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|One of the First Six Black Women Students at Virginia Tech : Marguerite Laurette Harper Scott|
|Marguerite Harper in the 1968 Bugle.||Marguerite Harper in the 1970 Bugle.|
Student Government Association Standing Senate Committee
Credentials and Elections
From left: R. Basile, P. Critcher, R. Britts, J. Parker, W. Ashley--chairman, S. Burk, W. Bersch, M. Harper, T. Smith. From the 1969 Bugle.
Kennelly: How did you happen to come to Virginia Tech? What made you think of coming here?
Scott: I didn't think of it. A recruiter, someone from this school, and I can't recall who it was, came to speak to students at my high school, knowing that it was an all black school.
End tape 1 side a, Begin tape 1 side b
Kennelly:So a recruiter came...?
Scott: And left applications.
Kennelly:And was it sort of a selected group of students who were...?
Scott: I really don't know. I can't tell you. It could be that anyone who wanted to come could come, which meant getting out of a class (Hey, I was ready!), or it could have been it was a select group. I really do not remember. I just remember that this white man--and that's strange in my school at the time--was there to talk to students. I had never heard of Virginia Tech. It was not in my realm. I just didn't know anything about it.
The only schools that were predominantly white that I knew anything about in Virginia was Old Dominion down the street, William and Mary, and of course UVA. VPI, way out here in the western part of the state, I didn't know anything about. I really didn't. And I knew of VMI, and that's because my mother's cousin and his wife lived in Lexington, and I had been to Lexington, Virginia. And she cooked for a fraternity at either Washington and Lee or VMI. So I knew of those two schools. But those were men's schools.
Kennelly:So did you feel like you were being actively recruited, or just sort of they left the application, and you decided to apply?
Scott: Well the man talked to us and really seemed to be interested and talked up the school and seemed to really want us to come.
Kennelly:So you decided that you would apply?
Scott: Oh certainly. Well I took the application home, and my father decided that I would apply.
Kennelly:Did you apply anywhere else?
Scott: I applied to Virginia State College which was where I was going to school.
Kennelly:Virginia State College. That's where you expected to go?
Scott: I expected to. That's where my mother, my father, his sisters, her brothers; everybody had gone to Virginia State in this family. And so I knew I was going to Virginia State. I had wanted to go to Howard University in Washington. That's really where I wanted to go, but that cost so much money. But I'm sure that I probably applied to Howard as well. And then I brought that application home from Virginia Tech, and it seemed to be that that was the end of all conversation about school. My father just loved the idea.
Kennelly:Of your going here?
Scott: Of my coming here. And that had to do with his philosophical approach to life. Times were changing; one had to get to know people of other races. Diversity would be good. You could go and teach them about black people; learn about how to live with white people. That's how the future world is going to be. This is the school you need to go to. Okay. Then they sent a letter saying I had some money to go to school, so that solidified it, and my father said, "That's definitely where you're going."
Kennelly:You got a scholarship?
Scott: A Rockefeller Scholarship for culturally disadvantaged students. So my father said, "You just choke on the culturally disadvantaged part, pay that no attention" because I really resented that part. He said, "Take the money and go. And you can teach them who is culturally deprived later, but right now take the money and go on to school there."
Kennelly:So was it a good scholarship? Did it cover pretty much everything?
Scott: Initially it covered right much, and it got changed. By the time I left here, I was paying. I had to add something because tuition kept going up, room and board and stuff. You know how that is.
Kennelly:Did you know that you would be among the first group of women?
Scott: I had no idea. Do you want to know when I realized it? My mother called and said that there was an article in Jet magazine. I don't know if you've ever heard of Jet.
Scott: It said that there were these six black co-eds at Virginia Tech, and they were the first black girls there.
Kennelly:I'll have to find that.
Scott: I've never seen that article. I've never seen that Jet. My mother told me about. And as far as I know, she didn't buy it; she saw it somewhere. So I would imagine that it was a Jet sometime in '66. It had to have been in '66 or early '67.
