Shepherds of the Passaic
It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them how these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement, expression, and development; and how their loosening from prison would be a matter not simply of courtesy, sympathy, and help to them, but aid to all the world . . . It gradually permeates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear; that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world. They get excited; they talk louder; they gesticulate. Some of the passing world stop in curiosity; these gesticulations seem so pointless; they laugh and pass on. They still either do not hear at all, or hear but dimly, and even what they hear, they do not understand. Then the people within may become hysterical.
—W.E.B. Du Bois
(from ‘Dusk of Dawn’ 1940)
All of the old church doors swung wide open towards the littered streets of the Central Ward on that gray Thursday morning after. They had been left off-kilter, and some on very worn hinges as if there’d been some sort of fury that had blown from the pews in a cry from the Last Days, as mayhem erupted on the blocks. They had held inside, the secret promises that were prayed for along the silent prie-dieux, the priests danced high in their miserable frocks, the manic black women spilling out in every direction, senseless, like a murder of crows. There they stood open, still, in ornate design and heavy ancient handles, strewn flowers at the base, as ominous signs for the missing.
Frantic mothers and the old—in immaculate finery—swept onto the streets of Newark in a lyrical anthem, forming their own abatis, with thinly pointed nails and the Bible. The fires choked and burned slowly atop the poor shops and automobiles that lined the avenue, their destructive smells pressed upon the city like morning fog and lay there under the shade of tragedy.
The violent day rested heavily over the shards of sparkling glass that crackled and popped under the nervous feet of the national guardsmen like a roaring campfire. They fell on the city with their mechanical noises and high boots that clacked the streets with thunder. They fired their guns into lifeless buildings as the crowds were dared to move. They brought authority. Their faces were set in white granite and shaded eyes that leapt over the streets like gods, giving laws to the lawless that were all written in books. The riots had ended in an eerie silence as the new sun burned through holes in the sky over the shameful projects. The passion of rage began to slowly fade and move ubiquitously to a somber pain. Even the dogs took notice.
Throughout the neighborhoods were sharp blasts of hard white water that shot, projectile-like, into the hot July skies and splashed atop the burning city like a wave mixing with the smoke and mist—mollifying—into dreamy clouds that smothered the brutality of the day. The large cast-iron statues that stood brave to guard and honor its poor, could be seen bowing their heads sadly amongst the soft elms. Droplets of dried blood turned scarlet, speckled the numbers one, six, and eight on the hopscotch squares the young black girls had drawn here, where later, scattered tufts of bright green grass exploded in strange coincidences.
The communities had been prepared for these long days of protest that had spread through slum after slum in America as reminders of hard times. They talked repeatedly to their councilmen and lawmakers about how the sordid conditions in the projects caused desperation in men and the lives of their women. What would they take to their families? Soft brown heroin and the rats laid claim in the ghetto, while the listless dreams of men were being dashed on every corner telling the tales of the hopeless to anyone who cared to notice.
There was once a soul in Newark and its people lived in soulful ways. It threatened with a powerful beauty the whites that had planned for it what it was to be. There were singers and poets and mothers (what all the girls wanted to be) that lived their entire lives here, proud to tell the world, and through all their years they suffered, really had no other place to go. So when they fell, they fell with a bitterness, all together.
At Dillard’s, there were tired and wet families gathered to count the remains and help the injured find their way. Throughout the tavern at all the high-backed booths, were panic stricken girls tending to their beaten fathers and brothers, trying desperately to put them on the mend. The hospitals were full, packed chaotic men and the police wanting to exact their revenge; they too were hurting from the day. The blacks at Dillard’s held tight to each other as they’d done all the years before the battles had broken out, huddled with their blood and fears, watching their lives being played out again over the five o’clock broadcast.
James remembered when she came in. How the fan atop the front door gave a yawning wheeze that alerted his eyes, the steel blades slowly scraping against the metal casing. He braced with his shotgun for looters or the cops and saw beauty in her sad eyes, her skin turning yellow from the bullet she held in her chest. There was hardly any blood save for the burgundy stains that dripped through her hands. She did not scream. James thought he could love her now. He could tell she was in agony. On her back she lay, with short warm puffs of breath jumping through her swollen lips, her legs flailed aimlessly, stuttering in patterns of distortion back and forth, elusive, like the monarch butterfly.
