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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Basketball Player, b. 1947

“I was waist high in loaves of bread.”


Harlem was an incredible place, the center of black culture, but we moved in 1950 to Inwood, where we were among the first black people. I remember my mom got harassed at the supermarket, the manager insisting that she was shoplifting—he wanted to inspect her bags, and she wouldn’t let him and caused a scene. She dragged me out of there and, in doing that, knocked over a display. I was waist high in loaves of bread.

The Irish kids didn’t want us up there. The northern side of Dyckman Street was Irish, and the southern side was Jewish. I would walk from where I lived in the Dyckman projects up to P.S. 52—my mom decided that I could walk to school alone, but I had to walk right through the Irish section of the neighborhood. Later on, as an adult, I found out that she used to follow me, from a half-block behind, to make sure that nothing happened.

Childhood in the city is pretty different now. There’s not a whole lot of ethnic neighborhoods anymore. They’ve taken all the people in New York and put them in a blender, and they land in chunks and puddles in various parts of the city. It’s a city of workaholics, where the successful really live well. You see that, and you want to join their ranks. I remember I saw a man get out of a Rolls-Royce—the man was Caucasian, and his driver was black. I said to the driver, “I’m gonna have a car like that one day.”


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