Author: George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
Reason for Reading: In Their Shoes Reading Challenge
Cross-posted at Bold. Blue. Adventure.
I won this book because of My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge (Yay!). The cover and title don't make it sound like an exciting read, but in reality, this was a fascinating, sometimes gripping read. George Dawson, the grandson of slaves, lived to be 103. The reason he became well-known (and thus this book was written) is because at the age of 98, he made the decision to learn how to read, a skill that had been denied him as a poor black man in the early 1900's.
In this memoir, George writes about growing up in the segregated south. As a young child, he witnessed a lynching of a man he knew to be innocent. While trying to process the horrifying experience, he has an exchange with his father:
"I will never work for or talk to a white person again," I said with anger.... Papa swallowed hard and pulled up on the reins so that the wagon stopped. He turned towards me. "No. You will work for white folks. You will talk to them... Some of those white folks was mean and nasty. Some were just scared. It doesn't matter. You have no right to judge another human being. Don't you ever forget." My father had spoken. There was nothing to say. I didn't know it then, but his words set the direction my life would take even to this day.
George had a good many adventures during his life, from playing on the Negro Leagues to riding the rails all the way from Mexico to Canada and everywhere in between. He recounts his experiences during The Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement and other turning points of the past century.
I could outline all of the events of the book, and really it wouldn't capture what the book is exactly about. Yes, the book brings the reader through the dirty underside of racism, but that isn't what the book is about either. He experienced many of the things most of us only know from history books, and it included a great deal of hardship. I guess you could say that this book is an attempt to tell his story, and recount how he managed to maintain his dignity and optimism through all of it.
George Dawson is a truly remarkable man. After joining an Adult Education class, he stayed with it until he had earned a GED. He seems a bit incredulous that so many people are fascinated and inspired by him, but glad to talk to people and help them all the same. You'll be glad you read this book.