Kiernan tells the story of Calvin Cottrell, who "left school before he was 10 years old and he left his family's farm in Arkansas at 21, with little more in his pocket than a $12 train ticket to Chicago and the love of a woman whose broad smile lit him up. Like millions of other African-Americans who moved North during the Great Migration, he fashioned a successful life out of the little he had. Worked in a factory. Bought a house. Raised three children. He navigated his world without the simplest of tools, just as thousands of others did, without the help of a street sign, a map or a menu. Now, with faltering eyes and ears and a body made weak by a stroke, Calvin Cottrell has set out to win back the education he was denied by discrimination and the harsh demands of his life. In his 60s, he is learning how to read and write."
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