Cleaning Upnby Matthew Scullyn’To write a criticism of one’s self would be an embarrassing, even an impossible task.”n—Heinrich HeinenBreaking Barriers: A Memoirnby Carl T. RowannNew York: Little, Brown;n395 pp., $22.95nThis autobiography pretty muchnconfirms the impression left by annoccasional reading of Carl Rowan’s columnsnover the years: a decent enoughnfellow, earnest but smug, amiable atntimes but given to portentous and endlessnscoldings about “hidden racism,”nthe lean civil rights champion turnednpufFed-up panel discussion bore.nTo begin with the better part ofnBreaking Barriers: A Memoir, Mr.nRowan’s story runs like this. The futurenaward-winning reporter, ambassador,nand pundit was born in McMinnville,nTennessee, to a loyal and bravenMatthew Scully is assistant literaryneditor at National Review.nmother and a layabout father whonseems to have squandered the fewnchances life gave him. Jobs were few,nbut even when he did earn somenmoney stacking lumber or cleaningnstables, the old man gambled much ofnit away.n'”Boy, we’re gonna have a goodndinner tonight, ’cause I just won eighteenndollars,'” he’d say after his morensuccessful ventures at the poker table.nBut, recalls Mr. Rowan, “My mothernalways believed that if he said he hadnwon eighteen dollars, he really hadnwon twenty-eight dollars or more. Sonshe would go through his pockets atnnight. And the happiness of ‘a goodndinner’ would deteriorate into anothernbrawl.” It continued like this throughoutnMr. Rowan’s boyhood: a shantynhome, endless quarreling, scroungingnfor food, rats, bedbugs, one slight ornhumiliation after another.nAnd there was “no road of escape,”nnnhe writes. “Every time I read thenarrogant opinion of some white malenabout the weaknesses and sins of blacknmen, I think back to the 1930’s and tona father who was a damned smart guy,nexcept that he had been denied formalneducation and had no way to become an’good provider.'”nIf there is more anger in that pronouncementnthan hard reason, we canncertainly forgive this in a man who,ngrowing up poor in a segregated town,nawakened in childhood either to bitternparental shouting or the squealing ofnlarge rats. But sins and weaknesses arensins and weaknesses, no matter whatnthe advantage of “some white male”nwho points them out — and who mustnstruggle with sins and weaknesses of hisnown. In any case, young Mr. Rowannhimself got a few rare breaks, chiefly innthe form of a wise teacher, Mrs. BessienTaylor Gwynn, who put sense intonhim. “‘I ain’t much interested in Beo-nJUNE 1991/29n