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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 Three

Linda Edmonds at graduation, 1970.
Linda Edmonds at graduation, 1970.

(Begin Tape 2, side a)

Carter: You were talking about being grown up, being respected, sharing in the family decisions because you were in higher education.

Linda's family home
Linda's family moved into this home during her sophomore year at Tech.

Turner: My parents didn't keep big financial secrets from us or anything. We knew when Dad was buying this little farm over here, or we balanced my dad's books. He could read and write and stuff, but he could calculate faster in his head than he could write, so we would write the little checks and stuff. He would tell us, "You know I want to buy this little piece of..." He was truly an entrepreneur of property. Daddy said,"I went to the credit loan place, the Farm Bureau or wherever." Where everybody went to borrow money against the next year's crop, and they wouldn't lend him this money, and I remember he was going to buy another farm adjacent to ours. I must have been 15, 16. He said, "You know, the man at the Farm Bureau told me to go to the bank. I bet you they'll lend you that money there." And he said, "You know I never thought of that, and I got in my truck and got to that bank so fast! And I was able to borrow money there at a reasonable rate." And he bought the farm!" He said, "Sometimes you don't know until somebody helps you." He used to use this phrase: He would say, "I need you guys to help me think. I need you to help me think because you don't always think of everything." That's why I think sometimes when I would be with Dean Harper and she'd miss stuff, she was like my Daddy because my father was kind of fidgety and into everything.

Carter: When you were describing her it suggested your father.

Linda Edmonds' father at her graduation in 1970.
Linda Edmonds' father at her graduation in 1970.

Turner: It was "Well Daddy, why don't we do it this way?" I can hear him, "Now you know I never even thought of that."

Linda and Kit
Linda and Kit at hog killing on the family farm.

There was a guy that helped us on the farm. His name was Kit. He was kind of like a handyman. He was a bachelor all his life. He'd say, "Kit, you see what these chillun' tell us more than we don't even know. We be tryin' to work this situation out, I don't know." He didn't make a distinction whether you were a girl or a boy. It was as important for me to learn how to do that checkbook as for my brother.

Another thing he believed: If for some reason we ran short of money, and all of us were in college at the same time, and somebody had to come out, he would pull my brother out of school and not the girls and let him help work a little. He said, "Because a man can always find a job anywhere." He felt that a woman would be at a disadvantage finding a job that she would make enough money to save for school. Fortunately we never had to get that far, but there was never a doubt that...

Carter: Who was going to drop out...

Turner: Who was going to drop out. Another thing that they instilled in us, both of them, to this day people marvel at my mother's four children in that we don't fight among ourselves. We squabbled as kids and Dad and Mother would say, "Your Mamma and I have our relationship." He wouldn't say relationship, he'd say, "We have what we have. You four have to stick together. Stick together, and if one is having a hard time, don't be so quick to judge. Stick together." And we have managed to do that all these years. We have our little disagreements over something. My grandmother died recently, and she only had a tiny little burial insurance, and my mother was going to have to pay a good part of having her buried. One of my sisters said, "Well, we'll each put in a certain amount of money." Now later she calls me, "Well, let's do this." "Fine." Other sister, "Fine." Now we always figure out which one of us is going to call the brother because sometimes....He will do whatever we tell him to do, so I called him. It could be that one disagrees, we want to do this. Well, okay, all right. We alternate. This one I'll run; this one you run. We have done that for years. I'm 47 years. It's great. When we get together, the four of us together, which is a rarity, we still do that and my mother says it makes her so proud. She says, "When my babies come in town people know it's going to be handled right."

Carter: Isn't that wonderful!

Turner: She says, "It's going to be handled right because my babies gonna do it for me."

Carter: Tell me how Tech may have influenced your future aspirations? Even with the ordeal, did it open up worlds of ideas on how to use your talents?

Turner: Oh, yeah. They used to have this visiting scholars program. I think I have some of the brochures in there, where they would have people like Leaky come on campus. Dignitaries from different....I would go to those meetings, and it was free to students. I was just in awe of all the resources out there. I don't know if I would be sitting here today with a Ph.D. if it hadn't been for Dean Harper. Part of it is I'm first generation college. My family respected education, but nobody in my family...

Carter: ...knew the world.

Turner: ...knew the world or even aspired to a Ph.D. There weren't that many of them in the black world. We were black working people that happened to go to college. We were not black society. There was kind of a distinction. Society people in my county respected us because we were hard workers. We were accepted because we graduated well in our class, and our parents had good standing. But my parents were not the teachers and the lawyers and the doctors.

Carter: What is the largest city in Halifax County?

