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Oral History Interview with Ebony Wilson


Date of Interview: February 12, 2001
Location of Interview: Media Building at Virginia Tech,
Blacksburg, Va
Interviewer: Susan Cook
Transcribers: Betsy Swiader

Part One

[Tape 1, Side 1]

Cook: Ebony, can you state your whole name and when you were born?

Wilson: Ebony Ginell Wilson. I was born July 4, 1979.

Cook: July 4th? Where were you born?

Wilson: In Norfolk, Virginia.

Cook: Did you grow up in Norfolk?

Wilson: Yes.

Cook: Tell me about your parents, like your mother's work or father's work.

Wilson: Well my mom is Patricia Wilson and they're divorced. She works at McDonalds and my father works in Norfolk General Hospital.

Cook: What does he do there?

Wilson: He lays down the carpet. He is a floor specialist - puts tiles on the floors, stuff like that.

Cook: So did your mom work when you were growing up?

Wilson: No... off and on but mostly she didn't work.

Cook: Can you tell me about their education?

Wilson: They both completed high school, um that's (pause) that's all.

Cook: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Wilson: I have five brothers.

Cook: Oh my gosh! You are the only girl?

Wilson: Yes!

Cook: All right what's the age order?

Wilson: 23, I'm 21, 18, 16, 15 and 4.

Cook: Aah! So you are the oldest of all those?

Wilson: I'm the second oldest. I have one older.

Cook: You have one older brother. Can you say their names?

Wilson: Anthony, Keith, Keshawn, Derek, and Antonio.

Cook: Are you close to your little four-year-old brother?

Wilson: Yes, I (pause) was with him since he's been born.

Cook: Did you watch your mother have him?

Wilson: No, it's actually my stepmother who had him so he lives with my father, and I live with my father too.

Cook: What is your older brother doing?

Wilson: He's married and he lives with his wife in Portsmouth.

Cook: Ok, so ya'll stayed around each other. Can you describe the neighborhood that you grew up in?

Wilson: I actually moved around a lot but in general my neighborhood is an all black neighborhood. I lived in a lot of old neighborhoods with older houses and school was always close by. I always walked to school, especially elementary school.

Cook: Was your school an all black school too?

Wilson: Uh-huh, up to elementary school and then I got into middle school and it was more mixed.

Cook: Um what mixed with what? White or Hispanic?

Wilson: White and one high school I went too was mixed with Filipino and Hispanic because of the Navy. It was mostly just mixed with black and white. I went to fifteen different schools so...

[Laughter]

Wilson: I think it's 15 or something like that!

Cook: Well that helps you with being in the military, right? [Laughter] What is the name of the high school you graduated from?

Wilson: Western Branch.

Cook: Western Branch High School... okay. Did you like it there?

Wilson: No, not really-not really, just 'cause I was the new kid until I graduated and I'm kind of a loner so I didn't really like it. I didn't like high school at all, so I was just ready to go to college, I think.

Cook: Were you active in anything in high school?

Wilson: In ROTC.

Cook: Oh, okay. Did you work while you were in high school?

Wilson: Yes, I did.

Cook: Can you tell me about that?

Wilson: I worked at Taco Bell. At first I started working part time and like almost everyday after school and then I kind of slacked off cause I had to baby-sit my little brother when he was born. Then I started working the summers.

Cook: At Taco Bell?

Wilson: Uh-huh.

Cook: Are you and your family members politically active?

Wilson: No.

Cook: Do you belong to a church community?

Wilson: No, not really. I went to church. Like right now I just go to church but I don't really belong to a community except my step-mom's church. I go when I'm back home now.

Cook: But you don't belong to one here. Okay, well we can move on then from high school. How did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?

Wilson: It's actually pretty funny. In high school we had to do a project. We had to pick a career and we had to pick what school we graduated from... like what college we graduated from. We had to interview a person in that community. Well, I decided that I wanted to be a vet and the only school around here that had a veterinarian school was Virginia Tech. So I just became interested in Virginia Tech that way. I did more research on it and they kept sending me a lot of stuff. So it was between UVA and Virginia Tech. I picked Virginia Tech.

Cook: Thank you!

