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Oral History Interview with Ebony Wilson
Cook: Oh my gosh!
Wilson: She's a great-great grandmother actually.
Cook: And that's your mother's mother?
Wilson: My mother's grandmother.
Cook: Your mother's grandmother.
Cook: Let me get this straight, your great grandmother's mother was...
Cook: Grandmother... was a slave and raped by a white man. So that was probably in the Chesapeake area too?
Wilson: Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's the Chesapeake area because they're the type of people that, as far as I know, they haven't moved. My mom... the house they lived, my great grandma live in now. She raised my mom because my grandmother died when they were young.
Cook: Oh, what did she die of? Do you know?
Wilson: She died of asthma. She had an asthma attack. It runs in the family.
Cook: Do you have it?
Cook: Thank God!
Wilson: None of my brothers have it. None of us have it. But she died, so as far as I know, they lived in the same house and there was no electricity, they had no bathroom, they had no outhouse. That's what my mom remembers.
Cook: I'm going to send you a name of this book. I can't remember it right now. Do you know Dr. Beverly Bunch-Lyons?
Wilson: Uh-huh, I've heard of her.
Cook: She's one of the best professors. She's just so wonderful. I couldn't take her graduate course this semester because I already fulfilled that requirement but she's teaching African American women's history and one of the books... it's got a weird name, it's called Corrigidora or something like that and it's about African American women. I don't know if they go from when women were enslaved and after. I'm not sure. I'm going to read it though. It talks about that sexual aspect of it, how black women have always been preyed on by white men. So would you be interested in just knowing about that?
Cook: It's a thin book. I saw it at the bookstore but I thought you know we need to know this. I am reading a book called Many Thousands Gone for one of my classes. It's very interesting. It's about slavery in the 17th and 18th century and how African Americans managed to have power even though they were suppressed. So it's really, really interesting. We are studying about the Chesapeake too. So you can probably trace your ancestors back to all that area. What's your mom's maiden name?
Cook: Can you spell it?
Wilson: C R E E K M U R
Cook: That's pretty. That sounds Indian, American Indian.
Wilson: I think it might be from that area because I see it. I know a name of a store was Creekmur too, so I think in that area somewhere around there that name just came up, popped up.
Cook: Does Creek, well creek of course in the water, but Creek is also American Indian. Do you know if you have any American Indian in your background?
Wilson: I'm not sure.
Cook: Here's a silly question but when you were growing up did you have any childhood heroes?
Wilson: Yeah, I've got a silly answer.
Wilson: I think Wonder Woman. I think that was my thing because I watched a lot of TV when I could and everybody tells me... I don't even remember but when I was three and four Wonder Woman was my favorite. I was all into the super heroes, Charlie Angels'type thing. [Laughter]
Cook: Yeah, that's interesting! Did you ever have a mentor; I guess is the word, when you were going to school? Any high school teacher that was a good influence on you?
Wilson: I had one high school teacher, actually a high school counselor, a couple of counselors because we were going through... my mom... she was a drug addict for a while. I had to be and my brothers had to be taken away from her and I started living with my dad. That's when the counselors came in and tried... I mean I guess they tried... but I was moving around so much I couldn't really go to one single counselor but they influenced me, the counselors.
Cook: How's your mom doing now?
Wilson: She's okay now but she turned from that to alcohol.
Cook: That's hard.
Wilson: Yeah, she's doing a lot better than she use to because she's working now; at first she didn't even work.
Cook: Does she have any kids with her now?
Wilson: She has two of my brothers, the 18-year-old, 'cause he's still in school; he's graduating this year and the 16-year-old, he's in school.
Cook: Uh-huh, did you say her first name?
Cook: Patricia, okay. All right, can you say what she was addicted to?
Wilson: She was addicted to crack-cocaine.
Cook: Do you think that you're closer to your dad than your mom? Or do you feel still close to your mom?
Wilson: I still feel close to my mom, like I still talk to her all the time 'cause I kind of know she didn't... even though she didn't know she was addicted to drugs and like didn't have running water, we didn't have lights. We were homeless for a while on the streets. She still didn't want us to leave her and I still feel close to her and now she's better. She's trying to get better. My dad... I feel close to him. We argue a lot but I guess it's not serious arguing. It's just he doesn't like the fact that I came here.
Cook: Why? 'Cause it's predominantly white?
