The Color of Water

What are some of the major challenges of living in Delaware?

Chapter 18

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In 1974, James and his family moved to Wilmington, Delaware, because they couldn't afford to keep up the house in Queens. James was looking forward to a fresh start, but his younger sisters didn't want to move. After a great deal of debate, the family decided to leave Queens, but arrived in Delaware only to discover that the schools in Wilmington were segregated. When James's older brother David was pulled over for making an illegal U-turn (he was a doctoral student at Columbia at the time), Ruth decided that she hated Delaware. At 54 years of age, Ruth was living off of a small pension and social security, and still had five children to raise. James enrolled with his sisters in the all-black public high school, where he found a new crowd, focused on music, and won the opportunity to go to Europe. The trip wasn't free, but a rich couple, the Dawsons, had donated money so that inner-city kids would be able to take advantage of such opportunities. In exchange, James worked on their estate. When Mrs. Dawson discovered him sleeping in a strawberry patch she fired him, but still paid for his trip to Europe. The Dawsons kept in touch with James even after he left for Oberlin, which he attended for its strong liberal arts program and music conservatory: James vividly recalls receiving a letter from Mrs. Dawson telling him that her husband had died. In September of 1975, he got on a Greyhound bus and watched his mother wave good-bye to him, remembering how she had always rushed her children out the door, telling them to learn to live on their own.