We watch strange moods fill our children, and our hearts swell with pain. The streets, with their noise and flaring lights, the taverns, the automobiles, and the poolrooms claim them, and no voice of ours can call them back.... We cannot keep them in school; more than 1,000,000 of our black boys and girls of high school age are not in school.... It is not their eagerness to fight that makes us afraid, but that they go to death on city pavements faster than even disease and starvation can take them. As the courts and the morgues become crowded with our lost children, the hearts of the officials of the city grow cold toward us. (Wright 136)
I GIVE YOU MY GALLERY.
So many boys. Boys. Lincoln West. Merle. Ulysses. Shabaka. Martin D. The Near- Johannesburg Boy. Diego. Kojo. Seven boys in a poolroom during schooltime. The Pool Players, Seven at The Golden Shovel-
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Die soon. Today, many such boys--their girl friends, too--EXPECT to "die soon." In Chicago. In New York. In Springfield, in Philadelphia. In Whatalotago, Alabama. In Detroit. (In Washington D.C.?) They do not expect to become twenty-one. They are designing their funerals. Their caskets will be lined with Kente cloth. They choose their music: they want rap, they want Queen Latifah. (Brooks, Rep art from Part Two 123-24)
In Report from Part One, Gwendolyn Brooks gives an account of her "conversion" to Black  militancy at the 1967 Fisk Writers' Conference. Impressed by the energy and anger in the work of Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) and others, Brooks recognized that "there is indeed a new black today." Acknowledging that for most of her life "almost secretly [she] had felt that to be black was good," she writes that she had "'gone the gamut' from an almost angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters to a surprised queenhood in the new black sun." "I...am qualified," Brooks proclaims, "to enter at least the kindergarten of new consciousness now" (84). Since In the Mecca (1968), Brooks has published her work exclusively with Black presses such as Broadside, Third World Press, and her own David Company, work characterized by a turn toward free verse as well as increasingly direct political content. Although the "kindergarten of new consciousness" fostered in Brooks a new Black identity an d a new sense of Black people as her primary audience, her poetry, as she insisted in an interview with Claudia Tate, has always been "'politically aware'" (42).
Part of her political project has been a clear-eyed, tough, and compassionate look at the plight of children. From A Street in Bronzeville (1945) to the present, Brooks's work has used the image and voice of the child to negotiate a complex poetic strategy that explores "childhood" as a position from which to critique prevailing constructs of class and race. For Brooks, the subject of childhood represents a means through which she can interrogate and unmask dominant notions of domesticity and child-rearing as part of her own radical social and poetic agenda.
Childhood as a subject would gain force in the '40s and '50s for other American poets, including Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Randall Jarrell. But for most poets the subject of childhood was steeped in nostalgia, indicative of the growing trend toward introspection among White intellectuals occasioned by the rise of a newly psychologized self. By contrast, Brooks chose to write about "the children of the poor," to borrow the title of her sonnet sequence from Annie Allen. Critic Gary Smith argues that, "if Brooks's poetry about adults is bleak, her poetry about children is even more so" (130): "Her children do not exist in a pastoral world apart from the socioeconomic and psychological problems that beset her adult characters." Despite this bleakness, Smith argues, children represent "hopeful possibilities" and the transformative potential of "imagination or a radical innocence" (139). Nevertheless, as Brooks's work makes increasingly clear, the imaginative potential and radical innocence of the Roman tic child had to be revised or translated for an age in which innocence was reified, radicalism suspect, and color consciousness discouraged, and in which dissent itself became the subject of Congressional investigations.
Prior to the McCarthy-era backlash, Chicago had become an intellectual and artistic mecca; according to Robert Bone, "the flowering of Negro letters that took place in Chicago from 1935 to 1950 was in all respects comparable to the more familiar Harlem Renaissance" (448). Brooks's career began in those years, during the same cultural moment as the newly prominent Black social scientists trained by Robert Park's Chicago School of Sociology at the University of Chicago. Years before cultural critics would routinely discuss the social construction of race, gender, and sexuality, works written in part or in whole by these social scientists attest to how profoundly the material and emotional circumstances of children are affected by "color-caste" and class distinctions. Drake and Cayton's Black Metropolis (1945), a sociological study of Brooks's South Side neighborhood,  Dollard and Davis's Children of Bondage (1940), and Davis and Gardner's Deep South (1941) demonstrate clearly that childhood is a social cons truct. Many of these same scholars contributed to An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 study of race relations in the United States which would prove controversial when the Supreme Court relied on its findings in deciding Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  Although the opportunities and working conditions for Black scholars in the U.S. were still "shaped by racism," as William Banks notes (130-31), the emergence of the new Black scholarship coupled with the promise of integration made the '40s a hopeful time. But this hope proved to be short-lived. By the 1950s, anti-communist hysteria fueled a resurgence of White supremacist racism as virulent as that during the early decades of the twentieth century. After the '40s, the redefinition of childhood was subsumed under the prevailing cold war family values ideology.
Brooks's poetry explores even more fully the view shared by Black scholars that no single definition of "childhood" could accurately describe the lives of Black children. When A Street in Bronzeville was published on August 15, 1945, World War II was coming to an end and the Cold War was still on the horizon. Despite segregationist policies in the armed forces, the war years and immediate postwar years promised expanded opportunity for Black males in the urban North. In her "public" war poems in the volume, Brooks confronts the complicated intersection of race and masculinity. But while the war poems are the most overtly political poems in the volume, A Street in Bronzeville is no less engaged with homefront politics. The complexity of Brooks's depiction of masculinity in the volume both complements the more "domestic" poems in the book and foreshadows Brooks's Annie Allen (1949) and The Bean Eaters (1960), later poetry which, Susan Schweik observes, "more and more confront[s] political conflicts and violenc e within U.S. culture" (326).  Brooks's politics are deliberately subtle, a strategy that enables her to assume a highly effective, if understated, role as an advocate for Blacks in America.
