Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Daddy Was a Number Runner is linked to its own black roots in a number of ways. Written in the Watts Writers’ Workshop that novelist and screenwriter Budd Schulberg founded soon after the Los Angeles riots of 1965, the novel uncovers black history and identifies the strands that have meaning for Francie—and for readers. The novel is a tough initiation story, but by the end, Francie has gained insights into the world around her that are still useful. In fact, she has gained her identity in the context of historical reality.

In that regard, the novel resembles Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), and Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959) as black urban initiation novels. What sets Daddy Was a Number Runner apart is its historical accuracy. Meriwether does not make up history for Francie to enjoy but instead puts her through what Meriwether herself undoubtedly experienced as an adolescent in Harlem. Francie hears the powerful and charismatic Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., preach in his Abyssinian Baptist Church. She sneaks off to have a chicken dinner at the cafeteria run by the followers of the evangelist Father Divine. She hears street speakers echoing Marcus Garvey, she sees the riots over the Scottsboro boys (nine black youths falsely accused of an Alabama rape), and she witnesses the celebrations after Joe Louis knocks out Max Baer. This is a...

(The entire section is 468 words.)