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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 Three

Cook: Is this at Tech?

Wilson: Uh-huh. It's at this ROTC.

Cook: Is it political? Like who you know and stuff?

Wilson: I don't think so. I don't know why she didn't get it because there are other people who are less qualified than she was and they got a slot. She was very, very upset. She really wanted to fly.

Cook: There could be double prejudices; it could be being a female and being black. And you have to decide if you want to fight it and all that.

Wilson: Yeah it was a big difference between driving a ship and flying.

Cook: Uh-huh!

Wilson: That's what I'm going to be doing.

Cook: Do you have any preference where you'd like to be or not like to be?

Wilson: My dad wants me to stay close.

Cook: You're his only daughter; dads are close to their daughters. (Laughter)

Wilson: Yeah, his has four kids.

Cook: Uh-huh.

Wilson: And my mom has four. So it gets confusing but I'm the only one that's really close to him because two of my brothers don't live with him. So I'm the only one that would call him all the time and talk to him and stuff. "So you got to stay close to home! You better choose Norfolk!"

Cook: Did you?

Wilson: I don't know yet.

Cook: Oh do you get to, at least, say some places?

Wilson: Uh-huh. I can say where I want to go and what slots they have left open.

Cook: Did you put in for any overseas?

Wilson: I don't want to go overseas. I think the farthest I'd go is like San Diego because I was there before.

Cook: I like San Diego. I've been there once.

Wilson: I didn't think I was going to like it.

Cook: Me neither.

Wilson: But I liked it. It's a little weird; the people there are weird.

Cook: I had this stereotype of southern California blondes and everyone's going to be real ditsy and it really wasn't like that.

Wilson: No it was like all Mexicans.

Cook: Yeah?

Wilson: That's the only thing about it... it's like there were not a whole lot black people there.

Cook: There's not?

Wilson: But I don't mind. It's a nice place to be.

Cook: The weather is so perfect.

Wilson: The weather is scary to me 'cause it's never raining.

Cook: I know!

Wilson: I didn't think I was going to miss the rain but...

Cook: When did you go there?

Wilson: Over the summer. The Navy sent me on a... we call it a cruise... it's supposed to be training and stuff but it's really a paid vacation for us.

Cook: Wow!

Wilson: I was lucky enough to get to San Diego twice between sophomore and junior year and my junior year and senior year for a month in the summer.

Cook: Is that hard to be alone and then go off to a new and different place?

Wilson: No 'cause I like doing that. Like when I was in San Diego they say stay with other midshipman or stay in a group but I'd go off in San Diego on my own and explore and go to Tijuana and look around and stuff.

Cook: That's a trip, Tijuana; I've never been there but I've heard it's almost sad. Isn't it?

Wilson: It depressed me a lot. I mean you get different emotions because it's depressing and then you're like wow I'm in a different country. But it's really depressing.

Cook: I've heard there're homeless little kids just walking the streets and animals and...

Wilson: I made the mistake of um... I guess I see it as a mistake not really though... Soon as I crossed the border it was obvious we were American. They had a big Virginia Tech shirt on (Laughter) and uh it's obvious. Everybody who was crossing the border at the time were Americans and some girl came up to me with a cup and she was a little girl! I put a dime in there. I don't know why I had a handful of dimes. All these kids, like thirty kids, all of them had cups. I was like, "Oh my God!" No one told me. They were like don't give them money because everybody else (can't understand this part).

Cook: How could you not though?

Wilson: I don't know. I was like if I had enough dimes... I just gave them all the dimes. I had enough so I just gave them all the dimes and I bought some packs of gum from a little girl. Everybody else started running up to me again.

Cook: I can just picture that. Were they so cute?

Wilson: There were just little kids and a couple of them had their mothers. It looked like they were too sick to even stand up. I was walking around more in downtown Tijuana. I gave this little girl, she was begging you could see her mom was just sitting there, like she was sick and the other kids ______ just gave her a dollar. I was like, cause a dollar to me didn't mean much of anything 'cause only took about 20 dollars down there and I gave away only 5. But it seemed like a lot because I gave money to a lot of people, like a quarter here, a quarter there.

Cook: Yeah I have a soft heart but it makes me think we are so sheltered here.

