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Рубин "Ураган" Картер - Шестнадцатый раунд


Also by Rubin “Hurricane”
Carter
Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from
Darkness to Freedom


Cover design: Matt Simmons,
Cover photo: © Bettmann/Corbis
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s fight
record reprinted from The Ring
Encyclopedia, 1967, by permission
of The Ring magazine.
© 1974 by Rubin “Hurricane”
Carter
All rights reserved
First harcover edition published by
Viking in 1973
First paperback edition published
by Warner Books in 1974
This edition published 2011 by
Lawrence Hill Books
An imprint of Chicago Review
Press, Incorporated
814 North Franklin Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
ISBN 978-1-56976-567-8
Printed in the United States of
America
5 4 3 2
Promised to . . .
Mae Thelma, who
blessed my life with Theodora,
who
together . . .
create the only two reasons why I
am
not lying flat on my back, knocked
out cold!
And . . .
everything else is irrelevant.
Acknowledgments
On this page I would like to
mention the least first—the ungodly
nemeses in my life who have made
it necessary for me to write this
book: the corrupt and vindictive
officials who played their roles to a
T in this tightly woven drama to
bury me alive, aided and abetted by
laws which simply do not protect
the sovereign rights of the
individual, as the Bill of Rights
requires, but the blatant wrongs of a
select few.
This is not to say that no pure
gems have passed through this
wretched life of mine, because they
came in droves, the most important
one being Linda Yablonsky, my
editor, the beautiful—and
sometimes disturbing—woman,
who waged an uphill battle in her
efforts to make a writer out of a
fighter, hoping to show in the final
analysis that the pen is indeed
mightier than the sword. But without
her nourishing the literary seed, this
story might not have been told in
this particular medium.
My deepest appreciation is also
extended to all those beautiful and
courageous people who, at the risk
of being incarcerated themselves,
still appeared in court to testify in
my behalf, stood firm on what they
knew to be the truth, and suffered
miserably for it at the hands of
Madam One-Eyed Justice. Those
people were Mrs. Catherine
McGuire, Mrs. Anna Mapes, Merrit
Wimberly, Welton Deary, Edward
Allen, Hector Martinez, and John
“Bucks” Royster.
I would also like to thank Peter
Rush, Ronald Lipton, Frederick
Hogan, and Billy Kilroy—four
honest police officers—who at one
time or another during the past
seven years traveled on their own
volition to the Rahway State Prison
to offer their assistance in the
struggle to set me free.
A special accolade goes to Frank
Earl Andrews, for his guidance in
ma ki ng The Sixteenth Round a
reality; to Mrs. Eleanor Howard,
for her consistent words of
encouragement, which somehow
always managed to come when
times were bleak; to Dave
Anderson of The New York Times,
whose enlightening articles exposed
my fate to the public; and finally, to
Richard Solomon—my main
kazaam—who at times could be
both warm and friendly, yet coldly
precise and highly critical, and who
always had his mind set toward
furthering our common goal—my
freedom.
Lastly, I would like to offer my
gratitude to all the people—
especially those millions of little
ones—who, despite their
Constitutional guarantees, are
always subjected to the abuse of the
law. Their strength has always been
a constant reminder to me that love,
compassion, beauty, and hope can
still survive, even under this
oppression.
For this I thank you one and all.
—RUBIN CARTER
September 1, 1973
Rahway State Prison,
New Jersey
Table of Contents
Also by
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Acknowledgments
THE PRELIMINARY
THE FIRST ROUND - The
Beginning
THE SECOND ROUND - The
Birth of Vengeance
THE THIRD ROUND - A Fight
for Life
THE FOURTH ROUND - Hell
Hath No Fury Like the State
Home’s Scorn
THE FIFTH ROUND - Here
Come the Headwhuppers!
THE SIXTH ROUND - The
Death of a Young Soul
THE SEVENTH ROUND -
Vindictiveness
THE EIGHTH ROUND - Free,
Free at Last!
THE NINTH ROUND - The
Epitome of Ignorance
THE TENTH ROUND -
Getting It All Together
THE ELEVENTH ROUND -
Trying to Make It Real
Compared to What?
THE TWELFTH ROUND -
Prison Is a Place Called Hell
THE THIRTEENTH ROUND -
Hit ’Em Hard and Hit ’Em Fast
THE FOURTEENTH ROUND
- The Awful Scream of Silence
THE FIFTEENTH ROUND -
American Justice—Jersey
Style
THE SIXTEENTH ROUND -
What Will Your Verdict Be?
PRIZE FIGHTING RECORD -
Rubin (Hurricane) Carter
Also Available from Lawrence
Hill Books
THE
PRELIMINARY
At about 3:00 a.m. on June 17,
1966, the late-night calm of
Paterson, New Jersey, was
suddenly shattered by the voices of
an angry white mob that had
gathered in front of a dilapidated
old bar and grill. The crowd
furiously pushed and shoved against
a cordon of police officers who had
surrounded the tired nightspot,
trying to get a look at the four
bullet-riddled, blood-smeared
bodies lying on the floor inside.
Their attention was momentarily
diverted as a five-car, sirenscreaming
cavalcade sped around
the corner and screeched to a
grinding halt in front of the tavern.
Several shotgun-bearing policemen
leaped out of their cars and
scrambled around a white Dodge
that they had just escorted to the
scene.