[Laughter]

Wilson: I always wanted to go to a real big school, the bigger the better for me. UVA was smaller so I decided to go to Tech.

Cook: Me too, 'cause I feel like you can disappear more in a big school than in a small school. Do you feel that way?

Wilson: Yeah and I think small schools feel more like high schools.

Cook: I felt the same way.

Wilson: I wanted to go to a bigger school the better! The more people that went there the better!

Cook: Me too! When I got out of high school I went to University of Maryland, College Park. Everybody else was going to these small schools and I said 'no' 'cause I'm thinking 45,000 people and I...

Wilson: In Maryland, College Park?

Cook: Yeah! 'Cause you can get your own group of friends but you can also disappear if you want to. So you were in ROTC in high school. How did you get into ROTC here?

Wilson: That was the only way I could pay for school.

Cook: Okay!

Wilson: I couldn't afford school at all! If it wasn't for ROTC scholarships... so I decided, at the time, it seemed like my only option because I didn't know... I was the first one to go to college so I didn't know about financial aid or anything like that. I got the ROTC scholarship and they tell you to choose the school you want your scholarship to go to.

Cook: Oh so you applied directly for an ROTC scholarship but not at a particular school but you list schools.

Wilson: Yeah, you don't apply for it.

Cook: At Virginia Tech?

Wilson: No, you just list. They will tell you the schools that have the ROTC and you just pick whatever schools have the ROTC. More than likely you get your first choice school.

Cook: So you came in as a freshman ROTC?

Wilson: Uh-huh.

Cook: How scary! [Laughter] You're very brave. What was it like when you first came here?

Wilson: It was different because of the whole 'Corps' thing. I felt like I didn't do anything my freshman year. I still don't know what I did my freshman year. It just kind of went by I guess... sort of was average on grades. It was harder than I thought it was going to be 'cause of my major and stuff.

Cook: What is your major?

Wilson: Well my major was math. I just changed it this year to IDST. It didn't set me back that much but...

Cook: That's my major too, IDST. Do you know Michael Herndon?

Wilson: Uh-huh. Yeah he advises me with a lot of stuff.

Cook: I really like him. His daughter was real sick last week, Shakira. She got the flu and she was really sick. So I guess just talk about your first... or just some of your memories since you're a senior. For instance, I guess the Corps. What was that like? Are people friendly?

Wilson: No.

Cook: Do people yell?

Wilson: They yell. It's been a lot different than it is now but there's not as much yelling. I think the class... when we came in... the classes above us, for some reason they were a lot meaner.

Cook: Do you get to yell now though?

Wilson: I do get to yell but I feel like I don't like yelling at people. I just feel like if somebody's gonna do it... I couldn't do it, you know yell at them. Um, (pause) I don't know, I just remember not being able to go out... doing some of the things I wanted to do especially as a freshman. It's kind of... I think it's important as a freshman to go out because that way you are gonna know what college is about... not just staying in a room.

Cook: Yeah because that's part of your education... being free for the first time.

Wilson: I couldn't do it all my freshman year... my whole freshman year. We... they set times for us that we could go out, like ten and twelve on a Friday night or something.

Cook: That's it?

Wilson: Yeah and I was kind of upset about that 'cause there were some things I wanted to do at like eight o'clock. Say for instance it was black history month program or something. I'm pretty sure they would have let us go to that but stuff on a weekend that started at eight I probably wouldn't been able to go to.

Cook: On Saturday?

Wilson: On Saturday because you had to stay a certain... there is a certain time frame in the evening when we had to stay in and clean the hallways. They don't do that anymore. We had to clean the hallways when we were freshman.

Cook: Not fair. Were you resentful at all?

Wilson: Yeah, I was resentful!

Cook: Did you um, get along with your roommate?

Wilson: Uh-huh. I had two roommates. One roommate got out of the Corps. She didn't like it at all.

Cook: Was she white or black?

Wilson: She was white and my second roommate was Filipino. She's not here anymore either. She left because of different reasons but we got along. I get along with pretty much all of my roommates.

Cook: Did you have um... sometimes it's hard to ask all these questions. Did you have any problems... have you had any problems in the Corps as far as being a female?

Wilson: Um, personally, no. I've heard of stories... well actually there was one time when someone climbed into my bed in the middle of the night.