Wilson: Yeah, he wanted me to go to ODU [Old Dominion University], which I find interesting cause that is mostly white too. But he wanted me to stay close to home or go to a predominantly black school. I mean we argue but we don't argue seriously 'cause he doesn't pay for my school.
Cook: You have that power?
Wilson: Yeah, I said, "You know you don't have to pay for my school, so?"
Cook: You know he's proud of you!
Wilson: Yeah, we don't have a really, a really (pause) I don't want to say loving, just as in touchy/feely relationship... neither one of my parents because we don't hug each other and stuff like that.
Cook: How old were you when you went to live with him?
Wilson: I was 15, pretty old. It just got to the point where I had no other choice because I wanted to live with him for a while, for three years before that. But he was in a bind where he never had enough room. He finally was able to buy a house.
Cook: Does he still keep in contact with your mom?
Wilson: They never talk ever since they separated. They separated when I was one and they couldn't get a divorce until years later. They don't talk to each other. It's not that they're mad at each other; they just don't feel the need to talk to each other.
Cook: 'Cause they're different people... do you like your step-mom?
Wilson: Yeah she's nice. I have a stepsister that lives with them. She's going through a phase. She's 15 and so she's going through that phase.
Cook: My son that's nine, he's going be ten. One day he loves me and the next day he looks at me and he goes, "You are so weird!" and I'll go, "What?" and he'll say, "You're so old-fashioned! You don't know the right music to listen too!" I just go, "Me?"
Cook: It's awful! [Pause] Do you have any African American role models? Especially women?
Wilson: It's kind of hard to explain. With everything that was going on I didn't really think... like people say stuff like "would you never do this and that?" I didn't because I was always worried about what I'm going eat or are we going to have water when I come home from school. Which we never did and where are we going to get lights from? How many candles do we need?
Cook: Oh gosh!
Wilson: I never really thought about... there are times when I guess I was nine where everything was normal. Then from 9 to 15 everything was... like we stayed in a shelter. So I don't really think about it.
Cook: That's so hard! [Pause] How did you get interested in math? Were you good in high school in math?
Wilson: Yeah I ended up being good in it. I actually failed pre-calculus and then I took it again and figured out it was a lot easier than I thought it was. Then I just started taking geometry and trigonometry and I was just...[Pause]
Cook: In high school?
Wilson: Uh-huh. It was easier than calculus!
Wilson: I felt that it was easy so I was like "maybe I would like math" and I'm actually more of a history person in college because I love reading and I write better than I thought I did. I thought I wasn't a good writer. I don't like to write. I don't like to proofread. When I write my paper, I don't proofread it, I just spell check and I still get A's! I'm like "I should be a history major!"
Cook: Really? What professors have you taken courses from here?
Wilson: I've taken... she's a humanities professor... um I just had her last semester... the medieval world... I forgot her name.
Cook: Darlene Pryd?
Cook: Oh you did? Did you like her?
Wilson: I liked her class.
Cook: I think she's leaving; actually she got a job. I don't really know her but she came into one of our seminars and spoke and it just seemed like she had so much passion or something! [Laughter]
Wilson: Yeah about the medieval world!
Wilson: But she is a good teacher! I think those are the best teachers, who have a passion. And I had Dr. Banks. I am taking one of her classes now and I took a class before. She's a good professor. She's a hard grader but I still ended up getting a B in her class.
Cook: What is she in?
Wilson: She's a Black Studies professor.
Cook: Do you know Dr. Kershaw?
Wilson: Yeah. Also, I forgot her name... I am taking a Women's Studies class, Women and International Human Rights.
Cook: Oh that sounds really interesting!
Wilson: Yeah, there is a lot of writing but...
Cook: Oh that's all they do... I hate it! In fact this afternoon I have to go back and write two papers.
Wilson: See I hated it but... I don't know... I get my paper right and "you got an A!"
Cook: I know you are going to graduate in August, but if you need a course take Dr. Bunch-Lyons'. You would just love her!
Wilson: If they're offering her during summer school, I probably will because I have electives. The only reason I'm not graduating is because I have one class to take and the rest... nine credits of electives that I don't know what I'm going to take. So I might take her class.
Cook: I had the same thing happen! Then I had to take a writing intensive course in IDST and that was my last course I had to take. I took it with Michael Herndon and I was so dreading it! I thought "oh gosh" and it was so much fun, I just loved it!
Wilson: I'm taking the writing intensive course for IDST and I don't like it.
Cook: Who's the professor?
Wilson: Brian Britt.
Cook: Oh he's the biblical guy.
