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First Black Homecoming Queen at Virginia Tech: Marva Felder Davis, Class of 1983 Marva Felder

Date of interview: 27 March 1999
Location of interview: sound booth, Media Building at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewer: Tamara Kennelly
Transcribers: Jontae Ross, Stacy Brown

Part 3

[Tape 2 continued]

Kennelly: I wondered about... I'm not sure exactly how to ask the question, but I was kind of before the interview, I was thinking when the slogan like 'black was beautiful' got started. I just wondered about the concept of beauty. If it was something that you thought about? You sort of touched on it a little bit when you were talking about your experience in Richmond, but I was wondering about the concept of beauty, being beautiful, is something when you were growing up, or if it.. you have ideas or thoughts about beauty...

Davis: I never thought, I think black is beautiful is a concept that came about because the previous years of racism and the efforts of our families to teach our children that there's nothing wrong with our color. And black then is how you define it. African-American is how we define it in this generation. My grandmother grew up with Negro, and it was acceptable then. But it was through the generations teaching our children that there's nothing wrong with our color. There's nothing wrong with black, with being black, with our skin being brown.

Someone once, I can't remember where that came from, but if you look up the definition of black, they talk about darkness. The negative side. It all has negative connotations to it whereas if you look up white, there is purity and so forth. And the more positive connotations with that. And I believe, I'm not a, I'm not well versed in the definitions, but my concept black is beautiful comes from us being taught that there is nothing wrong with our color. The rest comes beauty, comes from within. You can be as beautiful outside as you want to be, but if you have a negative personality, the beauty will diminish.

Kennelly: What, what about, you know you were talking a little bit earlier about in a way sometimes it was difficult meaning like when you were in the Richmond school because,..

Davis: It was difficult. The Richmond school.. Again I was in a predominantly black school, okay. And I don't think that has anything to do with black, I just think that has to do with individuals and their concepts of themselves.

If you were the most beautiful white person in your school, and you had guys flocking around you, you're going to have other white girls not like you because you think you're beautiful. It's not that you think your beautiful, it's that the guys they want to be with think you're beautiful. And that's what I had to deal with in the Richmond city schools.

I never, I never considered myself ugly. I never considered myself beautiful. There were people that looked much better than me, and there were people that I thought looked worse than me. You know, I never, I, I like myself. There are things that I don't like about myself that I'd like to improve upon, that I've spent time trying to improve upon. I haven't had make overs yet. I haven't had cosmetic surgery yet, but, you know, everybody has a little bit of attitude in themselves. But the experiences that I've referred to are based on lack of self-esteem of the other black girls that I couldn't be friends with a guy. I couldn't just be friends. I had to be wanted by that guy because I was a pretty little rich girl with long hair. But that wasn't, it wasn't how I perceived myself, it was how everyone else perceived me. And that had everything to do with how they felt about themselves.

Kennelly: Excuse me. I have to kind of go through what I have here.

Davis: No problem.

Kennelly: I think when you were a candidate, from what the yearbook says, you were the Black Student Alliance and the NAACP, kind of a joint candidate.

Davis: Yes.

Kennelly: And you were a member of the NAACP. And I wondered, when I looked in the Bugle, they said that what they were trying to do at that point was to make the university a better place, to promote harmony among all students.

Davis: Yes.

Kennelly: And I wondered if there was, how that they were trying to do this at that time if you remember at all? Anything special?

Davis: I don't think, no, I don't remember any special thing that they tried to do. I was a member of both organizations. My concept and everybody's is a little bit different. But I think the concept is, if you put this on a global scale, I don't think it's any different, it's teaching each other how to get along. There are white people out there that don't know black people, that never lived around or with or socialize, or had any, any interaction at all with black people. And there are some black people who grew up in a black environment and had very little, if anything to do with white people. And those people have to learn how to coexist and learn how to develop there own opinions about each other. And let go of things that weren't really true, but that they were taught to believe. And that's part of the, how to coexist.