Cook: What!

Wilson: That was kind of scary. I don't think if I was a male it would have happened. It happened because the guy was sleepwalking or something and he went to the male's bathroom that is right across the hallway from our room... freshman year. This was the first week of school so I was terrified when he did it. But I found out he didn't even remember, so...

Cook: Wow! Did you wake up screaming?

Wilson: I just felt somebody pulling my covers back. My roommate said she saw him come in our room. He came in our room and started opening our dresser drawers and our dresser drawers are in the closet. So he had to open the closet, open the drawers and mess around in them. She said she thought it was me. She kept calling my name and she said I didn't respond, and I was like "cause I was asleep" and that was it. But yeah we just, we just got up and told our next-door neighbor; a sophomore and he got him. He woke him up 'cause I didn't know what was happening. That was the first week of school.

Cook: Yeah, he probably was so embarrassed though!

Wilson: Yeah, he didn't even remember.

Cook: Well so you don't have to... you can't keep the rooms locked?

Wilson: After that we locked the room. Normally even now my room isn't locked. I don't lock my room. That is the only... that is the main thing I like about the Corps is that I'm pretty sure there are some people who got stuff stolen from them but I never locked. In 3 years, I've never really locked my room.

Cook: You feel safe?

Wilson: Uh-huh. For some reason I don't know. Now they try to tell you "lock your doors."

Cook: So your hall is very co-ed then?

Wilson: Uh-huh. I live beside... both my neighbors are guys.

Cook: And you get along with them fine?

Wilson: Yeah!

Cook: They treat you with respect and all?

Wilson: I mean you hear the dirty jokes, especially as a freshman. I heard the dirty jokes from my buds like the rest of the freshman class, but some people don't like it. I guess it depends on the person because I don't. I guess they know, I don't want to say they know better. But I don't want to hear that and they need to stop. It depends on the person.

Cook: You can kind of set the limits and all? They know they can't pick on you?

Wilson: Yeah, 'cause even if you do you might hear a dirty joke and you're like "I don't want to hear that" and you got to tell them and there is some, I know, there is some girls who the guys won't listen to at all so I don't know. And then they set the tone and it goes all the way back to your freshman year. You make your impression your freshman year.

Cook: Do you feel you've been treated well by I guess, I don't know what you call them, the uppers, the people who aren't students, the faculty?

Wilson: People who run it?

Cook: Yes!

Wilson: I guess, I don't really talk to them all that much, I don't know.

Cook: For instance is there someone you have to report to, that's higher than you?

Wilson: My company commander.

Cook: Yeah!

Wilson: He's a senior so he's in the same level. So it's not like, he's not going to... I don't know... he treats me with respect. But most of the seniors and there are people you don't like but there's people everybody don't like.

Cook: Do you feel you are treated well as a black? Do you like to be called black or African American?

Wilson: It doesn't matter.

Cook: Ok, do you feel you are treated well there [Corps]? Have you had any incidents?

Wilson: I haven't had any incidents. I just don't... I just never feel comfortable because there are never... like when I first got there it was a shock because I never lived close to any white people before and then I'm sure they never lived close to any black people but it was only two of us out of thirty for my company as a freshman. So it's not like they had to adjust. It's sort of like I had to adjust. The whole listening to music, the people upper made us listen to music and it's not the type of music that I like. Little things like that made me mad.

Cook: They don't help you to be comfortable.

Wilson: And we all had to, as freshmen, we were made to go out together like Friday and Saturday night and everybody of course would want to go to a party that I didn't want to go to... that I wouldn't feel comfortable around so I never went.

Cook: So you couldn't socialize with other people you met in classes or other African American? That would be hard.

Wilson: It was hard because one guy was in the Corps so it was very hard and I'm extremely shy so that's working... the Corps was working against me. And I know a freshman (when she was a freshman, she's a senior now) that had to go out. When she was allowed to go out, she kind of like snuck away from her buds and went to other parties. But I couldn't do that 'cause I was kind of shy. So I didn't do anything until sophomore year when I wasn't regulated as much.

Cook: Well the other person in your, what do you call it, in your (pause) area? You said when you were a freshman there were only two blacks... Company, what Company were... ?

