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One of the First Six Black Women Students at Virginia Tech : Marguerite Laurette Harper Scott Picture of Marguerite Harper from 1968 Bugle Picture of Marguerite Harper from 1970 Bugle
Marguerite Harper in the 1968 Bugle. Marguerite Harper in the 1970 Bugle.

Date of Interview:
2 March 1996
Location of Interview:
Donaldson Brown Hotel, Blacksburg, Virginia
Interviewer:
Tamara Kennelly
Transcriber:
Cindy McLaughlin

Part Three

Tape 2, side a cont'd

Kennelly: What about like when you ate in the dorms and stuff? Were there any incidences there? Were people were pretty much mixing?

Scott: You mean over at Owens?

Kennelly: I want to get this straight. Which dorm were you living in?

Scott: Initially, Eggleston and then I moved to Campbell. Between those two dorms is where I lived. Four of us in Eggleston, initially, and two at Hillcrest that first year. Then after that year more black girls came in.

Kennelly: Was there any bad vibes from the students when you went over to Owens to eat?

Scott: Well, as Jackie tells it, at one point depending on where you set your tray down, some people might move. After a while, even that stopped.

Kennelly: Did you ever go to the Lyric Theatre?

Scott: Yes.

Kennelly: At one point they had a balcony for black people. Was that over by the time you got there?

Scott: Yes.

Kennelly: What about going to restaurants downtown? Was there...?

Scott: I didn't have any money, so I didn't have to worry about being down there. My first year here, I had no money to go to restaurants. I never went to a restaurant here. They had a little cafe like thing in Owens that you could pick up a hamburger or something. I might have been able to do that once a month. I had no money, so I have no idea what it was like in town. It was a rare thing that I went into town to eat or anything like that. I worked at a coffee shop in town my freshman year.

Kennelly: You worked in a coffee shop?

Scott: Yes. I knew it was okay there. I served cider. It was a bookstore slash little coffee shop.

Kennelly: Now, where was that?

Scott: Right down the street. I don't even remember what the name of it was, but it was right off the street that we're on or around the corner. It wasn't far. It was in real short walking distance. I worked as a waitress. My father didn't know that.

Kennelly: He wouldn't have wanted you to do that?

Scott: No, I was never to wait tables.

Kennelly: He didn't want you to get any service type of things?

Scott: That's right. I never could do that. So I did that without his knowledge, and, in fact, I don't think he ever found out. I did that one quarter.

Kennelly: Did that go okay?

Scott: Well, that was like a hip place to come. The kinds of people who would come there were your certainly most liberal kind of people anyway.

Kennelly: I think Jackie might have said that you went to the Episcopal Church here?

Scott: On occasion, not a whole lot.

Kennelly: She thought that was an integrated church?

Scott: It was. Nobody said anything; they were all very nice.

Kennelly: Did you feel comfortable there?

Scott: No. Being the only black one in there didn't feel that comfortable. That's why I didn't go very often.

Kennelly: What did you do for your social life?

Scott: We looked for parties and generally someone in town--I think there was a barber in town who used to make his home available for us to have little house parties. On occasion, we went to the movies at one movie theatre, Lyric. Or just sit around in the little dormitories. There wasn't any place to go. I remember in the spring, one or two people had managed to get cars, and we would go to Roanoke to some clubs. That was it, but generally speaking there wasn't a whole lot to do in Blacksburg.

Kennelly: Would that be going to a mixed black-white club?

Scott: No, that was black clubs.

Kennelly: Someone would know where they were?

Scott: Yes, people from Roanoke who were here.

Kennelly: Do you know where Fredi Hairston is now?

Scott: I have no idea.

Kennelly: So you've lost contact on Linda Adams?

Scott: I have no idea.

Kennelly: And, what about Chiquita Hudson's family? Do you know where they are?

Scott: As far as I know, they would still be in Hampton.

Kennelly: Do you have any kind of address or phone for them at home?

Scott: I don't, but that would be easy to get because Angela Talentino got married to Chiquita's cousin, my friend.

Kennelly: So we might be able to get that?

Scott: I might be able to get it. I'll check on that for you.

Kennelly: So you had that job as a waitress. Did you work at all other than that when you were here?

Scott: No, and I only worked a short period of time. Tips were bad.

Kennelly: Do you think that the problem you had in the first semester, was that just like adjusting to college or do you think it had the racial...?

