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Irving Peddrew, III Gets Ready to Bowl
Tamara Kennelly: Did you receive a scholarship to Virginia Tech?
Irving Linwood Peddrew, III: Nope. Not the slightest. The only scholarship I was given--well I was offered other scholarships to other colleges, but the primary scholarship that Virginia wanted to give me was to keep me out of Virginia Tech and other white schools and to get me out to the West Coast. That was the scholarship that I was given by Virginia. I was offered other scholarships to other schools in Virginia and out of the state of Virginia.
I wonder about my decision to come to Virginia Tech, and I think about it from time to time and wonder about if I would ever do that again. I think not. I think not. At that point, I decided that I would brave it because I pretty much was ready to encounter the other folk thinking of me as not really ready. I was ready. I was ready. Virginia Tech wasn't ready for me, but I was ready for them. I really felt good about the fact that I had the backing of my parents and, of course, the black community, which I wasn't really concerned about. I was concerned more about my parents and their being there for me.
I knew that scholastically I could handle it. The only problem would be that I was so individualistic that there may not be a chance for me to persevere because of the strong strict upbringing that I was a person who had what it took to be a good citizen, to be a positive contributor to society. I've always felt that. I feel that now very strongly. I felt then that I didn't really need to be relegated to a second-class type situation. Although I admired the black schools then. I took a pre-college course at Hampton University, which was called Hampton Institute at that time, and came out at the very top of the students that participated in that. That was the very first year that they offered that. That was the year, that year I entered Virginia Tech that I received the telegram of acceptance.
I never really felt inferior or that I should feel inferior at any time. I never, never ever felt that, but I knew how folks viewed me and what stereotypical idea they had of me. Not because they knew me, because no one knew me here, but what they had thought of me because of the exterior manifestations of color and that sort of thing. I knew how I would be looked upon. That never frightened me. I was never frightened of the idea.
I guess the one thing that I think about, that occurred to me, was when my parents brought me up here and I registered for school and got measured for my cadet uniform and so forth. I went to the home of the black family where I had to live. When I saw my dad and mom drive off, I said to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" That's when it really hit me. That was the first time, when they drove off, and I realized that I was really by myself, and I was on my own. I was really totally on my own. Although the black family that I stayed with was very supportive, very beautiful people. I knew basically that they weren't going to class with me. That whatever I was subjected to I had to endure, on my own, basically.
For that first year it was quite an existence. Though it turned out to be an existence that was considered to be quite positive because of the people who called me in from the administration, Virginia Tech administration, and told me that "the only reason that we have accepted Charlie Yates, Lindsay Cherry, and Floyd Wilson in your sophomore year was the fact that you did so well in your freshman year, when you were accepted." It wasn't the fact that I was totally accepted and embraced as being one of the other students. I wasn't. What they were interested in was that there was no problems--there were no difficulties to speak of during my freshman year.
I guess I did as well as maybe I wanted to. Not as well as really I could have done but enough to satisfy the prerequisites and enough to satisfy myself that I was no longer viewed as an inferior being, who was brought into this great euphoria. Who are we talking about? This is a college, you know. It wasn't like it was some great thing that I should have been, that they should have me lauded for all their great, the fact that I was accepted and so forth and so on. I thank Virginia Tech, and I think they should receive some accolade for having stepped in front of the rest of the colleges and in front of the rest of the basically the white educational world in the South and accepted me as a student.
I wasn't totally accepted. I had to live off campus. I couldn't go to the campus cafeteria, the university cafeteria. There was a number of things I couldn't do on campus, and certainly a world of things that I couldn't do in town, in the town of Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech should still be lauded for the fact that they stepped out front and said, "We are going to give you a shot," and because of what they allowed me to do during that first year, they accepted the other students, one of which who eventually finished here and now has a Ph.D. At that time, I wasn't out to really prove a lot. That wasn't the purpose of my attending school here. It was my coming to take something, to be a part of something, that I felt that I had a right to be a part of. My parents live here. My parents had been paying taxes, and poll taxes included. They just brought me up to realize that I was a very important person and that I shouldn't regard myself as being inferior. That was the important thing that I should not ever develop that inferiority complex. I never did. I never have. I have encountered all kinds of discrimination since Virginia Tech, all over the world and never have given in to the idea that I should be, that I should even consider myself as a second-class citizen or anything of that nature. I never have, and I thank them for that because they planted that seed. Even though I grew beyond them and what they thought.
