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Claude Brown talks with Studs Terkel

BROADCAST: Sep. 13, 1965 | DURATION: 00:57:19

Synopsis

Discussing the book "Manchild in the Promised Land" with Claude Brown. Brown also discusses growing up in Harlem, New York as an African American man. Includes a clip of a man speaking from the county jail. Includes a song sung by Mahalia Jackson. Includes a clip of children singing.

Transcript

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Studs Terkel Our guest is Claude Brown author of a an autobiography "Manchild in the Promised Land" published by Macmillan. But it's more than just an autobiography. Some might call it a a chronicle, a powerful chronicle dealing with human survival. Before we hear from Claude Brown, just comments about the book, his life, the nature of the work itself, its impact, it's a powerful one, we should hear from a voice of a a man in Chicago, whom I met several times, he's behind bars at county jail. And he's talking. He's talking about himself, he's talking about childhood really.

Unidentified Male But in the Negro's life, your life travels so fast ahead of you that by the time you really settle down and know definitely what you wanna be, it's too late. Now that's a strange thing, but it happens that way. Like me, I was a bartender when I was 17 years old.

Studs Terkel You, what when you were 17?

Unidentified Male A bartender.

Studs Terkel You were, at 17?

Unidentified Male At 17. At, when I was 14-years-old I could go in just about any tavern in my neighborhood and get anything I wanted to drink. Sit at the bar with the rest of the men.

Studs Terkel What's that phrase you used for Negro, "life travels so far so fast-"

Unidentified Male

Studs Terkel Our guest is Claude Brown author of a an autobiography "Manchild in the Promised Land" published by Macmillan. But it's more than just an autobiography. Some might call it a a chronicle, a powerful chronicle dealing with human survival. Before we hear from Claude Brown, just comments about the book, his life, the nature of the work itself, its impact, it's a powerful one, we should hear from a voice of a a man in Chicago, whom I met several times, he's behind bars at county jail. And he's talking. He's talking about himself, he's talking about childhood really. But in the Negro's life, your life travels so fast ahead of you that by the time you really settle down and know definitely what you wanna be, it's too late. Now that's a strange thing, but it happens that way. Like me, I was a bartender when I was 17 years old. You, what when you were 17? A bartender. You were, at 17? At 17. At, when I was 14-years-old I could go in just about any tavern in my neighborhood and get anything I wanted to drink. Sit at the bar with the rest of the men. What's that phrase you used for Negro, "life travels so far so fast-" So "Ahead And

Unidentified Male Yeah that's right. It does. It's it's it's, it's it's like a laser, that's a new light they have out. It's-

Studs Terkel A laser you

Unidentified Male Mhmm. It's a new development, scientific development, yeah. It it travels at such tremendous speed on a straight line. And when I, when I say a straight I mean it's headed in one direction. You can you can trace just about 80 percent of of the people in here and you'll find out that in a roundabout sort of a way, all of 'em went through the same thing. The only difference is some had it just a little hard. Some people some people's-- their their relatives were a little poorer than the next one or maybe they were more illiterate than the next one, but they're still the same.

Studs Terkel Before we call it quits for now just, suspension for now, and w-we'll come back later. One thing occurs to me. You speak of life travels so fast for the Negro that when you're a small boy you're hardly ever a boy. You're

Unidentified Male a- No

Studs Terkel Man. And yet when you're a man you're called a boy. It's kind of funny-

Unidentified Male Same

Studs Terkel In reverse-

Unidentified Male In reverse-

Studs Terkel Really. You're never really a boy, then.

Unidentified Male No, no.

Studs Terkel Even as a small child.

Unidentified Male You can't be. There's too there's too many there's too many things that happen. That that you have to notice. It's like your mother gettin' up, goin' to work. She sends you off to school and she goes to work. Or she goes to work before you and you have to get up and go to school. Well, you don't have the benefit of seeing your mother or being around your dad. Ah your dad, he's gone, he, they finally broke up before you were able to realize that there was such a thing as a father. And you don't get a chance to really know your mother. And by the time maybe you do get a chance to know your mother, you're too old to sit down and ask her about a lot of things or have a conversation with her because you're grown then. You understand. I left home when I was 15 or 16.

Studs Terkel Let's, let's call this for now. Oh, will you hold-- j-just one second.

Studs Terkel Thus conversation with a an acquaintance of mine who was in the county jail. And I'm thinking, Claude Brown, listening to this man talking, I suppose many thoughts come to mind, don't they, involving your own childhood, life, and that of the people in Harlem.

Claude Brown They certainly do. [clears throat] Because in Harlem, well what the man was talking about was just the average, a typical experience of any Harlem child in any of the Harlems throughout the nation. Be it Harlem Chicago, Harlem Cleveland, Harlem Detroit, Harlem Washington etcetera. And [clears throat] it's almost inevitable as a child, as a Negro child coming up in one of these poor Negro ghettos anywhere in the country. You're going to encounter similar experiences to those of the gentleman we just heard. Now as a child, I was fortunate, whereas I had two parents all the time, but this did not prevent me from encountering the street life. Because as the young man said before, his parents, or his mother went out to work. Well with me, it was the same thing with both parents. They were always going out to work early in the morning and I was left to the streets to be brought up or get up the best way I could into adulthood, providing I was one of the fortunate ones. I say this because many of the people with whom I shared my childhood didn't quite make it to adulthood. They were killed or, they were killed usually, and many times attempting crimes, many times they killed themselves unintentionally by using drugs and this sort of thing. And others, well they, at at the ages of 16, 17, 18, they were given life sentences and some-- one of the New York State prisons, those that didn't go to the electric chair or something like that. And we all were left out in the street. We came up in-- on the streets of New York City, on the streets of Harlem. We came up admiring the hustlers, the people who were in street life. We started learning street life at a very early age, not because our parents didn't care but simply because they weren't prepared for the new life. If you noticed my book is titled "Manchild in the Promised Land" and this this "Promised Land" title is derived from Old Negro songs, and also the hope for deliverance in some paradise. Well [clears throat] in the South, in the 30s and late 20s the Negroes, they're looked upon, most of them, northern urban ar-areas, as a sort of promised land. And many of them thought that's what they were going to when they left the south-- the southern states and migrated north to the northern urban communities. And they were disillusioned, needless to say, they never found any promised land in the North-

Studs Terkel This is this due, then, with two generations doesn't it? That-- it's your generation, and are the kids you talk about, your friends, or those whose parents had come up from the South-

Claude Brown Yeah, we were-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown The sons and daughters-

Studs Terkel Yes.

Claude Brown Of the of the migrating Negroes, of the Negroes migrating to the North from southern states in the late 20s and throughout the 30s and early 40s. And there there was a there was this constant conflict between parent and child because the parents were not acclimated to the northern to the to the northern urban communities and they had to provide some kind of guidance which they were not prepared to provide for their children. And, well, this necessarily created a sort of breach between the par-- the parents and incommunicability between the parents and the child, and also on the part of the children. It created a rebellion. Look, they had nothing to give us. Actually, what the parents were trying to do was to was to raise us southern children of farm boys in New York City-

Studs Terkel Yes.

Claude Brown You know, which was impossible-

Studs Terkel This is incredible as you describe this in your book, Claude Brown. There's one spot where y-you return, you go to the home with your grandparents in the South and you find a wholly different, yet you find a certain kind of brutishness in the life, you know, because of the nature o-of circumstance. And yet different, 'cause it was rural as against the jam-packed world that is Harlem, or this area, the ghetto in the large city.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Say a rural child raised in a, in a way it is, and it couldn't be done.

Claude Brown That's it.

Studs Terkel So there's a confusion isn't there?

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel The confusion or frustration of your mother, your father, and the parents.

Claude Brown Yeah, we were never we were never able to arrive at any understanding. I mean any workable understanding with our parents, my generation, and as a result it's like, the longer we stayed in the in the urban community and it was, the, well, the greater the problem became, the the greater the distance between child and parent became, emotional distance, mental distance of the greater-- the children were coming up in a totally different background from that of their parents. We knew nothing about the South except from what we had heard from our parents and what traces they still retained from the old southern culture. And we were learning, we were coming up and and being molded by an urban culture. And this was in conflict with the parents. We had little respect for them. I'm certain that many of us felt that our parents were ignorant and a little stupid and had nothing to offer us, and why should we obey, why should we listen to them? They didn't have anything of value in an urban community to give us.

Studs Terkel Because society regarded them as such. You mean you took the values the society, that is, you gotta make it.

Claude Brown That's right. Not only

Studs Terkel And this was then

Claude Brown It's like we could say when we went we went we went to school every day and we could see how little our our parents had in comparison with with white children. And in comparison with Negroes who had been in the North say for two or three generations. And we resented our parents for not being able to give us these things also.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking about the relation between you and your father and your mother, both, and as you say in many instances the "Manchild in the Promised Land" has no father around or in the case of friend of yours, Bucky, he had the imaginary mother.

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel But you your father, you spoke of lack of communication. So because he could not communicate with you, sometimes with the physical striking out-

Claude Brown Yeah, w-well this this was also part of a of a southern con-- paternal concept if you can if you can, they didn't believe in spoiling the child and sparing the rod, as a matter of fact, they might have spoiled the child by not sparing the rod. Th-They believed then it was okay to beat your child to death if you could not train him. If he wouldn't listen, and if there if there was no hope for disciplining him, well, jus' just beat the hell out him and it's okay.

Studs Terkel So you had then, there was

Claude Brown And we had this constant-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel The hostility there was between the generations here. Not only you, you were the older brother. Your sisters and your little brother, we'll hear about him too.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Yet there was a, the wall. And your mothe-- And yet at the same time, in your book you sense the striving, with all the confusions and difficulties and brutality domestically. The striving for something-

Claude Brown Yeah, despite all of this, there wa-- there was a sense of unity. We, we knew we belong to one another. My father would my father would, well, "go to war" as we said in the streets at the drop of a hat if someone offended one of his children. And I would I would fight to the death for my sisters or brothers. It was, and it was it was a sense of unity despite all of the-- We lived in a violent community so they had to be violent within the fa-- violence frequently within the fam-family. And we lived with this as-- and accepted it as a part of life. But this did not detract from the family's sense of belonging to one another-

Studs Terkel Yes.

Claude Brown Or from family unity in any way. Or devotion to one another.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking as you as you're talking, Claude, Claude Brown, the the the move north to the promised land because the city was the promised land away from the field, away from the overseer. So the city up north. Industries were there, where the stockyards, the steel mills of Chicago, whatever industry, the textiles, I mean New York and Pittsburgh. So there were songs I know your father would bring home records, at times, you'd hear religious records, you know, but I suppose a song that Mahalia sings "On My Way" or "Move On Up A Little Higher" might be almost the symbol of the hope.

Claude Brown That's right. That's what it was all about. As as I mentioned in the foreword to the book, that these songs were sung in the cotton fields when people were ready to go to New York, to go to Philadelphia, to go to Chicago-

Studs Terkel As you say-

Claude Brown And such places.

Studs Terkel In the in the forward

Claude Brown They chanted them and, you know, this was this was their hope.

Studs Terkel Perhaps you could just read these two paragraphs from your forward.

Claude Brown Yeah, and "s-so they came from all parts of the South like all the black children of god followin' in the sound of Gabriel's horn on that long overdue Judgment Day. The Georgians came as soon as they were able to pick train fare off the peach trees. They came from South Carolina where the cotton stalks were bare. The North Carolinians came with tobacco tar beneath their fingernails. They felt as the pilgrims must have felt when they were coming to the mer- to America. But these descendants of Ham must have been twi-twice as happy as the pilgrims because they had been catching twice the hell even while planning the trip they sang spirituals as "Jesus Take My Hand" and "I'm On My Way" and chanted "Hallelujah I'm on my way to the promised

Studs Terkel And thus as you hear Mahalia singing of a promised land, moving over hills and mountains and laying down burdens and drinking from the healing water. This was the dream.

Claude Brown That's right. This was the dream of our parents who migrated to the northern to the northern areas en mass in the 30s and early 40s. And I think the fact that the dream was never fulfilled was something which brought about a lot of well not-- may or dissatisfaction but of a lot of traumatic disappointment because this said, well there is no promised land to them. And what else was there to look for? You see I [clears throat] I mentioned in the book that that the Negroes who came to the North from southern states well had very had very little change in their economic or experience, very little change, in their economic statuses in the South and the work was pretty much the same. It was different but they worked just as hard. And there was discrimination, even though it wasn't as blatant as that in the South. But I'm certain that this served not only to disillusion them and their hopes for making economic and social advances but also it disillusioned them spiritually, and perhaps made many of them feel that there wasn't anything left for the Negro in in this country and then I'm certain that these feelings of despair were passed on to the children. To me and my generation.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking out of these feelings of despair came this "Manchild in the Promised Land." Claude Brown, and you begin, we heard the man in the beginning talking about the age of 14 and go into a bar, of course, you could beat that record. It begins, you wer-- you were shot. You were shot in the stomach-- opens. Run run. The very beginning, after the foreword, you're 13.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Run! where? Hey let's get out here. [Claude Brown coughs] Turk, said your friend Turk, who-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Is now a prize fighter. And you hear the voice and it opens on this note of, on this act of violence to you.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel You were 13, where does-

Claude Brown I was I was 13 and at 13 I had I had done quite a few things. I had been sent away for a total of three and a half years. Like I started stealing when I was six and I wanted to go to school when I was 5, only to learn how to play hooky. And at 13 I also had my first experience with drugs, fortunately fo-- fortunately for me it was, well a traumatic experience. I became very sick, you know, from [coughs] from using heroin. And this is, I suppose, the primary reason I then later become a drug addict. Although many of my childhood friends who used drugs, and f-for the first time they became deathly ill, they went on to become drug addicts nevertheless. And many of them went on to ki-- be killed by drugs. By, killed in the attempt to acquire money to obtain drugs. And this was, you know, a typical way of life. And at 13 many of the kids in Har-- in the Harlem streets were old man, old men, you know, like when, when I was four and five the the kids went around on the streets called, "Hey man" you know they never saw each other as a kid.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. Yes, yes.

Claude Brown And I'm certain that they had experienced many things that, that many adults who are more fortunate in their up-- in their upbringings and in places where they live, or to they're fortunate enough to not to live in places such as Harlem where life moves at such a rapid pace, and they can't afford to take time out and enjoy a normal childhood. In Ha-- in Harlem-- there, I can never remember ever regarding myself as a child. And I'm certain that many of the many of the kids with whom I grew up felt the same way. At, many of them were being sent away by the courts at the ages of eight and nine. At-- [clears throat] When I was 11 years old, I was in a, in a therapeutic institution for boys between the ages of eight and 15.

Studs Terkel This is Wiltwyck school--

Claude Brown Wilt-- The Wiltwyck school for boys founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, and it was made famous recently by Floyd Patterson, who was also an alumnus

Studs Terkel There was a very excellent film called "The Lonely One," some time ago, a documentary, on oh a few years ago.

Claude Brown Yeah,

Studs Terkel "The Quiet One"! "The Quiet One"!

Claude Brown Yeah, yeah. I recall, I was there when they made it.

Studs Terkel Movie.

Claude Brown Yeah, [coughs] 'scuse me. Well at Wiltwyck at the age of 11, I went at the age of 11, and while I was there, most of the kids there were, well my age. And we would make, we would take bets who would get to the heavyweight reformatories and Sing Sing first. And we looked forward to going to places like Elmira and Auburn, Woodburn and Sing Sing, and well very few of us knew anything about Attica there, but many of the boys who were at Wiltwyck went on to places like Warwick, I also went to Warwick which is the first reforming school.

Studs Terkel Warwick, this is the reform school for-

Claude Brown [coughs] Teenagers-

Studs Terkel Kids,

Claude Brown Between ages of 13 and 16.

Studs Terkel So it went by step sometimes: Wiltwyck to Warwick to Sing Sing.

Claude Brown Yeah, and many and many of them even made the complete tour of all the penal institutions in New York State.

Studs Terkel I want to ask you about [Claude Brown sneezes] Wiltwick later and what may possibly have happened to you, Claude Brown, possibly, you know while you were there, certain people you met at Wiltwyck. But I think about the streets again when you learn age four or five, "Hey man," you're now man, and your teachers on the streets. Danny, who taught you to play hookey, and Butch, who you taught you how to ring cash registers, how to steal in the store. So there was the there was the school of the streets that taught you to get on.