The chattering mob pressed
closer as the police forced the two
black occupants of the car out onto
the street. The two men were
confused by the hostile reception
the mob gave them, and they had
reason to be. I know, because I was
one of them.
“Get out of the car!” a bull-faced
cop snarled as he pulled open the
door. “Stand up against that wall
over there, and don’t move until I
tell youse to!”
Whatever else was wrong, I
knew that getting out of that car
might prove to be by far the worst
thing I could do. “What the hell did
you bring us here for, man?” I
asked, but the cop just backed away
and snaked out his pistol.
“Shut up!” he barked. There was
complete silence around us now.
Everybody in the street must have
heard me when I swallowed. The
cop pulled the hammer on his pistol
back to full cock. “Just get up
against that wall, and shut up!” he
growled.
Before I could think of anything
more to say, a paddy wagon and
several more ambulances added
further confusion to the already
congested area. I felt myself being
roughly searched, along with John
Artis, a twenty-year-old boy who
had been riding with me. Then we
were pushed into the stinking rear
of the paddy wagon and it took off,
leaving my car behind.
My mind began racing for an
explanation, but I could find none.
Things were happening too fast.
Before I had grasped the full
significance of my predicament, the
wagon slid to another halt at
Paterson’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Surrounded by squads of fully
armed cops, we were hustled out of
the truck and into an emergency
operating room. There, a crew of
doctors and nurses were frantically
trying to save the life of a balding
middle-aged white man. He had
been shot in the head. The bullet
had made a jagged exit from his left
eye. The room, along with almost
everything in it, was all white. Cops
dressed in blue, with white faces,
crowded around us. Not a black
man in the bunch. The sickly odor of
ether hung in the air, and the room
reeked of dried blood. I hated
hospitals. Especially this one.
“Can he talk, Doc?” asked the
bull-faced cop who a few minutes
earlier had acted like he was
Quick-Draw McGraw.
The doctor was clearly irritated
by our sudden intrusion into his
operating room. He glanced back
over his shoulder, giving the cops,
and then John and me, an annoyed
look. When he spoke, it seemed to
be with extreme reluctance.
“Yes, he can talk,” he said
finally. “But only for a moment.”
With the aid of one of the nurses, he
raised the victim’s head. The man
was weak, pale, and seemed nearly
dead; he had a ragged hole in his
face where his left eye had been.
“Can you see clearly, sir?”
Quick-Draw asked, absurdly. “Can
you make out these two men’s
faces?”
The wounded man nodded
weakly.
“Are these the two men who shot
you?”
For what seemed an eternity, the
injured man stared at me intently
with his one remaining eye, glanced
at John, then stared back at me some
more. I almost cried with relief
when he began to shake his head
from side to side.
“But sir!” the cop said urgently.
“Are you sure these are not the
men?”
Then I saw it coming. Everything
suddenly fell into place. I realized
with a deep-seated uneasiness that
if, in fact, two black men had shot
this man, then it would make no
difference to him that I was short,
and the boy with me tall; that I was
bald, bearded, and ugly while John
Artis had no hair on his face at all;
that I was black as virgin soot, and
he as yellow as the sun—because to
this critically injured man teetering
there on the brink of death, all black
people would look the same,
especially those the cops had
brought in.
I stood there watching the
tortured expressions of pain wash
over the one-eyed man’s face, and
felt a sharp pang of my own. But
unlike his, mine came only with the
memory of my past run-ins with the
cops, of past incarcerations and
hostilities. I closed my eyes and
clenched my fists in rage, and at that
moment I might indeed have been
able to commit murder.
“Dirty sonofabitch!” The words
spurted out of me so loudly and
suddenly that everybody in the room
turned in surprise and stared. “Dirty
motherfucker!” I cried out again,
and heard the despair in my voice.
Dirty motherfucker, I thought. Here I
go again.
THE FIRST ROUND
The Beginning
RUBIN, my Christian name,
comes from the Book of Genesis,
chapter 29, verse 32 of the Holy
Scriptures. Other than both of us
being black, that’s about the only
thing the Bible and I ever had in
common.
.HURRICANE is the
professional name that I acquired
later on in life. It provides an
accurate description of the
destructive forces that rage within
my soul.
CARTER is the slave name that
was given to my forefathers who
worked in the cotton fields of
Alabama and Georgia, and was
passed on to me. The name is like
any other—worthless—but it’s the
one that appears on my birth
certificate.
The kindest thing that I can say
about my childhood is that I
survived it. I was born of devout
Christian parents, May 6, 1937, in
Delawanna, New Jersey, a small
suburb of Clifton in Passaic County.
My father, like his father and his
eleven brothers, were all God’s
little children—preachers of the
faith. Since I was the youngest of
three sons, and neither of my
brothers desired to tread on the
heels of our religious father, it was
always hoped that when I became of
age, I would be the one to follow in
his footsteps and choose the
ministry as my way of life.
Considering that my father was a
senior deacon in an impressive
Baptist church, and that my family
was thought to be somewhat better
off than most, I can’t really say that
I was a victim of circumstance, or
that the environment of my early life
was unkind to me. I simply didn’t
have to bear the hardships and
miseries that some of my black
brothers and sisters living in the
ghettos did; trigger mechanisms of
violence—such as inadequate
supplies of food, clothing, or shelter
—were absent. My family didn’t
have the very best in material
advantages, but we always managed
to live comfortably.
I don’t know at what age one
becomes aware of the problems—
or rather, the moral precepts—
society lays down for us to live by,
but since my earliest recollections
are of a time I pressed my nose
against an icy window pane to
watch the snow falling outside, and
of heat, this autobiography begins
around the age of five.
