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Brown, Claude, 1937-2002.
US lawyer, playwright. He grew up in a world of crime, gang wars, and drugs described in "Manchild in the Promised Land;" graduate of Howard University.
 
 

Quotations:
 

You don't mess with a man's money; you don't mess with a man's woman; you don't mess with a man's family or his manhood these were a man's principles . . .

The language of soul. . . possesses a pronounced lyrical quality which is frequently incompatible to any music other than that ceaseless and relentlessly driving rhythm that flows from poignantly spent ideas.

 Man, you not givin' us another chance. You givin' us the same chance we had before.
 For where does one run to when he's already in the promised land?

 Despite everything that Harlem did to our generation, I think it gave something to a few. It gave them a strength that couldn't be obtained anywhere else.
 
 

http://www.aaregistry.com/african_american_history/1049/Claude_Brown_another_Harlem_success
 

http://secure01.win.net/aalbc/claude1.htm
 
 

Claude Brown

Age: 64

writer who vividly chronicled his experiences growing up poor in Harlem alongside drug dealers, murderers, and prostitutes in his 1965 bestseller Manchild in the Promised Land. The book reached a wide audience and exposed the masses to inner-city black culture.

Died: Manhattan, Feb. 2, 2002
 
 
 
 

http://www.ncjrs.org/html/ojjdp/2000_5_1/pag2.html

Claude Brown

 Age: 62

Occupation: Author, Manchild in the Promised Land, a best selling autobiography on his youth in Harlem, New York. Freelance writer, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine.

Residence: Newark, New Jersey.

Education: Howard University and Rutgers Law School.

Delinquency History: Graduated from youthful fights and shoplifting to drug sales and assault. He served time in a New York juvenile detention center, and two upstate youth training schools, including the Wiltwyck and Warwick schools for boys.
 

"When the bus was all loaded and ready to take us back to the Youth House, one of the boys in the seat behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, shorty, ain't that your mother standin' on the court stoop? Man, she's cryin."

"I said, 'So what?' as if I didn't care. But I cared. I had to care. That was the first time I had seen Mama crying like that. She was just standing there by herself, not moving, not making a sound as if she didn't even know it was cold out there. The sun was shining, but it was cold and there was ice on the ground. The tears just kept rolling down Mama's face as the bus started to pull away from the curb. I had to care. Those tears shining on Mama's face were falling for me. When the bus started down the street, I wanted to run back and say something to Mama. I didn't know what. I thought, maybe I woulda said, "Mama, I didn't mean what I said, 'cause I really do care." No, I wouldn'a say that. I woulda said, "Mama, button up your coat. It's cold out here." Yeah, that's what I forgot to say to Mama."—Manchild in the Promised Land, 1965.

Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land, published in 1965, just as America's involvement in the Vietnam War was escalating, is an autobiography of his youth in Harlem, New York; the story of how he survived "street life." Brown originally thought he might sell 100 copies of the book, but he soon received letters from soldiers overseas that foretold the 4 million copies it would sell, and how important Manchild would become.

"I would get letters from brothers who were stationed in Vietnam, who were from places that I didn't think had blacks," Brown says. "They would write things like, 'Hey brother, are you sure your father didn't have a twin, because he sure sounds like mine.' And some would say, 'thanks for writing our story.'"

"I realized after reading some of these letters, this wasn't just my biography. It was the biography of an entire generation of African Americans," he says. "And that is why it sold so many copies, and that's why it was such a significant contribution to American literature at the time."

Sadly, the story of today's African-American boys too often includes a chapter with a mother crying on the court house steps as their children are bussed away. But today, Claude Brown knows they are less likely to end up in the nurturing environment he wrote about in Manchild, the Wiltwyck School for Boys in upstate New York (to which he dedicated the book). Instead, they are heading to adult prisons or crumbling juvenile detention centers. The 62-year-old author and intellectual spends plenty of time with young offenders in America's jails, prisons and detention centers, and thinks he knows at least some of the reasons why it's hard for them to climb out of the "street life."

"One of the worst things that happened in my lifetime was the demise of the Wiltwyck school, and so many [other] facilities when they were most needed," he says. "There should have been a hundred more of this type of facility."

He knows, too, that reforming programs for the nation's at-risk youth is more complicated than just building 100 more training schools. While he dedicates his book to Wiltwyck, where he was sent at age 11, Brown kept committing crimes well into his late teens, long after leaving Wiltwyck, and even after several stints in Warwick, a more hardened upstate school for juvenile offenders.