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel Isn't that it?

Claude Brown Yeah. It taught you how to get by. And [clears throat] as a matter of fact, many many people's, the young kids with whom I grew up, many times our maturity was measured by just how well we were able to live in the streets. I started staying out all night at the age of eight, and I learned how to-

Studs Terkel The word is called, "catting out."

Claude Brown Yeah

Studs Terkel

Claude Brown Catting. Catting. That was the slang term, and I learned how to live well on the streets. I mean I kept a pocket full of money, you know, at the age of eight and nine. I was a kid who would walk around with a pocket stuffed with dollar bills. Maybe I'd have a couple of hundred dollars from ringing cash registers from breaking into stores and stealing. I knew half the fences in the community and I knew, you know, the guys who were dealing in drugs and things. I, I was taught how to roll reefers at the age of 10 and all sorts of-- I I knew how to make a homemade gun at nine. You know this sort of thing. I was in a gang at the age of nine, of course most of the fellas, as a matter of fact practially all of them with whom I hung out, were much older than I was and, well, they could teach me quite a lot. And I, and I-

Studs Terkel You were the precocious child.

Claude Brown Yeah. And I learned a lot. But they respected me because I was rather skillful at the, at, I was skillful in the skills of the street and and getting by in the streets, and well this was this is what our maturity was based on I was accepted as as one of the street people, a young thief.

Studs Terkel Yes, and then a hustler-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel And a variety-

Claude Brown And then a hustler, a variety and once I had been to reform school, I was a full fledged criminal.

Studs Terkel And so, some of these reforms schools, we'll come to Wiltwyck in a moment, the special aspects of this. But some of the reform schools, these became, as prisons do, more of the-

Claude Brown A training ground,

Studs Terkel A training ground for becoming more the artist,

Claude Brown the That's

Studs Terkel More the craftsman, is

Claude Brown Yeah, every place you went you learn something different. Like at Wiltwyck, I, which was the first place I went to, at the age of 11, I learned how to pick locks there, I didn't know anything about picking locks in the street. And on the streets I learned a little about pickpocketing but I I really improved my skill at Wiltwyck also, because there were other kids there who were, even younger than I, were masters at

Studs Terkel So even in the midst of attempts on the part of some people, attempts to find out what it is that had changed the lives, one way altered the lives, the fate, that here too was a jungle-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Just as the building you lived in. Way in the beginning you speak of this building that you knew. When Mr. Lawson, the superintendent, who killed a man once because he found somebody defacing the hall.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel It was you, your little brother, called Pimp-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Studs Terkel Named because a prostitute what paid-

Claude Brown The cab fair-

Studs Terkel Paid

Claude Brown For my mother was pregnant and had to go to the hospital.

Studs Terkel And she called him that because he was the first man she

Claude Brown ever- She had gave any money

Studs Terkel Gave

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Ask about your brother-- But this was your world. First, the building in which you first were aware of life, I suppose the actual building itself-

