4 out of 4 stars
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From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream is a powerful autobiography in which the author, Janice S. Ellis, walks us through her life from growing up on a Mississippi farm as a black child to becoming a successful business manager and a newspaper political columnist.
Unlike others in the area, her family had their own farm, and they always had at least the basics to survive. Still, Janice grew up during the 1950s and the 1960s in the segregated South, when people of different skin color went to different schools, stores, and even drank water from different fountains. It was also a time when people of color were brutally killed seemingly without a reason, and nobody would do anything about it.
Her mom and dad would instill a strong sense of right and wrong in Janice. She took all these teachings to heart and went after her dream when she realized that she wanted something more from life than become another black farmer of the South.
As a teenager, Janice was strongly influenced by a CBS radio commentator, Eric Sevareid, and she even told her mom that this is what she would grow up to do. She wanted to become a political columnist, just like he was. But to do that, she had to study hard. In fact, she had to study much harder than most of her peers, not only because she was black but also because she was a woman. During those times, being both gave a person a strong disadvantage compared to everyone else fighting to get ahead in life.
Many of the stories Janice recounts were truly sad and some quite cruel in the way white people treated blacks back then. I am coming from Europe, so racial issues as such were never part of my life. Thus, I found at least the first half of the story shocking. I couldn’t stop shaking my head whenever Janice would describe yet another injustice done to her and her family just because their skin color was different. In addition, I learned that not all blacks were equal either. Even among people of color, their shades gave them different social statuses.
Janice’s road to success was an arduous one, full of hardships that she had to overcome. Since I had never heard of the author before, I had no idea how her story would end. While reading the last pages of the book, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment along with her. I can honestly say that I haven’t met so far anyone as resilient, ambitious and determined to get out of the vicious circle as she was. Janice had to fight against racism and sexism even after she left her hometown. She had to survive numerous battles in order to be taken seriously while studying for further education. And surviving she did. She not only got several degrees, every time graduating with high grades, but she also worked her way to higher and higher positions in her jobs, going as far as running for the position of mayor at some point.
In addition to her many struggles, she also had to deal with an indifferent and abusive husband and later on, an abusive boyfriend, before she met her current husband, who would give her and her children all the love and respect they so deserved.
Janice’s story is the search for the American Dream, one that, even today, it is denied to so many people in America for reasons that they don’t have any power over: the color of their skin, their gender, and even their roots. From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream is a powerful book, and I strongly recommend it to every woman in the world because so much within affects us all.
I would also like to congratulate the author’s editors. Throughout the entire (relatively long) story, I only found one grammatical error. The book is excellently crafted and edited, which I am sure also stems from the author’s own background, education and work in relevant fields over the years.
If I absolutely have to say anything negative about the book, it is the 30-page treaty about Walter Lippmann’s life work, which I found slightly boring to read. A shorter analysis of his work would have more than sufficed within the scope of the narrative. Unless you are an avid fan of his political work (which the author clearly is), there is simply no reason why one would have to read to an entire master thesis on this political figure in a book that has someone else as the focal point.
Nevertheless, I give From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream 4 out of 4 stars because it must be one of the best autobiographies I have read in the last couple of years. It was an educational, informative, and riveting read.
From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream
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