Partial Transcript: Carter: You were talking about being grown up, being respected, sharing in the family decisions because you were in higher education.
Turner: My parents didn't keep big financial secrets from us or anything. We knew when Dad was buying this little farm over here, or we balanced my dad's books.
Interviewee: Linda Edmonds TurnerInterview Date: March 2, 1996 Interview Location: Women's Center at Virginia Tech, Price House, Blacksburg, Virginia Interviewer: Elaine Carter Transcriber: Cynthia Hurd Duration: 01:29:21
Elaine Carter: I have captured quite a great deal, but I just need you toquickly go over it this time.
Linda Edmonds Turner: I grew up in Halifax County. I went to the school systemthere. My family--my mother's side of the family was from a share cropping environment. My father's side of the family owned their property and a lot of relatives and cousins were nearby. We went to church together, we played together, but we all had our own separate little farms. The girls as well as the boys worked the property, and in my family since we only had one boy, everybody worked. 1:00
Carter: The girls really got it! So you had equality.
Turner: And there were some things that we weren't allowed to do. In the tobaccofields, we called it pulling tobacco which was really taking the leaves off the stuff. The men did that, and the women would be under a shed, and we would string it or put it on the sticks. Then it had to be put up in the barn, like the high climbing up in the barns, we didn't do that. We didn't pick it out of the fields, but when it came to chopping it in the fields when it was growing, getting the grass and stuff, we were out there doing it. We always had a job, something to do.
My father was one of these people that used to like to get up real early becausethe day was passing. I could have stood a lot more of time to pass. Until this 2:00day I'm not an early bird. But he was also very interactive. We played, and we made games out of things--like we were digging potatoes and who could have the funniest shaped potato, who could have the biggest one, who could find the smallest one, or who could have the one that was shaped more like eggs or something. It challenged you as we did the work, and he would do these games with us, and my mom too but more my dad. We would get little awards for things--like a great award would be a bag of potato chips.
Carter: Anything that was store bought.
Turner: We didn't go into the stores that much. We'd go downtown occasionally,but as little girls we never went inside the country store because my father 3:00felt that a lot of the white men who were at the store would make nasty remarks. And they did, particularly as a girl got older, so we didn't go to stores other than when we would go with my grandfather on my mother's side of the family. He had a credit program in this store. He was a sharecropper, and he would take the four of us in there, and he would tell us, "You can have anything you want." My eyes would get as big as plates, and I would get a big soda that was my own because we would usually get one and divide it between the four of us, and a bag of chips. I thought that my grandfather was rich. I thought he owned that store.
As children we were always taught that we were somebody, that you had to excel.I always knew I was going to college, although my mother and father did not go. 4:00My father went through the eighth grade, and my mother graduated from high school.
She wanted desperately to go to college, but her father thought it was a wasteof money and would not sign for her to get a loan. He could have borrowed the money, but he just didn't want to go into debt. I can understand him having come through the depression. My mother was kind of the silent force behind my dad saying all of them will go to college. We were four children born in five years, so we were little stair steps. We all did go, we all did finish, and all of us got graduate degrees. It was through their vision, and my mother in fact tended to sell my father on the importance of college. At first I think he thought that if you just worked hard, but then times started to change.
When I went to elementary school it was a three-room school, segregated. I did5:00well as did my other brother and sisters, but we were expected to do well. There was more responsibility with me being the oldest girl--I had a brother a year older than me and then the two younger sisters. My father would tell my brother and me, he would say, "You two have to do well. Because if you do well, the younger two will follow you. You're older; you have to set the example." That was such a heavy burden sometimes. At times I was like, "Why do I--?" He would say, "Now you know better than that. You're not supposed to do that." That would just really make me so angry sometimes. I used to wish I were--.
Carter: --the baby.6:00
Turner: Always I was the older one, so in being the oldest girl I had to set theexample for the girls. My brother had to set the example not necessarily for me because it was like the two of us together. He never said, "Your brother and then you--," but it was like "you two."
I went on to a local high school that had about a thousand kids in it, eightthrough twelve. There was only one school in the county, again segregated--segregated bussing system, segregated teachers. When they offered the SAT, I couldn't even take it in my high school because they didn't offer it there. It was the first time I ever went to the white high school. It was on a Saturday morning. I remember the teachers that were monitoring the test I was taking. One of them was standing over my shoulders watching what I was writing. 7:00Whenever I look at my SAT scores and people say our norms were different from the white norms, I know some of the reason was like this extra pressure of being in a different environment and somebody watching you as though you were, just to me, like something from a zoo--just different.
I graduated the top of my high school class. I always liked fabrics and textilesand stuff; my mother used to sew. That's why I went into home economics, clothing and textiles. I just loved the feel of fabrics. It just happened that I was also very good in math and chemistry. At that time I didn't even know it had a match. But in textiles, most textile products are chemicals. When I came to 8:00college, Virginia Tech, I could specialize in that. That's one thing I liked.
Carter: Dropping back just a little bit, I can clearly see the theme of yourvalue system around achievement and the emphasis on education. What did you learn from your family about race relations? How were you taught to handle it?
Turner: I was taught that you are as good as anybody on the face of the earth,but you have to be careful. If you're really good, really really good, you'll get noticed, but you've got to be really really good. Even with that, you won't always get your just dues with white folks. We used to say "white folks." White 9:00folks do it this way versus black folks. It was like a reality that discrimination existed, but you couldn't stop because of that. That's what it was like. It is there, do not fool yourself that it's not there. But don't let it keep you from striving. Other than that I was not schooled on anything about race relation.
Carter: The protectiveness though, you mentioned earlier, about how close--thewomen did not go a lot into public places.
Carter: There were lewd remarks from the white men.
