The author recounts the shock he experienced when he learned his father's relatives in Muncie, Indiana, were poor and Black, and the prejudice that he and his brother endured from both sides
Gregory Howard Williams and his younger brother, Mike, grew up believing they were white and that their darkskinned father was of Italian descent. Then their parents' marriage disintegrated, their mother departed, and their father's business ventures sank into a sea of liquor. Pursued by debt and personal demons, "Tony" Williams took his two boys to his hometown of Muncie, Indiana, where he was known as "Buster," and where there was no escape from the truth he had hidden for so long.The truth was as plain as the color of Buster's family. Gregory and Mike Williams were the sons of a brilliant and charming but troubled black man who fled the burden of race until need drove him back to his roots. Suddenly Gregory and Mike discovered they were black as well, strangers in a segregated world about which they knew nothing, forced to learn the strategies of survival amid the poverty, prejudice, and agonizing absurdities of a time and place where racism flourished.In this extraordinary and powerful memoir, Gregory Howard Williams recounts his remarkable journey along the color line and illuminates the contrasts between the black and white worlds: one of privilege, opportunity, and comfort, the other of deprivation, repression, and struggle. He tells the story of his father, a self-destructive man who often neglected his children, yet had faith in his eldest son's ability to succeed in the face of nearly insurmountable obstacles. Of "Miss Dora," a loving family friend who gave Gregory and his brother the food they ate, the clothes on their backs, and the roof over their heads - all on a salary of just twenty-five dollars per week. Of the hostility and prejudice he encountered all too often, from both blacks and whites, and the surprising moments of encouragement and acceptance he found from each. Williams tells the story, too, of the divergent paths he and his brother eventually took, one defying the odds and the advice of teachers and counselors to become a lawyer, the other succumbing to the lure of fun, flash, and the quick buck.Life on the Color Line is a uniquely important book. It is a compelling drama of a man straddling two worlds and two heritages, and a wonderfully inspiring testament of purpose, perseverance, and human triumph.