Claude Brown Eliot Fremont-Smith - Essay

Eliot Fremont-Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The scene [in "Manchild in the Promised Land"] is Harlem, the street, the trap, and the first word of Mr. Brown's narrative is the imperative, "Run!" But at the moment he could not run. He was 13 years old, a veteran of the street, and he had just been shot in the stomach while trying to steal some bed-sheets off a clothesline. (Later, much later, after he had moved downtown, he would twice be nearly killed again, by policemen who could not believe a Negro was merely living in a white man's building, not robbing it or raping someone or shooting dope.)

Run! But first he fought, which is how a boy grows up in Harlem: he talks tough about "the Man," the whites, and fights other Negroes. When he was nine, Claude Brown was a member of the élite thieving section of the Harlem Buccaneers, a notorious bopping gang. At 11 he was sent to the Wiltwyck School for "emotionally disturbed" boys, for a two-year stay. Back on the street, he turned to pushing marijuana and cocaine. At 14 he was sent to the Warwick Reform School for the first of three stays. Again he returned to Harlem, and always to the street, the place of growing up.

And then, eventually, he did run; he escaped the street. He went to school; he learned to play the piano; he graduated from Howard University; he wrote this book; he is now studying for a law degree.

What was different about Claude Brown? How did he escape? Most of his generation, most of...

(The entire section is 601 words.)