56 pages 1 hour read

Claude Brown

Manchild in the Promised Land

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1965

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Authorial Context: Claude Brown

Claude Brown was born in New York City in 1937. His parents, former sharecroppers, moved from South Carolina to Harlem in 1935, and the family—which included Brown’s younger brother and two sisters—lived in tenement housing for many years. Around the age of six, Brown became involved with local street gangs and began drinking alcohol, committing petty crimes, and skipping school. His parents sent him to South Carolina to live with his grandparents for a year, but this did not change his behavior. At 11, he was sent to the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a reform school in upstate New York, where he met Dr. Ernest Papanek, a psychologist who would have a profound effect on him. Upon leaving Wiltwyck, however, Brown’s criminal activities continued, and he was sent to various juvenile detention facilities and eventually began dealing drugs. At 13, he was shot in the stomach during an attempted robbery. 

After realizing that heroin and gang violence were destroying the lives of his childhood friends, Brown moved from Harlem to Greenwich Village. He worked odd jobs during the day and attended school at night, soon receiving his high school diploma. He graduated from Howard University in 1965, the same year Manchild in the Promised Land was published.