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Life On The Color Line Essay, Research Paper

Life On The Color Line

This is an elegantly written memoir about the life of Greg Williams and his younger brother Mike.The boys live in Virginia with their parents who ran a rowdy bar for military people associated with the bases in Norfolk. Their father was a temperamental, brilliant, exceedingly charming, devious alcoholic. When his fathers marriage and business came apart in Virginia, Greg was about 8 years old, and Mike a bit younger. Their father moved them to Muncie, Indiana and left them with some of his relatives, who had no income and no ability to care for them. The striking aspect of this story is that during this move to Muncie, the boys learned from their father that he was a black man and that in Muncie, they, too, would be black.

Although the boys looked white, and their father who passed for Italian had married a white woman from Muncie, their grandmother was a black woman from Kentucky now settled in Muncie with only the barest means of subsistence. The boys first stayed with relatives who could not afford to keep them and eventually were raised by a black woman, Miss Dora, who had no kinship relation with them, but believed they deserved a chance. Greg Williams was singled out by his family and his father to excel, to leave Muncie, and to make his fortune through his brains and academic prowess. This came true, and he is now the Dean of the College of Law at Ohio State University. His brother Mike, however, missed their mother terribly, yielded to their father’s vision of him as “just like me” and lived a hard and dangerous life.

Part of the significance of the book is the author’s ability to contrast his life with his brother’s. Another significant factor is his ability to translate from both sides of the color line his unusual and amazing life experiences. The author, who looked white himself, recounts many experiences in Muncie of being forcefully coached to “stay in his place” as a black person. The result is that the reader thinks “Am I glad I don’t live in Muncie!” and then immediately realizes that many towns may be like Muncie, but not every town has the eloquent storyteller who has seen both sides and can reveal the ugly underbelly of racism firsthand.


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