D. E. Kern

 

THE LONG ARMS OF JIM CROW

 

Here on Freys Avenue, the voice of Chuck Thompson, 13 transistors strong, reports on the
achievements of the Robinson brothers—Baltimore’s best—from 53 miles to the south. And the
block is awash in the aroma of charcoal and Ballantyne—smell of enough to eat—slinking its
way down alleys, through the holes between frames and doors, askance slats in the walls of
privies 30 miles east of Gettysburg, where privies for whites are history book stuff, blacks run
short on patience.

Here on Freys Avenue, the cries of children, babies bathed in rainwater, compete with the
giggles of girls in pigtails playing double dutch on the sidewalk. And houses fashioned of
matchsticks and tar paper pitch in the scantest wind. Here, where the rats chase away the
cats, the streets fill with tenants angered by streetlights that flicker and never shine. The
men’s rollicking scars testify to the claim police dogs prefer dark meat.

Here on Freys Avenue, those slope-shouldered men smoke cigarettes and tinker
with the timing on their throaty cars, while a pair of the principals add bravado and tall
tales to the details of a brawl with the leather-clad boys of Newberry Street. And
Mary Brown—toting a bottle the color of her skin—shouts, preaching in the vein of the
Reverend King and in the name of Jesus and Jim Beam.

Here on Freys Avenue, where Mary’s the latest complaint, the cops roll in with batons pulled
out. As the shouting rises up, Mary goes down. And reserve officer Vernon Banks’ push for
peace earns him and his brother pistols ’cross the mouth, the sound of their legs crunched by a
slamming black and white’s door echoing beyond the summer of ’66.

 

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