Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black

Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black

4.1 22
by Gregory Howard Williams

View All Available Formats & Editions

A stunning journey to the heart of the racial dilemma in this country.  See more details below


A stunning journey to the heart of the racial dilemma in this country.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Feb.)
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. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/94.]-Jim Burns, Ottumwa, Ia.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.26(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.78(d)
920L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Life on the Color Line 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
KHinMrs.McIntyres2nd More than 1 year ago
Greg William's Life on the Color Line deserves five stars. His masterpiece begins with his rich white family in Virginia enjoying the luxuries of life. However, when his parents divorce and his father's business goes under, he, his younger brother, and his father are forced to move in with family in prejudice Muncie, Indiana. When the boys arrive, they are greeted by African-American grandparents, aunts, and cousins. Instantly the boys discover the truth of their heritage: they are both a quarter black. The stunning novel describes the great hardships the boys face while in Muncie. Deserted by their mother and practically their father too, the boys struggle to survive. They are forced to work countless hours at a young age in order to eat and be clothed. William's also goes into great detail about how he and his brother were the "scum" of society in Muncie. Whites rejected them completely, while blacks claimed that they weren't black enough. Life on the Color Line is unique in that it displays both sides of the racial struggle in the United States. It is a moving novel that will make you feel not one or two, but a variety of emotions while reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The disturbing thing about Williams' book is that he seems to accept the racist idea that a true 'white' person is totally 'free'of nonwhite ancestry - or at least black ancestry. Williams' tries to ignore the fact that his younger brother and sister identify as white. He tries to paint his mother as a racist who rejected him because of his 'tainted' blood, but he has no answer for the fact that his mother reared his younger brother and sister even though their paternity was the same as his. My sympathy goes to a struggling single mother who was forced to leave a battering husband, find a job and rear children on her own. Williams paints his light mulatto father, Tony (I will not use the racist term 'light-skinned black man' because it endorses the myth of hypodescent and implies that Tony wasn't good enough for his white ancestry) as a victim of 'racism' but I don't buy it. Tony was a 'white' man (Who the hell has the authority to say who is or isn't white?) who lost his business and his wife (He was alcoholic and a wife-beater) through his own incompetence and stupidity. Those are individual faults, not 'racial' ones. Williams wants us to think that Tony's incompetence came about as a result of 'denying' his 'black blood.' Are we to assume that every 'white' alcoholic or wife-batterer is hiding a 'black blood' stigma? Please!! Tony was guilty of child abuse - a fact Williams doesn't want to recognize. The worthless bum takes his innocent older sons away from their mother, dumbs them in Muncie, Indiana with an alcoholic old black woman in the poorest slum in town, tells them they are now 'colored' and obliged to take the 'Negro' side in the racial cold war that was the reality in Muncie. That was like calling yourself a Communist during the 1950s. Also, I have no sympathy for Tony's inability to get a decent job. Any 'white' man in the 1950s could get a good job if he tried. Tony Williams just decided to self-destruct. He should have been thrown into prison for abusing his sons the way he did. Williams, who is Law School Dean at Ohio State University, knows that many people (especially those of Hispanic or Arabic origin) freely identify as 'white' or otherwise nonblack when their phenotypes clearly show Negroid ancestry. Society has not forced Williams to pretend to be 'black.' The inferiority complex instilled in him by his father did that. The worst thing about this book is that Williams is proclaiming his devotion to a racist myth of white 'purity' while pretending to fight 'racism.'
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for anyone interested in race relations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for the young and old. A great book!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to purchase this book to read for a Master's course. The book was not one that I enjoyed reading. I did not even finish reading the entire book, nor do I think I would go back and try and finish it. The story was very wordy and hard to follow. I think there was an interesting story to tell, but the author spent so much time giving useless details, it bogged down the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
VMW More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent for anybody interested in getting an inside look to race relations in the 50s and 60s. I read this as part of a book club and I was quickly enthralled by it. It is hard to believe that any one person could go through experiences as the author has and still be successful. This is by far one of the best books I have read in years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like emotional books that have good endings you will love this non-fictional auto-biography book. It is crazy how Billy a young boy who was born white and for a short period of time was raised white. But Billys life made a dramatic change when at the age of eight was told he was also black. Billy and his younger brother Mikes life in Virginia when they were white and life in Indiana when they were black was totally opposite. With a mother that ran out on them and a father who was an alcholic they had quite a struggle surviving. It is amazing how Billy and his younger brother Mike grow up and overcome all the opstacles of being traped between two color lines.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life on the Color Line introduces the reader to many tragedies which should not be dealt by anyone let alone a young boy.These include situations of racial diversity, poverty, and alcoholism. This story does a good job of putting ones self in the situation and taking a 360 degree look around at what is happening. Well told and delivered in a way that many can understand, this book brings together a wide audience to look at problems in society which can be overcome.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read ¿Life On the Color Line¿ once before and loved it so much. Not only is it about racial identity, but it delves into issues of alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, displacement, determination and perseverance. This book is simply dynamic. When I discovered that it was required rereading for a course that was being offered at my university a few years ago, I just had to take it. What made reading it better the second time around was having Gregory Howard Williams as a guest speaker! In response to A. D. Powell's review not ONCE did I ever get the feeling that Williams proclaimed to be devoted 'to a racist myth of white 'purity' while pretending to fight 'racism.'' His daughter is named after the black woman who raised him and his brother, Mike. He is also currently President of City College in New York City. During his visit he stated that his decision to join the City College was influenced by its location, Harlem, and his affinity for the community. And when a white classmate asked how he identifies himself racially he stated, unequivocally, 'African American.' Given everything Williams endures in 'Life On the Color Line' it would seem antithetical that he would identify any other way. After reading the book the second time and hearing its author speak, what strikes me as crystal clear is that in spite of his father¿s dysfunctional ways, and the trials and tribulations the author endured, his love for Buster was unconditional. Again, I have to disagree with A. D. Powell¿s assertion that Williams ¿tries to paint his mother as a racist who rejected him because of his 'tainted' blood.¿ I don¿t recall his mother behaving this way; his maternal grandmother, perhaps but, his mother? And if I recall correctly, the fourth child was the darkest child. So, if she was a ¿racist¿ why didn¿t she simply abandon all four children? During his visit Williams mentioned that a screenplay was in the works. I really hope his story comes to the small screen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i'm just a sophmore in high school and once i started reading this book i couldn't put it back down. His story is one of the greatest i've ever read before. There is no other greater book than this one. This book left a wonderful feeling in my heart and soul. This should be a book everyone should read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a junior in high school. This is the only biography I can remember reading that was this good. Really, I could not put this book down. I loved and felt every part of it. Honestly, I never knew biography's could be this wonderful to read until I read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I heard the author speak and found his story so intriquing that I had to read his book. After reading it, I feel even more honored to have met such an incredible man. This is a hard, honest look at racism, but also the poverty, domestic violence and alcoholism that go with it. Devastating and inspiring, it should definately be required reading for all high school and college students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm only a sophomore in highschool and I truly enjoyed this book. It even made me cry at the end... I hate to end a great book. Gosh I dont even know what to write about this book except it was awesome and it was one of the best books that I've ever read and I wish there were more great books like this one out there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a teacher, I believe this book should be on every required reading list. Mr. Williams casts a light on racism seldom seen in other books; a first hand account from both sides of the 'fence'. It is, simply said, amazing.