Among the models for social protest that Brooks had likely read was Richard Wright's documentary book 12 Million Black Voices (1941), an eloquent and searing indictment of the plight of urban Blacks after the Northern migration, lavishly illustrated with photographs chosen by Edwin Rosskam from the files of the Farm Security Administration. Long a fan of Wright's work, Brooks was delighted to receive Wright's complimentary reader's report for Harper which concluded, "Miss Brooks is real and so are her poems." Writing to thank him, Brooks confessed to Wright that he "had been a literary hero of hers for years" (Kent 63). Among the poems Wright had singled out for praise, was Brooks's now-famous poem "kitchenette building": "Only one who has actually lived and suffered in a kitchenette could render the feeling of lonely frustration as well as she does" (qtd. in Kent 62). Wright's indictment of the kitchenette in 12 Million Black Voices paints kitchenette life as hopeless in a way that Brooks's poem does not:
The kitchenette is the author of the glad tidings that new suckers are in town, ready to be cheated, plundered and put in their places.
The kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence, without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual, but all of us, in its ceaseless attacks.
The kitchenette with its filth and foul air, with its one toilet for thirty or more tenants, kills our black babies so fast that in many cities twice as many of them die white babies....
The kitchenette creates thousands of one-room homes where our black mothers sit, deserted, with their children about their knees.
The kitchenette blights the personalities of our growing children, disorganizes them, blinds them to hope, creates problems whose effects can be traced in the characters of its child victims for years afterwards. (105-10)
Though Brooks depicts unflinchingly the "blights" on the personalities of children and adults in Bronzeville, her kitchenette is not merely the site of victimization. Brooks's "things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, / Grayed in and gray," feel the "giddy sound" of dreams, unable to compete with the "strong" demands of" 'rent,' 'feeding a wife,' 'satisfying a man.'" A place of "crowding darkness" with its share of "child victims," the street of the title sequence is populated by specific human beings. If in other circumstances Brooks's kitchenette dwellers might "Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms," they have more pressing and practical concerns:
We wonder. But not well!
not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of
the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water,
hope to get in it. (Blacks 20) 
Hortense Spillers has noted Brooks's "commitment to life in its unextraordinary aspects," which shows us that "common life is not as common as we suspect" (234). Brooks's kitchenette dwellers are potential artists whom necessity has reduced to numbers waiting in line for the kitchenette's overcrowded bathrooms, but the ironic diminishment of their "hope" nevertheless points to that hope's tenacity. Without obscuring the material circumstances of her characters, Brooks nevertheless insists on their value beyond their status as victims. And Spillers (echoing an earlier essay by Houston Baker) describes this dynamic in terms of a dialectic that offers the reader "a model of power, control, and subtlety" that "transcends ideology." 
If by "transcending ideology," Spillers means that Brooks's poetry refuses to approach the political in programmatic ways, then perhaps she is accurate in her assessment. Brooks writes poetry, after all, not the kind of documentary realism so effective in the Wright/ Rosskam volume. But Brooks's poetry is ever attentive to the dominant ideologies of the postwar era, when liberal historians and critics were to proclaim "the end of ideology" altogether.  An age of so-called "consensus history," the '50s saw the invention of the White suburban family as a cultural norm and media icon. Exaggerated fears of the Red Menace coexisted uneasily with a vision of the nation as a consumer paradise. At the end of the decade, Daniel Bell would tell the affluent readers of The End of Ideology (1960) that there was an "actual decline of crime in the United States," and point out that most crimes were now committed by "youths and ... minority groups, principally the Negroes.... The greatest number of crimes in Chicago," c ontinues Bell, "is committed in 'Bronzeville,' the narrow, choked Negro ghetto which runs like a dagger down the south side" (141). But Bell goes on to reassure his White audience that, "however fierce the juvenile gang wars in East Harlem, the intermittent slashings in Bronzeville, or the rumbles in North Beach, it is clear that the score of violence today in no way approaches the open, naked brawling of even thirty or forty years ago" (157).
Dismissing the "assertion that modem life is more violent" as "largely a literary creation," Bell describes the "myth of crime waves" as a result of "the blurring, culturally and ecologically, of class lines.... With the rise of movies and other media," he concludes, came a "widening" of" 'windows' into the full range of life, from which the old middle class had largely been excluded" (157). Bell's "dagger down the south side," viewed through middle-class television windows, was willfully blind to the vibrant life so apparent in Brooks's Bronzevile. Most telling is Bell's equation of "youths" and "minority groups, principally the Negroes." A culture that reduces the man "of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery" to "nothing but a / Plain black boy" is one that both dismisses the value of childhood and denies adults their maturity. For the "Negro Hero" (suggested by Dorrie Miller, whose heroism at Pearl Harbor necessitated his defiance of segregationist military rules), the maturity it takes to "kic k their law into their teeth in order to save them" is predicated on a rejection of received notions of both childhood and adulthood:
... the delicate rehearsal shots of my childhood massed in mirage before me. Of course I was a child
Made me wild.
And my first swallow of the liquor of battle bleeding black air dying and demon noise
It was kinder than that, though, and I showed like a banner my kindness. (Blacks 48-49)
The equation of child and Black man as (in this instance, noble) primitive is successfully interrogated in the poem. The speaker rejects the notion that his heroic act is occasioned by the mere "boy itch to get at the gun." The image of the wild child is rejected in favor of the image of a man: "I loved. And a man will guard when he loves." This is not to say that the "Negro Hero" has rejected his child-self; rather, he rejects a naive version of childhood, and by showing "like a banner" his kindness, he also rejects a stereotypical version of Black male adulthood. Brooks recognizes that Black men's and women's attempts to construct their subjectivities are impeded by the "constant back-question" of a culture that insists on their inferiority (49). That her heroes are often able to negotiate successfully the intra-subjective relationship between their adult and child selves is remarkable in that they must not only bridge the temporal and experiential gap between maturity and childhood, but they must do so in opposition to a law that circumscribes their material and emotional existence. The White middle-class view that equates childishness with blackness per se negates full participation in citizenship, both for Black American soldiers and for growing Black children.
Instead, Brooks's heroes, like Maud Martha, "reckon" with "annoyances," a gray existence of "roaches, and having to be satisfied with the place as it was":
The sobbings, the frustrations, the small hates, the large and ugly hates, the little pushing-through love, the boredom, that came to her from behind those walls (some of them beaver-board) via speech and scream and sigh--all these were gray. And the smells of various types of sweat, and of bathing and bodily functions (the bathroom was always in use, someone was always in the bathroom) and of fresh or stale love-making, which rushed in thick fumes to your nostrils as you walked down the hall, or down the stairs--these were gray.
