Category Archives: Autobiography

My Life, My Love, My Legacy – Coretta Scott King

corettaI find that as I age, I am more focused on historical events that changed the course of America, in particular from Black Americans.   It has been said that in order to know where you are going, you have to know where you come from.   For millions of Black Americans, the question of identity has been a difficult one to answer.  Some prefer the term African-American while others prefer Black-American.  And there are some who prefer Afro-American or just simply Black.  Regardless of the label, there is a shared history of pain, struggle and the never ending goal for full integration American society.  Over the past fifty years, tremendous progress has been made in the United States but there is still much work to be done.  But one of the greatest things about America is our ability to correct and learn from mistakes that have lingered for too long.  The young generation of today lives in a world far removed from only twenty years ago.  Their world is one in which technology is ingrained and life moves at an even faster pace.  My father often thinks back to the period of integration and the times where it seemed as if America was going to tear itself apart.   Even to him, as a kid it seemed as if the accomplishments by Black Americans over the years were just a pipe dream.

The Civil Rights Movement was a platform not just for Black-Americans but for all people that had been denied basic civil rights to which everyone is entitled, whether here in the United States or around the world.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has always been seen as the “leader” of the American movement.  The reality is that he was one of endless figures who displayed unparalleled bravery and dedication.  But he is easily the most recognizable.  But behind him, was his wife Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), who in later years became even more vocal in her commitment to Dr. King’s legacy and the movement they both believed in.  This book is her autobiography so that the world can learn more not about Mrs. King but about Coretta.

Her story begins in 1927, in the small town of Heiberger, Alabama during the Jim-Crow Era.  Readers sensitive to the subject matter might find this part of the book a little unnerving.   Although there are some low points, there are equally many high points as well and the pride and dignity with which the Scott family carried itself offsets the darker memories that she recalls.  From an early age, she is independent, tough and open to change.  Those traits would prove to be invaluable later in life when a young bachelor named Martin Luther King, Jr., walked into her life.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up speed at an extraordinary pace.

Martin’s story is well-known and he remains one of the most iconic figures in world history so I do not think it is necessary to go into detail about his life in this post.  Plus, Coretta does that for us but not in the position of a biographer, but simply as his wife and the mother of their four children.   This is the behind the scenes look into their very private life which might surprise some.  In contrast to the public version of Dr. King which was cool, controlled and always prophetic, the version shown by Coretta is humble, playful, a homemaker, a prankster and a father.   The movement is never far away and Coretta explains early on that they both believed that the movement was a higher calling than anything else.  And each would maintain that belief until the end of their lives.

As the story moves into the 1960s, the movement gains momentum and Coretta revisits all of the critical moments that changed America.  The bus boycotts, Rosa Parks (1913-2005), Bull Connor (1897-1973) and Jim Sharp (1922-2007) are just some of the events and figures that she discusses.  She also discusses the much darker moments that occurred such as a the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy and her beloved Martin, whose death rattled the globe and changed her life permanently.  Following his assassination, she became the heir apparent to the King legacy and she has never wavered in that task.

The book changes gears after Martin’s death and the focus shifts primarily back on Coretta. Her children also come into sharper focus and she discusses how each responded to their father’s death and what he meant to them.  Although Martin was gone, Coretta was still in high demand and the movement never stopped.  Her circle of friends and acquaintances changes slightly but the core group of support remains intact.  Later in her years, she finds herself in what some would call the widow’s club but to her, it was far from that.  She was a survivor of the movement who understood that death was a constant threat to anyone who dared to challenge the system.

There is one part of the book that did strike me and that was her discussion of rumors of Martin’s infidelity.   Accounts of philandering, allegedly picked up through FBI wiretaps has circulated for years.   It is true that tapes were mailed to their house and Coretta elaborates on what they contained.   She also has choice words for J. Edgar Hoover and his bureau.   King’s friend Ralph Abernathy (1926-1990) comes under fire here for his statements in his autobiography And The Walls Came Tumbling Down wherein he discusses Martin’s transgressions.  Coretta remains firm in her beliefs about Martin’s actions outside the home and Abernathy never changed his position.  All are now deceased, leaving us without the opportunity to clear up the issue.  What I can say is that I have never seen any photo evidence of such activity and the main source for the information came from the very agency whose job it was to discredit him.  I will leave the issue up to the reader to research.

