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Oral History Interview with Edith Mayfield Wiggins by Robert P. Shapard


Date: October 24, 2006

Interviewee: Edith Mayfield Wiggins

Biographical abstract: Edith Wiggins was one of the first African American students to enroll at Woman’s College of The University of North Carolina (now UNGC) in 1958.

Interviewer: Robert P. Shapard

Description: This October 24 and November 17, 2006, oral history interview conducted by Robert Shapard primarily documents Edith Wiggins' recollections of her time at Woman's College (now UNCG), where in 1958 she was one of only five African American students. Wiggins also describes her childhood experiences of segregation in Guilford County, the February 1960 sit-ins, and racial and gender inequity.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: Institutional Memory Oral History Project

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.81.1340

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 Edith Mayfield Wiggins by Robert P. Shapard

Robert P. Shapard:

[It] is October 24. I’m Rob Shapard. I am with Ms. Edith Wiggins. We are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at the Carol Woods Retirement Center—retirement community. And Edith you have been reading over—going back through a 1991 interview that you gave about your time at what was the Woman’s College of The University of North Carolina. What is it—to start with, what has it got you thinking? Does it take you back to those times?

Edith Mayfield Wiggins:

It did. And it’s been so long. I was wondering how I was going to really get into an interview with you since that is what you wanted to talk about. But reading that really helped. It did bring back a lot of memories, some good, and some not so good.

RPS:

Let’s backtrack a little bit there. Tell me a little bit about—and we’ll get back to that for sure. Tell me a little bit about growing up in High Point [North Carolina].

EMW:

Well, let’s see. I lived in High Point from the time I was born until I finished high school. I finished high school in 1958. I was sixteen years old. So, I lived in High Point sixteen years. It was a segregated Southern community like all the communities in 1958. Finished William Penn High School, which was all black. My parents were—my mother taught school. My father was a minister. So—

RPS:

What denomination?

EMW:

He was United Methodist.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And at that time it was not called United Methodist. It was just Methodist, and even the church, the Methodist Church was segregated. All the black churches and ministers all over the United States belonged to what was called Central Jurisdiction, whereas white churches were divided up geographically. So, for a long time the Central Jurisdiction was really a blemish on the United Methodist Church because it was a symbol of a church organization being segregated.

So, I think when I was in about my junior or senior year in college the church—Methodist Church decided to do away with the Central Jurisdiction and integrate.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And it became the United Methodist Church, and it has been that way since. But I remember living through that as well, going to some national conferences as a representative of youth in a black church, meeting with youth from some white Methodist churches and we talked about desegregating and what integration would mean.

At the time I’m remembering us young people had less problems with it than the older ones, but it eventually happened.

RPS:

When you say “the older ones” who had a problem with it, you mean black people and black members—old members of the black congregation?

EMW:

And older members of the white congregation, both.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

Well, you know, this was the time when society was changing, and it was difficult on both sides.

RPS:

You mentioned—you described High Point as a typically southern town at that time. You gave the example of the Methodist Church or churches. What else do you remember, what other signs of segregation, or how did that show up in your daily life, that enforced separateness?

EMW:

Well, all the housing was completely separate. That was the black side of town and white side of town. There were signs, black, white, at restrooms, water fountains. I remember going to the movies having to sit in the balcony. Blacks sat in the balcony. And, you know, kids being kids we had a lot of fun with that. Because usually the movies catered to children on Saturday, Saturday morning, particularly. So, they would show lots of cartoons and Westerns. And, so every Saturday morning, everybody went to the movies.

RPS:

Black and white?

EMW:

Black and white. And it would be teenagers on down. And all the blacks would be in the balcony. Whites would be on the first floor. And we used to throw popcorn back and forth. We thought it was fun.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

You know, we were throwing popcorn in white kids, and they were throwing popcorn on black kids. I mean it was fun. And I don’t know why we did it, except it’s just what blacks and whites, you know, what you’re supposed to do—be hostile even though it was just popcorn. And—

RPS:

What was the—you were saying it was fun but also hostile. What do you mean? What was the mix of—

EMW:

Well—

RPS:

—feelings?

EMW:

—they were white, you know? We weren’t supposed to like them because they were white, and they weren’t supposed to like us because we were black, even though we didn’t even know each other, didn’t know anything about them except what our parents really were experiencing. On the black side, you know, what our parents were experiencing, and on the other side what white kids were being told.

We had to walk through a white neighborhood to get to the movies, and we looked forward to it because we’d throw rocks, and white kids would be waiting for us with their rocks. And we would get our pockets full before we got to this particular block. Every Saturday, it was the same thing, and it was—I don’t know, that was just the way life was.

Looking back over it, I don’t—looking back over it now, I believe we enjoyed it more than being afraid or—because we just got caught up in segregation. Probably didn’t even know why we was supposed to be doing it. My parents would have had a fit if they had known, you know, we were doing things like this.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

At least mine would have, but it was so much fun you didn’t tell. So, you would do it the next week. I also remember our textbooks were never brand new.

RPS:

At the high school or even earlier?

EMW:

I remember that. And that wasn’t true of our band uniforms, because they were completely different colors. But growing up that way, that’s the way life was. I didn’t know it any other way. I didn’t know it was supposed to be different until much, much later.

RPS:

In the setting of like the movie theater, where the black kids are on the balcony, and the white kids are down below, do you remember if—I mean, obviously, at that point everybody knew, “the way it was supposed to be,” so everybody—sounds like everybody automatically went to their places—was there any kind of—how was that ever reinforced in any way with signs or with people, you know, the movie manager if anybody strayed from that arrangement, was there any—?

EMW:

I don’t remember.

RPS:

How did it feel—Well, how did that feel? Did it feel like not only, you know, society was saying, “Okay, blacks and whites, you have to be separate while you’re here,” did it feel like the whites are getting the best seats and the blacks are getting, you know, what’s left over? Did it feel like inequality—a separate thing, yes, but did it feel like an inequality?

EMW:

At a really deep level, it probably did, because it was—it took more effort. It was more difficult to get to the balcony because of the long flight of steps. But we didn’t think about it a lot. Because you had to keep going. And I remember when—that was in High Point. And every now and then my parents—my mother would take me to the movies with her in Greensboro [North Carolina].

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And it was the same thing in Greensboro. The theater was on a corner and whites went in first floor on main street, and on the side street there was the colored entrance. And she only went to the movies when there was something really special. When there was a movie that had a black person in it, or it was about blacks she would go. But she didn’t go, she wasn’t a regular moviegoer. And I would go with her, and I remember the bathrooms which was awful. And she had a problem. She would never let me go by myself. She would always hold me up. I always remember. It was so hard to go, because she would always hold me up over the toilet. And—but I never heard her complain. She’d go. We would go to the bathroom.

