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Oral History Interview with Ann Dearsley-Vernon by Betty Carter


Date: May 21, 2007

Interviewee: Ann Dearsley-Vernon

Biographical abstract: Ann Dearsley-Vernon was a student at Woman's College of the University of North Carolina (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), class of 1960.

Interviewer: Betty Carter

Description: This May 21, 2007, oral history interview conducted by Betty Carter primarily documents Ann Dearsely-Vernon's recollections of her time at Woman's College (now UNCG) from 1956 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#: 1.81.1336

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 Ann Dearsley-Vernon by Betty Carter

Betty Carter:

I’m in the home of Ann Dearsley-Vernon for an oral history chat.

Ann Dearsley-Vernon:

Ann Dearsley-Vernon in Norfolk. [Recorder turned off then back on] Ann Vernon of Norfolk, Virginia.

BC:

Okay. This is May 21, 2007. This is Betty Carter. I am in the home of Ann Dearsley-Vernon, a member of the Woman’s College class of 1962 [1960]. Thank you for talking with me Ann. It’s really a privilege to meet you.

AV:

Thank you.

BC:

I want to begin to talk a little bit about your life before WC. We know that you were born in England.

AV:

Correct.

BC:

Correct? What were your parents’ occupations?

AV:

I was born in England, Pettswood, Kent, 1938. Pettswood is about thirteen miles outside of London. My father was trained as a mechanical engineer. He worked for Mollines Engineering. At that time his specialty was tobacco machinery, and in fact, he held the patent to filter tips. That was really my father’s creation. During—when I was two years old, the Second World War started and, of course, I really have—I have a lot of memories of that time, but none of them are fearful because my parents were wonderful about not making either my brother or myself afraid. My father wanted to join the war effort, but he was too old and so he was switched to designing munitions because when you really think about it, putting bullets into casings is not that different from putting tobacco into cigarette papers. My mother had—my mother was from Bristol, England, and had met my father at W. H.O. Wills where she worked; and they met when he went down to install some tobacco machinery in Bristol. And although today Bristol and London feel very close together, in those days it was quite —quite a distance apart; but she came up and lived in Pettswood so that Daddy’s—and Daddy’s work was in London; he was close by. So, yes, I do have lots of memories of the war effort.

I went to a private school, Miss Pigrome’s, a very proper English school. My memories of war time England include such things as sleeping in shelters, and running into shelters when the sirens went off, and my grandmother’s house being bombed, and having all kinds of restrictions because of the war going on. And two years after the end of the Second World War, we came to this country, my father feeling that the opportunities for my brother, Stephen, and myself would be much greater. Because as accomplished as my father was, he did not have an “old school tie” from Eton or Cambridge because he was the sole bread winner for his family at age sixteen because my grandfather had died so early.

And so there was still pretty much a very strict social strata in England and Daddy felt that his children could have a much better chance in this country.

And when we came to this country, he had a job; we did not have an Ellis Island experience. We were met off of the plane at JFK [John F. Kennedy Airport] and—which was then La Guardia [Airport] of course—and lived in a wonderful hotel in New York where my brother and I had the run of the hotel and were the pets of all of the staff there. And immediately we were going out to parties at estates in Connecticut and, of course, we lived in Scarsdale, New York, that was our first residence, so we always had a very happy, solid, middle-class upbringing.

And I went to elementary school in Scarsdale, and one year in seventh grade in Richmond, Virginia, and then went to high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, at Needham Broughton which was an excellent school, and I think it is still considered one of the top public high schools in the state of North Carolina. And from there I wanted to be an art major and the two very best schools for studio were what was then WC [Woman’s College]—UNCG [University of North Carolina at Greensboro]—and RPI [Richmond Polytechnic Institute], which is now VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University].

BC:

That’s right.

AV:

And I was—I was lucky enough to be accepted at WC where I think I got just a wonderful first class education.

BC:

Did you say WC—was that your first choice?

AV:

Yes. WC was my first choice, because of the art department and Gregory Ivy was in charge of the art department and he had a sterling reputation.

BC:

[Unclear] man.

AV:

Yes.

BC:

Just as an aside, while you were at Broughton, did Carolyn Harris go to school with you at Broughton?

