A remarkable story of a mother whose “ingenuity and talent and dogged pursuit of happiness made possible [her family’s] beautiful home, brimming refrigerator and quality education.”
Fannie Davis was an amazing woman. Sharp and unwilling to be hemmed in by the dual restrictions of race and gender, she did what it took to raise a family and to uplift a community. In 1960s and ’70s Detroit, she ran the “Numbers,” an illegal lottery that was nonetheless central to many urban and especially African-American communities, especially in the era before states realized that licit gambling could be a lucrative trade and even as they cracked down on the gambling they defined as illicit. Above all, Fannie Davis was a mother. In this admiring and highly compelling memoir, Bridgett Davis (Creative, Film and Narrative Writing/Baruch Coll.; Into the Go-Slow, 2014, etc.) tells the story of her beloved mother. The author knew that her mom’s role in the Numbers had to be kept secret, but she also knew that it was not shameful. Placing her subject in the larger historical contexts of the African-American and urban experiences and the histories of Detroit and of underground entrepreneurship embodied in the Numbers, and framing it within numerous vital postwar trends, the author is especially insightful about how her mother embodied the emergence of a “blue collar, black-bourgeoisie.” Although there was considerable risk in running the Numbers, it also provided a path forward to a comfortable lifestyle otherwise nearly unimaginable. While critics liked to paint the game as a path toward dissolution, for the author—and many others—it was anything but. This is not a story about capitalizing on degeneracy. It is one of hope and hustling in a world where to have the former almost demanded the latter.
This outstanding book is a tribute to one woman but will surely speak to the experiences of many.