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel Became the world. Then

Claude Brown

Studs Terkel Our guest is Claude Brown author of a an autobiography "Manchild in the Promised Land" published by Macmillan. But it's more than just an autobiography. Some might call it a a chronicle, a powerful chronicle dealing with human survival. Before we hear from Claude Brown, just comments about the book, his life, the nature of the work itself, its impact, it's a powerful one, we should hear from a voice of a a man in Chicago, whom I met several times, he's behind bars at county jail. And he's talking. He's talking about himself, he's talking about childhood really. But in the Negro's life, your life travels so fast ahead of you that by the time you really settle down and know definitely what you wanna be, it's too late. Now that's a strange thing, but it happens that way. Like me, I was a bartender when I was 17 years old. You, what when you were 17? A bartender. You were, at 17? At 17. At, when I was 14-years-old I could go in just about any tavern in my neighborhood and get anything I wanted to drink. Sit at the bar with the rest of the men. What's that phrase you used for Negro, "life travels so far so fast-" So "Ahead Yeah that's right. It does. It's it's it's, it's it's like a laser, that's a new light they have out. It's- A laser you say? Mhmm. It's a new development, scientific development, yeah. It it travels at such tremendous speed on a straight line. And when I, when I say a straight I mean it's headed in one direction. You can you can trace just about 80 percent of of the people in here and you'll find out that in a roundabout sort of a way, all of 'em went through the same thing. The only difference is some had it just a little hard. Some people some people's-- their their relatives were a little poorer than the next one or maybe they were more illiterate than the next one, but they're still the same. Before we call it quits for now just, suspension for now, and w-we'll come back later. One thing occurs to me. You speak of life travels so fast for the Negro that when you're a small boy you're hardly ever a boy. You're a- No Man. And yet when you're a man you're called a boy. It's kind of funny- Same In reverse- In reverse- Really. You're never really a boy, then. No, no. Even as a small child. You can't be. There's too there's too many there's too many things that happen. That that you have to notice. It's like your mother gettin' up, goin' to work. She sends you off to school and she goes to work. Or she goes to work before you and you have to get up and go to school. Well, you don't have the benefit of seeing your mother or being around your dad. Ah your dad, he's gone, he, they finally broke up before you were able to realize that there was such a thing as a father. And you don't get a chance to really know your mother. And by the time maybe you do get a chance to know your mother, you're too old to sit down and ask her about a lot of things or have a conversation with her because you're grown then. You understand. I left home when I was 15 or 16. Let's, let's call this for now. Oh, will you hold-- j-just one second. Thus conversation with a an acquaintance of mine who was in the county jail. And I'm thinking, Claude Brown, listening to this man talking, I suppose many thoughts come to mind, don't they, involving your own childhood, life, and that of the people in Harlem. They certainly do. [clears throat] Because in Harlem, well what the man was talking about was just the average, a typical experience of any Harlem child in any of the Harlems throughout the nation. Be it Harlem Chicago, Harlem Cleveland, Harlem Detroit, Harlem Washington etcetera. And [clears throat] it's almost inevitable as a child, as a Negro child coming up in one of these poor Negro ghettos anywhere in the country. You're going to encounter similar experiences to those of the gentleman we just heard. Now as a child, I was fortunate, whereas I had two parents all the time, but this did not prevent me from encountering the street life. Because as the young man said before, his parents, or his mother went out to work. Well with me, it was the same thing with both parents. They were always going out to work early in the morning and I was left to the streets to be brought up or get up the best way I could into adulthood, providing I was one of the fortunate ones. I say this because many of the people with whom I shared my childhood didn't quite make it to adulthood. They were killed or, they were killed usually, and many times attempting crimes, many times they killed themselves unintentionally by using drugs and this sort of thing. And others, well they, at at the ages of 16, 17, 18, they were given life sentences and some-- one of the New York State prisons, those that didn't go to the electric chair or something like that. And we all were left out in the street. We came up in-- on the streets of New York City, on the streets of Harlem. We came up admiring the hustlers, the people who were in street life. We started learning street life at a very early age, not because our parents didn't care but simply because they weren't prepared for the new life. If you noticed my book is titled "Manchild in the Promised Land" and this this "Promised Land" title is derived from Old Negro songs, and also the hope for deliverance in some paradise. Well [clears throat] in the South, in the 30s and late 20s the Negroes, they're looked upon, most of them, northern urban ar-areas, as a sort of promised land. And many of them thought that's what they were going to when they left the south-- the southern states and migrated north to the northern urban communities. And they were disillusioned, needless to say, they never found any promised land in the North- This is this due, then, with two generations doesn't it? That-- it's your generation, and are the kids you talk about, your friends, or those whose parents had come up from the South- Yeah, we were- Yeah. The sons and daughters- Yes. Of the of the migrating Negroes, of the Negroes migrating to the North from southern states in the late 20s and throughout the 30s and early 40s. And there there was a there was this constant conflict between parent and child because the parents were not acclimated to the northern to the to the northern urban communities and they had to provide some kind of guidance which they were not prepared to provide for their children. And, well, this necessarily created a sort of breach between the par-- the parents and incommunicability between the parents and the child, and also on the part of the children. It created a rebellion. Look, they had nothing to give us. Actually, what the parents were trying to do was to was to raise us southern children of farm boys in New York City- Yes. You know, which was impossible- This is incredible as you describe this in your book, Claude Brown. There's one spot where y-you return, you go to the home with your grandparents in the South and you find a wholly different, yet you find a certain kind of brutishness in the life, you know, because of the nature o-of circumstance. And yet different, 'cause it was rural as against the jam-packed world that is Harlem, or this area, the ghetto in the large city. Yeah. Say a rural child raised in a, in a way it is, and it couldn't be done. That's it. So there's a confusion isn't there? Yeah. The confusion or frustration of your mother, your father, and the parents. Yeah, we were never we were never able to arrive at any understanding. I mean any workable understanding with our parents, my generation, and as a result it's like, the longer we stayed in the in the urban community and it was, the, well, the greater the problem became, the the greater the distance between child and parent became, emotional distance, mental distance of the greater-- the children were coming up in a totally different background from that of their parents. We knew nothing about the South except from what we had heard from our parents and what traces they still retained from the old southern culture. And we were learning, we were coming up and and being molded by an urban culture. And this was in conflict with the parents. We had little respect for them. I'm certain that many of us felt that our parents were ignorant and a little stupid and had nothing to offer us, and why should we obey, why should we listen to them? They didn't have anything of value in an urban community to give us. Because society regarded them as such. You mean you took the values the society, that is, you gotta make it. That's right. Not only that- And this was then It's like we could say when we went we went we went to school every day and we could see how little our our parents had in comparison with with white children. And in comparison with Negroes who had been in the North say for two or three generations. And we resented our parents for not being able to give us these things also. I'm thinking about the relation between you and your father and your mother, both, and as you say in many instances the "Manchild in the Promised Land" has no father around or in the case of friend of yours, Bucky, he had the imaginary mother. That's right. But you your father, you spoke of lack of communication. So because he could not communicate with you, sometimes with the physical striking out- Yeah, w-well this this was also part of a of a southern con-- paternal concept if you can if you can, they didn't believe in spoiling the child and sparing the rod, as a matter of fact, they might have spoiled the child by not sparing the rod. Th-They believed then it was okay to beat your child to death if you could not train him. If he wouldn't listen, and if there if there was no hope for disciplining him, well, jus' just beat the hell out him and it's okay. So you had then, there was this And we had this constant- Yeah. Yeah. The hostility there was between the generations here. Not only you, you were the older brother. Your sisters and your little brother, we'll hear about him too. Yeah. Yet there was a, the wall. And your mothe-- And yet at the same time, in your book you sense the striving, with all the confusions and difficulties and brutality domestically. The striving for something- Yeah, despite all of this, there wa-- there was a sense of unity. We, we knew we belong to one another. My father would my father would, well, "go to war" as we said in the streets at the drop of a hat if someone offended one of his children. And I would I would fight to the death for my sisters or brothers. It was, and it was it was a sense of unity despite all of the-- We lived in a violent community so they had to be violent within the fa-- violence frequently within the fam-family. And we lived with this as-- and accepted it as a part of life. But this did not detract from the family's sense of belonging to one another- Yes. Or from family unity in any way. Or devotion to one another. I'm thinking as you as you're talking, Claude, Claude Brown, the the the move north to the promised land because the city was the promised land away from the field, away from the overseer. So the city up north. Industries were there, where the stockyards, the steel mills of Chicago, whatever industry, the textiles, I mean New York and Pittsburgh. So there were songs I know your father would bring home records, at times, you'd hear religious records, you know, but I suppose a song that Mahalia sings "On My Way" or "Move On Up A Little Higher" might be almost the symbol of the hope. That's right. That's what it was all about. As as I mentioned in the foreword to the book, that these songs were sung in the cotton fields when people were ready to go to New York, to go to Philadelphia, to go to Chicago- As you say- And such places. In the in the forward it They chanted them and, you know, this was this was their hope. Perhaps you could just read these two paragraphs from your forward. Yeah, and "s-so they came from all parts of the South like all the black children of god followin' in the sound of Gabriel's horn on that long overdue Judgment Day. The Georgians came as soon as they were able to pick train fare off the peach trees. They came from South Carolina where the cotton stalks were bare. The North Carolinians came with tobacco tar beneath their fingernails. They felt as the pilgrims must have felt when they were coming to the mer- to America. But these descendants of Ham must have been twi-twice as happy as the pilgrims because they had been catching twice the hell even while planning the trip they sang spirituals as "Jesus Take My Hand" and "I'm On My Way" and chanted "Hallelujah I'm on my way to the promised land." And thus as you hear Mahalia singing of a promised land, moving over hills and mountains and laying down burdens and drinking from the healing water. This was the dream. That's right. This was the dream of our parents who migrated to the northern to the northern areas en mass in the 30s and early 40s. And I think the fact that the dream was never fulfilled was something which brought about a lot of well not-- may or dissatisfaction but of a lot of traumatic disappointment because this said, well there is no promised land to them. And what else was there to look for? You see I [clears throat] I mentioned in the book that that the Negroes who came to the North from southern states well had very had very little change in their economic or experience, very little change, in their economic statuses in the South and the work was pretty much the same. It was different but they worked just as hard. And there was discrimination, even though it wasn't as blatant as that in the South. But I'm certain that this served not only to disillusion them and their hopes for making economic and social advances but also it disillusioned them spiritually, and perhaps made many of them feel that there wasn't anything left for the Negro in in this country and then I'm certain that these feelings of despair were passed on to the children. To me and my generation. I'm thinking out of these feelings of despair came this "Manchild in the Promised Land." Claude Brown, and you begin, we heard the man in the beginning talking about the age of 14 and go into a bar, of course, you could beat that record. It begins, you wer-- you were shot. You were shot in the stomach-- opens. Run run. The very beginning, after the foreword, you're 13. Yeah. Run! where? Hey let's get out here. [Claude Brown coughs] Turk, said your friend Turk, who- Yeah. Is now a prize fighter. And you hear the voice and it opens on this note of, on this act of violence to you. Yeah. You were 13, where does- I was I was 13 and at 13 I had I had done quite a few things. I had been sent away for a total of three and a half years. Like I started stealing when I was six and I wanted to go to school when I was 5, only to learn how to play hooky. And at 13 I also had my first experience with drugs, fortunately fo-- fortunately for me it was, well a traumatic experience. I became very sick, you know, from [coughs] from using heroin. And this is, I suppose, the primary reason I then later become a drug addict. Although many of my childhood friends who used drugs, and f-for the first time they became deathly ill, they went on to become drug addicts nevertheless. And many of them went on to ki-- be killed by drugs. By, killed in the attempt to acquire money to obtain drugs. And this was, you know, a typical way of life. And at 13 many of the kids in Har-- in the Harlem streets were old man, old men, you know, like when, when I was four and five the the kids went around on the streets called, "Hey man" you know they never saw each other as a kid. Yeah, yeah. Yes, yes. And I'm certain that they had experienced many things that, that many adults who are more fortunate in their up-- in their upbringings and in places where they live, or to they're fortunate enough to not to live in places such as Harlem where life moves at such a rapid pace, and they can't afford to take time out and enjoy a normal childhood. In Ha-- in Harlem-- there, I can never remember ever regarding myself as a child. And I'm certain that many of the many of the kids with whom I grew up felt the same way. At, many of them were being sent away by the courts at the ages of eight and nine. At-- [clears throat] When I was 11 years old, I was in a, in a therapeutic institution for boys between the ages of eight and 15. This is Wiltwyck school-- Wilt-- The Wiltwyck school for boys founded by Eleanor Roosevelt, and it was made famous recently by Floyd Patterson, who was also an alumnus of There was a very excellent film called "The Lonely One," some time ago, a documentary, on oh a few years ago. Yeah, "The Quiet One"! "The Quiet One"! Yeah, yeah. I recall, I was there when they made it. Movie. Yeah, [coughs] 'scuse me. Well at Wiltwyck at the age of 11, I went at the age of 11, and while I was there, most of the kids there were, well my age. And we would make, we would take bets who would get to the heavyweight reformatories and Sing Sing first. And we looked forward to going to places like Elmira and Auburn, Woodburn and Sing Sing, and well very few of us knew anything about Attica there, but many of the boys who were at Wiltwyck went on to places like Warwick, I also went to Warwick which is the first reforming school. Warwick, this is the reform school for- [coughs] Teenagers- Kids, Between ages of 13 and 16. So it went by step sometimes: Wiltwyck to Warwick to Sing Sing. Yeah, and many and many of them even made the complete tour of all the penal institutions in New York State. I want to ask you about [Claude Brown sneezes] Wiltwick later and what may possibly have happened to you, Claude Brown, possibly, you know while you were there, certain people you met at Wiltwyck. But I think about the streets again when you learn age four or five, "Hey man," you're now man, and your teachers on the streets. Danny, who taught you to play hookey, and Butch, who you taught you how to ring cash registers, how to steal in the store. So there was the there was the school of the streets that taught you to get on. That's right. Isn't that it? Yeah. It taught you how to get by. And [clears throat] as a matter of fact, many many people's, the young kids with whom I grew up, many times our maturity was measured by just how well we were able to live in the streets. I started staying out all night at the age of eight, and I learned how to- The word is called, "catting out." Yeah Catting. Catting. That was the slang term, and I learned how to live well on the streets. I mean I kept a pocket full of money, you know, at the age of eight and nine. I was a kid who would walk around with a pocket stuffed with dollar bills. Maybe I'd have a couple of hundred dollars from ringing cash registers from breaking into stores and stealing. I knew half the fences in the community and I knew, you know, the guys who were dealing in drugs and things. I, I was taught how to roll reefers at the age of 10 and all sorts of-- I I knew how to make a homemade gun at nine. You know this sort of thing. I was in a gang at the age of nine, of course most of the fellas, as a matter of fact practially all of them with whom I hung out, were much older than I was and, well, they could teach me quite a lot. And I, and I- You were the precocious child. Yeah. And I learned a lot. But they respected me because I was rather skillful at the, at, I was skillful in the skills of the street and and getting by in the streets, and well this was this is what our maturity was based on I was accepted as as one of the street people, a young thief. Yes, and then a hustler- Yeah. And a variety- And then a hustler, a variety and once I had been to reform school, I was a full fledged criminal. You And so, some of these reforms schools, we'll come to Wiltwyck in a moment, the special aspects of this. But some of the reform schools, these became, as prisons do, more of the- A training ground, I'll A training ground for becoming more the artist, the That's More the craftsman, is it-- Yeah, every place you went you learn something different. Like at Wiltwyck, I, which was the first place I went to, at the age of 11, I learned how to pick locks there, I didn't know anything about picking locks in the street. And on the streets I learned a little about pickpocketing but I I really improved my skill at Wiltwyck also, because there were other kids there who were, even younger than I, were masters at pickpocketing. So even in the midst of attempts on the part of some people, attempts to find out what it is that had changed the lives, one way altered the lives, the fate, that here too was a jungle- Yeah. Just as the building you lived in. Way in the beginning you speak of this building that you knew. When Mr. Lawson, the superintendent, who killed a man once because he found somebody defacing the hall. Yeah. It was you, your little brother, called Pimp- Yeah. Named because a prostitute what paid- The cab fair- Paid For my mother was pregnant and had to go to the hospital. And she called him that because he was the first man she ever- She had gave any money Gave Yeah. Ask about your brother-- But this was your world. First, the building in which you first were aware of life, I suppose the actual building itself- That's right. Became the world. Then the Yeah. And

