4 out of 5 stars
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Are You a N****r or a Doctor?: A Memoir by Otto E. Stallworth Jr. is the first volume of the author’s memoir. He recently retired after a forty-five-year career as an anesthesiologist, he had time to reflect on his life and experiences. Stallworth grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham was once described by Martin Luther King, Jr. as the most segregated city in the United States. The author provided details about his experiences as a Black man growing up in a segregated city. He vividly recalled “White Only” and “Colored Only” signs everywhere as a child. He described a day when he drank from a “White Only” water fountain and was shocked to discover that it tasted the same as the water from the “Colored Only” water fountain. The author conveyed the unique perspective of a child vividly as he described his experiences.
At the age of sixteen, the author left Birmingham to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. He described his transition to college life. He graduated in 1966 and then attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. He did his UCLA anesthesiology residency in Los Angeles and eventually became Chief Anesthesiologist for a hospital in Los Angeles, California before he was thirty years old. He described his unique experiences as a Black doctor at a time when there weren’t many minorities in such prestigious positions. The title of the book came from an interaction the author had with an elderly patient who was surprised and confused to see a Black doctor.
I enjoyed reading this book. Stallworth’s recollections are vivid and convey his perspective and emotions very well. He experienced harsh realities living in Birmingham during the racial segregation of Jim Crow laws. He lived through the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation. His vivid memory of his experiences allows readers to gain knowledge and understanding of this time in American history. In addition, to the first-hand accounts of historical events, the author has had a fascinating life. He has had a successful career and lived in several different cities while pursuing his education and career, including Washington, D.C., Nashville, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Readers get a glimpse of his life as he transitions to a new location and progresses through his life and career.
He seemed to enjoy and excel at his chosen profession. Portions of the book are devoted to his medical practice and the types of patients he saw. He detailed the difficult cases he handled and the obstacles he faced as he moved up the ladder to become Chief Anesthesiologist. He also described his personal life. He was married five times. He has four children and one stepdaughter. He seemed to have many close friendships over the years and remained close to them. He recalled running into childhood friends later in life and continuing the friendships as though no time had passed. He was friends with some interesting characters that readers will enjoy learning about.
The author is a gifted storyteller. His recollections are vivid and convey emotion and perspective that readers will appreciate. However, I saw more than ten errors in the book, so I don’t believe it was professionally edited. That was the only negative aspect of the book. What I liked most about the book was the author’s descriptions of growing up in the south during segregation and the obstacles he overcame to become a successful doctor. I also enjoyed the photographs he included that enhanced the book. Even with the errors, I highly recommend this book as a well-written memoir of a fascinating life. I recommend it to readers who enjoy reading memoirs or with an interest in American history. I am unable to give the book a perfect rating because there are more than ten errors, so I give it a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
"Are You a N****r or a Doctor?"
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