A Special Man And His Memories

I’d like to tell you a little bit about a man named George Dawson.  George was born in 1898 in a dirt-floor cabin in Marshall, Texas.  He was the son of a farmer, and both of his grandparents and great-grandparents were African-American slaves. Though freed at the end of the Civil War, they had to stay on the plantation for ten years to work off their debt to their former master’s store. George’s father, Harrison, was three years old when they left. The family walked west and stopped in Marshall because a lumber mill there provided work; they received forty acres of land and a mule from the federal government and started the grueling process of eking out a living. George, the oldest of eight children, began contributing to the family’s survival by age four, combing cotton while his great-grandmother Sylvie made thread with her drop spindle.  At age eight, he went to work on a white neighbor’s farm feeding hogs and cattle, and at twelve, he was sent away from home to live and work on a white man’s farm so his wages could help support his family and allow his brothers and sisters to attend Marshall’s colored school.  George never got the chance to attend school.

George’s life of hard manual labor hardly stopped for the next half century. When he was twenty-one, he left his family and followed the jobs he could find across North America for the next decade. He picked cotton, cut sugar cane, built Mississippi River levees, pounded spikes and laid rails for railroads from Cincinnati to Canada to California, tamed horses all over the Midwest, loaded barge cargo, and worked in Mexican coffee plantations. In 1928, Dawson settled in Dallas, Texas, where he worked on the railroad and did road crew work for the city. For almost twenty-five years he ran the pasteurizing machines at the Oak Farms Dairy.

During all those years, George raised a family, worked hard, but never had the time or the opportunity for an education, never learned to read.  That was, perhaps, the one thing that George wanted most in his life … to learn to read.  Fast forward to 1996 …

George was 98 years young when one day a man knocked on his door.  The man was a volunteer who told George that the Lincoln Instructional Center, just a few blocks away, was offering adult education courses!  FINALLY!!!  The opportunity George had wanted for 98 years was knocking on his door!  George overcame his initial reluctance to reveal his illiteracy, telling himself, “All your life you’ve wanted to read. Maybe this is why you’re still around.”

On first meeting instructor Carl Henry, a retired teacher, he learned that the oldest student until that time had been a woman in her fifties. George Dawson learned the alphabet in a day and a half, moved from printing to cursive writing, and could write his name within a month. After almost two years he could read at a third-grade level. Inspired by his example, students flocked to the Lincoln Instructional Center and enrollment doubled.

George Dawson’s story ‘went viral’ as we would say today.  The Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote an article about Dawson’s one-hundredth birthday celebration and his recent literacy accomplishments. The Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it to newspapers across the country.  One such article was read by elementary school teacher Richard Glaubman in Port Townsend, Washington. Glaubman thought Dawson’s story would make an inspirational children’s book, and he phoned Dawson to propose his idea.  Dawson was leery at first, having been long ago warned by his father about the trouble that can ensue when whites and Blacks mix.  But ultimately, George agreed to meet Glaubman and the two struck up a friendship.

Long story short, after two years of frequent meetings and many late-night trips for George down memory lane, Glaubman realized that George Dawson was more than a children’s book, that his story and that of his ancestors needed to be told in full.  And so it happened that in May 2000, George Dawson’s memories were published in a book, Life Is So Good.

I have just downloaded Mr. Dawson’s book to my Kindle and plan to read it this weekend!

Besides describing Dawson’s life and adventures, the book is said to deliver a wrenching history of the life of black people in the South. A Reading Today reviewer stated …

“He recalls the struggles involved in growing up in rural Texas in the early 1900s, where the Ku Klux Klan was very active and where he saw one of his childhood friends lynched for being accused of being with a white girl. All through his life, even into his retirement years, Dawson has experienced prejudice in many forms.”

The opening scene in his book is one he lived through at age ten when he saw one of his friends lynched … hung to death from a tree by a local sheriff and a band of white supremacists, after falsely being accused of raping a white woman.  Ten years old when he witnessed this!  I cannot even imagine … can you?

Anyway, George Dawson’s memoir has withstood the test of time.  He appeared on Oprah and was featured in People magazine. He told his story in the June 2001 issue of the inspirational magazine Guideposts.  Sadly, George didn’t live long thereafter and died on July 5th, 2001, at the age of 103.  After his death, Carroll Independent School District named a middle school after him in Southlake, Texas.  And that might be the end of this story except …

That same school district that named a school for him has now banned his book.  They claim that it contains “inappropriate content.”  The district has thus far declined to specify which parts they found inappropriate but let me take a wild guess:  the parts that have to do with Jim Crow, lynchings, white supremacy, and in general the racial abuse Black people have been subjected to for centuries all the way up to today.  Let’s not allow our children to know how inhumanely white people have treated all humans who didn’t look and believe exactly as they did.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Mr. Dawson’s great grandson, Chris Irvin said that he was confused and hurt by Carroll ISD’s move, considering he and his family have visited the school at least five times for a reading of “Life is So Good.”

