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One of the First Six Black Women Students at Virginia Tech:
Linda Edmonds Turner, Class of 1970
Picture of Linda Edmonds Turner from 1968 Bugle Picture of Linda Edmonds Turner from 1970 Bugle
Linda Edmonds Turner in the 1968 Bugle. Linda Edmonds Turner in the 1970 Bugle.

Name:
Linda Edmonds Turner
Date of Interview:
2 March 1996
Location of Interview:
Women's Center at Virginia Tech, Price House, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewer:
Elaine Carter
Transcriber:
Cynthia Hurd

Part Two

Garnet and Gold
Garnet and Gold
Image from the 1969 Bugle.
First row: Patricia A. Lynch, Mary Anne Marshall, Alice M. Williams, Elizabeth M. Lee. Martha A. Williams.
Second row: Linda L. Edmonds; Nancy A. Brooks; Jennifer E. Minogue, secretary; Lois W. Patterson, advisor; Doreen Long, president; Jan M. Laws.
Third row: Susan Sweeney, Janice Lloyd, Joan Bloomer, Connie Weik, Lynn Linkous, Nikki Powers, Judy Cook, Nancy Haberstroh, Carolyn Flowers, Joyce Gentry, Bettibel Carson, Lyne Payne.

(Begin Tape 1, side b)
Turner: The first month or so was kind of like a honeymoon. It was so new, and then you kind of settle in. I just remember it was like you were being watched all the time. We knew about the six black girls, and there were about 20 black guys. People started to pair up rather quickly, and we'd do things together. I had a boyfriend that was at Morgan State. I don't think Freddie had a boyfriend at the time. I think Chicky had a boyfriend, and Jackie met Eli. I don't remember Jackie without Eli. I really don't.

First College Formal
Linda Edmonds ready for her first college formal,
the 1966 fall German Club 74th, "Rendezvous,"
with music by the orchestra of Kai WInding and Otey Warren.
She made her pale green dress herself.

There was this guy named Warren or Walter that would invite me to these formals and stuff. We'd do those things. For church, we didn't go every Sunday, but we'd go to this little black church in town.

Carter: Probably AME? There were two AME and Baptist I think. AME was on Penn Street.

Turner: Somebody would come by and pick us up and take us to church. There were two black families. One black family had a lot of girls, I remember. The Snells? The Snells. They had a lot of teenage girls in their family. We used to call the people who lived in town the townies. I believe there was another family called the Banisters?

Mr. Bannister
Mr. Bannister after church.

Carter: The Banisters, yes! The Banisters worked...I think Mr. Banister worked here. They lived over in Wake Forest.

Turner: And Rubell or Rubella...

Carter: Yes, Rubella Banister.

Turner: She used to.... Did she cook for people?

Carter: I think she did.

Dr. Laura Jean Harper
Dr. Laura Jean Harper, Dean of the College of Home Economics

Turner: For Jean Harper, who was the Dean of the College of Home Economics. That was my true mentor when I came here, Dean Harper. At the time I didn't know that she worked for Dean Harper. I found that out a couple of years later.

There was nowhere to go to get your hair done. It was around that time that they came out with this "Curl Free" which was the first chemical relaxer. So Freddie and I got this "Curl Free," and we did our hair. What was good about it was you didn't have to use the straightening comb. None of the six of us was a hairdresser. Sometimes it just falls out naturally that one can do hair or something. I was really glad when the "Curl Free" came, with washing your hair and trying to straighten it, because we were still straightening the hair and stuff then.

That first semester, we called them quarters then, I just worked real hard. The hardest course for me was physical education. I took a course in gymnastics. Oh my goodness, what a mistake! I just was not....I was very awkward and skinny, like I'm still skinny, but I was real skinny then. I was knees and feet. I remember having to do these headstands. I was good in sports in high school but not to this degree that they wanted. We had this trampoline. I remember going up in the air and bouncing out in some man's arms across the gym. I went up, and somebody caught me. I didn't know the thing would throw you that far. I was fairly athletic because I grew up on the farm and climbed trees and stuff, but I just was not coordinated. I got a C in that course. The other courses I got A's and B's.

