One of the greatest writers of the late 19th century was Stephen Crane. One of the greatest Americans of the 19th century was Frederick Douglass. What do these men have in common? Both inspired and created “rows,” a loosely defined 19th century version of a clique, crew, set, gang, or MOB.
A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him. His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.
Some Rum Alley children now came forward. The party stood for a moment exchanging vainglorious remarks with Devil’s Row. A few stones were thrown at long distances, and words of challenge passed between small warriors. Then the Rum Alley contingent turned slowly in the direction of their home street. They began to give, each to each, distorted versions of the fight. Causes of retreat in particular cases were magnified. Blows dealt in the fight were enlarged to catapultian power, and stones thrown were alleged to have hurtled with infinite accuracy. Valor grew strong again, and the little boys began to swear with great spirit.
“Ah, we blokies kin lick deh hull damn Row,” said a child, swaggering.
What does this have to do with Douglass? From the March 20th, 1877 The Daily Critic…
“A Fred. Douglass Row.
This morning, about 10 o’clock, Archie Johnson and John Craig, both colored, were standing on the corner of Seventh and D streets northwest, discussing the political situation in general and the appointment of Fred Douglass as Marshal of the District in particular. Archie is a strong Douglass man, and Johnson believes that the present Marshal has no right to hold his position. Argument failing to convince, they took to blows, and had a lively time in pummeling each other about the head, until Officers Grant, of the Sixth precinct arrived and put in his argument, which was to take them to Police Court, where Judge Snell settled the dispute by fining them each $5 for affray.”