AV:

Yes. Carolyn Harris not only went to school with me, she was a friend. Even though she was one year ahead of me, there were a group of us who seemed to be, according to Miss Urlich, our art teacher, we were the most talented group that she’d ever taught. A couple of us were juniors, and I was a junior and Carolyn Harris and the other person who made such a mark in the art world and the art set was Robert Stewart who actually designed the new wing of the Virginia Museum, not the one that is currently being built, but we are talking about twenty years ago. And then there was a young man named Nicky Stamos who, as far as I can tell, was one of the first persons who was ever killed in this country with a kind of terrorist attack. He was in an airport and was killed just out of the blue and it was a political, random killing. I never knew all the details, but his name sticks in my mind.

BC:

They were on the faculty?

AV:

No, no, these are all students at Broughton: Robert Stewart, and Nicky Stamos, and Carolyn Harris, and myself and I guess there were a couple of other people but we were the art teacher’s pets; Ms. Urlich’s pets.

BC:

That was U-R-L-I-C-K?

AV:

U-R-L-I-C-H. Miss Urlich and my wonderful creative writing teacher Mrs. Peacock. So those were the two incredibly influential teachers from high school years.

BC:

I’ve heard of Mrs. Peacock. Her husband was on the faculty at Meredith at the time.

AV:

That’s quite possible, but she is a legend in her own time and has only just recently died.

BC:

Oh, okay. When you got to the WC campus, can you describe it? Physically? Socially?

AV:

Oh, I was in heaven. I was in heaven. It was the most freedom I’d ever had. My family structure was really very European and very strict, and very rigid. Not that that really hurt. But at the time of course, you know, we were all chafing against the bit so I thought Woman’s College was just wonderful. The first thing that I noticed was that I was no longer the tallest girl in my class; and even when I went back to my high school reunion, guess what, I was still the tallest woman there. But I took the tallest date too, so that was good.

And, of course, the art classes started more slowly with junior and sophomore year, excuse me, freshman and sophomore year, but right away we were making art and I just loved—I just loved everything about it. My five years at the Woman’s College, and I had five years because I took the first masters degree that was offered at UNCG and I took it in a year because I had been privileged enough to go to summer school and I was lucky that I did not to have to work, so I had doubled up on my classes and graduated a little bit early and then got the MFA in a year and a half. No, I was just in heaven when I got there. Now today’s students would really chafe at the regulations because—

BC:

But it was freedom for you.

AV:

Oh, it was total freedom for me. But we had to sign out to go to the dorm, and we had to be back at nine o’clock, and you know nobody could have a car, and heaven forbid that you should have a drink. Every week the dorm mother came and inspected our rooms with white gloves on for dust, and I still thought it was just wonderful. I think—I look back and those were kind of quaint customs at the time. But you know what? They kept the dorms looking beautiful and sanitary and clean. And of course the first thing that I did the first year was gain the freshman fifteen because there was not a lot of baking in my house, and I got there and there were famous blueberry muffins for breakfast everyday. [Both laugh] I think I gained fifteen pounds with the blueberry muffins. The food was very good.

BC:

Interesting. You hear a lot of complaints about the food.

AV:

Not me. But that is because I had been raised on a primarily English diet, and you know the reputation of the English diet. [Both laugh]

BC:

Okay. Okay. Now did your parents stay in this country while you were in school or did they go back to England?

AV:

In my sophomore year, my parents moved back to England.

BC:

Okay, I wasn’t sure of that.

AV:

My father headed the AMF branch, the American Machine and Foundry branch in London and they lived in Kensington.

BC:

Okay. The fall that you came, 1956, there was a new chancellor who had just been there since the summer, William Whatley Pierson; any remembrance of him?

AV:

No, not really, and I think as freshmen—

BC:

That’s true; you have no reason to have remembrances about him.

AV:

No. No. They noticed me right away ‘cause I remember that there was another gal, and we were so naughty, and for Christmas we decided that we would make… don’t ask, it sounds so silly now—that we would make a Santa Claus to hang on the door with his head under his arm. [Laughs] And somehow this caused a great stir and the next thing I know, my Santa Claus with his head under the arm had been stolen by somebody and ended up in a fraternity in Chapel Hill. So, that was my first infamous deed at the university.

BC:

Your first year. [Laughs]

AV:

My first year. [Laughs]

BC:

The other thing that happened in the fall of ‘56, I don’t know if you were aware of it when you were there, the first African-American students came to WC in the fall. Two women—

AV:

In 1956?

BC:

The fall of ‘56.

AV:

When I was a freshman?

BC:

When you were a freshman.

AV:

I was not aware of it. They must have been town students.

BC:

Actually, one was from Raleigh, JoAnne Smart.

