Baby Boomer (born 1943 to 1963)
Leslie McKesson was born and raised in Lenoir, North Carolina to parents who were factory/textile workers from western North Carolina.
Leslie was a child pioneer of school desegregation in Caldwell County Public Schools. An only child, she loved learning, music, and spending time with cousins.
Leslie earned a bachelor of science in Criminal Justice from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also attended Appalachian State University where she earned a master of science in Adult Education and an Education Specialist Degree (Ed.S.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D). degrees in Leadership and Higher Education.
Working for eight years as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal with a legal aid office, Leslie specialized in and practiced administrative law as allowed by statute. She then served as paralegal educator and program director at a community college and subsequently became Dean of Business, Public Services, and Academic Support. Leslie retired with 28 years of service to the North Carolina Community College System.
Leslie currently serves as adjunct instructor for Appalachian State University in the college of education, teaching at the undergraduate and doctorate levels, and at Lenoir-Rhyne University, teaching leadership at the master’s level.
She is the Executive Director of a non-profit organization whose mission is to increase the presence of people of color in positions of workplace leadership. Leslie is also a consultant on matters of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and racism and presented a TEDx talk on gRaCE (Growing Racial and Cultural Empathy).
Leslie has been honored with the following awards and recognition:
- 2017 Naylor Outstanding Dissertation Award
- North Carolina Society of Historians 2013 Robert Bruce Cook Family History Book Award
- 2014 NC Women of Justice Award Nominee/Legal Professional Award, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly Magazine
- 2015 Robert and Kathy Zigli Research Award
- 42nd Annual Harambee Arts Festival Award in recognition of Distinguished Service to the Community
- Lifetime Achievement Award 2017 African American Citizens Group Burke County
- Loving Lenoir 2018 Service Award
- Appointed to the North Carolina African-American Heritage Commission by the Speaker of the NC House of Representatives (currently serving as a Commissioner).
Leslie is the author of Black and White: The Story of Harriet Harshaw and Squire James Alfred Dula, winner of the North Carolina Society of Historians’ 2013 Robert Bruce Cook Family History Book Award about the history of her home community, Dulatown. Telling the story of her great-great grandparents opened opportunities for her to speak about race and reconciliation, and to build a strong bond between the black and white sides of a family divided by slavery. A documentary titled Dulatown centers her research and contemporary race relations within her extended family, and has been featured on PBS stations throughout the southeastern United States.
She enjoys horticulture and singing and is an avid reader and writer.
Leslie is married and has four children.
Oral History Summary
Leslie talks about Theodosia, who ran off with cousin and Leslie’s Revolutionary War patriot, William Dula (Dooley) of Irish descent, leaving her first husband, Revolutionary War patriot John Patrick McMullan, and their children without divorcing; the McMullan family being told that Theodosia died; learning her long-time white friend and colleague descended from McMullan and they are both Theodosia’s 4th great granddaughters, then joining the same DAR chapter; William’s grandson James “Alfred” Dula having eight black children with great-great-grandmother Harriet Harshaw who was enslaved by him and kidnapped by his family; and a white Daughters of the American Revolution Dula descendant attending black Dula family reunions and suggesting Leslie join the DAR. Leslie discusses growing up in Lenoir, North Carolina; framing her mother's letter denying her a teaching job since she was Negro and hanging it beside her own doctorate degree; earning a bachelor's in Criminal Justice from UNC; completing a master's and doctorate in education over 12 years while working full time and raising a family; journey from working as a paralegal to becoming an instructor at Appalachian State and Lenoir-Rhyne University; teaching educators how to be more inclusive and leadership philosophy; impact of going from segregated to integrated schools as a child; bringing more diversity into positions of leadership; working as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultant; giving a TEDx talk on gRaCE (Growing Racial and Cultural Empathy); serving as a commissioner of the NC African American Heritage Commission; singing in an award winning gospel recording group; Alfred having six white children with his first wife who died, leaving all of his 2,000 acres- “Dulatown”- to his black children with Harriet, and leaving homes to his white sons; her father becoming the historian for both black and white Dulas after white cousin James Dula died; the “Dulatown” documentary; the annual Theodosia descendants' day at her gravesite with white and black descendants embracing each other but other relatives not wanting to hear it; reconciling slave owning ancestry and Harriet's French father Jacob Harshaw's reputation for being cruel to slaves; father encouraging her to write a family book; Harriet's child with a black man outside of her connection with Alfred, who ran the man off with a shotgun, and the child dying in infancy; Harriet's two children from prior slave master coming with her to Alfred’s, leaving a third behind as "property"; Alfred's family kidnapping Harriet because she was living in the house with him; William being the cousin of the infamous "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley", executed for the murder of Laura Foster; having measured pride knowing her ancestor fought for American freedom since slavery was a component of the Revolutionary War; being against totally joining the DAR until a chapter reached out and encouraged her to join; joining to make a path for cousins to join DAR; serving as chapter vice regent; the DAR still being open and welcoming despite the recent climate in community; being “proud to open a door for other women like me to have access to the DAR... as a point of progress for a group of women who have been marginalized in the past”.
Leslie McKesson's oral history was recorded on November 10, 2020
Membership State: North Carolina
DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)
Dula, William: Virginia
European Descent Male
In the News
The News Herald, February 20, 2013