STRIKE AND FADE
he word was out. Cool
it. We on the street, see. Me and Big Skin. We watch the cops. They
us. People going and coming. That fire truck still wrecked up side the
buildin. Papers say we riot, but we didnt riot. We like the VC, the
Cong. We strike and fade. Me and Big Skin, we scoutin the street the
day to see how much we put down on them. Big Skin, he walkin ahead of
He walkin light, easy, pawin. It daylight but you still got to walk
on the street. Anytime the Mowhites might hit the block on rubber, then
what we do? We be up tight for space, so we all eyes, all feet and
You got to do it.
make it to Bone's place. Bone, he the only blood on the block got
a business. Mowhite own the cleaners, the supermarket, the laundry, the
tavern, the drugstore, and all the rest. Yeah. But after we burn out
them places, Mowhite he close down his stores for a week.
block occupied with cops and National Guard, but the Guard left
yesterday. Man, they more cops on the street now than rats. We figure
best thing to do is to kill the cops first so we can get back to killin
rats. They watch us. But they got nothin on Big Skin and me. Naw. We
They got Sammy, Momo, Walter and his sister too, Doris, Edie, and they
even got Mr. Tomkins. He a school teacher. I had him once. He was a
stud. Me and Big Skin make it to Bone's place. There a lot of guys
hang around. Listen to talk. I buy a coke. Big Skin take half. I
hold my coke. Police cars pass outside. They like wolves, cruisin. We
Nobody mess with us. A cat name Duke, he talkin.
cats got to get more together with this thang. Look at the cats
in Brooklyn, Chicago. Birmingham and Cleveland. Look at the cats in
cat named Mace, he talkin. Mace just got out the Army. "Don't worry,
man. It's comin." He point out the window. "This is raw oppression,
Look at them mf's. Raw oppression." Mace, he like to use them two words
so he sayin them over and over again. He say them words all the time.
aint funny cause they true. We all look out the window at the cops.
he behind the counter makin hamburgers. When he get too many orders
he can't handle, then one of the cats come behind the counter and give
him a hand. Me and Big Skin light up cigarettes. Big Skin pass them
I take the last one. I squeeze the pack up so tight, my fingernails cut
my hand. I like to make it tight. I throw that pack at the trash can.
bounce in and bounce back. But Duke, he catch it. He throw it in. Not
hard. It stay. He talkin.
mean, if every black man in this goddamn country would dedicate one
half of a day next week to a boycott. Just don't go to work! Not a
pushin a thing for Charley. Hell, man we tie it up. We still the
man. We still got this white mf on our backs. What the hell we totin
No sooner we make another move, whitey be down on us like rats
on warm cheese. It be raw oppression double over. Gestapo. Man, they
about Hitler after the man come down on us."
Skin he talkin.
say that the cats in Harlem is gettin together so tight that the
Muslims and Martin Luther King got their heads together."
say nothin. Couple cats laugh. We heard it before. Word been
spreadin for all black men to get ready for war. Nobody believe it. But
everybody want to. But it the same in Harlem as anywhere else. Duke he
organized revolution is what the man can't stand. They say it's
comin? Man, when it do I be the first to join. If I got to go I take
Chalk Whitey with me and mark him all over hell."
listen a while. The cats all talkin. We just want to get what's
We split the scene. Duke, he split too.
move down the block. It gettin evenin. We meet some cats comin. We
stop and talk. We meet them later on 33rd Street. They pawin like us.
talkin. "You cats see Tyro yet?"
say naw. We heard he back in town, but we aint seen him yet. Tyro
was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. But he back. He got no legs and one arm.
All the cats been makin it to his pad. They say he got a message for
the cats on the block.
say he makin it to Tyro's now. We walk on. I kick some glass. We
see a store that is burnt out. A cop is watchin us. We stalkin easy,
eyes, all feet. A patrol car stop along side us. The gestapo's leap
I see a shotgun. We all freeze.
Man is talkin.
niggers got one hour to get off the street." Then he change his
mind. "Against the wall!" There is three of them. Down the street is
They frisk us. We all clean. One jab the butt of the gun hard on my
It give me a cramp in the ball.
cuss us and tell us to get off the street. We move on. Around the
block. Down the street.
limpin. I dont say nothin. I dont curse or nothin. Duke and Big
Skin, they mad, cursin and sayin what they gonna do. Me, I'm hurtin too
much. I'm lettin my heat go down into my soul. When it come up again, I
wont be limpin.
We see some more cats pawin along the block. About fifty. We join.
They headin to 33rd. Some cats got heats, some got molotov's. One cat
on 30th Street. We go up. Three other cats come with us. We run
up the steps. We pass an old man goin up. He grunt out our way. We say
excuse. I'm the last up. The old man scared. We hear a siren outside.
shit done started already.
sister open the door. I know her before I dropped out of school.
