"I found Gouster Girl fascinating and a marvelously evocative portrait of Chicago in the 60s. A compelling read." Alan Ehrenhalt, author of The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America
Published: December 9th, 2019
Gouster Girl is the coming of age, risky affair between Valerie Davis a cute black girl from the South Side of Chicago and nerdy white Jeffrey Stark.
While the two are somewhat smitten they are late to realize that falling in love on Chicago’s South Side in 1963 is a highly risky business for an interracial couple.
Opportunities arise for both of them to help one another out of tough fixes—he saves her from attack at an all-white amusement park and she saves him from injury in a racial brawl at their high school. But as their romance becomes more serious, so do the racial dangers. White police target Valerie as a prostitute and black gang members see Jeffrey as trying to sexually exploit a black girl. Seemingly inevitably, the blossoming romance collides head on with the realities of Northern-style racism one hot summer afternoon at one of Chicago’s most beautiful Lake Michigan beaches, when a racial protest turns ugly, confronting the couple with terrible choices.
It was as Nate, Lee and I were still laughingly reliving the roller coaster terror, walking past the freak show, which we always wondered about but never witnessed, that I saw Valerie again. “I think those girls go to Hyde Park,” Nate nudged me as the two walked about twenty-five feet in front of us. “I’m pretty sure one of them was in my home room last year.”
Even now, five years removed from that moment, in the comfort of my college library, it feels like only yesterday. But it really was true—in that moment my life began changing in ways I never could have imagined. Because just then, two tall slender white guys in white t-shirts and jeans, who looked to be a few years older than the girls and us, approached them from the side and began walking with them.
As the girls slowed, and we came closer, I could hear one of the guys: “My friend Vinnie, he’s got his convertible here. Wanna take a ride with us? There’s a party close by, we’ll stop, have some fun.”
The two girls didn’t seem to have answered, or if they did, it wasn’t the answer they were looking for, because the two white guys moved a little closer to the girls, and Vinnie was talking in a raised voice. “Whatsamatter, we’re not good enough for ya? You rather have one of those darkies over there?” He motioned toward the African Dip, and the Negro men sitting on the stools in each of three cages.
At that moment, one of the girls, whom I would eventually learn was Valerie, stopped in her tracks, and turned to face the two white guys. Her bouffant hairdo looked smart and fresh, her tight blue pedal pushers accentuated her blossoming small body, her bright brown eyes flashed, and the smooth light brown skin of her delicate face creased in a seemingly incongruous near snarl: “Can’t you boys take a hint? We have to spell it out for you? We don’t want a ride in your car. We don’t want anything to do with you. Just turn your white asses around and go back to where you come from.”
My jaw dropped and my eyes widened. Not only because she had stood up to them, but how she threw their racial slurs right back at them.
Vinnie and friend seemed even more shocked than I was. So much so that they stood frozen in their tracks, as the girls continued walking, though at a faster pace than before. With confused looks on their faces, the two white guys looked at each other and retreated to the midway’s sidelines, and joined a group of four or five other white teens, also in white t-shirts, who were guffawing. I presumed they had witnessed Valerie’s putdown, and were teasing their pals about their bungled pickup effort.
About the author:
David E. Gumpert grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in South Shore and Hyde Park. In the years since graduating from the University of Chicago, he has attended Columbia Journalism School and worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an editor for the Harvard Business Review and Inc. magazine. He has also authored ten nonfiction books on a variety of subjects—from entrepreneurship and small business management to food politics. His most prominent titles include How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan (from Inc. Publishing); How to Really Start Your Own Business (Inc. Publishing); Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Food Rights (Chelsea Green Publishing), and The Raw Milk Answer Book (Lauson Publishing).
He spent ten years in the 1990s and early 2000s researching his family's history during the Holocaust. The result was a book co-authored with his deceased aunt Inge Belier: Inge: A Girl’s Journey Through Nazi Europe (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing).
He spent much of the last half-dozen years going back to his own roots in Chicago to research and write the historical novel, Gouster Girl. While some of it stems from his own experiences growing up in South Shore and Hyde Park, he also conducted significant additional research to complete the book in late 2019.
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