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Oral History Interview with Eugenia Seaman Marks by Hermann Trojanowski


Date: June 17, 2007

Interviewee: Eugenia Seaman Marks

Biographical abstract: Eugenia Seaman Marks was a student at Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), class of 1962.

Interviewer: HERMANN TROJANOWSKI

Description: This June 17, 2007, oral history interview conducted by Hermann Trojanowski primarily documents Eugenia Seaman Marks recollections of her time at Woman's College (now UNCG) from 1958 to 1960. Of particular note is her participation in the Woolworth's sit-in in February 1960.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: Institutional Memory Oral History Project

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.81.1337

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral History Interview with Eugenia Seaman Marks by Hermann Trojanowski

Herman Trojanowski:

Okay. Today is Sunday, June 17, 2007, and my name is Hermann Trojanowski.

I am at the home of Eugenia Seaman Marks in Providence, Rhode Island. I am here to conduct an oral history interview for [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Institutional Memory Collection and] the Civil Right Digital Library projects at The University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Eugenia, thank you so much for talking with me today. Would you give me your full name and we’ll see how our voices sound on this tape recorder.

Eugenia Seaman Marks:

Surely. My name is Eugenia Marks.

HT:

Thank you for talking with me this afternoon. Could you tell me when and where you were born please?

ESM:

I was born in Danville, Virginia, in 1940; June 6, 1940.

HT:

And, where did you grow up?

ESM:

I grew up—let’s see—I think we left Danville in approximately, what, 1941. I lived in Norfolk. My father worked for the shipyard there for a little while, and then by 1943 we had moved to Essex, Maryland, north of Baltimore, where my father worked for Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company during the war. My brother was born during that period in Baltimore, and my mother was at home but she did crafts in the neighborhood and she taught piano lessons.

HT:

I know you mentioned yesterday that you had a younger sister. When did she come along?

ESM:

Yes, I only got as far as age five for me; five or six. In 1946, after the Second World War, my family moved to central Florida to join my paternal grandparents who were retiring there from upstate New York. And this was in a small town called Altamonte Springs that was about ten miles north of Orlando. At the time we moved there, it was a wintering place for a lot of northern people. There was a Victorian hotel there and then many people had winter homes in the area. I lived at the end of a—well, I lived on an unpaved street. My grandparents had orange orchards in the area that they were using for their retirement income. My grandfather had been an M.D. in a tuberculosis sanitarium. My grandmother was a nurse. My maternal grandmother was also a nurse. Though it occurs to me that there are threads there of a certain sense of what women did in life. So from 1946 to 1958, I lived in central Florida and attended the same school system throughout my schooling and that was Winter Park Public Schools.

HT:

And what did your dad do in Florida?

ESM:

My father did drafting and house design and eventually he created his own construction company that did residential and commercial construction. 

HT:

And what about your mother?

ESM:

My mother was a stay at home mom while I was young. She did free lance art work and she was also the religious education director of the Unitarian Church during my teenage years. She was active in the Unitarian Church from the time I was about age eight and her father had been a Unitarian in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was one of the founders of the Lynchburg Unitarian Church.

HT:

Do you recall what your favorite subjects were in high school?

ESM:

Well, I was always blessed by being a pretty good student—[laughs]. I liked lots of—lots of topics. That’s a difficult question. I can’t say that I had a favorite. I just—I did the work that was required of me and tried to do it well. I don’t—I’m sorry, I don’t remember any sort of outstanding point. I won spelling bees. I took shop because that was a part of Middle School or Junior High School. The girls took shop and the boys took Home Economics for six weeks. History, I enjoyed a history course that I had in the—in my sophomore year. I think more of teachers than I think of the coursework itself.

HT:

Did you have some teachers that sort of influenced your life a little bit?

ESM:

Yes. I remember a geometry professor who had a wonderful sense of humor as well as a Chem. Professor who had a good sense of humor in their explanations about processes that we were studying. I remember my Latin teacher for her forthrightness and her kind, but stern, requirements and I remember the history teachers. They were a man and wife and their extensive knowledge beyond the textbook was intriguing. They had—they traveled and they had probably more extensive backgrounds. I was very fortunate going to Winter Park High School because Rollins College is in Winter Park, and I think that the influence of the college created a school system that was higher caliber than other public school systems in the area. 

HT:

And what made you decide to attend Woman’s College in the late 1950s?

ESM:

Well, in the late 1950s college admissions was quite different than it is now. There was not the sense of—at least in my circles—the sense of applying to more than one or two colleges; maybe three. And certainly, financial considerations were a part of it. I rather wanted to go to my mother’s alma mater at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and she discouraged that. I think she felt that perhaps there were more social considerations than academic considerations. And I very much wanted to go to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, because someone in the Unitarian Church was a retired professor and encouraged me. But that was much too far for my mother to let me go.

HT:

Did you—

ESM:

And I’m not sure how the Woman’s College—perhaps the counselor in my high school suggested it? I remember going there for an interview. My mother’s family is from Lynchburg, Virginia, and we went on a trip that included a Unitarian youth conference for me in Richmond, Virginia, and then we drove up to Lynchburg and visited my mother’s family, and then we drove through Greensboro on our way back to Florida, and I stopped and had an interview and saw the campus and—[laughs]. Sorry, and so that is how the decision was made. And the campus was appealing with its brick buildings and its landscaping and it was a place that my mother thought would be a good place for me, and I liked the idea of a woman’s college. So, that had its appeal for me.