Linda in archery class
Linda in archery class, spring 1967.
She notes in her scrapbook, "My pull was so strong I had to use a man's bow."

In chemistry I did particularly well. I studied hard too. I was on a mission. I don't know if it was self-imposed or I just always had to do well, so I was determined to do well. I studied hard, and I did do well. I got on the honor's list.

It was the next semester, the next term, that I approached Dean Harper about a part-time job--a work study program. I believe I started the spring term. I went only two quarters in my undergraduate without having a job. One of the reasons was I needed my own spending money. I didn't get extra money from the scholarship and stuff. I just didn't feel right asking Mama and Dad for it knowing that Gilda had to go to school, and then there was Sandra right behind Gilda, and my brother was already in college. I was healthy and I was doing well in school so I could make a few dollars myself that would be my own.

Dean Harper hired me in her office. She quickly learned that I was good in math, and I would do charts and stuff. That woman continued to groom me, but I didn't even know it was happening. She would do things like this: she would say, "Linda, take this report over to the president's office." I used to wonder why in the world would she want me to take it over there. It didn't have to be in for a day or two. But she was letting me go over there and see that office.

I didn't know that at the time. She would have me do things to give me exposure to other people. I still talk to the former president (Dr. T. Marshall Hahn). He has been a mentor to me as well throughout the years. He was instrumental in many positive changes at Virginia Tech. Dean Harper gave me that connection.

We were planning for Wallace Hall to be built, and we were working on a dedication list. Once the building got built, I had a set of keys, my own set of keys to the building. I don't know if many people knew that, but I could go and come whenever I pleased. I knew every room in that building because I would give tours of the building.

I would also help her grade papers for a certain class. This is in the middle, the sophomore year. I was an undergraduate teaching assistant to her. She would give me as much as I could carry without it interfering with my studies.

She was a very abrupt, busy busy busy person. Some people would be just very afraid of her. But to me she wasn't fake. If she didn't like something, you knew it. If she liked it you may not have known it because she was so fast. She would do reports. Her mind moved so fast that sometimes she would skip certain details, and I'd say, "Dean Harper, don't you also need a total on this page?" "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Go out there and tell Nancy to do this or that." Her secretary (Nancy) was very timid and was afraid to ask her things so she would send me in to ask her things. That was her personality, and I thrived with her kind of guidance. Also the responsibility she gave me. I found the course work challenging, but not overly challenging that I was scratching my head. Once I made it through that first semester...

Carter: Through the adjustment period.

Turner: Yes. I knew I could graduate. The only thing that would keep me from graduating was something that I had no control over. That's how I just knew I was going to graduate.

Carter: Linda, how were your faculty in general? Were they generally supportive and responsive? Did the relationship with Dean Harper make a difference, you think?

Turner: I think she kind of paved the way by setting the stage--It felt like she was saying, "Don't give her anything but...

Carter: ... be fair.

Turner: Be fair. Some of the faculty over there...I think some were prejudiced. They would do their job, but they didn't really mingle with me. There were several that stood out that I always thought were very fair. Dr. Tozier was from Maine and a very "New England" person and very outspoken. Dean Harper was from Mississippi.

Carter: Incredible.

Turner: There was a Miss Glisson who was from Alabama or somewhere in there. A very genteel southern head of the clothing and textile department. At first I couldn't tell whether she liked me or not--Miss Glisson. Later on after the first--second year when I really got into the major courses I knew she liked (respected) me, and I liked/respected her. They treated me with respect, but I was a student. I don't feel like a got a lot of extra freebies because of Dean Harper, but I'm sure if it hadn't been for her some of them would have been less concerned about me.