Wilson: Yes. It's more of a discussion type thing. The only reason I like his class is because you can discuss it. But other than that it's not what I... I don't like they way it's structured.
Cook: Uh-huh. You can tell right away?
Wilson: Yeah! That's how I could tell because anytime you're confused after you read the syllabus it's like huh... what are we supposed to do?
Cook: Yeah! There are some good African American professors in history. There's Woody Farrar. I like him. I think he is eccentric.
Wilson: Yeah, he is! I've never had his class but I see him around. Everybody sees him around on campus.
Cook: He went to University of Maryland when my sister, older sister, went there and he was the leader of the Black Student Union. He's very militant, was very militant. Then he went into the Navy. There's Dr. Floyd-Thomas...
Wilson: Yeah we met. I met her in one of Dr. Bank's class.
Cook: But then there's her husband.
Wilson: I know she taught a religious course. I'm not sure.
Cook: She's in Humanities or Women's Studies or something. Dr. Bunch-Lyons... I consider my mentor here. I just really like her. [Pause] Oh yeah! Tell me about the organization you belong to on campus and what you do?
Wilson: Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. We are a service-oriented sorority. I mean we have a certain amount of service projects. It's not a set limit. But the national's would be like you need to do service projects. We do a lot of programs like forums and stuff like that. You know the resume writer and we do social stuff too but it's mostly for a purpose... like a party to raise money or something and we're very small right now. We have four active members. We have another member but she isn't active and we have four active members on campus.
Cook: Is that the only black service sorority on campus?
Wilson: All the black sororities and fraternities are service. We are all supposed to be committed in service. How many are on campus? Six, seven, seven on campus.
Cook: Just for women?
Cook: Oh, for men?
Wilson: It's three, three women and four guy, four fraternities.
Cook: I'm really ignorant on sororities and fraternities but I have a stereotype... so the service divides the other kind that you always think of as being big partiers?
Wilson: I think our... I think our color divides us from the other kind because there might be some service fraternities out there because I know there are business ones, like Delta Sigma Epsilon. They're a business fraternity. I don't know. I think it's mostly our color that divides us because most people don't even know we're service 'cause they might see us Stepping' and think, you know that's all we do, like throwing a party... they think that's all we do. I know a lot of people think that's all we do is Step and it's not!
Cook: What does that mean, 'Step?'
Wilson: It's sort of... it's not like dance... sort of like different steps you know.
Cook: I think I know what you mean.
Wilson: Uh-huh, it's like Step shows.
Cook: Yeah, I'm trying to think like the Irish have their stomping and it's... you do that?
Cook: Wow, I'd like to see that!
Wilson: It was in an article in the paper about the Homecoming Step Show.
Cook: Of your Sorority?
Wilson: It was all the ones that were in the Homecoming Step Show.
Cook: Is there a picture too? Is there a picture of it? Could I put that picture on the website?
Wilson: You probably have to go to Collegiate Times because it was in the Collegiate Times.
Cook: In the Fall?
Wilson: It was a while ago. Yeah, in the Fall.
Cook: Okay, but Fall 2000? Oh that would be so good!
Wilson: If you wanted to go to one, we are having one March the 24th. It's a really, really big Step show.
Cook: It is? I would love to, March 24th?
Wilson: Uh-huh, It's in Burruss Hall.
Cook: Why do I think I'm gone that weekend? I hope not because I could bring my sons to that. They would love it!
Wilson: And the thing is with that one, a lot of white people go to that, like the white sororities and fraternities help us. They might help us work the doors or something.
Cook: Okay, all right, thanks! If I'm there this weekend, for some reason I feel like my husband has some conference that weekend... but he said the last weekend in March, so maybe it's the next weekend. Cool so I can get your picture in there. Is that the one organization you belong to?
Wilson: Yeah that's the only one because that's the only one I really have time for. It's a lot of time with only four members.
[Tape 1, Side 2]
Cook: Did you start it or was it already started?
Wilson: It was already started. It started in 1983. Don't quote me on that.
Cook: Do you recruit new members?
Wilson: The thing is we don't recruit. This is another difference between white sororities and us. People who are interested just come up to one of us...
Cook: Oh okay, you don't rush?
Wilson: No we don't. We don't do rush or any of that stuff. We might have an interest meeting where we just sit down, sort of like a tea, and talk about our sorority. It's all in the other person. If the other person is interested in us then that's when we locally process it... getting in.
