Greenberg was part of a 26-member Colorado coalition that traveled to Dachau. Other coalition members in the purposefully diverse group included a Dachau survivor, a Catholic nun, a rabbi, a Hispanic leader, a Palestinian and a representative from Denver’s gay-rights movement, among others. “It was a very powerful experience,” Greenberg said. “You can’t walk into the crematorium without just being silent and weeping.” The beautiful city that bears the same name as the concentration camp belied the horrors of the nearby death factory, she said. “Dachau has gorgeous buildings and a town hall that’s stunning,” she said. “The camp is across the highway. It’s like from here to the other side of Arapahoe Road.” After more than 80 years on the planet, Greenberg says she takes away from it all an understanding of what she sees as the universality of human conflict and a struggle that will likely be around as long as mankind inhabits one world. “In every era, there are challenges to our ideals,” she said. “We’re
Arapahoe Community College presented Ellie Greenberg with the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award in 2003. Greenberg has also been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. never finished with certain questions. Every culture has its hierarchies and struggles between people of different stations, colors and beliefs. It’s up to every generation to learn about it and do something at that particular time in history.”
Ellie Greenberg will participate in a panel with other members of Denver’s 1993 multi-cultural visit to Dachau after a screening of Journey for Justice on Saturday, Aug. 8, as part of the Denver Days Fair at New Hope Baptist Church, 3701 Colorado Blvd. in Denver. For more information, call 303-322-5200.
Western Welcome Week at RiverPointe with
the Dean Bushnell Orchestra and
Rick Crandall from KEZW
Pilgrimage to Dachau
Greenberg would continue her work at the intersection of education and activism for decades. She headed University Without Walls, established a bachelor’s degree program in Colorado prisons and
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