"When Manchild first came out, everybody asked, 'How did you do it, what's the formula?'," he says. "There are no formulas for life."

Claude Brown's crime run began at the tender age of 8. His father, a dock worker, would frequently beat him and his siblings when they got into trouble, and his mother struggled with the juvenile court to get him into the best state delinquency programs. But nothing seemed to prevent Brown from breaking the law. In spite of his unstable, alcoholic father, and the poverty of his youth, his siblings all grew up to lead normal lives.

Wiltwyck was the first place Claude Brown met any African-Americans who finished high school, let alone college. He found positive influences in the kinds of adults he met there.

"I was the black sheep of the family," he says. "Also, life on the streets, it was pretty exciting life for an 8-year-old."

He started stealing from cash registers, shoplifting, and playing hooky at age 9. The court made his parents send him to live with grandparents in South Carolina for a year. As soon as he came back, he began running with his old gang again, stealing and fighting. After a series of stints in New York City's juvenile home, Brown was 11 when the court ordered him to Wiltwyck for two-and-a-half years.

While he kept up a reputation as the school's bad boy, he found positive influences in the kinds of adults he met there. Wiltwyck was the first place Brown met any African-Americans who finished high school, let alone college. He also wrote warmly of dinners he spent at Eleanor Roosevelt's home, who helped found the school (and to whom he also dedicated the book).

But it was his relationship with a white man, with the European executive director of the school, that left the most lasting impression on him. At Wiltwyck, Brown constantly battled with Ernst Papanek for the loyalty of the school's residents. Only after he left did he and Papanek become friends, and did he come to appreciate his help, and the other staff at Wiltwyck. Papanek kept in touch with Brown over the years and encouraged him to go back to school. Even at Warwick, the much tougher training school he later attended, he found positive influences in Mrs. Cohen, who gave Brown books to read, and encouraged him to finish high school and told him he was smart enough to go to college.

"Eventually, it started getting to me," Brown says. But the positive influences in his life were balanced by negative ones, forcing him to choose his future.

"I spent a lot of time in correction facilities with adults and adolescents, and it is one of my deepest convictions that, of the guys I grew up with, most of them didn't have to be there."

After Wiltwyck, he returned to a life of crime, culminating in him getting shot in the abdomen and nearly dying while attempting to steal some bed sheets to finance drug purchases. Despite three more stints at Warwick, Brown continued to graduate to more serious offenses, including selling marijuana, then cocaine. The pieces finally came together in his life when a junkie named "Limpy" stole his drug stash at gunpoint. If Brown was going to stay in the game and maintain his reputation, he would have to shoot Limpy dead. A friend urged Brown to get out.

"I think if anybody on Eighth Avenue ever makes it, I think it could be you," the friend said. As he tells it today, Brown didn't really want to go to school, "but it seemed like the only exit."

Brown told his customers he was out of business, got some odd jobs to pay his way through, moved downtown to Greenwich Village and started evening high school when he was 17. He credits some of his success climbing out of street life to the luck of missing the scourge of heroin in Harlem—something he vividly describes in Manchild as having destroyed the next generation of Harlem hoods. Gradually, he parted ways with his gang. As his friends graduated from training school, to prison, he married a woman he met in night school and finally began to learn enough to seek out a college education.

In 1959, Brown entered Howard University in Washington, and on a visit the following year to Harlem, he saw how far he was from street life. He remembers getting off a bus in his old neighborhood, when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"This guy I had been to Wiltwyck with, and Warwick with, says "man, I just got out of Sing (Sing Sing State Prison). 'Everybody's up there, and we've been looking for you. If you were up there, we'd be running the joint.'"

Brown remembers his friend mentioning that he saved seats for him in all the different juvenile jails and prisons that defined his life. By the time he got to Sing, he decided, Brown wasn't going to show.

"And then he said in an accusatory tone, 'You know what someone said about you. Somebody said, you went to college.' And I said, 'Ah, you know, somebody is always lying about somebody or something.'"

"It was almost as if we had tacitly pledged allegiance to the criminal life," Brown says. "And you sort of felt like a traitor."

As he worked his way through a liberal arts degree at Howard, working part-time as a postal clerk, Brown began writing short stories and articles for non-paying intellectual magazines like Dissent (where his work was edited by Norman Mailer) and Commentary. At Howard, novelist Toni Morrison was his writing teacher. She frequently read and critiqued his early work. A publisher from MacMillan who had read some of these articles took Brown out for lunch, ("got me drunk," he says) and convinced him to write something about life in Harlem.