This was during the winter of
1942, a cold, bleak period in the
United States: Pearl Harbor had just
been bombed, and America was at
war with two flanking countries at
the same time. Fuel and food were
being assiduously rationed out, and
confrontations across both seas
were rampaging furiously. At that
time my family consisted of three
boys and two girls: Lloyd Junior
was the oldest; then came Lillian,
James, and myself; then Beverly, the
baby.
Our home was in a four-family
apartment building in Passaic, and
since we didn’t enjoy the modern
conveniences we have today, our
principal fuel was wood or coal.
Our friendly heat-maker was a
monstrous, fuel-devouring fourplated
burner, which we considered
ourselves extremely lucky to have;
not all families had stoves of this
caliber then. Although our coal bill
was exceptionally high, the stove
was something we cherished.
My mother and father, Bertha and
Lloyd, were born and raised in
Georgia. On very cold evenings our
family would gather around that
homely stove and roast peanuts that
had been sent to us by relatives still
living in the South, while Dad
would tell us strange stories about
his childhood on the farm.
He would talk about stubborn
mules named Sam or Jennie—white
mules who wouldn’t plow unless
you called them “sir.” He also told
us about the snakes, coachwhipping
snakes that could beat a
man to death; ghosts that could
scare a man to death; and tobaccochewing
crackers whose greatest
pastime was tarring niggers,
hanging niggers, and just plain
killing black folks on some general
principle.
Although I didn’t understand the
reasons for the things the crackers
did to the niggers in Dad’s stories, I
would listen, enthralled, as his
voice turned to an emotional
whisper and his eyes brightly
burned. Taking off my shoes, I
would spread my legs out toward
the warmth of the stove and allow
my mind to race through the Georgia
swamps with some big, terrorstricken
nigger who had a pack of
whooping crackers and howling
dogs hot on his trail. Man! I was
scared to death just thinking about
it. But these were times we all
enjoyed, pleasant evenings we
always looked forward to.
Each family in our building had
equal floor space in the basement
for the storage of their coal—
providing they had any. Since it was
the duty of us boys in the family to
replenish the fuel supply whenever
we needed it upstairs, one of us
would have to go back and forth to
the cellar at least four or five times
a day.
One day this irritating task fell to
Jimmy. With the coal box in the
house nearly empty, Jimmy, being
very obedient (my father would tear
his ass up if he wasn’t), hurried to
the cellar and was confronted with
a neighboring family’s son—the
dreaded bully of the block—who, to
make an already bad situation
worse, was stealing our coal.
This young fellow was so bad he
was even nicknamed “Bully.” With
flat African features pasted to a
high-ridged head that easily could
have belonged to a pancake-faced
gorilla, he was short, powerful,
shiny black—so black that a blue
shadow seemed to lie upon him—
and ugly enough to break daylight
with his fist.
This lad’s home was somewhere
in the deep bayou country—
Mississippi, I think—and it was
very easy to picture him, even at
this tender age, walking behind an
old gray mule, sniffing farts, or
picking cotton. This sucker was out
there, and mean as a black bear
during mating season.
Jimmy, on the other hand, was not
a rough type. He was slender and
more inclined to use brains than
brawn. (His overt display of
intelligence later carried him to
bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s
degrees.) His handsome face, which
was usually smiling, marked him as
being good-natured and of a
pleasant disposition. All in all,
Jimmy was meek and kind of
humble and, I venture to say,
somewhat on the timid side.
Physical conflict was not his cup of
tea. Unfortunate as it might have been,
this was one confrontation he
couldn’t avoid: if he didn’t get the
coal and let the fire in the stove go
out, my father would skin his ass
alive when he came home from
work that night. So it was either an
ass-whupping downstairs or an asswhupping
upstairs. Jimmy chose the
former, and rightly so.
What went on downstairs he later
told us himself. It seemed that when
he first stumbled upon Bully
stealing our coal it scared him
almost to death. He knew he
couldn’t stop, or beat, this black
gorilla, so he decided to try a little
cunning, hoping to appease Bully,
get our coal, and get the hell out of
there.
“Hi, Bully,” Jimmy called, with a
sheepish grin on his face.
But Bully wasn’t going for none
of that funny shit. Without further
provocation—other than that of
getting caught stealing our coal—he
sprang on my brother and unleashed
a brutal attack that left Jimmy
thoroughly beaten. Jimmy got out of
that basement as fast as his little
legs could carry him, making it
upstairs for safety and assistance.
Meanwhile big bad Bully, confident
that there was no one to stop him
now, returned to pillaging our coal.
Help for little Jimmy was not to
be found upstairs. My mother and
father had already gone to work,
leaving my oldest brother in charge.
Lloyd Junior undoubtedly could
have taken care of the little
hoodlum, had he seen fit, but, from
what I saw, he had little inclination
to do so and displayed no concern
in the matter whatsoever.
This was more than I could bear.
Jimmy was hurt, crying something
awful. His nose was already
swollen, spreading across his face,
blood pouring from it constantly.
But no one paid any attention to him
—no one except me—as he sobbed
through his story. Listening, I was
confused: this situation was asking
too much of my inexperienced mind.
My emotions completely
overpowered what little sense of
reason I had, if indeed I had any at
all. Every fiber of my body became
taut with the anticipation of what
must be done. My only thought was
that the Carter family had to be
avenged.
