Carrie Dickerson, A Life Lived for the Earth

by Geoff Oelsner
Sweet natured, peaceful and extraordinarily energetic Carrie Barefoot Dickerson worked until her death on her history of wind power, Harvesting the Wind. Written for children—the inheritors of our environmentally beleaguered planet—and adults who will find it lively and absorbing, it features scores of illustrations by Oklahoma artist Gwen Ingram, along with many archival photographs of wind power generators from around the world. It was edited with the assistance of Carrie’s daughter Patricia Dickerson Lemon.  It’s hot off the press!
Patricia Dickerson Lemon writes about Harvesting the Wind: In this book two Cherokee/Kaw children report on their research into the history of windmills and the electricity-generating wind turbines that already light many of our homes and cities. Harvesting the Wind is ideal for home schooling and interdisciplinary courses.  Among other fields of study, it incorporates arithmetic, science, history, geography, economics, and literature. This readable narrative offers practical information and resources for any individual interested in safe, low-cost, non-polluting power—power that can free countries from dependence on other nations and families from dependence on the grid.
Harvesting the Wind is a fitting tribute to the enduring work of a true heroine and friend of Mother Earth—Carrie Barefoot Dickerson.  Published under the auspices of the not-for-profit Carrie Dickerson Foundation, Inc. of Claremore, it is available for $25 from PDL Publications, 700 Old Winchester Road, Warwick, MA 01378.
Carrie led a successful nine-year struggle to halt the construction of the Black Fox nuclear plant at Inola, Okla, near her family farm.  Much beloved in her home state, she was also a friend and is an ongoing inspiration to many here in Northwest Arkansas who wish to see the widespread development of non-polluting power sources.  She died in her sleep on November 17, 2006, the morning after she approved the final draft of Harvesting the Wind.  She was 89.  Hers was a huge, generous life lived for the love of people and the Earth.
Carrie was born in a log cabin west of Okmulgee, Okla. in 1917, five years after the birth of another great Okie bodhisattva, Woody Guthrie.  She attended Oklahoma State University, where she received an undergraduate degree in home economics education and later an M.S. degree.  She met her late husband, C.R.Dickerson, a dairyman and agriculture instructor, in 1936, on a trip to Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Oklahoma Farmers’ Union.  The couple married in 1938 and settled down on the Dickerson Farm east of Claremore.
Carrie began teaching in 1943 at a German-speaking Mennonite community school near Inola, and went on to teach at several other schools in the area. She was a 4-H Club leader and a home demonstration agent in Cherokee communities around Muskogee.  In 1957, she resigned from her position as a home economics teacher at Claremore High School and started a whole-grain organic bread bakery that served customers throughout northeastern Oklahoma.
Seeing a need for humane care for local elders, Carrie and her husband founded Aunt Carrie’s Nursing Home in Claremore. At age 50, Carrie took up the study of nursing in order to play a more active caring role at the nursing home. This facility is now called Wood Manor, and Carrie was a resident there herself in the last intensely generative months of her life.
When the Public Service Company of Oklahoma announced its plans to construct Black Fox nuclear power plant in 1973, Carrie began the deeply intelligent, patient environmental work she continued for the rest of her life.  She organized Citizen’s Action for Safe Energy (CASE), to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear power, and, later, of nuclear waste transport and storage. CASE helped spark the formation of Fayetteville’s own grassroots environmental advocacy group, People’s Action for a Safe Environment (PASE).
During nine years of attending public hearings about the proposed plant, Barefoot designed and made quilts to raise money for CASE’s immense legal expenses.  She and her husband also sold their nursing home and donated all proceeds to pay legal fees. By the time Black Fox was cancelled in 1981, she was a master quilter and supported herself by teaching others to quilt, while operating a health food store with her daughter Mary.
PSO officials, despite being defeated by Carrie’s efforts, came to genuinely appreciate her as a person, and subsequently wind power was introduced in Oklahoma as an electric power source as a result of Carrie’s lucid, forceful but always respectful promptings.
A few copies of Carrie’s 1995 memoir of this struggle, Aunt Carrie’s War Against Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant, written with her daughter, Patricia, are still available for $25 plus $5 shipping from PDL Publications, P.O. Box 604, Winchester, NH 03470.  Patricia plans to make it available in a less expensive paperback edition later this year.  See for more, somewhat outdated, details.

Categories: Features