At that point, the longest thing Brown ever wrote was a 20-page short story. He had no idea how to write a book. Six months later, long after he spent the publisher's advance, he was nowhere. Then, he picked a copy of Richard Wright's Eight Men, a collection of short stories of eight people's lives, and it inspired him enough to write about Harlem through his own life story.

"I didn't know anything other than my own life, so that was what I wrote," he says. "I know people like to idealize things more, like, 'wrote to correct the world,' but that's how it happened."

"One of the worst things that happened in my lifetime was the demise of the Wiltwyck school, and so many [other] facilities when they were most needed. There should have been a hundred more of this type of facility."

Almost 35 years, and 4 million copies later, Manchild has become the second best selling book MacMillan ever published (the first was Gone with the Wind), and it was published in 14 languages. It launched his career as a writer, giving him a platform to publish in Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and The New York Times Magazine. For a while, he attended law school, but dropped out when his writing and lectures developed into a full career.

Meanwhile, Brown started a family. He has two children by two marriages, and now, a grandson. Though living in Newark, New Jersey, he is still involved in Harlem and helping kids out of the street life. He works to maintain a program that mentors kids from Harlem, and helps them go to college. Brown also supports a Newark-based program that diverts kids caught up in the court system into an intensive eight week residential treatment program that tries to turn young people's lives around.

"All these kids get a copy of Manchild, and I come in to talk to them when they come in, and 8 weeks later," Brown says. "You get a lot of interesting turn-around, and positive changes."

While Brown sees more positive changes, and positive influences in community structures than ever before, he argues that at-risk kids have greater needs than ever before. That, and a mix of harder drugs, and change in culture, produced a different kind of childhood criminal than he and his gang were. In the 1980s and early 90s, Brown spent many of his visits to juvenile detention centers and prisons trying to understand the senseless violence being committed by muggers. Why, he asked, were their victims shot dead, for "chump change"?

"You shoot them if they don't have any money. You shoot them after they give it up. Why?" Brown asked. "And they would tell me things like, 'Well, it's what you do.' And I would say, 'No, I've been there. That's not what you do.'"

Exasperated, Brown finally asked: "Do you mean that [shooting your victims] is like, style, like wearing blue jeans? And they would say, 'yeah, that's it.'"

Brown thinks many of these kids he has visited in detention are victims of a kind of "society endorsed abandonment," and that that is the heart of the juvenile crime problem. "The most common form of child abuse in America, regardless of socioeconomic status, is neglect," Brown says. "The rich abandon their kids to boarding schools, and the poor, to TV. What happens when you abandon a whole generation to TV is you get a lot of kids who think, 'TV's not real, maybe I'm not real, either.' 'Let's go out and shoot somebody.' You want to cut crime, we have to stop abandoning our kids."

Positive Change. Positive Influences. Claude Brown says he believes, instinctively, that most of the kids he ran with, along with most of the kids today can be turned around.

"They were good people," he says of his former street gang. "I spent a lot of time in correctional facilities with adults and adolescents, and it is one of my deepest convictions that, of the guys I grew up with, most of them didn't have to be there. They weren't necessarily bad or evil, they did the natural thing and succumbed to the environment. And every time I walk out of those huge prison gates, I sense, I could have been here."
 
 

ESSAY: POVERTY'S CHILDREN

May 6, 2002

Essayist Clarence Page of The Chicago Tribune considers the changing face of poverty.

CLARENCE PAGE: When author Claude Brown died, it brought distinct images to my mind, images of poverty etched in the faces of children in the dark canyons of Harlem. Each decade changes the face on poverty in the public eye and mind.
ACTRESS: I remember when those families took off on the road. Never had to lose everything I had in life.

CLARENCE PAGE: John Steinbeck gave us the Joad family: Migrant farm workers knocked down in the Oklahoma dust bowl, yet trying mightily to reach California's golden dream.Walker Evans and other photographers sent out by the Farm Security Administration brought back lasting images of real-life Joads, migrants with weary eyes and weather-beaten skin. In the early 1960s, Michael Harrington's book The Other America would alert the media and the Kennedy Administration to those he called "the invisible poor." Poverty still had a mostly white face in the TV reports of those days-- usually an Appalachian face.

In 1965, Claude Brown gave poverty another face, a big city face, with his autobiographical novel Manchild in the Promised Land. Vivid, violent, and unsentimental, Brown called it a novel, but it was his story, beginning with him getting shot, and running from the cops. "I ran. There was a bullet in me trying to take my life, all 13 years of it." He ran and the readers ran with him. The book has sold more than four million copies.