There was a whole lot of grayness here. (Blacks 205-06)
Had Bell attended to "literary creations" like Maud Martha (1953), he would have seen Bronzeville heroes and heroines deprived of a widening of windows, who nevertheless have a clear-eyed perception of the world outside through "a half-inch crack" (Blacks 319). These "literary creations" struggled to make sense of the maimed bodies of men home from the war and the dissonant images in "the Negro press (on whose front pages beamed the usual representations of womanly Beauty, pale and pompadoured)" which "carried the stories of the latest Georgia and Mississippi lynchings" (Blacks 319-21). If the "kitchenette folks" of Maud Martha's (and Brooks's) Bronzeville "would be grand, would be glorious and brave, would have nimble hearts that would beat and beat" (321). they would do it in the face of a relentless racist ideology. Bell's stereotypes, in fact, find their antithesis in Brooks's poetry, which works to undermine the ways in which even liberal ideology interpellates its victims.
Such pervasive misconceptions of Black life in America were wide-ranging and historically sedimented in intellectual circles, and so the Black scholars in the '30s and '40s relied on the strategic erasure of race. Though among what Du Bois termed "the talented tenth," they knew firsthand the effects of racial discrimination. Allison Davis, the first Black professor hired by the University of Chicago and the first to receive tenure (in 1948), had spent most of his life earning intellectual distinction in segregated institutions.  His research during the forty years he was at Chicago focused on the personality and development of children and adolescents, particularly the influence of social class on learning, which led to pioneering work on cultural bias in intelligence testing. He was the co-author of two major studies of social anthropology--Children of Bondage: The Personality Development of Negro Youth in the Urban South (1940), with John Dollard, and Deep South (1941), with Burleigh and Mary Gardner.
Under the influence of White mentors like W. Lloyd Warner, author of Social Class in America (1949), scholars like Davis recognized the rigidity of "color-caste" distinctions and chose to focus on economic and social class as a strategy for a more effective remediation of inequities. In addition, recognizing the growing influence of psychoanalysis and social psychology, they enlisted the new prestige of those disciplines in order to make their case. In his preface to Children of Bondage (1940), Davis thanks his collaborator John Dollard for helping him achieve "a genuine integration of psychoanalytical and sociological understanding" (xvii). Employing a Freudian-inflected behaviorism as an interpretive schema, Davis and Dollard present case histories of "eight Negro adolescents in the Deep South [New Orleans, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi] selected to represent all class positions in Negro society [whose] experiences illustrate the fundamental controls which each class exercises over the socialization of its members" (xxiii-xxvii). Firm in their insistence that social-Darwinist theories of race are unscientific, they argue that differences between groups are cultural and social, and that the effects of invidious discrimination are psychologically damaging to children.
In 1947, with his colleague, psychologist Robert J. Havighurst, Davis published a child-rearing manual with the commercial publisher Houghton Mifflin. Titled Father of the Man: How Your Child Gets His Personality; the book is a curious amalgam of self-help and scholarship. Addressed to middleclass mothers (10), and concerned mostly with private behavior and psychological concerns, Father of the Man nevertheless draws on the authors' scholarly study "Social Class and Color Differences in Child-Rearing," published in the December 1946 issue of American Sociological Review. This research, based on 200 "guided interviews" with "fifty mothers [of young children] in each of four groups, white middle class, white lower class, Negro middle class, and Negro lower class"--most of them residents of Chicago's South Side ("Social Class" 700)--is also presented as Appendix I in Father of the Man (215-19).
Though the Wordsworthian title of the latter study might suggest a Romantic faith in divine childhood, more accurately, it reflects Davis's background as a poet and literary critic.  In addition to chapter epigraphs by Shakespeare, Auden, William Saroyan, Steinbeck, and Lewis Carroll, Davis includes epigraphs from Sterling Brown's Southern Road and Brooks's A Street in Bronzeville, published two years earlier. His use of Brooks's work in the context of a child-rearing manual from a major trade publisher for an audience of middle-class (presumably White) mothers illustrates the cultural and ideological dissonance between his claims for childhood as a universal human stage and his concern about the specific effects of social-class and colorcaste distinctions on actual children. Chapter III of Father of the Man, entitled "Silver Spoon or Sugar Teat?" bears two epigraphs, one from Brooks and one from Davis's mentor, W. Lloyd Warner:
A class system also provides that children are born into the same status as their parents. A class society distributes rights and privileges, duties and obligations, unequally among its members. --W. Lloyd Warner
I've stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back....
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play,
I want a good time today.
They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it's fine.
How they don't have to go in at quarter to nine.
Gwendolyn Brooks (17)
Davis's omissions from Brooks's poem are telling. Aside from truncating the end of the third and all of the last verse paragraphs, the ellipsis omits the speaker's hunger and urgency to explore the unfamiliar, and most likely her sexuality: "Where it's rough and untended and the hungry weed grows. / A girl gets sick of a rose. / I want to go in the back yard now" (Blacks 28).  Abstracted from its context in the "Street in Bronzeville" sequence, "a song in the front yard," in Davis's edited version, is a far less threatening--and a far less complex--poem. The little girl who speaks "a song" expresses admiration for the "bad woman" Johnnie May because she intuits that her "bad" identity is largely a matter of masquerade:
But I say it's fine. Honest, I do.
And I'd like to be a bad woman, too.