My dad was a member of a very prestigious social club in Hampton, which only had black members. I remember coming back from California and asking him if a roommate of mine could belong to that, who happened to be of Caucasian persuasion, and he said, "Oh no." And I said, "Why, why not?" He said, "Well they don't accept us to their clubs."
That wasn't adequate to me. That didn't suffice. I could never belong to something that wasn't open. I remembered that that was part of the thing that denied admittance to a lot of folks like me who wanted to belong to other organizations, so I could never be a part of that. I don't mean that to put those organizations down. They've got their reasons, and they do their thing, but I feel that if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If I couldn't bring anybody, or have anyone belong to an organization that I liked or thought well of, or a friend of mine, or even someone I didn't know for that matter, but who was qualified in other areas, but disqualified as a result of ethnic origin, I couldn't belong, I couldn't belong to that. I could never be a part of that. I will never be a part of that. That may come as a surprise to some of my so-called friends, but that's the way that I am. That's the way that I was brought up.
Although my ideas are that evolved and developed and grew to the point where I was a little, I don't want to say above my father, but let's say different from him. I could never be a part of that. I don't look down on those people who have those ideas because they come up with different parents or different perspectives or they may have hurt a lot more than I was hurt or my parents were hurt. Who knows there before the grace of God? I can't say that I could act as they did or that I could put them down for what they believe. I know what I believe, and I wouldn't allow them to influence me as I expect they wouldn't let me allow me to influence them. I can still relate to those people. I'm sorry they're not as open or that they don't have as broad of a perspective as I have, but that's life. That's the way it goes pretty much.
Kennelly: When those two--back to the people coming from Tech to talk to you--did they lay down any ground rules about what limitations on your activity?
Peddrew: You know, I really, I've reflected on that, and I really don't recall their ever saying to me this is what you can expect, and this is what you can't. I do remember that they asked me how I would respond if I were called out of my name. I remember that one question more than I do anything else that they ever said, the two gentlemen.
Kennelly: You were called out of your name?
Peddrew: Out of my name? Yeah, indicating a racial epithet.
Kennelly: I see.
Peddrew: I thought about that, and all I could say to them, all I remember saying to them was, "I know there are people who are capable of that. I just think that I am a little stronger than that, and I am above that, and that I don't think that it will cause the adverse reaction that is caused in a number of other situations." Because of the support of my parents and the way I was brought up, I thought that I could handle that, and that is exactly what I told them. I can't ever remember saying anything more, because I didn't know anything more, because I was never confronted with that situation living in Hampton. Although I am sure that a number of other blacks were confronted with that, I never had that particular confrontation. All I could say to them was, "I don't think that I would. I know I wouldn't succumb to it and be devastated by it. I don't know quite how I would take it except that I know it wouldn't devastate me. I just feel that I could get beyond that." Apparently, that was sufficient enough to convince them that I was the person, the first black person to be accepted.
Kennelly: Did that happen when you came?
Kennelly: That people called you...?
Peddrew: No. No, and that's--to me it's strange only because I expected it at some point. Not that I was looking for it, or that I wanted it, but being a realist and pretty much a practical person, I expected that to happen. This was almost fifty years ago, but I don't recall a specific incident on this campus where I was confronted by a student or instructor or whatever, being called out of my name. I never, that never happened. There were some other incidents and things that happened, but that in particular never happened. I think, I don't want to pat myself on the back about this, because I don't think it was really me.
[End of tape A1 side 1]
[Begin tape A1 side 2]
Peddrew: Not me specifically, but the kind of mentality or makeup that existed within me did not provoke that kind of thing. I could've been more confrontational, and I wasn't. I wasn't here to prove that I was better then anybody, I wasn't here really to prove anything.
All I really thought of was that I deserved to go to that school. I am a resident of the state, my parents paid taxes. There's nothing I have done to disqualify me. Why should I be not considered? I'm not a felon. I'm not convicted. I've never had any problems. I've never done anything outlawed. Why would anyone consider me to be less than qualified for something that I know that I could easily qualify for? It was like I said. I was interviewed by an ABC affiliate yesterday, and they asked some pointed questions, and I told them, what basically I believed was that I was ready for them, and they weren't ready for me. That was not to say that I could encounter and defeat everything that came at me, that I was a greater student, academically and socially and whatever.
