LIFE ON THE COLOR LINE: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black by Gregory Williams (Dutton: $22.95; 285 pp.). Growing up in segregated Virginia during the Korean War era, Gregory Williams had an unremarkable albeit difficult early childhood. His alcoholic father's get-rich-quick schemes gave the family a measure of financial security, and though there was violence and depression, at least it was within a structured context. Then everything changed. Williams' parents separated, and his mother disappeared. Unable to control his drinking or care for his sons, Buster Williams took them back to his childhood home in Muncie, Ind., where they discovered that their father was not Italian as they had believed but was in fact a light-skinned black man.
Williams' autobiography, "Life on the Color Line," is a painful depiction of how it feels to have everything, even your race, taken away at a moment's notice. In Muncie, Gregory and his brother Mike had to struggle for basic necessities. Hopelessly neglected by their father, both boys were ostracized by the white community and never fully accepted by the black one. At first glance it seems a miracle that Williams grew up to become dean of the Ohio State University College of Law, yet after reading "Life on the Color Line," the explanation for his success becomes clear. Williams' used his dream to be a lawyer as an impenetrable shield against collapsing into darkness. It kept him alive. "Life on the Color Line" is an well-written, intelligent memoir.