News & Politics

Brownsville Riots: “This Goddamn Mother-Sinking, Crooked Country”


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September 14, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 48

Absolutely Nothing To Get Alarmed About
By Charles Wright

Returned from a working vacation with the bloody stains of madness and luxury on my ungodly feet. Tony P. was looking for me and I crawled to his Brownsville flat. For days I had felt as if my testicles were packed in a bowl of dry ice. Things beyond my control had rimmed my brain, and it was strange to relax in Brownsville where the death of a boy had forced boys of his own age to riot in his and their name, and I who had been contemplating suicide for five days no longer a boy.

Now in the wake of his death, sporadic action nipped through these fucked up streets. A new r&b — rage and brutality. Sirens of police cars and sirens of unmarked cars. Smoke drifted from Howard Avenue like the smoke of an autumn bonfire. A tall old woman hobbled down from a stoop, cackling: “I knew it. They is started.”

A car pulls over to the curb and a man says, “I’ll let ‘m pass, baby. They got their work cut out for them.”

“You’re right, brother,” I replied and went and checked on Tony. He was together. I went for a six pack. The PR bodegas were closing or closed. In fact, PRs were in the act of disappearing, although they crowded their windows, talked, and looked down into the street almost deserted arena of the street. No PR men were lounging against cars tonight. A few of them sat on stoops or braced themselves against Victorian carved doors.

I had to buy a six pack in a bar and returned to the flat popped a few, talked with Tony. TV gave out “Take Her, She’s Mine, while the sound of shots, molotov cocktails, angry voices drifted across the back vacant lot (filled with about 25 inches of rubbish and where at this very moment a slender middle-aged Negro man is studying the lot as if it were a mound of old gravestones) and into the flat’s windows.

There was absolutely nothing to get alarmed about. Just another domestic scene in current American life, I thought. But they will use more sophisticated methods next summer. Dear Jesus — wherever you are — there are the mothergrabbing elections, too. Bet your sisters tit, your old man’s toe — the kids will have matured by next summer.

Earlier a group of them had stopped me.

“Have you seen Joe?”

“No man,” I said. “I ain’t seen Joe.”

A mistaken identity. But I was with them — someone has to be on their side and I cursed their goddamn parents and this goddamn mother-sinking, crooked country that has forced them into the act of rioting. In the act of reaching the portals of the seemingly prosperous poor, their parents had lost them just as this country had forgotten their parents.

Certainly I felt these black kids had a legitimate right to break store windows and throw rocks and bottles. Recently, I had worked at a resort where bored, wealthy kids kept the security guard on the go as they ripped lobby sofas and broke into the underground lobby shops between midnight and dawn

Malcolm is dead. Stokely is abroad. And Rap is somewhere. Weary, James Baldwin is watching the fires.

The establishment black generals. They are fighting each other and there is the war, the Peking wall, Yalta, and I can’t see even a black Harry S. Truman. Dick Gregory can’t be everywhere and the others — a 21 gun salute to their careers.

Poor Adam is on Elba. We need him here and now. But Americas is still trying to break the man’s balls, and therefore castrate every black male in the United States of America.

Meanwhile, the black children will continue to riot and die, while Adam is wasting away on Elba.

* * *

MD said: “There is a man that I want you to meet.” We taxied over to the Intermediate School No. 201, 2005 Madison Avenue and I met the man. I also saw, for the first time in my life, former Senator Paul H. Douglas of Illinois, chairman of the LBJ Commission on Urban Problems, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy and two of his handsome children.

We arrived late and I could not hear what Senator Kennedy was discussing. It did not matter. I would much rather look at him. He is a fine looking man and reminds me of a serious college history professor. I began to warm up to him and was rather pleased to think: This is our next President, ’68 or ’72. I might not feel this way if I had listened to what he was actually saying.

Afterward, the crowd (which was small) banked around him and all of them — the color (as Mama calls them), Upper Miami Blue — reminded me of nothing so much as a crowd of darkies in a World War II technicolor MGM Southern romance. Perhaps this was the op real life version and I failed to realize it. God knows what the smiling Kennedy children thought. The girl exited to a Caddie. Father and son walked toward one of Detroit’s modest models. Mama and I looked for a taxi. I heard an old Negro woman say, “Give me some meat. I don’t want no bones.”

You greedy meat eaters — this is where it is at.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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