It just meant that the way that I was raised and brought up, I considered myself ready for an environment that was less than acceptable, or folks who felt that I was not an acceptable being, a person. I wonder how could they do that. They don't know me. There's no way they could know my background or my parents or what I've been told or how I've been instructed or how I was brought up or raised. They had a stereotypical concept of what I was supposed to be, which I could never give into. I never fit that. The stereotypical concept was not valid to begin with, and you find people of any ethnic background who fit certain categories and that sort of thing. That's not owing to any particular ethnic background or racial makeup. It's anybody, anybody can be a bad person or who can be the kind of person who causes trouble or problems. I certainly wasn't that kind of person. Anybody can be illiterate or dumb, or who holds disdain for higher education, and I wasn't that kind of person.
I looked different superficially. I understood that, but then again that was so stupid because I've got people in my own family who had passed for white. How stupid this whole thing of racial categorization is, you know. When these people could have--if they wanted to be categorized as black--would have to sit in the back of the bus and not eat in certain restaurants and those kinds of things, but there were certain people in my family who could pass for white, or do certain things. It wasn't my thing to put them down. If they wanted to do that, it was fine with me. I don't care about that. I cared about what I thought and how I was viewed as a person, as an individual. I just knew that I was as good as anybody else when it comes to being a human being. That was important to me, and that was drilled into me as an individual growing up, and like I said, I carried it beyond the point that my parents did. I never had a problem with myself, and I knew that was the first thing you had to consider going into a situation like that. If you didn't think of, if you didn't have any self-esteem, and you didn't think of yourself as being worthy, what could you do in a situation like this?
My only problem was I was too sensitive as a person which may have accounted for the fact that eventually I chose to leave here and continue my education otherwise, and not to return to the degradations, the demeaning situations that I found myself in at Tech. That's not owed to all of the students or to how they viewed me, totally, but to a certain vocal minority, particularly.
I knew that was the case. I didn't want to continually to confront that. They caused problems when I wanted to go to the Ring Dance. They circulated rumors that the girls' schools locally--Longwood and Radford--wouldn't allow their girls to attend if I attended the Ring Dance, which was the biggest social event of a cadet's education, a situation where the campus... I wanted to go so badly. My girlfriend was willing. She was going to West Virginia Wesleyan, and we were ready, and I explained what was going on, but I was talked out of it by YMCA, who thought that it was probably not the time to do it, and as much as I wanted to do it, and I was ready. I was ready because I was ready when I came here. Not to encounter a lot of ugliness, but I was prepared for it because I thought that I had the inner fire to exist and to persevere. I did. I thought that about the Ring Dance, but I wrote a letter telling that I would not attend if they...
I felt that it wasn't that important to me. I wanted to come. I really really honestly wanted to go, and my date wanted to as well--the young lady I was dating at the time. I felt that after having talked to my friends at the YMCA, who were very, very supportive of me, they made sure that this thing wasn't as bad as it could have been, they were really super supportive. I allowed them--and I have to put it that way--I allowed them to talk me into not going, but...
Kennelly: Who was that?
Peddrew: [Paul] Derring was, as I recall the head of the Y, and it wasn't him particularly but the people that were under him, and I think that the gentlemen's name was Stan Moore, and I am not sure about that, but I allowed them to convince me that that was not a prudent move at this particular juncture, although I thought that I should've gone. I still think that to this day.
I can't blame them. They were so supportive of me and were largely responsible to a great degree for the success I had attending and the fact that I maintained some sense of equilibrium and stability while I was here on campus. The Y, the YMCA was largely responsible for that.
Kennelly: And how did they do that? In what way?
Peddrew: There were meetings, and we talked, and they discussed, and they had speakers to come in and such, and we talked about my situation, and what I was feeling, and what my responses were, what I felt like, which was important to me, because very few people had ever asked me, "What's going on? How are you doing? Are you continuing in some sort of stable environment, mind-wise? Are you, do you feel okay? Are you bothered? How is this getting, is this getting to you at all?"
These were the only people on the campus at the time who were really concerned about my response and how this whole thing was affecting me, and it was because of that and the fact that I respected them so much that I decided not to, because it went against my grain. I did not want to give into that. Particularly after the Y called Longwood and Radford and found out that the rumors that were circulating the campus here at Virginia Tech were only rumors, and the girls' schools were not restricting their girls from attending. They told me that before, before I decided not to go. They said, "We've called the schools, and they are admitting only to the fact that they said the situation is like it is, but we are not restricting you. You go if you want to." There was a chance of troubles or problems or difficulties as there would be in any situation like that at that time.