Scott: I think I was looking too hard for a party. I really think that's what it was. I just didn't have myself focused on studying. Initially, I hated the place. I didn't want to be here. I didn't like it, so I would imagine that initially it was hard just being in classes with nothing but white people, being in a dormitory with nothing but white people, people not saying anything to you. You would sit in a class, and there was not a friendly face that you could even say, "Could you pass me a pencil for a minute?" Plus, I'm going to tell you what scared me to death was that first talk by the president of the student government or something during orientation when he said, "Look in front of you, behind you, and to either side of you. Three of the four are not going to be here next quarter," or something like that, and then that hammering in of the honor code. I was so scared that I don't think I focused on anything correctly. I was afraid to ask anybody how to spell a word. I would preface it 'cause I was afraid I might break the honor code: "May I have your opinion on how to spell such and such?" It just scared me so much. And you're in classes in these lecture halls in an auditorium like situation with those little desks and people right beside you and you have to take a test, and I was afraid to look at my sheet because I was afraid that if I looked like I was reading it this way then somebody might think that I was cheating. I was petrified until I finally mellowed out a little bit. But I did really bad in a French class. I had a Scottish-French teacher, and I didn't understand his English, much less his French. So that one threw me for a loop, and I didn't do well. After that, I had a Parisian lady teach me French and from that point on did fine. I swear I didn't understand that Scottish guy. I never did. I guess it took that shock of almost failing to make me come to the realization that I'd have to open a book on occasion.

Kennelly: How about your professors and teachers? Did you feel there was any...?

Scott: Yes, there were a few instances of that kind of thing. In my freshman year I took an expository writing class, and we were told to write a paper about some truthful event in your life or describe a place or do something like that, that was for real. I did a paper on Church Street which was black downtown in Norfolk, and the professor believed nothing that I wrote. He gave me a "C" on that paper, and I could never convince him that I was telling the truth. I invited him to come to Church Street. I had talked about Daddy Grace's church. I don't know if you've ever heard of Daddy Grace. Have you ever heard of Father Divine?

Kennelly: Yes.

Scott: These were these evangelical kinds of preachers, and Daddy Grace had the House of Prayer, that was the name of his church, the House of Prayer, and they were all over the place. I mean they were in different cities. I think he lived in New York, but when he'd come to town, there would be a parade, and he would have a float made out of nothing but money. People gave him money. His church was in the middle of Church Street, and on Sundays there were these speakers on the outside, because there would be an overflow crowd so that all these people could hear.

The man didn't believe me, and he was a foreign professor which irked me. I talked about the tenements on Church Street and the foul smells that emanated from those places of urine on the walls. He couldn't believe that Americans lived like that, so I was lying. Okay. I never could get him to believe otherwise.

The most interesting thing is when they finally decided that we could have an African American literature class and African, of course at that time it was called black literature, and black history and what have you, he was the black literature teacher. When I walked in there and saw him, I said, "I know this is a farce. Here is the man that wouldn't believe what I wrote about the black experience, and he was going to teach me this literature." What a joke. I stayed there, but it was a joke. It was a joke of a class. He didn't do much teaching; we taught the class. We got to read a lot of books and got credit for it. He was just there sitting at a desk. He must have been the low man on the totem pole in the English Department at the time. Gosh only knows where he is now. I don't even remember his name.

There was another professor in an American literature class that I took who had us read the play, Green Pastures, which, I believe, was written by Joel Chandler Harris, which is a story about blacks in heaven. It was written in Negro dialect. We read that entire play in class; he read it to us. That was--should I say--I don't want to use the word "embarrassing." I wasn't embarrassed by the dialect. I just thought it was kind of quaint that that was what we were going to have to study in that class as an example of American literature, what he considered it to be an example of black literature, but it was by a white man. So he was really confused, I thought. He was from Tennessee, and so he spoke in this Negro dialect with a Tennessee accent. It was just really hilarious, so I sat and laughed most of the time to myself.

And I was the only black student in the class, and so when he finished this play finally, he asked, his first question was, "Well, what do you white students perceive heaven to be?" I said, "Wait a minute. He just left me out of the conversation." So my hand went up, and he turned blood red. He said, "Oh, Miss Harper, I am sorry I left you out of the conversation." I said, "You certainly did, and I want to correct something right now. Your assumption is that this is my perception of heaven, and it most certainly is not. I'll give you a couple of reasons why. Number one, there's this fish fry going on forever in heaven. I'm allergic to fish. I might as well go to hell. Number two is all this milk and honey stuff too-- not my perception of heaven. I don't like honey, don't like milk. This is not what I think about when I think about heaven, okay."

That kind of got everybody kind of loosened up. Then we could discuss, and then we discussed how this is a white man's perception of what black people's perception of what heaven is. So we're doing this kind of backwards here. I don't know if he ever taught that particular play again, but what a waste. It was a waste of time. Those two particular things stick out in my mind.

I had a very interesting class once in sociology. I think it was a race class and power class. My professor in that class was from Alabama, but I enjoyed that class. But once he asked, and this was a well mixed class--there were several black students because this was one class that I was not alone in. The professor asked for some black stereotypes. White students in class were a little skeptical about answering that question, so nobody said anything. So the black students got that one started. We gave him two or three stereotypes. Two or three now. When he finished, there were fifty-some stereotypes on that blackboard. Stuff I had never heard of before, and I said, "My God, is this what they think?" After that, he asked for some white stereotypes. Then the room got quiet. The black students started that one off again, but no one white ever added anything to that list. And, of course, we only might have gotten eight things on the board. Eight to fifty-some, and the most interesting thing is this white girl brought that up. She said, "I find this most interesting that white people have no stereotypes about themselves. We really do think we're superior." That was a very good class, and that was an eye opener for me in terms of what the majority population had to say about perceptions of black people, really ridiculous stuff--really ridiculous stuff. Once the cloud was opened, the rain fell and they just filled that board up. Those are some examples of things I can remember.