AV:

Oh, I’ve met her.

BC:

Okay.

AV:

It wasn’t Claudette Burroughs-White?

BC:

No, she came later.

AV:

Okay.

BC:

JoAnne Smart from Raleigh. I’m sure the schools in Raleigh were still segregated at the time, so you probably would have had no contact with her.

AV:

Everything was strictly segregated legally; on the books.

BC:

Exactly. And Bettye Davis Tillman was the other woman. Just so, I’ll tell you, I’m not sure what dormitory you stayed in your freshman year, but they had the whole wing of Shaw Dormitory to themselves. The first floor.

AV:

I do remember that, but I didn’t remember that it was when I was a freshman. When you introduced me you said I was a member of the class of sixty-two, but I am a member of the class of ‘60.

BC:

I’m sorry, you’re right.

AV:

It was my MSA in ‘61.

BC:

You’re right. That’s right. [unclear] I think in ‘62, I can’t remember now, but you’re absolutely right, you’re class of ’60.

AV:

Actually, because it was such a long time ago, I honestly didn’t remember that Marilyn Lott and Genie Seaman were younger classes.

BC:

Marilyn was listed as the class of ‘62 and Genie would have been sixty-two, but she didn’t graduate.

AV:

I didn’t realize they were two classes behind.

BC:

I did know you were ’60; I just misspoke that. But the first two African-American students came at the same time you did so I was just wondering if there was any recognition on campus among other freshman about that.

AV:

Isn’t that strange. I really don’t—I don’t really remember that.

BC:

It was kept very quite. Allen Trelease wrote the history of UNCG, we have talked about this. It was as if, okay, we have got to do this, but we are going to do it quietly; no one is going know, we just sort of—almost as if we ignore them, they will go away type of feeling.

AV:

That’s so interesting and I am happy to have my memory jogged correctly because honestly, I thought that the two young women, the two black young women, it started out as three, and then ended it up as two, came to New Guilford at one point, and I don’t know if my memory is just scrambled on that or maybe they were in Shaw.  I never lived in Shaw, I lived in New Guilford.

BC:

Were you always in Guilford?

AV:

No, not as a freshman.

BC:

What was your freshman dorm? Do you remember which one?

AV:

The middle one overlooking the tennis courts.

BC:

Okay.

AV:

[Laughs] Now that you told me, I remember it. now. I can’t remember. I’m changing a lot of oral history [unclear] when you’re talking about fifty years ago—[both speaking].

BC:

You mentioned a housemother. Did you have a good housemother? Did you like her?

AV:

I probably did. I was a very good little girl, and obeyed all the rules; there was no dust in my room. [Both laugh]

BC:

Did you have chapel? Did they still have chapel in 1960?

AV:

No. We did not.

BC:

Okay. In your sophomore year, you had Chancellor Gordon Blackwell who stayed ‘til the end of 1960, and then he left also. Do you remember anything about him?

AV:

I really don’t. At that time—

BC:

Again, you would have not had a reason—

AV:

Young students, we just—there just wasn’t that much interaction. You would hear authorities speak on certain formal occasions, but other than that, the dorm mothers were the ones with whom we interacted.

BC:

I was going to tell you, whenever I talk to current students about Gordon Blackwell, he had a handkerchief in his pocket and it said “I like girls” on the handkerchief and they always crack up over that because, you know, he was such a chauvinist.

AV:

I don’t remember that. I remember Dean Taylor, but I don’t remember Gordon Blackwell.

BC:

Do you remember your roommates?

AV:

Oh yes, well, not my roommates so much but friends that I continue to keep. Ann Duncan—Ann Duncan Gurley, I keep up with. She was an art major and we were constantly being mistaken for each other. We were both tall and blonde and had long hair and we were both art majors and I guess we were both sort of mischievous. I can’t say that we were really troublemakers but we may not have been quite as docile as some of the other gals. Ann Duncan Gurley did the cartoons for the—what was the newspaper called—on our campus, on the WC campus…

BC:

The Carolinian.

AV:

That’s right and she did the cartoons. Her most famous one being the woman standing—the young girl—the WC student standing at an ironing board pouring a bottle of liquor into a steam iron when, of course, no liquor was allowed at all—

BC:

A good storage place—[laughs].