Claude Brown It was the most unusual building because, as far back as I could remember, there was always excitement, there was always violence, and and there were always a lot of criminals in the building. And to me these people weren't criminals. Even though society, I'm certain, could not have accepted them as such. To me they were average, ordinary human beings. Like, you know I could see my father kill a man viciously at the age of five but I still love my father. And the people-- and I still, I was still aware of his humanity, you know, despite having committed such a [unintelligible]. The people with whom I came up, these were the guys who taught me to play ball, also in the streets, in the-- play the sidewalk games like loadies and whatnot. And they were they were still professional criminals, although many of them were as many as ten years older than I was. But still I admired them as people, you know, first as as older brothers then as tutors of crime, tutors of street life.

Studs Terkel This the only world you knew. This

Claude Brown was- That's

Studs Terkel This was the only world you knew and it was the world to which getting by meant this since the society was violent. The essence of it here in this crowded ghetto. Violence a way of life. There was no other

Claude Brown lif- And

Studs Terkel You could conceive no other way-

Claude Brown And it was the most natural thing in the world to admire the people who were getting by best.

Studs Terkel By best. Yeah.

Claude Brown And these were the people who were doing it. You know the the skillful criminals, whether they be pimps and, or stick up artist or drug dealers or fences or thieves or whathaveyou.

Studs Terkel Yeah I'm thinking of some kids on the streets of New York, now this is a re- record made. You may indeed have been one of these kids. It's a game just to game their playing called Gugga Mugga but there's a fantasy involved here, fantasy-like w-- these kids are about seven or eight. We hear them now.

Unidentified Boy 1 I was walking on the corner. Who did

Unidentified Boy 2 I Who do I see looking at me? [unintelligible]

Unidentified Boy 1 Go ahead.

Unidentified Boy 2 And I was walking to the jungle with my hat in my

Unidentified Boy 1 Yeah!

Unidentified Boy 2 A big fat monkey said "Come here, man!"

Unidentified Boy 1 Yeah!

Unidentified Boy 2 I said, "Mr. Monkey what do you

Boy 1 Uh huh.

Unidentified Boy 2 What do you want, what a piece of [stunk?].

Unidentified Boy 1 Yeah.

Unidentified Boy 2 I said "Mister, what do you want?"

Unidentified Boy 1 Yeah.

Unidentified Boy 2 A new [piece of?] banana. Banana.

Unidentified Boy 1 Yeah. I was already around the corner, and who did I see? A fat lay lady looking at me. I turned around and who did I feel? A great Gugga Mugga led me out of here.

Unidentified Boy 2 [Saffa?]! Be my [food?]. Put it on the table with my new shoes. Oh no, I don't want to do. And baby baby baby, you got the flu, yeah.

Unidentified Group of Boys Oh yeah!

Unidentified Boy 2 I don't know who got the flu, but I don't know [untelligible] to do. I just want to say right there, baby, baby you can go all [unintelligible].

Unidentified Boy 3 Aha right now baby, hold my hand if you are my man, I'll make a stand. All I gotta say mega speed and baby Gugga Mugga hold me tee.

Claude Brown As, as-

Studs Terkel Thinking as you hear these voices how, I don't know how old these kids, are I'm sure this bring-- you reflect on this, too, Claude Brown, hearing these kids.

Claude Brown Oh yeah. We made up the same kind of tunes. Perhaps they weren't quite as clean, but they had the same themes.

Studs Terkel Yeah. That double entendre, using animals

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel But basically there was an imagination at work here.

Claude Brown Yeah. There

Studs Terkel There was an incredible imagination [Claude Brown clears throat] at work, you know. Fantasy life, too.

Claude Brown Yeah, I think kids are the most creative people in the world. You know, anywhere, be it in this country in any country. And they also have a lot of energy that has to be released in some way. And if it isn't channeled in constructive expressions, well it's going to be released in destructive expressions. And many times it will be destructive for the children, unfortunately. And this was one of the this was one of the misfortunes of Harlem. Of Harlem life-- that we had no guidance on the streets. Our parents had problems of their own and most of the time they they were so involved in their problems that they couldn't, you know, give anything to us. And not only that and then nobody else cared. And so we were left to fare as best we could on our own. And I think the majority of us did very well and those who didn't, well they never cried about it. There were some guys, when I was say 13, 14, who believe that they were going to end up in jail or they would be killed, you know, by a cop or die in the electric chair. And they, they fulfilled their expectations. And nobody, you know nobody sung any blues for themselves. They sung blues but they didn't pity themselves. And it was okay, like g-guys said, "Yeah man, I went up before the judge and," somebody is 17 years old. Judge said, yeah "ten years" and he says "Well I just sh- shr- shrugged my shoulders and said so what. Hell with it."

Studs Terkel And so then

Claude Brown Like they-- There wasn't-

Studs Terkel Did

Claude Brown That's right. There wasn't that much in the offering outside. There was nothing to miss. They knew no one cared. They didn't leave anybody behind. And it was many people became institutionalized, many guys I knew at a very early age, and they felt just as well off in jail as out on the streets.

