The Last Train North

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At seventeen, carrying visions of northern equality, Taulbert boards the Illinois Central Railroad, a few months before it stops serving the Mississippi Delta, leaving Greenville for the city of his dreams, St. Louis, Missouri.

Taulbert finds the North in transition, where young blacks energized by the Civil Rights movement are angered because the color of their skin prevents them from being judged on the strength of their own abilities and talents. When Taulbert meets his father for the first time, he realizes they will never have a close relationship. Frustration sets in when the bank that hired him as a doorman will not promote him, despite good grades in bank-sponsored college courses. When his friends begin to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he enlists in the Air Force. He finds equality in the service, making friends of both races and learning that racial sensitivity cuts both ways.

Taulbert is a good writer. He portrays things the way they were without being accusatory or focusing on the negative. The train is a constant symbol, comparing the segregated South to the semi-integrated North. Occasionally, the flashbacks are confusing and sometimes the dates given don’t match. This book is fascinating and ultimately uplifting as Taulbert matures and comes of age. His odyssey is a personal one, but the truths he finds are universal.