AV:

That’s right. It was the only storage place where the dorm mother wasn’t going to look, and of course, she got into trouble for that. But I guess we were beginning to chafe a little bit against the regulations. So, Shelia Price I remember. One of my best friends here, one of my closest friends here was Roberta Byrd. She was Roberta Byrd and now she’s Bert Cake, Roberta Cake; she married. Her last name is Cake and she is still one of my best friends, I see her all the time.

BC:

That’s great that you kept in touch.

AV:

Yeah.

BC:

You mentioned the art department faculty before; Gregory Ivy?

AV:

Gregory Ivy, my mentor.

BC:

I mean, a revolutionary man for North Carolina.

AV:

Right.

BC:

Can you believe that the man brought modern art to the state of North Carolina?

AV:

Yes, he was amazing, and he was an amazing painter and he was also amazingly supportive of his students and he certainly was supportive for me. In fact, he found me my first job ‘cause it is always so hard getting that first job.

BC:

Oh yes.

AV:

And he literally got me my first job which was teaching at what was then the Woman’s College of Georgia in Milledge, Georgia. I know—I’m sure it’s co-ed and so forth, but Gregory Ivy got me that first job.

BC:

Were you aware of the retrospective they did on Ivy?

AV:

Yes, yes.

BC:

You have a copy of that? Okay. Good, I just wanted to make sure. It had a neat history of him. Helen Thrush—

AV:

Oh yeah, Miss Thrush would come along and look at my figure drawings. She said “Miss Dearsley, you’re turning this figure into an elephant at the bottom.” My figures tended to get larger as I went down the page. She was—she was an amazing teacher.

BC:

You know she just died within the last two years.

AV:

Yes, I know, she was 102.

BC:

She was really old, I know.

AV:

Wasn’t she 102? She was amazing. She was a wonderful teacher. And of course, you know, we had never had the nude figure or anything in high school and it was just—Oh, I just loved going to class every single day.

BC:

Oh, that’s great. I’ve got a couple of other names; James Tucker was he there when you were there?  Do you remember?

AV:

I don’t remember James Tucker so much.

BC:

Bert Carpenter [Gilbert]? I think they may have come later.

AV:

I don’t remember. Those names are not ringing a bell, but I did have Miss [Elizabeth] Jastrow?

BC:

Okay, let’s speak about her.

AV:

Oh, Miss Jastrow. Oh, poor Miss Jastrow. She was a super brilliant, incredible woman who spoke Sanskrit and every other language.  You know in those days you were just not as aware, but my guess is that she had fled Germany as a German Jew. I just had this feeling that maybe she did. And she’d give these long, elaborate lectures to all these sleepy-eyed freshman from out of the sticks of North Carolina and this poor woman, [laughs] we must have frustrated her. Can I tell you a funny little story about Miss Jastrow? You might not be able to use it, but—There were many memorable quotes from Miss Jastrow partly because of her accent. Its eight o’clock in the morning, we’re in the bowels of the library; it’s very dark. She came in with her slides and I swear Giotto and The Lamentation were—I never—I’ve been to Italy and I finally got to see it but I swear, we must have spent a semester on Giotto and The Lamentation and one day she couldn’t get the slides in focus and she sat there with this gigantic, primitive machine and she said, “What’s the matter? Someone has been screwing with this machine!” [Both laugh] So, poor Miss Jastrow, I should remember her for her great quotes and for her wisdom in the world of art history and I remember her for this, you know, this quote. She was a brilliant woman and it must have been frustrating. Hopefully she had some art history stars, but I wasn’t one of them. [Both laugh]

BC:

You mentioned you were in the library; where did you do your art work? There was really no place for you—

AV:

Oh, we were—we had all of these famous events in the gym.

BC:

That’s what I had heard.

AV:

There was a balcony that went all the way around the gym.

BC:

In Rosenthal.

AV:

In Rosenthal. I couldn’t remember the name of the gym. And we’d paint up on the balcony and all of a sudden here comes the modern dance class below and then my friend, Melissa Bassler, there’s another name that I’ve kept up with, I haven’t seen her for years. She lives in Cleveland [Ohio] but we always exchange Christmas cards, and I remember that Melissa got very, very upset. She was feisty too. She was from Raleigh and I had known her in high school, and she got very upset with the modern dance class and one day she threw a hand full of tacks—tacks down for the modern dance class to deal with. And the next day we came in and there had been retaliation from the archery class and there was this arrow stuck right through the middle of her canvas. [Both laugh]  So there was war between the art students and the Phys. Ed. [Physical Education] students.   

BC:

Well I had heard that, I’m not sure from whom, but that the art students—they were just farmed out all over campus.