Turner: South Boston. Which has about 5,000 people. Dean Harper said to me one day, "You know Linda, you could get a Ph.D." Never entered my mind. I was going to leave college with a B.S. degree, teach high school. I thought maybe I'd get a master's one day. That's what I was going to do, teach high school home ec. She planted the seed for graduate school. I went to her alma mater. She went to Michigan State, and I went there. I didn't go because she went there. I really went because it sounded the most exotic coming from Virginia. I got accepted at Ohio State, Cornell, and Michigan State.

I knew some people--I had some uncles that lived in a mill town in Ohio, so I knew a few people that lived in Ohio. I had some relatives that lived in New York. Cornell was in New York. I didn't know a soul that was from Michigan, so I was going to a different place. Dean Harper never knew that but...

Carter: So you left here, and did you go immediately to graduate school?

Turner: Immediately.

Carter: And you took your master's?

Turner: Took my master's. I started my master's in clothing and textiles, the social-psychological aspects of clothing and textiles, a very narrow major there--why do people dress the way they do, what's the history behind clothing? I like that sort of stuff. A cross between consumer behavior and business.

When I got there, some of the courses I took the first term I had had in undergraduate research--same textbook even, as a freshman at Tech. But I was tutored in a special program with the faculty in clothing and textiles. We only had like five or six people in this one little class. They called it "Perspective in Home Ec" or something. It was a one hour...She made it a research class. So we had to do little original research projects, as a freshman. I didn't have to learn research when I got to graduate school. I'd already dibbled and dabbled in it by the time I got there.

I got bored with Michigan State, to tell you the truth. I switched my major to something called general ecology, so I could get out. I cheated like crazy, cheated in the fact that I took four courses a term rather than three because I had a fellowship or whatever. Well Michigan State was so big that by the time they caught up that I was doubling up I had graduated and gotten out of there. I was gone. Then I went to work for Whirlpool Corporation as a home economist there. Stayed there a couple of years and got kind of antsy again and started taking courses.

I wrote Dean Harper a letter.__________(1725) I didn't want to stay where I was the rest of my life in that particular company. I wanted to get into something different. She wrote me back, no she called me back and wrote me. She said, "Linda, I'm taking a group of students to Finland this summer. Why don't you come and be my graduate student assistant?" I had never been out of this country, so I spent the summer there. She said,"Then you could start your...since you already have a master's you could do a Ph.D. in business rather than an M.B.A." She said," And Tech is starting a new program this fall; you may want to consider that."

Carter: And that was it.

Linda receives her Ph.D.
Linda receives her Ph.D.

Turner: And I came back to Tech to do this Ph.D. Now that was another whole story itself. That's another whole three hours. The second go 'round at Tech was a lot different than the first go 'round, partly because I was in a different environment and also because I was older. I wasn't learning; I'd been around a little bit then. The pressures were different, but you know yourself that a Ph.D. is a different sort of pressure than undergraduate courses with the research and the committees, and that was another pain. I still think it was a pain. Is it worth it? I don't know.

Carter: But you made it through all right?

Turner: I made it through. I didn't just skip through; I did well. But it was tough. It was tough. I've always been a student....I have had to work for my A's. There are some people that don't have to study; they look like it just falls into place. In my life I've always had to work for what I've gotten and had to make conscious decisions. One of the hardest things for me to do is just to kind of let go and say, "All right, this is all I can do." Be a little freer. Don't be so focused that you miss today planning for tomorrow. One of the things my husband will say is that I'm too lenient on Johnathan because I should make him do more. I said, "You know, I feel like he should have a chance to be a child. He's going to get out there fast enough with the pressures. Not that I don't want him to be disciplined. I still think there's only so much a child should be expected to do. Not to talk harshly of my parents and my background, but there were parts of my background that I think we could have had a lot more help with, and that was the social part. There's more than just the books. They were very focused. Get your studies. If you've got time do the other stuff later.

When I was an undergraduate, I did the other stuff, but I always knew the books came first. I wish I could go back and maybe be a little more free-spirited.

Carter: Playful?

Turner: Playful. That has come hard for me. As I've gotten older, I started challenging the system as an old person. That's why I guess it took me so long to get married. I have had to work to get where I've gotten. I never appreciated how hard it was for some people in a subject until I finally failed something. I never failed anything until I got in Ph.D. program. I did one of my comps, and I had to take it over. If you always make good grades, you don't know what it feels like to fall on your face and then have to get up. I had a sister that had a lot of problems with classes when she was in high school, and I used to have to help her with her math and stuff. I didn't completely understand although I knew she wasn't good at it. I didn't know how hard she really worked to get that C.

One of my philosophies is now that it's not where you are it's where you came from to get there. Now to me if you're brilliant already and you make an A in something, that's fine. You ought to do that. But that kid that has had to struggle to get in school deserves respect too! I've seen some of the girls in home ec had to take chemistry. We had to do that test, and they just were not chemistry...I've seen them take it over three times. I was a course advisor. For them to get up after that big flag, take it over again, and finally get that D. That's a valuable grade, that D. People a lot of times look at only the A's. But there are people out there with a C or a D that's worth ten A+'s to them because they had to struggle so hard to get that. I don't want to sound like I'm on a band wagon or on a box, but I think we sometimes take something that's a gift for granted.