RPS:

One of the things that I wonder about, you know, I was born in ‘67 in Georgia. So, by the time I was old enough to remember things, a lot of that was gone.

EMW:

Yeah.

RPS:

So, looking back on it and reading about it and talking to people about it I wonder why was it so important for white people to enforce this and say, “We feel so strongly about this that we don’t want to drink from the same water fountains as black folks.” I don’t understand that.

EMW:

Well, you’ll probably have to ask some really older people, old white people, to explain that. And there are still a lot of them around.

I’ve—it’s interesting. I’ve been in Chapel Hill [North Carolina] a long time, and I came to Chapel Hill when Chapel Hill was still segregated, the restaurants and Kenan Stadium, housing, the university was just beginning—Some schools were more advanced than others.

RPS:

What year would that have been that you came to Chapel Hill?

EMW:

[Nineteen] sixty-two.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And there are people here at Carol Woods that I remember vividly from the ‘60s, and they were on the slow side to open up. They are completely different now. But I remember them from those days. I remember what their positions were, what their attitudes were. And they’ve come a long way, but sometimes I will say to my husband, “You see so-and-so sitting over there? Let me tell you what they did [laughing].” You know? I just remember it. And for me it’s just real interesting to have been able to live in both worlds and be alive during the transition.

Because my sons, like you—I still ask questions when trying to see if race has anything to do with it. They do less of that. And when I do, they always say, “Why do you want to know that? Oh, okay, you’re still trying to find out if somebody is black or white.”

EMW:

Right.

RPS:

But when they’re telling me about some experience they had, and even when they were in elementary and high school they would come home and tell me about things that had happened at school. And I would say, “Well, was John black?” Because I was trying to get a handle on whether a white teacher, you know, was treating a black or white kid differently. And they finally said, “Why do you always ask us if somebody’s black or white?” They’d say, “Okay, because it doesn’t matter. If it’s not right, it’s not right.” So, I decided, okay, they’re catching on that. I didn’t have a good explanation. I had a good explanation to me, but it wasn’t good enough for them.

RPS:

It was a prism that you grew up with, right? To see things through that black and white—

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]. So, they would tell me about something happening at school, and I would say, “Where does he live?” And they’d say, “You’re still trying to find.” They caught me. I was just so shocked, and I was going to be real cool. I said, “Well, do you know where he lives?” “You’re still trying to find out if they’re black or white, aren’t you?”

RPS:

That’s amazing.

EMW:

Yeah, so my boys were much smarter than I.

RPS:

Okay, so, let’s go to—so you are a senior in high school in High Point. It sounds like—so the Woman’s College, I guess a couple of years before, had accepted the first black students. And it kind of sounds like you and some other folks applied to the Woman’s College almost on a lark just to kind of see, “Well, I wonder if we’ll get in.”

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

Tell me a little bit about that.

EMW:

But I remember the day I read the article, I was at my grandmother’s house in Greensboro. And she subscribed to the Greensboro paper. And there was this article about Woman’s College accepting these black students. And I just thought that was just—that just blew my mind. And I guess I must have been in June. And decided that fall that I would do the same thing, and I would apply. And, of course, the other two students that I talk about, Patricia Jones and Jewel Anthony, we were all very good friends. We were very good students. We were very good friends and we decided to do it.

We all got accepted, and we thought, “Well, let’s go.” And because I’m not sure if one of us had of got accepted, one would have gone alone. But since we all got accepted, three of us, and we knew we would be our little group, we’d go. And it created a little bit of excitement because we were going there.

RPS:

Excitement among who?

EMW:

The black community.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

A little disappointment in my own family because of my own’s family connection to Spelman [College]. But it was like a sacrifice. So, we did it. And, you know, I look back over it as something that I did. It was—well, it changed my life in many ways. I mean I doubt if I’d even be here if I hadn’t done that. But I also kind of missed some of what my other classmates that finished William Penn that did go to black schools. I kind of missed what they had as part of their college experience.

RPS:

What was your family connection to Bennett?

EMW:

Well, it was a Methodist college. And my aunt, my daddy’s sister, was registrar. My mother had finished Bennett.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

All the women in my mother’s family had finished Bennett. So, that was just where they went to school. It’s an all-girl’s school. And it was a private school. Most people who didn’t have much money went to the state’s school like A&T or North Carolina Central [College]. If you had a little bit more resources than others, you could go to Bennett or Spelman [College] in Atlanta [Georgia].

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

That’s where the really rich women went, to Spelman in Atlanta. And—

RPS:

Were you in a position to do that because your father was a minister and your mother was a teacher, and that was—put you in a position [so] you could have done that?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But Bennett was where we went, my family. So, my aunt was really disappointed. She said a couple of administrators whose nieces and nephews and daughters and all had come to Bennett had said, “We’re really glad our niece didn’t embarrass us like that.” [laughing] She used to like to rub it in.

RPS:

Was there with your—between you and your parents, was it a debate that you guys really talk about it, or was it—what was it like?

EMW:

We didn’t talk about it in terms of the reality of what was going to be that situation. We talked about it in terms of it being different, a new experience. Not many people had that opportunity. But I think even they didn’t really know what was ahead for us. And I remember being real anxious when they took me, because the closer it got to going. And remember, I was sixteen years old. I finished high school early. And I remember—

RPS:

Wow.

EMW:

And I remember my mother saying—oh, and I had gotten accepted at Bennett. And I remember them saying, “If it doesn’t work out, and you don’t like it, and you just can’t stand it, you can always go to Bennett. Give it a try to see.” And I wanted to. And we were excited, and we were nervous. And we moved in. And I saw the question mark in there about the limited arrangement. But I think you understood what it was.

RPS:

I think so. I want you to tell me about that.

EMW:

Well, when you come into a dorm usually you come in the middle.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

On the first floor you have rooms that way, and rooms that way. We just had that whole wing on the first floor to ourselves.

RPS:

Okay. And this was Shaw?

EMW:

Shaw, because there were no staff rooms, and since there was this one bathroom we had that whole wing to ourselves.

RPS:

And there were three of you that had that whole wing, right, or more than that?

EMW:

There were five of us.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

We had that whole wing.

RPS:

Okay. And you were all black students, okay. Okay.

EMW:

There was another young woman from Charlotte [North Carolina], and another young woman from Yanceyville [North Carolina]. So, there were five of us.

RPS:

Can you go back to that time when you were on that dorm, and I want to know how did you feel about that living arrangement? Was it hurtful? Was it something that you were accustomed to, or both? How did you feel?

EMW:

Accustomed. Didn’t think about it a lot. We knew exactly what was happening. We knew why the other rooms were empty, but we didn’t think a lot about it because we were there. That was something.