AV:

We were, we were. Now I am trying to think where I was when I was taking print making because especially my last two years undergraduate and then for my MFA I specialized in printmaking—so lithography—but that was also somewhere in the back of that gymnasium area where they set up the lithography prints and sinks and presses and we were swinging these Bavarian limestones around developing muscles. For the last two years in college I wouldn’t wear short sleeves, I had giant muscles from swinging these Bavarian limestones together— [laughs].  So yes, we were kind of farmed out. We didn’t have a real art building to go to.

BC:

Because old McIver was torn down during your time on campus; the first McIver building.

AV:

I guess it was.

BC:

And the new McIver, I don’t think, opened until maybe sixtyish; maybe about the time you graduated.

AV:

I can remember the new McIver so it must have been right there just as I was leaving.

BC:

So that is where the art department ended up I think—

AV:

Right.

BC:

But during your time, you had no home.

AV:

Not really, but we had lots of adventures in the gym! [Both laugh]

BC:

It sounds like a very exciting [unclear]. But a very famous painting, and I’m asking the question now, without the benefit of a computer, but it is called The Woman

AV:

de Kooning.

BC:

de Kooning.

AV:

It was a painting that influenced my entire career.

BC:

Did it really?

AV:

The first contemporary painting that I’d ever seen, really contemporary painting that I’d ever seen. Despite the fact my parents were in London and they—but neither of them had come from a fine arts background and London museums and so forth really wasn’t on the agenda. And it certainly wasn’t on the agenda when I was a youngster ‘cause you couldn’t go back and forth to London because nobody did that ‘cause there were bombs falling all over the place. So the de Kooning, I think was the first original, really contemporary painting that I’d ever seen and it had this enormous impact on me.

BC:

Interesting.

AV:

de Kooning is still one of my favorite artists and Kitaje was one of his, sort of, protégés in painting with a style very close to de Kooning. And that painting really got me interested in modern art and that one image was pivotal to the direction that I took.

BC:

And Gregory Ivy was the one who bought that painting?

AV:

Well, he was a visionary. Try to get a de Kooning today.

BC:

I guess it would run over a million today if you could find one?

AV:

Conservatively.

BC:

I have you down—it doesn’t really matter. When did you go to Guilford? When did you finally go to the dormitory, Guilford?

AV:

Oh, New Guilford?

BC:

Was that your junior year?

AV:

I guess that must have been junior year.

BC:

Was that the place for art students?

AV:

Oh well that was the “Black Stocking Girls” dorm. We were the Black Stocking Girls.

BC:

Black Stocking Girls. Okay.

AV:

We were the arty girls.

BC:

The arty girls. Okay.

AV:

We were the arty girls who lived in the—Ann Duncan was there and my friend Melissa Bassler whom I mentioned with the tacks. She didn’t graduate either ‘cause she didn’t have much money. She went to New York and she was a Rockette instead.

BC:

Oh my gosh.

AV:

But she never—I don’t think she ever came back to graduate.

BC:

Okay. It was called the artsy dorm because—

AV:

Yeah, we were the third floor—was it third?

BC:

The third floor.

AV:

The third floor. We had one of the dormer windows; so we must have been third floor. I remember it was very hot in the summer because there was no air conditioning.

BC:

I think that those two, Guilford and Mary Foust, these are air-conditioned although there are dormitories in the quad that are not.

AV:

Still.

BC:

Still. Yes. Hot! I know you active were with Coraddi. You were editor for two years.

AV:

Editor for two years. I think for almost two years.

BC:

Yes. You know Genie and Marilyn; were they artists? Were they art majors?

AV:

You know it’s really interesting that their names will always be linked together but to be honest, I really did not know either of them. I hardly knew them. It was just a matter of on the morning that we got involved with the sit-in we just happened to be having breakfast together.

BC:

Oh my gosh. It was serendipity.

AV:

It was just sort of serendipitous that there were two kindred spirits and we just made a decision to march downtown and add our support. But in reality, I really didn’t know. In fact, I’ve come to know Genie Seaman through letters and exchange over the e-mail much better than I knew her when I was in school.

BC:

I was going to ask you before, about the non-art faculty members.

AV:

Oh, Randall Jarrell.

BC:

Oh. Okay.

AV:

Randall Jarrell was my absolute hero and I did a lot of creative writing. Very interested in that and he was—he was an amazing influence on me. And because I was considered as editor of the Coraddi, as student government, through either Gregory Ivy or Randall Jarrell, I got to sit down and have lunch with Robert Frost, with Robert Lowell.

