Black & Free


Black and Free by Tom Skinner

Revised Commemorative Edition

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“Preacher’s kid by day and leader of the largest Harlem gang by night, Black and Free tells the story of Tom Skinner who was trapped in the bondage of religious tradition and hatred of whites.” – Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Skinner Leadership Institute
What others are saying about Black and Free…

“Few books have touched my heart so deeply as Black and Free. A simple story. A timeless classic. Redemptive. Hopeful. A crystal clear explanation of what it means to be a true Christian—and not. History remembers Tom Skinner as the great 20th century prophet to both blacks and whites. By God’s grace, he also became my best friend and my mentor. That’s intriguing, because I’m a white man. I loved him, and he loved me. I think about him all the time. Like so many men today, black or white, Tom writes how he was plunging toward destruction. Then, Christ rescued him, transformed him into a real man, and used Tom powerfully to change his life and the world around him. Must reading for every black to grasp their history and their potential in Christ. Must reading for every white seeking sensitivity toward their African American brothers and sisters. This book will thrill your hungry heart, and feed your weary soul.”— Patrick Morley, white, author, CEO of Man in the Mirror

“My mentor, Tom Skinner was one of the greatest Christian minds and spoke persons for the Kingdom of God that the church has ever had. In the revision of his groundbreaking work,Black and Free, a whole new generation will have the privilege of being impacted by one who clearly understands the comprehensive impact that the gospel of Jesus Christ can have in a life and a community.”— Dr. Tony Evans, President, The Urban Alternative, Pastor, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship

“Tom Skinner’s book, Black and Free was both timely and powerful.  It shows the power of the gospel to transform ones life, and it came at an important time in our struggle to be black and free. I believe that same message is needed today, especially while we are free, but we lack a sense of responsibility and challenge. I pray that this book will challenge this generation the way it challenged us when it was first published. We need this prophetic voice.”— Dr. John M. Perkins, Chairman of Christian Community Development Association

“During his lifetime, Tom Skinner was teacher to us all; from national athletic teams to international artistic performers. He lovingly held the world in his heart.  Now, in this book, he continues to love us and teach us.  I am happy to welcome Black and Free, for it tells me Tom Skinner lives.”— Maya Angelou, Author, Poet

“I first met Dr. Tom Skinner in the mid 70’s…at a conference in Chicago sponsored by a Black Evangelical Association…He spoke to us passionately about the importance of spiritual renewal and social justice. That was the beginning of a wonderful, warm, caring, loving and giving relationship between Tom and myself…Throughout the entire journey, Tom was a source of inspiration particularly as I became the Senior Pastor of the Historic Second Baptist in Perth Amboy. Tom would be my guest at least once sometimes twice a year. His words of wisdom continue to reverberate in my mind. His ministry left an indelible impression on the life and character of our church…I am confident that our growth and vitality can indeed be attributed to the vibrant ministry of Tom Skinner. His life changing book Black and Freechallenged me in several areas. I encourage the generation coming behind me to read it with interest and allow the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver us all from the bitterness and anger of the past and to embrace the future that is as bright as the promises of God. I miss Tom greatly and I celebrate his life, his memory and am grateful that he passed this way.”—Bishop Donald Hilliard, Jr., Senior Pastor, Cathedral International

“As Tom Skinner’s pastor, I was deeply impressed with the way he preached so powerfully on the kingdom of God. Tom Skinner was an urban prophet, in every sense of the word. His values are clear, his integrity without question and his importance for the 21st century undeniable. Black and Free is the story of how God’s love transformed Tom’s life, empowered his dynamic ministry, and equipped him to touch so many lives.  Through your reading your life will be transformed as well.”— Dr. H. Beecher Hicks, Jr., Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Baptist Church

From Chapter One – Rumbles In Harlem

It was a little past nine on a hot summer night in July. Word came to us that the Imperial Gang from the Washington Heights District of Manhattan were planning an invasion of our neighborhood – the turf that belonged to the Harlem Lords.

Harlem is overlooked by a hill known as Washington Heights. If you stand on Edgecomb Avenue, you look down some 150 feet into what is called “The Valley.” The Imperial Gang operated in the Wash­ington Heights District, between 145th and 155th Streets. The Harlem Lords controlled the neighboring turf between 145th and 155th Streets in “The Valley” between Bradhurst Avenue and the Harlem River. There’s a certain kind of feeling that comes over you just before a rumble. It has the anticipation of an exciting football or basketball game, but with the nagging fear that a soldier experiences on his way to the front lines. Everyone was afraid – deep inside – but even more frightened to show it.

The Imperial Gang is a large one. It had gained quite a reputation for being able to take on other gangs and defeat them.

This wasn’t my first gang rumble, but it was the first time I had led the Harlem Lords. I had strategically taken the fellows –a little over 115 of them– into 150th Street, between Bradhurst Avenue and Eighth Avenue. At Bradhurst Avenue and 150th Street there was a park. About thirty or forty yards into that park began some steps that led all the way up the hill to Edgecomb Avenue into what was known, as the Hill District of Washington Heights.

I sent a number of the fellows from our gang up 145th Street, one approach to the hill. I sent another group of fellows up 155th Street (known as the viaduct), just opposite the Polo Grounds where the New York Giants used to play baseball. That was the other exit leading into the Hill District. And then I planted a group of fellows in the basements along 150th Street between Bradhurst and Eighth Avenues. Several fellows were located on top of the roofs six stories up with pellet guns. Finally, a group of the fellows stood in the open in the street while I hid in one of the cars, directing the fellows from there.

I had gained the reputation for being quite a gang strategist because I was in a special advanced class that met after school where we studied ancient and modern military tactics. I took the various strategies the field generals used in open field battles from primitive Greece to modern times. I’d modify them; make them applicable to street fights so we wouldn’t lose. If I succeeded in leading the fellows to victory in this particular fight, I’d emerge as the leader of the most powerful teenage gang in the city.

Suddenly the word came from one of the fellows on top of the roof that the Imperial Gang had been spotted at the top of Edgecomb Avenue and they were beginning to come down the steps.

They saw ten or twenty of our fellows in the open, thinking that was all there was to the gang. This rumble would be a fast and easy one, they must have reasoned. As soon as they got down into the streets, the twenty fellows on the street began to back up, luring them even farther into the main street. Then our guys ran and the fellows we had planted on the rooftops began to fire pellet guns down into the streets.

The Imperial Gang sought cover in the basements where we had fellows planted. Our guys crashed bottles across their heads as they came through the doorways, opening gaping wounds and knocking some unconscious.

The surprised Imperials found swinging, angry members of the Harlem Lords surrounding them. The sultry summer rang with shouts and screams of pain. Here and there you could see black faces livid with bright red blood where a bottle or bicycle chain had done its nasty work. Now it was time for the kill.

The Imperials had been chased into our area and we were going to mop them up. I got out of the car and surged after the nearest Imperial. In one hand I had a homemade blackjack, a lead ball in an old sock. I swung it and heard a sickening crunch as it smashed down on the head of the unsuspecting Imperial. In my other hand was a set of brass knuckles, carefully fitted to my fist. They flashed out in the dark night. I felt the wetness of blood and sweat as my fist connected with the face of another Imperial.

Someone yelled, “Tom! Look out!” …….

Copyright © 2005 Tom Skinner c/o Skinner Leadership Institute. All rights reserved.