In a graystone builiding at 3150-48 W. Jackson Blvd., thought surrounded by conflicting evidence, the residents dream of happy endings.
Nice houses, happy families, loyal husbands, good children, decent jobs, lots of money - conventional American dreams which are mainly unreal.
This apartment house, sagging and stained with age, sits in the midst of a partially burned-out neighborhood, where children carry guns and sometimes shoot their elders, where the "fast life" entices and threatens, a place, where "free money," as folks call it, is available for dependent babies but for honest labor, where the street commerce deals in drugs, women, guns, bot TV sets, arson-for-profit.
The residents at 3150-48 W. Jackson know exactly where they live. Garfield Park is that part of every American city the rest of us avoid, those places that produce the horrendous social statistics on crime and welfare and unemployment. In this neighborhood, dreams disappear like the burned-out buildings.
The apartment house on West Jackson could be set down in 50 different cities, in north Philadelphia or Harlem or Newark or Detroit, where the same rules and language prevail. The black slums are like another nation, within, which work and welfare live next door to each other, where crime is an equal-opportunity employer.
Taken together, these places are like pieces of a separate city stretching from Watts to Boston, an irregular network of blighted geography where 7 million people live, one of every four black Americans. (KEY OFF)(KEYWORD)bout half of the inhabitants are officially poor and receive some form of public aid. The other half work, but at low-wage and transient jobs that make their economic status indistinct from their neighbors who are on welfare.
A decade ago, this other city was briefly famous as the "black ghetto." A coating of government money was poured over its problems; the inhabitants staged a frenzy of self-consuming rebellions. After the headlines, after the TV cameras departed, it is now obvious that nothing fundamental was changed by that ferment. Some people climbed out, found better jobs and nicer neighborhoods, but others fell in. The statistics, if anything, are worse today.
The three-story building on West jackson is a good place to start the tour. About half of its residents are on welfare, mothers and babies, elderly, infirm. The other half work-shipping clerks, hospital worker, seamstress, cab driver, warehouse laborer, others.
Most of the inhabitants are natives of Mississippi, Yazoo City, Greenville, Drew, Columbus - migrants who were drawn north by ambitions which were not fulfilled. They gossip together about common hazards: fire, street muggings, rape, mailbox thefts, government agents, disrespectful strangers, the home country down South.
They tease one another about love and money and the absence of jobs. And, despite their surroundings, they talk endlessly on this theme: "getting over," making it, scoring, succeeding, one way or the other.
On the third floor, front, Edith Hilliard pastes coupons in those "free contests" flyers that come in the mail and promised licky bonanzas. She is on welfare, $216 a month. Her bouncy little girl, latrice is 4 and full of herself. The rain leaks through the light fixture in Hilliards kitchen, and she worries about fires. Hilliard once read about a girl who won $100,000 in a mail contest.
"I been sending them in, "Hilliard said. "Nothing ever happens. I'll bet they throw them in the garbage . . . The first thing I want to do is go home to Mississippi and buy me a house and take my baby down there, so she wouldn't have to go to school here. Oooh, I know I would like that."
A younger friend, Mary Johnson, dropped by with her baby, Sherman, youngest of three children, each fathered by a different man. Last night Mary Johnson had had another dream, and she told about it with wounder: There was a tall, light-skined black man with an afro, the man with whom she lived until last week. when he took up with another woman.
"I try to go to sleep and he's there," she explained. "Like last night, he's like a bug in me. He don't want me. But in my dream he do. But he don't want me cause he's with someone else now. The phone rang and I told him to answer and the dream ended."
Johnson's oldest child, Jackie, is in school. Bright but a little sassy, according to her mother.
"Jackie say she going to school and be a dancer and not ever have any children," her mother said. "She just don't like them. She never been too crazy about my babies. She do all the dances that come out. She want to be a singer too."
Downstairs, second floor rear, an elderly couple named Martin, retired and inform, $165 a month plus food stamps, watched television, "Match Game." Their tiny parlor is enlivened by decorative flourishes, huge crimson hearts and plastic flowers, surrounding a gallery of family graduation photos, their grandchildren.
One granddaughter, Betty, lives upstairs on welfare, another unmarried mother. Two grandsons are in prison, one for murder. But Betty's baby sister, Debra, is going to school somewhere downtown, learning fast typing.
"I love her for it too," the grandpa said. "She's still pulling."
Mrs. Martin talks to theTV.
"I like 'Price Is Right' better," she snapped. "They win more cars and everything. If I ever go to California, I'm going on that show."
Downstairs, first floor front, Sadie Adams and her daughter, Therese, 21, have told their dreams to psychiatrists at public clinics. Both came away angry at the doctors' questions.
