Passing College

Topics: Black people, White people, Negro Pages: 85 (32754 words) Published: December 18, 2012
CliffsNotes on


including • • • • • • • Life and Background of the Author List of Characters Critical Commentaries Character Analyses Critical Essay Essay Topics and Review Questions Selected Bibliography

by William M. Washington, Jr. Detroit Public School System

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA 68501 1-800-228-4078 ISBN 0-8220-7274-2 © Copyright 1971 by Cliffs Notes, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Cliffs Notes on Manchild in the Promised Land © 1971


Claude Brown was born in 1937 and raised in Harlem--that district of Manhattan north of Central Park between Eighth Avenue and the East and Harlem rivers. His parents had moved up from South Carolina in 1935 and settled in a tenement at 146th Street and Eighth Avenue. Included in the family were two girls, Carole and Margie, and two boys, Claude and Pimp. The Browns were among the first of the waves of black migrants who left sharecropping farms in the South to come to the urban North. To these people, moving to the North meant a better life--a life in the "promised land." Claude--or Sonny, as he was called by his family and friends--spent his preschool days battling other boys in the streets of Harlem. He was encouraged to do so by the lifestyles of the street people. He was adopted as a mascot for an infamous Harlem bebop gang, the Buccaneers, and later became a member of its stealing division, the Forty Thieves. By the time he was ten years old, he had been in and out of New York's Children Centers and had been expelled from school several times. His parents reacted in two ways: His father tried to beat him into changing, and his mother pleaded with him, believing that Claude had been "born with the devil in him." Hoping that Claude would do better away from New York, his family sent him to live with his grandparents in South Carolina. During his year down there, he learned many of the ways of the South, including how to kill a hog. But a year away from the streets of Harlem served only to whet his appetite for more trouble. By the time he was eleven, he was committed to the Wiltwyck School, forty nine miles north of New York City, for emotionally disturbed and deprived boys. During his two-year stay there, he came under the influence of Dr. Ernest Papanek, who remained his close friend. Also at Wiltwyck, he made criminal contacts and learned criminal methods that would keep him involved in street life. Back in Harlem, Claude began selling and using marijuana. When he was fourteen, he was shot while stealing sheets and was sent to Warwick Reform School for the first of three terms. While serving as a houseboy, he became friends with Mrs. Alfred Cohen and, for the first time, he became interested in reading. He also discovered an interest in jazz music which would broaden his life later on. By 1953, Claude was out of Warwick and was working in the garment district of New York City. He soon quit the job to become a "hustler"--that is, to live by his wits in the streets, to deal in drugs and to "con" unwary visitors to the city. But because he was concerned that another arrest would give him a prison record and severely limit his options in life, Claude gradually moved away from his old haunts. At this time he was in a period of crisis because he had been robbed by a dope addict and, according to ghetto mores, had to hunt down the man and kill him. Fortunately, the police arrested the addict before Claude could act. At sixteen, he enrolled in evening classes at Washington Irving High School in downtown Manhattan. He supported himself during this time by working as a busboy, watch repairman, deliveryman, shipping clerk, postal clerk, and as a bookkeeper. He moved out of Harlem at seventeen and went to Greenwich Village. He found that he liked piano music and began taking lessons; he eventually acquired a...
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