I imagine it was because I was
immature that the only thoughts that
came to me were those of violence.
Bully’s size and strength, prowess
and daring, never entered my mind.
Without uttering a word, and before
anyone could think to stop me, I
bolted down the stairs.
When I reached the cellar, I
vaguely made out the outline of
Bully’s body in the obscurity of the
coal bin. His features blended
almost perfectly into the blueness of
the coal he was stealing—this cat
was just that black. Then, as my
eyes became accustomed to the
darker darkness around him, I
realized that my quarry had not yet
discovered me. He had his broad
back to me and was nonchalantly
heaping Lloyd Carter’s coal into his
bucket.
The element of surprise was in
my favor. At that time I didn’t know
anything about fighting fair; in fact, I
didn’t know anything about fighting,
period. But before my roguish
opponent could straighten up and
defend himself, I hurled my body
into him with all my might, and with
a vengeance that shocked even me. I
hadn’t known I was capable of such
feelings.
Bully tripped and went down. I
crouched over him, whaling like
mad, until he finally managed to
fight his way back to his feet. We
stood toe to toe, slugging it out,
swinging for all we were worth.
Then I landed a sizzling haymaker
against his bullet head, and he
started backing up, with me
crowding him, firing on him. The
fighting became easier then, and I
found I liked it. The more we
fought, the better I seemed to get.
A shiver of fierce pleasure ran
through me. It was not spiritual, this
thing that I felt, but a physical
sensation in the pit of my stomach
that kept shooting upward through
every nerve until I could clamp my
teeth on it. Every time Bully made a
wrong turn, I was right there to
plant my fist in his mouth. After a
few minutes of this treatment, the
cellar became too hot for Bully to
handle, and he made it out the door,
smoking.
This was my first experience in
fist fighting, and the fruits of my
victory were sweet indeed. I could
feel the pull of the little muscles
interlinked and interchained from
my fingertips to the small of my
back. I felt the muscles in my legs
too, from hip to toe, supporting me
as I swayed, tired now. But dammit,
I felt good. Even though I had come
out with a busted lip, I had beaten
the big bad block bully—and, man,
I was hot-to-trot to fight some more.
Bully, however, must have run
straight home to his black mammy. I
couldn’t begin to guess at the excuse
he gave for his appearance, but it
must have been a winner. Because
the moment my mother and father
came home from work that night,
they were confronted with Bully’s
weeping mammy screaming
accusations of how unmercifully I
had beaten her poor little manchild.
My father entered my bedroom
quietly and woke me up. I eased out
of bed joyfully, not making a sound,
being very careful not to arouse my
sleeping brother. I was confident
that Daddy was going to lavish
royal praises on me for saving his
coal, and I was just as anxious to
tell him that I knew how to fight. I
didn’t want Jimmy awake for this,
no, sir. I wanted to bask in the
sunshine of Daddy’s thanksgiving
all by myself.
But when I entered the kitchen,
my father yoked me with an
unfamiliar roughness. He locked my
head between his knees, pulled my
pajama bottoms off, and whaled on
my ass with the cord from the iron. I
knew this wasn’t for saving his
coal. I jerked and sputtered, twisted
and stuttered, desperately trying to
find out what I had done wrong. But
all my inefficient struggles and tears
were in vain. I couldn’t talk. I had
an acute speech impediment at that
time and could never say three clear
words that made any sense to
anyone but me.
But what hurt more than anything
else was that my father didn’t even
try to find out of his little son had
been justified in his actions or not.
And being the deacon that he was—
I suppose—he readily accepted
someone else’s version because it
had come from an adult, and not
because it was the truth. He could at
least have tried to get my side of the
story, I felt, or even my brother’s or
Lillian’s. No. He believed Bully’s
black picker-headed mammy—and
I’ll bet she was the one who had
sent Bully over in the first place.
They surely didn’t have any coal for
themselves.
That beating is the first I can
distinctly remember, and it was one
of many just like it that would
follow in its wake, some of which, I
think, were totally uncalled for. But
in my father’s eyes they were
ratified and sanctioned by the Holy
Bible.
Thus began my first real
awareness of my existence. I
imagine such a blatant event was
necessary to prod the faculties of
my brain into full consciousness. It
seems to me to have been similar to
the birth of a baby—that is, to the
moment the physician slaps the
infant’s buttocks and provokes his
first sensations, indicating the
proper functioning of his respiratory
system.
Well, when my father got through
with me that night, I couldn’t say for
sure what it did for my respiratory
system, but I knew damn well that it
interfered with my system of sitting
down for quite some time.
Early the following morning I
was awakened with the rest of the
kids for school. I was enrolled in
the kindergarten of Public School
No. 7 and had been there for one
half-term. I remember the family
being somewhat solemn as we sat
down for breakfast that morning,
although the table was, as usual,
heaped with plenty of succulent
goodies to eat: southern-fried ham,
eggs and hominy grits, steaming hot
biscuits with Argo syrup, and plenty
of butter on the side.
Man! Even though my butt was
blistered, there was nothing wrong
with my stomach, and I was ready
to grease. But before anyone dared
touch a morsel of food on the table,
my father, seated at its head with his
eyes closed and his hands folded,
began his daily ritual of saying
grace. We all had to follow his
example.