Cook: Would you say those are your best friends, the ones in the sorority?
Wilson: Uh-huh. They're my best friends. I hang out with them all the time.
Cook: Maybe I can interview one of your friends. You told me what your major was. Why did you decide to switch to IDST?
Wilson: Math was getting really hard. That's not a really good major for black people, I don't think.
Cook: Really? Why do you say that?
Wilson: No, because I'd be in the class and everybody talking... everybody like math majors would be talking and I just feel like... because this girl when she was in charge of the senior pictures for math majors and at that time I was a math major, she was just going around asking everybody, "Did you get your senior pictures signed up?" She didn't ask me but she asked everybody else.
Cook: She just walked right by you?
Wilson: She was just sitting in her chair and she was just asking people around and I was one of the first people in the classroom. She didn't ask me.
Cook: Excuse me?
Wilson: Did you not think I was a math major?
Cook: Are there that many women in math?
Wilson: No. It's not a big major but I'm pretty sure it's not fifty-fifty. It's probably about 30 percent.
Cook: Oh okay.
Wilson: It's not a small number.
Cook: When did you decide to switch to IDST?
Wilson: When I realized I was failing very, very badly. I should have switched a long time ago but I was being stubborn about it. Maybe if I take this class it will be better 'cause I understood the material. I'm just not a good test taker. That's when I realized I could write a lot better than I take tests. So I always did badly on my tests. My teachers, some of the math teachers, were actually helpful. Then there's others who I just didn't like. They tried to help me with my tests...
Cook: What would you say is a really hard math course? Like name some of them.
Wilson: All of the 3000 courses. Modern Algebra was pretty hard for me because I had Dr. Reed and he's really, really helpful; one of the few helpful white professors, I think. It was just hard. He did everything in his power to help me and I just couldn't do it.
Cook: But you went for help. That's good. So they knew [you were trying.]
Wilson: Yeah I went for help all the time. I was always in his office and then the algebra class I had last semester was a 3000 level algebra with Dr. Arnold. Dr. Arnold was kind of - 'I'll help you to an extent' sort of thing. Like 'you should get this, this is easy!' You know the type of person. So I didn't really feel like I could go to him all the time because I needed help almost everyday. That was a hard class!
Cook: Those kinds of professors! You feel like you can't go to 'cause they're looking (at least in my case) at you like "You can't get this?"
Wilson: Like they help you just because they have to because of their office hours. I think that's the only reason why. And I had Vector Calculus. I think the teacher was just horrible!
Cook: What kind of calculus?
Wilson: Vector calculus. They call it Calculus and Multi-variables. I totally understood the material, understood what she was talking about... when I take the test... Oh, I don't, I can't get it! She just writes on the board for an hour fifteen minutes and we copied notes for an hour fifteen minutes and she won't stop and explain or anything. She'd be like "do you understand this?" and everybody just be writing so fast that we couldn't say, "I didn't know ___."
Cook: That's not being a teacher.
Wilson: No! So that's when I started to not like math.
Cook: I bet you could still be a math teacher though with that in your background.
Wilson: Yeah. I couldn't teach though. Everybody told me I should be a teacher.
Cook: No I did the same thing. Everyone told me I could and then I did volunteer work and I said, "I can't do it." Especially in high school... I know I would yell at some of them 'cause they'd annoy me.
Wilson: (Laughter) Yeah, I like kids... but then again I don't.
Cook: Same here. You know you feel if they weren't trying to be sassy answering you back you'd just feel like... (Laughter) Yeah, I know I couldn't either. Well anyway that's another subject. So then you switched to IDST which is a very good major. It really gives you a broad education. I think it's wonderful.
Wilson: I wish I would have switched earlier. I found out that I really liked statistics and I want to do that. I never knew what statistics was until I came here and I had to take it for math. I was doing better in statistics than I was doing in my math classes and I wanted to switch to a statistics minor but I have to take these... I have to graduate in December... take an extra course. One course I would need is only offered in the fall and I switched my major in the middle of the fall semester.
Cook: So you're good at statistics? Statistics is very good to have on your resume nowadays. I took one statistics course. It was very hard for me.
Wilson: I think I had a good teacher. He was a graduate student, a PhD candidate, I think. He was like this is what you need to know and this is what I'm going to teach you and that's it. It is like no messing around. He'd teach and if he didn't need the whole hour and fifteen minutes he let them go.
Cook: What is his name?
Wilson: Wilcox... Wilcox? He was a graduate student.