Wilson: Yeah cause this little Mexican boy ran up to me and the other girl, she had a big Penn State on her shirt and she was white and he went up to us and was like, " Do you have a dollar, do you have a dollar?" We were like no we don't have any more money and he was like, "Oh you Americans, you are all rich! You are a millionaire."

Cook: No!

Wilson: But he was one of the lucky kids cause his parents had a shop so we were like, "No you like it here. Your parents are working." You know.

Cook: Gosh, I think Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, has a hundred million people or something crazy like that. I think I remember that from a course.

Wilson: Really eye opening for me. When people read my shirt, I met um five, a group of black girls who went to Tech which was surprising 'cause there were no black people. "Yeah I went to Tech." I was like yeah you are black though and you're in Mexico.

Cook: That's very coincidental.

Wilson: They were visiting Mexico. That was a big coincidence. I don't know why and then I met people from Roanoke when we went to Hard Rock Cafˇ... and yeah you go to Tech - big Virginia Tech lovers here. It's a small world. We met a lot of people. The girl from Penn State was like, "A lot of people from where you're from!" I don't know why.

[Laughter]

Cook: This is unusual!

Wilson: Yeah!

Cook: I have a niece that lives in San Diego and her fiancˇe is um, what's that word JAG... a Marine, what is it... something general, Judge Advocate...?

Wilson: Judge Advocate General.

Cook: Yeah he just started; he just went through all that. Left Quantico and went back, went to San Diego. I've never been on any of the big Navy ships. I want to take my kids there.

Wilson: It was a big base. Norfolk's base is even bigger.

Cook: Gosh!

Wilson: It's like, it's hard... I was on Norfolk Naval Base my freshman year. After my freshman year they sent me to Norfolk. It's a big base. Man I'm from Norfolk; I don't go on the base! We are not a military family. My family is anti-military so...

Cook: Yeah that's why I think you're so brave because I think a lot of people that go into the military are from military families. It's just really brave of you.

Wilson: Yeah I have a couple of cousins in the military but no one...

Cook: Usually a parent or something, even Janelle, her parents...

Wilson: Yeah I think her dad was in the Air Force or something.

Cook: Do you, do you see yourself down the line, going back and settling in Norfolk or do you think you want to go somewhere else?

Wilson: I see myself settling in Norfolk. I just like the area. I never realized I liked it until I came here and I miss flat land. When I was in San Diego I missed rain. I just miss everything. I don't miss the humidity but that's about all. I mean I see myself... if I get stationed there, I'd save money, I'm close to home. I told my mom I was going to live with her. She's all excited about it.

Cook: Do you want to get married some day and have kids?

Wilson: I do. Not when I'm in the military though I don't see how they can do it. If I ever have a kid when I'm in the military... getting married... I'd have to get out as soon as possible.

Cook: 'Cause don't you have shift work when in the military and if you have a kid...

Wilson: Yeah, because when I was in San Diego they set you up with a...sort of like your mentor for a month and she had a little ten month old daughter and it was such a hassle going to the babysitter even though her babysitter was like her family so she didn't have to pay for childcare or anything but it was such a hassle.

Cook: But don't you feel sad for the little kid?

Wilson: Yeah and her dad was on a six-month deployment in the Marines. And her mom was about to go six-month deployment as soon as her dad got back. So, I couldn't. They always complain. "I don't want to leave my wife and kids!" And you go why are you in the Navy? You know?

Cook: So as of right now after you finish your four years you see yourself getting out of it?

Wilson: I'm sorry... I get seasick!

Cook: Do you?

Wilson: I didn't realize that until after...

Cook: Can you do anything about it?

Wilson: You can take medicine for it.

Cook: Dramamine?

Wilson: Yeah!

Cook: That always makes me feel weird. It gives me energy in my legs. There's something that you can put back here...[back of the ears] a little circle thing I see people in airplanes. I get it [motion sickness] on airplanes and if I go out more than a little bit from the shore. I like to be on the edge of water.

Wilson: Yeah! (Laughter) That's why I see myself in Norfolk because I feel if I'm in the middle of a country I don't...I feel like I'm surrounded. I need to be...

Cook: Do you feel almost claustrophobic?

Wilson: Uh-huh!

