Mary Dowdell – Brick To Brick

Laci Ollison | January 19th, 2021
Mary Dowdell (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

Mary Dowdell (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

A lover of God, people, and history, Mary McLean Dowdell has dedicated her life to making sure that the untold stories of her family are now being made available for the world to read.

Mary, a resident of Greensboro, is the author of Brick to Brick: Building a Black Family in America. The inspiration behind the book came from her own family history and experiences.

“I wrote the book to give the history of my family,” said Mary. “My father and mother graduated from Hampton in 1935. They went to New York, got married, and were then hired by the American Missionary Association.”

After her parents, Neil and Iva McLean, were married, they returned to a small town in Eastern North Carolina called Brick. “The AMA had already established life centers where black people or freed slaves could learn how to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency. My parents were sent to gather people and assume leadership of the center that was in Brick,” Mary said.

Once her parents took over the center, they worked to teach black people basic skills to improve their everyday lives. “One of the things they taught them was farming,” Mary said. “Although they knew how to take care of a farm, they didn’t know about the decisions when it came to selling produce. My parents taught them about leadership and the economics of the farm. They also taught them about owning property, home management, and home economics.”

The life center also had a school where both adults and children received their education. Although Mary’s parents contributed much to the black community in the area, no one has taken the time to write their history or even include it in currently published history books.

“They were there 19 years,” Mary recounted. “There have been three publications on the history of that area, but my parents were not included, their history has not been told. Once the school was sold to a church, the church organization had someone do the history of the school and its past leadership. However, the writer of the history book chose not to include my father. Although they spoke with people who worked closely with my him, he was not contacted to tell his history and the work that he contributed to the community,” she shares.

This situation is why Mary thought it was necessary to tell the history of her parents.

“There were pieces of their story told, but not the totality of it. I believe black people should tell their history. There are all kinds of books about what other people do but not a lot about what we do or have done,” Mary said.

Mary also made sure to include artifacts and other important information in the back of the book.

“I told the story not as a daughter but as a researcher who could tell the history. I also put artifacts in the back of the book. I wanted to make sure that I could back up anything that I said.”
The book also recounts how the duo maintained a personal life while assisting the community.

“It transitions from historical point to how they built a family while working in the community,” said Mary. “My father eventually left the center and went into public education. He was a principle at the elementary and high schools. He also sat on the local community college board and started the first credit union in the area. Her mother was the first postmaster. They did all of that while raising six children.”

The second part of the book tells the story of Mary herself as well as her siblings, as a product of her parents. “I wanted to include what happened to my parent’s children. So, I have my oldest brother write something and I gave all my siblings the opportunity to write something. I even have something in the book about my siblings who have died. I wanted to be sure to put their history in the book as well,” she said.

Mary is also an Evangelist Missionary and serves at Evangel Fellowship Church of God in Christ. She is a recent PhD graduate at the age of 73, and the mother of three adult children and the grandmother of five children. She enjoys writing, evangelism, and motivational speaking.

The evangelist says that one thing fellow entrepreneurs should be aware of is their outlook on life and their situation. “One of the major things is to be aware of your attitude,” Mary said. “If you are hopeful and positive and one of the people who believes in the possibility of life and the potentials that are in you then nothing will be impossible with you.”

Mary says that it is important to keep a positive outlook on life. “If you allow people and life to rob you of that positive viewpoint then you won’t go very far. I want people to know that anything is possible if they work hard. Make sure you are not allowing circumstances and situations to shape you into a person who doesn’t believe who you are. No matter what you want, the skies the limit. I don’t believe there’s anything you can be kept from doing.”

Mary believes that despite who you are or what you look like, the possibilities are endless. She also does not believe in limitations of age. “Look at who you are. Look at what your world view is and what your self-view is. You see testimonies every day of people doing great things. We are all born empty slates and have the same potential to achieve something amazing,” she states.

For Mary, it appears that life will always be a forever developing story. She is always seeking the next opportunity to serve and to express her ideas and gifts. Although she quite often kept busy with writing, marketing of her current book, and evangelism, she is already thinking about getting started on her second publication. So be on the lookout for what is coming next.

To purchase a copy of Brick To Brick, Building A Black Family In America, please contact Mary directly or visit her website.

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