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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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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
--Jim Burns, Ottumwa, Ia.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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. They had to learn how to maneuver in this crazy patchwork quilt of absurd and confusing racial notions that would marginalize their existence and make them the target for every miscreant on either side of the race and color divide. This was to have great impact on the brothers, as they each found their own personal coping mechanism for the deprivation, poverty, hostility and prejudice that circumscribed their life in Indiana. Unfortunately, they ultimately each took divergent paths. The author would seek legitimate work and higher education as a way to forge ahead in life, while Mike would seek solace in the lure of easy money, easy women, and life in the fast lane, a choice that would end in personal tragedy for him.
The book clearly delineates the fact that, in the nineteen fifties, there were two Americas that existed side by side. One America was born of privilege and opportunity reserved for Whites. The other America was one of repression and lack of opportunity reserved for Blacks. Clearly, those who were defined as Black but wished to pass for White did not do so because of racial hatred. They did so as a way of bypassing a hated system that could so circumscribe someone's potential and ability to seek a better way of life. Who is White? Who is Black? These are questions that should generally be unnecessary. The response should be, "Who cares?".
The author focuses on his early life, the part that evidently caused him so much pain, while skimming on the latter part of his life. It would have been interesting to have spent some additional time on the latter part, to see how those early experiences affected or shaped the man he was to become and is today. Still, this is an intriguing memoir that is written by someone who has lived in these two Americas and endured. It is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
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!
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