Cover image for Leon's story
Leon's story
Tillage, Leon Walter, 1936-
Personal Author:
Sunburst edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000.

Physical Description:
107 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
The son of a North Carolina sharecropper recalls the hard times faced by his family and other African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century and the changes that the civil rights movement helped bring about.
General Note:
"A Sunburst book."
Reading Level:
970 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.9 2.0 25238.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 6.8 4 Quiz: 13164 Guided reading level: T.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F264.F86 T55 1997C Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"Leon's Story is a powerful, wonderful thing!" -- Nikki Giovanni

I remember that as a young boy I used to look in the mirror and I would curse my color, my blackness. But in those days they didn't call you "black." They didnt say "minority." They called us "colored" or "nigger."

Leon Tillage grew up the son of a sharecropper in a small town in North Carolina. Told in vignettes, this is his story about walking four miles to the school for black children, and watching a school bus full of white children go past. It's about his being forced to sit in the balcony at the movie theater, hiding all night when the Klansmen came riding, and worse. Much worse.

But it is also the story of a strong family and the love that bound them together. And, finally, it's about working to change an oppressive existence by joining the civil rights movement. Edited from recorded interviews conducted by Susan L. Roth, Leon's story will stay with readers long after they have finished his powerful account.

Leon's Story is the winner of the 1998 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Nonfiction.

Author Notes

Leon Walter Tillage lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he has worked for thirty years as a custodian at The Park School.

Susan L. Roth's many picture books include Ishi's Tale of Lizard , which was an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists. She lives in Great Neck, New York.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4 and up. With quiet restraint, Tillage tells of growing up black in the Jim Crow South, the son of North Carolina sharecroppers; then came the 1950s, and he joined the civil rights movement and marched past police, firemen, dogs, and Klansmen.

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this riveting autobiography, Baltimore janitor Leon Walter Tillage reflects on his life with all the vitality of a storyteller gathering his audience around him. He recalls his childhood as an African American sharecropper's son in 1940s North Carolina: "Once you got on a farm you could work a lifetime and never get out of debt." His mother made soup with "pot likker," the liquid left over from cooking collard greens for the Johnsons (the white owners of the farm they worked). His job in the tobacco field was to walk behind his father's plow with a stick and flip up the tobacco; "the dirt would smother it, you see." Each afternoon Leon walked home from school with his friends, and often the white kids' bus would stop so they could throw stones: "So what you would do when they were throwing stones at you, you would start screaming and hollering and begging. They liked that...." These episodes have an unusual immediacy because the book is edited from recorded interviews conducted by Roth, whose daughter heard Tillage at a school assembly; oral histories have a way of stripping away the sentiment and going straight for the moments that are etched forever in the teller's memories. Tillage's words describe a time, only a few short decades back, when Klansmen and Jim Crow laws ruled the South. But he also tells of marching for his rights and of his own triumphs: "There were bad times, but you know, there were rejoicing times, too." Roth's (Martha and the Dragon) dramatic black-and-white collages pay homage to the power of Leon's story, a tale that does more in its gentle way to expose the horrors of racism than most works of fiction ever could. Ages 8-up. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4 Up-Tillage, the son of North Carolina sharecroppers, looks back on his experience of growing up black in the Jim Crow South. Told in simple, straightforward language, this heart-wrenching memoir was transcribed from taped recordings of Tillage's spoken story and edited with his assistance and consent. Striking black-and-white collage designs separate chapters. Audio version available from Recorded Books. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.