Life On The Color Line by Gregory Howard Williams

by HRevvdon@evpl on Friday, April 3 2009, 10:00pm. Viewed 890 times.

I just finished 2009's One Book One Community selection and it is amazing.  The writing is good and the story is incredible.  It is truly hard to put down.

Gregory, aka Billy, is a child in Virginia whose family owns a tavern and a septic service company.  They are middleclass and living in Georgetown, but his family life is far from ideal.  His father is an alcoholic and beats his mother.  Greg's mother leaves his father, deserting 10 year old Greg and his eight year old brother, Mike, but taking the two younger children.  Greg's father continues his alcoholic decline, until he loses everything.  When "Buster" returns to Muncie, Indiana, to his family for help, the boys learn that their Italian-American father is African-American. 

The boys are raised in racist Muncie in 1954, struggling to survive in a world where they look white, are considered "colored", and are never fully accepted by either world.  Greg deals with racism, ignorance, his alcoholic abusive father, and his alcoholic abusive grandmother.  Their mother and her family do not acknowledge them, despite the grandparents living only a couple of miles away on the other side of town.  The boys have a guardian angel in a poor widow, Miss Dora, who takes them in to raise as best she can.  Greg is instilled with a drive to succeed and become a lawyer.  Mike succumbs to the environment, drops out of school, gambles, drinks, and becomes a drug dealer.  Greg succeeds and ultimately becomes a teacher, lawyer, and a dean at Ohio State College Law School.

Living on the Color Line (1995) is a memoir filled with rage, hate, love, and hope.  Greg tells his story so we know that one can survive.  There is one line that touched me at the end of the book: "...the wounds are deep, the scars on his soul ache, and he is able to draw little solace..." (pg. 284)  Then, he does on to say, "In spite of all the pain and grief of my early years, I am grateful to have been able to view the world from a place few men or women have stood.  I realize now that I am bound to live out my life in the middle of our society and hope that I can be a bridge between races, shouldering the heavy burden that almost destroyed my youth." (pg. 284)

I was raised in a small farming and manufacturing town in central Michigan in the 1960's and 1970's.  I am still amazed by how sheltered I was.  Muncie is a four-hour drive from where I was raised and although I would have been a small child at the time of this memoir, it is almost beyond my comprehension that there could be a child/teenager/young adult living through this kind of horrific experience just a short distance from me.  How naive and lucky I was.

Comments (2)

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Bufkinite@evpl wrote
on Saturday, April 4 2009, 11:33am

I'm looking forward to reading this book, having been raised in Muncie.  By the time I was in high school (late '60s - early '70s) racism was still easy to find in Muncie, but didn't have the broad social acceptance it had had two decades earlier, and was more a "backroom" phenomena.

One related childhood memory that sticks out was when my father was negotiating the purchase a house that had a convenant restricting transfer of title to white families. He took the seller to court, as a condition of closing, to remove that covenant.  As a result, we received many anonymous nasty phone calls for a couple of months.

on Thursday, May 7 2009, 10:54am

FYI...preliminary info about this year's One Book One Community has been posted at

More info will be coming soon!