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the street with paint on my face. (Blacks 28)
Davis intentionally obscures the issue of race in his study as part of a strategic insistence that class differences are far more important than color differences.  Brooks's front-yard singer, however, is far more rebellious and complicated: The emblems of her rebellion are both "brave" and "night-black." The painted face seems to the speaker to provide an identity that can be assumed at will, perhaps a form of racial as well as sexual masquerade, but the poet maintains an ironic distance from the speaker, knowing that such performances have limited transgressive potential. However, the child speaker's monologue as "a song" helps her to negotiate difficult questions of self in the context of a specific culture and community. As Brooks demonstrates in the volume as a whole, identity, like community and culture, cannot be satisfactorily reduced to "good" vs. "bad." The diversity of Bronzeville belies easy moral distinctions; populated by a wide variety of characters from the heroic to the hypocritical, A St reet refuses to shy away from the neighborhood's pervasive tensions over class and color.  And Brooks as author generally refrains from easy judgment. One surmises, for instance, that the mother of the front-yard singer has acted out of love and concern for the child's well-being. But since, inevitably, "a girl gets sick of a rose," that protective restraint has left the girl ill-equipped to confront the realities of the world she longs to experience. The mother's too rigid morality is inadequate sustenance for the incipient adolescent, who begins to question the binaries of class--working poor vs. charity cases--of sexuality, and, arguably, of color--the purity of the rose vs. night-black lace stockings.
While she seems sympathetic to the girl's longings, as her biographer George Kent observes, Brooks "rejected the exotic vein of the Harlem Renaissance," injecting "satire and realism" into her portraits of ordinary Bronzevillians (66-67). Reminiscent of Allison Davis's 1928 Crisis essay (see n9), Brooks's contribution to Phylon's 1950 symposium on "The Negro Writer"--"Poets Who are Negroes"--cautions Negro writers against getting carried away by the "ready-made subjects" of Black life: "No real artist is going to be content with offering raw materials. The Negro poet's most urgent duty, at present, is to polish his technique.... The mere fact of lofty subject, great drive, and high emotion," Brooks argues, is insufficient to make poetry, because these qualities lack "embellishment," "interpretation," and "subtlety" (312). Though often read as a product of "the strain that Brooks felt in attempting to negotiate a fruitful relationship between race and art... during a historical period that mingled racial prid e with an integrationist ethos" (Mootry, "Down" 9), Brooks's essay assumes that the
Negro ... cannot escape having important things to say. His mere body, for that matter, is an eloquence. His quiet walk down the street is a speech to the people. Is a rebuke, is a plea, is a school. (312)
This is not the observation of a poet single-mindedly heralding art over political engagement. Her injunction to the Negro poet to "polish his technique" is directed at focusing "his way of presenting his truths and his beauties, that these may be more insinuating, and, therefore, more overwhelming" (312).
In May, 1950, Brooks received the unexpected news that she had won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Annie Allen. As the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, she was thrust into a public role as cultural observer and spokeswoman, particularly regarding race matters. Despite this newfound fame, she and her husband and son were still living in a two-room kitchenette at 623 East 63rd Street. In early 1951, the thirty-three-year-old Brooks was delighted to find herself pregnant with her second child, Nora. Hoping to raise enough money for a down payment on a house, she sought to supplement the meager $500 advance she had received for her novel Maud Martha (1953) and turned to writing feature stories for popular magazines. Among these stories was "How I Told My Child About Race," published in the June 1951 Negro Digest. Brooks recalls an incident of racist violence, when "six or seven young white men" threw "handfuls of rocks" and shouted "'Look at the nig-gers' "at Brooks and her then five-year-old son Henry, Jr., during their evening stroll by "the beautiful buildings of the [U]niversity" of Chicago. Brooks vowed with bitter irony "never again to take evening walks east of Cottage Grove with [her] son":
Formerly I had felt that if any place at all was safe, the university district, mecca of basic enlightenment and progressive education would be safe. The buildings, with their delicate and inspiring spires, seemed now to leer, to crowd us with mutterings--"Oh no, you black bodies!-- no sanctuary here. You have found no sanctuary, you will find no sanctuary anywhere. This beauty is not for you, the architects, the builders, did not have the elongations of your filthy shadows in mind as they worked, as they shaped. Get out, get out, get out..." (30)
When Henry, Jr., asks "why-why-why--would 'those men' want to hurt us," his mother regains her composure, explaining that those with "light skins" feel that they are "better than us and that therefore they are entitled to rule others":
When you are bigger you may be able to help them change the way they feel by teaching them.... you are a person, and good, wise, and helpful to the world. Even without their education in mind, you would want to be good, wise and helpful anyhow. While you are little and helpless, you can do nothing but try to see trouble before it hits you with stones, and get away from it as best you can. (10)
The richly contradictory symbol of the University of Chicago occasions an expression of rage, though tempered somewhat by her tone of equanimity as she speaks to her son. Though it was home to Allison Davis and, for its time, represented a progressive approach to race relations, the University was nonetheless a stately and visible symbol of White privilege in Brooks's Black neighborhood. Furthermore, as she contemplates the imminent birth of her daughter Nora, Brooks knows that a similar explanation of race will have to be repeated.
These concerns are further expressed in her early '50s journalism which appeared in Black journals like Phylon and Negro Digest, as well as in an essay Brooks wrote for the travel magazine Holiday titled "They Call it Bronzeville" (October 1951). Addressing the magazine's White audience using the conceit of a "white Stranger who enters Bronzeville for the first time" (61), Brooks demonstrates the intersection of class and race in the construction of childhood by contrasting the children of Woodlawn--"the elite area of Bronzeville"--with those of "Bronzeville proper." In the Woodlawn neighborhood of "brown-brick bungalows and attractive small apartment houses...the children"
But eight-year-old Clement Lewy lives "an interesting life, a life perhaps like an unmixed batter--lumpy, vaguely disheveled." Clement, a latchkey child whose "mother has grown listless since her husband deserted her," nevertheless
are very light, or maybe apricot, a sort of sunburst brown. If, unhappily, the children are dark, just plain out-and-out dark that nothing can be done about, that not even Golden Peacock or Black and White bleach can "help," then their parents have to spend money on clothes, have to force music or art through those black unfortunate finge rs, have to maneuver those black bodies into the right social situations, have to "scheme." (62)
looks alert, almost too alert; he looks happy, he is always spirited. He is in second grade. He does his work and has been promoted at the proper times. At home he sings. He recites little poems. He tells his mother little stories wound out of the air. His mother glances at him once in a while. She would be proud of him if she had the time. (63) 
As with the children who populate Brooks's first two volumes of poems, the restrictions of color and class impinge on the promise of artistry. The very existence of a ghetto, "something that should not exist--an area set aside for the halting use of a single race," Brooks argues, has a profound effect on children's attempts to negotiate what is "essentially only what is ordinary: human struggle, human whimsicality, and human reach toward soul-settlement" (61).