HT:

Right. Do you recall who you met on that first interview by any chance?

ESM:

I’m sorry, I do not.

HT:

That’s fine. Well, if we can jump ahead to when you actually came to Woman’s College, in the fall of 1958.

ESM:

Correct. Right. My parents drove me up there—

HT:

I was going to ask you—

ESM:

With a steamer trunk that had belonged to my grandmother. My mother had spent the summer refurbishing this trunk. My clothing was packed in it. My mother had sewed clothing for me to go to college in, and there I was with my tennis racket and my steamer trunk—[laughs].

HT:

And where did you stay that first year? In which dormitory?

ESM:

I lived in Shaw Dormitory; and Shaw Dormitory was the integrated dormitory. I believe there were six black women who were a part of my class and they lived in one wing, all together, of the building and I—although in my background I had had—I had had contact with black people and I had had contacts through my mother’s work on social issues, I guess I found it rather odd that they all lived together. That it really— it was integrated, but it really wasn’t integrated, because no one else lived in that particular wing even though there were rooms available there, there were not Caucasian women who lived on that floor, in that wing, as I remember it.

HT:

So were there freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior black women in that one dorm or—

ESM:

No.

HT:

Oh.

ESM:

This was—Shaw Dormitory was for freshman only.

HT:

Oh, I see.

ESM:

So they segregated the freshman thinking that they needed more attention and more rules before we were let out into upper class dormitories; and there were black women on campus. I believe the school was integrated two years—I’m not really sure—two years before—

HT:

It was in 1956.

ESM:

And—I want to remember the name Betty Wilson, but I don’t know that that’s correct.

HT:

One was—I think was Bettye Smart [JoAnne Smart] maybe? I can’t remember right now, but I think you were fairly close. What do you recall from your freshman year concerning the restrictions that were placed on—on the freshman women at that time?

ESM:

[Laughs] We had to sign in and out of the dormitory, even to go to class and there were curfews. I believe curfew was at 9 [p.m.] during the weekday and 11 [p.m.] on the weekends. We were—we had a dress code and I—I disobeyed the dress code and was grounded for three nights—three days because I wore Bermuda shorts which were, you know, to my knees and I had on Bermuda shorts and knee length socks. [Laughs] And I dared to sit on the front of—the front steps of Shaw Dormitory. And I—it was not done intentionally. It was a social situation and I think it was just with other students but I think particularly because Shaw Dormitory faced a public street it was considered highly improper that I did that. [Laughs]

HT:

And who did the grounding; the housemother?

ESM:

Let’s see—there was some sort of Disciplinary Council that was composed of students and the housemother—I think upper class students; and so, ultimately it was the housemother’s responsibility to assure that I stayed there. And the housemother taught physical education on campus. I can see her face but I can’t remember her name. She was a pleasant person, she was—so it was not done with any malice, it was just the rules.

HT:

It was against the rules. Right. Now did you have “lights out” at a certain time?

ESM:

[Laughs] Oh yes. I forgot about “lights out.”  “Lights out” at 11 [p.m.]; so late night studying sometimes was done under a blanket with a flashlight, or under the bed with a flashlight. Rather amusing.

HT:

What do you recall about the cafeteria or the dining halls and the food?

ESM:

Well, I had a job in the cafeteria to help pay for my education and the jobs were rotated so that sometimes I was on the serving line and sometimes I was scraping trays and doing—feeding things into the dishwasher. And—[laughs]—the amusing thing I remember about the cafeteria was that some of the students were not familiar with broccoli, so we would get things like, “No trees please.” [Laughs] But also in the cafeteria, the heavy work was done by students form North Carolina A&T and during the sit-ins, I was accused of flirting, and I was not flirting— I was accused—it wasn’t flirting—I was accused of being inappropriately dressed again.[Laughs] This was—this was a kilt that my mother had sewed for me and it hit me at my knees, not below my knees, and with the tunic we had to wear for the cafeteria work, there was just a little too—a little kilt showing below, and below I probably had on knee socks, which I wore a lot of and somehow my appearance in this outfit was reason for my dismissal from my job when I was a sophomore and participating in the sit-ins.

HT:

Did you participate in chapel programs at that time? I think that they were usually held in Aycock Auditorium. Were you—sort of assemblies where the whole student body to get together?

ESM:

They were assemblies.

HT:

They were assemblies—yes.  

ESM:

I don’t recall—they weren’t called chapel.

HT:

That was—that was at Greensboro College where I went. [Laughs]

ESM:

There was always convocation of some sort at the beginning of the assembly—

HT:

Right.

ESM:

—but as far as I recall, it did not have any other religious component.

HT:

Okay. Now was the cafeteria the only place you worked on campus? I know many of the girls worked in the library or offices and things like that to help pay for their education.

ESM:

No, I just worked in the cafeteria.

HT:

Okay. Well Gordon Blackwell was the chancellor at that time. Do you recall meeting him any time prior to the sit-ins in 1960?

ESM:

Well, because he was the chancellor, at any formal occasion, I think he was often there. I think that he was a part of these assemblies if I remember correctly. I’m not sure of the sequence here but, Jacqueline Kennedy and Rose Kennedy came to campus during the campaign of 1962. So this would have been later, I guess. Well, they would have been there in ‘61. I thought they were there in November. At any rate, so I think he was there and Katherine, Dean Taylor was there at that time. So I knew—I knew he was the dean and I knew what he looked like—or the chancellor rather.