Kennelly:That's amazing. I'd like to get a hold of it for the archive.
Scott: I would like to do that too.
Kennelly:This was before when you were already there?
Scott: Already here. Already here. I imagine, again we're talking about something that happened 30 years ago. I don't know if I was actually told that I was one of the first black girls. But, you know, you kind of figure there was somebody before you. So I don't think I quite understood the implications at the time, that I was the first. I knew intuitively that I was being watched. You know how you feel you're being watched by everyone to see how you were going to behave.
Kennelly:When you came here?
Scott: Yes, I just kind of felt I was being watched to see if we were right for the job, so to speak. Now I remember that first quarter here. There were several of us who really didn't do very well, including me. And we were given a little lecture by people in the Admissions Office about if we didn't improve, we wouldn't be here very long and what have you. So that was enough for me, and I got myself together in higher gear. But some other people didn't, and then they were put on academic probation. Some just left because they couldn't, they didn't like it here. It was a hard environment. You'd be lonely a whole lot if you didn't have friends. And because we were the first six black girls here didn't necessarily mean that the six was a good mix.
Scott: So we all kind of branched out and found other friends as well. In other words, some of us became rather friendly with some white girls who went here as well.
Kennelly:So did you find that the white students, say in the dorm, were friendly on the whole?
Scott: In general I think there was basically a kind of indifference. I don't remember them being particularly friendly or not friendly. People who lived beside you maybe, girls who might have been in some of your classes, you tended to be more friendly with maybe than other people. And again, come the weekend and it was time to find a party or something, then there was this little wall that separated us. They went their way, and you went your way.
Kennelly:You felt pretty much left out?
Scott: Yes. That was in the beginning. In that first year or so, but as time went on, as this Linda was saying earlier today, by around '68 it was the in thing maybe for some white people to become friendly with black people. The "flower children" were emerging, and it was cool. So you got the feeling they were slumming. You know what I'm saying. It's like that Harlem Renaissance thing when white people went to Harlem for the jazz clubs. You know they were slumming and that might have been what that was all about too.
Kennelly:That would be sort of painful?
Scott: Again, this is a hindsight reflection. I have not maintained any contacts with anyone that I knew here, black or white, for the most part. It just seems that when we left, we left. And, unless they lived in the Tidewater area where I was from, there are few people there that I still see every now and then. But for the most, there are no white people that I was in school with that I see or know where they are or anything.
Kennelly:So it was pretty isolating?
Scott: It could be. It could be very isolating.
Kennelly:I guess you were sort of thrown together with the other girls and the young men? Was everyone kind of clustered together--the black male students too?
Scott: Now I don't know how they were clustered because some of them were in the Corps and some of them were civilians. And I would imagine that they too were paired except maybe in the Corps. There may have been because there were uneven numbers, and they had to put people in different companies and all that sort of stuff. That might not have been as even a pairing. But it seems they were paired for sure. The fellow that came with me, for instance, had a black roommate miraculously when he got here. So my assumption is that everybody was paired like that too.
Kennelly:Did you feel like the students, like the students in the dorms had like sort of stereotypes and preconceptions?
Scott: I think so, and it was our job to dispel those things.
Kennelly:Now you made a comment in that book. You felt "from the day I walked on campus I knew it was my duty to enlighten and become enlightened." Because of the kind of feeling you got from people?
Scott: Well certainly not only that, but I knew what the images that had been created about my people were. I'd been to the movies and seen television shows and what have you. And generally speaking we were Amos and Andy type of people. My assumption was that that's how white people saw us. So again, to think about who my father was. It became my job, I felt, to dispel all those myths.
Kennelly:Were things overt ever, or was it more like a subtle kind of racism?
Scott: Most of the time it was subtle. And again, you know how you feel sometimes that maybe you've repressed certain things. That you don't want to remember things that hurt. I get the feeling that I've probably suppressed a whole lot of stuff. Again the time when I was most fearful was when we were attempting to get the University to take the Confederate flag out of the coliseum.
Kennelly:Can you tell us the story about it?