RPS:

It seems—it strikes me as a message of, well, we the university accept you, but we don’t really accept you because we’re going to put you in the—we feel so strongly that we’re going to dedicate this entire wing to you five students even though we have—even though we have needs that—for housing that make that not a good idea.

EMW:

That’s what it was. But, you know, you don’t—you know Rob, if you, now, if I could go back and do it at this age, my whole perception and reaction to that would be completely different. But remember, up to that time we’d always accepted all of the ways that society had segregated us. So, you don’t move from a segregated community into a segregated dorm and all of a sudden you start to feel outraged.

RPS:

Right. Right. How would your reaction be different now, you think?

EMW:

Oh, I think if my sons had even just those few years later there had been—what had happened to my sons I would—well, first, they wouldn’t even be going to a school like that.

And, excuse me, even though that’s the way we lived that first year, there were students on the second and third floors, white students, who were just so angry, so angry. And so there were white students that really didn’t want to accept that. Because they didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t be in some of those empty rooms.

RPS:

So, they were angry—tell me what they were angry about?

EMW:

Having to sleep three in a room when there were on the first floor empty rooms. It just didn’t make sense to them. They didn’t know what the big deal was.

RPS:

Was there any—in a way although the message certainly is a negative message in a way, I can see part of the impact being that it almost—the other side of that coin might have been that it almost gave you guys a little bit of a protective nest in such a being such at the forefront of such a big change. It was almost—was it almost like a place where you guys could retreat to just be by yourselves, or am I stretching on that?

EMW:

No, you aren’t stretching. There’s much [to] that. But like I said, please understand that was no different from the communities we had come from.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

The fact that we were going to the same school, the same college, that was the big deal. We hadn’t progressed enough in our thinking about desegregation and integration to understand that there was more to integrating the university or college that accepting students to take their classes there. Because they really were trying to maintain separateness, and that—that—and we were the third class.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

We weren’t even the first ones to do that. And it was the class after me, I believe, that was the sophomore—I believe it was my sophomore or junior year, which would have been early ‘60s, white students—it really were the white students that rebelled against it.

RPS:

Against what?

EMW:

The segregated rooms.

RPS:

Okay. Was there any—was there any segregation that you encountered in other facilities on campus?

EMW:

It was just the living.

RPS:

Just the living arrangement. Okay.

EMW:

There wasn’t any other. And as I remembered in that paper, most of the negative racial slurs and comments that was said to us came from people who were not affiliated with the school. They were from outsiders. There were a couple of main streets that went by a couple of the buildings.

RPS:

Do you remember which streets?

EMW:

There is—I don’t know if the gym is still in the same place. I don’t even remember the name of the gym. It’s probably in here. But that’s where we registered every fall in the gym. There would be a line of students waiting to get in. I remember, you know, young, young white boys, young white men would always yell stuff. I remember once—well, my very first time, freshman in that line, waiting to go in. And we had just been on the campus three or four days. It was time for registration. Patricia and I were together. We were talking,

And these men, they drove by and saw us. And then they came back and stopped. And it frightened us to death. And they started yelling and saying things and we got real quiet. Because up until that time everybody was talking. It was kind of like a noise level. It got real quiet. Everybody was just complete silence. And then they finally finished and drove away. And so we went on and we registered.

And as soon as I got back to the dorm I called my parents, and I said, “Come get me. I cannot take this. This is awful. I don’t want to stay here.” And I remember my mother saying, “One semester. You have to stay there one semester. You cannot let people like that run you away. Are you safe?” I said, “I am now. I’m really scared.” “One semester. If you are still that miserable, you can go to Bennett.” Shoot, by the end of that semester we were completely adjusted. We were in the hang of things. So, I never moved away. Stayed there for four years.

RPS:

Wow.

EMW:

That’s as close as I came to leaving. Like I said, I was sixteen years old. It really frightened me. And it wasn’t what they were saying. I really thought they were capable of some kind of physical—physical harm.

RPS:

Do you remember—so, they were in a car?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

So, they pulled out and they got out?

EMW:

Huh-uh [no]. They just did it from the car.

RPS:

And it was, what? Two or three people or how many?

EMW:

There were two or three in a car.

RPS:

Young white men?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]. But, you know, there were hundreds of white students. I mean it was a long line of us. So, they weren’t—they would have certainly been outnumbered. And that’s probably why they would have—they—it was all women, too. So, I don’t think they were going to do anything other than what they did.

RPS:

Can you say what kind of things did they say? How bad was it? What kind of words did they use?

EMW:

Oh, it was bad. Oh, it was bad. You know, if I gave you—if I said what they said, then they would be examples of what I remember, because I don’t remember exactly.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But it was as bad as it could be.

RPS:

Was the N word?

EMW:

It was several of those that with descriptive. But—

RPS:

Did you have a sense if it got quiet and everybody, you know, everybody is right there, and they can’t help but hear these guys. Did you have any sense of how the white students surrounding you who were in line with you felt? Did anybody say anything?

EMW:

No, I think they were startled just like we were, because all of a sudden it was happening, and it’s like everybody just kind of stopped to see and listen. And, you know, then it was over. And then everybody started talking again. And I remember Pat and I looked at each other, and we were real quiet. And it was, you know, we were kind of talking about what we were going to do, which way we were going to go if they got out of the car. And they didn’t.

RPS:

And the part of their message was that you shouldn’t be going—

EMW:

We didn’t belong—

RPS:

—there?

EMW:

Right.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

Right. Yeah.

RPS:

Okay. That’s my first question on my list [laughing]. Were there any places on campus that you did not feel comfortable going to?

EMW:

No.

RPS:

Do you remember—Did any white students reach out to you or professors in particular or administrators?

EMW:

Lots of students. This paper refreshed my memory that many of the students that went to Woman’s College in those days were from the Northeast waiting to get into UNC Chapel Hill where they—at that time you could only be a junior woman at Carolina unless you were a nursing student or a town student. They didn’t have freshmen and sophomore women down here. So, a lot of women, even from North Carolina went to Woman’s College the first two years waiting to transfer.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

We had a lot of white friends.

RPS:

Do you remember, was this something you talked about, about the race—racial issues, you know, the different experiences you guys were having compared to them, or did that come up?

EMW:

Not in a major way, a way that it stands out the topic of conversation a lot. It was just a quality of our experi—of our interacting together and doing things together, studying together, eating together, whatever, that said it all.

RPS:

I hope you don’t kill me for this one, but what about romances? Do you remember—

EMW:

Yeah, I do.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And, see, it was an all-girls’ school.

RPS:

Oh, right, right.

