In this debut memoir, a black Air Force veteran recounts his unlikely rise from rural poverty to the upper middle class.
Born in the Arkansas Delta in 1943, Strother was the seventh child of poor parents. His mother worked various manual jobs, including picking cotton for local farmers; his father was the secretary and treasurer of his church. When the author was born, most of his neighbors over 40 couldn’t read or write and young people frequently moved to the North to find better employment opportunities. Strother was no different: “Even though I loved the people in my community, I disliked intensely almost everything about where I grew up. I always felt out-of-place.” As soon as he graduated from high school, he rushed to join the Air Force like his older brother Curtis. Experiencing racism from whites in the South while he was wearing his Air Force uniform—proof that he was willing to fight and die for the United States—brought home the discrimination that Strother would face throughout his life. But the Air Force provided him the opportunity to live abroad in West Germany, where, removed from the American dynamics of black and white, he was able to experience something closer to racial equality. After marrying a German woman and moving with her to Detroit, Strother did not let the expectations of others hold him back from pursuing the American dream. In his book, which features some family photographs, the author recounts attending night school to become a computer programmer, getting a job with a major corporation, working his way up to salesman and then district manager, and investing in real estate. Strother skillfully summons his memories using a simple, direct prose: “When Papa went to the bank to withdraw his money, it was closed and out of business. After that, he started to keep his money in Prince Albert tobacco containers, which he would bury around his house.” There’s a soothing rhythm to the narration, though it tends to ramble unpredictably. While Strother led an accomplished life, the achievements were not flashy ones, and he does not imbue them with much excitement. The author seems to intend for this to be an inspirational memoir, but readers will likely end up not feeling much emotion beyond a satisfaction that Strother’s life worked out nicely.
A pleasant success story.