We appreciate the financial help, but the Juanita Barr scholarship came with an admission of past mistakes, and that’s especially fun for her.
Last year, Barr received $2,000 from Middleton Place to help pay for graduate studies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in nutritional sciences.
She was the only one to get financial support in 2020 because the Middleton Place Scholarship Program was brand new, not well funded yet, and no one else had applied.
But just two years after its launch, the program has already raised more than $100,000 from supporters, and officials have tweaked the way it operates.
It is no longer a competitive scholarship. Now it’s a Tuition Aid program that aims to help any eligible person apply with a minimum scholarship of $2,000.
Those invited to receive an award must be descendants of slaves who worked on any of the Middleton’s Lowcountry plantations or children of the African American employees of the establishment. Funding is intended for post-secondary education: in trade schools, technical colleges, universities and graduate schools.
“I really consider it compensation,” Barr said. “They pretty much say they are acknowledging what happened to my ancestors and they are trying to improve the situation by enhancing (my education).”
Barr, 28, plans to become a registered dietitian, join the Peace Corps, and work in Africa as a volunteer in agricultural development and nutrition. She wants to help improve farming techniques, host cooking shows, teach wellness classes and encourage consumption of nutrient-rich foods.
She also wants to research the links between African food ways and her family’s heritage.
“I believe as a dietitian, I should not only know healthy foods for the body but also learn about the culture of the families I help,” she wrote in her grant application.
Barr, who lives north of Atlanta, expects to settle in the city after working abroad to help disadvantaged communities deal with food insecurity. She told the Middleton Place Foundation that she hopes to create a non-profit organization that will promote integrative nutrition and help people with inflammatory and neurological conditions.
“This is important to me because I witnessed the debilitating disease, rheumatoid arthritis, that paralyzed my mother throughout my childhood,” she wrote in her hands-on article. “I’ve had ADHD since I was a kid.”
Thanks in large part to a healthy diet, she said, her mother had been trouble-free for years, and Barr was able to thrive in school.
Tracey Todd, president and CEO of Middleton Place, said the goal of the program was to support descendants of slaves and forge links between those descendants and the foundation.
Once the project is started, it begins to generate interest – and financial contributions. Before long, officials expanded its mission.
“We’ve had amazing support from families of white and black descent, and other supporters who have discovered what we’re doing,” Todd said. “As the need grows, we will want to grow with it. This is our goal: to be able to meet the needs.”
A portion of the income generated from weddings at the historic site is now transferred to the Tuition Aid Program. Todd said he expects the initiative to become a regular part of what Middleton Place does for years to come.
“I hope it will last and last.”
Barr’s enslaved predecessors were James and Sabina, and their tenure with the Middleton family began in 1826.
Her Charleston cousin, Al Fraser, invited her to accompany him to the 2016 Middleton family reunion, a casual event that attracts black and white grandchildren.
“I originally had mixed feelings, but it was very unifying to be there,” Barr said.
She said it was clear that the people involved genuinely wanted to bring people together, and weren’t afraid to tackle a difficult legacy.
“I appreciate the story he told, which I thought was more real than what I usually see in the South,” she said.
During the reunion, participants could join a session during which the history of the farm was discussed and attendees were encouraged to share their feelings.
“It was so good that they gave my family the floor to talk and talk to the family that previously owned my family,” Barr said. “It was so wonderful to be in that state where it can really be a place of healing and not a place of hurt and anger.”
She said the financial assistance she received – a “step in the right direction” – was another sign of recovery.