When Catawba College Psychology Professor Dr. Lyn Boulter wanted her first-year seminar students to talk about how love, hate and fear affect our choices in life in her seminar course, Villains and Heroes, she chose to use a memoir by a N.C. man.
Boulter's students, as well as members of both the college and local community, will hear first-time author Gene Cheek discuss that memoir, "The Color of Love, A Mother's Choice in the Jim Crow South," when he visits campus at noon Thursday, December 7. Cheek will speak in Tom Smith Auditorium on campus and his appearance is free and open to the public.
In his memoir, Cheek describes how his Winston-Salem childhood was affected by hatred, ignorance and racism. At its center, the memoir is a frank account of a love affair between Cheek's mother and a black man. It is also an account of how familial and societal prejudices and intolerance changed a young life forever.
Set in the early 1960s, the book chronicles the role of segregation in shaping the lives of those who lived in Winston-Salem. It describes the lessons Cheek learned about the power of hatred and the strength of love after his life was irrevocably changed during a court custody battle between his parents. At age 12, a Forsyth County judge ruled to take Cheek away from his mother's custody and place him in the Boys Home of Lake Waccamaw for the remainder of his youth.
Publishers Weekly describes Cheek's book as "a mesmerizing yarn, told from a little boy's viewpoint." Booklist says "This is a powerful story of love and forgiveness in the context of racial hatred during a tumultuous time in the South."
Cheek says of his memoir: "This book is equal parts desperation and inspiration. The desperation came because this story burned in me and my only chance for relief was to tell it. The inspiration came from all those who are remembered in these pages.
"I am often asked by those who know me if I can now lay this down and move on with my life. It would be nice if I could answer yes, but once again that would be a lie. The truth lies somewhere else. While writing this book, I did gain understanding, and with it came forgiveness, but I have not forgotten. The facts are this will remain a part of my life, as long as there is life. I'm not sure complete healing is attainable. I don't think I will ever forget, and I'm not sure that I should," Cheek concludes.
The Color of Love: A Mother's Choice in the Jim Crow South
The true story of a young man whose life and family were torn apart by a decision no mother should have to make.
"Cheek spins a mesmerizing yarn, told from a little boy's viewpoint ... through plain yet descriptive language seasoned with wry, biting adjectives; he ably conveys the sights, sounds and feelings of his surroundings. His musings are funny and hopeful..."
- Publishers Weekly
"This is a powerful story of love and forgiveness in the context of racial hatred during a tumultuous time in the South." - Booklist
"The Color of Love traces the poison of white supremacy and the power of love. Gene Cheek is an unflinching, full-hearted Southern storyteller, as black as he is white, as blues as he is country, and he is as honest as Hank Williams or Billie Holiday. He ain't George Washington — he might could tell a lie, if he had to — but there isn't a false note in this book." - Tim Tyson, author of Blood Done Sign My Name
“Gene Cheek has written a gut-wrenching, intimate narrative of racial hatred and intolerance seen from a unique perspective — that of an innocent white boy. Writing with raw honesty and emotion, Gene shares with us a childhood that was devastated by the bigotry of family, yet was salvaged by the power of love.His poignant true-life story of the damaging effects of prejudice in the 1950s and ’60s should be a must-read for young and old alike.” - Allan Zullo, author of Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust
Nine years after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and only a year before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a judge in the Forsyth County Courthouse of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wrenched twelve-year-old Gene Cheek from the security of his mother’s devotion. Here is a true story of love in a time afflicted by hatred, ignorance, and racism. At its core, this is a frank account of a love affair between a white woman and a black man that took mother from son and split a family forever.
In the early 1960s, the city of Winston-Salem struggled under the strict edicts of segregation, setting the tone of division that would plague Gene Cheek’s life. Raised by his alcoholic father and his earnestly loving mother, Gene learned about the power of hatred and the strength of love. Yet when his mother falls in love with Cornelius Tucker, an African-American man, and becomes pregnant with his child, their union is seen as morally and lawfully unfit, forcing the family to choose between the infant and Gene. From a distance of more than forty years, Gene Cheek recounts a life of constant struggle with his biological father. Briefly that tension dissolved with the warm guidance of Cornelius Tucker — but that would soon end.
WHAT EDUCATORS HAVE TO SAY:
"The Color of Love: A Mother’s Choice in the Jim Crow South" was the most moving and meaningful talk on so many levels. It is something that every male and female, regardless of race, color or creed must hear. And in my 15 years in higher education, I have never seen the ardent passion from one individual, as I did from Gene Cheek.“ - Robert L. Canida II, Director, Office of Multicultural and Minority Affairs UNC Pembroke
"Gene Cheek's presentation is a heartfelt and heart-rending testament to the power of love. The emotion he stirs in listeners makes his presentation an interactive experience." - Rita M. Rouse, Programming & Communications Director, Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County
“Gene’s presentation at UNC Wilmington was poignant and powerful.“ - Deborah Brunson, Upperman African American Cultural Center, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
“Students and community members were engrossed ... we as a society can learn from him as a speaker ... He serves as a living case study and testimonial for how the human spirit can triumph despite obstacles.“ - Elinor F. Foster, Ed.D., Dean of Library Services, Sampson-Livermore Library, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke
“I found his message to be powerful and I applaud him as he challenges his audiences to examine their own culture and biases to bring about change in their lives and communities.“ - Yolanda F Bolden, Malloy/Jordan East Winston-Salem Heritage Center.
WHAT STUDENTS HAVE TO SAY:
"I wish more people were as open as you are about issues that desperately need addressing. I have never heard a story so moving."
"I would like to tell you when you came out to our school the other day and told us about your story you really touched me to the heart."
"I heard you speak a couple of weeks ago and you really touched my heart. I just wanted to say thank you for coming and talking to us. I just wanted to let you know that you gave me the courage, the hope, and the faith to know that I can get though anything"
"By you talking with us about your past it has changed my outlook on people and the way I look at things in my own life."
Gene Cheek is a blue-collar son of the South, born on March 2, 1951 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He has lived an unremarkable life with the exception of his children, grandchildren and his own peculiar childhood. This is his first book. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The Color of Love (Lyons Press, $22.95 hardcover, May 15, 2005) is Gene Cheek’s story told in his singularly honest voice. Its sincerity and truth resonate with a plea for tolerance, and the irrevocable nature of the decisions and emotions of modern life.