EMW:

It was an all-girls’ school, and many of the women there were waiting to come to Carolina. So, in those days every Saturday—I don’t know if Chapel Hill sent the bus or Greensboro  [North Carolina] provided the bus. But there would be three or four big Greyhound buses that would transport the girls from Greensboro to Chapel Hill on football Saturdays.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

Okay? And we’d see the girls getting on the buses, and we never went. We didn’t know anybody down here. But there were a few black men down here. And it’s so interesting to hear them. We’d get together, not too often, but when we do remember some of those old days. And they would talk about how they would go down to Morehead Planetarium, because that’s where the buses would go and let the women off.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And all the white men would be there waiting to hook up with somebody. And they would go down there and they’d say, “You all never got off the bus. We’d go down there on Saturday, because we heard there were some black women over there, and we would go down there, and the white guys would be looking at us, like, ‘What are you all doing down here, these girls are white?’” You know? (laughing) “So, we would all be huddled in a little bunch waiting to see, and you all never got off those buses.” So, we said, “We didn’t know you all were down there waiting (laughing). We would have come if we had known, because we didn’t know you all were down there.” So we have laughed about that so much. And, also, that whole concept of taking girls, you know, to where the men were. That was kind of funny, too.

RPS:

It is. It really is.

EMW:

I mean nowadays who would think of doing that. But they did.

RPS:

It sounds so classically—sounds like the ‘50s and ‘60s to me and the way I kind of learned about it. What about—how about you personally? Do you remember your first—Did you date guys?

EMW:

And then there were some older—some older women—the older women at Woman’s College had met some men at [North Carolina] A&T [State College]. So, we would date guys from A&T. They would come over. They liked—the guys at A&T liked to date us more than at Bennett because at Bennett they had so many restrictions and rules and what not about dating and social life. And at Woman’s College there weren’t any, other than you just had to be in at a certain time.

RPS:

Right, right.

RPS:

So, they liked that. I remembered when dating some guys from A&T, and then when I went to summer school between my junior and senior year at Woman’s College, my parents had gone out of the country that summer. And I had to go to summer school because I had failed Spanish, and I had to have two years of foreign language to graduate. So, I could get a whole semester of Spanish that summer, a whole year because both summer sessions I could take, you know, Spanish 3 and Spanish 4.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And I decided I would come to Chapel Hill and take those last two semesters of Spanish in case I failed again I’d still have more time [laughing] when I got back.

RPS:

A little safety cushion.

EMW:

Yeah, because Spanish was really hard for me. So, I came down and that’s where I met my first husband. He was in school that summer, and that’s when I got to know a little bit more about down here. And came to graduate school, and I graduated.

RPS:

Okay. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but was there a difference in any discrimination that you may have faced on campus in Greensboro versus the real world so to speak outside the university? You kind of alluded to that in terms of if you—tell me a little bit about that, more about that in terms of—it sounds like folks who were not affiliated with the university who showed the most blatantly racist attitudes. Is that true?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

EMW:

Most—a lot of people, whites and blacks in Greensboro did not know that there were black students at Woman’s College. So, when we were in town unless we were wearing our school blazers or jackets, you know, they wouldn’t know.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But we liked to wear our blazers and jackets. It was a status symbol, and we were really proud because, you know, that was—when you were no longer a freshman—no freshman had jackets. You got your jackets your sophomore year, so that meant you were upperclassmen.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And the jackets were well-known in Greensboro. I think they had jackets at Woman’s—at Greensboro College, too. They were different. Yeah.

RPS:

Edith is looking at her 1962 yearbook.

EMW:

See the jackets? The blazers?

RPS:

Uh-huh [yes], wow. Okay.

EMW:

It’s like being in the Army.

RPS:

Absolutely.

EMW:

[laughing] I was on the Court of Social Regulations.

RPS:

Oh, there you are, okay. Excellent. Court of Social Regulations. Boy, that sounds—

EMW:

Well, if you—

RPS:

—ominous.

EMW:

Yeah, if you broke some of the social rules like staying out too late. And then the Honor Court. That was that one.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And, then, sometimes we would meet together. That is if you stayed out too late, then lied about it. So, then it was a social offense and an honor offense [laughing].

RPS:

Huh, okay.

EMW:

Where is it? Where’s my picture over here? It’s right there.

RPS:

Oh, okay, there you go. Excellent.

EMW:

And isn’t it amazing—

RPS:

Amazing.

EMW:

How they made the black students look just like the white students in our picture? I always have to look for myself on that page. Can you believe that?

RPS:

It’s very—I mean it says—it’s as lightened as it could be, right?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

That’s amazing.

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes], isn’t that?

RPS:

What was this—what were these crazy times all about? Why were—why were we white folks this way?

EMW:

You have to ask other white folks.

RPS:

Well, what do you think? I agree with—

EMW:

I’ve never been able to understand y’all.

RPS:

[laughing]

EMW:

Here’s Clara. Clara was really dark. You have to really look to find her on that picture.

RPS:

Yep.

EMW:

On that page.

RPS:

That’s very true. You’re right.

EMW:

Isn’t that interesting?

RPS:

Yes, unbelievable. Good. This goes back to you said something awhile ago about how it changed—this experience changed your life in so many ways. I want to ask you about that. How do you feel that being in that unique position shaped you over the rest of your life?

EMW:

Well, you know, the older you get the more philosophical you can get about everything, you know, in your life.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And, I mean, even recently I, you know, think about that time, where I am now, and I almost feel like it was my destiny. It was what God wanted me—it was where God wanted me to be. It was what I was supposed to do because I see that I have—my life has been very much like that ever since helping to demonstrate that races, different races, can be together, live together, do various things together without race making a difference. If I had gone to Bennett I know I would have ended up marrying a Methodist minister, because that’s where they went to look for their wives.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

Black churches, lived in a black community, would have just probably always been very much a part of a black community, which is great, would have had a fabulous life, but would not have used myself in integrated settings, which I have ever since I went to Woman’s College. I’ve always been in a desegregated setting ever since. And I just kind of feel like that was my mission in life, to be black, and help demonstrate that this change is supposed to be like this change is. And I have just accepted that as—as my role, my destiny, what God wanted me to do. And, so, it’s easy for me. I still find, you know, an awful lot of African Americans just don’t know how to live in peace and harmony. And—

RPS:

With each other or—

EMW:

No, with whites.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

With the broader white community, and that’s not without awareness on my part that we still have many problems, a long way to go. But I always felt like that you could—you have to learn from each other. You can’t learn unless you have that relationship and experience with each other.

RPS:

Picking up on that, if you think about the years that you were at the Woman’s College, and then your last year in office on the Chapel Hill Town Council, you know, part of that time you spent advocating for changing the name of Airport Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Are there some things that stand out? That’s a—that’s a time that you span there, are there some things that stand out as, boy, this really has changed a lot? And how about, are there things that you realized during that debate about Airport Road that, okay, a lot of things have changed, but some things haven’t?