Wilson: I was in Echo.

Cook: Echo... and was that a male or female student?

Wilson: It was a male.

Cook: Oh, so you really were alone.

Wilson: And the other, only other black female, trying to think, the only other black female was a freshman in Foxtrot. We kind of knew each other from the black student preview. The year before we met each other there. For some reason we both ended up in the Corps but she's still here. There are no other black females. The rest of the black females were upper class and you couldn't talk to them. I didn't talk to until my sophomore year.

Cook: So Janelle really was a year ahead of you guys?

Wilson: She was a year ahead of me but um, the main thing with Janelle, I got on her about this all the time, um she lived in Brodie and I lived in Roche. And the whole fact that you got to sound off on people, walk on the right side of the hallway and do all this stuff. I never went over to Brodie. I didn't know anybody in Brodie. So she stayed in a totally different company. I didn't even know Janelle until we both got in a sorority together and that was my sophomore year. So it was like "Yeah I know you're in the Corps!" but I didn't know her name or anything.

Cook: What do you think... you probably don't know the percentages, as far as white to minorities in the Corps? Pretty small?

Wilson: It is pretty small. Like Asians... I think there are more Asians.

Cook: Than blacks?

Wilson: Than blacks. I'm pretty sure there are more Asians than blacks actually they did a Corps survey and they had the results. There were more Asians than blacks. Black people... I think there's about twenty of us, and that's stretching it.

Cook: I had no idea!

Wilson: That's really stretching it. In our company there are 3 out of 49... so I say there's about twenty.

Cook: That's small. Do you ever get any negative feelings from other African American students on-campus that aren't in the Corps?

Wilson: No, none of them really know I'm in the Corps until they see me during the day because most people don't see me during the day 'cause I go to class then go back to my room and at night, like after 5 you can wear regular clothes. So people see me and are like "You in the Corps?" [Laughter] They are like, most black people they don't even realize!

Cook: Oh okay, all right. They don't say, "What are you doing in the Corps?"

Wilson: No they don't. They just say, "I couldn't do that" or something like that.

Cook: I think you must be strong just to be in the Corps and then to be a minority in the Corps. Are your parents proud of you?

Wilson: Yeah, I guess. It was sort of... I guess I'd say it was expected of me. I don't know why. The whole path that I took was kind of... it was sort of already there. Like I knew I was going to go to college. How I was going to go to college, I had no idea and I knew it was going to be paid for. I didn't know how. Ever since I was in elementary school it was sort of like in me and not... I don't know why it wasn't in my cousins or my brothers but it was in me that I was going to go to college.

Cook: Do you think that you will influence and encourage your younger brothers?

Wilson: Uh-huh. They are a little bit harder to encourage but yeah I am trying to. Well you know my 4-year-old brother, he just started school, I encourage him and my other... one of my brother's wants to play basketball and go to college and stuff so I hope he does that.

Cook: Yeah 'cause you are a role model for them. I mean college is not for everybody. I have brothers and sisters that didn't go to college. It's not the fact that you did it will make it more accessible and they could find out how to afford through you. I can't believe that, how many brothers, five?

Wilson: Uh-huh!

Cook: Do you have both black and white friends at Virginia Tech?

Wilson: Um, yeah I guess you can call them friends in the Corps, the people I hang out with in the Corps. And then I have whole separate friends that are sorority, the people I meet as far as my sorority.

Cook: Do you find you have more male or female friends in the Corps?

Wilson: I have more female friends. Well I mean most females in the Corps, we tend to hang out together, not always cause you can't hang around with males, they call them male buds the people who are freshman in your company.

Cook: You can't? You're not supposed to?

Wilson: Well you can. Like the people who you are with, like the same company they call them buds. A lot of people hang out with them...

Cook: Buds? B-U-D-S?

Wilson: Yeah

Cook: Oh (laughter) so has anything negative racially happened to you? Any comments while you've been in the Corps or on campus either?

Wilson: Not on campus. In the Corps it's more (pause) I don't know. People say, people say stupid, like just general comments about. I know one time somebody made a reference to a holiday when I was a freshman; it's just like just small comments like that. Especially around me I haven't really heard any, any negative comments.