She know me, but she iggin. All the cats move in. I close the door. "We
come to see Tyro," I say. She chewin some food, and she wave with her
It mean, go on up front. I watch her walk. "You Tina?" She swallow her
food. "Yeah. You come to see Tyro, he in there." She turned and went
a door and closed it. I followed the other cats up front. My ball still
were six cats already in the room. Six more come in. Somebody
pass around a butt. I scoot in a corner. So I am meetin Tyro. He known
on the block for years. He used to be the leader of the old Black
They broke up by the cops and social workers.
look at Tyro. He a black stud with a long beard. He sittin in a wheel
chair. He wearin fatigues like Fidel Castro. When we paw into the pad,
Tyro he talkin.
. . the Cong are masters at ambush. Learn this about them. When we
fell back under fire, we fell into a pincher. They cross-fired us so
that we didn't know what hit us. Out of sixty men, I was left. I
they spared me so that I could come back and tell you. The cat that
me was hit himself, but he didn't seem to care. He looked me in my eye
. . . for a long time. My legs were busted up from a grenade. This VC
over my blood. I could tell he was thinkin about somethin. He raised
rifle. I kept lookin him in the eye. It was one of the few times my
been answered. The cat suddenly turned and ran off. He had shot several
of my buddies already, but he let me go.
I can figure is that one day the chips are all comin down. America
is gonna have to face the yellow race. Black and yellow might have to
their hands together and bring this thang off: You cats out in the
learn to fade fast. Learn to strike hard, but dont be around in the
If you dont organize you aint nothin but a rioter, a looter. These jigs
wont hesitate to shoot you.
I aint tellin you to get off the streets. I know like you know.
Uncle means you no ultimate good, brothers. Take it for what it is
I'm layin it down like it is. I got it from the eagle's beak. That's
way he speak. Play thangs careful. Strike and fade, then strike again,
quick. Get whitey outa our neighborhood. Keep women and children off
streets. Dont riot. Rebel. You cats got this message. Do what you got
do. Stick together and listen for the word to come down. Obey it."
Tyro finish talkin, some cats get up and shake his hand. Others
leave. Out in the street sirens are going. The doorbell rings.
freeze. It some more cats. We all leave.
on the street, it like a battlefield. A fire in a store down the
block. Cops see us. We fade. I hear shots. Then I know somethin.
word is out. Burn, baby, burn. We on the scene. The brothers. Together.
Cops and people goin and comin. Some people got good loot, some just
it. A police cordon comin. We shadows on the wall. Lights comin towards
us. We fade. Somebody struck them. The lights go out. I hear shots. I
Glass get my hands. The street on fire now. We yell. 33rd Street here
come! Got to get together!
move out. Strikin. All feet. All soul. We the VC. You got to be.
You got to be.
An Analysis of Henry Dumas'
by Molefi K. Asante
ne of the greatest (in
my judgment) African American writers was born on July 29, l934, and
in New York on May 23, l968. His name was Henry Dumas and his death at
the age of thirty four cut short a brilliant career of a poet and short
story writer who gave meaning to the Afrocentric term, located.
Dumas' work, Ark of Bones and Other Stories and Poetry for
My People, was published posthumously.1 However, he had
been engaged in teaching at the Experiment in Higher Education at
Illinois University and served as a member of the editorial staff of
Hiram Poetry Review and through these activities had made many friends
and acquaintances who knew his creative power. Hale Chatfield and
Redmond ably brought Henry Dumas to life again in the editing of his
Few African American writers have been so successful as Henry Dumas in
demonstrating the opposite perspective of the race shedders. Dumas, as
we shall see, was pre-eminently an Afrocentric writer in every aspect
the reader seeking to possess the literacy necessary to understand
the stories or the poetry of Dumas, it suffices to say that one must
attention to every nuance of the African American culture. That is to
one must understand the "bop" and the "do." Furthermore, the reader
be able to see how nicknames locate a person in the text as well as the
author's ability to write culturally, that is, out of the culture. For
example, Henry Dumas gives his characters names like Blue, Fish, Tate,
and Grease. These are important names in the context of Dumas' stories.
Actually, each of the names carries definite meanings. Blue, for
relates to a person being so black he looks blue. Fish is the nickname
for a a person who swims very well. Tate is the nickname for a person
head is shaped like a potato. Grease is the name of a smooth talking
There are several reasons why these names are significant in Dumas'
understanding and our appreciation of his art. In the first place,
are means for placement, location, identity. They are often more
and defining than the European names given to African American
Since many people did not have access to African names, the practice of
nicknaming became a major avenue for the maintenance of African culture
and expression. Names could still mean something much like names had
among the Yoruba, Ibo, Fanti, Asante, and Congo. Dumas understands the
relevance of the nickname and appropriates its use to the functions of
his art. Another reason Dumas' use of these names is important comes
the creation of atmosphere in his works. He seeks always to expand the
boundaries, to move against the tide, and to raise the difficult
There is no better way to create atmosphere than to allow the
to blossom, particularly in reference to what people call things, that
is, the words given to identify persons and objects.
richness of Dumas' language, the clarity of his symbolic attitude,
and the rhythm of his trajectory, cannot be overestimated. He impressed
himself as well as others with the tremendously accurate portrayal of
African American language. Indeed, Eugene Redmond wrote "Dumas – a
creative linguist – contracts and expands English, Black Language and
African tribal (sic) sounds to come up with what is perhaps a 'found'
. . ." 2 Redmond's introduction to the stories of Henry
is a penetrating look at the style of the artist. What Redmond observes
in the language of Dumas is what places him squarely within an
location. When Redmond says "Dumas is also the first among young black
writers to re-acculturate," he is speaking to Dumas' love of his
There is no caricature of the African in his use of African language;
self conscious concentration on loss exists in the mind of Henry Dumas.
