Customer Reviews of Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black
If any person has ever doubted whether racism has existed in America this book should convince them that it has, as seen through the innocence of a young boy and his brother. Imagine growing up believing you are "white" with its accompanying acceptance at all levels of society. Now imagine that you discover that you are really "black" and will forever be judged by your "blackness" first and foremost, no matter what you achieve in your life. Add to this identity problem a mother that deserts her sons at the tender ages of 8 and 9 at the same time they are placed in their alcoholic father's black community. A burden for their father, not black enough for their environment and rejected by the white community they find love and a home with an amazing black woman, Miss Dora. This book has forever inspired me to believe in the value of each child and discourage racist attitudes wherever I encounter them.
Very few people in America could have imagined a life like Greg Williams had. His life and experiences were so unique that there couldn't have been a more appropriate title than "Life on the Color Line." The blatant racism he encounters all through his childhood and teenage years while trying to just grow-up and be a normal kid is something that American should be ashamed of when remembering this time in our history. Anyone that thinks racism wasn't THAT bad back then should read this book, reading about his perspective should definitely change their mind.
Greg started growing up as a young white boy in Virginia. His life was pretty normal for him and his "white" family at that time. His father successfully passed as white, even though he had black blood running through his veins. He had a couple of successful business ventures, the most notable of which was a booming cafe/diner, which of course adherred to the laws of segregation. Greg's mother was white in the true sense of the term, and she seemed to care for her children deeply as any mother should.
Everything was perfect for Greg and his family until misfortune hits and the veil is pulled off the charade of his father's false life. In a poetic justice type of moment the father's life in Virginia is devastated and shaken literally back to his roots. It looks initially like Greg and his brother Mike will stay with their mother in Virginia, but they have to tag along with their father back to Indiana where all 3 of their lives are changed forever.
Back in Muncie, Indiana, the book almost splits into 3 separate interesting stories: Greg's life, his brother Mike's life, and the father's. Their struggles bring a new meaning to tough times. Greg and his brother now have to blend into the black community which isn't easy, all while they are summarily rejected by the white community, and most painful of all an apparent rejection by their mother.
There are a lot of negatives in their lives now dealing with their living situation, and ... people which are almost laughable. One situation that stands out are the two school officals that get upset at his expressing any interest in white girls, but then the same people are angry when he is marching with a black girl during graduation. However, through all the negativity there is one person that shows how powerful Christian love can be as she adopts them and tries to keep them on the right path.
Greg and Mike's experiences and ongoing fight with racism hardly let you put the book down. I couldn't wait to see how they were going to handle each new situation. Once in a while there is a true story comes along that rivals any fiction, this is one of them!
I was a graduate student at Ball State University, and this book was a required reading for a course I was taking. For someone that did not grow up in Muncie, IN this book provided a solid perspective of the history of this area. What's even better is that I have been able to recommend it to friends and family on the East Coast that had virtually no knowledge of Muncie, IN--a city that was once part of the historical "Middletown" study. Gregory Williams provided a powerful account of the racial intolerance he faced and his struggle for an identity during his childhood years. The evolution of his relationship with his father is one you will want to follow to the end. Not only was his narrative a compelling one, but his style of writing kept me captivated throughout. There were few books that were required reading for me in college that I truly enjoyed, and felt had significant meaning. Whether you read it for class or pleasure, you will be amazed by the story of Gregory Williams. At the conclusion of this true story you will honestly want to know more!!
I came to read this book as an assignment in preparation for my oral exams in defense of the PhD in English from The Ohio State University. Initially, I resisted reading the book thinking it was "just another story of a White person trying to make some money off a trend involving Black people. However, when I finally sat down to read the book, I found Gregory Williams' story so compelling that I could not put it down until I had read every word two days later. When Dean Williams first arrived at OSU as the Law School Dean, scholars fervently debated the finer points of his book and students flocked to hear him speak. After having actually read the text, I can understand why they were drawn to this man. He describes in heart-wrenching details the privations he and his brother endured when they were forced to remove themselves from the life of White privilege in Virginia to one where survival in Muncie, Indiana meant learning quickly the cold hard facts of being Black in skin that appeared to be White. The family friend who took Gregory and his brother into her home is the only character who stands out as more memorable than the boys' alcoholic paternal grandmother. No reader could sit dry-eyed through a reading of this book where two innocent children were scorned and battered by relatives, peers, and strangers alike. Gregory Williams is to be admired for withstanding the agony of his unusual upbringing and the marvelous outcome as he now holds a superlative position in one of the nation's most prestigious universities that prides itself on the number of minority doctorates it produces. My only puzzlement following the reading of the book and viewing the family Dean Williams built, is that he seems to have ended up with a very "White-looking" family and so he seems to perpetuate the same image of self-hate that he describes his father as producing. However, Williams is truly to be commended for his superb handling of a "race" issue that confronts a society which declares that there is no biological basis in race---all Blacks are not always all Black (F. James Davis) and more multi-racial writers and scholars need to step forward and be recognized.
Provocative, Puzzling... American
Williams tells us a story uniquely American -- one that emphasizes, by daily grappling with personal turmoil, the absurdity of race as a social invention. While the classification of race more often than not is strictly arbitrary, its consequences for an individual life are far from that. Williams looks "white," but his father is a light-skinned black who had fostered the lie that he is of Italian descent. All this changes when a turn of bad luck dashes his business ventures and marriage to pieces. Sensing that he cannot take care of his sons alone, "Buster" takes them to live with extended family relatives in Muncie. There, Greg and his brother do not merely discover the truth, they experience how the truth can turn a world of white priviledge inside out -- and hurt like hell. The boys are constantly made painfully aware of the consequences of race, as they find challenges in coping with scorn from both sides of the racial divide. Greg goes on to overcome the obstacles, and one must admire his sheer force of will. Mike, his younger brother, lives an altogether different story, succumbing to one temptation after another. In all of this, the awareness of race sears their minds like a hot poker. At the conclusion of this book, one really does attain a deeper appreciation for the nonsensical underpinnings of America's preoccupation with race. This is personal biography that goes beyond self-indulgence, exploring a wider social landscape that we all take part in and take responsibililty for. Insightful storytelling of the highest order -- highly recommended.