Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Christine DeSouza
Assistant Editor 

Wolf Kahn-community-minded regardless of race



One of the swim teams coached by Kahn in the 1950s.

In conjunction with the JCRC's Bagels and Grits Brunch, over the next few weeks, The Heritage is running a series of articles about local Jewish community members who made an impact on the Civil Rights movement. This is the second in the series.

The magnanimous, community-minded Wolf Kahn did not wait until the Civil Rights movement started to take a stand for African-Americans. According to his son, Robert, while serving in World War ll Wolf noticed the black soldiers were treated like second-class people. "How can we be fighting a power that is known for their discriminatory ways and here we are doing the same thing?"

His sound reasoning was a reflection of his own life growing up in Germany under the Nazi regime. He saw the correlation of being Jewish in Germany as the same as being black in Orlando.

"He didn't understand why just because you were a particular race or religion that you should be punished," Robert told The Heritage in 2010.

Back in the '40s and '50s Orlando was a very segregated town. Restaurants posted signs in their windows that read: "No n_gg_rs, no dogs, no Jews." The Kahn family was subject to ridicule for being Jewish and for having a father who was a civil rights pioneer. None of this swayed Wolf, who was once arrested under false pretenses and jailed for three days, and whose family suffered much ridicule and a cross-burning in their front yard.

Robert said that his father was unmoved by all this. He would not let it get to him.

What was Wolf's "great sin"? He taught black children and adults how to swim.

Blacks were not allowed in the public swimming pools back in the '50s, so many of them used Lake Mann near Washington Shores to cool off from the summer heat. After two black children drowned in the lake, Wolf asked a City Council if anyone was teaching these children to swim. No one was, so he, being a certified swimming instructor, gave swimming lessons to black children in the alligator-infested waters of Lake Mann. Later, he taught swimming, life-saving and instructor classes at the Carter Street Pool and served as a coach to the Jones High School Swim Team.

Wolf once smuggled his swim team into an all-white swim competition by hiding them on the floor of his car and covering them with blankets. After persuading the officials to let his team compete, they won the meet and took home the winning trophy.


Wolf Kahn giving swim lessons in the 1950s.

In the fall and winter months, Wolf shared his talented art skills with about 45 black students at Carter Street Housing Project and also gave drum lessons to children at Shiloh Baptist Church and taught band at Jones High, supplying the equipment and his time at no charge.

This simple act of giving swimming lessons helped fight discrimination in Orlando.

The Grits and Bagels Brunch, featuring Brad Herzog, will be held Sunday, Nov. 2 at 1 pm in the auditorium of the JCC. Admission is free but RSVP is requested. The program is hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and is sponsored in part by The Florida Humanities Council and Landry's Restaurants.

For more information about Grits and Bagels, please contact Lisa Sholk at 407-261-3175 or lsholk@jfgo.org.


Reader Comments

pujdak writes:

that is great - a wonderful painter and a dear man....thank you for sharing this story ...sincerely Nicholas


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018