The '60s were a turbulent decade. By 1965, the civil rights bill had been passed. Yet a new calamity of crime and riots was erupting in America's cities. Young black males were becoming a new urban menace in the public eye. Brown painted a new American archetype: An urban Huck Finn with a black face fighting and hustling his way through dark, trash-filled canyons of American dreams. Brown's Harlem was so brutal that his buddies could throw another kid off a roof and run away before the body hit the ground.

His journey is marked by cold steel-- guns, knives, needles-- and vehicles that take him, not once, but several times to reform schools. Yet, despite his violent life, Brown's Manchild found redemption. He straightened out, went to college, attended law school, and wrote a best-seller. He dedicated his book to Eleanor Roosevelt, who founded the Wiltwyck School for boys in upstate New York, and to the Wiltwyck School, "which is still finding Claude Browns," he said. If Claude Brown could be redeemed, he was trying to say, so could others. All they needed, it appeared, was someone who cared.

Claude Brown's story seemed to both define and defy the culture of poverty argument that Oscar Lewis made popular in the 1960s and 1970s with his studies of poor Latino families. Poverty creates a debilitating culture, Lewis argued, one that the poor cannot lose even if they ceased to be poor. By the 1980s, the culture of poverty image seemed to prevail. Ronald Reagan advanced welfare reform to break the "cycle of poverty," they said, for the "urban underclass," a new label for the long-term poor, particularly black Americans left behind by the civil rights revolution.

Even Claude Brown grew dismayed with the worsening condition of the young gangsters and delinquents he came to know in the new hip-hop generation. His generation had it bad, he said, but this new one, in an era of drive-by shootings and crack cocaine, seemed worse off, even more tragically devoid of hope.

Claude Brown died in February of a lung condition. He was 64. He never wrote another best- seller, and poverty seems to have a new face in the age of welfare reform: The working poor, trying to make ends meet, trying to raise their kids with wages too low to lift them out of poverty. Others have fallen between the cracks, off the welfare rolls, but not onto anyone's payrolls. The poor, it seems, are becoming invisible again. Yet, as Brown wrote, there are more Claude Browns out there, still trying to reach the promised land.

I'm Clarence Page.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tribute to Claude Brown, author, "Manchild in the Promised Land"

The Building Blocks for Youth initiative mourns the loss of Claude Brown, author of "Manchild in the Promised Land." Claude, who had been in trouble as a youth, was featured in the book, Second Chances, about successful juvenile court graduates. Claude's book served as a source of inspiration for many, and his willingness to talk with youth in and out of the juvenile justice system about his life and his book cannot be forgotten. Thank you Claude for your work and your inspiration.

To read "Homage to remarkable Claude Brown" an opinion editorial in the Chicago Tribune written by Steve Drizin, Supervising attorney at Northwestern University School of Law's Children and Family Justice Center in Chicago visit: http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0202180130feb18.story

To read about Claude's life, visit CJCJ's website at:
http://www.cjcj.org/pdf/secondchances.pdf
pp. 29-34
 
 

from Second Chances, p. 29-34

Claude Brown

“When the bus was all loaded and
ready to take us back to the Youth House,
one of the boys in the seat behind me tapped
me on the shoulder and said, `Hey, shorty,
ain’t that your mother standin’ on the court
stoop?.... Man, she’s cryin.”

“I said, ‘So what?’ as if I didn’t care. But I
cared. I had to care. that was the first time I
had seen Mama crying like that. She was just
standing there by herself, not moving, not
making a sound as if she didn’t even know it
was cold out there. The sun was shining, but
it was cold and there was ice on the ground.
The tears just kept rolling down Mama’s face
as the bus started to pull away from the curb.
I had to care. Those tears shining on Mama’s
face were falling for me. When the bus
started down the street, I wanted to run back
and say something to Mama. I didn’t know what. I thought, maybe I woulda said,
“Mama, I didn’t mean what I said, ‘cause I really do care.” No, I wouldn’a say that.
I woulda said, “Mama, button up your coat. It’s cold out here.” Yeah, that’s what I
forgot to say to Mama.”- Manchild in the Promised Land, 1965.
 

CLAUDE BROWN
Age: 62

Occupation: Author, Manchild in the Promised Land, a best selling
autobiography on his youth in Harlem, New York.
Freelance writer, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The
Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine.

Residence: Newark, New Jersey.

Education: Howard University and Rutgers Law School.

