Life on the Color Line

by Gregory Howard Williams

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Critical Context

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Williams’s memoir confirms the idea that love, forgiveness, and determination can overcome social limitations. Without anger, blame, resentment, or a call for retribution, Life on the Color Line manages to convey how deeply racism, intolerance, and discrimination are etched into the American psyche. The memoir form and Williams’s matter-of-fact voice imbue the work with absolute authority. It is the author’s truth and thus cannot be challenged. In addition to forcing readers to examine their own perconceptions about racial identity, the book conveys the divisive racial climate in the United States during the 1950’s and the 1960’s at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement: Individuals were judged primarily by their skin color, which determined whether they were provided with or denied the opportunity to achieve greatness.

Williams never asks for pity. Indeed, his is a celebratory chronicle that inspires readers to strive themselves to accomplish great things. He claims that through education, perseverance, and hard work, obstacles of any sort can be overcome. He furthermore decries self-pity, asserting that it merely interferes with the work and perseverance necessary for success. At one point, Williams acknowledges that he had a choice to dream or despair. Fortunately, he chose to dream.

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