Onyx reviews: Life is
So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
If George Dawson had not been at home the day the man came by handing out
flyers, he would likely have missed a major opportunity. Even if the advertiser
had left the brochure, Dawson would have discarded it, since he could not read
it. The flyer advertised adult literacy classes at a nearby school. At the age
of 98, Dawson took his first steps away from illiteracy.
His story drew national attention. School teacher Richard Glaubman was
intrigued by this man whose life spans the entire 20th century and traveled from
Seattle to rural Marshall, Texas to meet Dawson. The two became fast friends.
Glaubman, recognizing in Dawson a chronicle of the last hundred years from a
totally different perspective, decided to get Dawson to tell his story. Their
main goal, in addition to capturing this life on paper, was to try to raise
enough money to help Dawson patch his leaky roof.
Dawson remembers listening to his grandmother talking about the day that they
found out that the south had lost the Civil War, ending their lifetime of
slavery. Life did not automatically become easy for them, however. The family
had to stay on for nearly a decade to earn out the debt that their owner -- now
their employer -- calculated he had due to him.
The Dawson family trekked from Mississippi to east Texas looking for work.
There they claimed the forty acres and mule that had been promised to every
freed slave family. Dawson's story tells of how his family prospered, acquiring
additional acreage and becoming self-sufficient through perseverance and endless
hours of hard work.
Dawson had little by way of a childhood. As the eldest of five children, he
worked long hours when he might otherwise have been attending school. At the age
of 12, he was sent away to work for and live with a white family. His earnings
were sent back to his parents, who also benefited from having one less mouth to
feed, while he slept in a shed in the back yard. He ate his meals alone. Other
than giving orders, no one spoke to him during those four years except during
his infrequent visits with his family.
Co-author Glaubman helps bring the story into context using articles
chronicling important events during Dawson's life. Articles that until recently
Dawson could not read. Many of these national events, even World War I, had
little impact on the Dawson family. They were too busy with the daily struggle
of keeping the family alive and fed.
Dawson's story is also a real-life history of prejudice and segregation, the
matter-of-fact way in which colored people (that is how Dawson refers to
himself) forced themselves to adapt to a life under the Jim Crow laws. If there
was no colored water fountain, they went thirsty. When a restaurant would not
even sell his baseball team sandwiches to take away and eat on the roadside,
they went hungry.
When he reached his majority, Dawson rode the rails, sometimes paying his way
but often stealing rides on freight cars, crisscrossing the US, traversing
Canada and exploring parts of Mexico. He was amazed to discover that there were
places where a black man could ride in the same train car with white people and
eat in the same restaurants. Even without this prejudice boundary, though,
Dawson had another: he couldn't read.
Dawson returned to his hometown and raised a family, outliving four wives and
passing on his drive to succeed to his seven children. Even after he retired
from a long career at a local dairy, Dawson continued to seek out work, laboring
tirelessly, doing whatever people asked of him.
Life is so Good is a thought-provoking, educational and inspiring
story. Anyone reading about the hardships of Dawson's life would not blame him
if he had called his memoir Life is so Hard. But that is not Dawson's
philosophy. Hard work is what life is. Even at 102, he never missed a day of
school. "Every morning I get up and wonder what I might learn that
day," he says. He also understands that he is now a source of encouragement
for others who are picking up the pieces of their education. It is a
responsibility that he takes very seriously.
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