The photographs accompanying the article (undoubtedly chosen by the editors rather than Brooks) contradict Brooks's portrayal of Bronzevillians as ordinary human beings. Rather, they are drawn as entertainers and exotics: a debutante ball at "an exclusive Bronzeville social club"; a gathering of artists and writers; Eldzier Cortor, nationally known Chicago artist, depicted with a nude man wearing a Haitian ritual mask; a light-skinned cover girl posing for "Tan Confessions, a racy sister magazine of Ebony, influential Negro monthly"; and "Sepia Show Girls" at the White-owned Club De Lisa. The lone remaining photograph depicts a boy of six or seven drinking from a glass by a window in an obviously shabby apartment. The caption reads: "HIS ARM BROKEN, his mother dead, his father vanished, this Bronzeville waif looks wistfully at life from the window of his foster home" (114). Brooks's effort to teach the White Stranger that Bronzeville is "a place where People live" (116), is undercut by the photo spread which suggests that Bronzeville is a place of dancing, singing, happy, exotic, oversexed adult Negroes who abuse and neglect their children.
When Ursula Nordstrom proposed a volume of children's verse in 1955, Brooks tackled the task with vigor, writing the poems in Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956) at the rate of a poem a day (Kent 122). Like most first-time children's writers, she was given no choice of illustrators or any input regarding the illustrations themselves. And once again the disparity between her text and the accompanying illustrations is telling. Ronni Solbert's black-and-white line drawings portray the Bronzeville children, sometimes with stylized Black facial characteristics, but all with white faces. According to George Kent, Brooks found the illustrations disturbing. Granted, the poems themselves do not mention race, except obliquely, in keeping with the integrationist ethos then endorsed by Brooks. Perhaps recognizing that the poems would be judged according to the standards of what Nancy Larrick called "the all-white world of children's books," Brooks implies race only in the title of the volume and in the dramatic monologue by Gertrude, which begins "When I hear Marian Anderson sing, / I am a STUFFless kind of thing" (Bronzeville Boys and Girls 31). Portending the negative criticism Brooks would receive for being too political in her adult volume The Bean Eaters (1960), Doris M. King, writing in the Black quarterly Phylon, gently chided the poet for introducing "a note of social comment" into her otherwise delightful poems about "those untranslatable people who 'come trailing clouds of glory.'" Replete with condescending and universalizing descriptions of children--"the stubborn but facile minds of children, the literal though wildly imaginative" (93)--King's review faults the poems depicting the material conditions of Bronzeville because their "social comment" "encumber[s] the universal wonder of childhood." Preferring the poems that "interpret life from the inside out," King argues that the best poems in the book "are not about Bronzeville boys and girls, but simply boys and girls" (94).
That King should prefer the poems that are "unfettered by social implications" confirms the difficulty Brooks faced in disrupting the idealizing and sentimental view of childhood endorsed by mainstream culture in the '50s. In the best poems in the volume, Brooks employs a surface sentimentality in order to undermine it, as in the pathos of "Otto":
It's Christmas Day. I did not get
The presents that I hoped for. Yet,
It is not nice to frown or fret.
To frown or fret would not be fair.
My Dad must never know I care
It's hard enough for him to bear. (38)
D. H. Melhem has compared the poems of Bronzeville Boys and Girls to Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses (Gwenzdolyn 95-99), but although the comparison is sometimes apt, there is none of Stevenson's irony at the child's expense. The ironies of Brooks's volume explore the disparity between the sentimental conventions of a mid-'50s children's book (including the inapt and often inept illustrations) and the everyday lives of Bronzeville children, such as "John, Who Is Poor," a boy reminiscent of the Clement Lewy of the Holiday article and Maud Martha:
Oh, little children, be good to John!-
Who lives so lone and alone.
Whose Mama must hurry to toil all day.
Whose Papa is dead and done.
Give him a berry, boys, when you may,
And, girls, some mint when you can.
And do not ask when his hunger will end,
Nor yet when it began. (38)
The last stanza's ironies seem doubly addressed to adult and child readers, as if Brooks anticipates that the child reader will inevitably ask the question the poet forbids. Doris King's preferred Wordsworthian childhood is confronted with the restricted urban spaces where nature is represented by a lone tree or a child's fantasy of escaping to the country, where it is unlikely that the boys and girls whom the speaker exhorts to be "kind" to John will find berries or mint to relieve his hunger. Thus poems like "Rudolph is Tired of the City" or "Lyle" deliberately reject a poetic that would require children's poetry to be "as light and free and delightful as the child" (King 92). Rather than "arousing...nostalgia" in adult readers, these poems seem calculated to point out the dangers of a nostalgia that obscures the actual conditions of children. Given the relationship between Brooks and her editors at Harper, and the cultural climate of the mid-'50s, Brooks is quietly subversive in these poems, which prefigur e the powerful children's monologues in Children Coming Home (1991). 
In the '50s, Brooks wrote as a young mother whose poetry was essential for the well-being of her own children in a racist society; today, she writes as a poet with decades of a political commitment to working closely with children and poetry. In her work of the '60s and '70s, Brooks's children are catalysts for change, both as symbols and through their own poetic voices: The remembered "infant softness" of Emmett Till becomes a symbol that awakens the conscience of the Mississippi mother for whose sake he has been lynched ("A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon," Blacks 333-39), while the voice of the murdered Pepita S. in her couplet at the end of "In the Mecca" ("I touch"--she said once--"petals of a rose. / A silky feeling through me goes!" [Blacks 4331) "becomes the most vital voice of the community," as Gayl Jones (203) points out. By 1975, Brooks had become increasingly concerned with fostering children's vital voices, so that rather than being "offere d in distorted images through the mirrors of others," as Jones says of Pepita, they may "speak for [themselves]" (203). In her ars poetica, published in a capsule course in Black Poetry Writing (1975), Brooks instructs novice writers to "Remember that ART is refining and evocative translation of the materials of the world!" (Brooks et al.11) and calls for "a new black literature" that will "italicize black identity, black solidarity, black self-possession, and self address" (3).
