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George Dawson was born on this date in 1898. He was a Black author and laborer and one of the oldest men in America to learn to read and write a book.
The grandson of a slave, Dawson was born in a log cabin in Marshall, Texas, the oldest of five children. The family lived in a three-room cabin with an outhouse out back and a small barn. He started working full-time for his father when he was four, hauling water from the well, working the cotton fields, hand-combing the cotton, and feeding the family's few chickens and lone mule. The school was not an option.
Dawson once said, "We had almost nothing, but we had each other, and nobody told us we were poor. I never felt lonely. Ever since I remember, even on the cold mornings when the fire had burned down, I would wake up under a blanket, always with some brothers and sisters next to me. We were warm and cozy." Dawson went on to experience monumental world changes--wars, political upheaval, a succession of presidents, and the advent of automobiles, television, airplanes, spaceships, and computers.
At 98, he decided to learn to read and write and entered a literacy program in which he excelled. But he was already a very wise man. "Yeah, I've seen it all in these hundred years, the good and the bad," he says. "My memory works fine. I can tell you everything you want to know." He outlived four wives, four siblings, and two of his seven children.
He published his first book, "Life is So Good," at 102. His book is the autobiography of a Black man growing up in the South. For much of his life, he had to endure Jim Crow segregation.
Dawson, who survived decades of backbreaking work, including laying ties for some of the first railroads in East Texas, said his educational accomplishments, "Writing my name, that was one of the greatest things I learned before I wrote X’s. That was my name for 100 years, that X. That was all I had. Now, every morning I wonder what I’ll learn that day."
George Dawson died on July 5, 2001, in Dallas, Texas.
His achievements have inspired many people. He appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and told his story before his death. Dawson was posthumously honored when the Carroll Independent School District named a middle school after him in Southlake, Tarrant County, Texas.