Dick Gregory once said that Black History is American History.   One month in February does not come close to telling the full story.  But that is easily circumvented through books such as this, written by those who were present during the defining moments in the American experience.   Coretta is no longer with us, but her words of wisdom and guidance remain as a light to lead us through our darkest times, some of which have yet to come.  Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 1627795987
ISBN-13: 978-1627795982

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling – Bret Hart

HitmanBaseball has long held the title of America’s pastime.  The NBA and NFL have respectable followings of their own.  However there is also the world of sports entertainment that has been made famous by the phenomenon of professional wrestling.  My father has always called it “rassling” and when I walked around the house doing my best impersonations of the stars of what was then called the World Wrestling Federation (“WWF”),  he always shook his head in laughter.   In spite of the wisdom he possessed about the spectacle I was obsessed with, not once did he ever try to dissuade me from watching the heroes that I came to believe in.  And when he and my uncle took my brother and I to Madison Square Garden to see Hulk Hogan live in person, it was if we had been transported to wrestling heaven.  As I aged, my view of wrestling changed and so did the characters I found to be standouts.  Among them, was Bret Hart, known as the Hitman and leader of the Hart Foundation, the heel group that had an enormous following of fans.  When he retired not long after suffering a devastating concussion in the ring, I and many fans looked back on the many matches he took part in with sadness knowing he would never set foot in the ring again.  I always wondered what really went on behind the scenes and when I saw that he had written this autobiography, I knew that I had to read it.  And I am happy to report that the book did not let me down and it is one of the best books about the wrestling industry that I have ever read.

Those of us who are wrestling fans accept some of the truths about it, mainly that it is entertainment.  But every wrestler will tell you in person that there are some parts of the industry that are very real and lives are affected.  The life of a pro-wrestler is a crazy one, based on traveling over three hundred days per year, nagging injuries, backstage politics, fame, success and attempts at maintaining a “home life” while mostly away from home.  The fans rarely see the sacrifices the stars make to bring joy and excitement to the millions of wrestling fans around the world.   And when the show is over, some stars ride off into the sunset while others struggle to survive after stepping out of the squared circle.  For Bret Hart, it is a mix of both but in ways that no one could have expected when he first started out in what he calls the cartoon world of wrestling.

As to be expected, the story begins in Canada at the Hart family home where patriarch Stu Hart (1915-2003) and Helen Hart (1924-2001) raised Bret and his eleven siblings. He takes us back in time behind closed doors to witness that daily events in the Hart household.   From the beginning, he makes it clear that the Hart siblings have some serious dysfunctional relationships.   Their father is a wrestling promoter and the family struggled with the highs and lows of the business.  Hart is open about the times of poverty the family endured and the other times when money flowed in.  Some of the Hart children sought to make their own careers but the family was a wrestling dynasty and before long, Bret himself laced up the boots and began a career that was nothing short of extraordinary.

The book is captivating from the start and Hart has no shortage of anecdotes about growing up in a large family under a man feared by anyone who dared to get close enough to Stu’s dungeon.  The story flows very well and we begin to see Hart’s life taking shape.  The story takes the biggest turn when Vince McMahon, Jr. enters the story.  It is at this point that life is never the same from Bret or professional wrestling.  McMahon realized early on that in order to pull ahead, regional wrestling promotions would have to fold and to achieve this, he purchased a number of them, guaranteeing an iron grip on the East Coast.  Bret soon faced the decision that many wrestlers of his time had to make and decided to take a chance and go to work for the WWF.   The book picks up speed here and the things we learn about backstage production will more than satisfy wrestling buffs.  All of the big names are in the book but sadly many of them are no longer with us.  But through Bret’s stories, we can revisit the era ruled by stars such as Andre The Giant (1946-1993), Bobby Heenan (1944-2017), Adrian Adonis (1953-1988) and Chief Wahoo McDaniel (1938-2002).   Throughout the book, Hart never loses focus even in the midst of so many larger than life characters.   In the land of the giants, he rises to the top and eventually becomes the WWF champion.  His ascension was by no means easy and his relationship with Vince is examined in detail.  Hart pulls no punches and thoroughly explains his view of the Montreal Screwjob, his brother Owen’s death and how McMahon handled each situation.  Those two moments in the book might change the way many view the minds behind the business.  Wrestling fans will be familiar with both events but it is worth reading what Hart has to say.

The successes in the ring are offset by the events in his personal life which he discusses frankly.  Professional wrestling is filled with many demons and Hart was not immune,   Performance enhancing drugs, pain killers, infidelity, alcohol and acts of aggression are the devil’s brew that can dismantle the life of even the strongest of the strong.  Hart discusses each one and in the process reveals the many struggles that can serve as the downfall of a wrestling star. The stories are sad and in some cases tragic.  One that stands out in the book is that of Tom Billington (1958-2018) known by fans as the Dynamite Kid.  His story is one of the most tragic that I have come across from the crazy world of wrestling.  There is more to his life that Hart could not cover but Billington’s story can easily be found on the internet.   Hart was one of the lucky ones and as friends died, he lived and counted his blessings.  But two events happened that forced him out of the ring and changed his life in ways he could have never imagined.

