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47th Street Black: A Novelby Bayo Ojikutu
Synopses & Reviews
We use to watch the big cars roll west on 47th Street, Lord's sun shinin off black paint jobs, brighter than it shined against skin. We'd follow um for blocks-Southpark down to where the strip met Indiana Avenue at least. But they didn't never stop, not for us, not even for the red lights. Just rolled on through, afraid we'd jump on the fenders and take the joyride west, I suppose. Didn't want no ride, though, least I didn't. Alls I wanted was for the rich men hidin behind them car windows to show they faces, to nod. Gimme my respect-that was all I wanted.
The ol souls walkin the strip, they was the ones who told us why the big cars never stopped. Said them limousines had somewhere to be, business to tend, folk to bury. So I'd ask the darkest, drunkest of all-ask if we knew them cars wasn't never gonna stop, how come we kept followin west on the strip?
Ol 47th Street Black'd laugh, like I was a stupid young'un whose soul hadn't been lost long enough. When his chuckles was done, his voice'd creak from under his straw hat, like Grandma Rose's devil'd possessed him, talkin bout, "If this's all the Lord's gave us to do with life, what's wrong in followin big cars, boy? We know ain't none of um gonna stop, we just hope to catch up one day."
Then I'd laugh, cause that ol soul was the stupid one. Me, I didn't hope for no ride, just for that rich man to gimme my respect.
* * *
Mookie and me met way back, around '57. I remember comin out to the street-we lived in what they called West Kenwood back then, on 45th Street-and seein a little colored boy hittin balls up against folks' houses. I think he'd cracked one of Grandma's windows and I'd gone to check on things, to stop "all that heathen poundin," like how the ol lady called it. Minute I set eyes on Mookie out on the block, though, I couldn't do nothin but watch them baseballs getting crushed. Cat swung with a lead pipe, all by himself in the middle of our street. Coulda stopped him if I'd wanted-Mookie wasn't nothin but a bit bigger than me back then-but that sweet swing and the float it brung had me locked. Wasn't how the balls beat up the frame sidings or knocked over lawn decorations or shook up the fences. Mookie just made them fly so high-fifty, one hundred feet in the air and on down 45th Street. He was only a boy, eight or nine years ol himself, just a boy givin no thought to how far his balls popped or what they tore up, not studdin a thing but his swing.
"What you doin?" Took five minutes to get that outta my mouth.
"Said what you doin? My grandma told me to look on the street and find out what the racket is."
"Ain't no racket. Playin ball."
"Who you playin with, then? Don't see nobody else out here. Mus be playin by yourself, and you just don't wanna say it."
"Playin with the Lord."
"Ain't nobody else out here to catch or pitch to me, so I'm playin with the Lord."
Woulda got his tail whupped black to green if Grandma'd heard that kinda trash comin off his lips-so I knew right from the jump, the boy didn't have no good home trainin. He tossed his second-to-last ball above his head and slammed it to 45th Place.
After stumbling upon the body of their Chicago neighborhood's black liaison to the mafia, JC and Mookie, two high-school dropouts, exchange their dead-end existence for jobs with with local mob boss and for a life of flashy cars, expensive clothes, and women, a lifestyle that sends them on a dangerous path to confrontation. A first novel. Original. 20,000 first printing.
The prize-winning debut of an incendiary new voice in contemporary American fiction, 47th Street Black is the story of JC and Mookie, whose rise in the gangster-driven ghettos of Chicago is as swift as it is brutal.
In the early sixties, 47th street is the heart of black Chicago, where recent migrants from the South come to move up in the world. JC and Mookie are high school dropouts, playing stickball in the street when they stumble upon the dead body of the area's black liaison to the mafia. Where others would run, Mookie sees opportunity, and in no time he and JC are working for Salvie, the local boss. Within a year, they are the most infamous figures on 47th Street, best friends and partners with flashy cars, clothes, and women.
As they alternate telling their stories, the balance of power shifts: smooth, charismatic Mookie becomes the de facto leader and small, violent JC the enforcer—roles that send JC to jail for a murder they commit together. In the 15 years he's away, JC gains an education and a resentment he can't control, while Mookie gains power over the entire South Side. By the time JC is paroled, both the neighborhood and the two men's lives are on an inexorable path to an explosive confrontation with simmering injustice.
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