Cook: My family's from the Eastern Shore in Maryland, so I'm used to flat land and water everywhere.

Wilson: Yeah I'm like used to bridges and tunnels... like no one is used to the under tunnel thing.

Cook: That big one; the 27-mile one?

Wilson: We get a lot of underwater tunnels. Its just second nature to us. We're used to it.

Cook: I don't know if I like that, the tunnel.

Wilson: No one does unless they grew up around there. Like Janelle wanted to come pick me up and she said she was about to turn back around because she said she saw these cars going underwater.

Cook: Did she do it?

Wilson: Yeah she went under 'cause she had to come get me from home. [Laughter] She was like, "You didn't tell me there was an underground tunnel!" She was mad!

Cook: And it's so long!

Wilson: Yeah 'cause she was coming from Maryland, from Northern Virginia.

Cook: Yeah!

[Laughter]

Wilson: "You didn't tell me I had to go underwater! I saw these cars disappearing in the water!" I was like I forgot!

Cook: 'Cause you think of this as normal...

Wilson: Maybe 'cause she says she had family down there. I thought she knew. It's funny!

Cook: Okay, what problems pertaining to African Americans do you think the university needs to address to make it more diverse, to attract more black students?

Wilson: I say...I think to attract more black students you have to have more black students.

Cook: To retain more black students?

Wilson: Yeah! You need to retain. I'm not going to say we're stupid or anything. I think it's the whole academic system. It isn't favorable. I don't think it makes me not want to learn...but when I see a class full of all white people and I'm just sitting there...I feel even more depressed so I don't know what the school can do about that. As far as the Corps we lose, after freshman year, a lot of black freshman just get out. There are a lot of them that just...'cause we get a lot for their freshman year but after that they all get out. So by the senior year...like now there're four black seniors.

Cook: I didn't know that. Why do you think they leave? Because it's just lonely?

Wilson: 'Cause it's not a good environment. 'Cause you just want to see more faces like yourself...like how they make you hang out with your buds. It's like you are always going to want to hang out with them. And you don't do the same things. It's really hard for people to adjust who grew up in all black neighborhoods. They come here and there are all white people.

Cook: Do you think it can happen here?

Wilson: I think it can but it has to start with - as far as black people just getting together - it has to start with the freshman class cause if you're in a good freshman class then everything else is going to go down. I've heard a lot of people that came in my year who are seniors, who are fifth year seniors from '96, complain about how they don't see a lot of freshman and sophomores 'cause most of the members are in the Greek organizations now and as far as I know are juniors and seniors. All of us, we are going to graduate and then it's like where are the sophomores and freshman?

Cook: Where are they?

Wilson: I don't know and a lot of black people live off campus too. For some reason on campus isn't where black people want to live, where a lot of people want to live. It's kind of hard. I always liked Black Student Preview when they had it. I know they switched it to Minority Student Preview but I think our student preview in '97 was big. I really liked it.

Cook: What was that?

Wilson: When all the black students who got accepted into Tech, well most of them in this area from Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, they'd bus us here to Tech. Which was good because I would have never come to Tech had they not done that. I didn't go to orientation or anything and this was for a weekend during our senior year, the end of our senior year and we got to meet the other black people here. It's pretty nice. They changed it a little bit and now it's not the way it used to be I guess.

Cook: So now it's probably called minority student...

Wilson: Yeah its called Minority Student Preview and they are trying to do a little too much now it seems. I think its good they're trying to reach out to Asians and Native Americans but I think they're trying to do too much. I mean I don't know (pause). If they want to have Asians, they can do an Asian one 'cause FASA is pretty big here.

Cook: What is that?

Wilson: The Filipino American Students.

Cook: I didn't know that.

Wilson: You know there are a lot of Indians here on this campus?

Cook: Indian, East Indians?

Wilson: Uh-huh.

Cook: I'm trying to find American Indian students to interview.

Wilson: I know an American Indian student.

Cook: You do? Will you give me a name?

Wilson: But he identifies with the white culture. This is an American Indian who used to have the Confederate flag hanging up on his wall.

Cook: Okay.

Wilson: I mean if you want to interview him; he's from North Carolina. I think he's from a small town in North Carolina. He's Native American.

Cook: Well let me have his name.

