He'll make you laugh, he'll make you sigh, si-igh. He'll make you want to dance, and dance—Here you are, ladies and gentlemen, Sambo, The dancing doll.
Tod Clifton announces the start of his obscene and racist street show. Clifton, a former member of the Brotherhood with whom the narrator shares a friendship, has sold out and become a street performer. He uses paper dolls to entertain crowds, shaming himself and his entire race in the eyes of the narrator. In the show, a mysterious mechanism makes the doll dance, just as a mysterious mechanism controls the fate of an entire community.
Why should a man deliberately plunge outside of history and peddle an obscenity, my mind went on abstractedly. Why should he choose to disarm himself, give up his voice and leave the only organization offering him a chance to “define” himself?
Here, the narrator wonders about Tod Clifton and his motivations. Clifton has just been shot dead on the street by police and the narrator was there to witness the murder. Clifton had started a fight when the police approached him while he was moving his performance to another place. The whole incident horrifies the narrator; he cannot understand what has happened to either Clifton or the Brotherhood while he had been reassigned to another part of the city.
There were black-bordered signs that read: BROTHER TOD CLIFTON OUR HOPE SHOT DOWN. There was a hired drum corps with crape-draped drums. There was a band of thirty pieces. There were no cars and very few flowers.
The narrator describes what he sees while attending Clifton’s funeral on a hot Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of people join the procession as it happens and the narrator delivers an impassioned eulogy that captures his compassion for his friend, his utter remorse and horror at the way he died, and his mourning of the movement that Clifton embodied. Clifton’s death and the narrator’s speech unite the personal and political.
His name was Clifton and he was black and they shot him. Isn't that enough to tell? Isn't it all you need to know? Isn't that enough to appease your thirst for drama and send you home to sleep it off? Go take a drink and forget it. Or read it in the Daily News.
The narrator speaks to the crowd at Clifton’s funeral. He repeats the words “His name was Clifton” many times as he tells the story of his death again and again, emphasizing the futility. Clifton’s life was both deeply meaningful and utterly meaningless. It was of great consequence and no consequence. Clifton represented an entire race and community of people like the narrator, lost and wandering, and ultimately, tragic.
His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, he was unarmed and his death was as senseless as his life was futile. He had struggled for Brotherhood on a hundred street corners and he thought it would make him more human, but he died like any dog in a road.
While eulogizing at Clifton’s funeral, the narrator emphasizes the injustice and cruelty of Clifton’s death. He emphasizes the brevity of Clifton’s life, his story all too brief. The policeman who shot him was both racist and trigger happy, a deadly combination. The narrator goes on to describe the vivid details of his death: pooling blood, the bullets entering his heart, and the darkness inside his coffin.