This commitment and hopefulness manifested itself in action throughout the '70s and '80s as Brooks conducted informal poetry workshops for children in her neighborhood, published several writing guides for young people, and tirelessly promoted poetry and literacy as ways of living meaningfully in an increasingly hostile world. As Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress in 1985-86, Brooks gave generously to the Washington area community, visiting schools and paying for a series of readings by young poets out of her own pocket, as I and other members of the D.C. poetry community at the time observed firsthand. In Very Young Poets (1983) Brooks offers solid advice to child poets that poems can address both the fantasy worlds of "kings and princesses" and the actual world of "blue jeans, school and lessons and teachers and garbagemen, babies, old people, McDonald's hamburgers, gardens, jail and prisoners" (12). Rather than romanticize children's "stubborn but facile minds," Brooks exhorts her young poets to read not just the "many kinds of poetry," but "also he news, stories, biography, history, science books and newsmagazines. These will help you THINK," she admonishes, "and your thoughts will inspire more poems" (15). "In all this willful world / of thud and thump and thunder," she writes in one of the "Eight Poems for Children" concluding the volume,
By 1986, however, in The Near Johannesburg Boy, dedicated "to the students of Gwendolyn Brooks Junior High School, Harvey, Illinois," it becomes clear that books alone may not provide enough "meat and medicine." For children who "flail in the Hot Time" (4) in South Africa, or who confront the possibility of "Early Death" in urban America with its proliferation of guns and the temptations of the "small seductive vial" of crack (18-19), poetry seems insufficient weaponry. In a world where Black children in South Africa "ask each other: 'Have you been detained yet? How many times have you been detained?'" (3) or where Black children in Chicago know that "Death is / just down the street; is most obliging neighbor; / can meet you any moment," only a communal expression of grief and anger provides a fitting memorial "Of the Young Dead":
Books are meat and medicine and flame and flight and flower, steel, stitch, cloud and clout, and drumbeats on the air. (27)
What is to cherish is the child
who loved us, who loved science and
wished the world well.
Keeping those gifts of self, beyond the changes.
we keep the living light of our young dead. (18)
Faced with the erosion of Black empowerment in the '80s and '90s, even Brooks's optimism reaches its limits. In Children Coming Home (1991), a collection of twenty powerful dramatic monologues in children's voices, Brooks's children emerge as casualties of national policies which promote the fiction of a color-blind society while social and economic disparities between Black and White communities increase.
Deliberately abandoning the formal virtuosity that characterized her earlier work, Brooks represents children's voices through a seemingly simple, declarative method, which is underscored by the volume's design: an old-fashioned children's composition book, with a black-and-white mottled cover. The prefatory poem, "After School," delineates the odds against children's empowerment in a culture that devalues them:
Not all of the children
come home to cookies and cocoa.
Some come home to crack cocaine.
Some come to be used in various manners.
One will be shot on his way home to warmth, wit and wisdom.
One teacher mutters "My God, they are gone.
One is ripe to report Ten People to the Principal.
One muses "How have I served or disturbed them today?"
One whispers "The little Black Bastards."
One sees all children as clothing: the blue blouse--
the green dress-the tight-fitting T-shirt.
One will take home for homework each of the
twenty, the thirty, the forty one.
Against a backdrop of over-crowded classrooms, domestic and street violence, and even the war in the Persian Gulf, the twenty children who speak in the volume live a social reality far removed from--and far more complex than-the children of Bronzeville Boys and Girls. Institutionalized violence against the family, which often breeds intra-family violence and abuse, is portrayed unflinchingly. Even attempts at Afro-centric education to foster self-esteem seem ineffective in the world of Children Coming Home. For Tinsel Marie, who has learned about "The Coora Flower" that "grows high in the mountains of Itty-go-luba Besa,"
School is a tiny vacation. At least you can sleep....
But now it's Real Business.
I am Coming Home.
My mother will be screaming in an almost dirty dress.
The crack is gone. So a Man will be in the house.
I must watch myself.
I must not dare to sleep. (1)
Sala learns that in "East Afrika" her name "means gentleness," but there is little gentleness in her life. Feeling herself "sucked into earth," "whipped through the wind," and "drowning, oddly, in an odd ocean," she anaesthetizes herself with alcohol:
Well, now I am coming home.
I shall be better
after the aspirin and wine. (8)
Undoubtedly, D. H. Melhem notes, Brooks "sees today's children in their context1 and... proclaims an emergency" ("Afterword" 158), but even in the midst of emergency the poems offer hope for children's potential to employ poetic language in order to make sense of their world. Though the monologues are spare and often despairing, their poetry emerges in the silences between declarative statements, in associative leaps, and in metonymic resonances. Jamal's monologue, "Nineteen Cows In A Slow Line Walking," is a telling illustration of Brooks's craft. Jamal has seen the cows on a train "when [he] was five years old" (though the reader surmises he is not much older when he speaks the poem):
Each cow was behind a friend.
Except for the first cow, who was God.
I smiled until
one cow near the end
jumped in front of a friend.
That reminded me of my mother and of my father.
It spelled what is their Together.
I was sorry for the spelling lesson.
I turned my face from the glass. (2)
Jamal perceives the line of cows as an orderly procession led by a benevolent God. Reading the line of cows from the moving train, he witnesses a disruption of that order (which is also a breach of friendship) that "spells" out for him the disruption in his family life. Jamal's "reading" is supplanted by the institutional forces of family and school in such a way that he turns from the glass that is both his window on the world and a mirror in which he can see his own image. The associative seeing of the meaningful relationship among the cows is thus converted into a mere lesson in which getting it right produces an abdication of poetic ways of seeing. And yet the process of that loss is reproduced by the monologue itself, so that, in a very real way. Jamal has achieved a saving grace by converting the loss into poetic utterance.
Jamal, like young Martin D., who finds in the books his father provides "fire" that is an antidote to "school," which "has made [him] crispy-cold," must fight to be resilient in a society in which children's empowerment through language has become an expendable luxury. As Brooks learned in "the kindergarten of new consciousness" of the Black Power Movement, the institutions of the school and the family, which should foster children's well-being, too often perpetuate their pain. Like the inhabitants of the "kitchenette building" of the '40s, Brooks's children of the '90s must seek out their own strength and solace; Novelle takes comfort in the love of her "warm and wide and long" Grandmother with whom she eats "walnuts and apples / in a one-room kitchenette above The / Some Day Liquor Gardens" (4). As the poems m Children Coming Home attest, the "crowding darkness" of A Street in Bronzeville has intensified.