Scott: Well when I first got here, I didn't realize how big the flag and "Dixie" was to this institution. And I got my first insight into that at the first football game that I went to. The cheerleaders would come out on the field first with this huge rebel flag, and then the Highty Tighties would come out playing "Dixie." When they played "Dixie," it was expected that people would stand, as if it were the national anthem.
I recall at a game I said, "There's no way I'm standing for 'Dixie.'" And I remember someone punching me in the back at a football game and saying something to the effect about how I should stand. I looked at that person, and I said, "You best not put your hands on me again."
Kennelly:A white person?
Scott: Yes, and he was drunk. I said, "I'm not standing for this." Then so I may have moved my feet. I think I did, but I wasn't going to stand for it. And at every game that's how it was.
Finally, there was a game that was televised, and my parents looked at it you know. They were proud--they might see their daughter in the stands or something. That night my mother called me and said, "Are you all right?" And I said, "Yes, why do you ask?" She said, "Well after I saw that rebel flag flying everywhere and 'Dixie' playing over and over again...." She said, "My God. maybe I have made a mistake making this girl go up to Blacksburg, Virginia."
So it was I guess at that point I said, "We've got to rid of these two symbols." I guess it was the next year we started the work on trying to get rid of the flag that flew beside the American flag and the Virginia flag in the coliseum. The interesting thing about that is that they would take the Confederate flag down when an important African-American came to visit, such as an Erroll Garner. I remember Erroll Garner coming to play his jazz piano, and the flag wasn't flying. So then you said, " Okay, well obviously they felt that this would be insulting to him. Why don't they think it's insulting to me, and I'm paying University fees and what have you? It's time for that flag to go." I had been elected to the student senate, and we made a resolution or a bill or whatever the case may be to get rid of that.
Kennelly:Had you brought forward that bill?
Scott: Brought forward that, and it went through the process as I recall. And I think a part of that process was that the University council, which was made up (I believe) of faculty and staff kinds of people and maybe some trustees, those folks had to make that ultimate decision about whether to do that. And we received hate mail, ugly telephone calls.
Kennelly:When you say "we," whom do you mean?
Scott: People who were involved in that process. My roommate at the time was white, and so she got threatening phone calls about living with me. Her name was Natalia Herdami, and I'd love to know where she is now. But the other kids who were involved in this...
Kennelly:The other people on the student senate?
Scott: Yes. Not everyone in the student senate was for this now. In fact, there was a demonstration here on campus as a result of that in which students flew their flags outside of their windows. They would open the windows and hang their flags, and so this school was like covered in confederate flags at one point. And they would have the windows opened so that they could blast their records "Dixie" out of the window. I had a Nina Simone record that had a lot of like protest kind of songs on it. One of them was called "Mississippi, God Damn." So I'd open my window and play my "Mississippi, God Damn," which was a wonderful protest. I still have that record. I used to also play it for parents when they came on Sunday for those girls who wouldn't speak to me. There was that subtle kind of stuff with the girls, and so that was my way of introducing their parents to the idea that there was a black girl on campus now, and you had to deal with her. I'd open my door and have my "Mississippi, God Damn" playing out there until my roommate would come and say, "Come on, now, give them a break." Talk me into cutting it down a little bit. That was my way of dealing with it.
Kennelly:So there were girls that wouldn't speak to you?
Scott: Oh sure. Sure. They didn't want to come anywhere near me.
Kennelly:What was the outcome then? Was this flag, how did that get resolved?
Scott: The flag came down.
Kennelly:It came down?
Scott: It came down.
Kennelly:So you were successful?
Scott: Yes, the flag came down.
Kennelly:That must have felt like a real...
Scott: It was a victory. I believe the cheerleaders stopped coming out on the field. You can be a little Hokie flag or something. You don't have to come out on that field with a great big rebel flag.
Kennelly:Now you got elected to this? Who...
Scott: Campbell Hall. I think it was from Campbell.
Kennelly:So you were elected from your dorm?
Kennelly:Was that kind of recognition by your peers at that point too of leadership?
