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  • Oscar Brown, Jr.


Once jitney cabs that taxied us

On Chicago’s south side

Competed with the city bus

At just ten cents a ride

From, thirty third to sixty sixth

Up and down South Parkway

That’s who we used to travel with

Twenty four hours a day

On Indiana Avenue

A half mile to the west

They operated jitneys, too

For some, that street was best

A jitney ride was one we'd share

With folks we didn't know

We all paid the exact same fare

However far we'd go

As long as it was South and North

Up and down those two streets

Where jitneys travelled back and forth

When money was called, "geets"

They'd carry us to our address

For a much higher fare

Put fellow passengers in stress

When they'd turn off somewhere

Then fellow passengers got stuck

With extra travelin' time

Since everybody knew a buck

Went further than a dime

The drivers had to spot a fare

Then looking out for cops

They’d cut through traffic (what a scare!)

Coming to sudden stops

At intersections where they’d pause

To pick up or discharge

And then, defying physics laws

Tear up the boulevard

“Cowboys” was what the public called

These real rough riding dudes

Who kept cops and bus drivers galled

And gave them attitudes

Some jitneys cabs were works of art

With flashy horns and lights

A lot of extra special parts

That made them sporty sights

Inside they kept that gaudy look

Of colored cab decor

Reflecting pains the driver took

To give passengers more

Most jitneys, though, were raggedy

Like ;little rolling slums

When running late, how glad we’d be

For any kind that comes

Cabs then were built to taxi five

Or so the law would state

But to the jitneys that was jive

They’d pack in six or eight

The first three sat in the rear seat

Three more took up two “jumps”

Up with the driver two more squeezed

A total of nine rumps

Nine Negroes of the working class

The black salt of the earth

All bunched together, ass to ass

We got our money’s worth

A change of personalities

Took place at every curb

Some exchanged cordiality’s

Others “do not disturb”

Some had positions they would take

Viewpoints to represent

Comments they felt compelled to make

About some news event

Some had a joke or two to tell

To make the whole cab roar

A few complained of catching hell

A lot would give them more

We jammed a jitney’s cubicle

Like sardines you would pack

Exchanging all our usual

Comments on being black

A close colored cam’raderie

Quite often warmed that space

Especially when we got to see

An old familiar face

Or when some foxy stranger whom

We never would have met

Seduced the air with her perfume

How fragrant it could get

At other times a reeking drunk

Would blow to bend an ear

Exhaling alcoholic funk

Into the atmosphere

Passengers smoked and choked and joked

Along the jitney’s route

Quite often getting pushed and poked

And stepped upon to boot

And up front, Jitney Jack who drives

Is captain of this ship

And though this “cowboy”shucks and jives

Jitney Jack is real hip

He compliments the pretty chicks

And cusses with the cats

Fixing what all he has to fix

His motor, tickets, flats

A pair of dice and baby shoes

Dangle above his dash

His radio is set on blues

His heart is set on cash

The checker cabs and yellows, too

Charged what their meters showed

Their drivers were white fellows who

When looking for a load

Could line up at a taxi stand

All proper and polite

From which city officials banned

Most cabbies who weren’t white

Black cabbies had a different slave

“Cowboys” like Jitney Jack

Could seldom make enough to save

Often enough to lack

His earnings went for gas and oil

And that high rent he paid

For the license to daily toil

All taxicabs displayed

The “official medallion” which

Let taxi owners shirk

While taxi drivers made them rich

Performing all the work

Jack paid the bribes and fines and fees

And keep the car repaired

And often saw a sharp decrease

In what expenses spared

The taxi owners wanted more

Than the traffic would bare

And bus stockholders clamored for

“Increased earnings per share”

So Jitney Jack snatches and grabs

And recklessly competes

With city busses, other cabs

And always the police

The cops favored the bus, of course

Bus drivers were all white

So the Chicago Police force

Backed them with all its might

Jitneys got a hard way to go

Their drivers were harassed

Accused of flying down too low

Or slowing down too fast

Of picking up too many souls

Or letting out too few

Harassing jitneys, any old

Police excuse would do

But busses in our part of town

Ran few and far between

And no one wants to stand aroun’

When “hawk” is blowin’ mean

In driven snows and drenching rains

When hot suns sizzled high

We ‘d wait upon the bus in vain

And then a cab came by

That’s how the jitneys held their own

Moving the neighborhood

When counting on the bus alone

Would have been no damn good

Bus drivers had the better gigs

Uniformed and well paid

For ordinary working stiffs

They seemed to have it made

But these good jobs which only white

Applicants ever filled

Were denied Jitney Jack despite

His being highly skilled

The “cowboys” had to ride their range

Providing dangerous thrills

As they competed for “chump change”

In order to pay bills

A jitney driver drove his car

The way his life drove him

Quite often going fast too far

At risk of life and limb

Some dangers Jitney Jack might dare

A dozen times a day

When rushing for a load up there

A block or two away

Go speeding through a traffic light

Come screeching to a halt

Change lanes, swerving from left to right

On hearing, “taxi”,” called

The cabs and busses warred for years

And neither gave a break

As competition grew more fierce

With livelihoods at stake

Until one day when Jitney Jack

And a big bus collide

And we learn for a fatal fact

He’s taken his last ride

That was a long, long time ago

Now very few recall

Those thrilling rides we used to know

When jitneys rode us all

Jitneys were a convenience

By which some black men got paid

To beat the lack of lenience

White society displayed

The needs the jitneys cabs once met

We now meet other ways

They were vehicles to get

Us to this later phase

Bus driving’s integrated now

Its color line destroyed

At least, sufficient to allow

Negroes to be employed

No more the gallant daily charge

Of jitney cab brigades

No black cam’raderie at large

After it integrates

A certain sense of fighting back

Community and pride

For which the jitneys had a knack

Like Jitney Jack has died

Or if it managed to survive

To seek a fairer share

If you know where it’s still alive

I wish you’d take me there

I board the bus these days and see

The driver’s someone black

And wonder whether he or she

Is kin to Jitney Jack

That bold “cowboy” who taxied us

On Chicago’s South Side

Competing with the city bus

At just ten cents a ride

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