As the dark approach each night, houses were sealed tight in fear and York Street became overwhelmed by the quiet, a silent voodoo drum, presaging nightly danger, a gang fight, a stabbing, a fire.

Elaine Brown spent her childhood in a Philadelphia ghetto, a place she describes as a "dark, dismal" place. With each corner filled with the horrible stench of garbage and the compact, shabby low apartment houses, Elaine's mother labored along side with fellow impoverished working blacks as a worker in a dress factory. This was the black world for Elaine, where she spent her long summers and learned street behavior and the sassy 'ghetto talk' to escape ridicules from fellow children. Determined to give her child a more hopeful future, Elaine's mother fought to get Elaine into an experimental elementary school for gifted children. Along with ballet and piano lessons, Elaine saw this predominantly white school as her escape from her dreary and dull Philadelphia ghetto. It is most likely during this time period that Elaine made the connection of white and successful, and black 'underclass'. She describes in her autobiography of her attempt to 'become white'.

Eventually, I discovered that my ultimate disguise could be manipulated through words, their words in their voices. I listened to them, paid attention to their grammar, their syntax, their cadence. I learned to speak exactly like white people, learned to enunciate their language, to say "these" and not "dese," and "he'll be going" rather than "he be goin'."
Finally, I became white.
… I belonged in their world. I had not only learned to talk white and act white, I could do white things."

Elaine eventually gave up her wish to become white, realizing she was not accepted as one. She later graduated as one of the top students in her high school. However, in the beginning of her college period, she decided to escape her dreary neighborhood and to leave to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles she takes a job as a cocktail waitress, and eventually meets Jay Kennedy, an accomplished write, a social activist, and a member of the Communist Party. They share an intimage relationship with each other, and before it ends Jay teaches Elaine his beliefs on communism and to "appreciate [herself] as a black woman" . These would eventually bring Elaine into joining the Black Power Movement in the 1960s.