BC:

The Arts Forum people.

AV:

The Arts Forum people. Worship at the knees of Grace Hartigan. It is so interesting, I have ended up with a friend here who knows Grace Hartigan really well in fact, and the artist that I mentioned when you came in Frederico Correa and Grace Hartigan are friends. And I just remember I wanted to be Grace Hartigan. I just remember that she came in and she was so gorgeous and famous and beautiful and powerful, and by being a part of student government I got to meet all these—all these incredible personalities. And I’ve always said that really, the most extraordinary part of my education at Woman’s College was all the activities that they brought in. I mean, as a youngster, all of a sudden I was listening to Merce Cunningham performing with John Cage. There was the Budapest String Quartet, there were famous artists coming and there was this parade of incredible personalities. And I guess in retrospect the way that they came was that there was a connection somewhere along the way, with faculty.

BC:

Even now people are astounded when I tell them the artists who used to come from the forties to the sixties; in particular for the Arts Forum.  Huge names, and they’d say, “How could a small woman’s school in the south afford these people?” I don’t know, but they came.   

AV:

They did come and I was passionately interested in all of that and just—it just led to everything and that was a fabulous part of my education. I can’t remember but my guess is that the students, we probably went for free or for very little money.

BC:

We have all the programs of the Arts Forums and there is a lot of stuff related to it and I think that you did go free. You were very fortunate.

AV:

Well, and you also had to get up and go, because, just like today, there are incredible opportunities for people that they don’t necessarily—a lot of people don’t go and take advantage of them and I was just like this little sponge. I thought the whole experience was just fabulous.

BC:

I was going to tell you, Mary Jarrell is still alive.

AV:

Is she really? I remember her as beautiful and with her hair blowing in back and running around in that little red convertible and of course— that he was killed in such an untimely manner.

BC:

She is not doing well, however, right now. So we’re fearful for her.

AV:

Well she’s had a good run of it.

BC:

She has. A fantastic run. I talked with her maybe two years ago and she was as sharp as a tack. I mean she’s been around for a long, long time.

AV:

Great.

BC:

So your BFA was as an artist, not as a writer and your MFA was also as an artist, not as a writer.

AV:

Both degrees were in studio with a minor in art history and thank goodness for that minor in art history.

BC:

Miss Jastrow— [laughs].

AV:

Miss Jastrow—[laughs]. I guess a lot of it really did take because the first job that you get anywhere is, “Can you teach art history to the freshman?” And I had that same, that same situation; and with the University of Georgia, and I swear to you, I was one page ahead for the first year. But it got better.

BC:

You remember Warren Ashby don’t you?

AV:

Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Philosophy. In fact, I have his book; the philosophy book that he wrote. He was a big influence too. Although I must say, he was probably over my head most of the time. He was kind of like Miss Jastrow, he was this brilliant man. And I mean now that I’m older I understand people who are in these fields, philosophers and so forth, and they go teach on a campus to put bread and butter on the table. Brilliant man.

BC:

He was also heavily involved in trying to bring the black and white sides together through the fifties. Very much involved in interracial relations and civil rights and so I didn’t know if you had any contact with him in—

AV:

Well, I took classes from him.

BC:

All right. Richard Bardolph, history professor. Do you remember him?

AV:

I do remember him, but less visibly.

BC:

Okay. I wondered how the non-art people had affected you—

AV:

But one of the people who had a great influence on me is—I bet you don’t have this written down, was the man who headed the biology department. Not the math and pure sciences but botany. Dr. Shaftesbury.

BC:

Okay.

AV:

He had a great influence on me because I have always been passionately interested in flowers and gardening. When I started out, I wanted to be a medical illustrator.

BC:

Okay.

AV:

And then I actually went in summer school in Chapel Hill and had a course with cadavers. It was wonderful, the most wonderful class. It was wonderful but you had to have the same pure science background as a doctor and that includes chemistry. And I couldn’t do it. It was as if I’d walked into a blank wall and I couldn’t do it. So thank goodness I had always been interested in teaching college on some level. So when I couldn’t be a medical illustrator—but, that leads me back to Dr. Shaftesbury. As soon as I got there he knew that I was just really, really interested and I think by my sophomore year. He had given me the responsibility for instance, walking over the campus and identifying all the plants and trees and then I taught lab biology. I taught in the lab so that I cut up innumerable rana pippins. I had fainting girls when the frogs leapt out of the pans when you thought they were pinned back to the wax. I did that for a couple of years. I earned pocket money on campus that way and I was also the nude model. A couple of us decided that we would be the nude model. No big deal, it was all girls. Although it turned out to be much harder than any of us thought. Staying still for twenty minutes is really, really difficult.

