Literacy in Alabama
9:51 am
Wed September 3, 2008

Reading the Signs to Success - part 2

Tuscaloosa AL – In part two of our series on adult illiteracy, Alabama Public Radio's Brett Tannehill climbs into the truck cab of Louie Singleton who until just 4 years ago, was functionally illiterate. But as we'll hear, that didn't stop him ...

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SINGLETON - "I'm Louie Singleton, and I drive a truck. And I am 60 years old, and we live out here in Lincoln ..."

Singleton has sharp eyes, and a broad, warm smile. We're sitting the cab of his big green dumpster truck.

SINGLETON - "You just don't know until you've been there; you just don't know how hard it is. Some people, you can't let them know you can't read because they'll just kick you down, you know?"

He's speaking from experience. Singleton says when he was child his father got too sick to work so he dropped out of school to support the family. As an adult, he raised four sons, and he to rely on his eldest boy to help the younger ones with their schoolwork. Then, a few years later still unable to read he became the president of his local worker's union and served for 11 years. Singleton says he couldn't read, so instead he memorized his union's book of bylaws, as well as his trucking routes. But the desire to learn to read was always there. After getting laid off, his wife encouraged him to try the Literacy Council of Central Alabama, where he learned to use phonics. The first word he ever read was off a road sign - Sylacauga. He says he'd seen the sign many times before

SINGLETON - "I know where to go to get there and all that, but I done it by the numbers and that's how I got everywhere I went was by the numbers. But that day it just came up Sylacauga and well I just had to pull over because I actually teared up because I actually knew that I knew that word and that name."

A few miles later he read the sign of a local restaurant and was again overcome by emotion.

SINGLETON - "And i read all that and I just set me afire you know. I said, "Man this is really working! This is really working!" (laughs) I was just joyed up and again I had to pull over and thank the Lord that it did work."

There are the basic, fundamental perks for learning to read like knowing what the daily special is. Of course, there are deeper, more far-reaching rewards. Singleton says he couldn't read to his children as they grew up, but now, he CAN read to his grandchildren.

SINGLETON - "Just like I went to one of the grandkids' class, and we was in there and I was helping him with his work .. and you know, I guess that right there was the biggest thrill really. And I couldn't have ever done that, you know what I mean? I couldn't have never done that. And to be able to help them grandbabies."

Singleton is optimistic as he drives off into a brighter future. He's got a little place down on a nearby lake, where he hopes to eventually retire and then, start his own business. As he puts it, I've got to work.

AYCOCK - "(He's) unbelievably genuine and I think so courageous."

That's Johnny Aycock of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading an effort to form the Literacy Council for West Alabama. He says he's a big fan of Louie Singleton.

AYCOCK - "But to hear him talk about the first time he was able to read a road sign, or a road map, or his directions ... and to hear the story about the first time he did that, he pulled to the side of the road and began to cry. There are hundreds and hundreds of Louie Singletons out there."

But can those other Louies be reached? And what difference will that make to you and Alabama's future generations? Find out as our series exploring adult illiteracy continues tomorrow.

For APR News, I'm Brett Tannehill

If you know someone who wants to learn to read, the Alabama Literacy Hotline is 888-448-7323.

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