Delinquency History History: Graduated from youthful fights and shoplifting to drug sales and assault. He served time in New York’s juvenile detention center, and
two upstate youth training schools, including the Wiltwyck and
Warwick schools for boys.
 

Second Chances
30
Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, published in 1965, just as
America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was escalating, is an autobiography of
his youth in Harlem, New York; the story of how he survived “street life.” Brown
originally thought he might sell 100 copies of the book, but he soon received letters
from soldiers overseas that foretold the 4 million copies it would sell, and how
important Manchild would become.

“I would get letters from brothers who were stationed in Vietnam, who were from
places that I didn’t think had blacks,” Brown says. “They would write things like,
`Hey brother, are you sure your father didn’t have a twin, because he sure sounds
like mine.’ And some would say, `thanks for writing our story.’”

“I realized after reading some of these letters, this wasn’t just my biography. It was
the biography of an entire generation of African Americans,” he says. “And that is
why it sold so many copies, and that’s why it was such a significant contribution to
American literature at the time.”

Sadly, the story of today’s African-American boys too often includes a chapter with
a mother crying on the court house steps as their children are bussed away. But
today, Claude Brown knows they are less likely to end up in the nurturing
environment he wrote about in Manchild, the Wiltwyck School for Boys in upstate
New York (to which he dedicated the book). Instead, they are heading to adult
prisons or crumbling juvenile detention centers. The 62-year-old author and
intellectual spends plenty of time with young offenders in America’s jails, prisons
and detention centers, and thinks he knows at least some of the reasons why it’s
hard for them to climb out of the “street life.”

“One of the worst things that happened in my lifetime was the demise of the
Wiltwyck school, and so many [other] facilities when they were most needed,” he
says. “There should have been a hundred more of this type of facility.”
He knows, too, that reforming programs for the nation’s at-risk youth is more
complicated than just building 100 more training schools. While he dedicates his
book to Wiltwyck, where he was sent at age 11, Brown kept committing crimes well
into his late teens, long after leaving Wiltwyck, and even after several stints in
Warwick, a more hardened upstate school for juvenile offenders.
“When Manchild first came out, everybody asked, `How did you do it, what’s the
formula?’,” he says. “There are no formulas for life.”
 

Second Chances
31
Claude Brown’s crime run began at the tender age of 8. His father, a dock worker,
would frequently beat him and his siblings when they got into trouble, and his
mother struggled with the juvenile court to get him into the best state delinquency
programs. But nothing seemed to prevent Brown from breaking the law. In spite of
his unstable, alcoholic father, and the poverty of his youth, his siblings all grew up
to lead normal lives.

“I was the black sheep of the family,” he says. “Also, life on the streets, it was pretty
exciting life for an 8-year-old.”

He started stealing from cash registers, shoplifting, and playing hooky at age 9. The
court made his parents send him to live with grandparents in South Carolina for a
year. As soon as he came back, he began running with his old gang again, stealing
and fighting. After a series of stints in New York City’s juvenile home, Brown was
11 when the court ordered him to Wiltwyck for two-and-a-half years.

While he kept up a reputation as the school’s bad boy, he found positive influences
in the kinds of adults he met there. Wiltwyck was the first place Brown met any
African-Americans who finished high school, let alone college. He also wrote warmly
of dinners he spent at Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, who helped found the school
(and to whom he also dedicated the book).

But it was his relationship with a white man, with the European executive director
of the school, that left the most lasting impression on him. At Wiltwyck, Brown
constantly battled with Ernst Papanek for the loyalty of the school’s residents. Only
after he left did he and Papanek become friends, and did
he come to appreciate his help, and the other staff at
Wiltwyck. Papanek kept in touch with Brown over the years
and encouraged him to go back to school. Even at Warwick,
the much tougher training school he later attended, he
found positive influences in Mrs. Cohen, who gave Brown
books to read, and encouraged him to finish high school
and told him he was smart enough to go to college.
“Eventually, it started getting to me,” Brown says. But the
positive influences in his life were balanced by negative
ones, forcing him to choose his future.

After Wiltwyck, he returned to a life of crime, culminating
in him getting shot in the abdomen and nearly dying while
attempting to steal some bed sheets to finance drug

Wiltwyck was the first place Claude Brown met
any African-Americans who finished high
school, let alone college. He found positive
influences in the kinds of adults he met there.
 

