Did George Dawson Middle School ban George Dawson’s biography?

Tom Tordillo
3 min readMay 16, 2023

PEN America tracks book bans nationally, particularly the uptick in 2022–2023 focused on books about race, history, and sexual orientation/gender.

At George Dawson Middle School in Texas, the school district “banned” George Dawson’s own book, “Life is so good.” Or did they?

Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash

Dawson learned to read at the age of 98. He wrote his book, a mixture of autobiographic sketches and memoirs, which was published just before his death in 2001.

Click-bait social media memes preferred the word “ban” — but if one reads past the headline:

…school officials determined one chapter of Dawson’s book was not appropriate for the students’ age group and ruled the book can only be used with “teacher-led instruction.”

Source: Nicole Chavez and Justin Gamble, “A North Texas school district says a book chapter by its namesake about a lynching is not appropriate for some students” CNN (Aug. 25, 2022)

Why? Dawson’s book opens with a horrifyingly graphic vignette about a lynching he witnessed.

  • his friend Pete was grabbed and hung by a mob, right in front of Dawson’s eyes when he was 10 years old
  • Dawson knew Pete, who had rescued several of the other Black boys when they went swimming,
  • Pete was accused of rape by Betty Jo, a white woman who became pregnant
  • when Betty Jo gave birth to a white baby, the white people forgot the lynching
  • Dawson’s father pulled young George Dawson away from the scene, and taught him: “You have no right to judge another human being.”

Lynching, the threat of violence, simmers through chapters, an ever present undercurrent. Towards the end, when Dawson reads about bankers leaping off of Wall Street buildings at the start of the Great Depression, he connects himself to that incident by contemplating his own life and death adventures during the Depression — showing up white cowboys by riding a horse they could not — knowing that by violating the code, there was a good chance he wouldn’t survive.

Should “Life is so good” be banned?

The lynching that opens the first chapter should terrify anyone. Yet America didn’t pass a federal anti-lynching law until 2022, when the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was finally enacted.

Personally, I’d be fine with banning George Dawson’s book for younger children. We have “PG-13” ratings for a reason, and most 7th graders are still 12 years old. Not everyone is mature enough to handle terrifying stories.

Still, when Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, George Dawson would have been 57 years old. Illiterate. He might have figured out the story at once if he saw a picture of young Emmett brutally beaten to death. But he wouldn’t have been able to read any of the story.

I’d rather not judge the Texas school district. Is “Life is So Good” good enough for most children? Sure — I’ll read it to my daughters when they’re older. In the meantime, I hope we can make some progress stopping lynchings.

George Floyd was murdered in 2020, which the aftermath still resulting in new criminal charges and convictions even three years later. Ahmaud Arbery? That story ended in convictions too.

Jordan Neely? Choked to death in May 2023 by a white man after Neely supposedly scared the passengers on a subway — yet why did the murderer receive $370,000 from donors to cover his defense? Was it because the victim was Black? Or because the killer was a veteran?

George Dawson’s philosophy — “Life is so Good!” is an intriguing way of approaching headlines, with most chapters starting with some major historical incident, whether from the 1920s or from the Columbine Massacre in 1995 — a powerful one in his personal life, and one with a great deal to offer us.

“Every morning, I get up and I wonder what I might learn that day. You just never know.”

-George Dawson, Life is So Good

Simple, durable wisdom.



Tom Tordillo

Necromancer unleashing zombie hordes from Project Gutenberg to work literary atrocities. Also father/lawyer/commentator/ironic.