“Playing the Numbers” ::: LIVE Feature Tonight

OUR COMMON GROUND with Janice Graham

Saturday, December 18, 2020 ∞ 10 pm EST ∞ LIVE

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“Playing the Numbers”


Tonight we feature the history of and discuss “the numbers” game.

The numbers were a sprawling, Black-run business for decades.  In 1971, The NYTimes reported that an estimated “60 percent of the area’s economic life depends on cash flow from the numbers,” which employed an estimated 100,000 workers across the five boroughs. Numbers men also in many ways filled the void left by a formal economy indifferent to black residents’ needs: They bankrolled many small businesses, from bars to restaurants to corner groceries, and also saved many businesses from bankruptcy. These bankers helped get out the vote, buttressed black civil rights groups and contributed to Black political candidates’ campaigns.

In most of the history,  you may read the criminal aspects of the numbers, rather than the everyday-ness — the communal, reciprocal and congratulatory qualities. Only one image captures the whimsically designed “tip sheets” used to help players choose a number to play. Most of us are familiar with Sonny Boy Dream book,  Old Aunt Dinah’s Dream Book of Numbers, and Gypsy’s Witch Dream Book of Numbers, two of many simple yet illuminating publications used as bibles for numbers players. These encyclopedic books interpreted dreams by assigning three-digit numbers to different symbols, and nearly any image or experience that could appear in a dream. Each week, Sony Boy’s Numbers were published in the national Black newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier.  Many remember, specifically in the South, numbers being referred to as “boleeta”.

Although the numbers racket targeted working-class and poor communities, and were unregulated and untaxed by the local governments, there was little, if any, stigma among blacks to being involved with policy. Numbers bosses nevertheless sought respectability by investing gambling profits in legitimate businesses. During the 1930s, Black baseball attracted a great deal of this money.

The Numbers was originally a Black community game. Then the NY mafia wanted In. It is an intriguing part of our cultural and economic history.

Updates and Discussion:

::: COVID-19 Vaccine

::: Stimulus Package

::: GA Senate Race

::: Evictions and Poverty Plunge

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