Many have decided to skip the celebrations this year to avoid the difficulties of implementing the safety measures needed to keep everyone safe from contracting the coronavirus. But for one Sykesville native son, it was not a question of if his 100-year-old birthday would be celebrated, it was how.
Warren G. Dorsey, who was born in Carroll County on Nov. 17, 1920, celebrated his life with over 100 family members and friends on Sunday. His visitors drove up and down Broadway Street in neighboring Frederick County, to pay their respects. He even had family travel up from as far as North Carolina for the surprise occasion.
“It turned out to be a beautiful celebration for his life, which he didn’t expect and really enjoyed,” said Shirlisa Snowden-Carroll, who is Dorsey’s goddaughter and one of the planners of the event.
Dorsey said he agreed.
“Well, I thought my kids would just come over, have some cake and ice cream and that would be it. But it was very different from that," he said.
The event took place outside in the front yard of Dorsey’s home and lots of people stopped by to say hello to him.
Dorsey’s daughter, Susan, who also planned the event, set up a fire pit near the side walk with balloons and a picture collage spelling out “100”. His younger sister, Rosie Hutchinson, 94, of Baltimore was seated next to him.
According to Susan, as one of 12 children, he was not expected to live after being delivered prematurely by his grandmother.
“My father wasn’t expected to live through the night, he’s lived 100 years beyond that. And for somebody who came into the world against all odds, he’s lived all this time,” said Susan.
Dorsey was the grandson of a slave. He grew up on a family farm in Oklahoma Hill, during the 1920s and ’30s during the Jim Crow era in Carroll County.
After he started school in 1926 at the Sykesville Colored School, he continued his education by walking great distances to attend the segregated schools of Carroll County in pursuit of learning. While bus transportation was available to his white counterparts, it did not apply to children of color during that time.
Dorsey went on to Morgan State College and studied microbiology. After graduating as the salutatorian of his class in 1942, Dorsey served in World War II in the U.S. Army. After the war, he later worked at Fort Detrick as a scientist until 1970, while simultaneously becoming the first Black man to earn his master’s degree in education from Goucher College.
Later in his life, he became a teacher and an assistant principal at East Frederick and Middletown elementary schools, and was principal at Carroll Manor Elementary School before he retired in 1981.
While becoming a scientist and teacher, Dorsey also became an acclaimed writer. He co-wrote his autobiography, “In Carrie’s Footprints," with author Jack McBride White. The book details Dorsey’s life as a young Black man accomplishing his goals in the face of segregation, while growing up in Sykesville during the Great Depression.
After living for a century, Dorsey has joined others in telling their story and providing insights for his community.
Barbara Thompson, a board member of the African American Resources, Cultural and Heritage Society –– or AARCH Society –– describes Dorsey as one of the organization’s great “living treasures."
For more than a decade, Black citizens of Frederick and surrounding counties –– from the age of 90 and up –– have joined the society to help preserve and share the history of their lives hoping to offer insight into African American experience.
AARCH hosts an annual banquet that honors its seniors. And according to Thompson, Dorsey shares his melodic voice in song, “amazing those present with his perfect pitch –– every year since joining."
Dorsey kicked off his birthday celebration by singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way" –– a tune he believes embodies the life he has led so far.
“I have been witness to a lot of the changes that have taken place. And to see how we have adjusted over the years –– in many ways –– I would say that I lived a successful and productive life,” said Dorsey, adding that he wants to live the rest of his life "in peace.”