Once I left the College of Home Economics and went across campus it was different. I only had one or two classes up there my first year or two because you don't get into your major classes until third or fourth year. I took classes in the English Department, Math Department. It was just like you were a shadow. Usually you were the only black woman in the class, maybe two or three other women in the class was the exception.

I had a chemistry teacher named Mr. Furch--Dr. Furch. He taught one of these big lecture chemistry classes. I did well in chemistry.

I have to relate this story to you. It really tore me up this morning at the 75th Women's Anniversary brunch because I was trying to tell it, and I couldn't even tell it without crying. Now I'm a little bit together. People have often asked me if I ever saw any racism. I say, you know, some of it I saw, but it was done subtly, and then there was some that just hit you dead in the face. Most of it was very subtle.

There was this grad teaching assistant that taught the chemistry lab, and that was different than your lecture course. Dr. Furch taught that course. In this chemistry lab I was clumsy like cooking and things like that in general, but I knew the theory and stuff, so we always had pairs. I think maybe I was the only girl in class, I was the only girl. That particular day....We had to wear dresses and skirts, and my skirts were to about right here below my knees and just little flat shoes. We didn't wear sneakers. A bottle of a very weak acid solution got knocked off the counter and onto my legs. It completely ate the hose off of my legs. The instructor in the class, he's red and fat and swollen, he reminded me of the term the red-neck. At that time I didn't even know what it meant, but the red neck. He would just glare at me, he always would just glare at me. He wouldn't say anything, just kind of look at me funny.

That day, when that happened, I just froze. I didn't scream or anything. I just stood there like a statue. My lab partner froze. The guy behind us looked like he got his wits immediately and took some water, cups of water, and started pouring them on my legs and washing this solution off. The teacher comes over and says, "What's going on over here?" He had this kind of rough voice. The guy was down there on the floor. I'm still speechless. He said that the solution fell over and on her legs, and he'd put this water on it. That teacher looked me directly in the eye and said, "You be more careful next time," and walked back to the other side of the room. Never looked down at my legs to see if I was injured or anything. This little, and I call him a little boy because he couldn't have been any more than 18 either, said to me, "Linda, I don't know, but I think you need to go to the bathroom and, you know, maybe take those off."

I was like a mummy. I walked out of there, and when I got outside of the room I started to shake. Down the hall walks Dr. Furch, and he said, "Miss Edmonds, what's wrong?" Then I told him and he got down on his knees, and he looked at my legs. Not in a sexual or familiar way, but concerned. He said, "Are you feeling any stinging or whatever?" I said, "No, I don't." I was visibly upset. I wasn't crying, but I was upset. He said, "You leave the lab immediately, and go to your room. Take a hot bath, and if you feel any sort of stinging, go to the infirmary right away. Do not wait." He asked me what we were doing in the lab. He said, "That's a very weak solution. It should not bother you." He reassured me. He said, "But go home." So I did. I got my little books, and I left.

We had a policy that your attendance in the lab counted towards your grade. That spring I got a B in lab because I missed that class. Had I not missed that class I would have gotten an A. I know. That to me showed while the guy was overtly racist subtly...I did miss the class, but I missed it for a reason. What hurt me the most was that I felt like I was treated worse than a dog on the street. If you've ever seen people that are abusive to animals? That's what I felt like, I'd just been kicked and you're just nothing. Just nothing. I remember walking out of there, and there's this weeping willow tree... (cries) I just felt...Dr. Furch was the only person that had cared for me at that time. I don't know why I still cry about it, but it hurts so bad. I never told any of the kids. If I had, they wouldn't have given a damn, I don't think. It was just so humiliating. The B has never bothered me as much as the humiliation of it all because it was like I was naked. I felt naked.

Carter: So helpless too.

Turner: Yeah.

Carter: So helpless, to have something taken from you.