Turner: We were protected in that way. We were just denied access by our own10:00parents. Because they knew if something happened, if someone said something to us, what's my dad going to do? So I think that was done to keep things from getting to the next level. To me men are men. Most men in most societies protect their women, and we were protected. Now some black girls were less protected, but in my family I didn't date in high school. I went to the prom, maybe a couple of movies, but I didn't date. Coming to Tech was the first time I was ever really free to date. That was a new experience for me. 11:00
With my parents, the protectiveness--I never resented it, that was just the wayit was. That was the way it was. I never knew of anyone that got raped. When I was growing up as a girl, you kind of hear about things like such and such a girl got in trouble. That meant she got pregnant. There would be whispers about that child being by a white man. That was more in my grandparents' generation than in mine. I was never close enough to anybody white when I was young to have that interaction, so what I knew I heard. 12:00
One memorable thing in my mind, my first memory of white people it was a verynegative one. My first memorable thing about white people in my community was when we got vaccinated for school. They went around to the local elementary schools, and there would be a team, I guess, of two or three (doctors, nurses). The parents of the five-year-olds who were going to enter school the next year were told to bring there children over to the local elementary school and get their vaccination shots for polio. My father took me over and--that was another thing, my father did a lot of stuff. My mother would be at home cooking, and he would take us to this and to that, so they shared that. It wasn't just that she looked after the kids. She made me a red, white, and blue striped dress with a white collar. I knew this was a special day. I was going over to this school to 13:00get this shot. I knew they were going to stick me, and I was afraid of that.
We went, and we sat in a line, and there were maybe 10 or 15 little kids aheadof me, I was the last one to go. By the time I got there I was petrified, just petrified. I kicked, and I screamed, and they stuffed my mouth with cotton. I remember that. They held me too. And my father--I can still feel being held. One was holding here, and I don't know if it was intentional, this guy just had a wad of that cotton stuff that doctors use, that gauze, he put it over my little mouth, and the other one held me. We get back out in the truck, and daddy said, 14:00"Now I know that was pretty bad, but it wasn't so bad. I'm going to give you a surprise." And he took me to the local store, and he went inside, and I sat outside in the truck, and he brought me a grape soda. But I hated that dress. That day on. It's funny, I used to rarely wear a combination of red, white, and blue. Every time I saw those colors, I thought of that dress. Nobody said anything to me. They had these white coats, and the women had on white dresses--the nurses, and I had never seen that before. I was so little, and they looked so big. To me they looked like somebody from another planet because I had not been that close to anybody white before. And never was again really, until-- 15:00
Carter: --until Tech.
Turner: Yeah, until Tech.
Carter: Why Tech? How did you learn about Tech, and why did you pick Tech?
Turner: When I was in high school I always thought I was going to go to Hampton.My high school home ec teacher told me that she had gotten a letter from Virginia Tech, and the College of Home Economics said they were doing some sort of competition in the spring of our junior year where girls across the state--I think we filled out an application or wrote an essay on something or other--would be invited to Tech for a two- or three-day program, and she wanted me to apply. I was the top student in my class at that time, and I loved home ec, and she was very gung-ho at it and stuff. I did it because she asked me to, and so she had another teacher friend that was going to be here with a student 16:00also that was going to apply. She couldn't take me herself for those three days, so she asked my mother if she could drive me. So my mother asked my aunt to ride along with her, so both of them drove me up here my junior year of high school in the spring. I remember the drive vividly because the dogwood blossoms were coming out, and this was kind of a long trip for me. This was like two hours that was being done for me, for my hometown. We drove here, and also I was staying overnight in a hotel.
Carter: Now where did you stay?
Turner: There was a hotel right in downtown Blacksburg. The Motor Inn orsomething like that.
Carter: So at that time the hotels were integrated?
Turner: I stayed with this teacher and this other girl. I vaguely remember the17:00other girl but not much. My mother and aunt were driving here and they dropped me off. We met this lady at the hotel, this other teacher. And then they showed us where the campus was. We drove over here, and we looked at the program, and it said that the next day I would have to attend a tea. Well, to my mother and my aunt Iretha that meant that I needed a hat. So they hustled me off to downtown Blacksburg where I got a hat at Roses Department Store. You know those little kind of like mesh hats. Little white pillbox hat. So I had this hat, and I had my little gloves on.
They left after they deposited me with this teacher, and when the tea came about18:00I was the only person sitting there with this little hat. The white people didn't wear hats to tea. But to my mother and aunt, a tea you needed a hat and gloves.
Well I applied to the program. I thought that the campus was so pretty. Thebuilding looked like castles, fairy castles, little fairyland. I could just see the princess riding around on the horses. It was so green and lush. I was treated very nicely the two or three day I was here. Then I went back home, and I applied here formally. I didn't get the scholarship or whatever it was by the way. I applied to go to school. I was accepted. I did get a full scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation and whatever else it was back then. And so 19:00that's how I ended up coming here. I had no notion of going to any white institution period.
My parents, although they hadn't gone to college did not say, "Well you have togo to this school or that school." You went to college. We got to choose. But that meant Hampton or Virginia State or Howard. My brother went to Howard by the way. It was from the pool of black colleges. I did not know the difference between a Harvard or a Ferrum College. They were all white. Totally different worlds. The rankings of Virginia Tech versus UVA, I learned that once I got here, what state schools were versus private. That's how I got here. My mom and dad drove me when I first came in the fall of 1966 as a freshman. 20:00
Carter: Despite the years, I was doing this in the late forties, and it's sosimilar. The whole experience of going to school. All right now we're at Tech, and you're here with your roommate and into this place. What was it like when you first got here? What were your first impressions of being a student here?
Turner: My first impressions. I have to back up a little bit. I was the onlyblack student in my high school going to a white university then. Everybody else was going to a black school. So all of the staff and faculty in my high school knew that Linda was going to Tech. When I finished the spring term, got the 21:00degree from high school, the diploma, that summer all the tension just started to build. I was saying, "My God, now it's really going to happen." I started to really get afraid that I couldn't make it. Not so much that I didn't think that I had it, this was a totally different environment, maybe I'm not as good as I think I am. I remember sitting on our front porch with my dad and I said, "Dad, you know I'm really getting nervous about this. What if I go up there and I just fail flat on my face?" He said to me, "Well if you go up there and fail flat on your face at least you went up there and got one semester free! How many people can say that they even ever won a scholarship?" So he never said to me, "You won't fail. If it happens, I know you will try." That wasn't even a discussion. 22:00He knew I would give it my best. But if for some reason it did not work out I didn't need to feel bad about having tried, and if I failed it was not going to be a disappointment. I dare any of them to say anything to you because you're the one that has to sweat it. He didn't say those words, but that was the tone. "If you go up there," he said, "just let any of them say anything because you got that much free. Yes, you did baby." I can see him now sitting there.