HT:

The chancellor. Right.  Well, if we can just backtrack for a second, I forgot to ask you; who was your roommate during your freshman year in Shaw? Do you recall?

ESM:

Her name was Jane [Fogler] and I’m sorry, no, I don’t recall. She was from High Point [North Carolina].

HT:

And I think you’ve already told me that the housemother was a P.E. teacher, but you don’t recall her name. All right. Well, when you got to Woman’s College in the fall of 1958, did you have a major in mind that you were going to try to pursue?

ESM:

Yes. I wanted—I wanted to be an art therapist, and I had gotten this idea from reading Time Magazine and my mother was an artist, my father did some designing, and I wanted to help people and I thought this would be a way of helping, children particularly in difficult times to—to unlock issues they had.

HT:

So to become an art therapist, what type of courses would one have to take?

ESM:

Well—I—the current requirements are extensive—psychology, therapy, clinical kinds of psychology courses—clinical psychology and extensive periods of internship, so I took child psychology and experimental psychology and the history of psychology—and I began to understand the different schools of thought in psychology. But it—it wasn’t what I expected, but I also understood that I had to go through a process before I got to where I wanted to be.

HT:

Do you recall some of your teachers from that period of time? Your—who taught you these various psychology classes?

ESM:

I remember Dr. [William] Wright. Dr. Wright died in an—an accident not many years after I left WC, UNCG. And I remember, I believe her name was Dr. Julia Heinlein who was my advisor and I think she was a well-known experimental, or maybe child psychologist. I think she had a degree from Johns Hopkins. I don’t know why I remember that, but—

HT:

Do you recall a philosophy teacher named Warren Ashby?

ESM:

Very much so. I remember Dr. Ashby. I don’t—I took two or three courses—I think one or two courses with him. Aesthetics was one of those classes and he was an innovative teacher in that he gave us experiences to formulate our own ideas about what Aesthetics was about—and I believe that Dr. Ashby loaned us his car during the sit-ins to go to meetings at Bennett College. That might have happened just one time. I know that he took the Aesthetics class to Washington D.C. to see the National Gallery and to see other art; the Freer in D.C. And that was a wonderful experience. And he was always someone that—although I can’t remember any specific incidents, his being was a presence on that campus. And I remember other professors—there was a man named Robert Watson. I don’t think I ever took a course from him, but he was a poet and that was of interest to me. Dr. [Richard] Bardolph, also someone that I did not study under, but during the sit-ins he provided lectures giving historic context—historic and constitutional context to what was going on. And I’m sorry but I can’t put other—I remember biology courses and—and just an opening up of my world on this campus which I very much appreciated. And I remember the woods down off of campus where we did botany classes; and I imagine those don’t exist anymore.

HT:

Well, that’s Peabody Park and it’s much diminished unfortunately. Many dorms were built there in the 1960s—School of Music was built there in the 1990s—a bridge now goes from the main part of campus over to the School of Music and—so there had been a lot of controversy over the years about the diminished role of Peabody Park because it was such a beautiful place at one time. There are a couple of more names I want to mention to see if you had any remembrances. Randall Jarrell?

ESM:

Oh yes. Absolutely.

HT:

The famous poet who taught English there?

ESM:

Yes, I had two or three courses with Randall Jarrell and remember my perplexed reaction to his interpretation of short stories of—of [William] Faulkner and others. I remember his ability to help students write poetry; to find their voice in poetry. And as an adult, I worked for the Poetry Society of America in New York soon after I graduated from NYU [New York University] and then I have written poetry; I’ve been a part of poetry writing groups, and I belong to book discussion groups and it’s always been a delight to me when Randall Jarrell’s works come up in these contexts, but I knew him and he was very open to students and his—his ability to teach through eliciting response from students was very meaningful and long lasting obviously.

HT:

And did you take any art classes since you had hoped to become an art therapist?

ESM:

I don’t recall taking any art classes.

HT:

Because I was going to ask you if you knew Gregory Ivy who was head of the art department at that time.

ESM:

No.

HT:

All right—and another history professor, Richard Current, do you have any remembrances of him by any chance?

ESM:

I think I may have taken history under him and I’m sorry, I don’t have any particular recollections.

HT:

You mentioned Dean Katherine Taylor several times already. What kind of remembrances to you have of her?

ESM:

I remember Dean Taylor gave a talk once on The Book of Tea, of the Japanese tea ceremony, which I found very interesting and subsequently bought a copy of The Book of Tea. And then, of course, I remember her because she called in those of us who participated in the sit-ins to try to persuade us to stop our activity and to try to give us her view of black and Caucasian relations and why we were naïve and should desist from what we were doing.

HT:

Where did you—you lived in Shaw during your freshman year and where did you live during your sophomore year?

ESM:

I lived in New Guilford, and at the time—[laugh]— I think that New Guilford had a reputation as being the off beat—or actually the “beat dorm” that people who, and this means the “beat generation,” and people who wore black stockings and—[laughs]—and were interested in poetry and progressive social issues.

HT:

Did you ask to live there or were you assigned?

