Reviews for Leon's Story


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 October 1997
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 4 and up. With quiet restraint, Tillage tells of growing up black in the Jim Crow South, the son of North Carolina sharecroppers. His voice is direct, the words are simple. There is no rhetoric, no commentary, no bitterness, just the facts of his personal story set against the segregation of the time. At home, there were his supportive religious family and no political resistance ("It was all part of survival"). Outside, there were inferior schools, separate entrances, the back of the bus, constant harassment, the terror of the Klan. The boy saw his father chased by drunk white kids in a car and run over, twice, and nothing done about the murder. Then came the 1950s, and Tillage joined the civil rights movement and marched past police and firemen and dogs and Klansmen: "But we kept on and on." Now he is a custodian at a Baltimore school, where he tells his story at assembly as part of the curriculum. In an afterword, Roth explains how she taped Tillage's account and edited it with his participation. There is none of the rambling of oral history. The small book is barely 100 pages long, including Roth's black-and-white collage illustrations between chapters. This quiet drama will move readers of all ages (including adult literacy students) and may encourage them to record their own family stories. ((Reviewed October 1, 1997)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1998
Born in 1936, the second of nine children, Leon Tillage grew up in a black sharecropping family on a farm outside Raleigh, North Carolina. The incidents described in his moving personal narrative are transcribed from taped oral testimony; centering as they do on the intersections between his life and the surrounding white community, they bring fresh outrage to an all-too-familiar story. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1997 #6
Born in 1936, the second of nine children, Leon Tillage grew up in a sharecropping family on a farm outside Raleigh, North Carolina. The incidents described in his moving personal narrative are transcribed from taped oral testimony; centering as they do on the intersections between his life and the surrounding white community, they bring fresh outrage to an all-too-familiar story. The book has its share of horrific moments: for example, the account of his father's death under the wheels of an automobile driven by the son of a prominent family. "Boys will be boys," the young man's father offers by way of apology. More insidious are the daily insults as set forth in Tillage's laconic itemizations: being harassed by white children on the way to school or put off buses to make room for whites, serving as the butt of jokes for whites who laugh at making blacks dance or jump. "That was just the way it was," he insists repeatedly. But while survival is always the primary objective, the longing for justice is clear. A telling anecdote describes Leon waiting beside the food counter reserved for whites at the local five-and-dime, searching for a friendly white person he can pay to buy him a soda. He could buy a soda anywhere, Leon admits, "but it wasn't like the soda that you could get from where you weren't supposed to get it." As a young man in the fifties, he bucks the system by joining the civil rights marches. A rare attempt at analysis comes in the final paragraph where the full strength of character of Leon Tillage and those he represents is revealed in the plain dignity of his words: "We didn't care who we sat beside. We didn't care who we lived beside....What we cared about was who are you to tell us what we can and can't do in America, the land of freedom, the land of democracy. That is what we got beat up for. It was as simple as that." Patterned black-and-white collage decorations sepa-rate the chapters of this small, intimately designed book. n.v. Copyright 1999 Horn BookMagazine Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1997 September #2
In this riveting autobiography, Baltimore janitor Leon Walter Tillage reflects on his life with all the vitality of a storyteller gathering his audience around him. He recalls his childhood as an African American sharecropper's son in 1940s North Carolina: "Once you got on a farm you could work a lifetime and never get out of debt." His mother made soup with "pot likker," the liquid left over from cooking collard greens for the Johnsons (the white owners of the farm they worked). His job in the tobacco field was to walk behind his father's plow with a stick and flip up the tobacco; "the dirt would smother it, you see." Each afternoon Leon walked home from school with his friends, and often the white kids' bus would stop so they could throw stones: "So what you would do when they were throwing stones at you, you would start screaming and hollering and begging. They liked that...." These episodes have an unusual immediacy because the book is edited from recorded interviews conducted by Roth, whose daughter heard Tillage at a school assembly; oral histories have a way of stripping away the sentiment and going straight for the moments that are etched forever in the teller's memories. Tillage's words describe a time, only a few short decades back, when Klansmen and Jim Crow laws ruled the South. But he also tells of marching for his rights and of his own triumphs: "There were bad times, but you know, there were rejoicing times, too." Roth's (Martha and the Dragon) dramatic black-and-white collages pay homage to the power of Leon's story, a tale that does more in its gentle way to expose the horrors of racism than most works of fiction ever could. Ages 8-up. (Oct.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1997 December
Gr 4 Up This is one man's story, but one that was shared by thousands of African Americans across the United States before, during, and after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Tillage describes the trials of sharecropping; trying to get an education in an inferior school; and walking a long distance to school while watching a bus full of white children pass him by. The author witnessed the murder of his father when a group of drunken white teenagers ran over the man. What price do you place on a human life? The father of the driver gave Mrs. Tillage 100 dollars and told his son to apologize. He never did. There was never any legal action taken. The events are succinctly and honestly expressed in the author's first-person account. Roth's monochromatic collage art, placed before the beginning of each chapter, documents the sparseness of Tillage's life and its boundaries: home, church, school, work, and the balcony at the movie theater. The last story, "Marching," explains the role of many groups of southerners, representing a number of ethnic groups who supported and helped the marchers. The afterword and note about the genesis of the book are important addenda. Marie Wright, University Library, Indianapolis, IN Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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