Title: The Trials and Tribulations of a Leader – The History of My Life
Author: Dr. Marie Wright-Tolliver
The title gives the impression that the reader will get a nice balance between the trials and tribulations. I found more trials than tribulations.
The tribulations start with her grandfather who was a sharecropper. Her mother was Hazel Jones Wright, an evangelist. Her father was born Charlie Wright but changed his name to John Wright, ‘because of some problem he had before he left home.’ The author doesn’t explain what it was. I find it interesting because people left the south of the United States – Memphis in this case - for various reasons.
Dr. Marie Wright-Tolliver is obviously proud of her father because she mentions his success a few times in the book. He only had a Grade 5 education but worked for General Motors for 42 years, had a farm and a store at the same time. Her parents had five girls before they got a boy, John Wright junior, whom they simply called ‘Junior’.
Dr. Marie Wright-Tolliver was born in Saginaw in Michigan, in fact her whole life is based in Michigan. Her biggest trial was taking care of her husband Mose for eleven years after he was paralysed by a stroke.
“Mr. Tolliver never spoke to me again after his stroke he had on the left side of his body that affected his right side; he could gesture but never spoke again,” she writes.
She bought a special van to accommodate his wheel chair, had arrangements with her children to look after him when she was in class. She acknowledges many people in the community who helped her.
“When he was well, he loved Stacy Adams shoes and Dob hats and lovely suits, so I would take him to purchase what he wanted until the end,” writes Marie. Indeed, the photographs in the book show a well-dressed Mose. The photos remind us of the beauty of black and white photography.
I am in awe of the author’s memory and names in particular. She remembers her two godmothers who fought over who will give her, her first bath, cousins and their friends, the book is full of names.
Dr. Marie Wright-Tolliver’s involvement in the church and state organisations such as the Michigan State Association of Coloured Women Inc. Club had its dividends. She was elected National first vice president National Association of Coloured Women’s Club in 1995, a position she held for six years. She writes about honorary degrees she received from various universities hence the title Dr.
This Association gave her a lot of fulfilment. Trials and Tribulations is an interesting read, especially for people who like autobiographies. It is not in any sequence, which sometimes forces the reader to go back to previous pages. There is a part where she talks about her grandparents coming to live with them in Saginaw. Later on, we hear about a fire that ravaged their house long before their move to Michigan.
The book ends with a testimony from James Moten-Holifield, one of Marie’s students who spoke at her retirement party. He had dyslexia in school. She encouraged him to strive for excellence, when some school teachers had dismissed him as a failure because he had been in special education since Grade 2. He went on and got a college degree.
Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.