This was 1956. Things weren't that warm for me here, not on the campus as much on the campus as in the town of Blacksburg. I knew that I had my place, as was dictated in any southern community, particularly in a rural southern community. Although, things I think were better here than in a lot of places in the south, I still knew there were places I couldn't go, and there were things I couldn't attend. I had to be aware of that because not to be would be unrealistic. I certainly consider myself as a realist. Not as much of a pragmatist as maybe I should've been, but I knew that there were certain places I couldn't go and things I couldn't do.
Kennelly: Like what?
Peddrew: I couldn't eat in any of the restaurants in the city here. If I wanted to go to a movie, I had to sit up in the balcony. There were just--I couldn't get a haircut downtown in Blacksburg, although friends of mine owned the barbershop, but they catered only to whites, but they were owned by blacks. I mean the barbershop was. I just knew that there were things that I couldn't do, places I couldn't go, and you had to accept that. I couldn't go into the soda, into the drug store and eat and sit at the soda fountain. I knew that I couldn't do that. Why should I bust my head against the stone wall? That would be stupid of me to try to do that at a time when I couldn't count on the support of say fellow blacks as sit-ins during that period of time.
I was here in advance of Brown vs. the Board of Education. I knew that I had to do certain things or incur the wrath of those that thought I was an inferior person and not able to be considered as one of the crowd, so to speak, or one of those who were entitled. Although I knew no such thing really existed in my mind, I knew that practically that I could not get into a situation like that without causing a lot of problems. I felt there was a quieter way of doing this, or a stronger way, a more convincing way, and that was my way. I wasn't a freedom rider, or I wasn't in the forefront of those movements, and God bless them. [Several deep breaths] That had to be tough.
Kennelly: It must have been very lonely for you, when you were here. I mean especially that first year.
Peddrew: Yeah, it was.
Kennelly: With you not living with the other students.
Peddrew: It was extremely lonely. Even though there were no outward incidents of rejection. I never sat down in a class when a student got up to move. That never happened to me, but there was this insidious subsurface thing or feeling that I felt that I knew existed that was very prominent but not in the open. It wasn't an overt thing that was there where when I walked in the class they said, "Peddrew this is your seat, or you sit over there." That never happened, and even when a young lady would sit next to me, there was not a problem.
If you are sensitive, and I was extremely sensitive even though I was practical and aware, you've got to feel that, and I guess I can't explain that to you unless you have really ever felt that whether it is an ethnical bias, or a gender bias, or whatever. It exists. It's there, and you have to deal with it. Even when it's not open and overt. When it's covert or under the surface, it is sometimes more harmful and more insidious and more pungent, more powerful than if it were on the surface, and you were told you can't sit here, you can't do that.
It was a sense of loneliness that I can't explain, or I can't adequately describe to others. I don't know whether it's my inability to articulate it or what. I don't know. All I know is that there was a feeling there that I had that permeated my whole being. That was a part of me that I felt when I got back to where I lived. It was tough. It wasn't the kind of thing that certain students, or that certain black students, experienced in more southern areas in Mississippi or Alabama, but there was that serious, insidious, undertone that was there. You knew it existed, and you had to be a fool not to recognize it.
I only wish maybe that--sometimes that I think about this--that I was less sensitive, or more like the gentleman who eventually graduated who--he described it as being more focused. I would say probably an indication of less of a sensitivity that allowed him to be motivated and moved. We are all individuals and different, and there is no way that you could really describe two people in the same terms. Even identical twins defy that, but to me there was a level of sensitivity in spite of the fact that I had this practical realistic upbringing and I was strong as a person. There was still a level of sensitivity that allowed me to be--What's a good word?--allowed me to be, to feel some negative vibes, maybe to put it in the words of some of the folk who were considered to be prominent during the era of flower children and so forth, but there was something there that I felt that I knew that wasn't right that I didn't need to be a part of, because I had no--I didn't participate in structuring it. I wasn't a part of it. I was an individual who came from a good family, who had good values, middle class values. I didn't need to be considered something less of a human being.