“Come . . . Dianne . . . ” She reached her hand softly down to Wilma’s as the bay blew awkward smiles on their faces; Wilma lay in the mud-colored sand, her pretty peach arms coiled loosely over her head. Dianne touched her outstretched hand . . . Wilma led her down beside herself. The tall manila grass waved and trembled deliriously in the mist and river’s wind. The freshness, a high sweet scent that caught the air of sea birds flying gently through the kippered sky, she would always remember that protective smell. Dianne squinted her eyes while the fine dust from atop the sand hills sprinkled her face like stardust. She grabbed Wilma, leading her shoeless through the summer . . . they ran and tired by the rocky crag that shot along the cool shore. Looking back, they giggled as their footprints rhymed in the dark sand, standing together, as some four-legged creature, the afternoon rested on its face, then slowly, their prints dissolved into the river’s foam, invisibly.
Wilma, holding Dianne’s hand tightly so that she would care, dared herself to put her bare foot under the brown carcass of a large shoe-crab. She flipped it over, squeezing Dianne like her summer lover, they screamed and marveled at the prehistoric underside, its tentacles folded in a deathbed prayer, eyes hidden under its shell. Wilma thought quickly, Where had she come from?
“You are very brave,” Dianne said to Wilma.
“We all have to be,” said Wilma. They looked at each other, laughed, and went arm and arm chasing a soft white gaggle of seagulls, the blue heron looked on in indifference . . . they measured the afternoon’s tide and stood shivering in its thrust until the warm water reached the bottom of their dresses. They screamed out to the thunderous gray rush of sea till their sanity returned. They prayed to the clouds and the angels that pushed the winds in all the directions, and made secret pacts to each other to become whatever it was that they wished to become . . . their small hearts impressed, resting on forever.
Dianne spoke quickly, with her nimble little hands that held her expressions and thoughts, their promises all alike.
“I wanna live like the empress, an’a unicorn,” she said resting her knuckles boldly on her hips without shame.
“I’m gonna return a long time from right now like a phoenix,” Wilma challenged.
Dianne opened her mouth and hands in amazement at those thoughts.
They ran together up a small sand hill, reaching a sewn patch of wheat-colored grass . . . they sat crossed-legged on the dune, swallowed in the dust facing each other. Dianne wiped a smudge of dirt off of Wilma’s cheek, her laugh tinkling like tiny silver bells. Wilma’s large brown chunk of hair tumbled hysterically in the salty breeze. They became close like lovers do when one soul accepts the other, a selfless rush of hate that the inner spirit is now being shared, and a helplessness is embedded in the heart.
Dianne, her eyes touched with a light golden brown that sparkled like starburst and matched her long curled hair, loved Wilma, whose brown caramel skin and bushy light brown hair gave her the appearance of a burnt sunflower. She gave in as best she could. They came together on their knees hiding in the shadow of the old lighthouse on the cliff’s edge, the tall grass swaying in the toasted summer’s heat. Soft, tender lips that were meant for bubblegum and balloons, smashed into one another in hot child’s breath pushing out through their giggles, their hands holding the truth to their love.
Dianne opened her eyes and felt her fear tighten in the middle of her chest, then go away. She pulled her hand from Wilma’s dress, sliding her wet licks above her upper lip stalking the inside of her nose. Wilma’s soul ran away from Dianne and she gently pushed her away with her pretentious shame. Dianne thought of the rabbit that they kept at her school, how it barely fit into its cage, its eyes locked on the mock garden below the teacher’s table. The Easter holiday only a month away.
Wilma’s face shriveled up like a glove. Holding back, she told Dianne that she was disgusting. Dianne laughed, a laugh more sinister because she was only 10, but inside she felt that it was something that could be called true. She became somber. Not in an embarrassed or shameful of way, but more like a sickness that she just could not help, though she did remember once, being told by her aunt that she was full of charm . . . she began to think, There must be a boy inside of me.
So she lived like that, hiding her scoutish ways from her father until her thoughts became all too apparent. She collected baseball cards and marbles that Wilma helped her hide, buried under a gangly thicket, every summer at the Kill, along with the complexities of life that only Wilma could answer, a coverless copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles and a bag of spent syringes.
“Look at me, how beautiful I have became . . . almost perfect . . . I look like honey, blackless honey . . .my hands and arms are elegant . . . my smell is new and honest. Look at me, how beautiful . . . I ain’t like Joyce or Momma, but different and pure. Joyce is beautiful too, but her beauty is contrived and practiced, whereas mine has always belonged. My eyes pressed subtly to life.”
