Maggie’s American Dream is a true story of one woman’s absolute determination to bring to fruition the aspirations instilled in her as a child.
Born in 1904, in rural Alabama, Maggie’s life began with promise. Her African American parents were kind and religious. They believed that hard work and clean living could now, since the abolition of slavery, serve as the road to the great American dream. Maggie’s father could read and write and believed education was paramount in life. He was the one who instilled Maggie’s American Dream in her. When he was struck dead by lightening, Maggie’s mother was left on her own with five young children.
It is not hard to understand why she married the first man who offered, but he was a cruel, lazy, transient man who had no interest in her children. Thus began the life of abuse, poverty, and insecurity that was Maggie’s childhood. Maggie’s brothers often plotted to kill the man, especially after he beat their mother.
Instead, they put their energy into plotting their escape. As they became of age, each left and headed for the promise of a better life in East Chicago, Indiana. There they found work in the steel mills and sent money home for the next. Maggie’s turn came when she reached her sixteenth birthday.
She left the south with no regret—filled, instead, with heroic ambitions to obtain the quality of life she had seen other people enjoying. Maggie’s is a story of success. She married a man twelve years her senior who shared her strong values about education, money, and God. They raised four children, all of whom went to college. The story is told in two parts. It begins with Maggie’s narration and is then complimented with continuing stories told by her son as he looks back and recalls growing up with Maggie’s guidance.
The book is not thrilling, anticipatory, or sorrowful. It is a simple telling of a grave condition beautifully overcome. However, ensconced within these simplistic depictions of everyday life are complex issues and valuable lessons to be garnered and pondered by anyone with an interest in human fragility, determination, and development.
Not just a memoir, this book is a detailed portrait of life as it was for poor black Americans in the early 1900’s and through the depression. James P. Comer, M.D., one of Maggie’s sons, wrote this memoir. In a brief introduction, he explains what inspired him to begin recording his family history. Maggie was seventy-two when James began.
Both Dee and Davis were perfect matches for their characters. Through their ethnicity and sheer talent came the rich drawls and tempos exclusive to the southern black people of that era. The music by Richard Leiter, punctuating each chapter, was also aptly chosen.