Scott: Yes. I remember being on some kind of committee. In fact, there was that picture that they have a slide of. I don't know exactly what it says, but it was just a few of us sitting there, and it says we're some kind of committee. I just don't remember all of this stuff. This was back in the day before I did resumés and stuff. I wish I could remember that. I would have put it down. I just remember that we did it right. We didn't climb up the wall and pull it down or burn the building down. Remember this is also in the sixties in which that was definitely happening around the country. Kids were taking over buildings. They were a lot more militant than anybody at Virginia Tech. We were mild, very mild. I think that the University Council--and I think that was the body--was wise in their decision because we could've become that.
Kennelly:That was pretty much a mixed black and white group that was pushing for that?
Scott: Yes, but mostly black for that confederate flag. But there were white students who were in agreement that that particular symbol needed to come down.
Kennelly:As I recall that picture, there might have been another black person in there, I can't recall. So in presenting it to the senate you might have been sort of having to do that on your own?
Scott: Yes. And I recall someone... There were hate messages on the floor of that body, and people suggested that if I didn't like things the way they were at Virginia Tech that I could leave Virginia Tech.
Kennelly:People would say that?
Scott: Oh, yes. They said that in that forum when we were having a debate on that. I remember leaving and being close to the steps when this fellow got in my face and repeated that. He used the "n"-word. He called me a nigger and told me that I should leave the university. All I could remember was saying, 'cause I believe he had his back to those steps, I think I suggested that I was going to push him right down those steps. Now he could leave. I wasn't going anywhere. I was going to stay and let them get rid of that flag, whether he liked it or not. That was my little taste of militancy.
Scott: I remember having to have that facade at that point. It was like an evolvement. At first when I came here, I was a sweet child. By the time I left, I was Umgowa black power kind of person. I had become that, and I remember always having to have this serious facade so that people would take me seriously. So that they would be careful of what they would say around me. I guess in a way, I tried to become intimidating to people which I guess was kind of like a defense mechanism to surviving in this environment. Although I still like with Betsy--the girl who was my roommate. She was white, and we got along famously.
Kennelly:She was just somebody you happened to meet and struck up a friendship with?
Scott: Yes, exactly. We lived in the same dorm initially, and we just became real fast friends.
Kennelly:Was there something about when that first group of women came that one of the women had been assigned to a white roommate and there was a problem with the roommate?
Scott: That's correct.
Kennelly:Now who was that?
Scott: That was Linda Adams. Chiquita Hudson had a medical condition. She had lupus. She had requested, apparently, a private room because she knew she would be sick alot, and she didn't want to have to disturb her roommate. And so they had granted that to her in Hillcrest dormitory. So that left five girls to pair, and they paired Linda with a white girl.
And when the white girl and her parents got here and saw Linda in that room, they freaked. No way their daughter was going to stay in that room. They talked Chiquita into giving up her private room and living in Eggleston with Linda Adams. So that's how that came to be.
From left: Chiquita Hudson, Marguerite Harper, and Linda Adams.
Kennelly:That must have been painful for Linda Adams?
Scott: Yes, her initial experience here was that. We thought--I remember my mother and I and my father all thinking it was kind of funny. We didn't know who my roommate was going to be, and we walked in the room, and there was Jackie Butler. You know: "Ha ha ha. Black and black, got it. That's how they're gonna do this." When I got here, Jackie was already in her room. All the people I saw, everyone was white. Of course there's this Jackie in the room, and it felt good to see her. It really did because there were nothing but white people here. We got right tickled by that fact that they had paired people. And we also got tickled by the treatment that we got. My mother looks white. They would keep asking her, "Where's your child?" My mother would keep saying, "This is my daughter." And then somebody else would come up and say, "Where's your daughter?" "This is my daughter." So we had a good time with that one all day too because people just didn't want to put us together at all.
Kennelly:You laugh now, but there must have been a part of that I would think didn't .....?
