Tally’s Corner (1967)
Poverty and Literature 2015
Introduction, Chapter 1 (pp. 1-28)
Before reading Liebow’s actual report, it is essential to get a clear
understanding of his own narrative point of view as well as the
historical context in which his book was published.
1. What is ‘urban anthropology’? How does this discipline differ from
‘urban sociology’? (10)
2. From whom did Liebow get the funding to support his family while
writing this book? (10)
3. Liebow spent twelve months during 1962-63 in downtown Washington
D.C. researching his book. What was happening in America nationally
during that year?
4. Describe the socio-political context of the book’s publication four
years later in January 1967.
5. Think about the intellectual and political point of view that Liebow
brought to his study:
- How would it be different from typical studies of the urban poor
that had been produced by sociologists, the experts of the day? Why had
urban black males been ignored?
- How would the method of his study be radically different from
6. Think about the personal perspective that Liebow inevitably brought to
Liebow had been raised in Washington D.C. during the Depression, the
son of Jewish working class parents who owned and operated a small
grocery store in a predominantly black neighborhood. Although he had
daily encounters with his black neighbors, he was educated at an all
white school and played in a segregated playground. He received a
college education, worked to earn a post-graduate degree in sociology,
and subsequently gained employment working for the National Institute
of Mental Health. At the time he first visited Tally’s corner, he was
thirty-seven, married, and supporting a family to whom he went home
7. To what extent could a white middle class intellectual bring an
utterly objective perspective to his study of black street corner men
who had lived most of their lives in this ghetto neighborhood?
8. How would race influence his own behavior and the behavior of the
men whom he sought to befriend?
9. To what extent should we treat Liebow as a completely trustworthy
narrator? How must we evaluate the ‘truth’ of his observations?
The New Deal Carry-out Shop
10. Describe the setting where most of the conversations Liebow had with his subjects took place.
11. Why did Liebow select this neighborhood to study?
12. Describe the central characters of Liebow's study: Tally, Sea Cat, Richard and Leroy.
13. Can we find his observations of these characters useful given the
ineradicable subjectivity of his own point of view? What valuable
benefits can a trained anthropologist bring to the study of this urban
14. What benefits can a talented writer bring to the understanding of
Chapter Two: "Men and Jobs" (pp 27-71)
1. During the first section of this chapter, Liebow describes a truck
driver who is having little success in his efforts to recruit day
laborers to work at a construction site. What are the driver’s
impressions of the men who turn down the opportunities for work that
come their way? What ‘ghetto related traits’ become associated with these men?
2. What economic forces, social values and individual situations
contribute to a more complete understanding of the situation of these
3. How much money do these guys make per week? What does that ranslate to in 2014 dollars?
4. Why is getting and keeping a service job
a low priority on the corner?
5. How is a "stealing factor" built into wages for retail jobs in the neighborhood?
6. Why are even higher paying construction jobs not very attractive?
7. How does Liebow summarize the objective obstacles to gaining employment for many of the men on the corner?
8. What psychological factors contribute to the lack of interest in
7. What is society’s attitude towards the value of the jobs available
to these men? (Look at Tally's description of his job as a cement finisher.)
8. What kind of future can the worker expect even if he excels at his job?
9. What ‘ghetto related traits’ become associated with these men?
10. What influence do inconsistent unemployment, low self-esteem, and
financial instability have on the family relationships of these men?