He finds the African American language richly endowed, as he found the
the powerful story, "Ark of Bones," Dumas brings together all of
the experiences of his young life to produce a text richly contoured
cultural artifacts of language. Headeye, one of the characters, had a
bone in his hand. But we learn that "Headeye, he ain't got no devil in
him." His only problem was that he had "this notion in his head about
hoggin the luck." Dumas knows the close community language as well as
religious allusions, but his knowledge of this language is a gift of
sensitivity to the voices he has heard. The reader knows precisely
Dumas is at all times, even though as you read him you know that he is
aware of every thing he is doing in the text. There is no stream of
here floating endlessly on with no point; this is a master writer whose
point is made in every sentence. "Headeye acted like he was iggin me"
about as precise as you can get with language. To understand iggin
is to be right in the center of the culture; however, it is an
that comes from experience or from study. One of the most insidious
of critical hierarchy is the criticism of Afrocentric writers by those
who have neither studied nor lived the culture. The assumption that one
can simply make critical judgment and commentary about the text,
locate the writer, without serious study of the culture is an arrogant
and false assumption. As one who does not know white American culture
truly understand it without some background, neither can Afrocentric
be understood without some background. Normally, the student of
literature gains the knowledge of the nuances of white American
and can adequately place the writers. But Afrocentric literature is
like Old English literature in the sense that it must be seriously
or else the reader will usually miss the point. I am not just speaking
about knowing the meaning of words or understanding the structure of
that is a starting point. More fundamentally, the reader must know from
what center of experience the writer writes. An African American person
writing from a Eurocentric basis will produce text that may have some
to the cultural materials of the African American people but will
essentially a white writer with a black skin. Such a writer is not much
different from a white writer who writes knowledgeably about certain
icons of the African American community. But to really come from an
perspective in literature, the writer must immerse herself or himself
the culture of the people. The value of this immersion is that one
more authenthically a voice of the culture, speaking much like Henry
the language of the African American heritage with all of its universal
implications in similar experiences of other people. To deny
writers this possibility, either through criticism or creation, is to
that the special language of the African American is somehow different
from other languages, i.e., Spanish, Yoruba, Gikuyu, Polish, and so
understood the nobility of the culture from which he had come
and so when he wrote that Headeye's daddy "hauled off and smacked him
the head" he recognized that the perfection of action could only be
with two verbs. Rather than say, as might be said in English, that his
daddy "smacked him side the head", Dumas goes into the culture and
to bear the full meaning of this action. To truly complete the act the
daddy had to have "hauled off and smacked him." This construction is
the one I often heard in Georgia as a child when someone had become a
of the local church. People would say, "Child, she got converted and
the church." Another such construction of language is the command "Turn
loose and jump down from there" to a child who is climbing a tree.4
his stories as in his poetry Dumas gives his readers all of the
of his location. He is not a writer without a place in his own
is firmly planted in the midst of ancestors, ghosts, haints, and
of the past as well as the generative power of the present condition of
African Americans. Among the expressions and terms which he employs
Glory Boat, afro-horn, Aba, Heyboy, Sippi, catcher-clouds, and Saa saa
aba saa saa. While his corpus is limited because of his early death, he
remains one of the most centered of African American authors. Language,
attitude, and direction are clearly demarcated in his works. When we
Dumas we are reading a profoundly honest writer who tells his and his
special truth to the world. Contained in the language, the attitude,
the direction of his work is the symbolism of strength, mystery,
dynamism, intelligence, wisdom, and trust. A compact exists between
and the characters of his stories which allows him to use their
to tell the truth. He "ain't give on to what he know" but the reader
that Dumas found the center of his cultural being intact and never left
it. Why should he have left? What other writers would be required to
How silly of a writer to think that he or she must leave the source of
power in order to be universal; true universalism in literature adheres
in the ability of a writer to capture the special story or stories of
or her own culture in ways that those stories make [may?] impact on
regardless of the first language. In the end, the serious reader of
must work to re-affirm the centrality of cultural experience as the
to begin to create a dynamic multicultural literacy because without
in our own cultural territory, we have no authentic story to
Asante, "Locating a Text: Implications of Afrocentric Theory" at
1. Henry Dumas, Ark of Bones and Other Stories.
Edited by Hale Chatfield and Eugene Redmond. Carbondale, Illinois:
Illinois University Press, l970.
2. Eugene Redmond, "Introduction," in Henry
Dumas, Ark of Bones and Other Stories. Edited by Hale Chatfield
and Eugene Redmond. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University
Press, l970, p.xiv.
3. Redmond, ibid., p.xv.
4. Molefi Kete Asante, "The African Essence
in African American Language," in M.K. Asante and K.W. Asante, African
Culture: The Rhythms of Unity. Trenton: Africa World Press,