Author to discuss his story this weekend

Greene County resident William James Sr. sits at Greene County Library, where he did research for two of his three published books. He will be speaking about one of his books this Saturday, Feb. 1 at 3 p.m.

“There are brick walls in this world that you’re going to run into,” said Greene County resident and author William James Sr. “I don’t care who you are, there will be things that you can do nothing about. You need to learn a way to go around it if you can.”

At the Greene County Library this weekend, James will discuss his book “Hard Times and Survival: The Autobiography of an African-American Son,” which is his story of an African-American child growing up in a segregated south and how he learned to persist.

“I’m grateful to Ms. Ginny Reese, the branch manager here at the Greene County Library for inviting me to participate in the beginning of the recognition of celebration of Black History Month,” James said. “I’m also appreciative to many people here that work under her for they have been instrumental in helping me find little pieces of information.”

James, born in 1947, was beaten by his father while growing up in Fluvanna County and said he took refuge in books.

“Growing up, I had to invent ways to cope with that so that I could imagine that things were normal,” he said. “I created within my mind, my psyche, what I now call a subliminal lockbox where I’ll put everything bad that was going on. I forced it down into that imaginary place. I became an avid reader of whatever I could understand from the earliest age until I left home at 16 years old.”

James made his way into Charlottesville at 16 years old in 1963 and saw the demolition of Vinegar Hill—an African-American neighborhood razed that year by eminent domain in the city—the following year, called a “redevelopment program.”

In his book “In the Streets of Vinegar Hill,” James uses a fictionalized account to discuss why he thinks the city of Charlottesville felt it was necessary to demolish the 600 residential and 30 business properties in that area of the city.

“As a teenager I had learned at Columbia Baptist Church (in Fluvanna), how important the church was to African-American existence—social and emotional and psychological—and when I stood on the streets of (the) downtown area, and I watched the bulldozers and the battering rams tear down the Zion Union Baptist Church, and it was almost like a living thing because when they tore it down, the boards, for some reason, the screeching was almost like somebody’s crying or screaming and I wept.”

“Eventually this subliminal lockbox became stuffed,” he said. “So, I turned at 16 years old to alcohol to self-anesthetize. I developed a very destructive habit very quickly.”

In 1966, James had the opportunity to go into the Job Corps in Michigan to learn clerical work. When the Job Corps closed in 1967, rather than stay there and continue his education, James returned to Virginia.

It was during the Job Corps that he met a volunteer instructor who showed him that he was smart and worthy.

“He put me on a special reading regimen that included several books about African-American scientists like Dr. Charles Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass and Henry Box Brown. He taught me that I was just as important as any white person,” James said. “I had been led to believe as a young man growing up, and I’ve developed what I talked about in another book that I wrote in 2003 called the ‘skin color syndrome.’ I had come to believe that being a dark-skinned person such as me, that I had no chance of becoming someone worthwhile. I had that nonsense deeply ingrained into my mind, my thinking and my soul and that had me actually on a pathway to a very self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Even with his education and skillset, when James returned to Virginia he was refused any job other than as a cook or janitor.

“I fell back into total alcoholism,” he said. “I felt again that I was worthless as a person (and) that I was not capable of doing any better in life.”

In the latter part of 1967, however, he met a woman from Madison County, Sarah, and they married in 1968.

“She convinced me to quit drinking and go back to school in 1975, enroll in the newly opened Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville. With my wife whispering in my ear, ‘you can do it honey,’ I went to PVCC, graduating with honors in 1977, earning AS in education,” James said.

By that point the couple had three children—two girls and a boy, and he took them all to Virginia State College where he graduated with a master’s degree in recent American history.

He went on to work toward a doctorate at the University of Virginia.

“I did not graduate, but I learned a valuable life lesson: do not give into adversity, but overcome it with steady and calm perseverance. The four obstacles that I had to overcome were racism, color prejudice, self-hatred and ignorance,” he said. “I had seen on The Oprah Winfrey Show that you must totally forgive all of those who you feel have wronged you and you have to stop taking out on yourself all of the pains they have inflicted on you that caused you to become an alcoholic, a drug abuser or attempted suicide victim. You know, alcoholism is tranquil suicide. It’s a person that wishes they were dead but don’t have the nerve to kill himself. So, they do it little by little, bottle by bottle.”

That led James on a personal journey to write down all the deepest hurts—releasing all the pain he’d crammed down inside himself over the years.

“It’s like a cancer. It will keep on eating at your moral, your physical and your psychological worth until you’re worthless,” he said. “I started to read everything I could get my hands on, the Holy Bible and history, sociology and psychology books, then emotionally and psychologically, I started to heal; the more I read and wrote, the better I felt and the better off I became.”

James has lived in Greene County for 32 years and said he’s seen the racial divide improve since he first moved here.

“I don’t think I’ve met a person like (Ginny Reese) up until now. I used to come to the library and work on computers. And Ginny just came over one day and started talking and invited me to the book club, and then I went to the book club and enjoyed it and kept coming,” he said. “When I first came to Greene County, I thought there was a tremendous divide between the racial groups. But in the last five years, I’ve met Sheriff Smith; he’s been very nice, very gentlemanly. I’ve met Ginny; I met these ladies at the library. And so I think that there’s hope. If people in Greene County can come together, I think we can overcome anything.”

James will be at the Greene County Library on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 3-4:30 p.m. The library is at 222 Main St., Stanardsville. For more information, call the library at

(434) 985-5227.

