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The Black & White of It

By: M. Patricia Fox

Originally published: January 29, 2009 in the Boone County Recorder

When Barack Obama won the presidential election, the television coverage of Grant Park in Chicago revealed the tears, smiles, and stares as people gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion. Days and weeks later, however, men and women assimilated the meaning of this historic event. They realized that the election of an African-American had been set into motion long ago through the actions of individuals.

Harry Roseberry, an African-American living in Boone County from 1881 to the 1960s emerged as a person who changed attitudes. Though his input was different from the contributions of people such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr., his actions eased local racism. Harry's relationships with Miss Julia Dinsmore of the Dinsmore Estate and Emma Mae (Brady) Tucker, whose father worked on the grounds, enabled respect and understanding to take root at a time of racial unrest. By doing so, a piece of local history remained intact.

Because Miss Julia was impressed with Harry's work for a family from Petersburg, she offered him a job in the mid-1890s. Miss Julia also furthered Harry's education after the school he attended was burned down by local roughnecks. This racial tension created a symbiotic relationship between Harry and Julia. Julia wanted a caretaker she could trust; Harry needed a place to live and work without the worry of racial antagonism. Thus, Harry became the custodian of the property.

Harry took care of the livestock, gardened, mended equipment, and drove Miss Julia and her niece, Patty, when necessary. Other tenants on the Dinsmore property did the main farming needed to keep the estate self-sufficient although their houses were scattered further away on the property. Harry's home, however, stood close to the main residence, enabling him to watch over the house, its contents and occupants as well as meet the needs of his family.

Harry's ability to work with his hands made him indispensable. Emma Mae Brady-Tucker, whose family lived across the street from the main house, recalled how Harry “loved to make things.” When Harry saw a situation that needed attention, he created a plausible result. According to Emma Mae, “he built a V-shaped wooden snow plow and would come down and pull it around the house to clear the snow….He loved to build four wheel carts and gates. In fact, we had gates where we didn't even need them,” she laughed.

Harry's utilitarian approach was also extended to his family. “He built a black kettle and a grill-like work under it, concreted it in, and attached it to the smokehouse,” explained Miss Emma. “He was very creative, but I think he also wanted to help Susie {his wife}.”

Harry Roseberry's presence in the lives of Julia Dinsmore and Emma Mae Tucker eased the color barrier. Cathy Collopy, historian for the Dinsmore House, explained that because the family owned slaves, Julia did believe in racial inferiority. “But as she aged,” remarked Cathy, “she gained empathy and understanding about African-Americans.” On the other hand, Emma Mae only saw a man who “never fussed at us,” saying that “he was like a grandfather who took time for us. I was so crazy about him that I couldn't understand why no one felt the way I did.”

Harry never became a nationally recognized writer nor led any civil rights' marches. Instead his long term work at the Dinsmore Estate enabled this home and its contents to remain intact so that future generations could see a faithful representation of Boone County heritage. His lifelong efforts to take care of this piece of local history also contributed to the blurring of racial lines and allowed people of differing heritages to recognize the value of a man's word and his work; not just his color.

the_black_white_of_it.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/03 18:42 by