It had been at least a week now, Dianne was sure, since she had seen the first of the patrol cars muscling their way in on ______ Street, to the slow, deliberate stares of men. The smoke had cleared some now. She could see the reality of it all walking up to her like a stranger. There were tall white men with flashing cameras and business-like hats crawling up and down her block, taking the snapshots from her life. The ambulance workers did their work quietly administering in the most unassuming positions. All of this, Dianne began to take on as a purpose that had been built up in her by the dramatic changes in her day.
There blew an odor over Newark, that, when mixed with the acidic plumes from the chemical plants and a sharp easterly coming off the Passaic, reminded her of chlorine. Like the first pool opening of summer. But it was not the pool opening or the 4th of July Bar-B-Q or the melodic rides down to Kill Van Kull with the windows down, laughing at the wind and the sun splashing in your face that Dianne was thinking about today. She had lost her persuasion. Even her ears began to burn, when, on a tempestuous summer’s day, she had awakened to the sounds of war.
She was so tired of crying. She felt herself becoming immune to all of the panic. She did not remember what exactly happened to her mother, there were children lost in the fray also, but she knew for sure her father was gone. She had seen that much. She looked on through the billowing smoke and coughing trees, and saw all of her people hanging in mid-air trying to go back to what yesterday was. But yesterday was gone too.
Dianne walked impetuously through the ruins of her ward like the great Atlantas, surveying what was left of men. She paused respectfully for all the brokenhearted who greeted her on every corner. “Did ya’ see my father, Mr. Pulley?” “Have anyone seen my Wilbur?” rang hard in the girl’s ear like the calling from the belfry, searchingly through the riots. The old people stared sadly at the girl, not directly in her eyes though. Just at her coming. Afraid, they’d known all of the stories from the past lives of Newark’s Central Ward. Holding the children together with wrinkled tales of hope and promise, whined with the “aw baby show us,” bizarre trappings of the slave families that dotted the Northern Colonies. They saw in Dianne’s family a porch nigger mentality that she was never forgiven for. They tried to love her as a child of their own and for all intense purposes they did, but the harmony that was imprinted on the ward by the holy, only masked the truths they knew about her father and made their living something that was only cosmetic. They could not find any answers.
Dianne watched as all the church clergy gathered under the tall red oaks, humming their prayers of sorrow and deliverance for all of their people. On the corners still, were defiant young men covered in hate, breathing fire into the air. Dianne fell to her knees, choking from a blast of hot black smoke. She sensed the end of everything she had ever known to be normal had come. She needed someone to hold onto. She got up from her knees, crying again, thinking of her lover and God. Looking back on at the chaos in the broken streets, she prepared herself for all things coming to an end.
She thought her house was still on fire. She placed both hands on her chest and realized it was her. She sat down with a jewelry box and some family photos turned yellow from the times.
The Central Ward had become a graveyard for the lives and dreams in her ghetto. While Leroi Jones blew the flames of revolution in her eyes. Wilma reached and opened her door to forever.
