Our new University of Cincinnati President, Gregory Howard Williams, wrote this book, published in 1995, and subtitled the true story of a white boy who discovered he was black. It is an excellent book. Ten year old Greg Williams had already had a hectic and often poverty stricken life by the time his mother left him, his younger brother, and his Italian American father, taking the 2 youngest siblings with her.
After his alcoholic father destroyed the rest of the family’s assets, he took Greg and Mike with him to Muncie, Indiana, his home town. On the bus ride there, the father Tony (as he was known as an Italian American in Virginia) reverted back to being Buster Williams, a black ne’er do well who had almost made it in life. Though Greg and Mike were white to all appearances, Muncie of the 1950’s knew instantly who they were, and treated them accordingly.
This is a shattering and heart-breaking book. The crudities and cruelties of his alcoholic black grandmother were more than matched by his white grandmother and that entire family, who simply did not acknowledge his existence – though the entire town, black and white, knew who was who. In giving a fairly observational and non-emotional description of the nightmare life the boys led, it is amazing how much of the time they simply did not have enough food. Thrift store clothes, fighting their way through playgrounds, often rejected by black and white kids at schools, life was hard. But his dad and grandmother would not / could not even give up a bottle of wine to keep them fed. Finally, Miss Dora – a church going woman who knew of their circumstances, took them in, and kept them fed, though she didn’t have resources to do much more than that.
How black and very underprivileged Greg William became both a lawyer and a Ph. D., and now president of a major American university is an unbelievable story. If you want to know how race is truly still lived in much of America – read this book.