"That pgychiatrist didn't give me no help," the mother said. "I told him, 'I needed you when I was a teen-ager growing up, but I don't need you to take me back to those hard years now.'"
Her daughter, Therese, had different problems. She ran away. She resented her mother, who made her stay off the streets, who kept her in school where she was doing so well, a superior student.
"All the time I was growing up," Therese explained, "I was getting my a whipped by other kids who were jealous. I didn't have no more than anyone else, but I had a mother who cared."
"My kids hate me for this," Sadie Adams said. "They say, Mama, you the only mama out there watching us."
The psychiantrist asked about her mother's sleeping with different men, about the dog that slept, in Therese's bed. "The implication," her mother said bitterly, "was that maybe she had some kind of relationship with that dog."
Therese graduated with honors, took clerk-typist training, got a good job at an insurance company. She was dismissed after quarrels with white workers. Now she is pregnant, on welfare.
"If I find a break, I believe my future is still very good," she said. "But I ain't going to get in a position where I take somebody else's garbage."
The subject fills her mother with rage. Sadie Adams jumped up from the divan and shouted:
"You get filled up with too much of this stuff and something's got to break! Then they say you're crazy! It's not crazy! You had too much garbage"
Meanwhile, upstairs in another apartment, 16-year-old Arnell Peterson stays home alone, listening to the radio, doing his homework. His father drives a cab. Arnell works part time in a warehouse.
"I don't mess with people around here," the young man said softly, confidently. "I don't mess with these boys, picking fights, jumping on people, stealing cars. I ain't been in trouble and I don't want to be."
Arnell Peterson dreams vaguely of college. He would like to be a teacher or maybe a bus driver. Most of all, he would like to get away from this place.
The permanent truth about this other city - unaltered by the vast jumble of federal programs - is that every adult citizen here faces narrow choices between unsatisfactory opportunities.
A woman, if she has children, may draw welfare. This leaves her free to watch TV and raise her kids, but ineligible for marriage to a husband who works. Or she gets a joh, if she can find one. Typically this will give her a few more dollars per month, but not very many. For many women, 40 hours a week of work to earn another $30 or $40 a month in income does not seem very inviting.
For young men in many places, the choice is different - between irregular employment, washing dishes, polishing cars, in and out of the casuallabor pool, or hustling. Ambition, in this world, takes on different values.
In Harlem, standing on a street corner. Wesley J. has chosen to "get over" as a self-employed businessman. He is a 31-year-old entrepreneur who wears fine suede and leather, walks in a springy, athletic manner. Wesley J. sells marijuana, pills, cocaine.
"This my J-O-B," he said. "You get up in the morning and go to your office . . . I get up in the morning and start dealing."
Wesley J. makes deliveries in a beat-up Ford, makes several thousand a year. He used to sell from his third-floor walk-up apartment, but there was a dangerous scrape with the law.
"People have the wrong idea," he said. "This is hard work. I'm driving all over this f - city every day, up here, Brooklyn, the Village. People don't want to pay . . . It's a hell of a hassle."
If a customer goes dad on his credit the dealer may have "to cap him or something." If a customer gets arrested, he might "give me up" in exchange for a lighter sentence.
These business hazards have their rewards. "The ladies," he said> "will wait for the coke man longer than they'll wait for their boyfriends."
"This is how I live." he said. "If I'm righteous about it, if I'm not doing anybody wrong, how I can be a criminal?"
Criminals sell heroin, they're organized. Wesley J. stays away from that end of the market.
He explained himself again, more forcefully: "Look, I'm not making anybody take a blow. Or smoke a joint. Or anything. People want it, they gonna get it. Might as well be from me as from some other mother."
Some things do improve in this other part of America. For different resons, the gang wars are cooling down in some cities, the random street shootings and attacks which so terrorized residents two years ago.
People give different explanations. On Chicago's west side, the folks with checks - paychecks and welfare checks - started carrying guns shooting first when their adolescent neighbors tried to rob them. In Detroit, the bladk mayor, Coleman Young, put out the word in language that every street kid could understand: "The toughest gang in Detroit is the Detroit police Department, and if you don't believe that, let's get it on."
In Philadelphia, there used to be about 30 provable gang killings a year, but last year there was one. The politicians claimed credit, but some people think community workers, lide Sister Falaka Fattah, and the gang members had more to do with it.
Fattah's House of Umoja (unity, in Swahili) is a network of 20 houses, her family, gang members she adopts as her "sons." She teaches than thea basic lessons they never learned groeing up, like the value of human life.