Studs Terkel Because the question, I'm sure, is continually asked, Claude Brown, I'm sure this asked, probably comes out of his ears. How come you're different, see? How come you have made the society outside the jungle? And you bec-- you became the writer, and you graduated Howard, you're going to go to law school soon or perhaps even run against Congressmen Powell in Harlem. How can they say, and I'm sure they say to you, this is what I had heard, "What, if you could do it why can't they?"

Claude Brown Yeah. Everybody seems to want some sort of formula for for the Negro child whereby they can all apply it and [clears throat] and escape from the ghettos and into the conventional societ-- or the mainstream of American life. And it doesn't exist. With me, I was, I was one out of a c-- out of many, and there are other isolated cases. And I know some people from the neighborhood who were members of gangs and were in gang fights and who got out at a very early age, and they went on to become doctors. And many who didn't go on to become-- I know some who are successful racketeers on a small scale. I mean they're not going around pulling stickups or robbing places but well they they they are are very successful in things like numbers. And numbers in Harlem as in most Negro communities, is an economic institution and it's accepta-- it's acceptable to the people in the community. And it mi- Anybody who achieves any degree of success and it is admired by the community. And to me this is a great success. I cou-- I could never tell anyone how to go and get out. I can tell, I I couldn't even tell me how to get out, then, I was looking for a way all of my life. I knew there had to be some more to life than what was in the offering in Harlem. I mean I'd gone to the movies, I had read books, you know I I'd I'd been I'd been to school where they taught that, "well there are so many opportunities and there's so much that one can achieve, providing he wants to" and that sort of thing. Well, I never had all this thrust upon me, all the opportunity. But I was always aware that it was there somewhere, and I suppose it's just, it was my awareness and my consistent search for it which enabled me to stumble over it. Once I was still looking, when suddenly there I was out of it.

Studs Terkel Because there was that something, "he would come to that," you were aware even throughout the book, I say, by the way, Romulus Linney, a southern white writer, reviewed your book for the New York Times, front page is, as indeed all the reviews have been most enthusiastic. And he speaks of the powerhouse, the impact of this. He says as written without self-pity, as indeed the guys are without the self-pity. But there is something in y-- this-- what you saw, aside from these remarkable people you met at Wiltwyck, I'll ask about them in a moment, he said, the agony you saw of your friends when you returned to Harlem. What happened-

Claude Brown Well,

Studs Terkel To guys like

Claude Brown It's like, it's like that now. [coughs] Now I I hesitate to ask about anyone whom I haven't seen in a long time when I go to Harlem, because chances are I'm going to hear a tragic tale, like someo-- ah he, you know, he took an overdose. He died. It's a common thing. Well, he got killed in a stick up, well, you didn't hear, he's in a death house now at Sing Sing. Or he was just saved when they abolished the the capital punishment l-law in New York State. And, or he he was-- oh didn't you hear about him? He got shot in a robbery in Pennsylvania somewhere, something like that. You know, and this is why I hesitat-- and as a matter of fact after I had completed my first year of school, of college at Howard University, I I came back home for for the summer and while getting off a bus in Harlem, someone called out to me and I turned around and said, "Hey," you know, "how have you been?" He says, "Oh, fine man. Where you been and what you been doing?" And I said, "Oh, just knocking about. Where have you been?" He says, "I just got out of Sing Sing. I did three, you know, on a three to five biddy." Mean he'd done three years and he gotten three to five. And he says, "Everybody's up there, man, and they all looking for you," you know, and I felt a little guilty-

Studs Terkel Yeah,

Claude Brown By not being there. The last time I'd seen this guy was up at Wiltwyck School for Boys and he'd gone on up. He'd gone to Coxsackie, Elmira, and Sing Sing.

Studs Terkel Graduated.

Claude Brown Yeah. And he says, "Everybody's up there," he meant everybody who was at Wiltwyck or a large p-proportion of them anyway, and the guys who were up at Warwick and that sort of thing. It's like you usually met them at the same places, everybody-- you know, these, we were the criminal element in the city and we expected to meet people. When I went to Warwick from Wiltwyck, I thought I wouldn't have many friends there, but practically, I knew a lot of people there from the youth house, from from Bellevue, from Wiltwyck, from the street gangs in Brooklyn and and Manhattan, and all over. The criminal element usually travels the same route.

Studs Terkel And I suppose, too, when the kids, these guys who grow up through their lives regarded as criminals, behave as criminals, must eventually become that, too. Society regards them as criminals. They have to fit that image. Don't they?

Claude Brown That's right. A-and not only that, it's that when they go to these other places perhaps they aren't really criminals, but they learn more and more and more, and they acquire more of the traits and more of the teachings of criminals. And this is the life with-- after a while, after you-- let's say you started going away when you were eight or nine years old, and you've been going away up until you're 15. Well let's say you've spent about the greatest port-- of the last half of th-- spent the greatest portion of half of your life in institutions. You know, and learning these things. I mean your life of awareness. Let's forget everything up until five years of age. It's like, well, this is where you've had most of your education, and this is what you're most suited for, this is what you feel more acclimated to: to a life of crime. And these are the people with whom you have identified yourself.

Studs Terkel You know, there's so many-- We're talking about the book that Claude, about his life, and the book is his life, Claude Brown's "Manchild in the Promised Land." Macmillan. There's so many parts in the book that are so powerful-- perhaps, I'm think about this one. There's Bucky. Bucky's a kid you knew who would, he had no mother, you know, and he'd make it up. And you know he was lying, didn't you?

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel He he'd he'd take you up to his house and she's out somewhere. Perhaps this paragraph which he and her sisters, Debbie and Dixie, are fighting. They got this fight. Perhaps this paragraph just and, the implication of that alone is, you went

Claude Brown The day after we saw the show, I went up to Bucky's house to show him a home made that I had found a week before-

Studs Terkel A home made is

Claude Brown I referred to a gun, yeah that was homemade. I didn't have I didn't have any bullets for it but that wasn't important. I knew somebody I could steal them from. As I walked through the door, which was always open because the lock had been broken and Miss Jamie never bothered to have it fixed, I saw Bucky on the floor with his arm around his little sister's throat. He was choking her. Meanwhile his big sister was bopping him on the head with a broom handle and they were all screaming. After I'd watched the three-way fight for a minute or less I started towards Dixie to grab the broom. Before I could get close enough to grab the broom handle, everything stopped for a whole second. Everything was real quiet. Dixie threw down the broom and started crying. Debbie was already crying but I couldn't hear her because Bucky was still choking her. He let her go and started cursing. When Debbie got up, I saw what she and Dixie were crying over and what Bucky was cursing about. The three of them had been fighting over one egg and the egg was broken in the scuffle.

Studs Terkel And thus it was the one egg.

Claude Brown The

Studs Terkel There it is was.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel The egg.

Claude Brown Yeah just one egg.

Studs Terkel So it was he, he might have choked her. It was just the violence, the frustration.

Claude Brown Yeah one egg for three kids.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah. And then you did something, so here again this, this aspect in the life, Claude Brown, there was something else there. You stole some eggs and you brought some eggs to Bucky and his sisters.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel And that was a f-- what a moment of exhiliration [Claude Brown clears throat] it was for her.

Claude Brown Now like I, as I told you, I was a thief. And many times someone would find me or the police would bring me home. And the first thing my parents would do before th-they beat me within an inch of my life, would be to take all of my clothes off and hide them so I couldn't sneak out of the house and be gone for a week or two, again. And they would usually find money in my socks, which the police hadn't found, and, you know, and they'd be frightened by it, because I was, say nine, eight or nine years old, and I'd have 150 or 100 and and-- or 200 dollars stuffed around, scattered about, on my person and they, you know, they'd said, "Oh Lord how in the world, Boy what'd you do? Did you did you kill somebody at that age?" You know, because they couldn't imagine a kid having all this money. And they they knew I stole things. But whenever they found me, it was fortunate, they didn't throw the money away, they couldn't afford to, and they didn't try to return it, you know.

