Barbara Davis Wilson ’79 is honored to be remembered as “The Black Dreamer,” and the first African-American majorette in Calhoun County, Mich., in the book Cameron, by Patricia Averill.
Cameron chronicles the evolution of Calhoun County over the course of integration following Brown vs. The Board of Education, and the de-industrialization of America. Averill profiles the lives of several graduates from her high school class of 1962, including fellow majorette Barbara, from Wilson’s first days as a majorette to the present.
Wilson remembers the first time she saw a majorette. “There was this huge parade and I saw this girl twirling a stick with knobs on it. I didn’t know what a baton was at the time, but I said to myself, ‘I want to do that.’”
From there, Wilson told her mom of her plan, got a baton and became self-taught in twirling. Once another majorette signed a certificate acknowledging that Wilson was proficient in twirling, the band director allowed Wilson to join the band, making her the first African-American majorette in Calhoun County.
“I will forever be grateful to Patty, because she has immortalized me in more ways than one. She was kind, honest and truthful in her book,” said Wilson.
Wilson has gone on to share her love of baton twirling at Henninger High School in Syracuse from 1994 to 2002, as coach of the Dance and Twirl Team, the Majorette Corps and the Dance Team. She credits Fred Straub, retired band director at Henninger.
“When I came to Henninger they had a marching band but no majorettes, so I went back to my mom’s house, found my baton and the rest is history,” said Wilson.
At Henninger, Wilson coached for free, as well as bought batons and cases for the girls with her own money. Many of the girls coached by Wilson attended college and continued with dance and batons beyond high school.
“That was my way of giving back to a community,” Wilson said, even though it was not the community where she grew up.
Wilson is now in her sixth year of teaching grades 9-12 keyboarding and sports/entertainment marketing at an alternative high school, Syracuse Renaissance Academy at Carnegie. The academy is for teenagers who have criminal records or difficulty functioning in a normal school setting, sent there to “get back on track,” according to Wilson.
“Everybody needs a chance, that’s my philosophy,” she said. “I just try to encourage the kids.”
Averill isn't the first to share Wilson's story. The Post-Standard featured her quest for her African-American roots in a Black History Month article in 2003. And each November, she returns to Battle Creek, Mich., to share her connection to Sojourner Truth through the family heritage of her "sister," a dear friend.
Wilson has two daughters. Renee Williams and her husband, Christopher, live in Atlanta, and Melody Warner and her husband, Quintin, reside in Maryland.
Wilson hopes to retire to Atlanta, in order to be closer to her grandchildren: Renee's 10-year-old triplets, Caitlyn, Cailla and Christopher Jr.
“My grandkids are already planning my retirement,” joked Wilson. She plans to teach baton twirling, tap dancing and marching to her grandchildren upon her move to Georgia.
“When I have a retirement party, I only want a few co-workers and all of my old dancers and twirlers to attend, to find out what they’ve done with their lives. To me, that’s important,” said Wilson.
— Kristin Quinn ’08
Upper Photo: Barbara Davis Wilson '79 (center) with the Henninger High School majorette squad
Wilson in her high school yearbook
Lower Photo: Wilson today
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