Carter: And act like we've earned it.

Turner: Right, and act like we've earned it when we really didn't earn it. We just applied what came natural. Not that you shouldn't take advantage of that, but don't sit there and think well, I got an A, and you got a C. Because that person could have studied three hundred thousand years and never was going to get there. But that doesn't mean that there's not something in this life that they don't shine on. That's why I think there were a lot of black kids that dropped out of here because they didn't make that cut, and there was nobody to recognize, "Hey, you're not good at this. Why don't you try that?" We didn't have that. We didn't have anybody to go to at all and just....There were no black faculty at all.

Carter: I know. In fact there were only, when you came as far as I can tell, there were only black staff people. The people who were cooking. Were there any people cleaning the dormitories? Were there black house keepers?

Turner: I think there was one lady I halfway remember. But really the housekeepers were white. The cafeteria workers for the most part were white. You did see a few....

Carter: Cooking.

Turner: Cooking. Up at Hillcrest, it was smaller. They were all black. I guess maybe that was where they used to be. Black people weren't even invited on campus other than to entertain. I got all those pictures of Marvin Gaye...

Carter: ...and apparently Duke Ellington and...

Turner: ...to see then to see black folks, it just felt so good. Just felt so good just to go to a party, just for us to be there and have a good time.

Carter: Did you go out to the movies or anything like that much? Those were all integrated at the time.

Turner: Yeah, they were integrated. We went--was it the Lyric right downtown.

Carter: Did you go off campus with your white friends at all?

Turner: Not much. If there was a class trip or something.

Ring dance, 1969
Ring dance, 1969. Linda's escort is Vernard Brown.

Carter: So the friendships were really bound to the dormitories and a little bit on the campus?

Turner: Right. If there was like the German Club dance, you know, the little white girls would be going too, and we may all walk there together. See, this also was a time where people didn't get in their cars and go that far. Not many of the kids had cars. There was not a lot of running around. Now Fredi did a lot of things with her white friends. Fredi kind of crossed both groups. Some black people felt that Fredi was going too far, and some white people felt that she was going too far. But that was her style. She functioned well in both environments. The problem was the time. Fredi Hairston was one of the smartest individuals I ever met. She was well versed in so many things. She was eclectic and reminds me of Maya Angelou. I believe she was ahead of most kids her age at the time.The white guy she married was a really nice guy.

Carter: Did she meet him here?

Turner: Yeah, she met him here.

Carter: So, did she marry? Is that why she left?

Turner: She left around the end of her sophomore year. He and she got married.

Carter: That summer maybe?

Turner: They had a hippie wedding that spring. They left and went somewhere else. He was an activist in race relations. Looking back I can see why they would marry because they were very much alike in some respects. We didn't go to any of the sorority or the fraternity things that the white kids did. We might sometimes two or three of us would walk over with some white girl to meet her friend at one of the houses. I didn't feel like we were paying guests...we would be there, but that was kind of like their world. We'd go get with the Groove Phi Groove group. Few of the white kids would come around some of our things depending on who they knew and stuff, but not that first year. We hardly saw any of that. That happened more toward junior and senior year. Some of the black and white kids would connect--get trips home and stuff. As you got closer to the seventies, you saw more things being done together and with the cars because cars were more prevalent on campus. But everybody was walking then, and the cars were parked God knows where. They had to go and get them.

Carter: They still are.

Turner: Tech was a good experience. It came at a very critical time in my life. Had I gone to Hampton as I thought I would, I think I still would have been successful but from a different perspective. Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason why the few of us that did go here haven't really kept in contact as much over the years is that we were so busy just trying to hold on then that when it was over it was like a breath of air. Not that we didn't like each other. We just kind of went our separate ways. In some respects, Tech made me feel like a stepchild. It's my school even though we participated in everything nobody cared that we did or didn't. That sort of nurturing, I think kids need that at that age. You think you're grown up, but you're not.

Linda Edmonds, 1970
Linda Edmonds, 1970

Carter: No sense of ownership. Institutional ownership.

Turner: There have been a lot of questions about blacks contributing to alumni funds and the unions and stuff, and I think that's why. You don't feel as close a ownership. I feel the experience, but does Tech acknowledge me as much as I acknowledge it? I think if you go out and be really successful people would say, "Oh, yeah. She was one of ours." But did most of you work to make that happen? No. There were a few in my case that did. I was lucky in home economics, looking at Chicky. There was hardly anybody in her program to help her that I knew of. It did mold me. There were a lot of reality checks too.

Carter: Well, listen. Thank you very much.

Turner: Thank you.

(End of Interview)


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