cover image Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White

Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White

Fred Engh and Jann Seal. Square One, $24.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-757005-05-3

Engh (Why Johnny Hates Sports), the founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, shares the unusual path his life took in this unique if uneven memoir hinging on how he became “the first white student to receive his diploma at an all-Black college in 1961.” He’d grown up in Maryland in the 1940s, oblivious to the overt racism endemic among his white friends and family, and by age 26 was living in a trailer park and barely scraping by. The chance to turn things around came after he heard Maryland State College would be offering degrees in physical education. Engh decided to enroll, even after learning that the institution was all-Black. His arrival on campus elicited suspicion, but Engh was embraced almost immediately by Bob Taylor, a Black student, football star, and future NFL player; the pair became close, bonding over their time together on the school’s golf team. Meanwhile, Engh’s experience as the school’s lone white student enabled him to empathize with his Black colleagues who were routinely regarded with disgust or hostility because of their skin color. Sadly, as he notes upfront, his relationship with Taylor was short-lived, and readers are likely to find his explanation as to how it played out unsatisfyingly explored. Despite that, this fascinating fish-out-of-water account provides a unique perspective on race and culture. (Feb.)