Maggie’s American Dream Maggie’s American Dream is Margaret Comer’s inspiring biography written by her son James P. Comer.
It also doubles as the autobiography of James P. Comer himself. It a great story of a person overcoming obstacles to reach their goals and dreams. Maggie was born in Woodland, Mississippi.
Her parents were Jim and Maude. Her father was a sharecropper, even though he was more educated that the man he worked for. He was the leader of the farm, other than the fact that the white owner got all the money. When she was a little girl her father was struck by lightening while working in the field. He died.
Her mother tried to farm after that, but it didn’t work out. Her mother remarried to a man. The family moved to Memphis to live with the man their mother married, their stepfather. He already had a wife. She also lived in Memphis.
They weren’t divorced, but he said they were. He left them for months at a time. When he was not there they relied on neighbors for food, supplies, and money. It worked out because pretty much everyone seemed to like the family without the stepfather. They moved a lot. They went from Memphis to Arkansas and then back to Dyersburg, Tennessee. They also, for a short time, lived on house boat built by his brothers.
To make money he was a rustic furniture maker. Their stepfather was a horrible person. He beat all of them and their mother when he was angry about anything. He wouldn’t let them go to school. He would beat them if they asked or did anything he didn’t approve of.
They all ended up leaving young. Most did so at sixteen. Maggie waited until she was sixteen so that the police didn’t force her back home.
Leroy was the first to run away. Maggie and her brothers went to East Chicago. Living with her brother and his wife was a big step up for Maggie. They owned their own home. She wore her sister-in-law's hand me downs, which were better than any clothing she owned.
Yet Maggie says:“… but still I had a mind that this wasn't it yet. I was very independent, and I wanted to be on my own.” Maggie went back to school for a few months.
But because of the responsibilities at home such as cooking, ironing and cleaning, she didn't have time to study. Some of Maggie's older brothers were also living in East Chicago. They did not go to school; neither did they share her independent and determined view of life. Despite her responsibilities at home, she went to work full time.
Her first real job was washing and housekeeping for a family of five, cooking, ironing and cleaning. It was during this time she learned the importance of saving money. Instead of giving her weekly pay of $10.00 to her brother-in-law to keep as he requested; she took her boss' advice and opened a savings account.
This family was so impressed with her qualities that they taught her many things, skills that would help her to get ahead. Her employer let her borrow her old schoolbooks, so while the family ate dinner, Maggie would study. She saved table scraps and traded these to a poor white girl who eventually taught her to read. In 1920, she met Hugh Comer at church. He was twelve years older than she was, but they had the same purposes in life. Hugh had been married once before and had a daughter named Louise who came to live with them. Maggie and Hugh went on to have four children of their own.
She believed in the abilities of each of her children. She modeled her philosophies at home for them also. She encouraged discussion at home; believing children should be seen and heard. She provided cultural experiences to her children that African Americans typically were not part of such as going to museums in Chicago where they were the only black people there. By opening up this world she was showing her children the color of your skin isn't important, what's in your head is. But before she had children of her own, she brought up her step-daughter Louise.
Maggie was strict with Louise, dressing her in nice clothes and having her study music. Louise wasn't very happy with this life but Maggie believed it was important for her to be exposed to these things to get ahead. She taught Louise she was as good as any other child. She expected Louise to achieve in school; the issue of race wasn't important. Maggie believed all her children should participate in the same activities that life had to offer them.
When the children were invited to birthday parties, Maggie always called ahead to make sure the parents knew they were black and determine whether they were welcome or not. She made sure her children understood that in and out of the home they were expected to act decently, respect themselves and one another. Education was very important to both Hugh.