ESM:

I think I was assigned. I do not recall requesting it, although I may have requested it because of its art connection. Or I may have requested it. I knew two women—two sisters from Rose Hill, North Carolina, through the Unitarian Church before I came to—to the Woman’s College and—but I can’t remember whether one of them lived in New Guilford or not. I can’t remember. 

HT:

Do you recall who your roommate was that year? Sophomore year?

ESM:

I do not. She was from Winston-Salem and I did keep in touch with her for a few years afterwards. She married, I think, the summer after our sophomore year and I visited her home when we were roommates, but I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name.

HT:

Do you recall any eventful happenings during your sophomore year, prior to the sit-ins, which happened in February of 1960?  So that would be like the fall of ‘59?

ESM:

The fall of ‘59. [Pause] I remember some—I don’t remember any socially significant events. I remember—I remember a production of The King and I, I remember a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin [a sequence within The King and I], and I think those were augmented by professional actors, so I had tried my hand. I think that I was on the property crew of one production, and it was not either of those, it was for some musical. And then I was on the light crew.

HT:

So was that the first attempt at working on stage?

ESM:

Yes.

HT:

On one of the stage productions?

ESM:

Yes.

HT:

Okay. I think that you have already answered this question, but prior to the sit-ins demonstrations of 1960, do you remember having any contacts with students from A&T and, of course, you worked with them in the cafeteria, I think you said earlier.

ESM:

Right. There was no contact between me and anyone from A&T. There was no contact between me and any of the other women until maybe the day before and it was in the context of a social conversation. I don’t remember whether it was in the dormitory or around after classes. You know, I would have been interested in that issue just because of my family background and my sense of what was— what was just, but there was not an organized movement on the Woman’s College part. As I recall, Marilyn Lott had a brother at Greensboro College and he had gone to the sit-ins, perhaps on the first day and—and it was through Marilyn that I learned of this movement and you know, I was certainly aware of the Montgomery bus boycott and the bombing of the Baptist church in Montgomery. My sense of Civil Rights dates back to Ralph Bunche in the UN [United Nations] and so while I can’t create a chronological sequence of events, I was a person who would have been interested in news of Civil Rights issues and certainly the railway conductors and the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. I was aware of those through news media, through newspapers, and Time Magazine. Certainly not anything more sophisticated than that. And through the Unitarian church which talked about these issues in its services and in its programs.

HT:

How did you know Marilyn Lott?

ESM:

I knew Marilyn only as a—as another student. I’m not—I’m not even aware—she must have lived in New Guilford but I’m not even sure of that. I don’t think Ann Dearsley lived in New Guilford—Ann Dearsley-Vernon. And there was another Ann from St. Louis, Missouri, whom I don’t remember a last name, but she participated a little bit. I think we might have met in the parlor of New Guilford to touch base about what we were doing, but it wasn’t—it wasn’t really organized. Campus was smaller and so the social interaction between students was more intimate than it may be today when there are—there’s a much greater student population.

HT:

So as far as you can recall, you didn’t have any classes with Ann Dearsley or Marilyn Lott?

ESM:

I don’t recall that I did.

HT:

Okay. Did you have any classes with any of the black students on the WC campus?

ESM:

[Laughs] I’m sorry, this has been fifty some odd years and I—and I went on to other schools for undergraduate work and graduate work and mostly what I remember is that I was a mediocre student who should have done a lot better.

HT:

[Laughs] When the sit-in started, what do you recall about the publicity in the local TV and newspaper—of course today we have much more publicity because we have TV all the time and that sort of thing and back then there was just probably only one TV station in town and a fairly small newspaper. Do you recall anything that stands out in your mind about how all this was publicized to the students at WC?

ESM:

Television was quite limited because I remember during that the Kennedy/Nixon debate, we gathered especially around a television set in some other dormitory to watch that debate. So I don’t recall there being a television set available, although there may have been and I certainly don’t recall—I mean we didn’t have a television set in our room. I recall more the newspaper coverage. I’m not even—I don’t think there was television coverage, maybe there was. I don’t even remember there being a television station in Greensboro. I remember the Raleigh station. And—and the Greensboro Daily News covered the sit-ins from—I guess from the first day. They surely responded when the black students went there on the first day and then there were photographs and coverage and that was picked up by Associated Press and then there were newspaper people and other print media people who came to campus and in later years, or even perhaps soon after the incident occurred, I had—I was interviewed by someone in New Guilford dorm parlor who represented himself as being from some journal or magazine that I didn’t recognize at the time and I don’t recall now. But the point is that I was not a terribly sophisticated person. I certainly didn’t know publications like the New Review or any of the more progressive publications that would have been available in New York; and afterwards it occurred to me that I should have gotten better documentation of who he was and—so that’s—that’s what I recall; more print media on this.

HT:

Do you recall when you decided to actually participate in the sit-ins that were going on in downtown Greensboro? Was there any one certain event or thing that sparked your decision to participate?

ESM:

It’s likely that I saw the newspaper article on that day and that I decided that it was the right thing to do for me to—especially as a Southern person, to show that not all Southerners were as bigoted as we are sometimes portrayed. And I felt that it was the just thing to do, because as I explained earlier, I had a fairly strong sense of justice from my religious background. So I walked downtown. I walked instead of taking the bus because I wanted that sense of thoughtfulness, and purpose, and thinking about what I was doing. So I walked by myself, downtown, from campus and I didn’t know exactly what was happening, and I just walked into Woolworth’s and walked back to the back where the lunch counter was and it became apparent what to do, which was to get a seat. And because I was Caucasian, I was given a seat by a gentleman and then the waitress would come ask about what I wanted to order and I would say, “The people over here,” meaning the A&T and Bennett [College] students, “were there before I was and they should be waited on first.” And so there was a stalemate created.

