IRONTON — Though Dawnita Redd lives by herself, she is never truly alone; she has a lifetime of collected African American and political souvenirs to keep her company.
At 69 years old, Redd is retired and living in rural Ironton, having previously spent several years serving as a social worker at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. She spent her early years in Huntington, where her father became the first Black police officer to retire from the Huntington Police Department.
In her little single-story home, Redd maintains a massive collection of various items, which she has been building up ever since she was a child. These collections are all unique, but share similar themes.
One such collection is Redd’s massive room full of Barbie dolls. Still preserved in their boxes, each wall of the room is stacked with dolls, their collective height reaching near the ceiling. The vast majority of these dolls are African American or dark-skinned, and they vary widely in age; some are as old as the first line of Barbie dolls ever produced, while others were recently made. One particular doll had even come all the way from Africa.
Redd has no particular favorite of these collections, though she does cherish some in particular. One doll she pointed out had a black dress with white polka-dots, which she said reminded her of her mother. Another was a trio of black Barbies in military dress uniforms, including the Navy, Air Force and Army.
“I love showing those ones to people,” said Redd. “I feel like they can relate to them, especially if they’ve served our country in the Army.”
Redd first began the collection back when she was a child, when she would often see Barbie dolls in the windows of stores in Huntington. Though she desperately wanted a doll, her family couldn’t afford one at the time. A close friend ended up giving her her first as a gift.
Another one of Redd’s collections is a homemade trio of political pin-sheets, primarily based around former President Barack Obama’s political career. Numbering at over a hundred and organized by age and event, the pins are sectioned off onto sheets of colored cloth; a red sheet, a white sheet and a blue sheet. The combined patriotic display was so large that it couldn’t entirely fit side-by-side on Redd’s living room floor.
Not wishing for her work to simply remain in her home, Redd hopes to soon have the combined pin display donated to the Obama Presidential Center Museum.
“By this point, if you lay ’em all out, you’ve got his complete story,” Redd said.
Redd has held a particular interest in politics for some time. She has a collection of signed autographs from every currently living U.S. president and vice president, save President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Alongside them, she has made efforts to get in contact with Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey, wishing to get their autographs as well.
Contained in a handful of plastic totes was a collection of stamps, primarily around African American icons. The highlight of this collection was a large, circular display, painted dark blue and rimmed with wood. It was framed, and rested on a backdrop of grey fabric.
Its golden plaque read “Black American Heritage Story Plate.” It contained 16 rare stamps upon it, including images of figures such as Carter G. Woodson, Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and more. Redd said she found the rare display during a trip to Chesapeake, Ohio.
The ultimate inspiration that’s kept Redd collecting well into her old age is her own self-interest.
“This has all been for me, but I do joke that I should’ve been collecting money the whole time,” said Redd. “I hate to say it, but I just don’t know what I’m gonna do with it all before long.”