Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration marks official freedom from slavery

She discovered at times that she needed a slightly thicker skin to deal with others — partly because of the color of her skin.

So language arts teacher Carrie Dinwiddie learned the art of persistence as one of the first black teachers locally. Doris Edge of Columbus reminisced recently about her mother, who began working at Northside Middle School in 1969.

“Sure, some people may have given her a hard time occasionally (because of her race),” Edge said. “But I think that always calmed down. And she eventually would be seen by many parents as a real mentor to students.”

Dinwiddie, who died in 2005, is a part of black history. Segments of that heritage invariably rise to the surface each year for the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Branch of the NAACP’s celebration of Juneteenth. The local reminder of slavery’s official end will be from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Donner Center in Columbus.

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The day was first celebrated in 1865, when Texas became the last Confederate state to free its slaves, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Local NAACP members said last year that they see Juneteenth as far more than a look back at freedom’s beginnings. They mentioned that they clearly view it partly as a way to celebrate diversity in general and black culture in particular.

Delores Sanders, local NAACP chapter president, said that she feels highlighting “the educational value and importance of Juneteenth” remains significant, especially when some young and old residents remain unaware of its meaning.

Paulette Roberts, a former black teacher like Dinwiddie, on Saturday will reprise her dramatic, one-woman presentation as Harriet Tubman, saving lives along the underground railroad in the mid-1800s.

Roberts, who completed a Black History Month research project in 2001 about black local instructors through the years, said her compilation showed Columbus High School English teacher Larry Goins as the first local black faculty member starting in the fall of 1968. He served a year in Columbus, also working as an assistant football coach, before accepting a position at Marion High School.

Roberts said at the time of her research, and occasionally since then has repeated the idea, that black youngsters need to see others of their race achieving and finding success in education and other fields. And she can imagine that Dinwiddie faced her share of minority-related struggles.

“Of course, it wasn’t easy,” Roberts said of her own arrival at Central Middle School in 1970. “There always seemed to be little, subtle things that would happen. But I discovered that when you stand your ground and let people know that you’re here simply to do your job, they tend to back off.”

Edge recalled that her mother, already nearly 30 years into her career by the time she moved to Columbus from a black school in southern Illinois, highlighted the age and maturity levels of junior high students as more of a challenge than her own race.

“She generally felt that seventh graders were among the most difficult of grades that there are,” Edge said. “She said that when they got up to the seventh or eighth grades, they were kind of in a funk because they were trying to be big boys and girls. But mother could kind of hold her own, and she could very well take care of herself.

“She was a lady from the heart.”

Remembering the past

What: The Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Branch of the NAACP’s celebration of Juneteenth, marking the 151st anniversary of the complete ending of American slavery, when Texas slaves were freed.

When: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. A brief program with Mayor Jim Lienhoop begins at 11 a.m.

Where: Donner Center, 739 22nd St. in Columbus.

Concessions: Hamburgers, hotdogs, chips and drinks will be available for purchase.

Activities: Various booths relating to black history.

Admission: Free.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.