In 1963, Barbara Nealy (that’s Bar-ba-ra with three syllables, as she’ll tell you) was 17 and the historic March on Washington was about to happen. Her civic-minded mother chartered a bus, and took her and her sister plus some neighbors from their Baltimore neighborhood to D.C. to see Dr. Martin Luther King speak. “It was a dream come true for me,” Mrs. Nealy said. “Over 250,000 people were there. No incidents, no fighting, just a lot of love being shown for one another.” See her talk about the March in this video from 8 News.
Mrs. Nealy has lived at BHC’s Market Square senior community for 16 years. She graduated from Norfolk State University, received her Master’s Degree in Adult Education with a 4.0 from Coppin State University in Baltimore and is a walking encyclopedia of black history. She is eager to share her knowledge with anyone interested in hearing, too. Outside her apartment door is a poster of historic African-American figures topped by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, one of the first scholars ever to study African-American history. Inside her apartment, in addition to framed artworks of Civil Rights figures, is a large plastic storage tub of black-history articles, photos and memorabilia.
We spoke to Mrs. Nealy on the day when Amy Lacey of 8 News recorded her in a spot about Meals on Wheels, which she gratefully receives (Meals on Wheels is a program of Feedmore, a BHC community partner). Mrs. Nealy greeted everyone who approached her with a heart-shaped lollipop and postage stamps commemorating Dorothy Height, a Civil Rights activist born in Richmond and an organizer of the 1965 March on Washington (“the only woman organizer,” Mrs. Nealy points out).
Barbara has a warm, inviting manner that draws people of all ages to her; and she has much practical wisdom to share, especially with the very young, when she gets the chance. “Here is what I tell our young people: Hold on to your dreams, no matter what. Behave yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you do that, you should have no problems in school, at home, with your friends, or life in general.”
Why is she so persistent in her efforts to educate so many visitors about black history? “To paraphrase Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson,” Mrs. Nealy says, “It’s not so much black history as it is a history of a people who were denied their rights, who were shunned and made to feel as if they were nothing. But who rose, like the Phoenix, from bondage and continued to persevere.” As a stroke survivor and two-time breast cancer survivor, Mrs. Nealy knows about perseverance. Her goal, once she feels up to it, is to participate in a Black History Month presentation for young residents of BHC’s Winchester Greens community in North Chesterfield.