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A Classic that Jolted America

From a Classic That Jolted America

Following are passages from Claude Brown's "Manchild in the Promised Land" (Macmillan, 1965).

I was learning to shoot pool real good. Before I came to the Youth House, I never had a chance to learn. I wasn't big enough to go in the poolroom on 145th Street. Mama came to visit me every Saturday or Sunday, so it was just like being out on the street, only better, because I could do everything I wanted to do — steal, fight, curse, play, and nobody could take me and put me anywhere. I was already in the only place they could put me. I had found a way to get away with everything I wanted to do.

I was growing up now, and people were going to expect things from me. I would soon be expected to kill a nigger if he mistreated me, like Rock, Bubba Williams and Dewdrop had.

Everybody knew these cats were killers. Nobody messed with them. If anybody messed with them or their family or friends, they had to kill them. I knew now that I had to keep up with these cats; if I didn't, I would lose my respect in the neighborhood. I had to keep my respect because I had to take care of Pimp and Carole and Margie. I was the big brother in the family. I couldn't be running and getting somebody after some cat who messed with me.

I knew I was going to have to get a gun sooner or later and that I was going to have to make my new rep and take my place along with the bad niggers of the community.

Throughout my childhood in Harlem, nothing was more strongly impressed upon me than the fact that you had to fight and that you should fight. Everybody would accept it if a person was scared to fight, but not if he was so scared that he didn't fight.

As I saw it in my childhood, most of the cats I swung with were more afraid of not fighting than they were of fighting. This was how it was supposed to be, because this was what we had come up under. The adults in the neighborhood practiced this. They lived by the concept that a man was supposed to fight. When two little boys got into a fight in the neighborhood, the men around would encourage them and egg them on. They'd never think about stopping the fight.

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