HT:

And were Marilyn and Ann already downtown by that time?

ESM:

Yes, as I recall, they were already there.

HT:

You didn’t participate in the first day. You did later on that week I think.

ESM:

Right; either the second or third day.

HT:

I think it might have been on Thursday or something like that. Let’s see—had Ann been—Ann and Marilyn been participating for several days to your knowledge?

ESM:

They may have been there a day before as I—

HT:

And so you didn’t discuss this with them prior to going downtown, I assume.

ESM:

Not that I recall.

HT:

Did anyone know on campus that you were planning to do this or—?

ESM:

No. I recall wearing my Woman’s College blazer because I thought that—[laughs]—naïve as I was, that I was doing a good thing and that the Woman’s College would be pleased with what I was doing. That this, you know, the school was integrated. We were supposed to be the new South. [Laughs]

HT:

What was—do you recall what was happening outside of Woolworth when you got downtown?

ESM:

Well, there were probably people outside but I don’t recall it being any more people than the city street. I grew up in a village and I went to high school in a town and so this was a city and so I probably would not have responded to much more than the fact that it was a crowded sidewalk and this was fairly typical. However; afterwards, you know, it was very clear that there was—a crowd and when we exited, and I guess we exited because the store was closing, we went out and I recall, we all held hands in a circle and someone from AT&T [sic] said we were going to fall to our knees and pray, so that’s what we did, and I think—

[End Tape I, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

HT:

Before we changed the tape you were talking about leaving Woolworth and that sort of thing, but do you recall what time of day you actually walked downtown? Was it morning or afternoon?

ESM:

It was probably after my morning class so my collection is—or maybe after lunch—it was, I don’t know, somewhere between 11 [a.m.] and 1 [p.m.] is my recollection.

HT:

And I think that you mentioned earlier that you walked alone. Did you ever think about turning back?

ESM:

No. I had rather decided what I was going to do.

HT:

After you got inside of Woolworth’s, I think you said earlier that you went back to the lunch counter. Were there more than normal people—let me rephrase that—were there more than the normal amount of people milling around and this sort of thing—

ESM:

Yes, there were. And as we sat there for the—I don’t even remember how many days, but it seems to me that it was maybe three days, two days, that, yes, there were people in the aisles and that they packed the aisles so it was just this sense of—of people. And I think there were police there who kept people moving, but I can’t really remember that.

HT:

Were there a crowd of white people trying to keep the A&T and Bennett College students out or anything like that?

ESM:

My recollection is that there was—there was not any physical violence, there was not any pushing that I recall but certainly, people were aware of—of the bodies that were there. The living bodies that were strategizing about how to make the point that black people were permitted to buy food at the counter but they couldn’t sit down, and that is what seemed very unfair to me. That Woolworth’s could—could take their money for food and it wasn’t—they didn’t get charged less because they couldn’t sit down, and it just—it didn’t seem like an equitable situation even on the social base of it, without the monetary consideration.

HT:

Do you recall what the reaction of the black students from A&T and Bennett was when you joined them or was it obvious that you were joining them or did other white—whites eat there and that sort of thing. I’m trying to figure out exactly what the scene was.

ESM:

Well, as I recall, when I got there, maybe—maybe half the seats were occupied by—by A&T students or Bennett students or by Marilyn and Ann and the other Ann perhaps and there was just a sense of who was going to get the next seat if somebody go up and how to—how to make sure that—that student activists retained the seats that they had. And then, as I said, I think that went on maybe two—two or three days, I’m not sure. But then there were meetings with the Bennett students and the A&T students and the three of us, maybe four of us, talking about picketing outside the store and—and the issues about whether picketing was legal and creating signs. There were also meetings that were called and I’m not sure whether it was the newspaper, the city administration, the police—I remember going to a meeting downtown in an office and it was very rational and I guess it was the A&T students who were trying to negotiate about the— getting the lunch counter integrated and being pleasantly surprised that it was—it was rational and that I remember that someone just saying to either us or to me, “Be careful,” but not saying, “Don’t do it.” [Pause] So I recall only, I don’t know, two or three meetings, as I said it’s been a long time, of this sort where the students who were involved got together to try to strategize. I think the students from Bennett had more support. I remember learning from them about schools—and there were Caucasian women at Bennett, at least a couple of them were missionaries— missionary children who were from Africa, which I found interesting, or that’s my recollection.; and finding out that Bennett students had the same kind of dress codes that we did. I, you know—knew that the men from A&T were the leaders and of course, I read since how they strategized, but when I was participating I was never involved in those strategies.

HT:

How many days did you participate in the sit-ins? Do you recall?

ESM:

My recollection is that it was only two or three days in the beginning, maybe—maybe it lapsed into the next week, but that these meetings continued into—well into the spring and—there were—there were restrictions about how many classes you could cut so I was very careful about not missing classes.

HT:

So these meetings must have been held during the day—

ESM:

Right.

HT:

—because you had curfews at night and that sort of thing.

ESM:

Correct. Yes. These were all held during the day.

