Chester Bomar Himes was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, on July 29, 1909, to an industrial arts professor and a music teacher who disagreed on social strategy. His dark-skinned father strove for acceptance in a black subculture; his almost-white mother rejected secondary status and made repeated efforts to “pass” as white. Continued confrontations forced his father into increasingly demeaning jobs, ending as a laborer in segregated Cleveland when Himes was ten. Himes felt responsible for family failure, especially when his older brother was blinded in an accident.
After beginning premedical training at Ohio State University, Himes found he could not make the transition to a college environment, largely because he felt obsessed with social success while at the same time isolated between two hostile cultures, neither of which accepted him. He began frequenting the underworld of speakeasies and bordellos, taking on the image of the undergraduate “bad boy” and provoking a number of confrontations with faculty, administrators, and other students. Eventually he led his fraternity into a red-light district brawl that had to be broken up by police. This brought expulsion. To support himself, Himes took to petty crime. He was soon arrested for armed robbery and sentenced to twenty years in the penitentiary, by then almost a case study of the chronic malcontent.
In prison, he witnessed beatings, murder, and riots. A fire during an uprising...
(The entire section is 503 words.)