George Dawson (author)
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January 19, 1898
Marshall, Texas, U.S.
|Died||July 5, 2001
George Dawson (January 19, 1898 – July 5, 2001) was called "America's favorite poster child for literacy" after learning to read at the age of 98. His life story, Life Is So Good, was published in 2000.
Early and mid-life
Dawson was born in Marshall, Texas, in 1898 as the first of five children, a farmer's son, and grandson and great-grandson of African-American slaves. One of his earliest childhood memories, he later said, was watching a 17-year-old black boy being lynched after being "accused of impregnating a white girl." His job at a saw mill supported a large family. At the sawmill, his employer convinced him to sign an X on a paper he could not read, which he later surmised must have made some completely corroborated claim that he was eligible for military service. After turning 21, he traveled extensively throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico; in 1928, after nine years of travel and work, he returned to find his family had moved away, leaving no clue as to their new home: "I wondered why they hadn’t let me know. Then again, how would they have found me? Even if they’d known where I was, I wouldn’t have been able to read their letter."
He married Elzenia Arnold, a literate woman, and they moved to Dallas, where Dawson began to work for the city in road repair, and went on to have seven children, helping them all with their homework despite not knowing how to read. In 1938, he took a job with a dairy, where he worked until his retirement at the age of 79.
When Dawson was aged about 98, a man was making door-to-door visits on behalf of a local adult education program. Dawson overcame his initial reluctance to reveal his literacy, telling himself, "All your life you’ve hated reading. Maybe this is why you’re still around." On first meeting instructor Carl Henry, a retired teacher, he learned that the oldest student to that time had been a woman in her fifties. Dawson learned to read and even went on to study for his GED at the age of 103. He died on July 5, 2001, after suffering a stroke.
His autobiography, Life Is So Good (co-written with Richard Glaubman), was published in 2000 and received attention in the national media. He appeared on Oprah and told his story in the June 2001 issue of the inspirational magazine Guideposts.
- Oliver, Myrna (2001-07-07). "Obituaries; George Dawson; Author Learned to Read at 98". Los Angeles Times. p. B.14.
- Parrott, Susan (2001-02-06). "At 98, No-Longer-Illiterate Man Turns the P". Los Angeles Times. p. A.16.
- George Dawson. "Never Too Late to Learn," Guideposts, June 2001.
- "George Dawson Dies; Learned To Read at 98, Urged Literacy", The Washington Post, 2001-07-08.