So that gave me a reassurance that if things didn't go right, I could always gohome. But I wanted to succeed desperately, desperately to do well. I'd always 23:00been an achiever. When I got here I knew Fredi was going to be a black girl. At first I didn't because she described herself as tawny in the letter she wrote me. She said, "I'm from Roanoke, Virginia, and I have a tawny complexion." I remember my mom and us ran to the dictionary, "What's tawny!?"
I said well that means she's got to be black because nobody white would admitthey were browner. That was a description of lighter brown. I think we may have talked by phone once before I got here, and I don't remember if she got there first or I got there first. I do remember it was a rainy week. Mom and Dad left me. Fred came, and we got together very shortly afterward. 24:00
That week was so packed with things. We had to go to the gym and register.Everywhere there was a line, lines of people. People watched you all the time. You could be standing somewhere, and somebody was always watching you. It was like being in a glass cage. Somebody was always watching you, always watching you. You kind of got used to it after a while, but you were always on the stage. A lot of the students just kind of looked at you. They didn't say anything. You could hear them kind of whispering to each other sometimes. The girls in the dorm were cautious. I soon found out there were Chicky and Jackie down in 25:00Eggleston, and Chiquita and Linda. I think Fredi probably found out first because she was real busy and into everything. We got to know each other fairly soon. Fredi and I just mixed right in at Hillcrest. We did whatever the other girls did.
There were little committees. There were pajama parties. We'd go; they might nothave wanted us to, but we were there. We never considered ourselves uninvited. Anything that was in that dorm--
Carter: You entitled yourselves?
Turner: We entitled ourselves. We had a really nice dorm mother, Mrs. Reynolds.She was real sweet and southern and very hospitable to us. Some of the girls parents eyes got as big as saucers when they saw us. My parents would bring my 26:00stuff in, you could see them stop dead in their tracks. Sometimes when the kids would come back from breaks and the parents would bring them in, somebody would ask, "Well where do I get paper towels?" They thought Fred and I were the hired help. They thought we were cleaning the rooms, and we would just happen to be walking down the hall, and we'd say, "Well no, we go to school here." Some of the students--when their parents got here--they kind of acted like they didn't know you. When their parents were gone, they didn't bother you, and they would talk, but then you had your little circle of friends, your buddies.
A lot of the girls I remember were from New Jersey. I believe New Jersey had a27:00reciprocal agreement or something with Virginia Tech at the time. One girl majoring in Home Ec that was from my hometown, from the white high school. I used to have to make her talk. Make her talk. I wasn't a very aggressive sort of person. I was determined, but not aggressive. I didn't have the much more open Fredi personality or the Chicky personality. That's their style, and I envied them for that ability--they were more cosmopolitan that I was. I remember I would ask this white girl from my hometown, we'd be in classes, "In your high school did you do this or that?" And she'd go, "Oh--" She didn't want to talk to me, but as the years went by, she would talk more, but it was like she was 28:00always judging whether she should do it or not.
There were some of the girls that were just truly friendly all the time; somejust ignored you totally. Most of them just kind of ignored you. You were invisible in a way. The boys saw you. They looked, and they didn't look. There wasn't to me this direct confrontation. It was kind of like you were there. A lot of them didn't approve of integration just because of their background. Immediately it was like this has to be done. It was almost like well if we don't do this, they're going to be marching and burning like they're doing down in Mississippi and stuff. So that's how I felt. It had to be done. That the people in the administration were going to say, "We're going to have this happen smoothly." 29:00
There was a black staff that cooked for Hillcrest. One of the guys was namedCharlie. There were three or four of them. I can still see their faces. We'd go through that line. They treated Fredi and me just like queens. You could just see the pride in their faces. They would do little things like after a while they knew the certain dishes that I liked and Fredi liked, and if they started to run low on those things they would put it in little bowls over to the side, and when we came through--sometimes they would just run low on a certain thing, they always had a lot of food. But they would make a big to-do about it saying, "We just ran out!" When you say, "I want this, this and this," the next thing you know on your tray there would be this little bowl of cherry pie. I'd say, 30:00"Charlie." He'd just wave you on, and sometimes I'd see them outside the dorm, and they would say, "We're just so proud of you. Just so proud of you. Just get your lessons, and don't let these folks bother you." They would say, "Get your lessons! Get your lessons! Study hard. We know it's probably hard, but you guys are the first!" But when they were with us, with the other girls, they didn't like fall out all over us.
Carter: They waited until you were alone.
Turner: They waited until we were alone. Then we'd have our littleconversations. We were so young, and they were mature men in their thirties, which seemed real old to me then. But they were never disrespectful, always 31:00almost fatherly-like to us. I remember one saying to Fredi, "Now Fredi, you better be careful, don't you be runnin'. You're goin' to fall and break your neck!" It was just good to see those black faces.
I was here a week, and then I started to get homesick. It was rainin', it wasjust raining. That week it rained and rained and rained. I missed--
Turner: The first month or so was kind of like a honeymoon. It was so new, andthen you kind of settle in. I just remember it was like you were being watched all the time. We knew about the six black girls, and there were about 20 black 32:00guys. People started to pair up rather quickly, and we'd do things together. I had a boyfriend that was at Morgan State. I don't think Freddie had a boyfriend at the time. I think Chicky had a boyfriend, and Jackie met Eli. I don't remember Jackie without Eli. I really don't.
There was this guy named Warren or Walter that would invite me to these formalsand stuff. We'd do those things. For church, we didn't go every Sunday, but we'd go to this little black church in town.
Carter: Probably AME? There were two AME and Baptist I think. AME was on Penn Street.33:00
Turner: Somebody would come by and pick us up and take us to church. There weretwo black families. One black family had a lot of girls, I remember. The Snells? The Snells. They had a lot of teenage girls in their family. We used to call the people who lived in town the townies. I believe there was another family called the Banisters?