“That’s hurtful. You take away the bad and the ugly, and you only talk about the good, that doesn’t add up. Black history is American history. You can’t have one without the other. I can’t go to your history and tell you, ‘hey x that out of your life, that didn’t happen.'”

The attempts to bury and whitewash our history, our real history, must not be allowed to succeed.  It is a slap in the face to every Black person in this country.  Their story must be told!  IT MUST!!!  George Dawson’s story MUST be heard, it must be told and retold!  Otherwise … how can we ever do better???

I hope you’ll take just a couple of minutes to watch this brief video about the life and times of George Dawson.  Oh, and make sure you have a box of tissues at hand.

47 thoughts on “A Special Man And His Memories

  1. Wow, thanks for introducing me to this book, Jill. I am going to listen to this book as it is narrated by Levar Burton. Such an important issue, this whitewashing of history.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I would love to be able to listen to that audiobook!!! But alas, with very little hearing, audiobooks don’t work well for me! I started the book on my Kindle last night … only read about 20 pages, but I’m definitely enjoying it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Jill. I forwarded it on to some of my friends and one has already put the book on hold at the library in large print. So it’s out there in different medias.

    It can’t tell you how much it infuriates me what these schools are doing to education..I think it’s part of a nefarious plan, especially in the South. I’m embarrassed that I live in Florida and people here are….well I just have no words…same for Texas…the two worst.

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    • Oh that’s awesome! Thanks for helping share his story, Mary! It is one that everyone should be aware of. I’m just about 20 pages or so into his book, but I’m definitely enjoying it. Another reader tells me that she’s listening to the audiobook, which is narrated by Levar Burton. I’d love to listen to it, but audiobooks don’t work out well for me with a 90%+ hearing loss.

      I agree with you on what they are trying to do to education in this country. Did you see Keith’s comment about the Lt. Governor in his state trying to ban science and history teaching altogether through 5th grade? So much for “early childhood education”, huh?

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    • Yep, there seems to be a lot of stupidity going ’round these days, mostly from the ‘conservatives’ who would like to dummy-down this nation so as to make us too stupid to object to an authoritarian government. Sigh.

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  3. Jill, thanks for sharing this story, plus the added part on white washing history. Before I read this, I read the Republican Lt. Governor Mark Robinson suggested banning teaching science and history to grades 1 to 5. Fortunately, the push back on this inane suggestion caused him to back away from it. To be brutally frank, dumbing down America is not a strategy that will perpetuate some notion of American exceptionalism. If we fail to teach history, we are destined to (and are) make the same mistakes. Keith

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    • Wasn’t George Dawson an inspiring man? WHAT??? Robinson actually suggested banning the teaching of both science and history until kids are around age 11??? What the heck planet does this man live on? Heck, I was teaching Natasha history at age 3!!! It occurs to me that they are trying to create a society that is so ignorant they will buy into all the lies the Republicans tell! “American Exceptionalism” is a concept that died years ago, and I would love the opportunity to tell Mr. Mark Robinson and others just that! Whew.

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  4. Pingback: A SPECIAL MAN AND HIS Memories. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  5. WHAT AN EXCEPTIONAL HUMAN BEING TO SURVIVE WITH HUMOUR AFTER EPERIENCING WHAT HE DID SO YOUNG.TO BAN THE BOOK AND REFUSE TO LEY PEOPLE READ SOME UNPAKATABLE TRURHS ABOUT THEIR ANCESTORS IS SICK. tHE PAST DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT WHO WE ARE TODAY.
    Cwtch

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  6. What a truly inspirational story, Jill. It hits home to me how fortunate kids are these days to walk in the path paved by those who endured so much hardship. Imagine having to start fending for your family at 4?!

    And George’s story shows that it’s never too late to fulfill a dream and to do great things with life. Never too late.

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    • Indeed, George’s story touched my heart, made me wish I had known him. Today, so many complain if they have to pay $2 for a carton of eggs, never realizing what true hardship is. Can you imagine seeing your best friend lynched at age 10? And yet, George still believed that life is good. An amazing man!

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  8. An amazing man. A great man. Why would they ban a book about such a man? George Dawson! The cops may not have killed him, but the school district us certainly trying. Again I say his name: George Dawson!

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