I originally put this post two years ago while I was working on A Treasure of Gold, which releases on November 10, 2015. Besides, it’s always good to have an excuse to look at Idris Elba, who is Jay Evans in my mind. Enjoy and I’ll see you in a few weeks!
The blog post this week was triggered by my reworking of my Golden-Heart nominated story A Champion’s Heart. The story starts off when the hero encounters a numbers boss to ask him for money to engage in a prize fight. The numbers racket or what’s also known as the policy game, was a form of small-stakes gambling engaged in by mostly people in the African American community. The stakes were small ones, but once won, (determined by the last three or four digits of the volume of the New York Stock Exchange or from the Clearinghouse) the winner would have a nice pot of money that would last a little while.
The men who ran the policy game in Pittsburgh, where my stories were set, performed a certain kind of community service in using their profits to fund scholarships or as in the case of Gus Greenlee, to fund the Pittsburgh Crawfords baseball team in the Negro leagues. It was no accident that the team was named after the world famous Crawford Grill, where Greenlee held sway.
He was supported in the numbers racket by William “Woogie” Harris, brother of the famous Pittsburgh Courier photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. Woogie owned the Crystal barbershop in the Hill district where he was headquartered. He also owned the house where the National Negro Opera Company was maintained.
Pittsburgh’s numbers racket was smaller than in large cities like New York in Harlem or Chicago. Because their stake, at least initially, was smaller, these two men were able to run things across all of the Pittsburgh neighborhoods from about 1925 to the 1940’s. However, as it is discussed in Kings by Nathan Thompson, other people wanted to buy into the numbers racket. With Pittsburgh’s smaller stake, it took a longer time for Greenlee and Harris to be pushed out of the racket and they, unlike other numbers men, were able to die as old men in their beds.
Jay Evans, my numbers boss and the hero of A Treasure of Gold, is a tall, handsome, dark-skinned drink of water who dresses in custom-tailored suits and has a big heart for the community. Greenlee and Harris were sort of short, round and light-skinned, but their contributions to Pittsburgh have not been acknowledged until recently. Their philanthropical attitudes helped me to create this timely African American man who, in his appearances in my two stories set in 1923 and 1935, is very much at the center of running things.