Success Stories: Leslie McKesson (Business & Public Service)


Western Piedmont Instructor & Alum Now An Author

Leslie McKessonMorganton — Leslie Dula McKesson, Western Piedmont Community College’s (WPCC) Dean of Business & Public Services, learned through researching her heritage that life is seldom as simple as black or white. As the great-great granddaughter of a white Caldwell County landowner and a black slave, Ms. McKesson examines both ethnic perspectives in her recently-published book about her great-great grandparents titled Black and White: The Story of Harriet Harshaw and Squire James Alfred Dula.

Research for the book actually began with the efforts of Ms. McKesson’s father, Harold Dula, and the process defined his life. Finding his extensive collection of documents about the couple, she became intrigued with the story of Harriet and Alfred and began her own organization of the facts in October 2012.

“When I started researching and putting the information in order, I went to a different place,” the author said. “I went back in time. I began to imagine what each must have felt and experienced. In the process of writing the book, I found their story to be a mystery and a puzzle. My great-great grandparents’ complex story is intertwined with the South’s taboo of inter-racial relationships and the country’s divide over slavery.”

The relationship between Harriet and Alfred spanned almost 40 years. Throughout that time, she helped Alfred raise his six children after his wife died as well as her first two children born before their relationship. The couple then went on to have eight children of their own—six sons and two daughters—the last of which was born in 1868, five years after the establishment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Sadly, Harriet and Alfred were never legally able to marry, although they remained together until his death in 1884. In that final chapter of their lives together, Alfred left property for her and the children they had together. Harriet became one of the first black landowners in Caldwell County.

The title of Ms. McKesson’s book underscores the clash of Southern cultures during the time of her great-great grandparents’ relationship in the mid to late 1800’s. “Choices were not black or white and fighting for the right to make those choices was part of Southern life at that time,” she explained.

Black and White: The Story of Harriet Harshaw and Squire James Alfred Dula, now available for purchase, was celebrated with a book release event in late April at the Caldwell Heritage Museum in Lenoir.

Ms. McKesson received a certificate in Word Processing from WPCC in 1992, having previously obtained her bachelor of science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and subsequently her master of arts as well as education specialist degrees from Appalachian State University. She has been with WPCC since 1989.

WPCC’s Business & Public Services division offers Associate in Applied Science degrees in Accounting,
Business Administration, Computer Information Technology, Criminal Justice Technology, Medical Office Administration, Office Administration, and Paralegal Technology. To learn more about the division and its programs of study, contact Ms. McKesson at 828- 448-3156 or by e-mail at

You can also get information about becoming a student at WPCC.

Western Piedmont Community College enrolls approximately 4,000 students annually in pursuit of college transfer degrees, two year associate degrees and diplomas. More than 10,000 students enroll each year in continuing education courses for professional development and personal enrichment. The College also provides programs for high school completion. Western Piedmont received recognition for Exceptional Institutional Performance based on standards established by the North Carolina General Assembly.

LIBBY BARGER, 828-448-3121