"The grass-roots people don't feel as shattered and hopless as some people think," Fattah said. "They are mad as hell and they're going to do something about it. I don't know what or when, if it's going to be with more riots or what. They're going to do something."
Her sons include Robert Allen, big and baby-faced and stern, a gang leader for 10 years. "All these brothers here, we used to be out in the street gang-fighting each other," Allen said. "Somebody was always getting their heads blown off. But that didn't faze us ... But now we unified.We stopped fighting against each other and now we fighting against the system."
Many of the ex-gang members are also in public-service job slots now, supposedly to rehabilitate slum houses, though they don't seem to have any building materials. Many work hard at the jobs,but others do little more than show up, sign in and leave.
Allen said the gang members figured this much out: "It's stupid to keep killing one another over turf that the white man could take any time he wanted."
Herman McClellan, 21, another "son" from the gangs, wandered about his neighborhood, talking vaguely of organizing unity among the black folks. He talked about politics and votes and education, about maybe becoming a writer or a community leader.
McClellan says he wants to start some sort of social movement in north Philadelphia, to organize, be a hero, help select a black mayor. He was talking up these ideas, when he paused and pointed to a young black woman crossing the streets.
"That's my woman," he said. "She has my child. But she lives in somebody else's house. Ain't that a trip?"
His woman, he said, still wants the fast life.
McClellan's mood went from light to dark. This "ghetto is like the ball," he said, "just one big circle with all of us on the inside." Some people want to stay inside the ball, he explanined, because here, inside, "you don't have to worry about people looking at you like you s-, an animal or something."
From his ambitious plans for political action, McClellan drifted easily to despondency. "My life's already took care of...There's nothing more that they can do to me."
In another moment, rage surfaced and McClellan exclaimed his frustration: "I'm not living my own life! We're living somebody else's life!"
People learn to cope, learn the rules of survival. At the corner of Sacramento and Madison, a very dangerous corner in Chicago, Esther Mireen was waiting for the bus when she broke on of the rules. She got out her money before she was on the bus.
In one quick motion, a black kid in a brown leather coat glided past, deftly snatched the purse from her hand and was gone down an alley. None of the other pedestrians seemed to notice. The victim shook her fists silently, but did not scream.
"It was my fault," she said. "He didn't get nothing. I got my money in my stocking."
Ester Mireen patted her thigh.
"Anybody takes my purse, they don't get nothing but a bunch of junk," she said.
In Harlem, Sally Roninson bolts her door four itmes. She can see eight burned-out buildings from her tenement window.
In Harlem, Sally Rohinson bolts her door four itmes. She can see eight burned-out buildings from her tenement window.
In Trenton, the mailman delivers welfare checks on Academy Street directly to the slum landlord. He cashes them, deducts the rent and gives the rest to the welfare families who lives in his buildings. If the checks went to their mailboxes, they would likely be stolen.
In Detroit, when organizers launched a "rent strike" among the tenants of public housing projects, demanding better maintenance, they discovered that several thousand people were already running their own private "rent strikes" every month.
In Chicago, when something happens in the neighborhood, rape, knifing, kids with guns, the people say they have trouble sometimes arousing the police. Sometimes they call up and report that a white woman is getting beat up. This usually brings the squad cars promptly.
In New York City and elsewhere, the younger kids are now carrying drugs for older dealers. There are practical reasons: an adolescent, if caught, will get a lighter sentence and is less likely to squeal. The kids buy minibikes with their income.
In Trenton, Romine Johnson is taking courses at Mercer County Community College, thinking of a career in human relations, and, meanwhile, selling "herbs" to her neighbors.
"We do it to take the edge off," she insisted, to break the monotony."
In every one of these city slums, boredom is as elemental as foul air and dirty streets. Waiting is a primary activity for young and old.
People wait hours in the cluster of storefront doctors' offices, the booming medical commerce made possible by Medicaid. They wait for "Mother's Day," that monthly delivery of welfare checks. Kids wait in alleys for old folks to come home from the barber shop. Men wait on doorsteps, having scattered three or four or five job applications around the town.
Poor people have a common method for waiting: turn on the television and watch another world.
Sometimes, in the worst circumstances, a fragile sense of family develops among strangers It has happened in that building on W. Jackson Boulevard in Chicago's Garfield Park. Many of the residents come and go in Sadie Adams's first-floor apartment, swapping news, joking, sharing their food and gossip.
Sadie Adamsplays "mama" to the younger women, scolds and lectures, insults and encourages. Betty, the Martins' granddaughter who is on welfare, come by one morning when Sadie Adams was in the midst of a speech on jobs and welfare. Adams turned it on Betty.
"This beautiful young black girl ought to be sitting in an office somewhere," Adams thundered. "Why? You could do something. Why you sitting up there all morining doing nothing?"