“Dear Lord,” he would
reverently begin, “we are thankful
for the food which we are about to
receive . . . . ”
But on that morning I didn’t close
my eyes. I just sat there looking at
my daddy as his voice droned on
emotionally, wondering how he
could be talking to the Lord in such
a convincing manner and know that
he had unnecessarily abused me the
night before. I couldn’t understand
it, and I was hurt. Hurt as only a
small boy could be when his dad,
his idol, has rejected the one
contribution he feels he had made to
the family—saving their coal.
When school was out that day,
Jimmy came to take me home. We
all attended the same school, so the
task of taking me back and forth fell
into the hands of Lloyd, Lillian, and
Jimmy. I remember the weather as
being very mean that wintry
afternoon. It had been snowing
exceptionally hard all day, and the
snowdrifts were piled high.
As we struggled homeward,
Jimmy suddenly clutched his
stomach, became violently sick, and
fell to the ground, vomiting. The
whites of his eyes were the only
signs of life I could detect in his
dark face, and he trembled as if he
were freezing over. This really
scared me, and I immediately threw
myself to the ground in the snow
beside him and grabbed his coat,
trying to pull him up.
“Jimmy! Jimmy!” I cried,
brushing snow off his face. “Get up!
Get up, Jimmy. Jimmy, please get
up.” But he didn’t seem to hear me.
He just lay there, shivering,
gagging, and trying to catch his
breath. A group of school kids
gathered and stood around looking
at us like damn fools, but no one
offered any help. Eventually
someone—an older student, more
than likely—told some teachers
about what was taking place
outside, and they rushed to help my
brother. I was kneeling beside him
in a snowdrift when they came and
threw me aside to get to him.
I don’t know why, but somehow I
got the impression that they were
handling him much too roughly for
people trying to help him. This
feeling reactivated my newly
discovered fighting abilities, and as
they struggled to pick Jimmy up, I
tore into them for all I was worth,
punching, kicking, and biting
anything that got in my way.
“Leave my brother alone!” I
cried, fighting desperately and
feeling that same extraordinary
sensation of the previous day
welling up in me again. “Leave him
alone! Leave him alone!” I fought
all the more furiously as they got
him up and started for the building.
Somebody grabbed me from
behind and held on so I couldn’t get
away. I stopped struggling and just
stood there, crying in frustration,
wondering what was happening to
my brother. When at last I was set
free, I began walking in the
direction I thought would take me
home. I stumbled blindly, not really
knowing where I was going, until a
warm arm slithered around my
shoulders.
“C‘mon, Rubin,” a sweet voice
whispered. “Jimmy’s gonna be all
right. C’mon, let’s go home.”
I stopped and looked up, and
there was Lillian with a sad smile
on her face. But it was a smile that
filled my heart with joy, for I could
see the tenderness and affection in
her eyes as she hugged me tighter. I
leaned closer, feeling the warmth of
her arms around my shoulders, and
somehow everything seemed to be a
little better. We turned around, and
she took me home.
That night, when the family had
seated itself at supper, Jimmy was
still among the missing. As my
mother set a steaming plate of
collard greens upon the table, I
asked her the question that had been
bugging me all day. “Ma, wh-whewh-
whe-where’s Jimmy?” I
stammered.
“Hush up, Rubin,” she scolded
fondly, but with sadness in her
voice. “Jimmy’s going to be all
right. We will just have to do
without him for a while. But we’ll
all go to see him pretty soon.”
And so we did; the rest of the
winter was consumed mainly by
going to the hospital to visit him.
Jimmy, it turned out, had come
down with double pneumonia, and
for weeks he was more dead than
alive. My mother and father
accepted the news, and the expense,
like the champs they were.
While Jimmy was a boy he was
always the sickly type, susceptible
to anything. I can vividly remember
the time he caught the measles and
deliberately rubbed himself against
me so that he could have a playmate
while the rest of the kids were in
school. When finally we both had
the measles, Jimmy laughed like a
sonofabitch, happier than a fag in a
Turkish bath.
In a time between Jimmy’s
illnesses, my mother also went to
the hospital, and the next time I saw
her I had a new sister, named
Rosalie. Now that puzzled the hell
out of me. I mean, I had always
been under the impression that
babies were found under cabbage
leaves, and this new development
seemed mighty strange to me. Here I
was with a brand-new baby sister,
and, as I knew doggone well, my
father didn’t have a vegetable
garden.
THE SECOND
ROUND
The Birth of
Vengeance
In the following spring, 1943, my
father bought a new house, which
naturally aroused much interest in
our family. We were all filled with
the happy anticipation of moving to
a different environment. The menial
chores that usually were the cause
of bickering among us children we
performed quickly, quietly, and
with astounding proficiency.
Our new home was located on
Twelfth Avenue in Paterson, New
Jersey. And to say the least, in
comparison with Passaic, the
neighborhood looked bad. We had
taken it for granted that we would
be moving to a locale that would by
far surpass the neighborhood we
had been living in. The new house
was much larger and prettier than
our previous one had been, but the
streets were dirtier and made of
unsightly cobblestones, with twisted
trolley tracks cutting through them.
When the family car and the
moving van stopped in front of our
new home, men, women, and
children poured out of the
neighboring houses and gathered on
the sidewalks, watching our every
move. They critically inspected the
condition of our car, the style of
clothing that we wore, the newness
of our furniture—especially the
floor-model radio. You can rest
assured, they didn’t miss much.
They were like an audience of
convicts watching a nude female
perform.