EMW:

[pausing] That was a very complicated for me, because everyone who was opposed to the name change I did not label a racist. And the black community didn’t want to accept that perspective. You’re either for the name change, or, you know, you’re back in the ‘60s. You’re a racist.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

That wasn’t—I didn’t believe that. I knew some of those people.

RPS:

Some of those who were opposed to it?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]. The reason that they said they were, I really believe that was the reason. I thought we missed an opportunity. Whenever I see the signs now, they have Historic Airport Road underneath. I feel so good about that. Because to me that represents that the community was open to making the change but realizing that there were some sentiment and attachment. Why wasn’t that legitimate? That’s legitimate. That doesn’t mean you’re a racist because you didn’t—you know, because you felt strongly about this.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

So, and the reason we had some bumps in the road with that renaming, not because of the white racists, but some of the black racists’ approach to that change.

RPS:

Yes, you were about to—

EMW:

Yeah, I knew one—

RPS:

—make a good point.

EMW:

—African American who went to one of the merchants on Airport Road. At the time Airport Road and said, “Look, I know your business is here on Airport Road, and you’ve lived on Airport Road”—It was Bruce Johnson.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

You know the man who owned the garage, you know, he also lives on Airport Road.

RPS:

Right, right. Has that big garden, right?

EMW:

Right. “But the NAACP is going to change the name, and there isn’t anything you can do about it.” And he did it at a restaurant one night when this man was in line with his wife and another couple, did it very loud. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And Bruce said, you know, if he had been 20 years younger he would have decked him. But he was so glad he was 20 years older, and he just said, “You do what you have to do. We’ll do what we have to do.”

RPS:

Right. Was there any bad blood between those two going back? Okay.

EMW:

It was just kind of a—I don’t know what it was. You know, I think this community was very accepting of the change. I think—but you don’t try to make the change difficult. You try to make the change smooth. You try to use the change—my approach would have been to go to Bruce Johnson and say, “Bruce, look, I know your family’s ties to Airport Road. For years you’ve had your business here. You live here, but this is why we think it’s important in the community. This is what it would mean. And I know this is going to be difficult. I know what you would have to do to make this change, but you know we need you as one of our allies.” And then he starts to feel important. He feels recognized. He feels like his feelings are important, and people understand what it’s going to mean.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

Wouldn’t it have been great if he had been one of the allies?

RPS:

Absolutely.

EMW:

See, that’s the way I—you know, that’s my—my approach is not to, you don’t,—We have not moved race relations forward with people like Bruce Johnson in the way we tried to—in the way it was initially proposed to do it. “Do it. I don’t care if they like it or not.” That’s not how you move forward. You don’t create those little pockets of resentment because some time in the future it might come back to haunt you. Really, you don’t know why Bruce is acting the way he’s doing.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And, you know, even if he was wrong, he was still a man with some feelings. And, so, if you approach him in the right way, you move him along. He becomes a better man.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

Not a resentful, bitter man. That’s—

RPS:

It was almost—

EMW:

That’s how I believe in things.

RPS:

Right. It’s almost like he was—he became a symbol. He was white. He had a Southern accent, and he, I don’t know how old he is, but, you know, obviously he was here in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He almost became a symbol of—to that person it didn’t matter what Bruce really thought. That person saw him as a symbol of something, and, you know, was lashing out.

EMW:

So, I’d be the last person to say that Bruce Johnson is not a racist. I don’t know. I don’t have that much dealings with him, but I know that’s not the way you work with a racist, is getting them more entrenched. If your ultimate goal is to kept—keep society moving forward, keep bringing as many people along as possible, not creating casualties along the way, all these little pockets of resentment. Now, because you don’t know how it will manifest itself in the future.

RPS:

Right, right. I heard that he, after the name was changed that he changed the address for his business to whatever that side street is there.

EMW:

Norvelli.

RPS:

Yeah, that he doesn’t use the King Boulevard as the street address. He uses the little side street. But, uh—

EMW:

He can’t do that for his house.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

But, see, I doubt, oh, well, you know as I said I’d be the last person to say he’s not a racist, but you don’t bring him along treating him that way.

RPS:

Right, right, right.

EMW:

You don’t attack a man that way. So, my—my technique, and some of the techniques of other African Americans in Chapel Hill aren’t the same. And that’s fine, because we’re not all supposed to be the same. And their techniques work, and mine work, too. So, we have different approaches. I don’t worry about it, but I just don’t get sucked in.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And I don’t get intimidated by what people call me, what they say about me. Because I just don’t. I’m just too old. I’ve lived too long [laughing]. I’ve been through a whole lot more than some of them, you know?

RPS:

Uh-huh [yes].

EMW:

I know people ask me, “Oh, how did you feel about what Michelle Cotton said that night?” Were you there—

RPS:

Yes.

EMW:

—at the council meeting?

RPS:

Yes.

EMW:

She jumped up and, oh, Lord. I said, “Well, Michelle was disappointed, and she was hurt that we didn’t act that night.” But if you also know me, you know, I’m not intimidated by—I’m not going to be intimidated into a position that I don’t believe in. But like I say, I don’t have any ill feelings toward Michelle. She was hurt and disappointed. She lashed out at me. So, I can take it. It didn’t bother me at all. Then she went home. Boy, she e-mailed us that night with some, uh, she just went on. She couldn’t settle down that night [laughing].

But, I have children older than Michelle. So, she was just a child. You know, I can’t let that—I wasn’t going to let that bother me.

RPS:

You know, sometimes when a person is so passionate about something that they—they’re not necessarily—they say something that is—that is very incomplete or somewhat irrational. I’m not saying that Michelle was irrational that night, but sometimes that’s frustrating when it doesn’t really include the big picture. But at the same time, I think that probably many people who are so passionate that they don’t always see the big picture, because they’re the ones that keep our—keep this before us, keep our attention.

EMW:

It’s like a healthy tension.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

Loving critic.

RPS:

Okay. So, jumping back to Greensboro a little bit. Did you have any lasting friendships with other black students in those first few years? Does anybody really lasted, or have you guys—I know some folks have died, of course, but?

EMW:

We don’t see each other often, but about maybe five, six years ago there was some kind of weeklong racial awareness thing at [UNC]G, and I was invited back to be on a panel, two others from—Claudette Graves, who was a year ahead of me, and JoAnne [Smart] Drane, who was two years ahead of me.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

She was one of the first.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

The three of us were on a panel, and I hadn’t seen them in years, but there was such a bond. We realized when we saw each other that—and then there was that bond from way back then. Wasn’t from any recent experiences.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

It was just really nice to be—be with them. And as I said on the panel that day, you know, those two women were part of the support system that made it easier for me that they didn’t have.