Studs Terkel But here then, can we come back to the other generation? Again, your mother, your father and that genera-- and the helplessness that was there. The despair of this complete lack of communication. This complete despair,

Claude Brown You see, everything in their in their attempts to communicate with me it was always-- and I think it was similar in the homes of my childhood friends. The parents were always saying, "Be good" and "Be good" had no meaning to us, you know? "Be good" to me was like in school where you're supposed to sit at the desk quietly with your hands folded. And I I couldn't believe that was what they wanted from me. And if they did I wasn't about to give it to them because this was just meaningless to me. I didn't know what "be good" meant. I felt that I was good. And to-- according to my way of thinking. When I went out in the streets, [coughs] excuse me, and I stole things, I tried to be good. If I wen-- got into gang fights, I tried to be good so as I didn't get hurt, and wouldn't hurt somebody else. And if I played hooky I tried to be good enough not to be caught.

Studs Terkel So it was the question of the values then.

Claude Brown That's

Studs Terkel What were the values? What was the- The

Claude Brown The values meant nothing to us. Our parents thought it was something great to to be working, you know, f-five days a week for 45 dollars, 40, 45 dollars in the 40s, a week. And you know I didn't-- it it couldn't have been anything great to me even though I didn't have too much of an awareness of the economics in our society at that time. I knew that we were always poor, so it didn't make any sense to me. And later on when I went out to get a job after I dropped out of high school at the age of 16, you know, I was still a part of the Harlem streets and I was still, you know, pretty close with most of the people whom I'd grown up, with whom I'd grown up, and they were-- you know, they laugh. We had we had acquired values. We developed values about this economy and about working, you know, and free enterprise and all this sort of thing. Even though they were somewhat crude and not thoroughly thought out theories about it, we had our theories.

Studs Terkel This was free

Claude Brown Yeah,

Studs Terkel It's

Claude Brown [clears throat] Yeah we just-- we actually believe-- the only way we were going to get anything. [Studs Terkel clears throat] If you recall, [Studs Terkel coughs] if you recall in the book when I'm talking with my old hustlin' tutor Reno and I tell him, "I'm going downtown to get a job." And he says, "oh man" you know "what you going down there-- you know Goldberg ain't gon' give you no money."

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown You know like the only way you gon-- all he's got to do is give you enough car fare to go back downtown and slave the next day and maybe a little bit for lunch money. The only way you gon' ever get any money from that cat is to put a gun to his head and take it. And a lot of people actually believe this.

Studs Terkel That's

Claude Brown You know it wasn't just sh-shooting off at the mouth.

Studs Terkel It's interesting, you using the phrase Goldberg, and say here, this idea is 'cause of the great deal of the-

Claude Brown Yeah, I

Studs Terkel use Anti-semitism-

Claude Brown I use this-

Studs Terkel Is it because of

Claude Brown the- No-

Studs Terkel Many cases, stores owned by-

Claude Brown No no no no. The-- ther-- It doesn't refer to anti-Semitism. [Studs Terkel make affirmative noise] All it means is that Goldberg is the representative of the white society-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown Who's-- who lives in closest proximity to the Negro.

Studs Terkel That's it. That's it. Yeah. The storekeeper,

Claude Brown then. And-- yeah, that's right.

Studs Terkel Many of whom were

Claude Brown Yeah, many whom were

Claude Brown Yes.

Claude Brown And there was no special-- there were no there was no anti-Semitism for the Jews. Tha-- and Goldberg just symbolized the white man for the Negro.

Studs Terkel Just as Mr. Charlie did down South.

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel It's the same

Claude Brown In the South, it was Mr. Charlie and up North it was Goldberg.

Studs Terkel That's the same principle, the same relationship applied-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel In a way there. So I'm thinking also your father, again, he's to me a very fascinating and very complex figure. Seemingly civil, but far from it. Your mother, too, but your father who was frustrated, would beat you and he wanted you to be good. He-- his own life pretty much empty. And yet in court you saw him nodding and nodding-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you call the head nod-- and you saw both. And they-- he couldn't believe you ever when you tell these stories-

Claude Brown This is-- no-

Studs Terkel in

Claude Brown My fath-- my father knew I was a liar, you know. He knew that I was almost a pathological liar and I I couldn't help-- it was, it was something of a compulsion, not only that, because I lived such a hectic life, such a frantic life and fear-ridden life, I, you know, every time I came in con-- there certain people where-- with whom I never felt I could tell the truth. I would never have I would never have told the truth to to a minister. I would never have told the truth to to anyone white. I would never have told the truth to any adult unless I knew them as as fences. And that was a limited truth, you know, just in our our business dealings. I would never have told the truth to my parents, of course, and practically to any adults. And I was always ready to lie. I lived in a different life for them, you know, always ready to concoct a good tale, an acceptable tale. And my father, knowing me as his child, you know, he he fel-- he felt so frustrated in trying to reach me because he knew that everything I said, if I made a promise, if I said something like, "Yeah, Dad if you don't beat me no more, I ain't never gon' to do that again." He knew I was lying. He knew I'd do it the first chance I got.

Studs Terkel Yes, yes. And your mother, of course, always hoping, too, in her case, and your father would say "Good riddance" when you'd be taken to a home, whether to Bellevue for investigation.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel Examination-

Claude Brown Observation.

Studs Terkel Go up to Warwick, you know. Yet these places were havens to you.

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel Weren't they? In contrast to the home, to many of your colleagues.

Claude Brown Yeah, because for one thing, there was there was not the persecution that I had in the home because no one there knew me, you know. And I was I was a rather handsome child and I was personable and well people looked upon me as an angel when actually I was more of a bad seed than anything else.

Studs Terkel So

Claude Brown As matter of fact, when I first went away, they termed me a psychopath and termed me also incorrigible at Wiltwyck. But of course you you read about my relationship with Ernst Papanek-

Studs Terkel Now

Claude Brown Who was executive director there. Well, he always had faith in me. The man was one of the-- he's perhaps one of the most best trained psychologists in the world today. He's worked with children all over the c-- world like in Europe, here, in Japan as well, every place-

Studs Terkel Now we come now we come to something. There were several factors that altered that night- the fate of Claude Brown, different, the fate of Tony, the guy who died, or the fate of another guy who died, who went to the chair, who were thrown out a window. And inside-- we are all something insid-- your own observations, the agony. There's certain people you met, not Wiltwyck. This is the school El-- [Claude Brown sniffs] which Eleanor-- and you-- has a very interesting paragraph have Eleanor Ro- this lady.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel You weren't aware aware that her husband was president

Claude Brown Yeah, but it had no meaning

Studs Terkel Had

Claude Brown You know? I had heard about it but here I am a little, uneducated, poor, colored kid from the Harlem streets. Well who cares about the president? What-- that's something that's so remote from me, if I never heard it, I would have missed nothing.

Studs Terkel You just knew this lady

Claude Brown Yeah-

Studs Terkel Invited to her home one

Claude Brown day. That's

Studs Terkel Eleanor Roosevelt.

Studs Terkel Yeah I-

Studs Terkel But there's-- go

Claude Brown I got to know her later on in life. And she's the sort of person who grew on you-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown Once you became acquainted with her.

Studs Terkel Well there's, she is-- Papanek. You dedicate the book to the people of Wiltwyck don't you?

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel To Eleanor Roosevelt who founded Wiltwyck and the Wiltwyck school, which is still fighting Claude Brown's Papanek. So there was somebody, because you'd never told truths to to minister, to teacher, and certainly not to white people, you know, and here-

Claude Brown and not for hi-- not to him at this time either.

Studs Terkel Something

Claude Brown You

Studs Terkel Though, didn't it?

Claude Brown No it took years for for, for a genuine and sincere relationship to develop between me and Papanek. He, he was one of the most compassionate, is still today, one of the most compassionate people I've ever met. The man has has an understanding of other people that's phenomenal. And I think this is what makes him so successful in his field, which is psychology and teaching-

Studs Terkel But didn't didn't this throw you for a while at first? Didn't this-- wasn't he disturbing to you because ordinari-- everything is so simple. You know, y-y-you'll lie and you and and you'll steal, you know. And here comes this guy kind of threw things, he kind of threw things lopsided didn't

Claude Brown Yeah. Here here here came a guy with whom you could not or in whom you could not detect any flaws and any insincerity and put him in the adult care-- category or the category with the adults who are are the enemy. You know? Who, with whom you must you must fight and connive in order to survive. And for a long time, I never knew how to take him, but I knew one thing that I could trust him. And this even made me-- having to-- having to have to trust him or feeling that, you know, there were there were no basis for which not to trust this man. This made me resent him even more. But as time went by, with no justifications for my resentment, there was nothing to do but to try and communicate with this man on a sincere basis.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of this this comment that, he he appears here in your book a number of time-- it was about this time writes, Claude Brown, "I discovered Papanek's secret. Very, very simple. He had the ability to see everybody as they really are, just people no more, no less. Also children as people, little young people with individuality, not as some separate group of beings called 'children' dominated by the so-called adult world. Having this ability alone made him a giant understanding. Being Papanek made him irresistibly likable." You go on to the world he kind of created for you and then "I finally found somebody who cared." I guess we'll come to that, don't we?