During a routine match with superstar Bill Goldberg, Hart suffered a career ending concussion.  I remember the match and it was clear that Hart had been seriously injured.  However, no one watching that night knew just how serious the injury was but that would soon change.   Hart recalls the profound changes in his life and the excruciating effects it inflicted up his body.  His life became a daily struggle to do the most mundane tasks and when things seemed to be stable, he suffered another medical emergency that completely changed his future.  For fans of the Hitman, this part of the book will be tough to get through.  But I can say that throughout it all, he never stops being the Hitman and the story does have its shining moments.  This autobiography is a treasure trove of information about the business and it is nothing short of seductive.  I literally could not get enough of the stories about the older wrestling stars.   They lived wild lives but also made their names as legends in the squared circle.  Bret Hart is among those that have managed to survive but he carries with him many scars, both physically and mentally from his time in the business. This is his story, one of success, fame, love, heartbreak, tragedy and redemption.  And I am sure that it will leave you at times speechless and at others, cheering Hart along in support.  Wrestling fans will love this book.

ASIN: B001FA0OZU

Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling-Jim Ross with Paul O’Brien

jr11Ross was never a “in-ring talent” and spent most of his days commentating or behind a microphone and a result, he possesses an invaluable insight into the promotional side of the business and how stars and heels are created and then sold to the public.  Contained within the pages of this book is a story that every pro wrestling fan should read.   Some readers may be tempted to think that because he was not a “superstar” in the sense that most people used to, he does not have an amazing story to tell.  I would like point out that they would be highly mistaken. In fact, Ross’ story is just as crazy as others that have been told.  The reason is that not only did he know the best but partied and traveled with them as well.  Like a sponge soaking up everything in its vicinity,  he observed and learned over four decades what it takes to survive in the crazy world of what my father used to call “rassling”.

Ross in typical autobiographical style, recounts his childhood and his path to becoming a man as he graduates high school and tries his hand at college.  But wrestling steals his heart and nearly his life as he goes through several marriages that produced two daughters.  His last marriage to Jan Ross is the most moving and tragic.   In March, 2017, she was on her way home from the gym on her scooter when she was struck by a vehicle driven by a seventeen year-old. She suffered severe head trauma and died shortly after at the hospital.   The book is partly dedicated to her memory.

I honestly believe that wrestling fans will truly love this book.  Ross takes us deep behind the scenes and the past comes alive with some of the most colorful characters in pro-wrestling history. Ric Flair, “Cowboy”Bill Watts, Dusty Rhodes,  The Junkyard Dog and Ernie Ladd are just some of the legendary figures Ross became closely acquainted to.  The book is a step back into time to an era that some would call the glory days of wrestling when promotions were scattered across the country.  The WWE was still the WWF and the competition came in the form of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) and Mid-South Wrestling (MSW) which later became the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF).  But a young visionary out of the Stanford, Connecticut would changed the industry forever the life of Jim Ross. His name is Vincent K. McMahon.

Undoubtedly, the crux of the book is the time JR spent with the WWE.  While his early days in the business are entertaining and revealing, the majority of fans remember him chiefly from that time.  Like many other stars, Ross had an interesting and at times odd relationship with the man nicknamed “Vinny Mac”.   McMahon, in a fitting gesture, wrote the foreword to the book.  And regardless of what battles they may have had backstage or the peculiarities that may have existed in their working relationship, it is quite clear that McMahon valued the man who became the voice of his organization.  And it was through McMahon that Ross went from a mainstay in the business to one if its legends.  The anecdotes are interesting and the section on the Montreal screw job will be of high interest to long-time fans.

The New York Times declared the book a bestseller and for good reason.  I assure you that once you start the book you will be hard press to put it down.  Ross covers it all and pulls no punches.  Pro-wrestling is a fascinating industry with the good, the bad, the ugly and the tragic.  Friends and mentors die, stars get injured, deals fall through and once close co-workers drift apart over time.   In some ways, it is a reflection of life.  However, it is how we navigate it that makes the difference.  This is an incredible story from an incredible person who exemplifies what dedication truly means.  And for wrestling fans, the next time you hear yourself say business is about to pick up, you can thank good old JR.

ISBN-10: 168358113X
ISBN-13: 978-1683581130

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