Carter: The Banisters, yes! The Banisters worked--I think Mr. Banister workedhere. They lived over in Wake Forest.
Turner: And Rubell or Rubella--
Carter: Yes, Rubella Banister.
Turner: She used to--. Did she cook for people?
Carter: I think she did.
Turner: For Jean Harper, who was the Dean of the College of Home Economics. Thatwas my true mentor when I came here, Dean Harper. At the time I didn't know that 34:00she worked for Dean Harper. I found that out a couple of years later.
There was nowhere to go to get your hair done. It was around that time that theycame out with this "Curl Free" which was the first chemical relaxer. So Freddie and I got this "Curl Free," and we did our hair. What was good about it was you didn't have to use the straightening comb. None of the six of us was a hairdresser. Sometimes it just falls out naturally that one can do hair or something. I was really glad when the "Curl Free" came, with washing your hair and trying to straighten it, because we were still straightening the hair and stuff then.
That first semester, we called them quarters then, I just worked real hard. The35:00hardest course for me was physical education. I took a course in gymnastics. Oh my goodness, what a mistake! I just was not--.I was very awkward and skinny, like I'm still skinny, but I was real skinny then. I was knees and feet. I remember having to do these headstands. I was good in sports in high school but not to this degree that they wanted. We had this trampoline. I remember going up in the air and bouncing out in some man's arms across the gym. I went up, and somebody caught me. I didn't know the thing would throw you that far. I was fairly athletic because I grew up on the farm and climbed trees and stuff, but I just was not coordinated. I got a C in that course. The other courses I got A's 36:00and B's.
In chemistry I did particularly well. I studied hard too. I was on a mission. Idon't know if it was self-imposed or I just always had to do well, so I was determined to do well. I studied hard, and I did do well. I got on the honor's list.
It was the next semester, the next term, that I approached Dean Harper about apart-time job--a work study program. I believe I started the spring term. I went only two quarters in my undergraduate without having a job. One of the reasons was I needed my own spending money. I didn't get extra money from the 37:00scholarship and stuff. I just didn't feel right asking Mama and Dad for it knowing that Gilda had to go to school, and then there was Sandra right behind Gilda, and my brother was already in college. I was healthy and I was doing well in school so I could make a few dollars myself that would be my own.
Dean Harper hired me in her office. She quickly learned that I was good in math,and I would do charts and stuff. That woman continued to groom me, but I didn't even know it was happening. She would do things like this: she would say, "Linda, take this report over to the president's office." I used to wonder why in the world would she want me to take it over there. It didn't have to be in 38:00for a day or two. But she was letting me go over there and see that office.
I didn't know that at the time. She would have me do things to give me exposureto other people. I still talk to the former president (Dr. T. Marshall Hahn). He has been a mentor to me as well throughout the years. He was instrumental in many positive changes at Virginia Tech. Dean Harper gave me that connection.
We were planning for Wallace Hall to be built, and we were working on adedication list. Once the building got built, I had a set of keys, my own set of keys to the building. I don't know if many people knew that, but I could go and come whenever I pleased. I knew every room in that building because I would give tours of the building.
I would also help her grade papers for a certain class. This is in the middle,the sophomore year. I was an undergraduate teaching assistant to her. She would 39:00give me as much as I could carry without it interfering with my studies.
She was a very abrupt, busy busy busy person. Some people would be just veryafraid of her. But to me she wasn't fake. If she didn't like something, you knew it. If she liked it you may not have known it because she was so fast. She would do reports. Her mind moved so fast that sometimes she would skip certain details, and I'd say, "Dean Harper, don't you also need a total on this page?" "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Go out there and tell Nancy to do this or that." Her secretary (Nancy) was very timid and was afraid to ask her things so she would send me in to ask her things. That was her personality, and I thrived with her 40:00kind of guidance. Also the responsibility she gave me. I found the course work challenging, but not overly challenging that I was scratching my head. Once I made it through that first semester--
Carter: Through the adjustment period.
Turner: Yes. I knew I could graduate. The only thing that would keep me fromgraduating was something that I had no control over. That's how I just knew I was going to graduate.
Carter: Linda, how were your faculty in general? Were they generally supportiveand responsive? Did the relationship with Dean Harper make a difference, you think?
Turner: I think she kind of paved the way by setting the stage--It felt like shewas saying, "Don't give her anything but-- 41:00
Carter: -- be fair.
Turner: Be fair. Some of the faculty over there--I think some were prejudiced.They would do their job, but they didn't really mingle with me. There were several that stood out that I always thought were very fair. Dr. Tozier was from Maine and a very "New England" person and very outspoken. Dean Harper was from Mississippi.
Turner: There was a Miss Glisson who was from Alabama or somewhere in there. Avery genteel southern head of the clothing and textile department. At first I couldn't tell whether she liked me or not--Miss Glisson. Later on after the first--second year when I really got into the major courses I knew she liked (respected) me, and I liked/respected her. They treated me with respect, but I was a student. I don't feel like a got a lot of extra freebies because of Dean 42:00Harper, but I'm sure if it hadn't been for her some of them would have been less concerned about me.
Once I left the College of Home Economics and went across campus it wasdifferent. I only had one or two classes up there my first year or two because you don't get into your major classes until third or fourth year. I took classes in the English Department, Math Department. It was just like you were a shadow. Usually you were the only black woman in the class, maybe two or three other women in the class was the exception.
I had a chemistry teacher named Mr. Furch--Dr. Furch. He taught one of these biglecture chemistry classes. I did well in chemistry.
I have to relate this story to you. It really tore me up this morning at the43:0075th Women's Anniversary brunch because I was trying to tell it, and I couldn't even tell it without crying. Now I'm a little bit together. People have often asked me if I ever saw any racism. I say, you know, some of it I saw, but it was done subtly, and then there was some that just hit you dead in the face. Most of it was very subtle.
There was this grad teaching assistant that taught the chemistry lab, and thatwas different than your lecture course. Dr. Furch taught that course. In this chemistry lab I was clumsy like cooking and things like that in general, but I knew the theory and stuff, so we always had pairs. I think maybe I was the only girl in class, I was the only girl. That particular day--.We had to wear dresses 44:00and skirts, and my skirts were to about right here below my knees and just little flat shoes. We didn't wear sneakers. A bottle of a very weak acid solution got knocked off the counter and onto my legs. It completely ate the hose off of my legs. The instructor in the class, he's red and fat and swollen, he reminded me of the term the red-neck. At that time I didn't even know what it meant, but the red neck. He would just glare at me, he always would just glare at me. He wouldn't say anything, just kind of look at me funny.
That day, when that happened, I just froze. I didn't scream or anything. I juststood there like a statue. My lab partner froze. The guy behind us looked like 45:00he got his wits immediately and took some water, cups of water, and started pouring them on my legs and washing this solution off. The teacher comes over and says, "What's going on over here?" He had this kind of rough voice. The guy was down there on the floor. I'm still speechless. He said that the solution fell over and on her legs, and he'd put this water on it. That teacher looked me directly in the eye and said, "You be more careful next time," and walked back to the other side of the room. Never looked down at my legs to see if I was injured or anything. This little, and I call him a little boy because he couldn't have been any more than 18 either, said to me, "Linda, I don't know, but I think you need to go to the bathroom and, you know, maybe take those off." 46:00
I was like a mummy. I walked out of there, and when I got outside of the room Istarted to shake. Down the hall walks Dr. Furch, and he said, "Miss Edmonds, what's wrong?" Then I told him and he got down on his knees, and he looked at my legs. Not in a sexual or familiar way, but concerned. He said, "Are you feeling any stinging or whatever?" I said, "No, I don't." I was visibly upset. I wasn't crying, but I was upset. He said, "You leave the lab immediately, and go to your room. Take a hot bath, and if you feel any sort of stinging, go to the infirmary right away. Do not wait." He asked me what we were doing in the lab. He said, "That's a very weak solution. It should not bother you." He reassured me. He said, "But go home." So I did. I got my little books, and I left. 47:00
We had a policy that your attendance in the lab counted towards your grade. Thatspring I got a B in lab because I missed that class. Had I not missed that class I would have gotten an A. I know. That to me showed while the guy was overtly racist subtly--I did miss the class, but I missed it for a reason. What hurt me the most was that I felt like I was treated worse than a dog on the street. If you've ever seen people that are abusive to animals? That's what I felt like, I'd just been kicked and you're just nothing. Just nothing. I remember walking out of there, and there's this weeping willow tree-- (cries) I just felt--Dr. 48:00Furch was the only person that had cared for me at that time. I don't know why I still cry about it, but it hurts so bad. I never told any of the kids. If I had, they wouldn't have given a damn, I don't think. It was just so humiliating. The B has never bothered me as much as the humiliation of it all because it was like 49:00I was naked. I felt naked.
Carter: So helpless too.
Carter: So helpless, to have something taken from you.
Turner: This was near the end of spring term. In my regular chemistry class itjust kind of did something to me that you could dare treat somebody like that. I wasn't hurt or anything, but just the way he talked to me, just the negativity that just came. If you're the leader of the class, you're supposed to set the tone for everybody else. This man was just a pure racist if there ever was one and one that did not care about me or my kind. 50:00
When I took my chemistry final exam which was about maybe another couple of daysfrom that, I was still kind of nervous from it. Yet these scan sheets that you fill the blanks in--Well somehow or another I was using the wrong blocks to answer. Now, I ain't never made that mistake before in my life. When I went to check my grade on Dr. Furch's door it said, "See me."
So I went to his office, and he said, "Miss Edmonds, when I was grading yourexam--" I didn't know why he had called me. He started asking me questions about chemistry. If you mix this with that what would you get? He said, "I knew you knew those answers. Looks like you got on the wrong line. With that being it you made an A like you usually do." He cared enough to check or to see. 51:00
That's one thing throughout my life I've noticed a lot of times black kids areso easily thrown either in the top or in the bottom of the heap. You've got to be so damn good that you can't make a mistake. When I taught classes I'd say to kids, "Unfortunately you can't afford to be average." That's the thing that I hated most about it is you're either in the top or you are in the bottom. It was like, I felt like I had to be good at everything, and I had to find out myself because for the study teams and study groups nobody wanted to pair up with you. 52:00
Turner: No, you were kind of assigned to teams first couple of years. Afteryou've been there awhile you kind of developed your own little friendships and stuff. When they started doing partners and things in classes, you didn't find anybody wanting to be your partner.
I always credited Dr. Furch with being the person that I first did an oral examwith, so when I did my doctoral dissertation I had to orally defend I had answered those questions in his office. My story is if I could thank two people that I never did thank properly it would be Dr. Furch and that little boy that washed my legs off. When you're that young, you think people are going to be there forever. Sometimes you don't know. There was that respect between--.If I 53:00could today, wherever that child is, that boy, I would say, "Thank you," and to Dr. Furch. He only had one hand. I always wondered if he blew it off in a chemical experiment. I hear that song "If I Could." If I could, I would grow him another hand. That's just how--.He just seemed to care. A lot of the teachers just didn't seem to care. I was there, and this is particularly in the classes that you ________(3660), I was there, and I did well, but they didn't give a damn one way or the other.
Carter: I think that persists. The positive, what I would call the unsolicited54:00reassurance, that's what makes it easier and _________(3738)
Turner: You know when you're young, you don't know the right questions to ask.You make mistakes. That's part of being young. You need that guidance. You need that "Hey, that was a good paper you wrote." You can write it on the paper. You could just put the A there or let's say maybe you got a C and the next time you got a B, say, "Hey you did better!" or "Are you having problems?" But nobody ever asked me those sorts of things. What I did I did on my own. I got the grade. It got around--well Linda's good in math. But I got it on my own. I was 55:00good in math before I got here. If I hadn't had that firm foundation from those black teachers--. That's what I missed, my black teachers in my high school. Boy. We're going to do this play, or we're going to do something, and you're going to do this. You know, girl, you better not--.You're parents would--.You turn in all ten problems, you don't turn in nine; you do ten. You've got to do better; you got to do the best. But they reinforced you when you did. I felt that whether I got an A or an F--
Carter: It was all the same.
Turner: Not too many people cared. Maybe I'm being harsher than I should but atthat time--
Carter: What I'm hearing is it's also the adjustment of what you had been used56:00to and all of a sudden at that young age it's missing.
Turner: All of a sudden I'm just hanging out there. I survived. I did well inthe environment, but there were some lonesome times too. I regret going through that period of my life feeling I couldn't have a bad day. Everybody needs to be given "I just had a bad day today or just wasn't up to it." My little four-year-old boy tells me sometimes, "I'm having a sad day." You don't get it right all the time. I felt I had to achieve to be recognized, but I didn't expect the recognition here. It was a self-imposed--I achieved for my own whatever, not to impress anybody here. I did want to succeed for Dean Harper 57:00because I respected her. You know she died this week?
Carter: Did she?
Turner: I just found out this morning.
Carter: Oh, my goodness I spoke to her--
Turner: That's part of the reason I'm weepy today. I just found out this morningat breakfast.
Carter: I was going to ask you when you got through--.
Turner: She just died. She came to my wedding five years ago. She and MissGlisson. I went to Finland with them. I travel today because of her instilling travel in me, and I experience other cultures and other worlds. Sometimes I'd tell her about discrimination, and I couldn't even tell her all of it because she didn't live my world.
Sometimes I look back on my experiences at Tech and say, "Would I do it again?"58:00I got a lot out of it, but sometimes I look back I think I gave up a lot too. It was tough. While I still succeeded, it was tough. That students at that time, we were going through this "leaving what I call the correct colored thing to do" into being black.
Carter: That's right, you were in the heart of the sixties.
Turner: In the heart of the sixties. Being in the heart of the sixties, we werechanging; the world was changing. There was so much. There were flower children, and there was Vietnam. While I was in Hillcrest one of the girls husband got killed in Vietnam. I do remember that. There was the anti-war, pro-war. It was 59:00like military school. Then you had your friends at black campuses that were pledging sororities and fraternities. We didn't have any of that here. I remember Chicky went away somewhere and did some weekends and pledged Delta or one of the other black sororities because we didn't have any. Then we got not Omega Psi Phi, what was it--Groove Phi Groove.
Carter: Yes, Groove Phi Groove.
Turner: Yes, yes, that was the first social club we got. That was kind of likethe center of our little cultural black world. We'd meet together over in the cafeteria and eat together and meet on the steps of certain buildings. Although there were only a few of us, we weren't like bosom close, but we were so few that we had to stick together. That's how we were. It was like-- 60:00
Carter: Sort of a mutual acceptance.
Turner: A mutual acceptance of each other. Freddie was kind of way out there. Weall knew not to disclose our weaknesses. It was almost like this is our little world, and we're all fighting this war. Right here and now. There would be things that we would tell each other that did not get out to this world. We tended to do things in packs. Like going to these dances, everybody was going. There was the competition. There were a couple of black girls over in Radford! Doggone! They were coming over here and stealing our guys. Not that we could go with all of them anyway because there was only six of us! 61:00
It was such a time of growth for me. Like I was dating for the first time. I wason my own. I had my own paycheck. For the first time in my life. Not that my father was stingy; he would give us a little spending money. This was my money. I had a little checking account. I felt like quite the little woman. In fact, I never--once I left high school and came here, I immediately felt like a woman. It wasn't like a college kid. You know how people say college kids now they're--
Carter: --not grown up.
Turner: I felt grown up. Now I knew there were things that I did that werechildlike. But in my mind I was grown up. We were treated that way by our 62:00parents too. We were treated once we got to college with respect to the point that now you can help us do things. My sister Sandra came as a freshman here when I was a senior.
Carter: Really? I was going to ask about that. She came here too.
Turner: Right. My sister right after me went to Bennett. The next sister camehere. She eloped the first term of her sophomore year with a guy that graduated a year behind me. They're still together by the way. They both finished school eventually, he finished before he got married. She's the one who is now working on her doctorate. She has a grown up 23-year-old son and a 15-year-old one. She 63:00had my dad's checkbook with her at all times--
Carter: You were talking about being grown up, being respected, sharing in thefamily decisions because you were in higher education.
Turner: My parents didn't keep big financial secrets from us or anything. Weknew when Dad was buying this little farm over here, or we balanced my dad's books. He could read and write and stuff, but he could calculate faster in his head than he could write, so we would write the little checks and stuff. He 64:00would tell us, "You know I want to buy this little piece of--" He was truly an entrepreneur of property. Daddy said,"I went to the credit loan place, the Farm Bureau or wherever." Where everybody went to borrow money against the next year's crop, and they wouldn't lend him this money, and I remember he was going to buy another farm adjacent to ours. I must have been 15, 16. He said, "You know, the man at the Farm Bureau told me to go to the bank. I bet you they'll lend you that money there." And he said, "You know I never thought of that, and I got in my truck and got to that bank so fast! And I was able to borrow money there at a reasonable rate." And he bought the farm!" He said, "Sometimes you don't know until somebody helps you." He used to use this phrase: He would say, "I need you guys to help me think. I need you to help me think because you don't 65:00always think of everything." That's why I think sometimes when I would be with Dean Harper and she'd miss stuff, she was like my Daddy because my father was kind of fidgety and into everything.
Carter: When you were describing her it suggested your father.
Turner: It was "Well Daddy, why don't we do it this way?" I can hear him, "Nowyou know I never even thought of that."
There was a guy that helped us on the farm. His name was Kit. He was kind oflike a handyman. He was a bachelor all his life. He'd say, "Kit, you see what these chillun' tell us more than we don't even know. We be tryin' to work this situation out, I don't know." He didn't make a distinction whether you were a girl or a boy. It was as important for me to learn how to do that checkbook as for my brother.
Another thing he believed: If for some reason we ran short of money, and all of66:00us were in college at the same time, and somebody had to come out, he would pull my brother out of school and not the girls and let him help work a little. He said, "Because a man can always find a job anywhere." He felt that a woman would be at a disadvantage finding a job that she would make enough money to save for school. Fortunately we never had to get that far, but there was never a doubt that--
Carter: Who was going to drop out--
Turner: Who was going to drop out. Another thing that they instilled in us, bothof them, to this day people marvel at my mother's four children in that we don't 67:00fight among ourselves. We squabbled as kids and Dad and Mother would say, "Your Mamma and I have our relationship." He wouldn't say relationship, he'd say, "We have what we have. You four have to stick together. Stick together, and if one is having a hard time, don't be so quick to judge. Stick together." And we have managed to do that all these years. We have our little disagreements over something. My grandmother died recently, and she only had a tiny little burial insurance, and my mother was going to have to pay a good part of having her buried. One of my sisters said, "Well, we'll each put in a certain amount of 68:00money." Now later she calls me, "Well, let's do this." "Fine." Other sister, "Fine." Now we always figure out which one of us is going to call the brother because sometimes--.He will do whatever we tell him to do, so I called him. It could be that one disagrees, we want to do this. Well, okay, all right. We alternate. This one I'll run; this one you run. We have done that for years. I'm 47 years. It's great. When we get together, the four of us together, which is a rarity, we still do that and my mother says it makes her so proud. She says, "When my babies come in town people know it's going to be handled right." 69:00
Carter: Isn't that wonderful!
Turner: She says, "It's going to be handled right because my babies gonna do itfor me."
Carter: Tell me how Tech may have influenced your future aspirations? Even withthe ordeal, did it open up worlds of ideas on how to use your talents?
Turner: Oh, yeah. They used to have this visiting scholars program. I think Ihave some of the brochures in there, where they would have people like Leaky come on campus. Dignitaries from different--.I would go to those meetings, and it was free to students. I was just in awe of all the resources out there. I don't know if I would be sitting here today with a Ph.D. if it hadn't been for 70:00Dean Harper. Part of it is I'm first generation college. My family respected education, but nobody in my family--
Carter: --knew the world.
Turner: --knew the world or even aspired to a Ph.D. There weren't that many ofthem in the black world. We were black working people that happened to go to college. We were not black society. There was kind of a distinction. Society people in my county respected us because we were hard workers. We were accepted because we graduated well in our class, and our parents had good standing. But my parents were not the teachers and the lawyers and the doctors.
Carter: What is the largest city in Halifax County?
Turner: South Boston. Which has about 5,000 people. Dean Harper said to me one71:00day, "You know Linda, you could get a Ph.D." Never entered my mind. I was going to leave college with a B.S. degree, teach high school. I thought maybe I'd get a master's one day. That's what I was going to do, teach high school home ec. She planted the seed for graduate school. I went to her alma mater. She went to Michigan State, and I went there. I didn't go because she went there. I really went because it sounded the most exotic coming from Virginia. I got accepted at Ohio State, Cornell, and Michigan State.
I knew some people--I had some uncles that lived in a mill town in Ohio, so I72:00knew a few people that lived in Ohio. I had some relatives that lived in New York. Cornell was in New York. I didn't know a soul that was from Michigan, so I was going to a different place. Dean Harper never knew that but--
Carter: So you left here, and did you go immediately to graduate school?
Carter: And you took your master's?
Turner: Took my master's. I started my master's in clothing and textiles, thesocial-psychological aspects of clothing and textiles, a very narrow major there--why do people dress the way they do, what's the history behind clothing? I like that sort of stuff. A cross between consumer behavior and business.
When I got there, some of the courses I took the first term I had had inundergraduate research--same textbook even, as a freshman at Tech. But I was 73:00tutored in a special program with the faculty in clothing and textiles. We only had like five or six people in this one little class. They called it "Perspective in Home Ec" or something. It was a one hour--She made it a research class. So we had to do little original research projects, as a freshman. I didn't have to learn research when I got to graduate school. I'd already dibbled and dabbled in it by the time I got there.
I got bored with Michigan State, to tell you the truth. I switched my major tosomething called general ecology, so I could get out. I cheated like crazy, cheated in the fact that I took four courses a term rather than three because I 74:00had a fellowship or whatever. Well Michigan State was so big that by the time they caught up that I was doubling up I had graduated and gotten out of there. I was gone. Then I went to work for Whirlpool Corporation as a home economist there. Stayed there a couple of years and got kind of antsy again and started taking courses.
I wrote Dean Harper a letter.__________(1725) I didn't want to stay where I wasthe rest of my life in that particular company. I wanted to get into something different. She wrote me back, no she called me back and wrote me. She said, "Linda, I'm taking a group of students to Finland this summer. Why don't you come and be my graduate student assistant?" I had never been out of this country, so I spent the summer there. She said,"Then you could start your--since 75:00you already have a master's you could do a Ph.D. in business rather than an M.B.A." She said," And Tech is starting a new program this fall; you may want to consider that."
Carter: And that was it.
Turner: And I came back to Tech to do this Ph.D. Now that was another wholestory itself. That's another whole three hours. The second go 'round at Tech was a lot different than the first go 'round, partly because I was in a different environment and also because I was older. I wasn't learning; I'd been around a little bit then. The pressures were different, but you know yourself that a Ph.D. is a different sort of pressure than undergraduate courses with the research and the committees, and that was another pain. I still think it was a pain. Is it worth it? I don't know. 76:00
Carter: But you made it through all right?
Turner: I made it through. I didn't just skip through; I did well. But it wastough. It was tough. I've always been a student--.I have had to work for my A's. There are some people that don't have to study; they look like it just falls into place. In my life I've always had to work for what I've gotten and had to make conscious decisions. One of the hardest things for me to do is just to kind of let go and say, "All right, this is all I can do." Be a little freer. Don't be so focused that you miss today planning for tomorrow. One of the things my husband will say is that I'm too lenient on Johnathan because I should make him 77:00do more. I said, "You know, I feel like he should have a chance to be a child. He's going to get out there fast enough with the pressures. Not that I don't want him to be disciplined. I still think there's only so much a child should be expected to do. Not to talk harshly of my parents and my background, but there were parts of my background that I think we could have had a lot more help with, and that was the social part. There's more than just the books. They were very focused. Get your studies. If you've got time do the other stuff later.