There are certain people who can rise above that, and I applaud them in that way, because you need those people. You need a Patton during a war. You need somebody who can be a driving force and who can rise above the situation. I guess I wasn't truly really one of those types although I was able to satisfy my fellow students and certainly the administration that I was not an inferior type of person while representing the blacks, or the Negroes as they would call then, which allowed them to extend, or to accept the invitations of subsequent entrants or applicants rather, of black students who came later on. That was great. To me I had done a valuable job and pretty much had done something I didn't set out to do, because I didn't come here to do that.
Kennelly: Make the way for other people?
Peddrew: I wasn't here to change the world. I wasn't here to blow down all the doors and to say, "Here, I'm some sort of superman." I wasn't. I wasn't. I'll never be. It's just that simple. I think I showed that I was one of many, and that's not to say that all folks of any color or any persuasion should be in all groups or be accepted in all types of settings, because that's not true. There's some of us who aren't ready. The prisons are too full of folks who are antisocial and don't feel that they have any responsibility towards society. There are a lot of people who don't, who feel that way. That's unfortunate, but that's realistically a part of us. They're humans. They're human beings, and for whatever reasons they feel they can do anything. They can take the lives of others or take the property of others or do other untoward things like that, and I never thought that about myself or anybody I've been close to. They're not these kind of people.
There are those kind of folks in the world, and realistically you have to admit that there are those kind of people that are to be, I think, separated from the rest of us. I don't know if they haven't developed their awareness to the point where they can be a productive member of society. I'm not into all of that. I'll let the other folks who are well schooled in those areas to think and to give ideas about that. To me I understand that there are folks who are not ready to be a productive member of society, and they need to be separated. They don't think anything about taking somebody else's property or taking their lives or that kind of thing.
You've got to be realistic and honest and enough of a pragmatist to realize that those people exist. They are very much a part of society, for whatever reasons. Basically, I just wanted to say, "Hey, I'm just a guy who needs to go to school to get an education, good family, good upbringing. I have the same basic values as most of us, and I need to be allowed to do what I think I ought be allowed to do, and that is to get a simple basic education." That isn't a tough thing. That isn't a problem we ought to consider as being insurmountable. I mean, what was wrong with that? The only thing was that I was a little bit ahead of a lot of folks in thinking that. That was my situation.
Kennelly: And acting on it too, because...
Peddrew: Yeah, and acting on it, yeah, not just thinking it. Right. Exactly. I acted on it. Not to prove anything when Mrs. Hines came to me and said, "Irving, I think you'd be a good candidate. You'd be a good person." Just a nice lady, she was not a particularly great teacher of mine--not someone I just really looked up to, but she just came to me and basically said, "I think you'd be a good person to do this," and she said, "Why don't you try?" Being the person that I was, and the individual, with the strong family thing, why not? I just couldn't see or foresee something developing that I couldn't handle. Maybe I was hopelessly naive. [Laughter]
I did it. I did it. I did it, and I did it successfully obviously for a full year or else there wouldn't have been the guys to follow, and that's exactly what I was told by the administration. I felt that I did what I could. It just didn't register with me. Because I was more of a social being, I needed to interact with the people around me. Although they weren't the overt acts of discrimination or segregation on campus, I still felt that loneliness and some isolation that's hard to describe. It's so difficult that I couldn't, if you paid me a million dollars, I don't think that I could adequately describe how I felt.
I've tried to reflect on it, particularly since Tech has asked me to come and be a part of the fiftieth-year commemorative events. I have racked my brain. I couldn't, I can't tell you what it meant to me internally. What it did to me, and how it affected me, and how it was good for me to get away finally. I regret not finishing because in a very practical sense I wish that I would have gotten a degree here. It was just a bit too much for me to stomach at that time in my personal development. I wasn't able to deal totally with the various stimuli, the input that came in from what I felt and how the students, how I felt or lack of acceptance I guess I felt, although, there were no overt acts. There were none really to speak of outside of the Ring Dance situation and the obvious encounters I had in the community.
I always thought that something was going to happen to me between the campus and getting back to 306 East Clay Street where I lived. Nothing ever really happened, not overtly. I mean no one ever called me out or singled me out, or I was never fired at [Laughter] thank God.
