I his is a true story of well-nigh incredible events as they took place, and
of the progress of a sensitive soul from the torments of darkness into the
relief of light.
The narrator is Dr. Bella V. Dodd, formerly a member of the Communist
Party, U.S.A.; later transformed by analytical intellect and searching conscience into a loyal American citizen.
SCHOOL OF DARKNESS
I was born in October, 1904, in Picerno, southern Italy.
I am really an American born on Italian soil as the
result of a series of accidents; it was also an accident
which kept me in Italy until I was almost six years old.
My foster mother was the wife of a shepherd in Avia-
lano. Her own baby died and she was happy to have me.
For five years I lived with these simple people. Though
there was little luxury in the small stone house, I received
loving care. In later days, when life was difficult, f often
wished I were again the little child who sat there snug in
the protecting love about her.
My mother sent money regularly, and gave my foster
parents more comforts than the small wages of a hill shepherd could provide.
I have vague memories of the things of religion. Mama-
rella said though I was young she was going to have me
confirmed because the bishop was coming to our town to
perform the ceremony. This called for great preparations.
I had a new red dress with a high neck made "princess
When the great day came I was at church early. It was
still almost empty save for the restless group of children
awaiting confirmation. The few seats in the big church
were placed toward the altar. You did not sit in those: they
were for the gentry of the town. Everyone else knelt on
the stone floor.
I knelt, too, and looked around me at the statues. I had
a favorite — St. Anthony, with the tender smile and the
Christ Child on His arm.
I was glad when my mother came for me. and we sailed
for America. The reason my mother had not returned to
Italy for five long years, my father later explained, was
that there bad been a terrible depression in America. It
had been impossible for him to raise the money for Mother
to make the trip, and a small child could not travel alone.
I was shv in meeting my father. He was blond, blue-eyed,
and reserved, the opposite of Mother. But despite his
quiet, undemonstrative manner I felt that he loved me. He
was kind and made a pet of me.
There were only four children at home; the rest had
married and had homes of their own. They came to *('c
the new sister and made a fuss over me. But they all made
fun of my best dress — my red confirmation dress wide*-
every child in Avialano had admired. They laughed at m?
and insisted I he rushed to a store to buy an America*
dress. With great reluctance I put away the beautiful 1^\
princess dress and with it the last of my Italian years. A"'
I turned with zeal to the task of becoming an America*'
IVlv seventeen-year-old sister. Caterina, called by *'"
American name of Katie, took me in hand. She was beO" .
tiful, kind, and gentle. She insisted on calling me 1'°' \
[short for Isabella]. ,
Katie took me to school. She had made up her mind
was a smart little thing and so she got me in a ff\
ahead by saying I was born in 1902. In those days s",
had no difficulty in having me enrolled in the secon
grade. For a few days I was pursued by cries of vv "1 j
wop," but I paid no attention. I did not know what the
meant. By the time I did I had been accepted as a lead'
in my class. ,
In four months I was able to speak English well enoue
to enjoy the school I attended — Public School NumD ,
One. When I was ready for the third grade we m°\t
from East Harlem to Westchester, and several years la"
to a big rambling house and sixty-four acres of land, '"'
Castle Hill. In this home the rest of my youth was sp''"
Life in that community was peaceful. ,
In the fall of 1917 I started at Evander Childs II1'-,
School. The student body then numbered more than i
thousand boys and girls. We were alike in that we **JJ
children of parents in modest circumstances, neither f .
nor poor. No one attempted to accentuate our different'
or to exploit them. j
One day a girl from the East Bronx with whom I '*' i
talked about politics, a subject which was beginning
F vi is Forum News, September.