RPS:

Right. They were in the first, very first—

EMW:

One was the very first two—

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And the second one was the town student in the second class. And—but, you know, they were the ones that paved the way for us in the third class.

RPS:

Did you guys get a chance to talk much amongst yourselves?

EMW:

Yeah, we did. And, you know, we don’t go back to the homecomings. We get all the invitations. I know I don’t. Now, JoAnne, I know I served a turn on the Alumni Board of Directors several years ago. And she has served a term on the Board of Trustees, and I think they have named a new dorm or a new building after JoAnne and Bettye Tillman, the first two black students, because there was an article, an article in one of the alumni magazines, and when they dedicated it as an honor. So, I think, you know, Woman’s College, just like some of the other schools now, looking back realizing that that was really an important time that needs to be recognized and honored and memorialized. And—because I was really happy when I saw that. I cut their pictures out of that, too, because it was an old picture of them. And that’s exactly how I remembered them looking back in those days.

RPS:

It’s amazing the power of photos. The Greensboro, downtown Greensboro Sit-ins, I guess that would have been maybe in the middle of your second year—

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

—when that took place? Do you remember—what did you think and feel about those Sit-ins that now are so famous? Were you aware—was—when you were highly aware of?

EMW:

I remember them going on, and I remembered feeling disadvantaged that I was at Woman’s College rather than at A&T or Bennett, because I knew black students, black college students, were very involved in that at until one of the white students suggested that we go down and join, and that we wear our jackets so that we would know that students from Woman’s College were supportive.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

So, we did that intentionally, very intentionally.

RPS:

So, what—

EMW:

I think—I’m just going—let me just speak to Mary, because I think she might be looking for somebody to have coffee with.

RPS:

Okay, let me stop this for a second.

[Recording stopped]

[Recording started again]

EMW:

That’s what I thought.

RPS:

Okay. Does that mean that you—you participated in some way?

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]

RPS:

Okay. Tell me about that.

EMW:

We would march in front of stores, and they would give us a sign, and we would picket, you know, march back and forth. Probably after about the second day, that’s when the big meeting was at Woman’s College.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

We were chastised for doing that with our jackets.

RPS:

Okay. Okay. What did it mean to you to do that? What did it feel like you were saying by doing that?

EMW:

That even though I was going to Woman’s College, that I identified with that struggle, with that change that needed to be made, and I was just so proud that some other white women at Woman’s College felt the same way, and we wanted to be supportive. And we wanted to do our part.

RPS:

Right, right. Were there ever times when you thought about leaving Woman’s College and going to Bennett or going to an all-black or historically black school?

EMW:

Just that first week.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

After that, you know, it wasn’t—as I said, going to school with women probably is completely different than being in an, a co-ed environment.

RPS:

That’s a good point. Why? How so?

EMW:

Well, I think estrogen and testosterone just cause you to react differently, you know? [laughing] Really. Even the—I’m sure there were some young women—‘cause, see, they were there from all over North Carolina. I’m sure there were women there that just hated the fact that we were there. But estrogen doesn’t cause you to act out the same way as, you know? So, you know, I mean it was just different in terms of how they handled it.

RPS:

So, if those people were there, they never got in your face?

EMW:

Huh-uh [no]. They never—

RPS:

Was there anything subtle like—

EMW:

Huh-uh [no].

RPS:

That made you think, “That girl is not glad that I am here.”

EMW:

Other than not speaking or ignoring, which was very much a part of what we were used to already. You know, that wasn’t new, being treated like you were invisible. That wasn’t new. And, also, there was so many others who were different even from the South. You know, it was back, also, in the early ‘60s when it was really cool to be different from your parents, to do something that was strange and odd. So, even the girls who probably came from very segregated environments, it was the thing to do. I mean that was one way they could be different. That was one way they could be strange when they went back home was to have a black friend.

RPS:

[laughing]

EMW:

So, it was really an interesting time. We got along very well. And, then, we always retreated. Because I can remember sometimes on Saturday night all the black students would be in one room, and we would just play cards to two to three o’clock in the morning. But it would be all black. You know, it would just be us.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And we could talk about anything we wanted to, and talk about the white students and the white teachers, or get tips from the older students, older students or whose class not to take. You know, just those kinds of things. So, we had that support system. And, then, the larger environment was not as bad as some of the things people were seeing on TV. I think it was much more difficult integrating high schools, public high schools than say a place like Woman’s College.

RPS:

One of the reasons that I’m so interested in these issues is that I have a sense that I think that as the years go by, I think that high school students now, white and black, and college students now, white and black, I think they’re having an increasingly hard time believing that this is the way it was, you know? Because it happens with many historical changes like those generations can’t believe it was that way. But do you have that sense? Or do you think historians are doing a good job describing those times?

EMW:

Uh—

RPS:

It may be from working with students, you probably have a sense of what they think.

EMW:

I think about this in relation to my own sons. Because they did—not only did they come up in a different time, but because I always lived in neighborhoods or places that had been desegregated, so had they. I don’t think they’ve ever gone to an all-black—but, anyway, and, so, you know, this is kind of like pretty much the way life is, or the way it’s supposed to be. Because that’s the way it is. And they’ve heard about it. What—what I think I have observed now is that period of desegregation and integration is referred to with a lot of pride. I think in the United States that we have done this. And the people who were leaders in that, who were part of making that change, were so important in society. And so many people were passionate about it and got involved in it, but I think people like this generation wished they had something that they could be that passionate about, something that important.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

That they could help make happen. And they want to equate certain situations as being of the same social significance. And they miss the opportunity to bring that passion to things that really need that kind of passion like the war and poverty and better wages. Why aren’t we tearing up this country for better minimum wages? I mean that is just as important to African Americans as desegregation was. You know, if you can’t make it in the economy of the society that you live in, you are still going to be underclass. Maybe not because you’re black, but because you’re poor.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And I think everybody wants to make things about race and it’s class. I would just like to see more passion and more—more willingness to fight for the things surrounding the schools, jobs, minimum wage. I think the people that work here start here at Carol Woods make, I think, it’s $8.50 an hour. Because Carol Woods adopted—I was on the board when we did this—the living wage rather than minimum wage as the starting salary.

RPS:

You were on the board of?

EMW:

Carol Woods.

RPS:

Carol Woods, okay.

EMW:

When that was done. I just think there are a lot of things to be passionate about. I know symbols are important, and I know there was a lot of passion around the renaming of Airport Road. I didn’t share it. I think symbols are great, symbols are fine. But, you know, when you have a council member saying, “I think we should change the name because my parents underpaid our maid.” And I’m thinking, “How is that going to help your maid to change the name of Airport Road?” Give her some money. You know?

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

If she was underpaid, give her some money. Go back and say, “Look, we really underpaid you. We owe you financially.”