I, I never felt like there were racial extremes here on campus. But there were some things, there are always things that you can change and improve so that things become more integrated. When you only have 600 to 800 black students here out of 20,000, there's going to be some segregation because you can't put all 600 people into the 20,000 and desegregate it and have all the blacks do what they want to do. You follow what I'm saying? So I think, were the effort to coexist when you can and get to know more of each other and what each other's races are, and cultures are all about. That's the way I look at it.

I have never been, I have political opinions about things, but I've, I, in joining the NAACP, it was not to be political, it was to be supportive of a lot of their activities, but not to get into the politics of racism and so forth. Like is done on a global environment. We have white members in the NAACP as well, but its to teach each other, what were about, and how we can exist together. And if you put the color aside, look at me for who I am, and you'll see that I'm no different from you. My cultures are a little bit different. Your cultures a little bit different. The Asian's cultures a little bit different. But look at what you can learn if you put all your heads together, and, and be better at what it is you want to do.

Kennelly: Do you think the fact that your father was in the military, do you think that gave you more of a, sort of a more ___________________ approach to life?

Davis: No because I was very young when I was in the military. I think it is the way my parents raised us. Umm, I have two wi.., well two, well, I had. I have umm, I had two white brother in-laws. My parents taught us to look at people for who they are, not the color of there skin, and then judge them, but judge them by who they are. And that's what we've always done. I don't always seek color. Umm, I think my opinion is a little bit different right now, having have raised a child, but they didn't care who we married, as long as... they didn't care based on color who we married. Or ethnic background, or religious background. None of that mattered to them. It was look at who the person is. And if you can live with that person the rest of your life, then be with that person the rest of your life.

Kennelly: Now, you said that your opinion is different now that you've raised a child?

Davis: Umm, yes and no. I mean I would not be upset if my daughter married someone white or if she had a white boyfriend, or wanted to. Umm, I couldn't have a relationship with a white man. I, I could but would pass it aside, but only because I feel like its a little bit harder. I've got so much to do right now to raise my child, that I don't, I didn't want to have the issues of race enter into her being raised. Her father is black.

Kennelly: How old is she?

Davis: She's nine.

Kennelly: Nine.

Davis: She's Nine. Umm, although, if I found someone I was really in love with, I couldn't let that be an issue in the end. I have niece's that are half black and half white. And those questions will come up and have come up with my daughter to this point, and I've dealt with them. When I said that now and when I said it myself before, it was because life has been a challenge and I don't look for another challenge. I want a little peace and tranquillity and not have to deal with anymore roughness. But if I met, I don't, I'm not opposed to it. If I really met someone and he meant that much to me, it wouldn't be an issue. I never thought of dating a white guy until I got here. The thought never entered my mind, which is maybe why, I don't know, maybe why we got along in high school. I mean I could go up and hug someone and kiss a guy on the cheek and the thought was never there. I had never had a thought of really having a boyfriend. I was having too much fun just with friends. You know? But because the thought was never there, his girlfriend standing next to you never took issue with it. Had I done that in the Richmond public schools, okay. (Laughing by interviewer) It would have been, disastrous is putting it nicely (laughing by both).

Kennelly: Big trouble?

Davis: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Whole lot of trouble. So uhh..

Kennelly: So did you ever date any white guys?

Davis: Sure. I sure did. Umm, while I was in college here. Umm, not here. Well I did date, I saw a couple of guys a couple of times. Umm, but the relationship that I had, the relationships that I actually had were off campus. Out of state, actually (laughing). But I, when I lived on campus, living in the dorm, that's, that's your whole life, right there. You know, that's your whole house right there. And I really didn't like bringing guys up to my room because then I had no privacy, I had no private area. You know, when you have your house, you can bring them into the family room, the kitchen, and bedrooms and everything are off limits until you decide otherwise. You bring a guy into your dorm room, there's your bedroom, your kitchen, your living, you know. There's everything right there. I didn't like that. I also didn't like everybody being in my business. When I want my privacy, I want my privacy and I'll let you know when I want things to become public. The few occasions, and I mean very few where I dated someone on campus, everybody in the world knew. And then I just said, you know, we're just going to be really good friends and go out. I don't want a relationship when everybody knows what we're doing, when we're doing it, where we're doing it and why we're doing it. I, I, I'm in that respect, a very private person. And it was hard to have privacy on campus. If it wasn't the, if it wasn't the girls in the dorm on my floor, then it was, it would be with, umm, the friends or the people that knew me. If we were walking together, well there goes that rumor.