BC:

It put money in your pocket. That’s interesting.

AV:

So I taught lab biology. I knew every plant and bug and shrub on that campus and then worked with all the creatures, the worms, the sharks, some in formaldehyde and some alive. That is when we did disections with the frogs. I don’t know if they still do the frogs.

BC:

Poor little fellows—[laughs].

AV:

I loved it. I was so happy doing that but that was not going to be where my career lay because I could not do the pure sciences.

BC:

Right. That’s interesting. Double-brained person here.

AV:

Well, if you talk to people in the arts, so often their interest veered in the botany and in the biology and if you talk to a music person they are so often interested in the mathematics.

BC:

That’s true. Music and math do go together.

AV:

But I am so right-brained that I lean when I walk. [Both laugh] So that is how I ended up with the art history and the working arts.

BC:

Oh. That’s very interesting. Okay. I’m getting closer to the [unclear] here.

AV:

Okay.

BC:

Prior to your—in your years at WC did you have any interaction with the A&T students?

AV:

Once; and I can not even really tell you the event. It must have had something to do with student governments. And I really can’t remember any of the details except going into the library on the A&T campus and being absolutely blown away by the fact that it was in gorgeous red, kind of porphyry, stones and meeting with black students. And that was really my first interaction because I mean, at home, in Raleigh, even though we lived in the south, my mother didn’t even hire a maid, and at that time that would have been the level on which a white person would have interacted with a black person. There was basically no other opportunity at all.  So there was a meeting of some kind on the A&T campus.

BC:

And you went to that.

AV:

And I went to that but that was really—

BC:

Did you ever see A&T students in Jackson Library?

AV:

No.

BC:

I know there was some correspondence. I’ve seen about—they were wanting to use the library and it was just back and forth: Should we let them use our library.

AV:

I don’t remember that.

BC:

How about did you see them in Aycock for concerts?

AV:

I don’t remember that either.

BC:

I’m not sure—I was just wondering.

AV:

It was a really truly segregated society.

BC:

I know that this is a late fifties, sixties, this is when the campuses were trying on a higher level, they were trying to reach some kind of an agreement where the A&T students. It was usually that way; A&T students coming to the WC campus rather than visa versa.

AV:

And I don’t remember that.

BC:

And you said you did not see them at a cafeteria. I’m sure you did not see them there if you did not see them at Aycock.

AV:

I really don’t remember any interaction with A&T students.

BC:

Just wondering. Okay. This morning you said that you do not know Genie and Marilyn that well—.

AV:

No.

BC:

So when was the first time that y’all talked about going downtown to join the group at Woolworths.

AV:

The first day that A&T students….

BC:

By the way; how did you find out about it?

AV:

The newspaper. We didn’t have TVs.

BC:

Right. Okay.

AV:

There was a television downstairs in the common area of the Guilford but nobody really had time to sit around and watch television, so it was over a newspaper.

BC:

Okay. I just wanted to ask. It is hard to believe because in today’s world you are inundated with news twenty-four hours a day, the most minute detail. But in those days, I spoke to people with Channel 2, and they did not have anyone there.

AV:

Right. No, they didn’t. There was nobody there for the first few days but there was someone there for the third day and that was the day that we showed up.  If my memory had it correct, we came in on the third day. So it was a matter of having heard of this through the newspaper and maybe by then there was talk on campus but honestly, I remember learning about this through a newspaper and I just happened to be having breakfast with these—with Genie and Marilyn. We just said, “Well that’s the silliest thing we’ve ever heard, you can’t buy a cup of coffee ‘cause you’re black,” and we said, “Well, we figure that needs to change.” And so we just marched on downtown. [Both laugh] We didn’t ask anyone’s permission or anything. I mean I know we skipped class and so it must have been a free moment to not be in class and I don’t remember what day it was.

BC:

Who brought it up first?

AV:

I can’t remember it was just an agreement, “Well, this is silly, let’s go.”

BC:

Did you walk downtown?

AV:

Yes.

BC:

Did you walk down Market Street?

AV:

We walked from the back part, what was then the back part of the campus that used to be the woods.