Scott: Oh we laughed then too. There were times in my laugh when I used to get irate about that. I used to feel... There was a point in my life that I felt inferior being brown because the society makes you feel inferior because my mother wasn't. She used to talk about the sneaky kinds of things that she and a friend would do. Because if they had wanted to, they could have been white anytime they wanted to, so they could sneak into things and sit places that people wouldn't know, and they'd get a kick out of doing that. If somebody had known, they would have freaked. They played a game on white people. That used to kind of rankle.
Fortunately somebody somewhere along the lines said something like black is beautiful. Yeah. That kind of got rid of those kinds of notions, but that's how the society made people feel. And then when you have a counselor in school who says you're not ready to be with them, that does not help your self esteem.
The other kinds of things that went on here... Like when I found out that white girls were told they had to have letters from home saying it was all right for them to date interracially. That was with any non-white people--Chinese, East Indian, black. It didn't make any difference. But I had not been told that I had to have a letter to do the same thing. Again, what's that saying about me and my womanhood? That was another thing that had to be rectified very early inside when I came here.
Kennelly:So what did you do with that?
Scott: Well, initially I just went and asked my--what did you call them then--head mother, head lady in charge. It was an adult that lived in the dormitory, whatever you called those people. She said she didn't know anything about it. Again, I don't think this was written policy. Or if it was, we didn't get it in writing. I'm just not sure how that policy came to be. You've got to remember that it wasn't until 1967 after we had gotten here that the Supreme Court had struck down miscegenation laws in Virginia. I would think that possibly it might have been in writing for those students because there was also an international kind of community of students here too that were non-white. I guess they wanted to cover all their bases, and now we got this influx of black kids coming too.
I had found this out quite by accident because I used to tease this girl who used to talk about one of the fellows that came to school the same year that I came, a black fellow, and she was, "Oh, he's just so adorable. I would just love to date him." "Why don't you just stop talking about him. If you would like to go out with him, why don't you go out with him. I can fix you up. I can tell him you're interested." "Oh, I can't." I said, "Why? Because you're white?" She said, "Well, not only that, I'd have to have a letter." So that's when I found that out. Yes, this was like near the end of our first year here. There wasn't a whole lot to do.
But when we came back we had what was called a human relations council, and so that was like the first item of business. We're going to test this whole business about the letter and interracial dating because by this time also there was a black girl who was dating a white fellow. I believe he had been called in. He had been called in, not her. But he had been called in about dating a black girl.
Kennelly:Was this one of the first girls?
Scott: Yes, Fredi Hairston. In fact, she married him. So she really freaked them out. But they left school.
End tape 1, side b / Begin tape 2, side a
I believe at the end of that freshman year some girls had applied to be R.A.s the next year, or it could have been at the end of our sophomore year. I'm just not really sure which year it was, but I'm thinking freshman year. I believe they had been called in about their association with Fredi and with the rest of us black girls and the parties that we attended in town that were like integrated.
Kennelly:You mean these were white girls that were called in?
Kennelly:Because of their association?
Kennelly:And, they were called in by whom?
Scott: The dean of women, as far as I can remember. Now that's what they told us--that they had been called in. Basically told that they should stop associating with these people, that they were bad influences. And one of the girls' fathers supposedly came down and basically said, "My daughter will associate with whom she pleases, and you don't blackmail my daughter by saying she won't get her R.A. position because of her association. Now I know she's going to get it because you've done that."
The school didn't want a law suit. That's what this girl told us. I don't know this all to be fact, but I had no reason to disbelieve all those girls. As far as I can remember, they got their R.A. positions too and continued their associations. The Human Relations Council decided we would do an "in your face" kind of thing, and so we were going to have an interracial date set up to occur at a time when you have lots of alumni here for those reunions and what have you. Usually, like on a Friday night, there might be a concert prior to the football game on Saturday. This white fellow and I were the ones that decided we would do the experiment.
Kennelly:You mean you as students sort of informally decided to do this?
