Chapter 17 Summary

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Four months later, the narrator was excited to receive an invitation from Brother Jack. Jack took him to Harlem for a drink, and the two discussed the narrator’s training. The narrator was pleased to learn Brother Hambro’s reports on his progress had been very positive, and Brother Jack told him the next day would be his first as Chief Spokesman of the Harlem District. His task, Jack continued, was to keep the neighborhood momentum that first started at the elderly couple’s eviction going.

Brother Jack took the narrator to the district offices, introducing him to the stalwart Brother Tarp, as well as the other members working in the district. One member, Brother Tod Clifton, revealed he’d had a recent skirmish with a Black nationalist leader known as Ras the Exhorter. The narrator realized he’d encountered Ras before—on his first night in Harlem, ranting on the street. Ras was a separatist, they told him, intent on creating a world where Black people lived independent of white people. Brother Jack agreed that the organization might now be strong enough to take on Ras, but he cautioned Brother Tod Clifton against further violence.

Later, the narrator, Brother Tod Clifton, and some of Clifton’s youth division encountered Ras and his compatriots in the street. Despite Brother Jack’s warning, a fight broke out between the two groups. The narrator witnessed a confrontation between Ras and Clifton, and overheard a sobbing, distraught Ras asking Clifton why he was continuously willing to work with white people. When Ras started swinging his knife toward Clifton, the narrator came out of the shadows and hit Ras hard with a pipe. Ras, further angered, demanded to know why the narrator, too, should be willing to work with whites.

They continued to argue, and the altercation ended when Clifton hit Ras hard enough to knock him down. He and the narrator fled, realizing that they would have to watch out for Ras now that they had angered him further.

The narrator arrived early at the office the next morning, eager to get started on his work. Brother Tarp brought him a poster of Frederick Douglass for his office, and the narrator was motivated by Douglass’s memory to organize a series of immediate community actions.

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Chapter 16 Summary


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