HT:

And I am assuming they were off campus over at Bennett College perhaps?

ESM:

They were at Bennett College as I recall.

HT:

Had you ever been to a Woolworth before the February sit-ins started?

ESM:

Not that I recall. I remember doing holiday shopping at—at some department store downtown, but, you know, I had limited means and whatever toiletries and that sort of thing that I would have needed I purchased on campus, or around campus and so no, I was not in the habit of going downtown to shop.

HT:

Now you said earlier, that you had walked to downtown to participate in the sit-ins. How did you get back to campus? Did you go alone or did you go with Ann and Marilyn?

ESM:

I think that we went in a taxi, all together, back to campus.

HT:

Do you recall anything that was said during that taxi ride?

ESM:

No, we probably just discussed what had—what had happened and what—generally what we were going to do next and then we went back to studying for the evening.

HT:

When you returned to campus, did anyone know that you had participated in the sit-ins at that time or did you tell anybody?

ESM:

Not that I recall.

HT:

After people started finding out that you had participated, do you recall what the reactions of the students were; your classmates, friends, and other students on campus?

ESM:

[Pause] I don’t recall any untoward remarks and I don’t recall any necessarily positive remarks. I recall people being—that is that the housemother who was a woman probably in her late thirties who had worked for the American Red Cross abroad, and so I had a sense she had a good sense of the world and, you know, saying, “Be cautious,” but again, not saying, “Don’t do it.” And I don’t recall other students’ comments. I remember my roommate probably—I don’t think she ever said anything to me about it and I think we continued to have a relationship throughout the year. I can’t remember, again, the sequence of when I visited her home.

HT:

What about the teachers on campus? What was there reaction to the entire event?

ESM:

Well, I think I said previously that I remember Dr. Bardolph creating some sort of special lecture on the—on the topic which I attended and took notes about and Dr. Ashby loaning us his car for at least one—one trip to Bennett for a meeting. I guess as I think back about it, it was really remarkable that—that Dr. Bardolph, particularly in a very public way, created this lecture and—and Dr. Ashby’s support as well, because that certainly put their jobs on the line. Even understanding academic tenure, I also know there are ways to dislodge people.

HT:

And do you recall what Dean Katherine Taylor’s reaction was and the chancellor’s reaction was when they found out about it? That three or four of WC girls had participated? I know there were meetings and that sort of thing.

ESM:

Yes. There was a meeting where Dean Taylor met with three or four of us. As I recall, it was the two Anns, Marilyn, and me, but there could have been others, and her point was that we were naïve and that we didn’t understand how black people really were and that we should—we should stop what were doing.

HT:

You were urged to do this, not ordered, I assume.

ESM:

I don’t recall being told not to, because I think if I had been told not to, I probably would—would not have done it but there was always the sense that I could be dismissed from campus. I knew that.

HT:

And do you recall what the reaction of your family was when they learned about—about the events that were happening here in Greensboro?

ESM:

Well, as you well know, communication was quite different in those days. There was a pay phone off the parlor in—in the dormitories and that was our access and so as I’ve said, I did not come from well off people. I probably mostly would call collect. I don’t recall telling my parents what I was doing, but I must have. My mother and I corresponded weekly. My mother corresponded weekly with me. I can’t say that I was equally as—as diligent in my responses to her. And so I had a sense from either that correspondence—I don’t recall receiving a phone call although I may have. My mother was supportive. I expected my mother to be supportive because of her—her background and work that she had done in Orlando with a group of people in the mid-1950s who got together to talk about integrated housing and other—other facilities being integrated and at that time I heard a story from her about a black M.D. who could not let his children stop for ice cream at Howard Johnson’s [Restaurant] when they saw the sign because he did not want to tell them that they could not be served like everyone else. So that kind of work that she had done and her philosophy—her value system led me to believe that she wouldn’t be upset. Yet, on the other hand, I must have known and I can’t remember the vehicle that the Orlando Sentinel which was the local paper ran a story about “local girl,” and named my family’s name and what was going on and then subsequently my family received hate phone calls and—and so on, so for many years I was concerned later that I had hurt my father’s business and I recently spoke to my sister—I did ask my father when he was dying and I was sitting with him and I said to him that I was sorry that I had—I had hurt his business but I had felt compelled to do this and he indicated that he was glad I had done what I did. And my sister, to whom I just spoke about this with yesterday, recalled that she had—she was only seven at the time and that my mother forbade her from answering the telephone because my mother did not want her to hear whatever messages were coming in.

HT:

I was just going to ask you if anyone commended you or criticized you for participating.

ESM:

Well, I too got notes and letters on both sides. You know, it’s the unfortunate thing that sex was something that people thought of immediately, and so there were innuendos about marrying black people and the horrors that that would bring, and then on the more positive side, through my Unitarian connections, and there was a youth—a regional youth group for Unitarians and two of the people who were involved in that wrote me long letters of support.

HT:

Did you ever have any contact from Martin Luther King, Jr. or any civil rights organizations about participating?

ESM:

No, I have not.

HT:

And do you ever recall being afraid during that period of time? Once you started getting hate mail and that sort of thing?