Wilson: Thomas Brantley

Cook: Is he in the Corps?

Wilson: Yeah, he's in the Corps.

Cook: Thomas Brant... can you spell it?

Wilson: Brant, I think, ley.

Cook: Okay, thanks!

Wilson: He's a high-ranking person in the Corps.

Cook: Well I can try.

Wilson: You can try.

Cook: So what you are saying about the Black Student Preview, it gave you a sense of a black community here?

Wilson: Uh-huh because there was more of a black community here.

Cook: Okay and that would help with retention?

Wilson: Uh-huh!

Cook: Feeling that you had other people like you on campus?

Wilson: Uh-huh! For some reason a lot of people who hosted us were black people in the Corps. Unless some of them graduated they are still here. But a lot of people who hosted us kept us in their rooms or in the Corps and I saw, for some reason, I saw black people. I saw plenty of black people in the Corps and they all got up and they cheered when I got in the Corps. [Laughter] It's like where did so and so go? Oh she got out last year. But I just saw her. They were all second semester freshman. Most of them who hosted us were either freshman or sophomores and they got out.

Cook: That's not fair. Do you have any ties with any... I guess I asked you this already... black women on campus?

Wilson: Uh-huh.

Cook: Would that be helpful in retaining students, especially for women, to have a more African American women mentors on campus?

Wilson: Yes!

Cook: Is there anything I haven't talked about that you want to say?

Wilson: No.

Cook: Is it hard because I'm white to answer questions?

Wilson: No.

Cook: Because sometimes its hard for me. I feel awkward asking some questions. Would you... somehow I know the answer to this... would you advise any friends or family to come to Virginia Tech?

Wilson: Uh-huh.

Cook: You would? Oh okay!

Wilson: Yes I would. I would. I just warn them it's not what you think. But I like this school. I tell a lot of people this. I like the campus. I like the way the campus looks but I just don't like the people who go here. I don't like the people who go here. I don't like a lot of the teachers but I like the campus a lot because it's different from back home I guess. I just wanted something different. I thought it was going to be colder and I'm disappointed 'cause I like winter.

Cook: Me too [the winter].

Wilson: And I like the snow. I like a lot of snow.

Cook: Me too! I'm the same way. I'm always happy when I wake up and it's all snowy.

Wilson: If I did it all over the only thing I would change is my major. I wouldn't be in that major.

Cook: Do you think you might have gone into statistics?

Wilson: Yeah, statistics. I didn't know what statistics was. So it was math, history or Spanish for me.

Cook: Do you wish you had someone giving you guidance more about what's out there?

Wilson: Yes because I didn't go to orientation so I really felt like I was behind. And I thought math...I don't know.

Cook: You might have been a good engineer, if you could do calculus, you might've been...no, you don't think so?

Wilson: It would have been hard.

Cook: Do you like sitting at computers or do you like to get up and do stuff.

Wilson: I like reading.

Cook: Me too!

Wilson: I like reading. Reading is interesting.

Cook: What do you like to read?

Wilson: I was really interested in the Holocaust. I took the Holocaust class here. I didn't really learn anything new. I was just excited they had a Holocaust class.

Cook: I wanted to take that. Do you know that is one of my interests too? I'm an American Historian but the Holocaust is a big deal to me because when I grew up in New York... a lot of my friends, my Jewish friends parents... I'd see tattoos and I didn't know because no one talked about it. I even found out that a guy in my class, mother and her mother (her mother was a young mother) survived Auschwitz. I didn't know that my teacher was a survivor. There was a movie last night based on a true story of a Jewish woman who tried to get Jewish immigrants out of Germany then to the U.S. and the second half is Wednesday night, if you want watch it.

Wilson: Oh, Hayden I think it's called.

Cook: Yeah, yeah you're right!

Wilson: I saw the commercial for it.

Cook: I wanted to watch that. I read so much about it.

Wilson: When I was twelve... I actually got interested when I was twelve because in school, our history books of course were very inadequate...there was a small paragraph about... I mean they had a little section about World War II. It was about a paragraph. "Oh by the way, Adolph Hitler killed six million Jews." ... the death chambers and showers. I was like, "What?" Can we get more information on that?

Cook: So you went on your own and read about it?

