Community mourns Dawson; still seeks answers

Pallbearers take Barbara Dawson to her final resting place at Watson Cemetery. Photo by St. Clair Murraine

Pallbearers take Barbara Dawson to her final resting place at Watson Cemetery.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

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By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

BRISTOL – There wasn’t a dry eye on the front row where Barbara Dawson’s family members sat in a crowd of mourners.
Yet the scene was hardly solemn inside the Liberty County High School gymnasium, where about 300 people gathered for Dawson’s funeral last Saturday afternoon.
Almost everyone who spoke recalled Dawson, who didn’t have a child, as being a mother to them or the children in her community. Many of them were looking forward this past Christmas to the generosity of the woman they affectionately called “Bobbie,” before her death on Dec. 21 at age 57.
Dawson was removed by force from the Calhoun Liberty Hospital, where she had gone to seek treatment when she experienced trouble breathing. She died shortly after being removed by police from the hospital.
“It was sad,” said Martha Smith, one of Dawson’s cousins who grew up with Dawson in a different house on the same property in Bristol. “The kids couldn’t even focus. We had no Christmas.
“Nobody even cared about Christmas. All they could talk about was why that happened to Auntie Bobbie.”
Christmas wasn’t the only time that Dawson gave, said Smith. She often gave free items from Barbara’s Snack Shop, which she owned. Dawson also founded the Liberty County Youth Organization, which her brother, Stafford Dawson, said she funded with money she won in a Workers’ Comp case.
But despite her benevolence, Dawson sometimes was misunderstood in some quarters, her brother said. In part, he said, her loud tone brought on by a hearing loss, gave the wrong impression of her personality.
Even in church, he said.
“She talked loud. I sat on the first row at church and she was on the second row,” Stafford Dawson said. “A 94-year-old woman sat on the left side of us and (Barbara) would get to praising, yelling real loud.
“I would tell her all the time, ‘Sis, you know you’re about to blow my eardrum.’ She said, ‘I wasn’t talking loud; you know I’m hard of hearing.’ That’s how a lot of people misunderstood her.”
Dawson’s service was filled with music – some old spirituals – poetry and plenty of recollection of her life.
“Let’s celebrate Barbara,” said Margret Smith, a family friend. “This is what she would have wanted.”
Smith went on to read a poem that she composed for the family. A line in it read: “With life’s ups and life’s down, she wore a smile and seldom did she frown.”
Dawson’s nephew, Calvin Jackson, drew repeated reaction of “Ah ha” from a woman in the crowd, when he read another poem.
Jackson’s poem centered on one of the questions surrounding the case – whether Dawson’s race was a factor in the way she was treated at the hospital.

“Lord, why did you make be black? Why did you make me someone the world wants to hold back,” Jackson recited. “Black is the color of dirty clothes … black is the color of darkness. …Why do I feel so used? Only because of the color of my skin I continue to be abused.”

Stafford Dawson touched on the same theme, capping it with a rousing rendition of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It brought the crowd to its feet.

Sheila Tribue, one of Dawson’s five classmates who reminisced about her, took the occasion to call awareness to circumstances surrounding the case.

“This is a healthcare issue,” Tribue said. “This is not a black issue; it’s a people issue. Insurance issue. It’s economical. Listen people; do not let this die with Barbara because it could be you, me or somebody else tomorrow.”

Dawson’s death outraged members of her family in the small community about 55 miles south-west of Tallahassee. The days that followed the incident were filled with outcry from the NAACP, members of regional clergy, including Rev. R. B. Holmes, publisher of the Capital Outlook.
“The Dawson family has proven themselves to be a people of faith and grace,” Holmes said. “The home-going service was a powerful witness on how to turn pain into praise.

“I am committing myself to work with the family, the chief of police, and the hospital CEO to find solutions to make sure that this unfortunate situation will never happen again.”

Politicians and attorney Benjamin Crump of the law firm Parks and Crump, which is representing Dawson’s family, also participated in a rally calling for an investigation of the case before her funeral.
Blountstown police reported that the incident wasn’t the first time that Dawson was dissatisfied with treatment at the facility.

A cross-section of the Liberty County communities attended her funeral on Saturday.
“We just want justice for Barbara,” said Martha Smith, one of Dawson’s cousins, tears welling up in her eyes.

Adner Marcelin, a spokesman for the Parks and Crump firm, said the large turnout for Dawson’s service was a sign of the community’s search for answers.

“It was reflective of the community as a whole,” Marcelin said. “Barbara Dawson happens to be the client who was killed but this could have been anybody’s brother, sister, mother.

“Right now our firm is in the process of getting answers for the family. There are a lot of unanswered questions right now and our job is to do everything under the power of the law to insure that we can answer all the questions.”