“I am true black history,” she said, sitting in the break room of the Douglas County Courthouse, where she has worked for 27 years as office manager and finance clerk for the county’s Superior Court.
Burton’s father died when she was 10, so her mother, Myron Polk Dobbs, was left alone to raise seven children.
“When growing up, my mother would not accept welfare assistance,” said Burton. “She cleaned houses and took in laundry.”
She said times were “really, really hard, but she taught us love and more love despite our circumstances.”
Burton’s first job at age 10 was picking cotton, tomatoes and beans for 50 cents a day to help out her family.
“I was inspired to go to college,” she said, “but my mother couldn’t afford it.”
Lack of a college education did not deter Burton, who graduated from then-segregated R.L. Cousins School, a first- through 12th grade school in Douglasville, in 1963.
Burton began a 22-year career as a school secretary at her alma mater in 1964, given the chance by Principal John W. Stewart who served in that capacity from 1957 to 1977 and for whom the existing middle school was named.
“John Stewart said, ‘Dobbs, if you come in and work I will give you a chance,’” Burton recalled.
“I made $100 a month and after taxes I took home $80 for a month’s work.”
She left Stewart Middle School in 1986 and received a call from then-Clerk of Superior Court Jane Williams who offered her a job as finance clerk.
Burton grew up in a transitional time in history.
“I did not march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because my mother was afraid for me to get involved,” she said. “But I was definitely for non-violence because I believed things would turn around — and they did.”
One of her greatest experiences in the 1960s was meeting Hall of Fame baseball legend Hank Aaron, she said.
Burton feels blessed that she did not experience significant prejudice growing up during segregation in the South, except for an occasional racial slur and once when her car was egged.
“But other than that, I did not have bad experiences,” Burton said.
Her family was the first black family to come to the Winston community.
She said her maternal great-grandfather was brought into Winston as a slave by a man named Ezekiel Polk, a first cousin of President James K. Polk.
Her grandfather, the Rev. Hayes Polk, was a Baptist preacher.
“I always felt our family was treated well because of their last name,” said Burton.
Burton has been married to Willie C. Burton for 47 years. They have four children and four grandchildren.
A member of New Bethel Baptist Church, Burton is church coordinator, Gospel Choir president and teaches Sunday school and Bible study to kindergarteners.
She said that she feels she was accepted and connected by the community through her activism in such organizations as Sheltering Arms, the parks and recreation board and as a member of Leadership Douglas.
“From whence I came,” said Burton, “I have been blessed by God.”
She and her friend Dorothy Sparks founded Les Soeurs Ladies Club in 1966 with 10 members. The club, organized to provide social, civic and educational functions, is still in existence today with 34 members.
“When we were much younger, we would have Christmas parties in downtown Atlanta at the Sundial,” she recalled. “Our goal was to improve our way of life along with helping others.”
The club will celebrate its 47th anniversary in May at the new Douglasville Conference Center.
“When we hit 50,” said the co-founder, “the whole of Douglas County will know about it!”