Betty rolled her eyes at this lecture.
"I'm allergic," she said. Everyone laughed.
Betty's grandfather interrupted the argument with his own gentle benediction for the group.
"I came here four years ago a stranger," he said. "Seems like now we ought to be a family."
So the apartment building on West Jackson has that artificial kinship to warm the inhabitants, But, meanwhile, in the same building, there is also a palpable hostility - between men and women - a discreet debate over welfare.
In one apartment or another, the women talk with disgust about the impermanence of black men, who seem unwilling or unable to settle down with one woman, one family. In another part of the same building, black men talk with scorn about the young women who live on welfare checks.
At the Adams apartment, the name of an upstairs tenant came up in conversation, a single man who works at a warehouse. Therese Adams announced casually: "That's my daddy."
Her mother added crisply: "You know the difference between a father and a daddy, don't you? A father is someone who looks after his children. A daddy is just someone that accidentally came along before. A 13-year-old boy can be a daddy, but he can't be a father."
Upstairs, on the third floor, Gilbert Evans and his young pal, William Burks, were sipping Canadian Club and listening to records on another day without work. Evans drove a forklift until he was laid off. Burks works off and on at a car wash, but his wife supports the family as a nurse.
Both men occasionally go out looking for regular jobs, but do not expect to find them. Their conversation turned to the subject of welfare, which they denounced vehemently, as though somehow welfare was responsible for their own impotence as wage earners.
"All these mothers with babies running around," Evans said.
"There's a lot of goddam niggers on this block right here could work."
"Most of them tried to have kids," Burks said, "just to get on that public aid thing."
"Nine out of 10." Evans agreed. "Look at how many people get killed on that free money. They get drunk on the wine and stuff and start shooting. They don't care.""Ain't fair," Burks said. "Take Freddie out at the car wash. He out there rubbing on somebody's car and he got a high school diploma. I know I can run a punch press, cut pipes and drive a forklift and do shipping and receiving and, you know, I can't get a job at any one of those."
Downstairs. Women are saying that black men don't do right by their children. Upstairs, men are saying black women make a hustle of their babies. This blame bounces aimlessly around this building, around this neighborhood. It touches always on the jobs that aren't there.
The last stop on this tour is Detroit, where the public housing is falling down, literally, on the people who live in it.Kim Rucker, 23 and unemployed, was sitting in a kitchen at the Parkside project with his relatives when the ceiling collapsed on them.
"Without warning - whoom! - the ceiling came down," Rucker recalled. "Hit me in the shoulder and head. My cousin had his son with him and he tried to cover him.It hit my brother-in-law so hard he had to go to the hospital."
This is not unusual in Detroit's public housing projects. Ceilings collapse on residents every now and then. Public housing in a number of other major cities is also in a state of advanced deterioration, where local budgets cannot keep up with the decay and vandalism.
In Detroit, one fifth of the 10,000 housing units are vacant, boarded up. Some projects are as much as 40 percent empty. The city is spending $3 million this year to repair roofs, to rehabilitate those gutted dwellings where young kids have torn out plumbing, smashed the plaster, defiled the walls. But the maintenance backlog is $70 million.
Yet, despite the crime rate and the random vandalism, there is a waiting list of 2,500 poor people trying to get into Detroit's projects. Public housing is widely despised now by social planners, but to a lot of poor people it still looks better than private housing.
Some tenants at Parkside have engaged in a three-year rent strike, trying to prod action from the city. It started when the heat was out for two weeks in the winter of 1976.
Lily Thompson, a strike leader, isn't sure whether she is madder at the city or at the gangs of young people who roamed through Parkside, tearing up vacant units.
"I'm hollering 90 percent of the time," she said. "It's like a ghost town here. Some are so bad they can't fix them. Let me tell you: the people that are still here got no place to go or we wouldn't be here."
At every stop on this tour, people make that simple statement of fact. PHILADELPHIA - The gang members Sister Falaka Fattah adopts as her "sons" receive from her the basic lessons they never learned growing up, like the value of human life. By Frank Johnston - The Washington Post DETROIT - Tires adorn the front of a home on the east side of Detroit. By Richard Sheinwald for The Washington Post. HARLEM - In Harlem, Sally Robinson bolts her door four times. She can see eight burned-out buildings from her tenement window. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post CHICAGO - The residents at 3150-48 W. Jackson know exactly where they live. Garfield Park is that part of every American city the rest of us avoid . . . "I told him (a psychiatrist), 'I needed you when I was . . . growing up, but I don't need you take me back to those hard years now.'" By Johnn Tross of The Washington Post