There was that undertone, that thing that was always there, and although I was equipped to come in and deal with it for a year, eventually it took its toll. I'm really glad in the sense that I got away. When I went to California as a member of Virginia Tech and the YM/YWCA sponsored Students in Vocation, I really felt good out there. They made me feel good out there because they knew of my situation. They had a lot of contact with the YMCA here at Tech. So they knew what I had gone through, and they did their level best, and they succeeded, in convincing me that I shouldn't not only have had to go through that, but certainly I shouldn't have to continue to be exposed to that--to the level of isolation that I felt within me. Not of people moving away from me--not physically being isolated--but the mental and emotional isolation that I obviously felt. As a very sensitive and very...I don't want to say anything that's too self-serving, but I know that I was full of love and caring and concern. I was just that type of person. That's just the way I was. I an outgoing, easy-going, loving, caring person.
That I did a thing that allowed others to come in and do their thing, and others rose to the occasion and got their Ph.D.'s and whatever. That's great. I've got absolutely nothing against that. Oh it was so beautiful that they were able to persevere where I wasn't. That was something that happened--something that I am, I like to look back upon, and I don't like to relive because I don't like to go back through what I went through. I reflect on it and think, you did what was right for you at the time.
My parents hated the fact that I didn't come back from California when I went out to that Students in Vocation project as a representative of Virginia Tech, but we had students--we had a girl from France, a girl from Norway, a guy from Germany, and we had guys and gals from all over the U.S., the continental U.S. We had a tremendous time in that project. They rented--the YMCA /YWCA rented a frat house from USC, strangely enough, from the University of Southern California. Isn't that weird, ironic? The guys stayed up front; the guys stayed in back. The girls had the house up in front. We just worked together. We all got jobs in Southern California, and we shared experiences, took trips and stuff together.
Those folks who were in charge of that particular project, particularly David Levering, who was head of the projects there, had apparently a lot of communication with the YMCA people here. They did everything in the world to convince me that my--the best thing for me to do was to continue my education out there and not to come back here and continue to expose myself to the conditions. That's not to say that they were just horrible things, but for me as an individual with my particular makeup it wasn't. They all felt that it wasn't the right thing to do. Between the Y here at Tech and the Y at Southern California where they conducted the project, they came up with the idea that the best thing for me to do was to continue my education out there or outside of the atmosphere or the environment here at Tech. I agreed with them, and they didn't have to work too hard to convince me of that.
They were such beautiful people. Oh, yes. I really admire those people who stood out. There were two other blacks in that group. They were mostly whites, but see--and I hate to even have to say that because that doesn't matter to me--they were people who were concerned. They didn't stick their neck out. They just stood up and said, "Look, we want to be counted when it comes down to what you ought to do and where you ought to go. We think that this is best for you, not what is best for Virginia, or Virginia Tech, or for the black group, or for whatever, for your family even. We think this is best for Irving Linwood Peddrew, III. We think you deserve better than what you've been exposed to." It didn't take much effort for them to convince me of that because of my own particular makeup. I consented to stay out there, and that was the move.
Like I said, I would love to have graduated from here and had my degree and gone on and done glorious and wonderful things, but life isn't always that way. I mean we like to think of it as being the kind of thing that the typical Hollywood ending where everything works out to be right. As much as I believe in those Hollywood endings, I had to see in this particular situation a case where it really wasn't all that much for me.
Initially it was because I was able to let a lot of folks know that the bad guys come in all colors and the good guys come in all colors. I remember one guy coming up to me. I think it was in my junior year. He was a senior and graduating, and we were all in the Corps of Cadets, and I can't recall his name, but he is what I call, or what we called in California as a tow head he was so blonde, blue-eyed, and really nice looking gentleman, and he came up to me and said, "Irv, I want you to know one thing. There are no blacks in my community where I live. I didn't grow up knowing any blacks." He said, "You possibly could imagine what I thought and what I've been lead to think." He said, "But I want to tell you one thing. You've changed my mind." [Long pause] That was a great experience.
Kennelly: Oh, that must be powerful. It must have been difficult just...I mean didn't you like have to go back and forth like that. When you were living off campus?
Peddrew: Yeah, well I had most of that owing to some very good guys who were obviously progressive thinkers or in spite of their backgrounds or because of their backgrounds, who knows, who allowed me to change in their rooms so.
Kennelly: Some of the students?
Peddrew: Yeah, some of the students. Even some of the students after my freshman year requested me for a roommate, and that was disallowed of course.
Kennelly: By the administration?
Peddrew: Yes. What they did, and I've spoken--in fact, one of the guys I've spoken to as late as a couple of years ago who called me and said that he remembered my changing in his room. [Deep breaths] Some of this is difficult to talk about.
Kennelly: Yes, it's horrible.