Turner: This was near the end of spring term. In my regular chemistry class it just kind of did something to me that you could dare treat somebody like that. I wasn't hurt or anything, but just the way he talked to me, just the negativity that just came. If you're the leader of the class, you're supposed to set the tone for everybody else. This man was just a pure racist if there ever was one and one that did not care about me or my kind.

When I took my chemistry final exam which was about maybe another couple of days from that, I was still kind of nervous from it. Yet these scan sheets that you fill the blanks in...Well somehow or another I was using the wrong blocks to answer. Now, I ain't never made that mistake before in my life. When I went to check my grade on Dr. Furch's door it said, "See me."

So I went to his office, and he said, "Miss Edmonds, when I was grading your exam..." I didn't know why he had called me. He started asking me questions about chemistry. If you mix this with that what would you get? He said, "I knew you knew those answers. Looks like you got on the wrong line. With that being it you made an A like you usually do." He cared enough to check or to see.

That's one thing throughout my life I've noticed a lot of times black kids are so easily thrown either in the top or in the bottom of the heap. You've got to be so damn good that you can't make a mistake. When I taught classes I'd say to kids, "Unfortunately you can't afford to be average." That's the thing that I hated most about it is you're either in the top or you are in the bottom. It was like, I felt like I had to be good at everything, and I had to find out myself because for the study teams and study groups nobody wanted to pair up with you.

Carter: Really?

Turner: No, you were kind of assigned to teams first couple of years. After you've been there awhile you kind of developed your own little friendships and stuff. When they started doing partners and things in classes, you didn't find anybody wanting to be your partner.

I always credited Dr. Furch with being the person that I first did an oral exam with, so when I did my doctoral dissertation I had to orally defend I had answered those questions in his office. My story is if I could thank two people that I never did thank properly it would be Dr. Furch and that little boy that washed my legs off. When you're that young, you think people are going to be there forever. Sometimes you don't know. There was that respect between....If I could today, wherever that child is, that boy, I would say, "Thank you," and to Dr. Furch. He only had one hand. I always wondered if he blew it off in a chemical experiment. I hear that song "If I Could." If I could, I would grow him another hand. That's just how....He just seemed to care. A lot of the teachers just didn't seem to care. I was there, and this is particularly in the classes that you ________(3660), I was there, and I did well, but they didn't give a damn one way or the other.

Carter: I think that persists. The positive, what I would call the unsolicited reassurance, that's what makes it easier and _________(3738)

Turner: You know when you're young, you don't know the right questions to ask. You make mistakes. That's part of being young. You need that guidance. You need that "Hey, that was a good paper you wrote." You can write it on the paper. You could just put the A there or let's say maybe you got a C and the next time you got a B, say, "Hey you did better!" or "Are you having problems?" But nobody ever asked me those sorts of things. What I did I did on my own. I got the grade. It got around--well Linda's good in math. But I got it on my own. I was good in math before I got here. If I hadn't had that firm foundation from those black teachers.... That's what I missed, my black teachers in my high school. Boy. We're going to do this play, or we're going to do something, and you're going to do this. You know, girl, you better not....You're parents would....You turn in all ten problems, you don't turn in nine; you do ten. You've got to do better; you got to do the best. But they reinforced you when you did. I felt that whether I got an A or an F...

Carter: It was all the same.

Turner: Not too many people cared. Maybe I'm being harsher than I should but at that time...

Carter: What I'm hearing is it's also the adjustment of what you had been used to and all of a sudden at that young age it's missing.

Turner: All of a sudden I'm just hanging out there. I survived. I did well in the environment, but there were some lonesome times too. I regret going through that period of my life feeling I couldn't have a bad day. Everybody needs to be given "I just had a bad day today or just wasn't up to it." My little four-year-old boy tells me sometimes, "I'm having a sad day." You don't get it right all the time. I felt I had to achieve to be recognized, but I didn't expect the recognition here. It was a self-imposed--I achieved for my own whatever, not to impress anybody here. I did want to succeed for Dean Harper because I respected her. You know she died this week?

