Excerpt from The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The World According to Fannie Davis

My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers

by Bridgett M. Davis

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis X
The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 320 pages

    Jan 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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Author's Note

Dear Reader,

Because of the many years that have passed, and the ephemeral nature of the Numbers themselves, the physical record that remains of my mother's business is scant. But my memory of her work is not; it is vivid. To edify and enhance my own memory, I've also relied on the recollections and knowledge of my mother's sister and brother, my nephew and cousins, and childhood friends. I've joined these interviews with extensive research, my own earlier writings and diary entries, as well as family documents and personal papers kept in my mother's brass trunk—to reconstruct the world of my childhood and young adulthood as the youngest daughter of my mother, Fannie Drumwright Davis Robinson, who ran Numbers in Detroit. This is her story. And mine.

…They did not dream the American Dream, they willed it into being by a definition of their own choosing.

—Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

—Maya Angelou


On a morning like most, I sit beside Mama at the dining room table, eating my bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes and watching her work. She's on the telephone, its receiver in the crook of her neck as she records her customer's three-digit bets in a spiral notebook, repeating each one. The crystal chandelier blazes above.

"Five-four-two for a quarter. Six-nine-three straight for fifty cents. Is this both races, Miss Queenie? Detroit and Pontiac? Okay. Three-eight-eight straight for a quarter. Uh-huh. Four-seven-five straight for fifty cents. One-ten boxed for a dollar." Mama writes the numbers 110, draws a box around them, hesitates. "You know, I got customers been playing one-ten all week. Yeah, it's a fancy number. Oh did you? What'd you dream? He was a hunchback? Is that what The Red Devil dream book say it play for? Now that I didn't know. I know theater plays for one ten. Well, I can take it for a dollar, but since it's a fancy, I can't take it for more than that. You understand. What else, Miss Queenie? Six-eight-four for fifty cents boxed, uh-huh. Nine-seven-two straight for a dollar."

I find comfort in Mama's voice, in the familiar, rhythmic recitation of numbers. I bring the bowl to my lips and drink the last of the sweetened milk before I rise and kiss Mama's forehead. She mouths "Bye-bye" as I join my sister Rita, who's waiting on the porch; together we walk three long blocks to Winterhalter Elementary and Junior High School, passing by the lush Russell Woods Park. I'm a first grader.

In class, I wait in line to show my teacher, Miss Miller, my assignment. We've had to color paper petals, cut them out, and paste them onto a picture of a flower. I like mine, as I've glued each one just at the base, so that the petals now reach out, into a pop-up flower. Miss Miller looks over my work, gives it one star instead of two, and stops me before I can return to my seat.

"You sure do have a lot of shoes," she says. Last week, she asked what my father did for a living, and because I knew never to disclose the family business I said, "He doesn't work." She asked: "Well, what does your mother do?" I froze. "I'm not sure," I lied. I knew my mother was in the Numbers, but I also knew not to tell that to anyone. I worried that my vague answer was the wrong one, but I didn't know a better response. No one had told me yet what I should say.

Now with Miss Miller staring at me I look down at my feet, which are clad in—I still remember—light blue patent leather slip-ons with lace-trimmed buckles. A favorite pair bought to match a brocade ensemble I've just worn for Easter. I nod, not knowing what else to do.

"Before you sit down, I want you to name every pair of shoes you have," she insists. "Go ahead." There's no lightness in her voice.

Excerpted from The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M Davis. Copyright © 2019 by Bridgett M Davis. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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