Peddrew: [More deep breaths] But he wanted to say how glad he was to have had that experience.
Kennelly: Things were changing just for black people to change in white rooms.
Peddrew: Yeah, you know it wasn't a super terrific thing. Like I said, I was no superman. I was just somebody who was sensitive and aware, and I tried to make the best impression I could. [Sigh with long pause] It was a valuable experience talking to this one chaplain who I think he eventually--he told me he had become a chaplain in the navy, but I used to change in his room. That was a difficult thing, but that was difficult for Charlie Yates and Lindsay Cherry and Floyd Wilson because we all had to do the same thing, and he had to make a formation on campus. You couldn't walk off, and you know, he had to come in and make sure.
Kennelly: Come with a rifle
Peddrew: Yeah, yeah, you couldn't...[Laughter] so it was tough for everybody. It wasn't unique to me, and other guys made it better then I did, but it worked well enough because I was asked to enter all competitions for military bearing for my company and platoon. I was always asked to that because I naturally had that strong military bearing. It was something that I guess I grew up with also. That appealed to me, and that's why being a cadet wasn't unappealing and wasn't that negative. It was tough coming off campus and living off campus and having to walk on and go to some guy's room and impose upon him to help you get prepared because the guys all helped each other out. The roommates helped each other get ready. The way your belt squared away and your brass was shiny enough, and your shoes were right, and all of the things--the meticulousness of the military bearing--all of this was important because that is the essence of being a military school and being a cadet. You had to be a part of that, and you had to have this military bearing. Well I had that.
The only thing is that it was difficult to come from off campus and to walk on and have to do that and go through all of that. That was something that wasn't enjoyable, but at least in talking to this guy a couple of years ago--I can't remember his name right now, but he was such a beautiful person. He was there for me for what he could do, but he had to get himself ready too, and here I was walking in off campus dragging stuff around trying to get myself together because they couldn't hold my stuff there because they had inspections every day, every morning. They couldn't. I just had to impose upon them, but luckily there were enough guys, and the other guys--Charlie Yates and the other guys who went--they had to go through the same thing that I went through.
Like I said, you know, when you are less sensitive and you're more driven, it is easier to put up with these kinds of things and to act as though they don't bother you because they really don't have the effect that they would have with a more sensitive, caring person. Now I don't know if they should have initially accepted a person who was less caring than I was, who was less sensitive than I was. I don't know that. I haven't really studied psychiatry to the point where I could feel qualified to even to offer some sort of explanation for who they should've, who should've been first, and who should have subsequently followed. I don't even know that.
All I know is that I think I did well for that first year and in the subsequent years that I stayed here, and I am glad that the people who were more powerful than I or less sensitive or however you'd like to characterize it, but those who came behind me and were able to put up with the situations that they were subjected to and to be unscathed or less scathed then I was, but I was too sensitive and caring a person to be continually...
And this is what was impressed upon me in Southern California during that students in vocation project. [They] said, "You, hey man, have done your thing. To put it in the street vernacular, hey, you've done your thing, man. You put up with it, and you got your scars," and I had, but just social scars. I mean not physical scars, because I wasn't subjected to anything physical, but there were those scars there, and this is what they told me in Southern California, "You don't need to come back to try and carry that thing through its logical conclusion, which is a degree." I'm so proud of Charlie Yates that he did it. But that wasn't my thing. I was convinced that I didn't need to go through that, to encounter that.
I listened to them like I listened to the Y here about the Ring Dance. I listened to them. Although it was against my better judgment, I followed and went through with what I thought under the circumstances was sort of the best move. I still have second thoughts about that. I wanted to go to that, and my date wanted to go, and she has since passed. We had such a nice, beautiful, honest, sincere relationship, and I was ready, and she was ready, and although the evidence that there might be some problems, I was ready to encounter them because I had endured up until that time, what is another, not open, or overt rejection but sort of an insidious under, and like I said, I never had anyone get up and move away from me or anything in class. It wasn't that kind of thing that was so open that you could deal with it directly. It was just a feeling, a sense, my being so sensitive of really understanding.
That's what they convinced me of in Southern Cal, that you've got too much going to continue to submit yourself to that. Let the guys who got a thicker skin, let them handle it. Let them do it. Let them come through with their main focus to whatever. Let them do that. Let them be that. You be who you are. You continue to be your sensitive, caring self, and let the chips fall where they may, which is eventually what happened.
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