The city itself was divided up
into four sections—Up the Hill,
Down the Hill, Crosstown, and
Bunkerhill—and each sector had
multitudes of rough, vicious young
gangs controlling it. Our house was
situated in the “Up the Hill” section.
Each fellow residing in that
particular six-block area—between
Auburn and Carrol on the north and
south, and Godwin and Governor
Streets on the east and west—be he
black, white, or technicolor, was
destined to become a member of a
gang called the Apaches. If he
didn’t belong to the tribe, he
ventured outdoors at his own risk.
You couldn’t go to school or the
playground or even sit on your own
front porch without a member of the
Apaches trying to get to your black
ass, or white ass, as the case might
be. It didn’t make any difference to
them what color it was; if you
didn’t belong to the Apaches, then
you had to be the enemy.
Man, it was like nothing I had
even dreamed about before, a
terrible, terrible place—not
poverty-stricken, but simply one
with a rough class of people. I
learned sometime later that a white
schoolteacher had owned our house
before my father and had thought it
best, in view of the violence
surrounding it, to leave. But I found
out that, violent and destructive as
the neighborhood was, there was
one good principle to be learned by
all, and it has remained with me
throughout my life. This was the
acceptance of people, regardless of
race, creed, or color. The simple
truth was, these distinctions were
never evident, and the subject was
not discussed. There were no such
people in our young lives as Mister
Charlie or the Devil—meaning
white people—or Aunt Mary and
Boy—meaning our mothers and
fathers.
Maybe I was foreseeing the
future, I don’t know, but I made it
my business to ask Dad why we had
moved to Paterson when our old
neighborhood was so much nicer.
Now, usually he would have told
me to shut up and mind my own
business. This time, however, he
must have detected a premonition in
my voice. He explained that
because of the increased size of our
family we needed a bigger place to
live. And with the purchase of this
particular house, he had also bought
an ice business to add to the family
income.
Well, awright, then, I thought
proudly. That makes all the
difference in the world. Now we
can show these nosy people that
we’re not trash—the Carter family
are business folks.
After we were settled, our new
home became a meeting place for
young and old alike. I sometimes
wondered if its attraction was due
to the congenial, Christian
disposition that my father made us
reflect at all times, or to the fact that
we were the first in the
neighborhood to own a television
set. In any case, everybody was
welcome in the Carter house, and
everybody came.
To say merely that my father was
a good provider would not be doing
him justice. His vigor, pride, and
dedication to whatever he did—
from raising a family of seven to
preaching the Gospel on Sunday to
slaving on two jobs six days a week
—did much more than provide.
They brought respect and solidarity
to the family.
But it was my mother, dark and
beautiful, the strong, silent figure in
the family, who exercised a subtle
control over all. Out of concern for
his health, Mom often begged my
father please to slow down before
he killed himself. In his own
defense on these occasions, Dad
would seek comfort by quoting the
Holy Scriptures.
“Bert,” he would say to her, “
‘whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,
do it with thy might; for there is no
work, nor device, nor knowledge,
nor wisdom, in the grave, whither
thou goest.’ ” And he’d keep right
on slaving, just as hard as ever.
His work day would begin at five
o’clock in the morning, when he
picked up his ice from Crosstown
and took it to the little icehouse
around the corner to store it. Then
he would make his rounds. He had
to deliver the ice in the early
morning, before his customers left
for work, or the food they had in
their iceboxes would go bad during
the day. At three in the afternoon, he
would lock up the icehouse and go
to work at the Manhattan Rubber
Company in Passaic. There he
worked an eight-hour shift and
returned home, bone-weary, at
twelve. He got three or four hours
of sleep, and then it started all over
again.
It was my mother, finally, who
conceived the idea that we boys
should take over the management of
the icehouse, so that our father
could get some rest. At that time
Lloyd Junior was fourteen years
old, Jimmy was ten, and I was eight.
When Mom presented the idea to
my father, he grudgingly gave his
consent. He did have some doubts
about our using his truck to make the
deliveries, but, after much thought,
agreed to let us have it—with the
stipulation that Lloyd Junior be the
only one to drive it.
We had already boasted to our
schoolmates—and convinced most
of them—that we had always been
running the business, not our father.
So, in order to give truth to our lies,
we eagerly grabbed at Mom’s
proposition.
Since I was unable to carry the
heavy blocks of ice up three or four
flights of stairs, my job was to cut
the ice and service all the first-floor
customers. I also had to stand on the
running board of the truck and
holler, “Ice! Iiiiice man! Get yo’ ice
while you can!” Then, when
customers called to me, I would
shout, “Whoooooooa, mule!” Lloyd
would stop on a dime and give it
nine cents change, jump out of the
truck, and then he or Jimmy would
take the ice I gave them to the
customer.
At times business came so hot
and heavy that Lloyd would violate
my father’s rule and let me drive.
When that happened, you can’t
imagine how proud I felt. No one
could tell me that I wasn’t as much
of a man as the others. Even though
I had to sit on two or three pillows
to look out the windshield, I was a
man.
At the end of the hard day’s
work, we returned home, bathed,
ate our supper, and then joined the
rest of the fellows in the
neighborhood. As in most clubs or
gangs, one had to be fearless, had to
thrive on fighting to become a
member with any recognition.
Because fighting, or going to war,
was just like eating and sleeping—
it was a necessity. And, to be sure, I
had my share of fights. Perhaps I
had the shares of some others as
well. It seemed as if I was
constantly being challenged by
members of rival gangs and, more
often than not, by the constituents of
my own. It was still impossible for
me to talk without stuttering. I had
to stomp my feet to force the words
out of my mouth. And people
usually got quite a kick from the
way I stammered, but if they made
the mistake of laughing out loud, I
would fire on them immediately, if
not sooner, and try to knock their
fool heads clean off.
