Wednesday, November 6, 2019

David Farber's "Crack"

David Farber is Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is the author of numerous books, including Everybody Ought to be Rich (2013), The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism (2010), Taken Hostage (2004), Sloan Rules (2002), The Age of Great Dreams (1994), and Chicago '68 (1988). He lived in New York City with his family at the height of the crack cocaine years and later lived across the street from a small-time crack distributorship in Philadelphia.

Farber applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed, and reported the following:
Page 99 is one of my favorite pages in Crack. Clifford Bey is the page’s protagonist. I had interviewed Mr. Bey in Chicago in a fancy law office where he now works part-time as an investigator. Mr. Bey told me things about the crack cocaine era—the 1980s and 1990s-- that I never would have learned from any archive.

Back in the mid-1980s, Mr. Bey had just been released from the penitentiary after nine long years. He came back to Chicago as crack was first taking off in his southside neighborhood. On page 99, he starts to explain what it was like to watch crack invade his community.

The back story to the interview I did with Mr. Bey is almost as good as what he actually told me. A criminal defense attorney I know told me that Mr. Bey knew a lot about the main men who had distributed crack cocaine in Chicago. He had grown up with them and he served time with them. So when Mr. Bey agreed to talk with me I was excited; getting people involved with the crack trade to tell me about their experiences was, as you might expect, difficult.

Also as you might expect, practically the first thing Mr. Bey told me was that he was not about to tell me about anything that anyone did that was illegal. That was not good news. But he then told me a lot about what it was like to be a young black man living in an all-black neighborhood in Chicago in the 1980s, after the steel mills and car-parts factories and the small textile factories had all shut down and decent paying work for unschooled men was mercilessly hard to find. He explained why young men where he lived turned to the crack game. Page 99 tells a critical aspect of both his story and the bigger story of the book.
Learn more about Crack at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue