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0:00 - Childhood and Living in Newport News

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: You are listed in the Bugle as being from Newport News. Is that where you were born?

Keywords: community; curing tobacco; George Washington Carver High School; housing projects; Reidsville NC

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Newport News (Va.); Tobacco farms

11:06 - Segregation

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: I just wanted to ask you one question about the two schools and the railroad tracks.

Keywords: boy scouts; church; freedom of choice; Huntington High School; Mercury blvd; resturants; shipyard; shopping; social interactions; Vic Zodda

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Newport News (Va.)

22:58 - Deciding to come to Virginia Tech

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?

Keywords: Cornell; Duke; Howard; national honor society; North Carolina A&T; Rockefeller scholarship; Valedictorian; Valparasio

Subjects: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

31:18 - Living in Blacksburg

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: So from your perspective you didn't mind being put with a black person? That was good?

Keywords: athletes; Blacksburg Trailer Park; cafeteria; confederate flag; Lee Hall; O'Shaughnessy Hall; room shortage; roommates

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Dixie; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

41:49 - Groove Phi Groove

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Partial Transcript: Watkins: I often think back about his even when I was in dental school about something that makes a difference as to whether you feel like you made a decision on something, or is there something that you can really put up with to get to your ultimate goal of getting your degree.

Keywords: athletes; Dick Gregory; Essex Finney; Godfrey Cambridge; Groove Phi Groove; Jerry Gaines; Muhammad Ali; Radford; Tom Dillard

Subjects: College students, Black; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

54:19 - Human Relations Council

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: I wanted to ask more about that "Dixie," Confederate flag question.

Keywords: class ring; confederate flag; Groove Phi Groove; Marva Felder Davis; white flight

Subjects: Dixie; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

61:27 - Importance of Groove Phi Groove/Confederate flag and Dixie

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Partial Transcript: Watkins: From my perspective, it had a lot to do with Groove Phi Groove.

Keywords: athletes; basketball; Black Student Commission; Byron Rimm; confederate flag; Dirty Dozen; football; intramural sports; Jerry Gaines; Larry Beale; Ring Dance; Steve Fox; T. Marshall Hahn

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; College students, Black; dixie; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

80:42 - Experience in the classroom and in Blacksburg

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Partial Transcript: Watkins: I remember T. Marshall Hahn was the president, and I had a faculty advisor.

Keywords: Charlie Yates; church; confederate flag; dixie; Radford; Reidsville NC; Sydney Snell; T. Marshall Hahn; Winston Percival Nagan; youth sunday

Subjects: Blacksburg (Va.); Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

91:15 - Issues on campus

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: Did you hear anything about a letter from the dean, or a memo to the Residence Halls regarding interracial dating that was given to the white students?

Keywords: blackface; interracial dating; Kent State; Martin Luther King Jr.; T. Marshall Hahn; ugly man on campus contest; vigil

Subjects: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

99:25 - Dental School and the Navy

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: You graduated from Tech in Biology in [19]71. What did you do after graduation?

Keywords: Colgate scholarship loan; confederate museum; Harry Lyons; Medical College of Virginia; Richmond VA

Subjects: Discrimination in education--United States; Virginia Commonwealth University. School of Dentistry; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

110:34 - Dental career

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: Where do you live now?

Keywords: American Dental Association; Chickie Harper; Hardenia Watkins; integrated; JMU; Norfolk Va; Peter Wallenstein; U.S. Navy; Virginia State Dental Board

Subjects: Dentistry; Hampton (Va.); Newport News (Va.)

121:55 - Groove Phi Groove and Delta Sigma Theta

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Partial Transcript: Kennelly: Let me ask you about Groove Phi Groove?

Keywords: fraternities; Marguerite Harper; Norfolk VA; Omega Psi Phi; Social fellowship; sororities; Stan Harris; Sylvia Swilley; Virginia State

Subjects: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


´╗┐Kennelly: You are listed in the Bugle as being from Newport News. Is that where you were born?

Watkins: No, actually I was born in North Carolina.

Kennelly: Where in North Carolina?

Watkins: A small town called Reidsville, North Carolina, which is near Greensboro. I was there until I was three years old and my parents moved to Newport News. So I was actually in Newport News from the age of three on. So as far a birth place it was really North Carolina.

Kennelly: What did your parents do?

Watkins: My father was a laborer in a Newport News shipyard, and that's what took him to Newport News. He was raised on a farm. He left the farm, moved the family to Newport News so he could take job at the shipyard as a rigger at the Newport News shipyard.

Kennelly: And what about your mother?

Watkins: My mother was just a housewife. No general job.

Kennelly: Pardon me?

Watkins: She was just a housewife. No job. Just a housewife. Nowadays you don't say just a housewife. No, she did not work.


Kennelly: How many children are in your family?

Watkins: Six kids, I'm the oldest. Neither one of my parents finished high school, so I guess the opportunity for the oldest child to go to college was a major thing. So I was the oldest of six; there were four boys and two girls.

Kennelly: Did you have a sense, when growing up, that you were expected to go to college?

Watkins: Later on, as I got into high school. Initially, I didn't know that that was going to be an option for me. In my younger years, I don't know if I really thought so much about college, but when I got into high school, it seemed that I had the aptitude for at least the academics. It was kind of understood that I would at least take the opportunity to try to go to college.

Kennelly: When you moved to Newport News, did you grow up in an integrated community?


Watkins: (he laughs) Well, growing up in Newport News in the fifties, especially at that time, there was no such thing as an integrated community. No, we lived in the projects. Most of the shipyard workers that had the kind of jobs as my father did, we all kind of lived in what would be called projects. Unit-type homes with partitions for families. Maybe about six families to a unit. That kind of thing, you would really call the projects. And then, we eventually got to the point where, as I entered the eighth grade the projects where we lived were being torn down, and we were forced to move. When we were forced to move, we moved into our first, house. We moved into a home that was an actual separate unit, when I was in the eighth grade.

Kennelly: What was it like living where you lived? Was there a real sense of community?

Watkins: A real sense of community? Of course! I guess the one thing, that you even hear about now, is we didn't have just one parent. We had a bunch of 3:00parents living in the projects. You couldn't do anything without someone knowing what you were doing and that you are James Watkins' son, at such and such a place, especially if you weren't supposed to be there. You were almost raised by a lot of different people, but I had both of my parents there. That was kind of good, because some of my friends didn't have both parents there. I know it made a difference in our upbringing. There were some difficult times, but I don't know if I thought about it being very difficult. When you in that position, it seems like everything is fine: food is on the table, and things were happening that you thought should be happening. I knew we weren't well off because of where we lived and knowing that there were some people that at least lived in a house. I always equated the "living in the projects" thing to one type of environment. Then we had friends that went to school with us that lived in actually a separate house instead of a unit.


Kennelly: Did it feel dangerous where you lived? Were there gangs?

Watkins: Were there gangs? I don't think there were any real gangs. If you understood the Newport News environment in the fifties, what happened was we had two predominantly black high schools in Newport News. One was Carver, where I went to high school--George Washington Carver. The other was Huntington high school. It happened to be a railroad track that separated the two. It was a dividing line for the city that determined which high school that you went to. Mostly what happened was if you went to Carver and lived on the Carver side of the railroad tracks, you tried not to venture over to the Huntington side of the railroad tracks because there was just this unity and you were not accepted. There was this big rivalry from athletics to everything else between the two high schools. There was also this "danger" of the fact that you might get into a fight if you went on the other side of the railroad track and you didn't have particular people with you or you weren't supposed to be there at a particular time. But as far as gangs, I don't really identify with the fact that there were 5:00gangs there. I know that there were individuals, certain guys in the community, that you don't mess with. They were the fighters, the ones that -- you just didn't mess with them. That was the only thing that I remember; things like that. The other thing I would say is our biggest problem about being there was not during the school year. You know, you went to school everyday, you got home. At least in my family the rule was at dark, you came in. My parents were real strict about that. Problems came in the summer time, when school was out.. Where I was from in North Carolina, my grandparents still lived there. They still farmed. Every summer, as soon as school closed, my brother, who is two years younger than me, and I were farmed off to North Carolina, and we spent the summers on the farm in North Carolina where I was born. I think that had a big thing to do with me not getting into some trouble that I knew my friends would 6:00get in because they had idle summers where there wasn't a lot of jobs for young black youth. So your summers were really just milling around, playing around, doing things that mostly led to trouble. But we never did that, until I was in tenth grade. Every summer from when I was four years old, literally four years old, until I was in the tenth grade, every summer we would spend on my paternal grandfather's farm. They were tobacco farmers, and we basically worked with them in the summertime until it was ready for school to start. School always started after Labor Day. You knew after Labor Day, it was time to go back and start school again. We went back and did the routine and it happened every year like clockwork. Then when I was in tenth grade, the only difference was I could get a job because I was old enough. Then I was able to get a little summer job in Newport News. Up until my tenth grade year, I thought I wanted to be a farmer. I mean, I loved those summers on the farm. I thought I wanted to be like my grandfather, I wanted to be a farmer, just like him-- raise tobacco, do all that stuff like that. But there was something about turning sixteen that makes you 7:00realize that farming was hard work and that it was not fun anymore and maybe there was something better to do. By then, I'd kind of developed and aptitude for the fact that I was a fairly good student. I was then looking toward 8:00something that required a college education. Even if it was in agriculture. At one time, when I did realize that maybe I would go to college, I would go into agriculture so college could develop me as the farmer that I thought I wanted to be.

Kennelly: What would you do on the farm?

Watkins: Once again, my grandfather was a tobacco farmer, who had a small number of acres who did things the old-fashioned way. Other people had tractors, but he basically had mules. I felt like this could have been taken to another level if you were looking to do something like this. So I knew with a college education that I certainly could come back, do it better than my grandfather had done it. One thing I did know was I didn't want to be the type of laborer as my father was. He worked hard, and everyday when he came home, he was smelly,-it was like gosh dang I don't want to do that- his hands were always dirty, and even though farm work was something similar, it seemed like growing things just seemed a 9:00little better. I never understood why he moved from the farm to the city after I spent all those summers there. It was always fun for us. Here we were city boys coming back to the country just for the summer, but it was always fun for us. My brother and I, we would cry when it was time to go back, and at times, we wished we had stayed there year round. Maybe things would have been different.

Kennelly: And you just helped with whatever they were doing on the farm?

Watkins: Whatever in regards to the summer work. In the summer time, they were raising tobacco, that's when there was growth. They were leaving the planting portion to the pulling tobacco leaving it and hanging it on sticks and curing it to take it to the market.

Kennelly: And you were stripping it and everything?

Watkins: All of that, every part of it. The younger you were, you did less 10:00tedious things, but as you got older, they let you do more involved things. It's like you moved up the ladder or chain. I went from a handing the leaves to the people that were stringing it on a stick to eventually curing it, to driving the mules back and forth, bringing the tobacco from the field to the barn. Which was a big thing to do, a big responsibility. Eventually, you had to hang it in the barn and be responsible for curing it and everything. But it was interesting, and I thought it was the best thing since Swiss cheese for those years. My grandfather and I were very close, sometimes closer than my father and me. Even though I only spent three months year with him, we were rather close because I enjoyed what he did. He was a very soft-spoken man, and I kind of appreciated the type of person he was.

Kennelly: What was his name?

Watkins: Granderson Watkins. Actually, my son's middle name is Granderson, named 11:00after my grandfather because I really felt that kind of bond to him. Now, of course, my father's middle name is Granderson also, so you look at it either way. But, he was Granderson Watkins. And I named my son in honor of my grandfather.

Kennelly: I just wanted to ask you one question about the two schools and the railroad tracks. Was there an economic difference between the two schools?

Watkins: Oh no, on the other side of the tracks, there were projects too just like on our side of the tracks.

Kennelly: It was just rivalry?

Watkins: Just a rivalry of the two schools. It was more of a rivalry of the schools than your living environment or anything like that. Basically, there were single family homes and projects on that side of the tracks too. That was the dividing line that the city used to determine because at that time the black students didn't go to the white schools. We actually passed a white high school to get to our school because we were bussed to our school. So you didn't go to the same school, and it was just kind of understood. Of course, later on, (I graduated from high school in [19]67) around [19]66 and [19]65, there was a freedom of choice where you could choose to go to wherever you wanted to go; supposedly. At that time, there were very few blacks that chose to go to the predominantly white schools. You could count them on one hand, the number of 12:00students that went to the school that we passed. At that time, we didn't make that choice as an issue because it was still kind of understood you knew somewhat what your place was, I guess that is the best way to put it. There were still certain places that you didn't go in the city of Newport News. There were actually still a few little "whites only'" signs around certain places. They might not have been sitting out for you, but you knew where to go and where not to go.

Kennelly: Where were they?

Watkins: Restaurants and places like that. You knew that you were not expected to go into this place because you never saw any blacks there. And it was still the fact that there was freedom of choice, there weren't any white students choosing to go to any of the black schools either. If there was freedom of choice, what that meant was, if you were a black student you could choose to go to one of the predominantly white schools. But none of the white students were choosing to go to schools like Carver or Huntington, the two black schools.

Kennelly: Did you or your friends consider going to the white high schools?

Watkins: White high schools? No, that wasn't even a choice. When that happened 13:00in [19]65, I was already a sophomore. To change schools after you were a sophomore was no point. The freedom of choice was really meant for kids- when I was in school there was no middle schools, when you left the seventh grade you went to high school. So you could choose to go after your seventh grade year. It's not like if you were in the tenth grade, you would choose to go to another of the high schools. There were some families that challenged it and did put some black students in the schools, but for the most part, the choice was meant for seventh graders going to the eighth grade about to be in high school. That was the intent, so I guess you haven't developed friendships or whatever, and you could still say that you went through a high school starting in eighth grade for your whole high school career. There were a number of some students that did transfer over because the freedom of choice was challenged by a number of people to the point that some parents did elect to put their kids into the Denbigh High School or the Newport News High School, which was really the thing there, and Warwick High School. They were the three schools that were majority white at 14:00that time.

Kennelly: Did you have much contact with white people when you were growing up?

Watkins: Not very much at all. They didn't come into our neighborhoods, and we didn't get an opportunity to go there, other than sometimes there were little odd jobs that could be done. My father did some odd jobs on the weekends, and he would take us with him sometimes to do yard work. So we would go into the neighborhoods and do stuff like that. Plus the neighborhoods were completely separate. It was like the projects and everything was downtown, and when you left you had to cross a dividing line, and in this case, it was Mercury Boulevard. When you went on the other side of Mercury Boulevard you knew it was going to be predominantly white. Usually, if you were seen in those areas, you were doing some kind of job. You just didn't go to those areas too often.

Kennelly: You didn't go to shop or go to a movie?

Watkins: The shopping downtown was really kind of central it was like in between both areas. Like we would be coming from one side of town, the south side, and 15:00going toward where the shopping areas were and the whites would be coming from the north area back. The movie theatre in this part of town was for whites only.

Kennelly: So those were integrated as far as shopping?

Watkins: They eventually became that way, but there was a black shopping area with black movie theaters. There was actually an area that was run by black merchants and Jewish merchants. It was considered the black downtown, and you didn't see many white people shopping there. It was mostly blacks that shopped there. The other area was integrated, the main area that had the big stores. They were integrated. You could go in and buy things. It wasn't a big issue.

Kennelly: Were you as a child conscious of experiencing racism? Were there things that happened that were hurtful to you in that way?

Watkins: There weren't many things that happened like that because we got up and 16:00went to school, a black school. We passed the white school. That's all we knew was that we were going pass it. Until I was a senior in high school, we didn't have any white teachers, so all of our teachers were black. Then you came back home, did your playing in the evening, and that was it. So there wasn't a lot of contact. My contact primarily came when my father did these odd jobs. Actually, 17:00I had more contact when I went back to N.C. in the summers with my grandfather because in a farming community, it was a little different. Even though, you kind of knew your place, there was interaction that you really didn't have in the city. There were certain overlaps that really didn't happen in the city. They went to buy supplies at the same place. My grandfather also sold vegetables in a little farmer's market on the weekends, and mostly whites would come to those. I would see them more in that environment than I did in the city in Newport News there just wasn't that much contact. Even when we had all the athletic teams, we played in a whole different league. The black league, VIAA (Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Association), didn't play the white schools. Even though Carver-Huntington was the big rivalry because we were in Newport News, Hampton had a black high school, Crestwood was the black high school over in Chesapeake over on the Norfolk side. Each city had all black high schools. We played all of those schools, never any of the white schools. So there was no interaction even on the athletic field with whites. It was really different.


Kennelly: What was that first job that you had?

Watkins: I was a busboy at Vic Zodda's Pancake House on Jefferson Avenue in Newport News.

Kennelly: Was that a black or white restaurant?

Watkins: It was a white restaurant. All the waitresses were white, and only the busboys were black. Only thing I remember is that waitresses could get tips and the busboys couldn't, but they shared the tips with us. It was an all right job. Of course then after that, I was old enough to work in the shipyard in the summers after my junior and senior years. That was actually the best job in town for summer work because it paid better than any other jobs. So I was able to do that a few summers and a few summers while I was in college too. After that tenth grade year in high school, I didn't want to go back to the farm that much to work, just to visit. It started to hit me that farming was hard work and harder than I wanted to work.

Kennelly: You said you had some white teachers?


Watkins: We had white teachers at the school, but they only taught seventh and eighth grade. I don't think they wanted to subject the white teachers to juniors and seniors because there might be more conflict, but there was one white female that came in that taught eighth grade. She was an eighth-grade homeroom teacher. That's all I can really remember because after that, when I was a junior at Tech, I actually came back on spring break. A couple of my teachers that knew I was good in math would let me be a substitute teacher for them without even getting my degree. Which was kind of interesting. There were also a couple of other white teachers there, but I never got a chance to meet them and find out what they taught. My senior year, there was one white eighth-grade homeroom teacher, and I think she taught English.

Kennelly: At that time, if you rode the buses, could you sit wherever you wanted?


Watkins: Well of course, the school buses were all black. But the city buses, I don't ever remember having to go to the back. I don't remember that, but I think it was that way at that time. I think I was too young. That was the fifties, and at that time we didn't do too much on the bus. If our parents would go somewhere, we wouldn't go on the bus. But by the time I was in high school, I did more riding the bus and by then, they had gone through the business with the back of the bus, and you could sit anywhere you want to sit. So I'm not quite that far back, I'm not that old. (He laughs.)

Kennelly: Was anyone in your family politically active?

Watkins: No. Oh no, not at all.

Kennelly: Was church important?

Watkins: Church was very important. We were expected to be there every Sunday. Mostly from my mother, but not from my father, because he didn't go as much. That was my mother's emphasis that we go to church. Now, sometimes it didn't mean church, but Sunday school. But we are going to do something on Sunday. And, 21:00that was always the case when- if you get into this part of it you'll hear me reference a lot to my grandfather. Another good thing I liked about being on the 22:00farm was that the farming community, at least in the case of my grandfather in North Carolina, they only went to church once a month. They had a church Sunday, like third Sunday or fourth Sunday. In my grandfather's case, it was fourth Sunday, so when we were there, they were expected to do working things-they worked seven days a week is what it amounted to. On Sundays, they wouldn't do as much, but they would still do something on that day. I always felt like there was less pressure to go to church when I was there in the summer because their church Sunday was fourth Sunday, so that meant at worst we would only have three Sundays we'd have to go if we only stayed there three months. I mean, if you really looked at it as being bad to have to go to church. As a kid, sometimes it was, because you most times wanted to do other things. But my mother was hard on us, because it was either Sunday school or church. As we got further along, we got a little involved. There was a boy scout troop in the church, and I got a little more involved. So actually, it got to be fun. So it wasn't a matter of making us go because it got to be fun. Surprisingly when I got older, it wasn't a big deal.

Kennelly: Were you in a boy scout troop?

Watkins: I was a boy scout for a while.

Kennelly: Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?


Watkins: Ahh! Good question. Well, they gave me money. That's the one thing and partly because of a guidance counselor. It was the late sixties, and there was this influence or an interest from the white schools in bringing in black students, and we were aware of it. And the guidance counselor that I had in particular was always kind of pushing that to the students that were members of the National Honor Society, that there were these opportunities that weren't there before. Being from North Carolina, and I mentioned that I was close to Greensboro, I always had this interest in going back to North Carolina A&T, which was North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro. It was close to where my grandfather was, and it was back in North Carolina. And there happened to be an alumnus of the school that was in Newport News and knew about me and knew where my parents were from. He was always over my parents' house making sure that I was going to put in an application to A&T. I always 24:00thought that I wanted to go to A&T because it was close to where my grandfather was. So when my guidance counselor started putting emphasis on the fact that we should look at opportunities at applying to predominately white schools, I didn't really give it much thought because I knew that I was trying to go to A&T. So my application had already gone to A&T, but she said I should consider some of the other schools, and she mentioned Virginia Tech. I also applied to Duke, which was also in North Carolina. I applied to Cornell and Valparaiso. Then I applied to A&T and Howard University. So I applied to six schools. The deal was then, and actually it's the same way now, that you apply to six schools that were your primary focus, and you get your SAT scores sent to them. So I applied to those and was accepted to them all and had scholarships to them all.


Kennelly: Goodness.

Watkins: Well I was the valedictorian of my class. Even though it was an all black high school, valedictorian still meant something. It was interesting in a lot of ways that there was that much interest. From an SAT standpoint, I didn't do well on the SATs. I don't know if it was an interest in having black students or whatever, each school -- Cornell was a full scholarship, Duke was a full scholarship, and Tech at the time was full scholarship. Everything was full scholarship, and then it was a matter of where you wanted to go. Well, I became a little disinterested in A&T because of my mother. It's interesting, my mother and father are from the same area in North Carolina. My mother knew that I wanted to go because of my paternal grandfather and his influence. Now this grandfather is my father's father. She felt that I would be more distracted, and she basically told me that straight out. I was kind of surprised because as much as my mother influenced me I didn't know that she would be that perceptive about things with regards to me. When she pointed that out, I said maybe that wasn't 26:00the way that I wanted to go based on what she was saying. The funny thing is of all the colleges I applied to, which is different from today's world, I know--I never visited one of them. Never been on the campus of anyone of the schools that I applied.

Kennelly: I was going to ask you that.

Watkins: Now, I know with my kids, you go, you visit and take a look at it. I never had done that. So when the thing came up then I was really thinking. I didn't want to go to Cornell despite the fact that they were very interested in trying to get me there for whatever reason. I mean they had people calling me all of the time. It's not like I was an athlete or something. They had people to really call my home. None of the other schools really called. Duke had me go and visit an alumnus who lived in our community, and he gave me the little spiel about why I should consider going and things like that.

Kennelly: A white alumnus?

Watkins: A white alumnus, yes. Of course Virginia Tech had no one to come. It was just--this is the application and this is what we have to offer you and everything. In my mind I had narrowed it down. Valparaiso, I'd never really 27:00heard of, I forget how and why I applied there. It was something that my guidance counselor told me about the school. When I first left high school, I was interested in going into engineering. So, because I was in engineering, that had a little to do with Duke and Tech kind of being important to me. Once again, never been on either one of the campuses and didn't really say that I investigated their programs to the point to know that they were top schools in engineering. Once again, I thought I was leaning towards Duke because it was in North Carolina. It kind of boiled down to the fact that the scholarship that I had gotten at Virginia Tech was interestingly enough the Rockefeller Scholarship that they were giving to the black students at that time. It only cost $900 to go to Tech, room and board and tuition my first year, and they gave me a $1,000 scholarship. I can do the math on that. They were giving me more money than I needed to go to school. What is this all about? But it sounded interesting that they would do that. I don't know if it was that much of a difference with regard to Duke because they were giving me a little more money too. When I really 28:00realized that I couldn't make the decision, I couldn't make the decision on where I wanted to go, I flipped a coin. I literally flipped a coin. I mean, if you want to say that Tech won out, Tech won out. I had gotten to the point that I felt like I couldn't decide between the two, and I flipped a coin. My parents don't know this or anything. They just thought that I made the decision that I was going to go to Virginia Tech when I basically flipped a coin and Tech won out. My first visit to Tech was when my father packed me up and drove me up here. That was my first time being on campus, and that was how the decision was made and how I wound up here.

Kennelly: Can you take yourself back to that time and talk about what your impressions were when you first came here?

Watkins: It was big. I thought it was big, and I wasn't seeing enough black faces. That was scary. All I was wondering on my way up was who my roommate was going to be and how this was going to be. I knew we were going to be paired two to a room, and that was in all the information that they sent me. I was a little 29:00leery about that because I was coming from an all black high school, an all black environment, and I was going to a predominantly white college. It was just a little apprehension about what it would be like then. I remember the drive up because my best friend was a track athlete who had gotten a full scholarship to Purdue. It so happened that we had to register at Virginia Tech before he had to go to Purdue, and he rode up with us. When he came, it was somewhat relaxing, but all the way up we were talking about, "What is this going to be like? We are going to have to talk about this? You are going to be at Purdue, and I'm going to be down here. We're going to have to see what this is all about. "We weren't sure that we made the right choice because we are driving up thinking that we'd never been on the campuses, and we didn't know what to expect. But I was more leery about oh gosh, I'll probably have a white roommate, and then we would have to deal with some things. What is that going to be like? But then, we are all going to college and all interested in education. Maybe it won't be so 30:00different. Just a lot of things that I didn't know how they would be. I was eighteen years old, leaving home for the first time, and really just didn't know what to expect. Needless to say that when I went into my room and found out that my roommate was black, it was a big sigh of relief. In some respects, that was 31:00one hurdle that we are over, now we just are going to take things from there. I think my biggest apprehension was who my roommate was going to be. Once that was over, it was just dealing with the other things.

Kennelly: So from your perspective you didn't mind being put with a black person? That was good.

Watkins: Right, but interestingly enough, we--meaning the black students that came in--later questioned that. There were seven blacks that were in O'Shaughnessy on the top floor. We were on the top floor, which is the little short floor. It was not a long floor, it was the top floor, it doesn't have as many rooms. All seven of us were on the same floor. They paired us two to a room. That means we had three rooms, each one had a black roommates, and the odd guy, who was Larry Beale who you talked to on the phone today, had no roommate. 32:00They had a shortage of rooms and people were looking for rooms but he had no roommate. But they claimed that we were paired randomly in the rooms, and we found that interesting that we were paired randomly in rooms and each had a black roommate all on the same hall. Whether it was the selection of the other people on the hall had anything to do with it or not, it was actually a fun experience that first year with the people who lived on that hall. We didn't have as many people to deal with as some of the other people that lived on the longer floors with more rooms. It's a lot of things that would go through your mind, and it goes through my mind now, why that particular room on that particular floor in that particular dorm was for these seven black students. There was actually an eighth black male student that came who refused to-and we didn't realize this. All seven of us had sent in our picture with our application. He refused to send his in and he wound up in Pritchard Hall as a freshman with a white roommate. His name Dwight Crewe [19]71 was such that it might have given you an idea that he was white and he wound up over in a different hall with a white roommate. As far as random, we saw that as sure he 33:00was random when you didn't have a picture to say well this a black student. But once again, that's what the administration had told us, that we were randomly assigned rooms.

Kennelly: Did he stick it out with the white roommate then?

Watkins: Well his roommate moved out. He wound up having a room to himself because his roommate elected to move out. For maybe about half of the first quarter, Larry Beale did not have a roommate, but he had a white roommate move in later. Like I said, there was a shortage of rooms. We knew that all the time coming in as freshmen. He did eventually get a roommate.

Kennelly: A white roommate?

Watkins: A white person, yes.

Kennelly: So it just wasn't those four rooms on the floor. There were other rooms too where you were staying?

Watkins: Oh yeah, but our floor in O'Shaughnessy, was like a half a floor. Whatever floor is the top floor isn't as long as the rest of the building. All 34:00the other floors right beneath the seventh floor and down were longer and had more rooms. There were not as many rooms on our floor, so we were put in an environment where there were fewer whites to deal with was our impression of what it was. But when we started putting everything together, we all attached that picture to that application like you were supposed to, and Dwight Crewe, who wound up being over in Pritchard Hall didn't. Well he said, "I didn't send any picture," and he didn't, and he wound up with a white roommate. But we were told that we were randomly given rooms. I don't know if we looked at that as being negative because from my standpoint it was a sigh of relief. That was one thing that I didn't have to deal with that I thought I was going to have to deal with. There were other things that I knew I was going to have to deal with coming to Virginia Tech regarding the black/white relationship, but that was one thing that I didn't have to worry about it after the fact.


Kennelly: Did you stay with black roommates for all your time?

Watkins: We were on the quarter system then. The first quarter of our second year we stayed in Lee Hall. After the first quarter you could actually choose which dorm you were going to be in the next year so we elected to move into Lee Hall, and you could actually choose your roommate too. My roommate my sophomore year was a freshman named Robert Miller (class of 1972) from Lynchburg. So I took Lee Hall, and we stayed there for only a quarter. Then, my roommate and I decided to move off campus. So I lived off campus from the second quarter of my 36:00sophomore year on.

Kennelly: Did you have any problems renting a place in town?

Watkins: No, not a problem at all. I thought it was going to present a problem, because we moved out to what used to be Blacksburg Trailer Park, which doesn't exist anymore. It used to be out on Jackson Street I think by the graveyard. We rented a trailer. Evidently, there were a number of students that lived out there and didn't seem to be any problem. We moved out there one quarter, and the next quarter another black pair moved out there around the corner from us. So really there was no problem with that.

Kennelly: When you moved to Lee, did the other young men that were kind of on the block with you in O'Shaughnessy move over to Lee too?

Watkins: No, we moved to different places. They did choose roommates, but we all 37:00decided where we wanted to go.

Kennelly: And how was it eating in the cafeteria?

Watkins: After a period of time, it was understood that most of the blacks sat together. It wasn't by choice. We would literally sit at a table, and no one else--not too many whites--would sit with us. It was just that kind of thing. I don't know if I can say that I can recall anytime sitting down at a table and having someone turn around and get up that I would even be conscious of. Most of the time when we went in to eat, or even if I went in by myself to eat, I sat down somewhere--I just sat where I wanted to sit. Whether someone sat there or not, I noticed it or didn't notice it as being a big issue. After a while, it didn't become a big issue to me. I think early on, there were certain things that I noticed, but -- I don't say that I was that conscious of having a problem with the cafeteria. Not that big of a deal, anyway.


Kennelly: What were the certain things that you noticed?

Watkins: Well, like I said, if we were at a table, I would know that probably no one else will join us at the table. You could come in, and you would notice the people. It is kind of bad when you can say that you think people are looking at you, but I think I can really say that people were looking at you. I mean, there weren't many of us to look at then. Most of my classes throughout my whole career, I was the only black in the class. It wasn't unusual. With the numbers we had and the size of the school, that certainly could not have been considered unusual at that time. You did kind of feel like you were always noticed. When you were the only black in the class, you certainly couldn't miss it too many times, because it's going to be the easiest person to notice when they're not there. That kind of stuff, that wasn't too big of a deal either because I did not miss that many classes. As far as the cafeteria itself, I can't say that 39:00there were any cafeteria episodes where I felt there was blatant animosity taken out upon me because I was black. At least not in the cafeteria. There were things that happened around campus. I would almost say that there was not a month that went by that maybe I heard someone yell the "n" word out of a window, where you really couldn't tell where it came from. As far as someone walking in my face and doing something, that never happened. But there were enough times that someone would yell it out of a window when you walk through the quad or something like that, whether you were single or with someone else. That would happen. During that period of time too, our biggest issue and the biggest surprise that I had from a cultural standpoint and a shock standpoint, when we came here the Confederate flag hung blatantly in the coliseum, Cassell Coliseum, 40:00and "Dixie" was played so much. You just knew that was the fight song, and it really was the fight song. Everyone stood up and cheered when that was played, and the flag was waved. That to me was the biggest affront to my blackness than anything else. For one, it was happening with the students that were here, and actively the school was starting to--from my sophomore year on--recruit black athletes. We knew that when they came, because they would talk to us about it, that they were aware of that, and it was something that definitely would influence their decision where they wanted to go because it influenced us. The seven of us on O'Shaughnessy Hall at the end of our freshman year were going to transfer. We had all made up our minds that we were going to transfer. From one through seven, everyone was going to transfer. The big deal of it was the Confederate flag and playing "Dixie" and the fact that there weren't many black women here at that time. It was more of a shock than we thought it was going to be. From the first week or two of being here and seeing it wasn't so much that we felt like we were really accepted here, but we were here, and so what? It 41:00was probably rightly so, that no one needed to make a big attention to the fact that we were here, but that Confederate flag and the playing of "Dixie" was kind of hard to swallow at times. Especially to watch the cheering, and the screaming, and the yelling, and everything. As a matter of fact--we were talking about this on the way up--a big change from the time we were here was the actual elimination of the Confederate flag and the playing of "Dixie." It happened in the 1970 and 1972 timeframe, and I think it made a difference in a lot of things. As I was saying, we were all planning to transfer after that first year, but also after that first year in 1968 was when we started Groove Phi Groove. Now starting Groove Phi Groove, I often think back about his even when I was in 42:00dental school about something that makes a difference as to whether you feel like you made a decision on something, or is there something that you can really put up with to get to your ultimate goal of getting your degree. Having some organization that you can identify with or a group that you can identify with outside of all of the organizations on campus that you never felt like you could be a part of because there was never any interest. At least on my part, I was never asked to join anything, and maybe it was my own fault that I didn't go out and seek something. When we came to campus, there were no black athletes, that is no basketball players, and no football players. Jerry Gaines came in with me. He was the first true athlete, and he was in track. We rarely saw him. We had been told that was the coaches' choice. They didn't want black athletes, and 43:00they didn't want them here. If you didn't want black athletes, at the time when there were a lot of super star black athletes coming around in other schools that were visible, they certainly didn't want us here either. There was a Confederate flag hanging in the Coliseum, and "Dixie" was played every time you turned around so maybe it was true. But you needed something to identify with, and maybe white students were identifying with the Confederate flag and "Dixie," but when we started Groove Phi Groove, we found something to identify with too. It was an organization where we developed a bond. It happened at the end of my freshman year which was kind of awkward in some sense because we developed an organization thinking that we have something that we can identify with, we can have some parties, and find some girls to come from somewhere. Then we found out 44:00that there were some black women at Radford, and that was like, "Ooh, yeah!" At least we could double the number if we go over to Radford and bring some people over. So we had an organization that at first went out and rented an apartment as an organization to have little parties for the black students. We had somewhere where we could just congregate together and do some things off campus. From that, we developed some relationships where we were looking at how we could make that organization better. Each year, when they would bring in more black students, we were able to convince them, which probably wasn't difficult because we were the only black organization on campus. At least from the male standpoint, most of the guys got interested, and we started developing. It developed into something that was a comradery and that we knew there was an organization that promoted something that we were interested in doing. Even if it was just a matter of sitting around talking about a class or something to do 45:00on the weekend. To me, it was a focal point for blacks in general on campus. Even though at one time, we would go other places and every time someone says that they met someone from Tech, they would say that they were a Groove. Well there wasn't any other choice. If there were a member of an organization, it probably would be that they were a Groove. There were no Q's, or no Alphas, or no Kappas, or anything like that. That hadn't happened yet. But, by the end of that year, when we all realized that we were not going to punch out, because at one time we were so worried about being in a predominantly white environment 46:00that we might flunk out. When we all realized that we did not flunk out, we decided to come back. Part of coming back was going to be developing one was working on our degrees. We felt like we could do that, and we weren't going to be quitters. The positive thing about it was nobody wanted to quit. No one really wanted to quit. They were just dissatisfied by some of the things that they found here. Now that we had Groove, we could have a little something that we felt like was our own, that we could identify with, and that made Tech important to us. We just built on that. Going to class and working toward your degree became a little easier I would say.

Kennelly: Did you feel like you were a pioneer with Groove?

Watkins: We had Stan Harris here. We had Byron Rimm. I came in 1967. The 47:00beginning of my freshman year, when I got here there were some black faces here. Of course, from a male perspective you kind of look for the female faces first. There weren't many of those. That was the thing. I know Chickie Harper and the others that were a year ahead of me, but there weren't many of them. That was kind of a hard part. We were still in the South in the sixties, so it wasn't like you felt white women were an option to date. You didn't really think about that so much. As far as being a pioneer, I didn't really look at it like that because Stan Harris was here, Bill Shelton was here, Byron Rimm was here. There were some people in the Corps that we didn't see as much of because of the things they had to do from the Corps perspective. We didn't see some of those guys too often. We actually had some of those cadets like Byron Rimm, Steve Pyles, Charles Beane, Eli Blackwell, Tom Dillard, Keith Pullens and Charles Cartwright that were in Groove Phi Groove too. They were able to get away enough 48:00to be part of the organization. But they were here, and we felt like they were the pioneers, because they were here when there were even fewer blacks. I think when we came we almost doubled the population, when our class came. Which brings up something else I know that that's also the year that on the Internet page you said there were forty-three blacks. I don't know about forty-three blacks. I don't know if I could count forty-three. We keep trying to figure out where that forty-three came from. It may have been that. If there were forty-three there were probably some I don't know We really tried to figure out where the forty-three was for the 1967-1968 year. I thought there were eight or nine guys that came in with my year, maybe 10 because we did realize there was another one in that class that was in the Corps, and three women I believe. That was about it. According to the class ahead of us there weren't many more. We were thinking it was more like 30 at the most. Then again, it might have been forty-three. 49:00When it said forty-three, I thought maybe they weren't counting black students. Because one time, as I said earlier, we were really told the administration weren't keeping track of who the blacks students were. We always wondered about that because of the way we were paired up in the rooms. We said maybe we'll just attribute that to the fact that maybe they really weren't counting who were black students here at that time. But forty-three, we felt like forty-three was pushing it between [19]67 and [19]68. Like I said, that was my freshman year, and most of the guys we really got a chance to see. I know there weren't that many women that came in that year. But the next year there were quite a few. I think there were about twenty or thirty blacks that came here, but only three black women that came in the next year, the [19]68 year. At that time, the number came up that there were 100 blacks on campus, but there couldn't have been 100 blacks on campus because only twenty-three or twenty-four came in. Even if there were forty-three, that didn't even come up to 100. But as far as being 50:00a pioneer, I guess pioneers would be like Essex Finney that came in early before that. We were definitely early. We figured as far as graduates, we had to be in the first twenty or twenty-five because there couldn't have been more that graduated then. I guess if you were in the first twenty to twenty-five graduates then maybe that is kind of being a pioneer, as far as being a black graduate.

Kennelly: I noticed that just looking at the pictures from the Groove, there seems such a difference looking at the first image and then looking at the next couple of images.

Watkins: They changed in appearance and everything.

Kennelly: The hair and everything.

Watkins: That was the Afro age back then. Of course, mine was supposed to be the biggest at that time as anyone's. It was interesting. I noticed, and I always 51:00was curious about when this first picture was put in here because it mentioned something about being an organization of black and white students. Tom Dillard and Steve Pyles actually are rather light complexioned, but there was never a white member of Groove Phi Groove at Tech.

Kennelly: This is straight from the yearbook.

Watkins: I know that statement is straight from the yearbook. That was the first year it was put in there. Of course, we had nothing to do with what was actually written in there. That last line was not part of what we gave them to put in the Bugle. Tom Dillard, who was in the Corps, people thought he was the first black in the Highty Tighties, and no one really addressed that because of his complexion. It may have appeared that he was white. I guess to somebody it might appear that way. That last line was not the line given to them in the Bugle to put in there. I think that was a line they put in there maybe to appease someone else but that wasn't what was given to them to put in there. There never was a 52:00white in Groove Phi Groove, but you were right, there were some changes.

Kennelly: I don't know if that was the times generally, or if it was peoples' sense of themselves. From this kind of image to that, it just feels a lot different.

Watkins: When we started the organization. here, most of us were from the same environment with, not a lot of money when we came to school. We went out to Drapers Meadows where we (Groove Phi Groove) had that apartment the first time and one of the guys stayed in it, but basically we used it for parties and stuff like that. Then we actually went over there to Jackson Street, and someone rented a house to us, so the next year we actually had a fraternity house. One of the members lived there, but we would congregate there and, the guys would go 53:00over there in the middle of the day and night. Typical fraternity type of thing. You would go over in the middle of the day, and maybe on the weekend you would have some affair there. When we were in school, Muhammad Ali came to the school to speak. Whenever they would have black speakers come, it was always a big thing with the white fraternities to try to get them to come to their place afterward and say something. Well, Muhammad Ali came to our house after he came to speak. Everyone else was trying to get him to come to their fraternity house. Muhammad Ali came to our fraternity house with this few black guys-- he changed his flight home because he was supposed to have left out at midnight that night. He changed his flight, stayed, and spoke to us until three in the morning, just sitting around talking to these little black students at a little school out in the sticks that I know he probably never heard of until he came there. We were impressed by that. Godfrey Cambridge came to the school to give a program. He came to our house. Dick Gregory came to the school, gave a program, came to our house.

Kennelly: Actually there's a picture of Myron Rimm (class of 1972)[with Dick Gregory]--

Watkins: Yes, that's Myron and the picture of the Human Relations Council. Obviously, the organization Groove Phi Groove, that focal point helped a lot of 54:00people identify with the fact that they did belong here. They could make it here, and they made it through. A number of people made it through. A number of the people in this picture you'll see tomorrow.

Kennelly: I wanted to ask more about that "Dixie," Confederate flag question. I was looking at some Student Government minutes today, and I see there was a proposal in 1970 to stop having "Dixie." I know there were students involved in the Human Relations Council who were active in that. I wondered if you were at all active in any of that?

Watkins: You have to understand, and I think I mentioned this one time when I sent you an email the Human Relations Council was a predominantly white 55:00organization when we came to campus. Then a few of the black students started attending. As the black students started to attend, fewer white students started to come until eventually the Human Relations Council became all black, but that still was after Groove Phi Groove. That's why I said Groove Phi Groove was really the first black organization on campus. Human Relations Council was an organization that already existed at Tech and was University recognized, and that was always a big issue--if you were University recognized. As we joined the Human Relations Council, fewer whites started coming. This was also a time when "hippies" were around, if you remember the term hippies as people who where were a little bit more liberal thinking. A number of the so-called hippies stayed active with the organization. By the time Myron was a senior, it was all black. I think even before she was a senior it became an all-black organization. It was somewhat of an advantage, if you want to look at it as an advantage. The black students joined for an opportunity to be able to participate in something that was campus recognized and feel like this was an organization that should be pushing issues like the Confederate flag or the playing of "Dixie" and stuff like that. Like I said it got to the point that then, when it became all black, 56:00then it became another issue of "here are the blacks trying to make their thoughts ours." If it had indeed stayed as it should have been from the start as a true Human Relations Council where there was a mixture of all races, then it might have seemed like there was an interest in trying to be fair for the diversity that was already developing on campus. But it didn't wind up being that way. It was sort of like what I said to you about the cafeteria table. If you did happen to sit down at the table with a number of black students, the white students got up to leave, and I know that did happen. Even if there are instances I don't remember specifically, I know it did happen because I've been told it happened often enough. This is the same thing that happened with the Human Relations Council. When the black students started to join, the white students didn't. It became a black organization purely by default.

Kennelly: Were there any community people involved in Human Relations Council or 57:00any professors?

Watkins: There was a professor as an advisor if I remember correctly do you remember who that was, didn't Nagan become an advisor when it was all black? There was a professor here from South Africa [Nagan]--the Poly Sci department--that later on became involved with it after it became all black, probably because he was an activist as a professor anyway. I think he had some views on apartheid and stuff like that were all well known. He became active in it, but I don't remember in the beginning who the faculty advisor was when it first started up. As a campus recognized organization there was a faculty advisor.

Kennelly: But there weren't community people?

Watkins: From Blacksburg you mean?

Kennelly: Yes

Watkins: No, this was a student organization.

Kennelly: Marguerite Harper said when she was involved in that, one of the things they did was they had this test date where a white young man came to pick 58:00her up for a date--

Watkins: Well I didn't know about that until I read about that in her interview did you know about that?.

Kennelly: Were you involved in anything like that, like testing interracial dating or anything like that as far as human relations go?

Watkins: No, I don't think that was even the purpose of getting involved with it. Like you said, it was 1970, and that time frame where the Confederate flag and "Dixie" became an issue, and the protests were coming from a small minority of students on campus. Even though there may have been a number of white students that might have supported us in that particular issue, I don't know that it was that well known. It was written up in the newspaper, certain views about certain things: the Confederate flag and "Dixie." I have to say the majority of blacks were offended by it on campus. Especially when we did get a 59:00chance to talk to some of the athletes they were trying to recruit and knowing that they had the advantage of coming to visit and then letting them see this. I mean, give me a break, don't you realize that someone must have a problem with this if they at least want to mention it as an issue to them? Another thing I'll bring up to about the Confederate flag--it was interesting enough, it was the 1971 year, and I graduated in [19]71. My class ring, which I elected to purchase, had a Confederate flag on it, but after that they made it elective so you could choose. It had become such a hot issue that they decided they would have two ring choices. You could choose one with the Confederate flag or without the Confederate flag. I don't know that the Confederate flag is even a part of it at all now. But my class ring has a Confederate flag on it only because I wanted to have a class ring from Virginia Tech. I felt negative about the Confederate flag. I wish I had had the option. I would have gotten it off. But I 60:00felt more about the fact that I wanted a class ring from the school that I graduated. Even though I didn't wear the class ring much that had more to do with me going on into dentistry. I didn't wear any rings when I started putting my hands in people's mouths all the time. It was more not wearing it from that standpoint than not wearing it because of any feelings I had about graduating from the school. When I came to Tech the first year, as I said earlier, I felt like after the first year I wanted to leave and I didn't want to stay here. It was the worst place I'd ever been; I'd made a bad choice. In [19]71 when I graduated, tears came to my eyes, because I had developed those comraderies between Groove Phi Groove, people that had come here after me, the underclassman, that I was really unhappy about leaving these mountains of Blacksburg. I mean I really felt sad. Even though I knew I was heading on to dental school, and I was going somewhere else, and there was another direction I 61:00was heading in, but I was sad about leaving here. From hating this place to really somewhat finding out I kind of loved it in a lot of different ways. It had a lot to do with the people. From my perspective, it had a lot to do with Groove Phi Groove. Of course I was very active in Groove Phi Groove, and I'm sure you know I was one of the founding members, one of the charter members. The six of us that were charter members had to go to Virginia State College to pledge. We had to leave campus because you had to be pledged by another organization. So the six of us actually went to Virginia State University in Petersburg, and we had to go through our pledging period there and then we formed our chapter here, the Gobbler chapter. Everyone else came after us. So I did have maybe a little more of an attachment than some of the others, but part of being a member of it was developing that comradery and a feeling of belonging. It really influenced a lot of my feeling comfortable here on campus. 62:00One time I used to think that living off campus made a difference for me too. I didn't have to interact a lot. I could kind of go away from it. But that didn't mean anything because there weren't many blacks living in Blacksburg back then either. The black/white interaction didn't become such a big issue to me because in class you were in class. Everyone was there for a purpose. It was just the walking around campus and the going to the events on campus that you felt like there was a true interaction where maybe there was some friction you could feel sometimes. Like I said, when you would sit on a row. Because when we were in Groove Phi Groove, we all had these jackets with G Phi G's on it, and maybe a lot of people were wondering who are these guys? Is this some gang developing on campus? But it was no different than any other frat walking around with their 63:00frat jackets. We didn't look at it as being any different. I think after a while no one else did. From an intramural standpoint, we had our own intramural team, all black. We played all the intramural sports, any sport that they had. We had an all black Groove Phi Groove team. Every year from when I was a sophomore on we participated. The thing with Larry Beale being on the basketball team, we had some very good athletes. Everyone was on academic scholarships. There were no black athletes, so all of us were academics. Surprisingly, there were a lot of good athletes in those very academic blacks they brought on campus. I would venture to guess that a number of them could have played on some of the teams if there was a feeling that you could belong. But we would sit back and we would talk about the Confederate flag and about the "Dixie." We would talk to the athletes that they would recruit and have them come in and see what their feelings were about it. Some of them I know expressed their feelings to some of the coaches at some point in time. I think that had a little bit to do with it 64:00too. I think the coaches began to realize that something was going to have to happen. I don't think the big part of having to change came so much from the small contingent of blacks on campus, because we were a small percentage here. I think it had to be the realization by someone, whether it be T. Marshall Hahn and the rest of the administration, that something was going to have to change with that, or they were going to have problems with recruitment of these superstar athletes some of the other schools were getting. They weren't having too much problem with getting the academic student that was interested in coming here in engineering or something like that. The school was well known for things like that. But if they wanted to get some of these athletes, they were going to have to make those changes along those lines. And maybe we just happened to be there at the right time to ruffle the feathers enough to make somebody realize they had to change. When they decided to take the Confederate flag down, every 65:00student there, almost every white student came in with their own little Confederate flag at the basketball game. I'll never forget it. Here we were happy that the flag was going out of the Coliseum, but every student had a little flag. Their protest was "you can take our flag down, and we're going to bring our own flag." I think they did it toward the end of the season, where it was toward the last game or the next to last game. So it didn't happen long. The next year we came back it wasn't there, and there were new students, and it had 66:00kind of fizzled down. It was a little less thing about it. Of course then came the whole thing about having it on your class ring. All of that was in the [19]70-[19]71 time frame. Like I said, there was enough of a protest in [19]70-[19]71 that it didn't get done for our class. For the next class they did have the option to get in on or off, and that was great. One time there was this rumor that we were bringing black students from a predominantly black college to come here to actually physically take the Confederate flag down. It was printed in the school newspaper that that was happening. None of us had ever heard of such a thing. I mean that was a ridiculous type of thing. They sent the football team to sit under the flag to protect the Confederate flag I guess at that particular game. One time we were wondering if it was to protect the Confederate 67:00flag or to protect those few black students that were there that were supposedly going to tear it down. That was never the case. I don't think anyone thought about climbing up there to tear down the Confederate flag. When "Dixie" would get played, everyone would stand up and cheer, and we would always sit, and we would never stand. There were little incidents when someone would yell, "You go to school here. Why don't you stand up?" It was like something wasn't clicking with this person to realize why would we stand up to the playing of "Dixie." There have been some things like that. In my particular case, I was at a football game--I'll never forget it because Virginia Tech was playing Kansas State. Kansas State was ranked in the country. They had two very good black athletes. One ran the kickoff back for a 100-yard touchdown against Virginia Tech. We didn't see many black athletes in the group that we had, and we were 68:00standing up cheering. A student came back and shook his fist in my face. I'll never forget it, his big Tech ring in my face shaking his fist at me telling me I shouldn't be cheering for the other team like that and I shouldn't go to Virginia Tech if I was going to cheer for the other team. But in a way it wasn't so much cheering for the other team, it was cheering for this athlete that had really made a great play. I guess that's the closest I ever came to fighting someone. It was obvious he was intoxicated because his friends were grabbing him, pulling him back more so than anyone holding me back. He was very intoxicated as a matter of fact. That was the only real incident I had where somebody got on an issue about something getting physical with me about being at an athletic event. It wasn't so much about the flag or anything like that, it was just the fact that I was cheering for an athlete on the other team.


Kennelly: When you did those intramurals it was an all black team playing an all white team. Do you think that was a good positive interaction for people?

Watkins: I think it was. We always had our little cheering squad because we had some of the black females there cheering for us, and of course here we were an all black team, and we always were playing all white teams. We had some good athletes, and we were always winning most of our games. The thing that got to us was the first year we formed a team, we were winning too much because the years after that, the teams that were close to beating us merged and made another team. They were very good players. This was particularly true in basketball. I remember basketball more because I know that happened in basketball. We were 70:00always in the playoffs, and we would always get pretty high in the playoffs. Then maybe a team from D. C. --D. C. always had some great athletes of every race. There was this team from D. C. I think they were called the D. C. Club. They had some real good players. I guess that on the athletic field maybe things are always different. In athletics there's always a chance to elbow somebody or fight somebody in any part of the game. I don't ever remember anything like that happening in athletics. One of the organizations, for example, one of the Greek frats would have a team, or one of the other organizations that's a recognized organization of the school would have a team. Groove Phi Groove could have a team because we were one of the non-recognized organizations. I forget what the 71:00title was. We were able to have a team that way. One time I thought they changed the rule, and we had to play under the banner of the Human Relations Council. Maybe that was the first year, we had to play under the banner of the Human Relations Council. You had to be University recognized. That happened at first, but after that it changed. As far as the intramurals, that was some of the fun times. You would think there would be more instances because there were chances to throw elbow or get in those little licks that you might have had some personal grievance about. I can't say that I ever think that happened. Even on the football field, flag football was an intramural thing. We had a flag football team, went to the playoffs, and did real well in the playoffs. There were never any instances that I would think would be physical. What could be more physical than football? Even flag football because you still block and hit 72:00people. Never a problem with that. With all our intramural teams, we always had an all black team. At some point, maybe a lot of the white students thought that maybe everybody belonged to Groove Phi Groove because there was still the issue of there were a lot of these black jackets with G Phi G on them walking around campus. Since there weren't many of us anyway, you might see most of the black guys wearing one. At one point in time one pledge line we had once had eighteen guys in it. We would go to some of the black schools like Virginia State, Howard, or Hampton University. They wouldn't have eighteen people in line pledging a fraternity. Here we are a predominantly white school, and we had eighteen guys. Dirty Dozen and a half, that's what they called themselves who were pledging the fraternity. We were the only game in town, but we did have one of the biggest lines around, more that any other schools that were pledging 73:00Groove Phi Groove. Grove Phi Groove at that time existed in most the minority colleges. It actually still exists. It's not on Tech's campus now, but it does still exist at most of the historically black universities.

Kennelly: Did you go to any of the school dances?

Watkins: I went to Ring Dance. Getting my class ring from Tech was a big thing for me, so I did go to Ring Dance. I think that was the only thing I went to. I went to Ring Dance.

Kennelly: Was it comfortable?

Watkins: Actually it was comfortable. My date is sitting right here. I have to say because the issue comes up often enough when we get together in a crowd, but Myron and I dated each other in college. We were comfortable at the ring dance. 74:00The year I was there, Larry Beale was there; Steve Fox who will be here tomorrow also went to this ring dance. So we had at least 3 couples there. It wasn't like we were solo. There were a number of black couples there. I think that was the only thing I went to as far as a dance here and there. They had other things at Burruss Hall that we would attend. I don't know that we went to those as much as far as the German Club, I don't remember that that must have been after I left.

Kennelly: Did you make any white friends?

Watkins: A couple of men friends. It's funny because that really was my freshman 75:00year. Like I said they must have matched us up on that hall. A number of the people we had on that hall were from the D. C. area, and whether feeling that comfortable bringing people from the D. C. area-- I went to that same floor that had most of the black male students. Maybe there was some reasoning for that. There were a couple that were on that floor that were from my freshman year, and like I said, I only lived in the dorm one quarter of my sophomore year, but all of my freshman year. But I remember them more than any of the other people I met in any of the other years. Because quite frankly, the rest of my time at Tech revolved around the members of Groove Phi Groove, going to school, back and forth from class, some of the relationships we developed with people at Radford. Roanoke College when we realized they had black students, and they would come over. All of the students coming from Radford and Roanoke College were coming to Groove Phi Groove events. We were meeting them through those things. We would have dances, Groove Phi Groove dances, at least once a month that were attended 76:00by other people, and that's where our contacts were. We had kind of developed that little community within a community. It helped us maybe survive some of the other things going on. It wasn't like people were asking us to be members of the German Club or some of the other organizations. Those weren't memberships that were made; we weren't asked to join those. Even though I know there were one or two that would join here or there, but we weren't participating at levels where we were comfortable enough to attend at that time. Probably because we weren't asked, if we had been some of us might have been leery about joining anyway. There was still that Confederate flag and "Dixie" thing. It seemed like everything revolved around that.

Kennelly: You were a member of the Black Student Commission of the Student Government--


Watkins: Well that was kind of small I don't know if we even had more than one or two meetings, and it was sort of like trying to deal with the issue of the Confederate flag and "Dixie." It was really having our input and feelings about it--that's all that it really was. I think at that time--I forget if we had met with Dean Dean about this--it was sort of an organization that was put together to get our input on the Confederate flag and "Dixie."

Kennelly: Through this organization did you really express your feelings about the Confederate flag to the administration, or was it more like a subtle thing?


Watkins: It was more a subtle thing. From our aspect of Groove Phi Groove actually presenting an issue, no we didn't. But if you asked any of the members, which I don't know that many were asked, then they would have given you their opinion. It wasn't like a lot of us were getting asked things like this. Interesting enough, they might ask Jerry Gaines because Jerry Gaines was a visible athlete, and he might get asked. He probably got asked things more than we got asked things. He was a track star; he was the only black athlete that was here then. Of course, Jerry would have a different perspective. Most of us came from predominantly black high schools. Jerry was different in the aspect that he at the time he was recruited to Tech had actually transferred to predominately white high school. You know how I was telling you about the freedom of choice. He had actually been transferred from an all black high school to a predominantly white high school so he had had two years of experience of being around whites more than most of us when we came here. There would have been a 79:00different perspective from Jerry than from most of us. For example, I listened to Chickie's audio on the Internet, and she had mentioned "Dixie" and the Confederate flag, and said about her mother calling and asking about them. As I said, I never visited the campus, and I think if I had visited and seen that, I probably wouldn't have come. It would have been an easy choice and, I wouldn't have had to flip that coin. I would have been at Duke University and not worried about the issue at all. It did mean something to us. It didn't help to every now and then have somebody yell "nigger" out of a window or something like that. Like I said, no one ever got in my face and said it, it was always something from a window where you never knew where it came from. I know there have been some other instances with some other guys where things might have gone a little further or gotten physical from the standpoint of more yelling at each other. I 80:00don't know that I ever really felt intimidated by being here or anything like that. Once again, you went to class, and I don't think there was ever anything in class that was intimidating other than the class itself, trying to get your lessons, as anything else would have been. Still it was getting your college education, and I think that was what everybody was about here, but you still wanted to feel like you had a little life afterwards and you wanted to feel comfortable with your surroundings. "Dixie" and the Confederate flag didn't help that. Yet like I said, I purchased my Tech ring, and I knew the Confederate flag was going to be on it, but I also knew at the time too that the change was coming, and I could see it coming. I think the better came from it too.

Kennelly: Were any faculty sort of a mentor to you?


Watkins: I could not tell you the name of any faculty individual at all. I remember T. Marshall Hahn was the president, and I had a faculty advisor. I came in as an engineer and had one advisor. I changed from engineering after my second quarter here and went into general science because I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, until eventually I decided I was going to go to dental school and wound up majoring in biology. I went through some advisors through the course of time. I know I don't remember any of them, and that may be my own fault because basically they just helped me develop what my curriculum so that I could get my degree. And everything necessary that I needed to go to dental school. That was all it was all about. Once I knew what subject path I needed to have, it was a matter of getting that subject and graduating. That was it. I didn't really identify with any faculty there. From a class standpoint, there was no one there that really stands out as doing anything special. I just felt 82:00like I went to class, got my lessons, got whatever grade I got, and moved on. There was no one that I can say was special. That's probably the best way to say it. I only remember [Winston Percival] Nagan as the professor from South Africa because I did take his class because the word had just gotten around about his issue on apartheid. This was also the time when the anti-apartheid stuff was really being pushed as well as a lot of the civil rights things. Just to listen to him speak about some things that happened in South Africa was eye opening. I mean we thought we had it bad, then we listened to some of the things going on in South Africa, and that was just an interesting perspective. I remember him, even though from my perspective I only really needed one subject from him so I 83:00just took that subject. I knew who he was and would see him on campus. He actually even came to our Groove house a couple of times and would interact with us outside of being in the classroom. There was another professor that was a graduate professor that did come, one that I would again qualify as the hippie type, because every time I saw him he had the long hair and the sandals. That was his routine. I think he was in sociology. I can't remember his name, I'm hoping that maybe somebody this weekend might remember his name. He actually came to the Groove house and interacted with us a little bit. Other than that, that was it. I couldn't call a name of anyone that stood out special. I basically just went to class and that was it.

Kennelly: Did you feel comfortable in class, you know, joining in?


Watkins: I think I felt comfortable there, but I know that I probably would have participated more if I was at a campus with probably more minority students. Like I said, most of the time I was the only black in each class, and somewhere in the back of my mind sometimes I would think I don't want this question because maybe it will sound like "oh that black guy, he's going to answer or ask this question," and somehow I felt a little leery about that. I don't know that that became so much of an issue for me. Obviously, it got to the point where it was kind of understood that I was probably going to be the only black in every class I went to. Once that was behind me, it really didn't matter. That wasn't too much of a problem. It was just so different coming from an all black high school with all black teachers for the most part and then coming to this different environment. It was culture shock in a lot of different ways. I think 85:00it would have been better if there were no Confederate flag or "Dixie," I think it would have been better. I guess in retrospect, when I look back on it, I know it could have been better if that hadn't been something to have to contend with. Like I said, I came in here hating the place, and I left here loving it. At the first black reunion the school had in '88, Charlie Yates was the speaker. The second black reunion they had, which I think was '89 or '90, I was the speaker. Because I was the speaker, I expressed some of the same things you just heard me say about the Confederate flag and "Dixie" just like here. And I thought about that and I said, you know, we went from Charlie Yates in [19]58 or [19]59 when he finished to me in [19]71 when I finished, and I knew there were some other people in between. The same kinds of things I mentioned were the focus of us 86:00being here and were the Confederate flag, "Dixie," and Groove Phi Groove. Those were the issues; those were the hot items at the time. We would never have thought about walking across campus and seeing a black student and not speaking to him. The big difference I saw when I came here later on in [19]90 was you would see black students walking around-- I mean I would venture to guess I knew the mothers' name of most of the black students that were on campus, and you knew where everybody was from because you knew everybody. If there was a new black face, you wanted to know who that face was. That was the way it was then. There were so few of us, it was easy enough to do that. At some point, they were going to pass through the Groove house or at some point they were going to interact with someone that was Groove Phi Groove or somebody Groove was going to tell them about it. If it was a woman, oh gosh, you couldn't let the opportunity 87:00of having a black woman not at least participate in some of your events.

Kennelly: But you got to know the students from Radford?

Watkins: Got to know the students from Radford quite well, what was it 17.2? The story was you used to know the exact mileage from Tech to Radford campus, so it wasn't "Were you going over to Radford today?" it was, "Are you going to make the 17.2 today?" You knew the exact mileage, and you never said you were going to Radford. It was, Are you going to make the 17.2? Some of the guys dated some of the girls from Radford. Actually, one of the Groove brothers married one of the girls from Radford. There were obviously some relationships that developed there that lasted.

Kennelly: How did you find the town of Blacksburg? Were you comfortable in the town?

Watkins: There was a town of Blacksburg? Oh you mean that little stretch out there. Small town, that was definitely a small town. Which I had no problem 88:00with. It actually reminded me of the town in North Carolina where my grandfather lived: Reedsville is like Blacksburg was. It was obvious this was a college town, it was a town that revolved around the college. It just happened to be the town where the college was. Roses was the department store that was right downtown. We would go into Roses. I don't think we ever had a problem. We could sit at the cafeteria and eat at the cafeteria there. But we always felt uncomfortable there because we felt like we were always in the way. I don't know that we had to go there that often, but being in town, it was a very open town. Actually, the people were friendlier than I remember them being in Newport News. As far as I'm concerned, the people were very friendly. Because we thought we were going to run into a problem getting somewhere to live off campus that next year, as people were having some problems with that. It was no big deal. When we first moved off into our trailer, we never locked the door. We would have some 89:00of our Groove brothers that might come over, and they just want to come over to nap or something, and we never locked our door. We never thought about locking our door. It was always open. Sometimes some of the ladies would come over. They would want to cook a meal or something. The door was always open. They would just go in and cook a meal and not have a problem with it. We never had a problem with anything Nothing ever was stolen. What they knew was that if we were here, we were probably students at Tech. Whether they knew it because we had on some Tech paraphernalia. Wait a minute that's got to be a black student from Tech because they had never seen us before. There were only two or three black families in town. I can't say there was any negative influence with regard 90:00to the town at all.

Kennelly: Did you get to know any of the people in the town?

Watkins: We got to know the Snell family. They lived right across the street from where we rented the Groove house. One of the black families lived right across the street from where we rented the house that was our fraternity house. One of them, Sydney, actually, he went to Tech and pledged Groove Phi Groove later on. So we knew that family. Was it the Jackson family that lived at the end of the street, that doesn't sound right? There was another lady that lived at the end of the street that would come down to the Groove house every now and then and ask us if there was anything she could do to help us. I think she had a son that worked for the VA. Tech plant development here. We never knew what he did. He wasn't like a laborer type or something. I just can't remember what her name was right now.


Kennelly: You had a church here you said?

Green: There was a black church in town and when they would have youth Sunday since there weren't a lot of black youths in the community the black youth from Tech would go over for youth Sunday and we had one student who would do the preaching and preach the sermon and we would sing in the choir and everything.

Kennelly: Did you hear anything about a letter from the dean, or a memo to the Residence Halls regarding interracial dating that was given to the white students?

Watkins: No, I never heard anything about that.

Green: Something discouraging interracial dating?

Kennelly: It stated that if you were going to have interracial dating, you had to have a letter from your parents approving it.

Watkins: I don't remember that.

Green: I don't remember the details, but I do remember hearing something about 92:00it, but we never saw it.

Kennelly: I was told it was given to white students.

Green: We never saw the letter but I heard there was something.

Watkins: I wasn't aware of that.

Kennelly: When Reverend Martin Luther King died April 8 of your freshman year, I think there was a vigil to honor Reverend King. Were you involved in that?

Watkins: On the drillfield, right in front of the chapel. We basically were just sitting there listening to some people speak. We took it as a sad time, and it just seemed to have more of an impact-- Actually, it was a little surprising at the number of people who attended. We were surprised from the black students perceptive to the number of white students that were there. I have to say I know I was in a positive way. Of course a number of them were once again, I hate to 93:00keep referring to people as hippies, you could see there was a liberal mind with regards to some other aspects of things. A large contingent of people who felt the need to at least come express some concern that they were also saddened by that event. But yes, the vigil on the drillfield.