Second Chances
32
purchases. Despite three more stints at Warwick, Brown continued to graduate to
more serious offenses, including selling marijuana, then cocaine. The pieces finally
came together in his life when a junkie named “Limpy” stole his drug stash at
gunpoint. If Brown was going to stay in the game and maintain his reputation he
would have to shoot Limpy dead. A friend urged Brown to get out.
“I think if anybody on Eighth Avenue ever makes it, I think it could be you, “ the
friend said. As he tells it today, Brown didn’t really want to go to school, “but it
seemed like the only exit.”

Brown told his customers he was out of business, got some odd jobs to pay his way
through, moved downtown to Greenwich Village and started evening high school
when he was 17. He credits some of his success climbing out of street life to the
luck of missing the scourge of heroin in Harlem—something he vividly describes in
Manchild as having destroyed the next generation of Harlem hoods. Gradually, he
parted ways with his gang. As his friends graduated from training school, to prison,
he married a woman he met in night school and finally began to learn enough to
seek out a college education.

In 1959, Brown entered Howard University in Washington, and on a visit the
following year to Harlem, he saw how far he was from street life. He remembers
getting off a bus in his old neighborhood, when he heard a familiar voice call his
name.

“This guy I had been to Wiltwyck with, and Warwick with,
says “man, I just got out of Sing (Sing Sing State Prison).
‘Everybody’s up there, and we’ve been looking for you. If
you were up there, we’d be running the joint’.”
Brown remembers his friend mentioning that he saved seats
for him in all the different juvenile jails and prisons that
defined his life. By the time he got to Sing, he decided,
Brown wasn’t going to show.

“And then he said in an accusatory tone, ‘You know what
someone said about you. Somebody said, you went to
college.’ And I said, “Ah, you know, somebody is always
lying about somebody on something’.”

“It was almost as if we had tacitly pledged allegiance to the
criminal life,” Brown says. “And you sort of felt like a
traitor.”

“I spent a lot of time in correction facilities with
adults and adolescents, and it is one of my
deepest convictions that, of the guys I grew
up with, most of them didn’t have to be there.”
 

Second Chances
33
As he worked his way through a liberal arts degree at
Howard, working part-time as a postal clerk, Brown began
writing short stories and articles for non-paying intellectual
magazines like Dissent (where his work was edited by
Norman Mailer) and Commentary. At Howard, novelist
Toni Morrison was his writing teacher. She frequently read
and critiqued his early work. A publisher from MacMillan
who had read some of these articles took Brown out for
lunch, (“got me drunk,” he says) and convinced him to
write something about life in Harlem.

At that point, the longest thing Brown ever wrote was a
20-page short story. He had no idea how to write a book.
Six months later, long after he spent the publisher’s
advance, he was nowhere. Then, he picked a copy of
Richard Wright’s Eight Men, a collection of short stories
of eight people’s lives, and it inspired him enough to write
about Harlem through his own life story.

“I didn’t know anything other than my own life, so that
was what I wrote,” he says. “I know people like to idealize things more, like, ‘wrote
to correct the world,’ but that’s how it happened.”

Almost 35 years, and 4 million copies later, Manchild has become the second best
selling book MacMillan ever published (the first was Gone with the Wind), and it
was published in 14 languages. It launched his career as a writer, giving him a
platform to publish in Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and The
New York Times Magazine. For a while, he attended law school, but dropped out
when his writing and lectures developed into a full career.

Meanwhile, Brown started a family. He has two children by two marriages, and
now, a grandson. Though living in Newark, New Jersey, he is still involved in Harlem
and helping kids out of the street life. He works to maintain a program that mentors
kids from Harlem, and helps them go to college. Brown also supports a Newarkbased
program that diverts kids caught up in the court system into an intensive
eight week residential treatment program that tries to turn young people’s lives
around.

“All these kids get a copy of Manchild, and I come in to talk to them when they
come in, and 8 weeks later,” Brown says. “You get a lot of interesting turn-around,
and positive changes.”

“One of the worst things that happened in my
lifetime was the demise of the Wiltwyck school,
and so many [other] facilities when they were
most needed. There should have been a
hundred more of this type of facility.”
 

Second Chances
34
While Brown sees more positive changes, and positive influences in community
structures than ever before, he argues that at-risk kids have greater needs than ever
before. That, and a mix of harder drugs, and change in culture, produced a different
kind of childhood criminals than he and his gang were. In the 1980s and early 90s,
Brown spent many of his visits to juvenile detention centers and prisons trying to
understand the senseless violence being committed by muggers. Why, he asked,
were their victims shot dead, for “chump change?”