Wilson: Then I just went in our middle school library. For some reason there was a lot of information on it. So I started reading on it when I was twelve. I just didn't stop until I started reading the same books over and over again. I went to the museum...

Cook: You know what, Ebony, so many people don't even want to know about it. People will say to me "Why do you want to read about that. It's so terrible!" I think we need to read about it because we need to know that people can kill people on this mass scale and not look at them as human.

Wilson: Reading about it just irritated me that they just had that small little paragraph. Granted I was twelve but by then I think the LA riots were going on, I'm pretty sure, we're used to violence by then and it just irritated me.

Cook: The U.S. knew about it and didn't do anything about it. They could've even bombed near there. I know, gosh! Do you like to read mostly non-fiction?

Wilson: Uh-huh. I mean it just depends. I like a lot of Stephen King. I really read a lot of them and John Grisham and books for class if they are interesting. I don't like a lot of theory because I don't like a lot of other people's opinion. I don't care about other people's opinion and I took the Civil War class too.

Cook: What did you think of that? Did you think it was going to be better than you thought at first?

Wilson: He was a good teacher but I kept having mixed emotions. I couldn't tell if he was a racist or what. But he'd start talking about how he grew up with a black nanny. He didn't say 'nanny' but it was a nanny and different stuff. He tried to do it from an objective... like he'd try to do it from a non-biased point of view but...

Cook: Why does he bring that up at all?

Wilson: I don't know and then he asks that no one videotape him or record him because he was getting his words all screwed up. He was glorifying the whole Confederacy part of it and I was like, that's not good. He was a good teacher but... I took it for the Navy cause we had to have a history class.

Cook: Did you know that back in the sixties, well probably it went on even longer than that, but during football games they'd played (the Highty Tighties played) Dixie and then they'd raise the Confederate flag and finally it made...well you can read about it on the website because some of the black women students talked about it. Also some of the first black men students talk about it. It made black students uncomfortable.

Wilson: It does. Like seeing the Confederate flag makes me uncomfortable. I see that a lot in the Corps too.

Cook: It makes me uncomfortable.

Wilson: I don't like it and I think the Highty Tighties have a symbol on the back of their shirts because they have company shirts and I think it's an American flag and a Confederate flag. I have to look at it closely because it's small. It's an American flag and Confederate flag on the back on their shirts. It is very uncomfortable.

Cook: One whole company?

Wilson: Yes.

Cook: Are there any blacks in the company?

Wilson: There are blacks in their company. Their drum major was black last year.

Cook: I wonder how that makes them feel?

Wilson: I don't know and plus he's from the Caribbean. So it's a whole different perspective.

Cook: Yeah that's true.

Wilson: The other black girl they had left.

Cook: That was really strange that they would have that now. Even right now they have it?

Wilson: Yeah I have to look it up, because they don't really wear their shirts that often. But I remember seeing a Confederate flag on the shirt. It was just in passing though and I didn't want to stop.

Cook: That's really interesting! Well, this is off the subject, but have you at all seen what's happening about the high school and the mascot?

Wilson: Yeah that's irritating to me.

Cook: Can you tell me how you feel about that?

Wilson: I feel that they should change the name because if it's bothering just a few people, and I grant it, I know that's kind of dangerous in that everything bothers somebody in a way but stuff like that, they should change their name. It hurts...

Cook: Uh-huh.

Wilson: Native Americans.

Cook: I kind of look at it as the white people are a privileged group and they don't even see what they are doing.

Wilson: Yeah!

Cook: They don't even realize because I'm looking at them and I'm thinking, "Can't you see what you are doing?"

Wilson: It's like a white person saying, I don't think there's racism because you don't experience.

Cook: Right, exactly!

Wilson: That really irritates me! They thought they'd just change the name. I can just imagine a group of white people saying, "No we're not going to change it!"

Cook: It is. My husband's involved in all that but there's a American Indian principal somewhere in Christiansburg and as an example when one of the students found out she was American Indian, he said, "Why don't you live in a tee-pee then?" So there you go. There is the stereotyping. I mean American Indians are just like anybody else. They become teachers and lawyers and doctors. I was just curious what you thought about that. All right I guess that's all. Thank you!

[End of tape]


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