There . . . “there’s Momma and Joyce standin’ on the porch stairs in front of the house . . . their eyes all squint up lookin’ in that hot August sun . . . Joyce, wrinkling up her round nose, cause a that big ‘ol sour smellin trash truck rollin through all a’ that smoke and dust . . . that truck comes by every day when we were just comin out to get the milk . . . Joyce didn’t seem to care on any other day, but she knew today that Momma was gettin up to take these pictures today, cause we all knew that Percy was gettin ready to leave an go to war, so she just punched her nose up at anything that wasn’t perfect, knowin she’d get Momma in a tizzy . . . Percy was still packin’ an Alvin didn’t want to wait no more so he just took this one when nobody wasn’t ready . . . Momma had that broken up smile on, just standin’ there holdin’ on to all her pain . . . you can see all her story lines in her face . . . I knew she just wanted to hide herself from the sun and all the attention people was takin’ to her . . . I still needed Momma though then . . . so did Alvin and Joyce . . . why did we have to become fractured cause a’ her pain . . . there I am . . . I felt so strange then . . . like I was a ghost and moved through everybody’s tempered feelings in the house . . . I was not able to have my own . . . I was so apart from them . . . their perfect giggles and soft hand maneuvers, this, I knew, I could never be . . . it was not their fault, really, actually now, lookin’ at things, I knew deep down, it was all entirely mine . . . look at Joyce, my big beautiful fragile sister wearin’ her favorite peach summer dress with that crystal smile of hers that kept Momma so well lit and full of life through all of the darkness that passed by her way . . . she wearin’ them bright red bobby socks, she wore ‘em every day, or so it seemed . . . Momma bought them for her ninth birthday, with that silly lookin’ one-piece pajama suit that she ran around in lookin’ like a little elf. Joyce was definitely Momma’s dream girl that I could never be. All of her was so enchanting . . . Joyce standin’ there with her hands twisting into each other, not really knowing what the camera is askin her to do . . . I wonder, did she know about me even then? She knew everything, ya know . . . she was I guess, perfect . . . but only to everyone else . . . daddy said she was ‘like a rose hiding from the mornin’ sun’, or from a blemish. Momma’s got her arms around Joyce’s arms, standin’ behind her with her head on her shoulder . . . Momma was pretty too . . . still slim and young lookin’ . . . she’s holdin Joyce like she’s her favorite little girl in the world . . . little patty-pan with her hip hitched up in her girlish poke and her body bathed in sweetness . . . she was at times pitiful though! I mean, she could have been a doll or somthin’ . . . she tried to cover me in her coyness and I thought I would suffocate. you couldn’t do nothin’ with Joyce around you . . . Momma said, ‘she walked with providence,’ whatever the hell that was . . . somthin’ really good, I’m sure.”
“No Dianne, I don’t think that it’s a good idea. What if somebody gets hurt?” “No Dianne, that’ll be way too late, Momma will have dinner ready.” I swear, sometimes she acted like Momma, and I knew I didn’t need no nutha’ Momma. I wondered sometimes if she was really three years older than me, actin’ the way she did, so oblivious to the real world. I remember when she told me— God I could have killed her— “I like being a young lady, Dianne, and young ladies don’t holler down the street at boys playing boy games and things, and mostly ladies never ever curse.” “Well Joyce since you’re the angel, and, you know, Jesus died for the rest of us, why can’t you jus’ tell God when you see Him to get us out of this smelly house and smelly neighborhood and to give us a pretty house, I mean that’s cause, since ‘You’ the angel an’ you don’t never say no bad words, God’ll listen to you!”
She literally looked through me. Really. Her eyes moved in on me like a hungry bird, and they was shinnin’ like two shiny black pearls. I was standin’ right in her face and I saw little puddles of water drippin’ over her bottom lashes. She looked down on me with that beautiful omnipotent, black-bitch- of-a-look that I never even knew she had, but I was dyin’ to try an’ pull it outta her. She raised her hands. I almost froze to death, wonderin’ if she’d actually hit me. Please hit me hard and draw blood so it’s enough to make me sick and hurt . . . at least sick enough that she’d be in trouble with Momma and Daddy and I could have Momma’s care and Daddy’s concern and lay in their big bed, just for the day or even a few hours, and Momma could stroke her healin’ hands softly over my face and ask me all day long, “How’s my baby? How’s my baby?” and I could say, “I’m sick,” even though I felt just fine, so as I could have Momma doin’ the best work of her life right down there on me and I wouldn’t have to see Joyce cause she’d be sent off somewhere doin’ the hard chores or just sittin’ in the stiflin’ grip of loneliness that used to come out of the closet every night and rock me to sleep; and she’d be unable to cry. But compassion didn’t come to me then, when I needed it most. And Joyce only grabbed her head and screamed that I was a foolish little girl who would never grasp being a lady and I’d have to say that that hurt me the most coming from her, even though I knew that she’d said bad words before—everybody does—but it was something that Joyce must’ve wanted to keep secret somewhere, ashamed in her corner.
Silently, behind a tree.
“Composure, Dianne. Life needs women like us, but we have to learn, as civil people, to maintain our bearings. Just to be, for me, Dianne, would never be enough to satisfy me.” She thought she could be cosmopolitan. I thought, who is she? I thought I never really knew her, that ethereal haunted voice. Her composure? I love her. I really do. I was just so sorry when she saw the rest of life . . . she walked right into it fearlessly, and she immediately broke in half. I was just glad Momma was gone.