In the sonnet sequence "the children of the poor" (Annie Allen ), Brooks questions the efficacy of art for embattled children; "First fight. Then fiddle" (118), she advises. Her poetry, at once advocacy and artistry, demonstrates that fighting and fiddling may be part of the same project. In the course of over fifty years of writing for and about children, Brooks's complex negotiation of childhood teaches us that the failure to see children in the specificity of their lived circumstances "makes a trap for us." Childhood, seen through the reifying lens of a romanticized nostalgia, naturalizes children's "little lifting helplessness, the queer / Whimper-whine" (115). Rather than empowering children, we see them, at best, as representations of our own "lost softness." We look away from evidence of suffering, making "a sugar" in the face of their vulnerability. By posing uncomfortable social questions in the disarming voices of child speakers, Brooks subtly employs the image of the innocent child to expose not-so-innocent social practices, and offers a compelling critique of the ways in which these practices construct the child as "quasi, contraband" (116). In letting children speak, through her own poetic voice, and in helping them Find their own voices, she provides both "arms and armor" for social change. In the '40s, Brooks first posed the question "What shall I give my children? who are poor, / Who are adjudged the leastwise in the land" (Blacks 116). At the end of the century, her question has not yet received a sufficient answer.
Richard Flynn is Professor of Literature at Georgia Southern University, where he specializes in contemporary poetry and children's literature. He wishes to thank Professor Gareth Matthews of the University of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Humanities for the opportunity to participate in Professor Matthews's 1998 NEH Summer Seminar "Issues in the Philosophy of Childhood," during which much of the initial research for this essay was conducted. Special thanks are also due to Professor Alden Nielsen of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and to Professor Patricia Pace of Georgia Southern University for their valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of this essay. Professor Flynn dedicates this essay to the memory of his father, Richard James Flynn (1928-1998), who, as Chief Justice Earl Warren's law clerk in 1954, was the author of the controversial footnote 11 in Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483), which cited the work of sociologists Kenneth Clark and Gunnar Myrdal, among others , as a basis for overturning Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), 163 U.S. 537. His gift of The World of Gwendolyn Brooks on his son's seventeenth birthday introduced Professor Flynn to the work of this remarkable poet.
(1.) In keeping with Brooks's practice, I use the term Black rather than African American throughout this essay. One reason Brooks prefers the term Black is that it promotes solidarity among people of color throughout the world; another is that she continues to see the usefulness of the term for promoting Black pride; her speaker Kojo in Children Coming Home says, "I am other than hypenation." Brooks explains her unpopular "objection . . . to the designation African-American" in Report from Part Two (132-33).
(2.) Brooks's article "Why Negro Women Leave Home" in the March 1951 issue of Negro Digest engages in a public debate with St. Clair Drake's "Why Men Leave Home" (Apr. 1950) and Roi Ottley's "What's Wrong with Negro Women" (Dec. 1950). For an account of the debate in relation to Brooks's war poetry, see Schweik 115-22. Black Metropolis was based on the Cayton-Warner research in the '30s, research which also formed the basis for Wright's 12 Million Black Voices. Wright contributed the introduction to the first edition.
(3.) Though the work of progressive Black scholars was published frequently during the 1940s, their names (including Dr. Davis's) are relegated to the acknowledgments in Myrdal's book. Nevertheless, in light of what Stuart Whitfield describes as the "right wing and racist attacks on his book as Communist [which] became common in the following decade" (23), it is evident that the intellectual climate before the Cold War was much more hospitable to the work of Black scholars than it would become under the specter of McCarthyism. The chilling effects on the social sciences of "the alliance between anti-Communists and white supremacists" after Brown is discussed in Schrecker 393, 404-11.
(4.) Schweik argues that poems such as "Negro Hero" and "Gay Chaps at the Bar" both transgress normative gender roles and serve as ironic protests against the segregationist policies of the armed forces. The passage of "Negro Hero" that Schweik finds most telling is the third and fourth stanzas, in which the speaker figures himself in the "image of the soldier-as-really-a-child ... half-feral and half-spoon-fed" and in the "image of the soldier-as-Real-Man ... with full self-awareness." That the two images exist simultaneously in the Negro Hero's "divided self," Schweik argues, "provide[s] a startlingly subversive representation of maleness" (119-20). Though I offer a somewhat different reading of the passage, my reading reinforces rather than negates Schweik's analysis. In another useful essay, Ann Folwell Stanford argues that Brooks's "battlefield exists simultaneously on foreign fronts, in the trenches, on Chicago streets, and even at home" (198).
(5.) For an interesting and provocative interpretation of Wright's and Brooks's depictions of kitchenette living, see Griffin, esp. 69-82 and 100-14.
(6.) Even as late as the '70s, ideological was a negative adjective in the literary critic's lexicon. Baker, in his pioneering 1972 essay "The Achievement of Gwendolyn Brooks," concludes that "the critic (whether black or white) who comes to her work seeking only support for his ideology will be disappointed for, as Etheridge Knight has pointed out, she has ever spoken the truth. And truth, one likes to feel, always lies beyond the boundaries of any one ideology" (28). Spillers's essay, which first appeared in Gilbert and Gubar's anthology Shakespeare's Sisters in 1979, concludes, "No ideologue, Brooks does not have to be" (235). One recognizes, of course, the cultural moment in which Baker and Spillers write, but one must also recognize that Brooks's writing, editing, and teaching during the same cultural moment was explicitly and unashamedly "ideological."