From the 1968 Bugle
Scott: That's right. It was a Human Relations Council; it was an organization. That by the way, the first year I don't think we got approval to be a campus organization because (as somebody said) we were rather subversive. The "human relations" didn't sound right. But by the next year people had come to their senses and said that's fine to have a human relations council.
Kennelly:I saw something about that in the yearbook, and I couldn't figure out what it was. There was a black and white handshake. I couldn't figure out who was on it or what is was about...in one of the yearbooks for your time here.
Scott: That's right. That's what it was about--to help the desegregation process, the integration process. To make that transition better. To have a forum to talk about things.
Kennelly:It was student organized, you might say?
Scott: Yes, as far as I can tell. But I believe there was a faculty advisor. There might have been quite a few of adults who were a part of that organization. So I don't think it was just student oriented. I think that there were quite a few adults. Like maybe your campus chaplain maybe and those kinds of people.
This fellow and I decided we would go, and so the technique that was used at the time was that when fellows came to call on a girl, they'd have to ask that dorm mother or whoever to make the call upstairs for you to come downstairs. Men weren't allowed on the halls at that time. There was a substitute there, and I remember she refused to call for me. In fact she said to him, "Do you know who she is?" And he said, "Yes." "Do you know that she's a colored girl?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Well I'm not going to call her for you." And so he had to get a kid, another girl to come up to get me to let me know he was there.
We had tickets for this concert, and we sat on the faculty/alumni side. We didn't sit in the student section. We wanted the old people to see us, very specifically. Sure enough the next day the dean of women called me in (or the day after) and let me know that she indeed saw me and that I looked so nice and what have you. She told me that she had been to some breakfast that morning with these ladies who had graduated from school here, and she said one lady had said to her, "Did you see that colored girl and that white boy last night?" She told me that she had told the lady that she had, and the other lady asked her then, "Well, what are you gonna do about it?" And the dean told her, "What do you mean, what am I gonna do about it? Here at Virginia Tech students can date whomever they please." She knew what I was doing obviously. That was to let me know: "Back off. I'm not gonna bother you folks anymore. You can date whoever you please, do whatever you want, and associate with whomever you please." So I think she had come to that realization that she was fighting a losing battle if that was going to be her thing.
We spread the word that we don't have to battle this lady anymore on that issue.The funny thing is, T. Marshall Hahn used to have these student forums where he would ask for input from students and student leaders, whoever wanted to show up at these things and ask him 101 questions. A fellow who was a member of that Human Relations Council (a black kid) had not gotten the word apparently that we weren't on that interracial dating issue anymore, and he brought it up and said there is a member of your administration who isn't quite up to par on this. And T. Marshall Hahn said, "I know no one on my administration has said anything to anyone." And he called the dean of women (she was in the audience). "Is that correct?" She stood there: "Indeed you are correct, sir." I guess she was saying, "My God, I thought we were all right on this." And we were trying to nudge this fellow. He just kept talking and kept talking. I felt like I had done the lady a disservice. I talked to her later. I said, "He hadn't gotten the word." So, everything's okay. Life was much more pleasant after that.
Kennelly:Did you actually date interracially seriously?
Scott: No, that was the only time.
Kennelly:It was more like you would go out with black guys?
Scott: Yes, that was my only interracial date here. And it was a fellow in my freshman year-- I used to go out with him all the time. He's a white fellow. It wasn't a date. I had no idea what year he was; he was older. But he had this motorcycle, and we used to talk in the cafeteria all the time. So finally he said, "Would you like to go for a ride on my motorcycle?" I just fell in love with riding on that motorcycle, and he would just take me all over this area, and we would go around those mountains. Oh, it was just such a thrill. It was like being on a roller coaster. I just loved the thrill of that motorcycle. After that, I think he must have finished that year or something. He was like a big brother to me that year with the motorcycle, but never considered that a date. We just went for a motorcycle ride, and he'd bring me back and that was the end of that.
Kennelly:Did you ever have any problems with people in town or anything because you were with him on the motorcycle?
Scott: I'm sure that we got stares and things of that nature, but just ignored it. No one overtly did anything, if that's what you mean.
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