Dianne started to cry again. From everything. She felt another life about to take hold of her, as if she had been waiting for it forever. She knew her momma had died from a broken heart, brought on by the things that sons and fathers do. She saw her momma walking right by her earlier today, frightened, smelling of black smoke and cinnamon. She ran with her fear like a maniac into the middle of ______ Street, where the chalk lines and blood had not yet begun to dry, and made all the automobiles that would stop, see what had happened to her neighborhood, scream all the way down the avenue.
She caused the people who drove along the streets just to get a glimpse of the scorned blacks who ‘lived in those godforsaken buildings like common dogs,’ or who came to collect some of the large shell casings left by the national guardsmen during their incursion, who became extremely nervous while their hands covered their mouths as they talked to themselves secretly. Wilma roamed back and forth, her arms raised high like the prophets. They kept their windows rolled tightly up, and watched the boys and girls being swallowed up by the streets. They made promises to themselves that they would never come here again, and for all they cared Newark didn’t really exist.
Once Dianne began to tire, the sun swung behind the old vacant brewery where Wilma’s father had worked when he was younger, and fell backwards into the Passaic. She slowly walked back to her house. She sat on the front stairs where Momma and Joyce used to sit during the summers talking about how the stories in the cinemas followed patterns in people’s lives, and if they, given the chance, would show the world just how beautiful and talented black women could be, if only given the chance, away from the deafening drone of the ghetto, they too could stand before the grand audiences at the cinema applauding dancing and adoring their expressions while they bathed in diamonds and called everyone who cared ‘dah-ling’. Remembering these scenes as black comedy, Dianne smiled at the thought. She closed her eyes for what felt like the first time and waited for her fathers bones to arrive.
In the Autumn days, below the shadows of Scudder Homes Projects, burned reflections of men—ashen shells from a celestial past—blew ethereally through the streets and alleys of Newark’s ______ side. They were the leftover heroes who had become weary caricatures succumbed to those inner city blues that carried the promises of drugs, crime, and heatless winters in echo-filled tenements that crisscrossed the great urban landscape. The faces these men carried were lined with anguish and despair, expressions of what had been forgotten, of the emptiness of what could be. These, the fathers and brothers, had found the down-trodden paths and all the circumstances that never would allow them to stray.
It was well known all through sanitation, but especially by the garbage men who lurked in the streets during the late hours of night and witnessed all of the horror, that Newark had become a city of brick traps for most of the people that lived here, whose hope fluctuated from week to week, yet could never summon the courage to leave. Not with the schools and the factory plants still a viable option, at least for the children. So this living, breathing, dire cry moved perpetually through the poor like some sort of terminal condition that breeded the diseases that hope carried, that gained resiliency every morning at five o’clock, when the hard cold dried colorless over the night.
The men who worked the graveyard shift kept their idols neatly tucked in their lockers at Waterlinks Sanitation, openly praying to them in neat congregations of twos and threes as their spirits slept harmlessly, knowing the inevitable and fortitude, the kind that comes from honoring thy father, was planted firmly at their door, their hung starkness and fear in their nights that they just could not get their families to believe. Poverty fell silently over the people of Newark, giving them no time to react or even decide whether or not they’d accept it. It held them all back together, purposefully against the stoic backdrop of the Passaic River. This is why the men at Waterlinks prayed, against all the goings in the night, while they watched their city crumble. They went on methodically with their duties and hid all of the dirt of their town from the rest of the world.
The prostitutes had become the very worst of creatures, stalking the long avenues at night with persistence. The people said that they were defeated and their minds lost. Those men and women who had chosen to go wild on their families, climbing the buildings from block to block, hanging ferociously over the streets, waiting for their small bags and poisons. Broken bottles and lone screams soared harrowingly over the night air, mothers crying out of windows to their sons who crept in and out of doorways and then slowly melted away. Large crowded automobiles opened to loud pangs of trumpet-infused music, voices of black souls, while the women of the night giggled, cried, and fucked their virtues away as the nodding sway of heroin walked them into a cold frenzy.
There was a ‘war over there,’ but the people of Newark stayed angry and looked in the streets and alleys for liberation, never understanding why the rest of America went all the way to Korea to find it. It became very sad in Newark. The garbage men would whisper this to their idols asking for help from above. The men from Seraphim burned and scorched the land. Everyone else stood by and watched.
