Bertha I. Dix, a homemaker and longtime member of Enon Baptist Church who became a role model for her children while working for racial harmony in her West Baltimore neighborhood, died of a heart attack Sept. 9 in the West Fayette Street home where she had lived for more than 50 years.
She was 89.
Bertha Iola Andrews, the daughter of a stevedore and a housekeeper, was born in Baltimore and raised on West Saratoga Street.
After graduating from Douglass High School in 1938, she attended what is now Morgan State University on a scholarship for several years before dropping out to help support her family.
"Her father had lost his job, and she had to go to work. She really didn't talk much about those years," said a son, Carl M. Dix Jr., an activist who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
She was married in 1940 to Carl M. Dix Sr., who was the first African-American supervisor at the Social Security Administration's original headquarters in the Candler Building in downtown Baltimore.
In the early 1950s, Mr. and Mrs. Dix and their four children moved to a brick rowhouse in the 2200 block of W. Fayette St.
"We had been living in a cramped apartment on Fremont Avenue, and then moved to West Fayette Street, which at the time was an all-white neighborhood," her son said.
"It was a year before we could go out of the house and play. We were forced to endure the hateful messages, such as 'Go Back to Africa,' and even the 'N' word, which were painted on our marble steps," he said. "My mother would then have to go out and scrub them away."
During those early years, the couple confined their children to their backyard.
"We felt like nothing would happen to us because our parents wouldn't let it happen. They were our shield. They refused to let it affect us," the son said. "They said we couldn't lower ourselves to their level. They were the ones with the problem. They never let us think we were less because of the color of our skin."
The couple placed a great deal of emphasis on education.
"During that first year in the house, it gave us a lot of time to work with our mother learning to read and do math," Mr. Dix recalled. "Eventually, all but one of the white families moved away."
Even though Mrs. Dix suffered from cancer of the larynx in the late 1970s, which took away her ability to speak, she found an alternative way to communicate with family and friends.
"She could speak volumes with the motions of her hands and the expressions on her face," her son said. "She had a way of laughing without making a sound that could bring joy to your heart."
Mrs. Dix was a member for more than 50 years of Enon Baptist Church, where she taught Sunday school for more than a decade and was a member of several church auxiliaries.
Blanche R. Dawson, a Catonsville resident and a member of Enon Baptist Church for 40 years, was an old friend.
"In recent years, I'd bring her Communion once a month," Mrs. Dawson said.
Mrs. Dix's inability to speak proved to be no barrier in her friendship with Mrs. Dawson.
"Oh my, we laughed, made jokes on paper, and did it all through hand signals. She loved hymns and would point to her favorite hymn, 'Blessed Assurance,' in the hymnal, and then I'd sing it," Mrs. Dawson said.
Mrs. Dix was a fan of Westerns and also enjoyed fishing and especially liked teaching her grandchildren "how to bait a hook," family members said.
Her husband of 57 years died in 1997.
Services were held at her church Tuesday.
Graveside services will be held at 1:45 p.m. Friday at Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery, 11501 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills.
Also surviving are another son, Carlton Mitchell Dix of Baltimore; two daughters, Joanne Bailey of Baltimore and Dr. Joyce Mitchell of Ann Arbor, Mich.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.