Cook: You need to check out that website, because that talks about the first black women students at Virginia Tech and what they had to go through. It's really interesting. How about in the community? Cause this community is pretty white, do you, have you ever had any problems?

Wilson: No, none. No, I don't, cause none of them really get out that much (laughter) so I haven't had any problems. I'm really sure they are there. I can like prejudge a lot of people, how they act but I haven't seen any, I haven't experienced any. I've experienced more back home than I have here actually.

Cook: Oh really, do you get to go home that much?

Wilson: On the breaks mostly because of the whole money situation.

Cook: So you don't have a car on campus? It's a good thing. Cars are a pain. I have a son who goes to GMU - had to get that car, had to get it. I wouldn't let him get it and then finally he got it in August and he'll be a senior next year. So guess what- it broke down and he can't afford to fix it. It costs, the minimum $1400 dollars so I told him that's so many problems.

Wilson: I'm at that point that I have to have car too, that's because I'm about to graduate.

Cook: Yeah, are you going to be able to graduate in May?

Wilson: I'm graduating in August, but I am going to walk in May and do the ceremony cause my parents "we want to see you graduate", ok.

Cook: I did the same thing. I just graduated from undergraduate. It took me a long time. Um you know what I don't like though, they are not going to use the stadium now, they're gonna do it on the drill field with chairs set up.

Wilson: I thought they start, they was going to start in 2002.

Cook: Oh, ok I bet you are right then.

Wilson: I read in the paper about something like that. That they were going to start in 2002.

Cook: It's a good feeling in the stadium.

Wilson: Yeah!

Cook: Do you go to sports events... well you have to go to, don't you?

Wilson: I had to go to the football games and we had to go to the women's basketball game this past Wednesday.

Cook: Yeah?

Wilson: I like football actually; I'm a big sports fan so I don't mind. I know there's a lot of... for some reason most of the black people don't like going to the football games. But I don't mind cause I like football.

Cook: Yeah, I haven't been to any. I need to go and I want to go. I just can't afford it.

Wilson: Yeah they're fun, since they're free also like it helps that we don't have to get tickets.

Cook: Gosh, all right um back to the racial things. What do you feel is the racial climate at Virginia Tech. For instance do you feel it's diverse here?

Wilson: No.

Cook: Why?

Wilson: 'Cause I have a computer science class and there are people... five black people in that class in Norris 136 and that's kind of a big classroom. It's not the biggest classroom but it's a big classroom. And I counted, cause I do that on the first day of classes. There was like five of us in there and Norris 136 was full there's about 300 students in that class so it's pretty... it's not diverse at all.

Cook: When you're in a class you very much feel like "I'm black" and there's not that many students here that are black.

Wilson: I feel that mostly when I'm in the Corps because it's just, I'm just not used, I'm still not used to living around, I guess white people. I don't know I just feel like that all the time especially when I'm in uniform.

Cook: Because you've grown up in mostly black neighborhoods and schools? So do you think that's a good thing to help you live with Filipinos and Asians and white people, do you think that will be good for your future?

Wilson: Yeah, but I think it needs to be the other way around instead of, because I don't really think I'd have a problem living around white people but I think it's the other way around, when the white person lives around all black people. I think that's what is, that really should be it because they don't know a lot about us and we know a lot about them.

Cook: Oh okay, I understand. I forgot to ask you, this is going back to the beginning, I'm always interested in knowing about your background - like your family. As far back as you can remember from Norfolk, did you grandparents come from somewhere else?

Wilson: My great grandparents lived in Chesapeake, but they still lived in the Norfolk areas as far as I remember. My dad's side of the family, they're from Norfolk back as far as I remember 'cause I asked my great grandmother because my mom is very light and my great grandma is really, really light like, "how'd you get so light?" And she told me that her dad is half white/half black 'cause her grandmother was raped. Her grandmother was a slave and she was raped by an owner.

Cook: So this is your grandmother's...?

Wilson: My great grandmother's, grandmother.

Cook: Your great grandmother's... so what was her, your great grandmother's name?

Wilson: Bessie Jenkins.

Cook: Bessie Jenkins!

Wilson: She's still alive.

Cook: She is? Wow!!

Wilson: She's eighty-something!


Part One - Part Two - Part Three


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