“You shoot them if they don’t have any money. You shoot them after they give it
up. Why?” Brown asked. “And they would tell me things like, ‘Well, it’s what you
do.’ And I would say, ‘No, I’ve been there. That’s not what you do.’”
Exasperated, Brown finally asked: “Do you mean that [shooting your victims] is
like, style, like wearing blue jeans? And they would say, ‘yeah, that’s it.’”
Brown thinks many of these kids he has visited in detention are victims of a kind of
“society endorsed abandonment,” and that that is the heart of the juvenile crime
problem.

“The most common form of child abuse in America, regardless of socioeconomic
status, is neglect,” Brown says. “The rich abandon their kids to boarding schools,
and the poor, to TV. What happens when you abandon a whole generation to TV
is you get a lot of kids who think, `TV’s not real, maybe I’m not real, either.’ ‘Let’s
go out and shoot somebody.’ You want to cut crime, we have to stop abandoning
our kids.”

Positive Change. Positive Influences. Claude Brown says he believes, instinctively,
that most of the kids he ran with, along with most of the kids today can be turned
around.

“They were good people,” he says of his former street gang. “I spend a lot of time
in correctional facilities with adults and adolescents, and it is one of my deepest
convictions that, of the guys I grew up with, most of them didn’t have to be there.
They weren’t necessarily bad or evil, they did the natural thing and succumbed to
the environment. And every time I walk out of those huge prison gates, I sense, I
could have been here.”
 



 

CLAUDE BROWN, B. 1937
Hard-Knock Lit
By MICHAEL ERIC DYSON
New York Times, Dec. 29, 2002
 

Claude Brown was fated, it seems, to narrate the story of his troubled generation of black men. He was born and reared in Harlem, the mythic heartland of black America. His father was an alcoholic railroad worker who beat Claude and his siblings. His mother was a devoted if exasperated woman who sought to get her son sent to juvenile-delinquency programs because, by the time he was 8, he'd already begun a life of crime. Brown was a gang member, a thief and a drug dealer. When he was a teenager, a drug addict shot him in the stomach. Somewhat miraculously, he eluded the designed-to-fail circumstances of his upbringing with the help of reform school. Eventually, at 22, he enrolled at Howard University, where he met Toni Morrison, a young writing instructor who encouraged and assessed his early literary efforts. Six years later, in 1965, he published his searing masterpiece, ''Manchild in the Promised Land,'' an autobiographical novel that has sold more than 4 million copies.
 
Brown says that the people he wrote about are ''sons and daughters of former Southern sharecroppers . . . the poorest people of the South, who poured into New York City during the decade following the Great Depression.'' I first read Brown's book when I was 12 years old. My mother and father had been swept to Detroit in the great migration of Southern blacks, in their case, from Alabama and Georgia. ''I want to talk about the experiences of a misplaced generation . . . in an extremely complex, confused society,'' Brown wrote. ''This is a story of their searching, their dreams, their sorrows, their small and futile rebellions, and their endless battle to establish their own place in America's greatest Metropolis -- and in America itself.'' I didn't just read those words; they read me. They plumbed my chaotic and violent urban existence and allowed me, for the first time, to interpret my experience as the child of two Southern souls wrenched from their native soil. It was the secular, though no less inspiring, literary twin to Malcolm X's autobiographical tale of redemption as self-invention.

''Manchild'' was Brown's one book. Strictly speaking, he wrote another, ''Children of Ham,'' in 1976, but ''Manchild'' was the one that his career lived on for more than 35 years. It would be easy to dismiss him as a man who hit literary pay dirt once and milked it for the rest of his life. But that would misunderstand the way Brown spent the balance of his years after writing the book -- trying to prevent younger, less hopeful, more dangerous Claude Browns from doing themselves in with the help of a callous state. He maintained a fierce belief that troubled children could be reached, because the boys he ran with as a youth were worth saving. ''I spent a lot of time in correctional facilities with adults and adolescents,'' he said. ''And every time I walk out of those huge prison gates, I sense, I could have been there.'' He was not alone.
 

Michael Eric Dyson is the author of ''Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur'' and the coming ''Why I Love Black Women.''
 


February 6, 2002
New York Times

Claude Brown, Manchild of the Promised Land, Dies at 64
By ROBERT F. WORTH

Claude Brown, whose 1965 book, "Manchild in the Promised Land," chronicled his ascent from a harrowing childhood of violent crime and poverty in Harlem and became a classic of American literature, died on Feb. 2 in Manhattan. He was 64.