Kennelly: You were really in the public eye. It's like becoming..

Davis: Yeah.

Kennelly: A princess or something of the, of the school. Because we've had some researchers find, of course its further back in time, but still to find the first black women students in the school we had to do research. But everybody knew your name. (laughing by interviewee). It was for a reason.

Davis: Right.

Kennelly: But still it was, you know, interesting. Even that was the name. You know everyone knew that name.

Davis: It was out there. (laughing).

Kennelly: Well, so you're like a celebrity on, on campus, I suppose. That people would really be aware...

Davis: Yeah, I mean, I, I, more, more people knew me than I knew them. I knew more faces than I knew names. And that was the other, I guess that was a part of it too. Umm, because more people knew me than I knew them, I could never go anywhere, umm, with someone or hold hands, or be in a relationship with someone, without it getting back to me two or three days later, ohh so and so saw you with da-da-da. You know. And I just, I never like that. So what relationships I had were always with people somewhere else.

Kennelly: When you were here, did you feel umm, it sounded like, when you mentioned Calvin Jamison came and spoke with you, was there mentoring with your professors? Did you have... Ohh, you better believe it. Umm, two in particular. Uhh, umm. Calvin was one. Calvin kept me here. I almost quit school. Umm, my uhh, sophomore year here.

Kennelly: You almost quit school?

Davis: Umm-hmm. I almost quit. Umm, Calvin, umm, talked me into staying. Umm, and Overton Johnson, Overton Johnson was my heart here. And when he died (long pause), (soft tone) he was like my dad. Do you have a tissue?

Kennelly: Sorry.

Davis: I don't talk about him much. I do... I don't talk about him much. Umm, coming up here I was very spoiled and it was my first time away from home, and uhh, he took me under his arms, you know, anything I wanted, anything I needed, umm, he was always, do your, do your work first. He was a dad. Do what your supposed to do, and umm.. When I got here, I was a, (mild laugh). It was a culture shock a little bit too. When I got here to register, they put me in the college of Agriculture. Well I came up here planning to go to vet school and I don't know who, I keep blaming my parents for it, but someone told me that the Animal Science was dealing with you know, the rabbits, rodents, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, the whole nine yards. Umm, so when I got up here, we're sitting in the room and we're signing up for these classes and these guys are coming in talking about what we're going to be doing our first year. Our first class. And all I'm hearing about were horses and pigs and cows. And I'm sitting in the front row, my parents are back behind and I am like, I am in the wrong department. We walked in the wrong room. I can not pull this out. Something's wrong here (laughing). So I was the last one to turn in my sheet. And I said, you know, I think I accidentally walked into the wrong room, because, I'm supposed to be in the room where the animals, not farm animals, but animals I'm supposed to be working with.

Kennelly: This is vet school then?

Davis: No, this is here. My first year..

Kennelly: First year.

Davis: My first year here. And umm, the guy comes and sits down next to me and talks me and tells me actually I was in the right room, just somebody gave me the wrong information. And I umm, Overton was in the agriculture department, and so they talked me into just going ahead and giving it a shot the first quarter and if I don't like it, you know, I can leave. So starting out in the department of Agriculture, and I would be in Overton's office about once every week or once every two weeks or he'd call me on the phone and make sure everything was okay. And I walked in and told Overton one day, I said I, I don't, I can't stay in here. This is not me. I'm a city girl. I knew nothing about cows, accept the ones in the state farm, at the state fair, that you go and pet, you know. My first class in animal science some girls came back across the hall and my mother remembers this and laughs till this day. They came back from the animal lab course with there high boots on, and the all-in-one jumpers and stuff. I said what you all do? And they said we made halters? I said you made halters? They said yeah, we made halters. I like going to class saying, they made halters. I said why am I going to animal science class to make halters? The only halter I knew about was the one your wore. (laughing) So I was telling my girlfriend as we're walking through Burruss, I don't need that. I can get my sewing machine and make a halter in my room (laughing). She fell out laughing.


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