ESM:

In the beginning, the day that I walked downtown, I was not afraid. I was so convinced that I was doing the right thing. I think that that may be typical of eighteen or nineteen year olds who are very centered on their own view of the world, but there were a couple of nights where cars drove down College Avenue, in front of New Guilford Dormitory and they were filled with young men who were shouting obscenities and I don’t think—I mean, that’s a little dramatic. They—they were hanging out the window and saying things. So, it concerned me that, not for myself so much but, perhaps myself, but that others would be hurt.

HT:

And, to your knowledge, did Ann and Marilyn go through similar type situations that you went though; being criticized and have some people commend them and that sort of thing?

ESM:

Absolutely.

HT:

Yes.

ESM:

Yes. We were all subjected to—to that kind of mail. But again, you know, there were not private telephones, there were not cell phones, so to some extent, we were insulated and rightly or wrongly I was under the perception that because I was a Southern woman that there was a certain insulation there that there was not for the black people.

HT:

To your knowledge, was the FBI ever involved?

ESM:

I think that the FBI was at—at that meeting I described in town that I did not know who—I don’t recall who the participants were.

HT:

This was a meeting in downtown Greensboro.

ESM:

Right.  And whether there were intimations that—the other accusation that always occurred at that time was communism and I think in the context of—of the late 1950s—

HT:

The end of the McCarthy era—

ESM:

That’s right. The end of the McCarthy era—and that this was inspired—communist inspired.

HT:

What was the—after the sit-ins were going on for a couple of weeks, I think that there was a cooling off period—and I’m assuming—did you participate in anything else during that spring of 1960? I know you—I know you attended meeting and that sort of thing—but —

ESM:

I don’t think so. I recall going home to Florida for the summer and wondering what would happen. I remember—what would happen in terms of the lunch counter functioning and the store, and I believe that the store was closed, but that’s a recollection and someone would have to check the historic facts.  I can’t supply that.

HT:

Did you decide to leave Woman’s College that spring and not return or was that decision made by your parents or—

ESM:

I returned for my junior year. I returned for the fall semester and then I transferred to Carolina—Chapel Hill—Carolina because I was engaged to someone who was graduating from—from Carolina and it was our intention to stay while he did graduate work and I was to finish my undergraduate degree, but that did not occur so I completed my undergraduate degree at New York University as an Art History major because I had too many courses in psychology to fulfill the New York University residency requirement.

HT:

So you finished the fall semester at WC—

ESM:

Yes.

HT:

—of your junior year then transferred that spring semester.

ESM:

That’s right.

HT:

—to Carolina. So there was no pressure or anything like that from administration or from family to—to leave.

ESM:

No, no. That’s correct.

HT:

Well how did participating in the sit-ins affect your life in the short term and in the long term?

ESM:

Well in the short term it was certainly a period of awakening in terms of understanding the politics of issues and understanding life in the context of education and visa versa—I would—I would assume that it reinforced my notions about what was right—I mean in the context of our society there was much change occurring in—in the integration of—of our society and the integration of—of hotel/motel facilitates and the integration of—of school facilities.

I mean, in 1952 the Supreme Court decision [1954, Brown v. Board of Education] had affected my life briefly because I lived in a village that did not have an accredited school system, so my parents transported me, as did other parents, from this village to the Winter Park School System and the response to avoid integration was to create district lines so that black people weren’t included in the white district. But that meant that my being from a different county, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to go to school in Winter Park the next year; however, somehow that problem was solved. And although I spent the summer preparing to go to the local school, by learning to play the clarinet so that I could be in the band and participating in some sports activities. In September, I did go back to Winter Park School.

So, this was an issue that had been part of my life before and this interest in the larger social issue of equitable treatment for black people was very much present and, I guess, something that I have not revealed before is that in my mother’s family there were slaves held and that always made me feel awful. That when my great-grandparents were married, they were given a ten year old child who was very much a part of my mother’s life and her generation because this woman went from household to household to help take care of kids as new babies were born. But the idea that a child could be sent off and I guess they had—they were from Alabama and they moved to Virginia; that here this little girl was sent off; separated from her family to be—[sigh]—not a pleasant memory.

HT:

That’s very interesting. Well, what influence did your having spent two and one-half years at Woman’s College have on your life?

ESM:

I still value woman’s education. I—I appreciated knowing people from a wide variety of—of backgrounds, of seeing more regionalism in North Carolina, of seeing people whose family participated in manufacturing which was not a part of my high school experience, and then the faculty; the faculty members who tried to give us a sense of—of an intellectual life.

I can’t remember the man’s name but it still stings all these years for being ridiculed— for not being ridiculed— for not knowing about The Golden Bough and Joseph Campbell and even though it has negative connotations, I certainly found out who Joseph Campbell was and so the whole sense of mythology and psychology that touched upon has certainly enriched my life; the opportunity to begin to grow up in a—in a situation far away from home. I remember Dr. [Eugene] Pfaff, who was a history professor, talking about exploring the stacks of the library and just sitting down and reading and that sense of a hunger for knowledge and satisfying that hunger for knowledge was afforded by the Woman’s College.

HT:

What social events did you participate in during the two and one-half years you were there? I know you mentioned earlier that you did some work behind the stage.

ESM:

Yes, I tried my hand at being involved in the theater and I don’t know that I ever tried out for a part. There were people I knew who had tried out for parts. I did lighting and properties. I’m trying to think what other—attending lectures and concerts.  I remember hearing Allen Dulles and so that access to world of politics from someone who was involved—

HT:

He was the brother of John Foster Dulles. Is that right?

