Though I’ve know the name “Dr. James Cameron” for nearly 20 years, it’s only just recently that I finished reading his memoir, “A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story.” Dr. Cameron was the founder of Milwaukee’s America’s Black Holocaust Museum, a facility devoted to helping Americans understand just how deeply racism has affected American culture, on the general and personal levels. Dr. Cameron’s life was a testament to how strongly he held onto hope and love for all, even for “decent and freedom-loving white people.”
I am certain that the majority of people, at the time they begin to have self-awareness, can never truly imagine the line that their life might draw across History. Could Dr. Cameron, raised by a single mom with two sisters, have imagined one day he’d be the father of five children, a husband of 68 years? Could the young boy shining shoes imagine that his life’s vocation would be to educate people on the ills of systemic and personal racism? Could a 16-year old conceive of a night that would begin with a car ride with friends, could end with him being the sole survivor of a lynching mob that killed two others, and leave him the only known survivor of an American lynching?
A Time of Terror tells that story in Dr. Cameron’s own words. It impressed on me how far my country still has to go, to fulfill the “American Ideal.” The book mainly deals with Dr. Cameron’s early life, through the lynching attack, and then his time in jail after that, up to his freedom from jail. A chapter devoted to his adult life is written by Reggie Jackson, current head griot at the ABHM.
This book offers an important window into American history, in an era that our country still hasn’t determined how to own up to.
(I have a small note to make, of something I’m rather proud of. The chapter on Dr. Cameron’s adult life features a photo of mine, of Dr. Cameron at a KKK protest from the late 1990s)