Before many moons had
traversed the skies, my fighting
reputation prospered, and I became
known as one “good with his
hands.” I took to fighting like a duck
takes to water. Even at my age I
could outfight most of the Apaches’
members, but those that I couldn’t—
those that might have whupped me if
we tangled—didn’t care to chance
it. If there just had to be a fight with
the Rube, the general feeling went,
they made damn sure it was for a
good reason, because I fought hard,
and I fought to win.
With an overabundance of heart
combined with crude skill, I was
soon elected to the position of “war
counselor.” Now this bizarre
incumbency was a utopian honor
among gang members—and
goddamn fools—because the job
included choosing the place where
a brawl was to be held, the
weapons that were to be used, and
the time the scramble would take
place. But these were only a few
obligations of the job. Usually there
was a reciprocal declaration of war
between rival gangs, and when war
was declared, each club dispatched
its war counselor to meet and set
the rules for the impending conflict.
On many occasions, however, the
threatened baptism by fire could be
averted if the war counselors
agreed to fight it out and settle the
matter between themselves.
So it shouldn’t be too difficult to
understand that the war counselor
had to be the best, or at least one of
the best, fighters in his clan. Too
many people were depending on his
abilities for him to be any less; he
maintained the integrity of the club.
I was proud of my position. It
made me feel like a god. In my
mind, I vaguely recalled some
misbegotten slogan that went
“Equality for all under God.” I
couldn’t accept that. What with the
position I held, and the gang’s
dependence upon my fighting skills,
I felt uniquely superior. In the
Apaches I was, in fact, accepted as
a god, and there could be no
equality in the world that I lived in
—a world of conflict and
confusion, where only the strong
survived.
We were looked upon as a rough,
menacing phalanx, an antisocial
mob. To live up to this reputation, I
must admit, we performed deeds
that one might easily classify as
being against the best interests of
society. But we were Apaches—so
we raided the enemies’
neighborhoods, fought to a standstill
the marauding gangs that violated
our territorial boundaries, and
pillaged the downtown
marketplaces.
One day, while returning home
from the movies, we decided to
perform a feat of daring. There
were about fifteen or twenty
Apaches along, since the movie
house was situated in enemy
territory and we needed a show of
force to deter any possible attack.
We were approaching a store that
had racks and racks of clothing
displayed outside on the sidewalk.
The object of each Apache was to
run past the display, grab as much
of the merchandise as he could
handle, and then escape without
getting caught.
The thought of keeping those
clothes never entered my mind.
Excitement, and the defiance of
society, was our motivation. If, after
we had stolen the clothing and made
good our getaway, we could have
returned it without further ado, we
would have done so, gladly. The
thrill was in eluding our pursuers, if
there were any, and in putting the
blame on that territory’s own gang.
As one of the fastest runners in
our club, I was the second or third
to reach the clothing racks. Aided
and abetted by the loose shirt I was
wearing that day, I crammed it with
sweaters and polo shirts until I
looked like a top-heavy freak. Then
I spun around and ran like hell,
heading for the hills.
When I arrived home that
midsummer afternoon, my mother
and father were not in the house,
and when my brothers and sisters
spied all those clothes in my
possession, they naturally claimed
them for themselves. I took great
pleasure in being able to give them
something—even though that
“something” wasn’t mine to give.
But it filled my heart to see them
enjoying themselves, changing from
shirt to sweater, back and forth,
until they finally got what they
wanted and the clothes were
divided equally.
When my father came home that
evening—I was out with the gang—
and saw all his children wearing
brand-new top clothes that he hadn’t
bought, he demanded to know
where they had come from. And,
being justifiably fearful of the harsh
consequences if they were caught in
a lie, my brothers and sisters
naturally told him that Rubin had
brought them home.
I returned later than usual that
evening, slipped into the house, and
crept upstairs to my bedroom,
knowing that it was way past my
curfew hour. Mom and Dad slept on
the first floor, while we children
slept upstairs.
Since each of us had his own
room now, I had gotten into the
habit of sleeping naked on warm
nights. I had just made myself
comfortable and was on my way to
sleep, when my bedcovers were
suddenly snatched off my body.
“Rubin? Wake up, boy!” I heard
my father’s gruff voice demand.
“Where did you get all of these
clothes from, huh?”
Slowly, cautiously, I opened my
eyes and found my father sitting on
the bed. In his huge hands were the
shirts that I had gleefully distributed
a few short hours before.
“A lady gave them to me,
Daddy,” I lied instantly, stammering
badly, but thankful that my mind
could think much quicker than I
could speak.
My father stood up and spread
the shirts out on the bed. He
indicated the price tags. “Now
don’t lie to me, boy,” he said
threateningly. “All of these shirts
have price tags on them. So tell me
why somebody would give them to
you?”
I’m a dumb sonofabitch, I thought
to myself in disgust. Those price
tags knocked the wind out of my lie.
Why didn’t you get rid of those tags,
fool? I questioned my limited
intellect. And then, though I knew
that my father hated liars more than
the people in hell wanted ice water,
I stubbornly continued my
prevarication.
“The woman gave them to me for
working for her this afternoon, and
she—”
“Awright, boy.” My father held
up his hands to silence me. “I’m
going to buy that story. Now tell me
where I can find this lady.”