ESM:

Yes, yes. Yes, he was the brother of John Foster Dulles.

HT:

Well tell me a little bit about your life since you—you left Woman’s College those many, many years ago.

ESM:

Well, I was married after my junior year in undergraduate school and moved to New York City where I completed an undergraduate degree at New York University Washington Square. I—I worked through contact with my—from my mother who had moved to New York in the meantime; my mother and younger sister, when my parents divorced. I worked for the Poetry Society of America as their, [laughs] and this is a dated term, but that’s what it was called, “gal Friday.”  So that meant that I was an administrative assistant and had the opportunity to meet Alan Ginsberg’s father and Alan Ginsberg and Laura Binet and other people in publishing and poetry in New York. They had an annual dinner in which they honored poets. They had an annual poetry award and—so I had those opportunities for up close and interesting work. I worked for the Poetry Society—no for the Recordings for the Blind, I did—recordings in New York.

And then my husband decided to leave the actuarial business that he had, he worked for the Equitable Life Assurance Society in New York and he decided that he wanted to get back to academic work, and my mother and my sister and my husband and I moved to Atlanta where my brother, who had just come back from Special Forces Service and was finishing out his undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech. We all went to—to Georgia, and there I started doing volunteer work in a school system—in the school system and then I was hired by the Ford Foundation in inner city Atlanta in an elementary school and I did reading readiness in an all black school. My husband then wanted to go on for a PhD and we almost went to the University of Wisconsin but then word came that we could adopt a child, and so we had to stay in Atlanta for an additional year for supervision and in the mean time, North Carolina offered a better internship for him and we moved back to Chapel Hill [North Carolina].

So while I was in Chapel Hill, I, in addition to being a mother and participating in play groups for my child, I started a community gardens. I had—I had seeds left over from my graduate student garden that I had reclaimed a driveway for and so I advertised, I got someone to donate an empty lot in Carrboro [North Carolina], and I worked with VISTA volunteers and we created a community garden with members of the community had plots.

And then I went to North Carolina State—I guess while I was at North Carolina I started a graduate degree in Education. I thought maybe I would go on with the teaching that had started with the Ford Foundation and so while I was in Atlanta, I had gone to Georgia State and done the requisite eighteen hours of education. In North Carolina I was told that after I’d taught for three years I was going to have to do student teaching again and that didn’t seem appealing so I went to North Carolina State [North Carolina State University] in product design, the Graduate School of Product Design, to combine art and psychology one more time and I—I learned how to weld and how to chop fiberglass as a part of my coursework and then—

HT:

Do you recall, excuse me, do you recall when that was, that you worked in Raleigh at North Carolina State?

ESM:

Yes, let’s see, this must have in the 1971, 1972 time frame—and then my husband had finished everything but his dissertation and was looking for a position and friends of ours from Chapel Hill, other graduate students, had come to Rhode Island and so we followed the next year. So here in Rhode Island I took graduate courses in Art History again trying to figure out whether that was what I wanted to do while I was a stay at home mom. I did volunteer work in the schools, I was a 4-H club leader for my child, we adopted a second child, a son, and then I started doing volunteer work for the Audubon Society here. And then I was asked by them to do their newsletter on a contract basis and then I was invited to be on staff half-time and I understood that I needed much more education so I went to Brown University and I have a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. I’ve worked for the Audubon Society for twenty-seven years and I’m currently the Senior Director for Policy at Audubon Society of Rhode Island. I work in water resources, water quality issues primarily, but I also do work in solid waste and I serve on state committees, I serve on the—in advisory committees to the state government.

HT:

What an interesting life. What an interesting life.

ESM:

[Laughs] Circuitous.

HT:

[Laughs] Well, I’ve asked all the formal questions—is there anything else that you’d like to add that we haven’t covered; because we’ve covered such a wide variety of things this afternoon. Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

ESM:

Well, I certainly appreciate the University of North Carolina at Greensboro being interested in this project, in this event that happened, that certainly involved the institutional history of UNCG. I appreciate you taking the time to come here and I know Ann Vernon has, for many years, continued to work in civil rights issues by making people aware of her participation and staying in touch, which I have not, so I appreciate being in touch with Ann. And I hope that Ann and Marilyn and others have—have found that this event in their lives provided a sense of meaning and significance.

HT:

Eugenia, well thank you so much. There is one more question I’d like to ask you. Do you anything in today’s society that needs to be addressed similarly to the sit-ins of 1960?

ESM:

I think that there are many social issues that we have yet to solve. I think certainly equitable economic distribution is among them. I think that the difficulties we have in figuring out how to supply our labor market with Hispanics at the same time that we’re, in some parts of the country, showing a prejudice still against Hispanics and I do make a distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration, but I think that there are Latino issues that are still a part of—and it’s not restricted to the South. Here in Rhode Island, the Portuguese population, which has been here for more than a century with the fishing industry, so in southern New England the Portuguese population has had experiences of prejudice and now the Hispanic population. You know it’s gone on and on. The Irish when they came to Boston had that experience. So somehow doing a better job of education to somehow make people look inward to what are human values that should be afforded to every human being. I think that is a part of what we should be doing; and as long as everyone does something positive, that would be a forward step. And I’m pleased to see that more young people are doing more service-orientated activities.

HT:

Well, again—

[End of Tape 1, Side B]

[End of Interview]