Claude Brown Chris Smith - Essay

Chris Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Eleven years ago Claude Brown published an autobiographical masterpiece, Manchild in the Promised Land. It poignantly told white America what it meant to grow up in the slums of Harlem. [The Children of Ham] is Brown's second book, and it should also have a startling impact.

It is the true story of a group of young, abandoned black Americans ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-two who live in the shell of a condemned and deserted city apartment building in upper Harlem. The whole area resembles a bombed-out city and is ghostly in its abandonment…. This is part of urban America through which millions of white Americans commute. The book also concerns "the stuff that history won't even wanna talk about."

In this building and in this urban jungle live the children of Ham. Claude Brown unforgettably sketches chapters on each young person. He clearly records the personalities, the hopes and dreams of such characters as Salt-Nobody, Big Brother Hebro, Mumps Shaft, Snooky, Jill, Dee Dee, and other "Hamites." A family, a tribe of the human race is described—including a "mother," Jill, a former prostitute, graduate of reform school and jail, and at eighteen a stable influence on the family.

The most amazing thing, to me, were the strengths of the family. The children protect each other. Most of them have resisted or overcome the heroin epidemic in the area. They loathe the "heroin worshippers" that nod away their lives on the street corners. The children support each other's dreams of future education, of being a sports hero, of being a farmer, and of running a clothing store. They survive in a most hostile world.

Brown as a writer has once again magnificently portrayed the poetry of human existence. The reader laughs, weeps, and lives with the children of Ham. Highly recommended.

Chris Smith, in a review of "The Children of Ham," in Best Sellers, Vol. 36, No. 6, September, 1976, p. 207.