Happy Belated National Brotherhood Week!

Brotherhood Week Quiz!

1959 PSA commissioned by DC Comics editor Jack Schiff. Artist not credited.

Last month a dead holiday went and passed us by for thirtieth time in a row, and we all missed it. Shame on us. SHAME.

But are we worthy enough to celebrate it? Take the vintage quiz and check your own tolerance levels. Well, not you cabbage lovers. You people are monsters.

I’m currently reading through an oversize tome called The DC Vault, a hardcover history of DC Comics that comes with a variety of tangible extras. Pictured above is one of several public service announcements published during those troubled decades when Americans didn’t get along well with each other and needed opportunities to figure out how this “getting along” concept worked. DC decided some people needed practical advice and tackled the matter head-on. This sudden attempt at cutting-edge relevance came several years before Green Lantern/Green Arrow tackled racism and drug abuse, before Wonder Woman found “Women’s Lib”, and before Brother Power the Geek taught comic readers that a rag-doll hippie could be their savior if they could imagine there’s no dignity.

National Brotherhood Week wasn’t DC’s idea. During the third week of every February from 1934 till sometime during the 1980s, people of all imaginable subdivisions were supposed to try to find ways to mend fences, cross bridges, and think of America as one big team rather than one unruly sport comprising dozens of teams of hypercompetitive hooligans. NBW was the product of the “National Conference of Christians and Jews”, which began in 1927 as a sort of interdenominational coalition combating the burgeoning peril that was anti-Catholic prejudice. Over time the conference expanded to cover multiple demographics with ideas for harmonic coexistence in a melting-pot country. To reflect that broader reach they later rechristened themselves the National Conference for Community and Justice, focusing on basic shareable concepts rather than spotlight two groups among the myriad.

I wasn’t around in those early days, and have no memories of local celebrations during my childhood. Perhaps there was a National Brotherhood Week parade on Times Square the week after Valentine’s Day. Maybe Hallmark sold “Happy National Brotherhood Week!” cards with children in all the colors of the rainbow and all the hats of the haberdashery. Maybe furniture stores held National Brotherhood Week mattress sales with free sheet sets in the multicolored pattern of your choice. Maybe there was a Peanuts special called It’s National Brotherhood Week, So Get Over Yourself, Charlie Brown starring Franklin, Frieda, Snoopy’s brother Spike, and special guests Ben Vereen and Charo.

Despite whatever parties went on before my time, all the hoopla eventually faded away. Maybe they thought they’d cured all the bigotries ever. Maybe bad winter weather kept ruining everyone’s plans and spoiled the holiday mood. Maybe the inventors of Presidents’ Day annexed it and forgot to mention it. Or maybe we got bored trying to smile at each other for a whole week and decided it was more fun to factionalize, form isolationist cliques, view all others as The Enemy, and forget the point of the whole “more perfect union” concept. Like maybe the Civil War deserved a reboot and the key to getting us-vs.-us warfare right this time was to divide everyone into smaller, more manageable franchises.

Whatever the cause, National Brotherhood Week evaporated, only to be revisited from time to time by lone news sources accidentally stumbling across it (Exhibit A, Exhibit B), chuckling about it, appreciating the only National Brotherhood Week carol ever written by Tom Lehrer, and then dropping it and moving on to cover whatever next major turmoil was dividing and conquering Americans that week. If past Presidents or charity organizations had tried to keep its spirit alive against the odds, who knows if it would’ve helped, if it would’ve been renamed National Siblinghood Week to stave off microaggression accusations, or if observing it would’ve become such a rote chore that The Purge would’ve had to be invented to bring balance to the national mood.

Regardless, I like to imagine National Brotherhood Week was nice while it lasted. Good luck trying to jump-start anything like it today. But hey, points to Silver Age DC Comics for doing their part, in their own quasi-contemporary way, to set up a teachable moment about non-hate in their time. If just one young boy or girl at home took that quiz, rethought their entire life, and vowed ever after to be kinder to alligators, it was all worth it.


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