Kennelly: Was there some problems with some students causing trouble about the lowering of the flag?

Watkins: I heard about that, and I knew about that going on, but that part of it I didn't have anything to do with directly. I just heard of it. I wasn't there when it happened.

Kennelly: Was there any support from the administration in particular, anyway to 94:00make you feel welcome?

Watkins: I can't say that anybody walked up to me and said anything. No, I can't say that. My only real interaction with T. Marshall Hahn at the time had to do with marching up to his house regarding a contest they had here one time. They had this thing called the Ugly Man on Campus contest I don't know if that came up with anyone else. Where the different fraternities, somebody would dress up in some particular way, and then there would be a judging as to who would win this prize as the ugly man on campus. It was a contest that was done every year. One year, one of the organizations put up someone who had the appearance of 95:00being in black face. They had these pictures all around campus of what looked like someone in black face. We were very offended by it. A bunch of us marched up to T. Marshall Hahn's house. He and his wife had us in, sat on the floor, and we showed him the picture and told him our concerns about the fact that something like this would go on, somebody would be in blackface with black students on campus. He was very receptive and said as far as he was concerned, these needed to be removed, and he thought it was offensive too, and they would be taken down the next day. He didn't have to do that because we had already taken all of them down when we came to his house. We had given him all, the only one we couldn't get to was in Derring cafeteria because that was locked up. We couldn't get to that, but that was the only one that needed to be taken down. That episode, actually I gained a lot of respect for him because he could have called the police on us. Here are some angry black students showing up on his 96:00doorstep in the middle of the night. He sat us down and his wife made tea or something for us to drink. He listened to us and looked at it and said he was concerned. Of course the organization which happened to be the service organizations on campus, I forget their names. It was like a Greek name. They actually had a black member. What had happened was he had put raspberry jam on his face, but in a black and white picture, it had appeared as a black face. What he said and what they said was this wasn't meant to be blackface, at least that was what was described to us. This was raspberry jam, but when a white student puts it on his face and his eyes, he looks like he's in black face, but supposedly it was raspberry jam but it was in a black and white picture so it appeared as a black face. Still it was offensive enough that they took the 97:00pictures down, and there was an apology in the campus newspaper to the black students for that appearance. That was about it. I'm sure that came from the influence of T. Marshall Hahn telling the organization that it offended a segment of students on campus. But did we have meeting with the administration or even did the black students meet anywhere? You've got to realize there was no black student union. We weren't congregated to say welcome, we're glad to have you here. We were just here. Once we were here I guess it was just the fact that we accepted you here, so I guess we must have you here, so now you have to do what you're here for. I think we all took the responsibility that we were here to get degrees, and we did.

Green: When they had the black government commission, the student government commission, one other issue was during Kent State time there were a thousand 98:00students gathered to walk up to the president's house. There were six black females living in one wing of a dorm, and at the time we were sitting outside, and about five black guys had come over talking to us. All the campus security gathered in front of us on campus, and they wanted to know, What kind of trouble was here? What are you doing? We told them it's not us you should be concerned about. Maybe you should be concerned about the thousand students marching on the president's house. But they came to the dorm because there were ten blacks in front of our door. We were standing outside talking. Rather than be concerned about the thousand marching on the president's house at that time. There was some discussion about that that where's the focus when things get heated up, the first place you run is where are my black students. They went into town that night. They actually did some breaking of business windows because they marched 99:00in town and marched to the president's house and everything. The campus security went right to us because they saw ten blacks congregating.

Kennelly: You graduated from Tech in Biology in [19]71. What did you do after graduation?

Watkins: Went to dental school, I applied to Medical College of Virginia Dental School and was accepted and went to dental school and four years later became a dentist.

Kennelly: Was that at VCU?

Watkins: VCU/MCV in Richmond

Kennelly: That must have been a big change to go to VCU from here.

Watkins: Believe it or not, you talk about pioneer, and you're probably going to throw this pioneer on me again, but when we went to MCV, dental school is a four year program, and they had a hundred students in each class: freshman, 100:00sophomore, junior, and senior year. Or at least you start out with a hundred. Well the year I started MCV happened to be the first year they had started letting blacks attend again. So here I was one of two black students in a class of a hundred with no upper class black dental students at all. Nobody in the sophomore class, nobody in the junior class, nobody in the senior class. Actually when I look back on it, Tech was a little easier in that at least I had some upper class black students that I could say, "Okay what's this about? What's going on here and there?" Another student that came from Virginia State College entered dental school with me. They did have some black students that had graduated from the dental school. One had graduated in the fifties, one had graduated two years before we got there, and one had graduated a year before him. There had only been three black graduates in the dental school when we entered. We were number-- 4 and 5. His last name was Nelson--so I'll say he was number four, I was number five that actually had gone through the dental school. 101:00We had started a trend, well, I won't say a trend, but a decision had been made that they were going to try to have a number of blacks in each class, and we just happened to be the class that they started to have black students again. There were two of us and no upper class. My next year, my sophomore year they brought in two, my junior year they brought in two, each year they brought in two black students. It was almost like that was the magic number out of a hundred that they decided they were going to have. As far as preparation for it, I felt very prepared for it from my Tech education, so that wasn't too much of an issue. It was just that here I was again. At least there was no Confederate flag or "Dixie." Although, MCV is right next to the block where the house of the Confederacy is located, or the Confederate Museum, that's what it's called. It was in the very next block from the school, but I didn't have to go in that. And they didn't have a Confederate flag hanging out front. There might have been one inside, but there certainly wasn't one hanging out front, and it was in the very 102:00next block. Then it was in Richmond too and Richmond isn't exactly a predominantly white town. It's probably closer to 50/50, or it was at least then as far as percentages. It was a little different environment being in a town like Richmond than being in a town like Blacksburg.

Kennelly: Did you feel prepared going to college, or at least equally to the other students?

Watkins: It was kind of interesting. I was valedictorian of my high school. That says something about my high school in one respect and maybe about my feelings about academics from another. When I got to Tech, I had taken college level English and math when in high school. So when I came to college I had one credit 103:00of already for college math and one credit for English as a result of doing it. I came in and I thought this couldn't be too bad, I had taken those things and had done well in those classes, but when I got here, it was a whole different thing. I can't say I felt as prepared as I thought I was, and the stuff was hard. Stuff that I had had was hard. It was harder than I remembered that it was. Some of that I attribute to that I really did come in with somewhat of a lack of focus that I had when I was in school because I was not comfortable. I really was not comfortable. That was the black/white thing. I mean I was not comfortable. It just wasn't the same. It wasn't like you'd look over and see somebody that you'd been seeing for three or four years or you knew you were going to see in your neighborhood. It just wasn't quite the same. After those first couple of quarters, I felt better about some things, and I felt better about being here once I got into the mind that I felt like I could hang more or 104:00less. Then Groove Phi Groove came, and I was a little more comfortable with the people here, and the friendships were there. Like I said, it was just the group that came in. Maybe if it had been a different group of guys that had come in with me especially or a different group of students, or maybe there was a different group of students that were here. It might have even been different from that perspective too. It was like the right group of students were together, and the timing was right, and we all just seemed to mesh, and I think everybody was supportive of everybody as far as the black students. I don't think anybody was trying to down anybody. I don't think there wouldn't have been a black student that I felt like I couldn't ask to do a favor for me. It was like having a family away from home. Once I realized that, which took probably the first year to realize that, and the Groove Phi Groove thing came along, it 105:00wasn't so bad. It was hard, it was harder than high school was, there's no doubt about that. I always kind of felt like high school was easy, and this was a lot harder. I didn't realize how good of an education I got until I went to MCV because it made things a little easier at MCV. It definitely made it easier to deal with whites. Here I was in another type of environment where the percentage was worse than it was at Tech. I didn't really have a problem with the black/white thing there. I shouldn't say not a problem. I knew there was a problem because dentistry is the kind of profession where, what's the best way to describe this, I think there are a lot of old school mentalities. The reason is that it's kind of a basic profession where a lot of things are done the same 106:00along different ways, and there are a lot of professors in dentistry who feel comfortable with the old way. I got the impression that I probably got graded down more in dental school because I was black then I ever did at Tech because I got the feeling that some people felt that I didn't belong there. I look back on Tech as being an even better experience. If it weren't for the Confederate flag and "Dixie" it would have been definitely a better experience. But MCV, I know there were some professors there that really didn't want us there. The year I started MCV was the year they had their first new dean. They had previously had a dean that had been there almost forever. They named the school after him; that's how long he had been there. He had a concept about the type of person they were going to bring out of their dental school, and obviously with the support of whomever, it didn't include blacks as part of the class. It wasn't an 107:00issue then. I met him since then because he was dean emeritus, and I don't mind calling the name Harry Lyons because I know he's a big name in the state. The new part of the dental school is called the Lyons building after him. But he's part of the old school, and there were some professors there with the old school with him too. In dentistry you can physically do something with your hands and look at it and compare it. I know there were some people who didn't do some things as well as me that got better grades. It was unfortunate that that was the case, but the fortunate part of it was it didn't hold me back. It was a four-year program; I did it in four years. There were some other people in the class that took more than four years and didn't finish on time, and some that didn't finish at all. I felt prepared from the standpoint of Virginia Tech helping me with that and I had no problem. Looking back on Tech, it really 108:00wasn't as bad as I thought it was, but I wouldn't have wanted my child to go through it like it was when I went through it. As I said for my speech when I did the speech for the second year of the black reunion, I would've been very happy, I would be very happy if either one of my kids had wanted to go to Tech right now. I wouldn't have a problem with it at all. I would be proud if they wanted to go. Whether it was because I went or whether they just liked the school.

Kennelly: Do you have kids who are--

Watkins: Yes, but they decided to go to JMU. My son is at JMU now, and my daughter is a senior in high school. She got her acceptance letter to Tech two weeks ago, but she's already let us know her first choice is JMU too. She wants to join her brother at JMU. I guess I'm just going to miss out on having either one of them come. But she did apply, but I think she applied only because she knew I wanted her to apply. She did get her acceptance letter. Now, JMU is her first choice; supposedly Tech is her second choice. She's a very good student, 109:00so I wouldn't think she wouldn't get accepted into to JMU. Right now I'm just thinking she's probably going to JMU. I tried to get her to come up here this weekend to look at some things, but I think they're having an orientation the weekend of the fifteenth or something. I think she and her friend are coming up that weekend.

Kennelly: Did you have a scholarship to dental school?

Watkins: At the time for professional school they were loans; they were in the form of loans. Bill Cosby had a Colgate scholarship loan that was for minority students, and it was part loan, part scholarship the first year. Then the second year, which happened to be the year that President Nixon had some problems with the way some things were going on and the Republican Administration wound up changing some of the programs and it became all loans. Actually, my last three years were from the Bill Cosby loan program. Of course it didn't cost as much 110:00then as a dental school education costs now. When I finished Tech, I didn't owe any money as far as loans for school because it was all scholarship. When I finished dental school, I did owe some,(about $8,000) but it was nothing like what the kids borrow today to go to dental school its almost phenomenal. That wasn't too bad. I went into the military after I finished dental school. I was a dentist in the navy for two years. They would offset a certain percentage for each year you did in the military, which was a good thing. It wasn't a big percentage, but it was something. It wasn't so much than five years later the loans were paid off so it wasn't that big of a deal because it wasn't a large amount, and the interest rate was great, it was three percent only. That was the other advantage of it too.