When I was an undergraduate, I did the other stuff, but I always knew the books78:00came first. I wish I could go back and maybe be a little more free-spirited.
Turner: Playful. That has come hard for me. As I've gotten older, I startedchallenging the system as an old person. That's why I guess it took me so long to get married. I have had to work to get where I've gotten. I never appreciated how hard it was for some people in a subject until I finally failed something. I never failed anything until I got in Ph.D. program. I did one of my comps, and I 79:00had to take it over. If you always make good grades, you don't know what it feels like to fall on your face and then have to get up. I had a sister that had a lot of problems with classes when she was in high school, and I used to have to help her with her math and stuff. I didn't completely understand although I knew she wasn't good at it. I didn't know how hard she really worked to get that C.
One of my philosophies is now that it's not where you are it's where you camefrom to get there. Now to me if you're brilliant already and you make an A in something, that's fine. You ought to do that. But that kid that has had to struggle to get in school deserves respect too! I've seen some of the girls in home ec had to take chemistry. We had to do that test, and they just were not 80:00chemistry--I've seen them take it over three times. I was a course advisor. For them to get up after that big flag, take it over again, and finally get that D. That's a valuable grade, that D. People a lot of times look at only the A's. But there are people out there with a C or a D that's worth ten A+'s to them because they had to struggle so hard to get that. I don't want to sound like I'm on a band wagon or on a box, but I think we sometimes take something that's a gift for granted.
Carter: And act like we've earned it.
Turner: Right, and act like we've earned it when we really didn't earn it. We81:00just applied what came natural. Not that you shouldn't take advantage of that, but don't sit there and think well, I got an A, and you got a C. Because that person could have studied three hundred thousand years and never was going to get there. But that doesn't mean that there's not something in this life that they don't shine on. That's why I think there were a lot of black kids that dropped out of here because they didn't make that cut, and there was nobody to recognize, "Hey, you're not good at this. Why don't you try that?" We didn't have that. We didn't have anybody to go to at all and just--.There were no black faculty at all.
Carter: I know. In fact there were only, when you came as far as I can tell,there were only black staff people. The people who were cooking. Were there any 82:00people cleaning the dormitories? Were there black house keepers?
Turner: I think there was one lady I halfway remember. But really thehousekeepers were white. The cafeteria workers for the most part were white. You did see a few--.
Turner: Cooking. Up at Hillcrest, it was smaller. They were all black. I guessmaybe that was where they used to be. Black people weren't even invited on campus other than to entertain. I got all those pictures of Marvin Gaye--
Carter: --and apparently Duke Ellington and--
Turner: --to see then to see black folks, it just felt so good. Just felt sogood just to go to a party, just for us to be there and have a good time. 83:00
Carter: Did you go out to the movies or anything like that much? Those were allintegrated at the time.
Turner: Yeah, they were integrated. We went--was it the Lyric right downtown.
Carter: Did you go off campus with your white friends at all?
Turner: Not much. If there was a class trip or something.
Carter: So the friendships were really bound to the dormitories and a little biton the campus?
Turner: Right. If there was like the German Club dance, you know, the littlewhite girls would be going too, and we may all walk there together. See, this also was a time where people didn't get in their cars and go that far. Not many of the kids had cars. There was not a lot of running around. Now Fredi did a lot of things with her white friends. Fredi kind of crossed both groups. Some black 84:00people felt that Fredi was going too far, and some white people felt that she was going too far. But that was her style. She functioned well in both environments. The problem was the time. Fredi Hairston was one of the smartest individuals I ever met. She was well versed in so many things. She was eclectic and reminds me of Maya Angelou. I believe she was ahead of most kids her age at the time.The white guy she married was a really nice guy.
Carter: Did she meet him here?
Turner: Yeah, she met him here.
Carter: So, did she marry? Is that why she left?
Turner: She left around the end of her sophomore year. He and she got married.
Carter: That summer maybe?
Turner: They had a hippie wedding that spring. They left and went somewhere85:00else. He was an activist in race relations. Looking back I can see why they would marry because they were very much alike in some respects. We didn't go to any of the sorority or the fraternity things that the white kids did. We might sometimes two or three of us would walk over with some white girl to meet her friend at one of the houses. I didn't feel like we were paying guests--we would be there, but that was kind of like their world. We'd go get with the Groove Phi Groove group. Few of the white kids would come around some of our things 86:00depending on who they knew and stuff, but not that first year. We hardly saw any of that. That happened more toward junior and senior year. Some of the black and white kids would connect--get trips home and stuff. As you got closer to the seventies, you saw more things being done together and with the cars because cars were more prevalent on campus. But everybody was walking then, and the cars were parked God knows where. They had to go and get them.
Carter: They still are.
Turner: Tech was a good experience. It came at a very critical time in my life.Had I gone to Hampton as I thought I would, I think I still would have been 87:00successful but from a different perspective. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason why the few of us that did go here haven't really kept in contact as much over the years is that we were so busy just trying to hold on then that when it was over it was like a breath of air. Not that we didn't like each other. We just kind of went our separate ways. In some respects, Tech made me feel like a stepchild. It's my school even though we participated in everything nobody cared that we did or didn't. That sort of nurturing, I think kids need that at that 88:00age. You think you're grown up, but you're not.
Carter: No sense of ownership. Institutional ownership.
Turner: There have been a lot of questions about blacks contributing to alumnifunds and the unions and stuff, and I think that's why. You don't feel as close a ownership. I feel the experience, but does Tech acknowledge me as much as I acknowledge it? I think if you go out and be really successful people would say, "Oh, yeah. She was one of ours." But did most of you work to make that happen? No. There were a few in my case that did. I was lucky in home economics, looking at Chicky. There was hardly anybody in her program to help her that I knew of. 89:00It did mold me. There were a lot of reality checks too.
Carter: Well, listen. Thank you very much.
Turner: Thank you.
[End of Interview]