Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed will be forever remembered by most movie fans as the two tough and smart African-American detectives in Harlem in the Ossie Davis directed 1970’s film entitled Cotton Comes to Harlem. However, few people seem to know that they appeared in a second movie entitled Come Back Charleston Blue nor are they aware of the origins of these two characters and films.
The origins of the characters “Gravedigger” Jones and “Coffin” Ed can be traced back to a series of Harlem detective novels by the author Chester Himes. These novels were all written between 1957 and 1969 and the names of the books in the series were A Rage in Harlem, The Real Cool Killers, The Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, The Big Gold Dream, The Heat’s On, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and Blind Man With A Pistol. In 2011, Penguin Modern Classics republished these books that were a part of what has become known as the "Harlem Cycle".
Chester Himes was an African-American author that actually started writing short stories and books while he was serving a 20 to 25 year sentence in a Ohio Penitentiary for an armed robbery in 1928. After eight years, Chester Himes was paroled and released to his mother’s custody. After his release, he was able to make contact with Langston Hughes in 1936. Langston Hughes helped him set up some contacts in the literature and publishing industry that helped him further his writing career. Chester moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a screenwriter and continued to write books but he eventually left Hollywood and immigrated to France because he could no longer deal with the racial prejudice that was prevalent in Los Angeles. He was also very popular in literary circles in Paris and this attracted him to France as well. Chester Himes eventually passed in Spain from Parkinson’s Disease in 1984.
Below you will find some images of the books that comprised the Harlem Detective series and if you click on the novel it will take you a webpage where you can buy the title.
View more: Books by Chester Himes