Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971

Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971

Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971

Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971


"A spectacular piece of work. It has great value both for the amount and quality of its empirical data and for its intelligent and lucid interrogation of the nature of ethnographic inquiry. Rose is one of the few scholars who blesses his work with a finely-tuned sense of literary style; his writing is by turn scientific, novelistic, and poetic--and it is jargon-free."--Journal of American Folklore


I heard the pounding of the basketball echo off the boarded-up school building. Three high-school boys played on an abandoned pad of concrete. There was no net for the rim, and sometimes the ball fell through the hoop so cleanly there was the illusion it had missed altogether.

I stopped and watched and felt like playing, partly because they could use another man to make opposing teams with two each. I asked if I could play and one of them said, Yeah. So he and I were one of the teams.

I was staying in the youth hostel in Fairmount Park, the large expanse of grass and trees that lies on either side of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River. I had just hauled part of my library and household goods to Philadelphia from Madison, Wisconsin. My wife, Karen, was to come out on the next trip. Through the University of Pennsylvania I had received a dissertation grant to study the everyday life of Afro-Americans. On this warm September Saturday I had been walking through an old section of the city along Lombard Street in South Philadelphia where black people had historically lived; now I was dribbling the ball and deciding whether to pass off or drive in for a layup.

My teammate and the other two were playing at playing ball; I was caught up in a double game. My partner might try an impossible move and lose the ball, or he might try the same daring feint and succeed. Either way the three of them laughed and commented and talked to one another, and I had trouble picking up what they were saying. Some of the moves they were trying were so exaggerated and risky that none of us had any hope they would work. I was alert to differences between the way I had grown up playing

In an uneasy compromise with history I have not capitalized the word black in this book. in 1969 I heard the word used exclusively as a pejorative by the men and women with whom I associated. I have written the word here without caps as it was used then. At present it is customary to capitalize it since it has largely replaced Negro and Afro-American in common usage.

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