Painting a Portrait of Adolph Mongo

Adolph Mongo is one of the most compelling narrators of Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff. He is introduced in the first half of the book, in a chapter that is fittingly called “Mongo.” At this time, LeDuff is in Reverend Sheffield’s community center for no particular reason at all, but just, as he says, to “stare big-city politics in the face, study the knickknacks and doodles on its desk” (60).  His wish is granted, and as he is sitting in the waiting room of the center, Adolph Mongo strolls in: “Then power walked in the door: a short, stocky, smooth-skulled black man wearing a full-length leather trench coat…” (60). LeDuff continues to describe Mongo, a somewhat shady, yet extremely influential political consultant, as well as a “…political hit man, bomb thrower, assassin…” (60).

There is dialogue in the sequence where we meet Mongo, and it is very crude, inappropriate language, with words spewing from Mongo that would never be publicly spoken by your everyday political figure. That being said, Mongo is far from typical. Avoided and sought out by all, his reputations above ground and in the shadows are two very different things. LeDuff writes, “Black politicians pretended he didn’t work for them. White politicians suffered the same amnesia. But they sought his advice and they drank with him during the off years of the election cycle… He was what politicians really were around here…” (62).

A few chapters later Mongo makes a phone call to LeDuff, a very important one in which he says, “Shiiiiit… They went up to Washington thinking they were the executives of the Big Three. Turns out they were nothing but Detroit” (83). He follows this with a slew of n-words. This shows how little influence he believes, and with good reason, Detroit has in the rest of the United States. Mongo has the ability to be vulgar yet extremely profound at the same time. You can even take it so far as to compare Mongo to the city itself. Detroit is rough around the edges, but what happened to the city cannot be written off as a onetime occurrence that doesn’t matter. Mongo is certainly rough around the edges, and definitely crooked, but what he has to say cannot be written off as unimportant either. 

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