Cook: Teachers really make a big difference, I think.
Cook: Do you think the white teachers treated you well? Did you ever have situations where they didn't?
Wilson: It was the whole... I think the whole, you know, algebra situation because everybody was telling me... even some black people told me... that he's a good teacher but I didn't have that same vibe 'cause he knew I was struggling in the class, even though I really needed that Linear Algebra. I ended up late dropping it but I was really struggling in that class.
Cook: You tried...
Wilson: Yeah, I really tried.
Cook: Do you think he treated you that way as a woman or as an African American or both?
Wilson: I think it's both and just as a struggling student, 'cause I told him that I needed a good grade in that class. He's like, "Well I don't think that's going to happen." I don't know.
Cook: That is annoying!
Wilson: Then in most of the classes, like my computer science teacher... I'm having trouble with that. He's helping a little bit 'cause everybody had trouble with programming their first time so he's all right. He's sort of helping.
Cook: But he treats you nice?
Cook: That's good. How about women teachers? Do you have any?
Wilson: I've had some. I had a couple of women math teachers and they treated everybody about the same. I had a lot of big classes like in Squires Colonial and Norris and other big places.
Cook: Okay. What do you want to do after you graduate?
Wilson: I'm going into the Navy.
(Gasp by Cook)
Cook: Have you committed?
Wilson: I was committed since freshman year.
Cook: Oh really?
Wilson: Since sophomore year actually, they make you sign a contract 'cause I was on scholarship. I had a four-year scholarship. That's not what I want to do though.
Cook: So how long will you have to do that?
Wilson: Ummm... for four full years so that's where all the minority stuff comes in... and Navy, I don't like the battalion. I don't like ROTC here 'cause their people just are not friendly and they get me mixed up with other black people.
Cook: The higher up people?
Wilson: The higher up people, anybody. The older people get me mixed up with... 'cause there was another black girl, she graduated in December and they got me mixed up with her. They got me mixed up with other people and I got a bad evaluation because I was mixed up with somebody.
Wilson: I was really mad about that. I really didn't like it!
Cook: Did they apologize?
Wilson: No, I told them "this is not me!" They wrote a comment on something that I supposedly did. I didn't do this! And I know who did it.
Cook: Good thing you spoke up.
Cook: Oh, where will you be stationed?
Wilson: I don't know. I find that out Thursday.
Cook: What are the possibilities?
Wilson: All over the world, Norfolk and San Diego, Florida, Mississippi, Japan, Pearl Harbor.
Cook: Oh my gosh, Ebony!
Wilson: But I'm also one of the last people on the list, so I get the last picking.
Cook: Don't go on a sub right now. Things aren't good for subs... can it only be men on subs?
Cook: Can you swim?
Wilson: Um... a little bit.
Cook: Do you have to be able to swim really well to be in the Navy?
Wilson: No, 'cause I can't swim well. I can swim enough to try to swim to the shore.
Cook: Oh you can? Okay! You know you always see these big waves... they'll make you do a test and all?
Wilson: Uh-huh. Like I can't fly. I think my grandma was so excited about this... even though I didn't want to fly because they told me you had a trait of sickle cell.
Cook: Oh really? When did you find that out?
Wilson: I knew ever since I was little because I had problems with my ears. My mom knew ever since I was born because they tell you. They did a physical and they were like, "You know you have a trait of sickle cell?" Well it was like, "You got a sickle cell, and you can't fly." So I was like okay 'cause I don't want to fly. And my grandmother... she was upset... my dad's mom because she's all into racial stuff like it's racist because apparently they're not supposed to do that anymore because a lot of African Americans have a trait of sickle cell. It doesn't bother me. It's just that I have the trait.
Cook: And I wonder where that rule came up.
Wilson: That rule is probably about 60 years old. It came up when they wanted to fly, like in the 40s in World War II they wanted to fly and it was just an excuse to weed out a lot of people.
Cook: Somebody needs to challenge that.
Wilson: Yeah 'cause when he told me that I was like fine I didn't want to fly anyway.
Cook: I mean I wouldn't want to fly just because I don't even like to go on a roller coaster but still for someone to tell you that's the reason that you can't.
Wilson: And another girl... she really wanted to fly, really, really bad. She didn't have the sickle cell trait. She passed all the tests, all the school tests and she was black. She didn't get a spot. Like there are plenty of people who have bad grades, who weren't good in the ROTC program and they got a spot. It's competitive.
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