Claude Brown Yeah, as a matter of fact this was the beginning. This was the beginning of what people have termed recently as my moral or ethical resurrection or my escape from the vices or the vice-ridden life of the Harlem streets. Now I [clears throat] I elaborated on this at length in the book and I think most people, but nevertheless, some people have told me they have read, they have read the book three or four times and they would still ask, "Tell me how did you get away?" And I think even though they read the book so many times, the reason they feel to per-- that they failed to perceive just what and how I got out of this thing and how the change came about is because people fail to appreciate the value of human relationships. Just how how how great an influence a constructive personality can have on someone who is lost emotionally. And well, this is actually what happened. With-- Ernst Papanek was the first adult whom I actually respected and with whom I would communicate with sincerely, with whom I would tell the truth, with whom I was not afraid to reveal my fears, with whom I was not I was not afraid to to say, "Okay, I I will accept what you say or try it. Maybe for a little while." And this acceptance was the beginning, and it grew and grew and grew. And actually what it amounted to was almost a total reeducation of the child Claude Brown, which as a child I was r-- I was educated, as I said, coming up in the streets. I was educated by street theories, by streets, by the street code of morality, by the streets code of ethics, by the by the streets code of survival. And I-- it it was-- what what was required to to change me not was preaching and preaching never would have done it. It wasn't preaching. You could tell a child-- and you could, you can't beat anything into any intelligent human being. And the only way I could have I could have gotten out that was a a total reeducation which required, first of all, that I be susceptible to it and had to be a unique person who could reach me-- who-- it would have to be a unique person who could reach all of the other Claude Browns then. And it was almost impossible to do this on a grand scale at any rehabilitative institution. And with Papanek and I it was a sort of special relationship. Very little was done. [sniffs] 'scuse me. With Wiltwyck, with me at Wiltwyck. It began at Wiltwyck but but my rehabilitation really got on the way once I had left and had established a stronger relationship with Ernst Papanek and did become more susceptible to his teachings.

Studs Terkel And then there was a Mrs., Mrs. Meitner too.

Claude Brown Oh yeah-

Studs Terkel She was-

Claude Brown She was, yeah she was, she was a woman whom I always felt was the sort of living tragedy. She was a victim of the Nazi Holocaust and Nazi Germany. She was Jewish and she'd been in trat- a concentration camp. She'd, she'd seen her, her well almost her entire family just wiped out bef-before her eyes. And she still had something which she felt she wanted to give to mankind and she wanted to go to-- despite all of her life to doing it.

Studs Terkel She became

Claude Brown And I met several people like

Studs Terkel Wiltwyck school.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel She was at Wiltwyck. Yeah, several other-- there was a Mr. and Mrs. Cohen at Warick.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel To-- sh-she gave you books didn't she?

Claude Brown That's right.

Studs Terkel That was the book, the book that-

Claude Brown Yeah, she,

Studs Terkel yeah- [unintelligible]

Claude Brown She she be-- she began my introduction or she sparked my interest, my genuine interest, in scholarly pursuits. Not only that, in in reading she she sparked an intellectual interest in me and I'm grateful for it now. Even though at the time I didn't take it very seriously. But she's one of the first people that [clears throat], she gave me books, you know, she started off giving me things like the autobiography of Albert Einstein or Mary McLeod Bethune and I read them only because I felt she might ask me about them. Not that I was interested at the time. And and after reading a couple interesting autobiographies, I began to read other things by Einstein. I began to read things that Mary McLeod Bethune had written. I began to read about Ralph Bunche and I became interested, if not oriented, towards the the things in-- of of social interest and of social importance of the day. And this-- and for the first time, at Warwick and with the help of Mrs. Cohen, I I lost interest in comic books, you know, and the cheap pocket books and that sort of thing, and began some serious reading.

Studs Terkel So there was a double the two-- th-the-the-then-- the two streams flowing almost parallel in in the life of Claude Brown. There were these people who, something else, somebody there. This other world and then there was the world you came back to continuously. And the girls and

Claude Brown Jackie- Yeah.

Studs Terkel And the tragedy was that Jackie who later on liked the-- with the girl with the buckteeth-

Claude Brown Sugar.

Studs Terkel That was Sugar, of course. The tragedy-

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel of Sugar. And the friends of yours, this old gang, the group you knew, your friends and their lives. So again you're in the maelstrom, continuously in the jungle, you're out of it. Th-Th-This double strain was working throughout wasn't it, then?

Claude Brown Yeah. And. But one but one was overpowering the other. You know for a long time, every time every time I went someplace, whenever I went away, I always longed to get back to Harlem. Harlem was my home. Harlem was a place I love. It was it was the first place I'd ever experienced joy and, of course, it was also the first place I'd ever ex-experienced pain. But but the tender memories of my childhood which may have appeared to be miserable, you know, to many people, it was very pleasant affair, my my whole childhood was a pleasant adventure for me. Well, it was all experienced in Harlem and when I was sent away, I I I resented the authorities who had placed me in institutions for delinquent boys more for sending-- for taking me out of Harlem than for anything else. Had they beaten me, it would have been okay, but but the worst thing anybody could do to me as a child was to take me off the Harlem streets.

Studs Terkel This was your world.

Claude Brown That's

Studs Terkel The world in which you were most comfortable. The world you knew, your friends, with all the violence. Is it-- and you-- remember when you you visited your grandparents in the South and you came back home how joyfull you were to see the subway as horrible they were

Claude Brown Yeah-

Studs Terkel And the-

Claude Brown The street cars-

Studs Terkel The jammed

Claude Brown And the drunks laying around on the sidewalks-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Claude Brown On Sunday morning.

Studs Terkel You said that you felt comfortable again.

Claude Brown Yeah this was-

Studs Terkel Back

Claude Brown This, this was my home. My home sweet

Studs Terkel What we've been hearing now just Claude Brown, me talking about his life, which is the book, parts of it. It's a it's a powerhouse. Perhaps we should end, I'm thinkin'-- it's somehow that Billie Holiday comes to my mind, the name of Billie Holiday, I don't know why. Because the very end of the book after you speak of the tragic people who knew and, and yourself now writing it, becoming a writer, you yourself are now gonna to go to law school. You went to Howard.

Claude Brown Yeah.

Studs Terkel And you hope, perhaps, someday to to do something in Harlem- To

Claude Brown To run for Congressman [coughs] and even become Congressman, not merely to run.

Studs Terkel At the last paragraph [Claude Brown coughs] of the book, and I think this, perhaps, the implications are here in this-- you always remember your father, who could not quite understand you, thought you were lying all the time. Remember the last paragraph, perhaps tells us what what everything's about.

Claude Brown Yeah, when, I said when I was very young, about five years old maybe younger, I would always be sitting on a stoop. I remember Momma telling me and Carol to sit on a stoop and not move away from in front of the door. Even when it was time to go up and Carol would Carol would be pulling on me to come upstairs and eat. I never wanted to go because there was so much out there in that street. You might see somebody get killed or cut. I could go out in the street for an afternoon. I would see so much that when I came in the house I'd be talking and talking for what seemed like hours. Dad would say, "Boy why don't you stop that lying. You know you didn't see all that. You know you didn't see nobody do that." But I knew I had.

Studs Terkel You knew you had. And the way society sometimes says, "Oh this is really not so," but you know it so.

Claude Brown Yeah. An-- believe me it's

Studs Terkel And this is the world "Manchild in the Promised Land." No solutions are offered here. It's simply an autobiography. The solution is up to society