| "Steelton has gotten
a lot better over the years and I think it's something that someone said
earlier to me, that you really have to make a difference in your own world,
you know? And that's why I am so avid about getting this history
and salvaging the history that we have because we have so much to contribute.
And I am not talking about just blacks, you know. It's the Spaniards
that are here and the Portuguese that are here. The American Indian,
the Jews, you know, the Germans, the Croatians, the Slavs, you know all
of them have so much wonderful history that, in this melting pot that we
call Steelton and surrounding area, you know. If we could just all
step up to the plate and out all that history out there, it would really
make a difference in people's lives."
|Barbara Barksdale was born on June 17, 1952 in Steelton, Pennsylvania to Willy and Desiree Estelle Murray Thomas. When they brought Barbara home, her two older sisters, Eleanor and Shirley, and older bother David, were awaiting her arrival. Originally, her mother, Desiree, was from Fairfax County, Virginia and came to Steelton in the early 1920s. Her father, Willy, came to Steelton in the mid 1940s from Putman County, Georgia so he and his family could find work in the steel mill.|
||Church always played a very important role in her mother's life, and it played an equally important role in Barksdale's life, beginning in childhood. Barbara was baptized at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Locust Street in Steelton, and attended Bible Training Unit in addition to church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. The church was the center of the family's social activities and it was a place where the community congregated. As an adult, she left Mt. Zion and began attending Beulah Baptist Church as an active member where her sister plays the piano and her brother is an assistant minister.|
| When it was time
to attend school, Barksdale was in the first class to attend the newly
integrated Steelton Elementary School. She later attended Steelton-Highspire
High School where she challenged the school's curriculum. During
her freshman year, she organized a "sit-in" with other students, demanding
the inclusion of black history in the school. She recalled this experience
during a recent interview.
| After graduating
from high school, Barksdale decided to go to nursing school. In a
past interview, she discussed how she made the decision to do so.
| Barbara's passion
for understanding and revealing the contributions of African Americans
to US history did not end in ninth grade. As an adult, Barbara has
been very involved in restoring the Midland
Cemetery in Steelton, an African American cemetery that dates back
to the Civil War. Several years ago, she came across the cemetery
while searching for her grandfather's grave. The cemetery is known
for being the resting place for many African Americans of Steelton.
She recalled the condition of the cemetery as being "appalling." People
can't even drive past it and acknowledge that people are buried there because
of the weeds and trees." Barksdale therefore took an active role
in restoring the site and became the president of The Friends of the Midland
Cemetery. As she became more involved in the project, she discovered
that her step grandfather, great great grandmother, and many aunts and
uncles were buried there as well. For Barksdale, the cemetery is
a huge step in continuing her militancy from childhood and fighting for
black history to be acknowledged.
| Barksdale lives
her life in order to contribute to the community and to leave good things
in her path. When she passes away, she hopes to be remembered for
the contributions that she has made.