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

Pay—give her some money. Those are kinds of things that really drive me up the wall.

RPS:

Right. Kind of a disconnect there.

EMW:

Right. My family underpaid our housekeeper. So we should change the name of Airport Road.

RPS:

I remember that.

EMW:

And you see in that setting you can’t say, “How about giving her some money?” You have to sort of keep quiet.

RPS:

Well, I can see you saying that, though. Sometimes you would say those things [laughing]. You know what I mean?

EMW:

But tell me, Rob, what are you doing? Tell me more about why you are doing this and what is going on at [UNC]G?

RPS:

I am taking a history course that meets one day a week. It’s Southern History course, and it is—it has a focus on public history. And the project we have to do is an oral history project. We needed to find somebody that was at UNC Greensboro in the ‘60s, and, so, we are going to be writing a paper based on a person—writing a paper about you as well as fleshing out some of the historical context of what was going on in North Carolina and the country at that time. I want to see if I can—

EMW:

Well, my oldest son finished [UNC]G with honors. He loved it, and he’s done very, very well. And, so, we have two sets of experiences from that institution. I think the all-girls’ school was neater, though. As a matter of fact, they were talking about it when I was there. And a lot of faculty were dreading that because that’s why they liked teaching there: it was all women. And they thought women perform better when they aren’t in class with men. The gender stuff starts to click in, in the classrooms. And they loved seeing women achieve at a high level, stretch themselves, which according to them based on their experience they didn’t see that much, in those days.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

Now, it’s different.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

It’s completely different.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

But in those days it was—they thought it would be—and, you know, they said all the leadership positions would end up being in the hands of males, whereas women had had all the leadership positions. And, you know, and I saw that when I went back. Black students, Neo-Black Society, had me back for one of their annual banquet speakers one year. The president of the Neo-Black Society was a man. And all the rest of the officers were women. I was just so mad at those women I didn’t know what to do. Because women were still outnumbering the men. Because this was a long time ago.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

Right after they had—

RPS:

Right, sure.

EMW:

—started admitting men. And I said, “How in the world did this happen?” And I just—I had to say something about it in a speech.

RPS:

And did you?

EMW:

Yeah, I did. I’m sitting there. All the other officers were women. The head person was a man. I thought, “Well, this is what my professors were afraid would happen.”

RPS:

Looking back at the ’91 interview, and you say looking back on being at the Woman’s College you and other early black students were trailblazers in a way. Not in a way, you were trailblazers or pioneers. Did it feel like—is that what you felt like when you were there? Did you have a sense that you were a trailblazer? Is that a part of why you were doing it?

EMW:

Just trying to remember how I felt. I felt it was important. I felt that it was important that I do well even though it was really a struggle. Academically it was a terrible struggle. Looking back I can appreciate the pioneer aspect of it. But at the time it was just a struggle to pass and keep going. It wasn’t, you know, I’ve got to do this because I’m a pioneer, huh-uh [no]. It’s—

RPS:

The grind being a student?

EMW:

The grind, yeah. And being a student coming from a high school—I remember, you know, in one class a woman said, “Let’s”—“Okay, here’s a paragraph, and I want you all to précis it.” It stands out in my mind so much. I’m thinking. “I don’t know what the hell that is.” Everybody else took their pencil and paper and just started writing. I never heard of it. And so that’s what I mean about it just being a struggle, just being hard. And, you know, only later to find out that, “Take a paragraph like that long, and, you know, make it like,” you know, like that.

RPS:

Right, right.

EMW:

Saw the same thing in far less words. You know, it’s just things we didn’t know. We hadn’t been exposed to from our school, so. Not only did we have to try to make it, we had to catch up.

RPS:

How did you graduate from high school at sixteen? Where did you get ahead?

EMW:

My mother and her friends had a friend that taught—her best friend was a first and second grade teacher. And she had a daughter the same age. And back in those days when records weren’t being kept like they are now, when we were four we were pretty precocious. So, Ms. Kearns started taking us to school and putting us in her class. And, so, for two years we did first and second grade work. And, so, when we were six and it was time to enroll us in school I remember my daddy saying, “Well, she’s been in first and second grade for two years.” And I remember instead of them putting me in the first grade, plopped us down in the third grade. That’s how it got started [laughing].

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But, you know, my parents—my mother and Ms. Kearns had taken us to school with them. I guess it’s kind of like a daycare. I mean we would go to class every day. We had our little desk. And we were in there with those kids for two years. And the principal didn’t mind.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

So, it was time to register us for school they plopped us down in the third grade instead of first. So, I graduated two years early but not because I skipped any classes.

RPS:

Okay. Let me ask you one more thing about UNC Greensboro, and I have a feeling I’m going—I know I’m going to have more that I want to ask you, and I’m hoping that maybe we will be able to figure out a time to get together one more time.

EMW:

Okay.

RPS:

But tell me about the housekeepers. We talked about this briefly. But they sound like they were really important to you.

EMW:

Well, they were—

RPS:

Annie Reaves—

EMW:

Annie Reaves and Victoria Johnson.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

Annie was the first-floor maid, and Victoria was second- and third-floor maid in Shaw. They lived in Greensboro. They were so proud. I would—You know, like in any place the housekeepers are kind of the lowliest workers. And to have black students in the dorms where they worked, they were really proud and supportive. And—

RPS:

And they were black?

EMW:

Yes, and they were like mothers away from home. I had more hugs and kisses from those two women than I had from my own mother. Oh, they just loved us and nurtured us and looked after us. Would tell us things, and ask about us. And on Sundays would pick us up to go to church with them. They would take us home for dinner.

RPS:

Oh, wow.

EMW:

Yeah, I mean they were just, ah [sighing], I just loved them. And for years after I graduated I would go back to the dorm looking for them. And once they started getting moved all around I couldn’t keep up with them. I stopped going back. But, they were very important to me.

RPS:

What kind of things would they say when they were letting you know how proud they were? How would they—what would they say?

EMW:

Just always inquiring about how we were doing, how we were feeling? Do we want to go to church Sunday? Could they pick us up? There was something special—I think one—one of their husbands had sort of like a night club dive—kind of person. She was always asking us if we wanted to go there on Saturday night. And I knew, no. So, I never did that. But she was so proud of it. So, one Sunday while it was closed she took us to see it. And it was pretty isolated. I’m so glad I never went to that place. But, they were just really nice. I mean we saw them every day. And every day it was a hug and a smile and—

RPS:

They hadn’t been to—had they been to college themselves?

EMW:

Huh-uh [no].

RPS:

Okay. Then they, obviously, well, not obviously sounds like they were a whole earlier generation of living with segregation and discrimination.

