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Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black Paperback – February 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (February 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452275334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452275331
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Williams, dean of the Ohio State University College of Law, tells the affecting and absorbing story of his most unusual youth. Born to a white mother and a black father who passed for white, Williams was raised as white in Virginia until he was 10, when his mother left. His father brought his two sons back home to Muncie, Ind., in 1954 and sank further into drink. The two boys were eventually taken in by Miss Dora, a poor black widow. Williams's many anecdotes are a mixture of pain, struggle and triumph: learning "hustles" from Dad, receiving guidance from a friend's mother, facing racism from teachers and classmates, beginning a clandestine romance with a white girl he eventually married. And while his scarred, grandiloquent father was never reliable, he did instill in young Greg-though not in Greg's brother-sustaining dreams of professional success. Along the way the author decided, despite his appearance, he would proudly claim the black identity that white Muncie wouldn't let him forget. Williams ends his narrative when he reaches college; in the epilogue, he regrets that "there were too many who were unable to break the mold Muncie cast." Photos not seen by PW. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Williams's coming-of-age years were hard. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother left when Greg was still in grade school, not to be seen for more than a decade. His father soon lost his business, and the rest of the family set out from Virginia for Muncie, Indiana to be near relatives. To Greg's amazement, having lived his short life as white, his fair-skinned father's relatives were black. Facing a lifetime of choosing whether to be black or white and, whatever his decision, opprobrium from both races, Greg opted for black. Today he is dean of a respected law school, a man who in the 1950s Muncie of his youth might have been patronizingly called "a credit to his race." "A credit to the human race" is more like it. Recommended for all libraries.
--Jim Burns, Ottumwa, Ia.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Thank you, thank you, for telling your amazing story.
A. Aguero
Our book club love it and I remember how things where like growing up at that time it took me back.
Fred LaChance
I will say this is one of those books I still pick up every couple of years and read again.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Lawyeraau HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an intriguing memoir that allows the reader to see what life was like for the author whose early life was defined by issues of race and color. The author had spent his early years in Virginia, where his white mother and his dark-skinned "Italian" father operated a roadside tavern. Growing up in the South, where issues of race and color were so important, the author had always thought that he was white, as he had been raised as such. When his parents' business, as well as their marriage, collapsed, his mother left them, forcing his father to return home to his roots in Muncie, Indiana. Abandoned by their mother, it was there that the author and his younger brother, Mike, were to discover which side of the then great color divide he and his brother were on. The lesson would be a difficult one.
In Muncie, Indiana, they were to discover that their father, rather than being Italian, was bi-racial, born of the union of a Black woman and a White father. In those times, however, you were considered to be either White or Black. So in Indiana, he was Black, even though, ironically, in the South he had passed for White. Now, his children, Greg and Mike, were to learn that, notwithstanding their appearance, they were considered to be Black, and forced to live in a segregated world on the wrong side of the race and color divide. They quickly learned what it was to be considered second class citizens. This was the nineteen fifties, during the heyday of the Klu Klux Klan, and well before the Civil Rights Movement had taken hold, so feelings ran very high on issues of race and color.
Looking as if they were White but considered to be Black, the boys found themselves in a limbo of sorts, rejected by both Whites and Blacks.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Theodore Christopher on June 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Sarah A. Jones on May 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Greg and I were in the same class, graduating from Muncie (IN.)Central High School in 1962. He always seemed to be rather guarded....kind of a shy guy in many ways. But that is quite understandable. He had to be that way. Most likely, he was not ever sure what the agenda was of others who surrounded him. God knows, he was ostracized by people of both predominant races in Muncie at that time. That was apparent. Becoming a basketball legend changed that to some degree. Geezzzzz! I was even disowned by a female cousin of mine because I danced with a black girl at a 7th grade record hop back when it was acceptable for girls to dance with other girls! The girl remained a friend of mine throughout our school days (for Greg's knowledge, this was Sylvia M.). Moreover, I worked (in H.S.) with the mother of the white girl he eventually married. It is too bad that her family chose to disown her, but I am proud of her for standing up to them and following her heart. Yeah Sara!! Buy this book, and READ IT WITH YOUR HEART!! You'll be VERY glad you did!!
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