BC:

Then you went down Market.

AV:

I guess it was Market. Yes, we walked. It was—it was a really nice day because we only had jackets on; we did not have overcoats on. But we wore our jackets everywhere. That was kind of what we put them on every morning.

BC:

Exactly, I think that WC students loved their jackets more that their class rings.  I mean, I’ve had women in tears bring their jackets to me to give to the archives. Because—and they were wool—.and you wore them summer, winter and fall. I was going to ask you, did you deliberately wear your jackets?

AV:

No, I’m not sure that we did—I think it was a warmish day and the jackets seemed an appropriate weight to put on and I don’t remember discussing that.

BC:

The jackets were—

AV:

They were the flashpoint.

BC:

Right, because that identified you with the school.

AV:

Sure.

BC:

If you didn’t have the jacket on, you could have been any white woman.

AV:

That’s right. I don’t remember. I’ve got to tell you, none of this was calculated. In those few hours that that decision was made…

BC:

So you made it at breakfast?

AV:

We made it at breakfast. We were there by…

BC:

When did you go down? When did you leave campus?

AV:

I probably had a class or something. I had a class to go to.

BC:

I feel like I’m drilling you—[laughs].

AV:

No, no; I mean it’s good and my memory isn’t going to be a hundred percent on all of it, but it must have been—so it was either late morning or after lunch. It may well have been after lunch because we were there about four or five hours I think no more than that and maybe slightly less than that. So we must have been there around lunch time or earlier—

BC:

Okay.

AV:

In the afternoon.

BC:

And walking down Market; that’s quite a hike.

AV:

Oh, not for me. [Both laugh] Don’t forget that, first of all, we were really great walkers ‘cause there was no other way to get around that campus; and walking is, maybe it’s a couple of miles. It’s not far.

BC:

It’s not that far.

AV:

Most of it was down hill to get there. Coming back was another story, but we did walk.

BC:

Did you tell anyone else on the campus what you were about to do.

AV:

Probably not. Probably we decided to just do it.

BC:

You said, “I’ll meet you at the so and so,” and off you went?

AV:

Yeah. It was not—we didn’t know it was going to turn into—we were really pretty naïve about what was going to ensue.

BC:

Did you have anything like, “When we get there we are going to do so and so.”

AV:

No, we just thought we would walk up and sit down and say give these people a cup of coffee. I mean, we really had no idea what the repercussions were going to be.

BC:

You didn’t sign out and that was—you were—

AV:

We didn’t sign out but by that time, I was a—

BC:

Seniors had more freedom.

AV:

Seniors or maybe I was even in graduate school at that time and it was an afternoon [unclear word] and maybe the other girl signed out but I don’t remember that we — I mean it seemed perfectly innocent, and reasonable, and not breaking any rules. It just didn’t feel like it was going to be such a big deal. We had no idea it was going to be such a big deal.

BC:

Right. I’m sure this didn’t happen—now—hearing what you said. As you got closer did you feel nervous?

AV:

Not really, I mean it was kind of surprising to see all of these hundreds of people at Woolworths.

BC:

Did you see anybody outside the store? Were there people outside?

AV:

I can’t remember. We just waltzed on in and of course the crowd gave way for us because here we were three white girls with our jackets on and the assumption with all these people who were gathered there was that we were going to be on the white side. What other position would we take?

BC:

Exactly. Exactly. Okay tell me about—you were inside Woolworths and they parted—One account I read today said that a white man got up and actually gave you his seat. Did that happen? Do you remember?

AV:

I’m sure it must have because every seat was occupied.

BC:

So someone had to give you their seats.

AV:

So somebody gave us our seats. Somebody gave the seats and then the waitress came up and said—I don’t know what the waitress said to Genie and Marilyn but the waitress said to me, “Do you want a cup of coffee?” And I was really, really tense and I said—I do remember saying very clearly, “There’s somebody else here before me.” And then the cat was out of the bag and I’m sure it was startling for everybody but I don’t know what the other girls said. So we didn’t accept the cup of coffee.  But I had taken a sketchbook and I made all these sketches and they were these little sketches that got reproduced in the—

BC:

I think I saw a newspaper.

AV:

You saw them in the WC—the UNCG—

BC:

Magazine.

AV:

Magazine.

BC:

Let me turn this over—I’m afraid it’s going to—it’s probably going to—we’ve been chatting on and on—

[End of Tape 1, Side A]

[Technical difficulties lead to end of interview]