Local authors provide teens access to the landscape of local history and geography. They write about stories that include the language, hangouts and routines of local teens. They also visit schools and libraries and remind young adults that reading and writing are important and that anyone right here in this town, in this state, in Indiana of all places, can indeed become a successful writer.
I’ve recently been researching local young adult authors and I’m so amazed by the work they do that goes beyond authoring books. So many authors seem to have a tremendous level of dedication to their community of readers. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find all that they do. We read about the visit Matt de la Peña made to New Mexico to visit schools when students requested his visit after so many books there were banned. We see the letters that Nikki Grimes that shares from the relationships she’s developed with students that span (and inspire) the years. I’ve spoken with Angela Johnson and know of her service to prison communities, but you typically have to dig to find out this kind of information.
And, digging is just what I did to find out about Dharathula “Dolly” Millender. At age 94, Dolly has to be the oldest living children’s and young adult author in Indiana, if not the nation. Dolly is both woman and an African American very much ahead of her times.
Nicholas Hood, Dolly’s grandfather, settled in Indian after he became free.
Her mother, Daisy Hood, received a teaching degree from Fisk University in the early 1900s. She was quite active in the NAACP and one of the founders of the Phyllis Wheatley Association in Terre Haute. This organization built the Phyllis Wheatley House that provided housing for African American female students at Indiana State Normal School. (The now Indiana State University.) At that time, the university did admit African American students but did not allow them to live in the dorms or eat in the dining halls.
Her father was every bit as active. Orestes Hood attended Purdue University where he completed a two-year teacher’s course of study in electricity. He taught for a while in the East Saint Louis schools before moving to Terre Haute, IN. Here, he opened the only radio shop in downtown Terre Haute at a time when radios were as important as computers are to us today. Orestes was contracted for work throughout the city for individual and corporate work. When he was hired by Purdue University to repair audio-visual equipment, Orestes became the first African American professional staff member on the campus.
Understand, please this was Indiana in the early 1900s. (Dolly wasn’t born until 1920.) Slavery ended in this country a scant 35 years prior. The Civil Rights movement had not yet begun. The Harlem Renaissance was about to start. Terre Haute was about to hustle and bustle as bootleggers were setting up camp. Native Americans had been removed years and years before.
30% of the white male population in Indiana belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.
From 1900-1910, the population of African Americans in Indiana was about half of what it was for Whites. In fact, in 1900, there were considerably fewer than 100,000 African Americans in the state and most of these settled in urban areas.
Horses were the mainstay of travel and telephones were new on the scene.
So, as I continue to recount details of Dolly’s life, we have to know there’s much that is missing. I don’t believe it came as easy to the Hoods as it seems by reading a list of their accomplishments. As we read on, try to keep in mind when and where this all happened.
Dolly was born 4 February 1920 and had seven siblings. Her parents were of that generation that wanted their children to have a better life than they themselves did and this certainly required an education. Dolly attend the then Indiana State Teacher’s College (now Indiana State University) in 1941 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English, minoring in music and library science. Dolly lived in the Phyllis Wheatley house because colored students could not live on campus. Her brother, Orestes attended college at the same time as Dolly. He held a one man sit-in to successfully de-segregate the university’s dining facilities in the late 1930s, about 30 years before the sit-ins across the southern United States.
Dolly graduated and worked as a librarian at a junior college in South Carolina, in the Library of Congress and in several school libraries. She eventually began working as a school librarian in Gary, Indiana until she retired in 1978. She became the official historian of Gary, a city councilwoman, a school board member and the founder and CEO of the Gary Historical Society. She also received a Master of Science degree in Educational Media from Purdue University in 1968.
Her mother had always told stories about famous Negroes, and very few were present in books. Between the stories she heard and the influence of a former teacher publishing The Child’s Story of the Negro, Dolly was able to publish Crispus Attucks, Boy of Valor as part of Bobbs-Merrill’s Childhood of Famous Americans Series. The company also approached her to write books on Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Armstrong for the series. The Louis Armstrong book was revised and republished by Simon and Schuster.
Dolly’s motto is “The joy of living is the joy of giving service to others.”
Dolly is passionate about local history. She is local history! She is listed in Who’s Who Among African Americans.
I’m not a 15 year old searching for identity but I have to say that just knowing about Dolly Millender and Kevin Waltman, I feel that much prouder of who I am and where I am. Share these stories with your teens! Dolly and Kevin’s books are still available, so pick up a copy! And, stay tuned because there are more IN YA authors who write about people of color!
Duncan, Hilary. Dolly Millender, ’41, Naomi Millender, 67. State Magazine. Retrieved from http://statemagazine.com/hood-legacy/
Reynolds, Crystal. The Joy of Giving Service Dharathula “Dolly” Millender. Retrieved from http://www.indstate.edu/diversity/docs/The%20Joy%20of%20Giving%20Service%20Dolly%20Hood%20Millender%20Biography.pdf
Visclosky, Peter J. 2010. Dolly Millender. Retrieved from