Once, in Newark where the bakeries used to bake and the pharmacies administered, the people lived happily, and to some this felt like home. There were the city parks that weaved through the streets and avenues and held county fairs where the children came to play among the trees, where even the military parades still came through and all of the families gathered to watch. The reunions that lasted in the spring and summer months, taught the children to celebrate heritage and build up their pride. There were milkmen and mailmen and snowmen that lived their entire lives in Newark and all the children knew their names.
But as it was and was to happen, the sun it seemed, one day started to slowly disappear, and the cold hard hammered images of the ghetto made their way through everyone’s lives and the beginning of the end became all too apparent. No more achievements or great expectations came out of the projects, and the people there began to panic. The black-coated Jews sent their condolences along with the monthly bills in the mail. The Italians and the Polish found life better in the Bronx. Even the military parades decided to change their routes.
Dianne’s father had been in one of the last military parades when he’d come home from the war. Yes, they’d made a special seat for him and some of the other survivors stationed at Port Chicago the summer of ______, and he and the other men stood erect (those who could) when the blaring horns from ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ played their hearts to attention, and, for one fleeting moment, made them forget all about their blown off limbs.
He had returned, unlike so many others who had not, and found that America was unscathed by the Great War; Jim Crow still sat comfortably atop his perch. His new square foot, barely a hindrance to him, got him as much sympathy as the Jews did when they came to America, a blank moment of solace and stares of resentment. He came to Newark on the promise of a friend who’d told him of “some good work for them colored ex-military boys at all a’ dem new plants, an da’ont care ‘bout no dis-ablement. They’s wants a chance to say days’ patriotic, plus that aint no real dis-ablement no way!” He found that the work was good and felt that Newark did have promise. Not the promise of Harlem, that had endowed its greatness on the blacks and made life for them a gamble, but the promise of home and family, those resplendent things, that Courtland had missed so much.
America stood like a Sphinx, with its very own great importance, as a thing made entirely of dreams. It was standing, Courtland had once said, ‘to remind men of their Utopian genetics,’ and he found himself no different than those huddled masses that flocked to its shores. So he told himself that he was a builder like his father, but he found the hat too difficult a fit. He could never be the kind of man who’d have his conditions dictated to him. He would make his family strong and his mother proud and he’d move very well tempered through all of its wreckage. He noticed himself one day, aging and living out his fathers words. He became a very careful man and waited on his fears. They came to rest all around him.
“Courtland, ya gone naw b’woi’, ya made ya way, ya gone naw. Dem blue seas a’takin ya t’anotha day. Ya g’yan na . . . Court-land . . . ”
“O Mama, do ya hair like when me was little, wit da pretty scyaaf n’ yella bow. Mama do ya dance fo us like ya did when we’us little way ya swang to an fro. 0 Mama, make me’ya laugh like a clown, dem circus like dem little b’ear, my mama, shay-ke dem pots an rattle me turn-turn fo a’notha year.”
“Peterson . . . Courtland, A . . . Mr. Courtland?’
“No. Mr. Peterson.”
“Fill this out CORRECTLY, sir.”
In 1938, Harlem was on fire.
The city stood in platinum relief against the charcoal colored evening sky. It had been chiseled to perfection during the renaissance from the great migraters and now owed itself to the lonely stick-figured men who crowded its avenues and corners with million dollar dreams.
There were penciled-in images that played the smokey supper clubs every night and handed out ready-made promises to whoever would ask.
Spoken words that flowed like liquid mercury through the sounds of be-boping horns and beautiful hearts held in animation. Harlem was where cats, zoots, cabs, gals, clubs and smack did their thing to the perpetual harmony of easy street . . . Oh we must see . . . . “We must see.”
“Drum beat the words neon white, for Lokes’ ‘New Negro’! Light
symbols, for the Spirituals.”
Beat the time . . . Drum . . . Drum . . . Drum.
“Drum beat the taps to time.”
“Slide cats! Slide mama!”
Beat the time . . . Drum . . . Drum . . . Drum.
When Courtland came to America in 1933, he found the peripatetic life on the streets of Harlem breathtaking. He moved giraffe-like, around the blocks, slowly taking in all there was to see. The sneers and grunts of the city would at times bring alarm to his day, with he not yet able to comprehend the rituals that spun at him now. This was Harlem, USA, and Courtland had figured that he just didn’t belong yet to the fraternity of the certified blacks who proudly strutted up and down the avenue like self-appointed kings. The attitude was too audacious for him, though he found it all too necessary for inclusion in this domain. Harlem trembled under the feet of black men, and Courtland needed to find his way in.