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]. And, you know, I would say they played a part, because they played an important role in desegregating that campus. Those maids and janitors in those early days, because they definitely were very, very open and supportive of black students. They were my mothers away from home.

[End of Interview]

[Beginning of fellow-up Interview]

RPS:

Today is Friday, November 17. We are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I’m Rob Shapard, and I’m talking, again, with Mrs. Edith Wiggins. We are at the Carol Woods Retirement Community. And I wanted to follow up just on a couple of points from our last conversation, and one of the things that jumped out at me a little bit was your experience in 1960 when the North Carolina A&T students began—basically began the Sit-in movement that really took off from there in North Carolina and several other states. I just wanted to hear a little bit more about what you remember about that time, and a little bit more about what you described in terms of going down after a couple of days and participating in some of the picketing. What do you remember about that?

EMW:

What I remember was a white friend of mine in my dorm came to me and asked if I would be interested in going down and participating. And, of course, my roommate and I had been following it closely via the news. And I jumped at the chance to have someone to go with.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And we thought it would be important for whoever was there to know that we were not from A&T, but that we were from Woman’s College. There were students at Woman’s College who wanted to participate. And so we wore our class jackets.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

I don’t know if there—if they still have that tradition, but in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s they still had the tradition of every class had a different color. So, as people walked around campus you knew how they were classified.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

And we had our green jackets with patches. We were the first class to veer away from getting the white typing all around. So, we just had a patch on our pocket, breast pocket. And we wore those when we went downtown. And, you know, you go downtown and they ask you, “Do you want to participate?” And you say, “Yeah.” They give you a sign, and you just get in and just, you know, follow along. And that’s what we did a couple of times. And I’m not aware that we were in danger or, you know, anything out of the ordinary happened. But not too many days after that I remember there was an assembly called on campus. And all the women had to go. And I remember the chancellor, and I think it was [Otis] Singletary. I think he was the chancellor [it was Chancellor Gordon Black]. And his comments were about what was going on downtown. But the details of it, you know, I really can’t remember.

RPS:

Sure.

EMW:

But I know that’s what the assembly was about.

RPS:

Do you remember—was there any sense of that you guys were—was there any sense that you were being discouraged, that it was—were you criticized or discouraged about that by the university?

EMW:

I don’t remember. And I don’t want to mischaracterize anyone’s position.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But I really don’t remember. I know there was this big assembly. And there may have been some comments about the jackets in terms of that pinpoints who you are even more. But I can’t remember if that was a do wear them, or don’t wear them, or we don’t care if you wear them, or just be aware that when you wear them.

RPS:

Okay.

EMW:

But I do know that the jackets were mentioned, but I don’t remember anything else other than, you know, this particular friend was white. I can see her face. If I had my book I could point her out, because I don’t remember her name. But, you know, off and on we went. We continued to go.

RPS:

It sounds like from reading about it it was a combination of, you know, there were students who were sitting in at restaurants and places that were segregated, and then there were people—since there were only so many seats to try to desegregate, there were people who were picketing. And you weren’t sitting in—

EMW:

No.

RPS:

—you were picketing?

EMW:

Right.

RPS:

And, then, the other question was kind of bigger picture from there. As that—as the Greensboro Sit-ins continued and it spread, do you remember your consciousness of the civil rights movement beyond Greensboro? I think we talked a little bit about this last time, but.

EMW:

Well, I was certainly aware of what was going on, and felt like I was a part of it doing what I was doing. Because it certainly was not easy being there. But that’s all that I can recall that I was aware of it just like I would be aware of what’s going on now in the world. By being where I was, that was my part. You know, I felt—

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

—that that was a part of it.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

It wasn’t a part that you had cameras and reporters following you around all the time, but, you know, at another level you knew you were doing something that was out of the ordinary and that was, hopefully, moving everyone forward.

RPS:

Well, you were thinking about this as we talked. I mean you were doing one of the things that people, you know, were trying to make possible which was going to the school that you wanted to go to on an integrated—in an integrated setting.

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes].

RPS:

You know, I think that is what you are saying, that’s the way I understand it.

EMW:

Yeah, and at that time in the early ‘60s I think that was what was considered important: getting in, being there. But we’ve moved beyond that now. And it’s not just being there but having total access to the benefits of being there. And, so, you know, it’s constantly evolving. I think those of us who did that in the ‘60s paid a price because all the emphasis was on getting in. But there was absolutely no assistance in helping you cope with this new environment, the new academic expectations, these just the psychological pressure of living in that kind of situation every day.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

So, a lot of what we created on our own to cope, you know, helped, but we were just sort of left to our own creativity and ingenuity to help each other survive. But now I’m glad to see that institutions are recognizing that they have a responsibility beyond admitting diversity or creating diversity, but having programs to help it become meaningful.

RPS:

Right. Is that one of the things that you did in your job at UNC?

EMW:

Yeah, yeah. I guess that’s why I really—

RPS:

You really lived that.

EMW:

Uh-huh [yes]. So, you realize that access is just the beginning. Full integration, this takes a lot more effort, a lot more programming. Really, and a lot more preparation of the young people who are going to do it. But I think they’re better prepared now.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

Because many of the kids that are going to Carolina are coming out of integrated high schools. Very few are coming out of single-race environments.

RSP:Right.

EMW:

So, they are much better prepared.

RSP:Right. The last thing I’m thinking of is reading about some of the early years of the civil rights movement kind of in the late ‘50s, you know, places like Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and how dramatic and violent or near-violent that was. Why do you think it was—so that was in 1957? You started at Woman’s College in ’58. Why do you think that something like that, why was it so different? Why do you think it was relatively smoother when you went to Woman’s College?

EMW:

I think because it was a women’s college. I don’t know what to say beyond that. I just think there’s that much difference between young males and young females that even though there probably were some attitudes just as strong—held just as strong as probably some male attitudes were that women—the response was different.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

They didn’t feel the need to be confronted and hostile. Silence and ignoring, while that might hurt just as much, it still is not as violent—

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

—and physically threatening. It’s psychologically threatening, but I wasn’t in fear of bodily harm at all. And the only time I did have that kind of heightened anxiety was from some white males who were yelling stuff. And the women got extremely quiet. So, I—

RPS:

I remember you saying that.

EMW:

I just think it’s the difference between adolescent white women and adolescent white men, because I hear some of the African Americans who integrated the high school in Chapel Hill talk about some of their experiences and how they would walk past some of the fraternity houses when they would go to the school on Franklin Street.

RPS:

Right.

EMW:

And how those white fraternity people would yell things and what not. So, I just think the women were different.

RPS:

Well, I better stop because otherwise I’ll keep you here for another hour.

EMW:

Right, okay, well.

RPS:

Thank you.

EMW:

I wanted to ask you one question—

[End of Interview]