Kennelly: Where do you live now?

Watkins: I live in Hampton, which is the sister city right beside Newport News. I actually went back home, because I had lived in Newport News. I went to Tech, here, went to dental school in Richmond, joined the navy because I was single and wanted the navy to send me somewhere to see the world. They stationed me in 111:00Norfolk, so I never got out of the state of Virginia. When they stationed me in Norfolk, the first year I was in the navy, I was a dentist in Norfolk, at the main clinic in Norfolk for one year. They had four opportunities for dentist to do independent duty at different stations. One was at Newport News at the Newport News shipyard. The second year I was in the navy I was actually in Newport News right at home. Of course, the second year I did get married. Because I got married I bought a home in Newport News for the second year I was in the navy. After that I went into private practice and just happened to go into the city of Hampton because there was a dentist there who was looking for an associate and I went into practice with him. He happened to be in Hampton. Hampton and Newport News are like you don't know if you're in one or the other; they're right there together. I even live in Hampton, we moved from Newport News to Hampton about ten years ago.

Kennelly: What's your wife's name?

Watkins: Hardenia, Hardenia Watkins. She was a Jefferson. I met her at MCV. She 112:00was at MCV working on her master's in microbiology when I was in dental school so we met when I was in school and dated throughout dental school and got married after my first year in the navy.

Kennelly: Were there a lot of black graduate students?

Watkins: There were black medical students and black graduate students.

Kennelly: What's her maiden name?

Watkins: Jefferson, she went to Virginia State which was the college then in Petersburg in undergrad and actually did a med. tech. program in Washington Center Hospital in D. C. She came out to MCV, got her master's in microbiology, and went out to Western Carolina University in the western part of the state of Carolina and taught there for two years. Then we got married, and she of course then came to Newport News.

Kennelly: In your practice now do you have white and black patients?

Watkins: Yes, probably about 80/20 ratio, 80% black, 20% white.

Kennelly: Do you live in an integrated community?


Watkins: I live in an integrated community, right. It's integrated, but I live on a private road with just two houses. It's my builder's house and my house. We don't live in a housing development. It just so happens my builder owns some property that was out away from everyone else, and he had a lot that he wanted to subdivide so we purchased a lot, and it's just his house and my house. We live off a private road, which happens to be in Hampton. It's just some property that happened to be at the end of the city limits. The community around us is integrated. But if you really look at where we live, it's just him and me.

Kennelly: Do you have white and black friends?

Watkins: Yes, that came more from the dental profession than anything else. Most 114:00of my friends are dentists or physicians or professionals or most of them are in some form or fashion just the community we move in. Now being from Newport News, I have a lot of high school friends that are still there that are like teachers or classmates of classes ahead of me, classes behind me. It was kind of an advantage, being in my hometown coming back. People either know me or know of me when I come back home like that. Most of my friends are either other dentists, or physicians or lawyers or something like that. It's just the community; we have a little community organization that meets. Most of them happen to be professionals or either teachers or something like that. My high school doesn't exist anymore. George Washington Carver was phased out. It's now a middle 115:00school, (the facility itself.) We still have an alumni association for that high school as if it still existed. They have a number of meetings for the people that graduated. The last class that graduated from G.W. Carver high school was [19]71, which happened to be the year I graduated from college. The Carver high school from [19]71 before they have an alumni association that still meets, and on a local level, and a number of people I know are in that organization. Form the dental profession, I've done a lot of things professionally in dentistry. I think we talked about this before in an email. The Virginia State Dental Board is a big thing in the State of Virginia. It's a governor appointment. There have been two blacks that have been appointed to the dental board for the entire history of the board, which has been a hundred years. In 1989, I became the third black that was appointed to the board. None of them became president of the board, but in 1992 I became the first black president of the Virginia State 116:00Dental Board. As a result of that, I've participated in dentistry on the state and on the national level on committees quite a bit. I've met a lot of other people through those connections. Once again, they happen to be dentists. Just dealing with dentistry from a professional standpoint. From that presidency of the Virginia State Dental Board, the president of the American Dental Association selected me to serve on the council and commission on dental accreditation which is the national organization that does the accreditation of dental hygiene, dental assistant programs throughout the country. I was the first black dentist to serve on that board. They had a black citizen member, but I was actually the first black dentist to serve on that board. It meets in Chicago, and that's one of the main reasons I had the Chicago connection. I go up there usually twice a year to serve on the committee in that respect. This 117:00happens to be the 25th anniversary of my graduation from dental school this year. We're having our 25th anniversary at the end of April in Richmond. Think about all this stuff--it's been twenty-five years from dental school. Of course next year is my thirty years from Virginia Tech, the year 2001. Gosh I didn't think about that, I'm dating myself.

Kennelly: Do your children have black and white friends?

Watkins: Yes, because they went to integrated schools. All the schools are integrated now, and both the kids have black and white friends. Both applied to predominantly white schools. They each did apply to two predominantly black colleges. My daughter had an interest in Spelman, and my son had an interest in 118:00Moorehouse, but once again they didn't win out either. The choice was theirs. We did have the advantage of visiting the campuses and things like that which like I said I didn't have so they did get a chance to visit, and whatever they felt comfortable with. Interesting enough, as negative as I was about the fact that I couldn't get anyone to go to Tech, I was somewhat envious of the fact that they really chose in JMU a school that was like Tech was when I first came to Tech: about ten thousand students, a little higher percentage of black faces on campus especially in the faculty and staff. I was mentioning this to some Alumni coming up, that when I visited JMU's campus, it reminded me of Tech when I first came to Tech, the size, some of the buildings are even in the same stone, the little mountains here to there go back and forth to class. I kind of like the campus too. But by the same token I would have wanted either one of them to go to Tech. My son was accepted to Tech also. He applied; he was accepted. We had actually 119:00paid the housing deposit for him to come to Tech, and he changed his mind at the last minute, so Tech lost out.

Kennelly: Is there anything else you'd like to say that I haven't asked you about?

Watkins: No, I think you asked me about most of the things I probably would've wanted to say. I found it rather interesting because Peter Wallenstein who did the history book. I haven't read it from cover to cover or anything like that. I was kind of looking for sections in it to see if he was addressing in his history some of the issues of the Confederate flag and "Dixie." Surprisingly he didn't. I just thought at some point if he revises it, he at least addresses their impact on the campus. Once again it may be there, and I missed it. Also, 120:00the black perspective because he had that section in there on the blacks on campus, the black perspective on some of the things. I know Chickie Harper has mentioned some things about it and Chickie will be here tomorrow too I'm glad to hear that. I think I touched on most of the things I wanted to touch on.

Kennelly: Do you think the fact that I'm not black, that the interview would have gone different or you might have felt freer to say things if I was?

Watkins: Actually I've been thirty years away from here now, and I've gotten to be kind of old, I think. No, I don't think that would've influenced anything I said or would've made a difference. I honestly don't think I could say anything different. I didn't call on me or lock me into not saying particular things. I 121:00might have even said the "n" word, and I said I wasn't going to say it. I think I said it. I think I was going to refer to it as only the "n" word because it was something we heard on campus. Surprisingly, I have to say too, that probably happened the first couple of years I was here. Whether it was because I lived off campus the next couple years or not and didn't have to walk through the court area there as much in that period of time, I don't know. Maybe someone that was there later might address it differently. I know I have spoken to people who graduated later, and they have heard it yelled from a window too. I know it has happened. But in every case, I think it's been the same way, someone yells it from a window, nobody's gotten in anybody's face and said something like that. Mentally I had this block that I wasn't going to say that but I probably did.

Kennelly: Let me ask you about Groove Phi Groove? Groove is not a take off of a Greek letter.

Watkins: Groove is not a Greek organization. Groove was a social fellowship; 122:00it's not a Greek fraternity. I guess the best way to describe it is there are fraternities and there are other organizations that are non-fraternities. That's why it's called Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship. It's not Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity or Omega Psi Phi fraternity. They are actually fraternities. But Groove Phi Groove never put on itself as being a fraternity. There are other organizations that are not fraternities from that particular standpoint. Maybe I will say this part, because even though I hate to mention it, I know that a couple of our members including Myron's brother have now pledged another fraternity called Omega Psi Phi. Groove Phi Groove came about because most of the guys here that started it wanted to pledge Q, and I know the Q's will love to hear this, you know Omega Psi Phi. It's just that Stan Harris, who was instrumental in the organization, he was the one who made the contacts to the 123:00people at Virginia State that got us to start Groove Phi Groove. He was trying to make connections for us to start Omega Psi Phi. Here we were poor little black students at school. We had limited resources to be able to do things. The Omega Psi Phi fraternity wanted us to do some things we physically and financially could not do to form it on campus. They wanted us to come down to the place every weekend for a long period of time to pledge to start the charter chapter. Because they did that we just got disgruntled with the fact that we would not be able to do that. We had to study; we were trying to stay in college too. Our parents expected us to study. When Stan Harris made contacts with Virginia State's Groove Phi Groove chapter, they were more receptive to making it easier for us to be able to pledge and start chapter. That's the reason we formed Groove Phi Groove, because it was easier to start the organization on campus. I will let the Q's know, and I know my friends who are Q's, Omega Psi Phi, we had a couple. Myron's brother who was a Groove and now he's pledged Q 124:00and Calvin Jamison (Admissions Office at Tech) who was one of the Groove's here later on after us has now pledged Omega Psi Phi as a result of being able to pledge on the graduate level and are no longer what we consider Grooves. But Groove Phi Groove came about from us trying to form Omega Psi Phi on campus first, but we weren't able to do it because there were too many restrictions and restraints on how they wanted us to start. That will make the Q's happy to hear that we wanted them first!

Kennelly: Myron is there anything you would like to add?

Watkins: I think she should talk about the Delta Sigma Theta sorority because I know Delta Sigma Theta started their own sorority on campus at whatever year you have in your history. Myron, Chickie Harper, and Sylvia Swilley, (Another young 125:00lady coming to the reunion tomorrow came from California.) I want to mention that Sylvia came all the way from L. A. to come to be with us. She's the one who hasn't been back to campus in twenty-eight years. She was Myron's roommate her freshman year. They pledged Delta Sigma Theta in 1970 by going to Norfolk to pledge at a national convention. So they were really the first Delta Sigma Thetas that were on campus. I think the rules were they had to have seven members to form a chapter, and they didn't have that many..

Green: You had to be a sophomore and you had to have seven. At that time there were only nine black females on campus, and you needed seven who had to be sophomores to start a chapter. Marguerite Harper, it was her senior year, and she pledged two days before her graduation. We moved our final exams up so we could travel to Norfolk and go to the regional convention. Jim actually drove us to Norfolk. My brother was graduating; Marguerite was graduating. We went, spent 126:00a night there, had to take the national exam, got inducted in, traveled back to Tech the next day for graduation only to travel home after graduation. We did that thousand miles in two days just round trip up and down. We had to study for national delta exams and study for Tech final exams all in the same time frame so it was sort of hectic, but we actually had Delta's on campus as early as 1970.