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Longtime educator feted on her 100th birthday

South Boston News
Dr. Bessie Carr watches the birthday parade with family members. / October 12, 2020

There was no way the rain on Saturday would put a damper on the surprise birthday celebration for Dr. Bessie Carr. More than 30 people lined up their vehicles up her road, awaiting the signal to drive by to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Carr, who was born on Oct. 10, 1920, enjoyed it all from the safety of her nephew’s home near Halifax.

To keep the birthday parade a surprise, the driveway was blocked off to stop anyone from arriving early. Siblings Detra Carr and Sandra Carr-Carrington kept their Aunt Bessie occupied at the back of the house so she would not see the decorative balloons being placed around the front porch.

Hosting the event at his home, “I had been skeptical the past few weeks when I was talking on the phone with my Aunt Bessie,” said Detra Carr. “I wanted to make sure and not slip up and say something that may ruin the surprise.

Once everyone was ready, the birthday girl stood with family on the front porch while dozens of vehicles came honking down the driveway. Maintaining social distance, guests approached a microphone and speakers set up in the front yard to share kind sentiments and birthday wishes.

Hosting the event for their Aunt Bessie was important for Detra and Sandra. “She is the rock and matriarch of the family,” he said.

Carr received a letter of recognition from the Halifax County Board of Supervisors in honor of her 100th birthday, citing her numerous accomplishments in the education field, and a life well lived.

On behalf of the NAACP, local chapter President Barbara Coleman- Brown presented a resolution praising Carr’s use of her talents to promote education.

“Dr. Bessie Carr is a pioneer, a trailblazer, and an extraordinary leader who promoted young people to pursue their dreams,” said Coleman-Brown, who also praised her dedication to the NAACP as freedom fighter for equity and justice.

Many took turns speaking at the microphone to address Carr as their second mother or third grandmother. They thanked her for the fighting spirit, wisdom, love, and support she has given them over the years. Many still look to her as an educator for advice or help when they may not understand a word in bible study at Sunflower Baptist Church.

“I am speechless, I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams. I will never forget this moment. This has been a long road, but I would not give up this road. Thank you for everyone for traveling and being here today,” said Carr, addressing the crowd standing on the lawn under umbrellas and sitting in their vehicles.

Friends and eight generations of family from near and far came to wish her a happy birthday on Saturday. Some traveled in from Washington D.C., Maryland, Chicago, and New York.

Finally, as a collective group everyone sang happy birthday.

Carr was born in Nathalie to Selena and Henry Carr. She is the last living member of seven siblings: John Pleasant, James, Robert, Charlie, Moes, William, and her only sister Eddie May.

Carr received her bachelors of science degree in 1942 from Elizabeth City College, her master of arts from Columbia University Teacher’s College in 1948, where she also earned her doctorate in philosophy (1950) and doctorate of education (1952). She served as certified administrator, supervisor, educator and principal for Halifax County Schools including Hickory Road and Crossroads Elementary School. She has also been a professor of education at Southern University in Louisiana and professor of education at River Forrest University in Ohio.

She also founded the Dr. Bessie Carr Scholarship award at Halifax County High School 1962. She also was the chair of the mathematics department and educator at Lakeland Middle School in New York, 1961-1983. After retiring in 1983, she moved back home to Halifax County.

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