The cause was a lung condition, said Laura Higgins, his companion.

"Manchild in the Promised Land" quickly became a best seller, opening up a new world to mainstream audiences with its raw narrative of a boyhood spent among killers, drug addicts and prostitutes. Though not published as a memoir, it closely paralleled Mr. Brown's life in virtually every detail.

"What many of us talk about in abstractions," wrote the critic Irving Howe, "is here given the quivery reality of a boy's life, his struggle, his efforts at understanding. This book contributes to our sense of what America is today."

Published at the height of the civil rights movement, the book reached far beyond the traditional literary world, drawing new attention to the lives of urban blacks. It has sold more than 4 million copies and has been translated into 14 languages. Today, it sells more than 30,000 copies a year and is required reading in many high schools and colleges.

Many saw the book's direct, profanity-laced style as a challenge to the reigning generation of African- American writers.

"Claude Brown makes James Baldwin and all that old Rock of Ages rhetoric sound like some kind of Moral Rearmament tourist from Toronto come to visit the poor," Tom Wolfe wrote in The New York Herald Tribune when the book came out.

Claude Brown was born in 1937 in Harlem and grew up in a tenement on 146th Street and Eighth Avenue with his younger brother and two sisters. His parents, a railroad worker and a domestic worker, had moved up from South Carolina two years before, like thousands of other Southern blacks seeking opportunities in Northern cities at midcentury.

As he wrote in the book: "Going to New York was goodbye to the cotton fields, goodbye to `Massa Charlie,' goodbye to the chain gang, and, most of all, goodbye to those sunup-to- sundown working hours. One no longer had to wait to get to heaven to lay his burden down; burdens could be laid down in New York."

Yet life in the promised land of New York turned out to be much harder than the migrants had imagined. Claude — known as Sonny to his friends and in the book — was expelled from school at 8, admitted to a street gang at 9, shot in the leg during a burglary at 13 and confined to a reform school at 14.

But by that time he had made the acquaintance of Dr. Ernest Papanek, a psychologist and the director of the Wiltwyck School for deprived and emotionally disturbed boys, which was in Ulster County, N.Y. Dr. Papanek, whom Mr. Brown described in his book as "probably the smartest and the deepest cat I had ever met," encouraged him to seek an education.

Eventually, he began attending night classes at a high school downtown, supporting himself by working as a busboy, deliveryman and other jobs. He went on to Howard University in Washington, graduating in 1965.

In his first year at Howard, Mr. Brown was asked by Dr. Papanek, his former mentor, to write an article for Dissent magazine. That article caught the attention of an editor at Macmillan, who took him to lunch and offered him a $2,000 advance to write a book. Two years later he delivered a 1,537 page manuscript in a grocery box. It was ignored for a year, and then a new editor, Alan Rinzler, was assigned to it.

"He had an authentic voice — violent, funny and optimistic," Mr. Rinzler recalled yesterday.

The heart of the book, to many, was its evocation of an astonishing culture of violence that gripped Harlem's poor children almost from birth. The book also bore terrifying witness to the way drugs had affected Harlem starting in the 1950's. Mr. Brown was lucky: his first experience with heroin, narrated vividly in the book, made him violently sick.

After the book came out, Mr. Brown went to law school, first at Stanford, then closer to home at Rutgers. He briefly contemplated a career in politics, and spent much of the following two decades writing magazine articles, lecturing and teaching. His second book, "The Children of Ham," published in 1976, told the story of a group of Harlem teenagers who escape from the influence of heroin. Perhaps inevitably, it was overshadowed and compared unfavorably with his first great success.

Mr. Brown always considered Harlem his home and continued to spend much of his time there even after moving to Newark in the 1970's.

His marriage to Helen Brown ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Higgins, he is survived by a daughter, Denise Brown Hallum of Burtonsville, Md.; a son, Dr. Nathaniel Brown of Boston; and one grandson.

In later years, Mr. Brown worked on a book comparing his own childhood experience of those of children growing up in Harlem in the 1980's, during the crack epidemic. He never finished it, but he did publish articles on the subject.

"In the New York City teenage gang fights of the 1940's and 50's we used homemade guns, zip guns and knives," he wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 1988. "Now America's inner cities have become the spawning grounds for adolescents who bear increasingly appalling resemblances to rabid, homicidal maniacs." He kept in touch with this group on his many visits to prisons.

Ms. Higgins recalled that he was just as at home talking to a senator as to a group of teenagers on the street. "He was one of the best negotiators of those two worlds," she said.