(7.) The phrase the end of ideology is from Daniel Bell's 1960 book of the same title. Stuart Whitfield's comment on the orthodoxy of public school textbooks influenced by the "consensus history" is germane here: "Intellectuals who wrote obituaries for ideology in the 1950s either used the term in a restrictive sense (referring to the eclipse of socialism among themselves) or had not examined the American history texts that public schools adopted" (55). Drawing on Frances FitzGerald's description of how history textbooks underwent an "ideological freeze during the Cold War" (FitzGerald 44), Whitfield discusses how attacks by "business associations and right-wing citizens' groups" made textbooks bland in order to make them acceptable to a host of conservative ideologues. The Texas legislature, for instance, voted to require loyalty oaths of all textbook writers and passed a resolution requiring that textbooks emphasize "'our glowing and throbbing history of hearts and souls inspired by wonderful American prin ciples and traditions'" (FitzGerald 37-38).
(8.) Davis, the first Black professor employed by the University of Chicago, was hired only because the liberal Julius Rosenwald Fund paid his salary; he was not permitted to buy a house in Hyde Park or even to use the faculty club (Hillis 117). The valedictorian of the class of 1924 at Williams College, Davis had not been permitted to live on that campus (Oleck 39). Hoping to become a poet, Davis then took the M.A. in literature from Harvard, taught for a few years and studied anthropology, eaming a second M.A. from Harvard in 1932 and becoming co-director of field research in social anthropology until he took a teaching position at the historically Black Dillard University in 1935. Joining the University of Chicago in 1940 as a research associate, he earned the Ph.D. in 1942. Later in life, he served as a member of the President's Commission on Civil Rights under Lyndon Johnson, and was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" shortly before his death in 1983.
(9.) A contributor of poetry and essays to W. E. B. Du Bois's The Crisis during the '20s, Davis was not only concerned with literature for its own sake, but was concerned with what he took to be stereotypical representations of Blacks in literature, by both Black and White authors. In a 1928 essay for The Crisis, Davis assailed the vogue of primitivism during the Harlem Renaissance: Our 'intellectuals,' then," he states in his conclusion, 'both those in literature and those in race criticism, have capitalized on the sensational aspects of Negro life, at the expense of general truth and sound judgment. Primitivism has carried the imagination of our poets and storytellers into the unhealthy and the abnormal. A sterile cynicism has driven our Menckenized critics into smart coarseness" (286).
(10.) Davis and Havighurst's chapter concerns two families, the Washingtons, who are poor and Black and live in a kitchenette, and the Bretts, who are comfortably middle-class, White, and live in a ten-room home (though the race of neither family is directly specified in the book). For Davis and other Black sociologists of his generation, the strategic erasure of race intended to appeal to their liberal audiences and mentors led them to think of class in social rather than economic terms. Such strategies were challenged by more radical thinkers such as Marxist sociologist O. C. Cox. In a series of articles and in his major study Caste, Class, and Race (1948), Cox took on the Black sociological establishment and the "Negro as caste" school for their failure to realize "the reality that capitalism requires the continuation of an exploitable class in order to preserve itself" (Jones 157-58). See Cox, esp. 489-508.
(11.) "a song in the front yard" can be fruitfully read alongside other poems in A Street that concern intra-racial color prejudice, including "patent leather," "southeast corner," "the ballad of chocolate Mabbie," "Ballad of Pearl May Lee," and, arguably, "Sadie and Maud." What Brooks later termed "the angry rejection of my dark skin by some of my brainwashed brothers and sisters" (Report from Part One 86) provides a significant inspiration for Brooks in many of the poems in A Street in Bronzeville. The earliest discussion of the theme of intra-racial color prejudice in Brooks's work is Arthur P. Davis's 1962 article "The Black-and-Tan Motif in the Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks." The theme, which grew out of Brooks's own experience of prejudice as a dark-skinned Black, is present throughout her career--in Annie Allen and Maud Martha, as well as poems as recent as "The Life of Lincoln West" (1970) and Fleur's dramatic monologue "Our White Mother Says We Are Black But Not Very" from Children Coming Home (1991). Fo r an excellent discussion of the theme of intra-racial prejudice in Brooks's work, see Erkkila 185-234.
(12.) Chapter 13 of Father of the Man, "The First Child Against the Second," concerns sibling rivalry and bears as one of its epigraphs the first stanza of Brooks's "the murder": "This is where poor Percy died, I Short of the age of one./ His brother Brucie, with a grin, / Burned him up for fun" (Davis and Havighurst, Father 119; Brooks, Blacks 38). Davis and Havinghurst's point is that sibling rivalry is inevitable in the "restricted" nuclear family prevalent in Europe and America, and they point to "folk groups" where extended families alleviate such rivalry. In Brooks's poem, the "murder" is the result of the mother's leaving her children unsupervised (kitchenette living being unconducive to extended families). But she obscures the role that material conditions play in the children's being left alone by allowing the "murder' to take place while the mother "gossip[s] down the street" (38). In a March 1969 interview with George Stavros, Brooks corrects this false note in the poem: "'The Murder [sic] really ha ppened except for the fact that I said the boy's mother was gossiping down the street. She was working. (I guess I did her an injustice there.)" (Report from Part One 153-54).
(13.) The portrait of Clement Lewy is reproduced nearly verbatim in the "kitchenette folks" chapter of Maud Martha (Blacks 256-58), albeit with a more poetic beginning: "Then there was Clement Lewy, a little boy at the back, on the second floor./ Lewy life was not terrifically tossed. Saltless, rather. Or like an unmixed batter. Lumpy."
(14.) See George Kent's account of Brooks abandoning her novel-in-progress The Life of Lincoln West in order to write Bronzeville Boys and Girls (119-23). The first chapter of the novel was eventually published as a short story in 1963, and as a poem in 1970. Lincoln, "the ugliest boy / that everyone ever saw," is a victim of intra-racial prejudice, because of his pronounced Black features. When he is seven, a White man in a movie theater, makes a racist remark to his friend about Lincoln: "'THERE! That's the kind I've been wanting / to show you! One of the best / examples of the species. Not like / those diluted Negroes you see so much of on / the streets these days, but the / real thing. / Black, ugly and odd. You / can see the savagery. The blunt / blankness. That is the real thing'" (Blacks 487-88). Lincoln disregards the racist context, focusing on the phrase the real thing, which the narrator says "comforted him" (489). That a work of similar power didn't make its way into Brooks's 1956 children's book i s understandable, but in her later poetry for and about children, such issues are raised in an effort to "speak the truth to the people," as she says, quoting Man Evans, in the epigraph to Children Coming Home.
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