Arvetta Barnett Wright

Arvetta Barnett was born in 1905, and her life spanned nearly the entire 20th century. She was a tall, handsome woman with a dark, rich complexion and a sharp mind. Very early in life, she learned that, if she spent her time simply waiting for better days, opportunities would never arise.

Arvetta’s mother died when she was just a child and Arvetta, being the oldest daughter, became the caregiver for her brothers and sisters while their father was at work. For a while, she took her siblings to school with her. Then one day, when Arvetta was in third grade, the teacher explained that this was too disruptive to the rest of the class. After that, she was no longer permitted to bring her brothers and sisters. Since Arvetta couldn’t leave the younger children home alone, she was forced to drop out of school. After that, she was bible educated. In the following years, she remained a mother figure to her siblings – but she was, all the while, thinking of ways out of the rural community, both for herself and for her future family.

Arvetta married Benjamin Wright Jr. on July 7, 1926. Ben was a landowner with a 6th grade education – a rarity among black men in that time and place, which qualified him to teach – but he had been somewhat aimless until he met Arvetta. With her by his side, Ben looked to the future. Together, the couple had four sons: Clinton, Herman, Garfield and Milton. Arvetta was determined to give them opportunities that she hadn’t had. She started by creating a fruit and vegetable garden, and selling all of the produce from the garden in the nearby towns to support the family. Later, she helped to raise the money to build Walnut Hill School, where her boys and the other children of the community could get a solid education that went beyond 6th grade. When B.T. Henry, the first principal at Walnut Hill, came to Mt. Union, she boarded him and his wife Milby, and fixed all of their meals. In time, Arvetta and B.T. Henry came to share a motto: “The only time you have to do something is now!”

When her first two sons joined the Army and went out into the world, she continued to send them pieces of home – every Christmas, Clinton and Herman each received one of her homemade fruit cakes, heavy on nuts from the pecan orchard and soaked in bourbon to preserve the fruit. It was her way of telling them that they were doing exactly what they should be doing with their lives, even though their work kept them far away from Mt. Union. In the early 1960s, Arvetta’s father Edgar passed away. In the following years, Clinton and Herman returned home, and she began to convince them to buy the Barnett family land from her brothers and sisters, building onto and restoring the original Wright farm. Today, the next generation of Wrights and Barnetts are returning home to that land in Mt. Union.

Herman Wright Jr., the writer-producer of “The Long Black Line” documentary, remembers visiting the farm as a young man. One summer, he helped his grandmother dig a 10-foot by 20-foot cow pond with shovels. The project took two days. During that time, it never occurred to him to question her. There was no debate and no conversation about whether it really needed to be done or why they had to be the ones to do it. Arvetta had resolved to accomplish the task and stay true to her motto: “The only time you have to do something is now!”

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