Lawrence Otis Graham was born in Manhattan on December 25, 1961, the son of Richard Graham, a real estate developer, and Betty (Walker) Graham, a social worker. His family quickly moved to the suburb of Mount Vernon, just north of New York City. They moved further north, to White Plains, in 1967 – the same year, Graham later noted, that the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” in which a white woman introduces her supposedly liberal parents to her new fiancé. black, played by Sidney Poitier, was released.
Mr. Graham’s parents had their own struggles with so-called liberal whites: it took them months to find a home in White Plains, with many sellers refusing to work with them. When they finally found one, they had to pay a 25% premium, and even then several of their future neighbors banded together to try and preemptively buy the house instead.
At the age of 10, Mr. Graham recalls, he was at a swimming pool with his brother and several white friends. But when he jumped into the water, his friends’ parents rushed to remove them.
Over time, however, Mr. Graham found a way into white society through personal accomplishments, playing high school tennis and writing a column with his mother for a local newspaper.
He wrote three books as an undergraduate at Princeton, all guides for college, and three more, on entering professional degree programs, as a student at Harvard Law School.
While studying law, he met Pamela Thomas; they married in 1992 and later settled in Chappaqua, New York. The two were often admired as a powerful couple in the black community: she was the first black woman to become a partner in consulting firm McKinsey & Company, wrote three detective novels and now sits on a number of boards of directors.