I lay there crouched up in fear,
scared to death, and broke out in a
cold sweat. I knew from the tone of
my father’s voice that he knew I
was lying, and I knew that my goose
was just about cooked. So,
attempting to claim whatever
leniency I could, I then tried to tell
the truth.
“Daddy, I—I—”
“Yup! That’s just what I thought!”
he exploded with a ferocity that
scared me even more. Then he
dragged a thick belt from around his
waist. “Boy, you’ve been lying to
me all this time. Now I’m going to
tear your ass up, and then I’m going
to call the police. I won’t have a
lying thief for a son.”
The heavy impact of the leather
strap against my naked rump and
shoulders produced a sharp sound
that could be heard throughout the
house. I’ll wager my life that the cry
I let out could be heard throughout
the city. Each time my father lashed
down with his cold-blooded belt, a
welt the length and breadth of a
pocket comb would take its place
on my body. Several times, as I
struggled to escape the descending
whip, his belt would find my face
as its target, and it rendered one of
my eyes temporarily sightless.
This was by far the worst
whupping that I had ever received,
and had it not been for my mother, I
might have been seriously injured
by my father’s evangelical rage.
Waiting in the bedroom downstairs,
my mother had suffered the noise
and my increasingly feeble cries for
help until she could resist no longer.
“Lloyd! Lloyd!” I heard her calling
through the mist of pain that racked
my body. “Don’t hit him anymore.
He’s had enough.”
And the hot belt fell no longer.
I withered there in agony, trying
to feel sorry for myself. I attempted
to soothe the pain by fanning it, but I
couldn’t muster up much remorse
for my stupidity. I knew that I’d
been wrong. Wrong first for stealing
the clothes, and then for piling a
stupid act on the wrong one, by
bringing the clothes home. I should
have known that my father wouldn’t
go for that kind of bullshit, and that I
should have told him the truth. I
don’t know what I was thinking
about in the first place.
Twenty or thirty minutes must
have passed before I heard someone
coming up the stairs again. I had
been waiting impatiently for that
sound, because it had always been
my father’s custom to return to the
child he had punished and calmly
try to reason with him. So before he
could reach my door, I hobbled
painfully out of bed and opened it
up.
Then I almost shitted on myself.
Standing on the threshold of my
room, almost filling the doorway,
was a great big white man. But what
really scared the hell out of me was
that the man was dressed in a blue
uniform, had a silver badge pinned
to his chest, and wore an oversized
pistol strapped to his waist. And if
that doesn’t add up to cop all over
the world, there ain’t no niggers in
Harlem.
Thinking seriously about it now,
it shouldn’t have surprised me as
much as it did. All that had been
necessary for me to remember was
that my father didn’t pay courtship
to lies. If he ever tells you that a
mosquito can pull a plow, don’t
even bother about asking him how
—just hook the motherfucker up.
That’s the type of man my father is.
“Are you Rubin?” the policeman
inquired.
“Ye-y-yes, sir,” I stammered.
“Then put your clothes on, kid,”
he ordered, circling the room and
picking up the stolen merchandise.
“We want to have a talk with you
downstairs.”
By the time I finished dressing,
my surprise had turned to terror.
When I finally stumbled down to the
first-floor landing, I looked for my
father to be waiting there for me—
but he was nowhere in sight. The
only other person I saw was another
cop standing at the front door. He
was holding it open.
“Where’s his father?” the officer
who had followed me down the
stairs asked. It was the same
question that was running through
my mind.
But the waiting cop just clamped
his hands to the seat of my britches,
and shoved me out the door. “He
don’t wanna see this punk,” he
growled, pushing me down the front
stairs. “So I’m locking the little
nigger up.”
I was propelled into the back seat
of their patrol car, and then we
headed for the police station. En
route to headquarters, the cop that
had walked me down the stairs
spoke to his partner:
“Joe, isn’t this the call that we
received earlier today about stolen
clothes?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Well, wasn’t there supposed to
be more of them?”
“The whole damn gang—or so it
seemed,” the driver acknowledged.
“But now that we’ve got this one,
we’ll get the rest of the black
bastards too. You don’t have to
worry about that.”
The two officers continued their
conversation as if I was either deaf
or didn’t exist at all. They
discussed the trouble in the city that
various gangs, including the
Apaches, caused and what they
should do about it. Some of the
remedies they suggested were
exaggerated to the point of
depravity, though I don’t know if
they were talking so sadistically
just for my benefit or not. I do know
it scared the hell out of me.
A few minutes later, and after
much more conversation, we
arrived at Headquarters and I was
told to get out. As soon as my feet
touched the ground, I had the
impulse to run like hell.
As if he had read my mind, one of
the cops cautioned me: “Little
nigger,” he said, “I wish you would
run.” He stood there patting his
holstered pistol. “And I’ll put a
bullet right in your dead black ass!”
Not even a damn fool, which I
wasn’t, would have to think much
on that statement. So the idea of
running immediately evaporated
from my mind. I didn’t want a bullet
in my black ass—or anywhere else
for that matter. No, I’d just have to
take my chances —if and when any
came.
My escorts followed me into the
stationhouse and led me up to a
desk sergeant who was grinning as
if they had just captured Baby Face
Nelson. “Sarge,” one of them said,
“we caught one of the black punks
who stole all of those clothes today,
sir.”
End of this sample Kindle book.
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