Cover designed by Kerry G. Johnson | Twitter: @caricaturekerry
A Newark Childhood
Weaving through African American music, folklore, and more, A Newark Childhood is a coming-of-age story that journeys from the author’s years in kindergarten through high school graduation. It covers the period from 1948 to 1961 when he heads off to college.
During this period, he struggles to find his place in an environment that at every turn explicitly questions; even resents the legitimacy of a colored/Negro/black boy’s existence. His Clay Street tenement is perilously located in the North Ward of Newark, NJ just on the fringes of Little Italy. With eager anticipation, we follow along as he informs us how his uncle’s benign intervention saved him from being aborted. He tells us of his memories of his Christian Scientist mother and her attempts to teach him survival skills by both word and deed.
We witness how he applies these skills to survive physical confrontations with Italian boys as he and his younger brother take their lives into their own hands every time they have to walk through Little Italy to get to the swimming pool. Ironically, he is confident in his world despite its intersection with Little Italy because he knows what to expect. But he is uneasy and feels inferior as he ventures into Jewish neighborhoods and neighborhoods of “regular” white people. That fear is conflated with envy as he watches the “fake” white people on TV and in the movies. When he has a brutal fist fight with a fellow student, he imagines himself a white-hatted, white cowboy as he pummels the unfortunate bully who had referred to his girlfriend as a “bitch.”