Carter: Did she?

Turner: I just found out this morning.

Carter: Oh, my goodness I spoke to her...

Turner: That's part of the reason I'm weepy today. I just found out this morning at breakfast.

Carter: I was going to ask you when you got through....

Linda Edmonds in Russia
Linda Edmonds in Russia.

Turner: She just died. She came to my wedding five years ago. She and Miss Glisson. I went to Finland with them. I travel today because of her instilling travel in me, and I experience other cultures and other worlds. Sometimes I'd tell her about discrimination, and I couldn't even tell her all of it because she didn't live my world.

Sometimes I look back on my experiences at Tech and say, "Would I do it again?" I got a lot out of it, but sometimes I look back I think I gave up a lot too. It was tough. While I still succeeded, it was tough. That students at that time, we were going through this "leaving what I call the correct colored thing to do" into being black.

Carter: That's right, you were in the heart of the sixties.

Turner: In the heart of the sixties. Being in the heart of the sixties, we were changing; the world was changing. There was so much. There were flower children, and there was Vietnam. While I was in Hillcrest one of the girls husband got killed in Vietnam. I do remember that. There was the anti-war, pro-war. It was like military school. Then you had your friends at black campuses that were pledging sororities and fraternities. We didn't have any of that here. I remember Chicky went away somewhere and did some weekends and pledged Delta or one of the other black sororities because we didn't have any. Then we got not Omega Psi Phi, what was it...Groove Phi Groove.

Groove Phi Groove
Groove Phi Groove
From the 1970 Bugle, p. 314.
First row: Calvin Watkins, Eli Blackwell, Steve Pyles, Larry Trower, George Spurlock.
Second row: Cleve Adams, Keith Pullens, Timothy Fields, Jim Watkins, Larry Beale, Bill Shelton, Calvin Twyman.

Carter: Yes, Groove Phi Groove.

Turner: Yes, yes, that was the first social club we got. That was kind of like the center of our little cultural black world. We'd meet together over in the cafeteria and eat together and meet on the steps of certain buildings. Although there were only a few of us, we weren't like bosom close, but we were so few that we had to stick together. That's how we were. It was like...

Carter: Sort of a mutual acceptance.

Turner: A mutual acceptance of each other. Freddie was kind of way out there. We all knew not to disclose our weaknesses. It was almost like this is our little world, and we're all fighting this war. Right here and now. There would be things that we would tell each other that did not get out to this world. We tended to do things in packs. Like going to these dances, everybody was going. There was the competition. There were a couple of black girls over in Radford! Doggone! They were coming over here and stealing our guys. Not that we could go with all of them anyway because there was only six of us!

Linda Edmonds and her date
Linda Edmonds and her date at Hillcrest before a dance, April 1967.

It was such a time of growth for me. Like I was dating for the first time. I was on my own. I had my own paycheck. For the first time in my life. Not that my father was stingy; he would give us a little spending money. This was my money. I had a little checking account. I felt like quite the little woman. In fact, I never--once I left high school and came here, I immediately felt like a woman. It wasn't like a college kid. You know how people say college kids now they're...

Carter: ...not grown up.

Turner: I felt grown up. Now I knew there were things that I did that were childlike. But in my mind I was grown up. We were treated that way by our parents too. We were treated once we got to college with respect to the point that now you can help us do things. My sister Sandra came as a freshman here when I was a senior.

Carter: Really? I was going to ask about that. She came here too.

Turner: Right. My sister right after me went to Bennett. The next sister came here. She eloped the first term of her sophomore year with a guy that graduated a year behind me. They're still together by the way. They both finished school eventually, he finished before he got married. She's the one who is now working on her doctorate. She has a grown up 23-year-old son and a 15-year-old one. She had my dad's checkbook with her at all times...

(End Tape 1, side b)


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