By Terry BeigieRecord Editor

“There are brick walls in this world that you’re going to run into,” said Greene County resident and author William James Sr. “I don’t care who you are, there will be things that you can do nothing about. You need to learn a way to go around it if you can.”At the Greene County Library this weekend, James will discuss his book “Hard Times and Survival: The Autobiography of an African-American Son,” which is his story of an African-American child growing up in a segregated south and how he learned to persist. “I’m grateful to Ms. Ginny Reese, the branch manager here at the Greene County Library for inviting me to participate in the beginning of the recognition of celebration of Black History Month,” James said. “I’m also appreciative to many people here that work under her for they have been instrumental in helping me find little pieces of information.”James, born in 1947, was beaten by his father while growing up in Fluvanna County and said he took refuge in books. “Growing up, I had to invent ways to cope with that so that I could imagine that things were normal,” he said. “I created within my mind, my psyche, what I now call a subliminal lockbox where I’ll put everything bad that was going on. I forced it down into that imaginary place. I became an avid reader of whatever I could understand from the earliest age until I left home at 16 years old.”James made his way into Charlottesville at 16 years old in 1963 and saw the demolition of Vinegar Hill—an African-American neighborhood razed that year by eminent domain in the city—the following year, called a “redevelopment program.”In his book “In the Streets of Vinegar Hill,” James uses a fictionalized account to discuss why he thinks the city of Charlottesville felt it was necessary to demolish the  600 residential and 30 business properties in that area of the city. “As a teenager I had learned at Columbia Baptist Church (in Fluvanna), how important the church was to African-American existence—social and emotional and psychological—and when I stood on the streets of (the) downtown area, and I watched the bulldozers and the battering rams tear down the Zion Union Baptist Church, and it was almost like a living thing because when they tore it down, the boards, for some reason, the screeching was almost like somebody’s crying or screaming and I wept.” “Eventually this subliminal lockbox became stuffed,” he said. “So, I turned at 16 years old to alcohol to self-anesthetize. I developed a very destructive habit very quickly.”In 1966, James had the opportunity to go into the Job Corps in Michigan to learn clerical work. When the Job Corps closed in 1967, rather than stay there and continue his education, James returned to Virginia. It was during the Job Corps that he met a volunteer instructor who showed him that he was smart and worthy. “He put me on a special reading regimen that included several books about African-American scientists like Dr. Charles Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass and Henry Box Brown. He taught me that I was just as important as any white person,” James said. “I had been led to believe as a young man growing up, and I’ve developed what I talked about in another book that I wrote in 2003 called the ‘skin color syndrome.’ I had come to believe that being a dark-skinned person such as me, that I had no chance of becoming someone worthwhile. I had that nonsense deeply ingrained into my mind, my thinking and my soul and that had me actually on a pathway to a very self-fulfilling prophecy.”Even with his education and skillset, when James returned to Virginia he was refused any job other than as a cook or janitor. “I fell back into total alcoholism,” he said. “I felt again that I was worthless as a person (and) that I was not capable of doing any better in life.”In the latter part of 1967, however, he met a woman from Madison County, Sarah, and they married in 1968. “She convinced me to quit drinking and go back to school in 1975, enroll in the newly opened Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville. With my wife whispering in my ear, ‘you can do it honey,’ I went to PVCC, graduating with honors in 1977, earning AS in education,” James said. By that point the couple had three children—two girls and a boy, and he took them all to Virginia State College where he graduated with a master’s degree in recent American history. He went on to work toward a doctorate at the University of Virginia.“I did not graduate, but I learned a valuable life lesson: do not give into adversity, but overcome it with steady and calm perseverance. The four obstacles that I had to overcome were racism, color prejudice, self-hatred and ignorance,” he said. “I had seen on The Oprah Winfrey Show that you must totally forgive all of those who you feel have wronged you and you have to stop taking out on yourself all of the pains they have inflicted on you that caused you to become an alcoholic, a drug abuser or attempted suicide victim. You know, alcoholism is tranquil suicide. It’s a person that wishes they were dead but don’t have the nerve to kill himself. So, they do it little by little, bottle by bottle.”That led James on a personal journey to write down all the deepest hurts—releasing all the pain he’d crammed down inside himself over the years. “It’s like a cancer. It will keep on eating at your moral, your physical and your psychological worth until you’re worthless,” he said. “I started to read everything I could get my hands on, the Holy Bible and history, sociology and psychology books, then emotionally and psychologically, I started to heal; the more I read and wrote, the better I felt and the better off I became.”James has lived in Greene County for 32 years and said he’s seen the racial divide improve since he first moved here.“I don’t think I’ve met a person like (Ginny Reese) up until now. I used to come to the library and work on computers. And Ginny just came over one day and started talking and invited me to the book club, and then I went to the book club and enjoyed it and kept coming,” he said. “When I first came to Greene County, I thought there was a tremendous divide between the racial groups. But in the last five years, I’ve met Sheriff Smith; he’s been very nice, very gentlemanly. I’ve met Ginny; I met these ladies at the library. And so I think that there’s hope. If people in Greene County can come together, I think we can overcome anything.”James will be at the Greene County Library on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 3-4:30 p.m. The library is at 222 Main St., Stanardsville. For more information, call the library at (434) 985-5227.

Editor, Greene County Record

Terry Beigie is the Editor of the Greene County Record in Stanardsville. She can be reached at tbeigie@greene-news.com or (434) 985-2315.

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