Kennelly: What about--you were in the History Department? What was your feeling about the way history was handled?

Scott: I had one history professor that I really thought didn't like me, and I don't remember his name. But I never could seem to have any rapport with him at all. I asked him about something he had taken off in my blue book on a test, and he could never really answer me. Otherwise, the rest of them, initially there was no black history or there was no treatment of black people, but I took a lot of European history courses. I was very anti- American at first. It wasn't until later that I saw the value of taking some American history. One of my favorite courses, really, was Civil War with Dr. Robertson. I enjoyed that course with him. He was good. He employed techniques that I've always employed as a result of having him teach me. History can be, in a lecture class, extremely dry where someone's just talk and talk and talk. But he had diaries; he played music; he did all kinds of things with that course. I said now this is how a history class ought to be taught. He was a teacher; most were just lecturers. He was a genuine teacher.

The other one that I really enjoyed was Dr. ?Yvetsky with Russian history. I took more Russian history than I needed just because I enjoyed the course. He wasn't the most interesting person, but Russian history was so interesting. He did the same kinds of things, and so I enjoyed his class. Then there was a black history class, and that black history class did a show on public television in Roanoke. We all went up and had these seminars on television, and apparently I said some disparaging thing about Virginia Tech. And because Dr. Y_______ reminded me of that yesterday when I walked in and I said, "My name is Maugerite Harper Scott. I was here back in such and such. I don't know if you remember me." 'Cause I'm thinking: "Heck, it's been 30 years, of course he doesn't remember me." He said, "Yes, you're from Norfolk." You're the one that gave Virginia Tech hell on television. And, I said, "God, I had forgotten all about that." When we were talking about trying to get Black Studies here at this school and the treatment of black people.

Kennelly: Do you remember what year that was in?

Scott: I do not. I'm thinking it's probably my senior year. So it's '69 or '70. It had to be when I was about ready to go.

Kennelly: It was like a forum of some type?

Scott: Yes, on public TV out of Roanoke. We had to go to Roanoke to tape it. It might have been done live; I don't know. Well of course I didn't see it. It must not have been taped. I never got to see it. We just got to do it; so, people here saw it. Apparently Dr. Y_____ saw it, and it had stuck in his brain.

Kennelly: It would be a wonderful thing to have now. I wish we had a copy if that. It would be so interesting.

Scott: Yes, I'd love to see that myself if it still exists, but it probably doesn't exist anywhere.Was that a mixed panel of black students and white students?

Kennelly: Was that a mixed panel of black students and white students?

Scott: I think it was. I think it was.

Kennelly: You must have been sent in a way as a person who was outspoken?

Scott: Apparently.

End tape 2, side a. Begin tape 2, side b

Kennelly: You were on the standing Senate Committee on Credentials and Elections. Did you go to the school dances?

Scott: I went to the Cotillion and German Club, those things, yeah. We certainly did because we had found out that at one point black students who had been here weren't allowed on the dance floors, so we went to dances initially. Then after a while that got old too because you had to get dressed up and have a date and all that. My freshman year I certainly did.

Kennelly: I wonder if that was the first year the guys were going to the dances? I mean the black guys.

Scott: I have no idea if that was the first time they were able to go on the dance floor or not, but I was told that all you had to do was just buy a ticket and go, have a date and go. They had good music. They had interesting people, good music. That was something to do, get dressed up. Then there were dances in Memorial Gym too. More informal kinds of things. We went to those too.

Kennelly: With those, it was pretty much black students dancing with black students?

Scott: Probably, I'm thinking that that's probably the case. Now at some point a male friend of mine, who was in the Highty Tighties, a group of Highty Tighties played in a band also that performed. So they were invited to do alot of fraternity parties. I would go to fraternities with them, and so it was interesting to see how white kids partied. Because I would just sit with the band and just watch them.

Kennelly: Sort of as a person in the band? You wouldn't be exactly participating?

Scott: I might know some of the girls because they lived with me in the dorm. So I might have a beer and talk to some of them, but generally I would not have been dancing with them or any of that sort of stuff.

Kennelly: What did you do in the summer time then? Did you go back home?

Scott: I went home, yes.

Kennelly: Did you work in the summer?

Scott: Yes.

Kennelly: What would you do?

Scott: I worked. Until my junior, I worked at Norfolk Community Hospital as a PBX Operator slash Admissions Officer at night. If it was at night time, I had to admit people. But most of the time I was just a PBX Operator. That was we used to have to switch a switchboard. A switchboard operator in that hospital, and that was a black hospital. It was a hospital in a black neighborhood. So I worked there, and then in my junior year, I worked with Upward Bound. I was a counselor with that program.

Kennelly: Now that's for students in high school?

Scott: Yes, and I was a counselor.

Kennelly: You were trying to get students to figure out how they were going to handle what they were going to do?

Scott: Yes, then the next summer--of course, I had finished, and I worked with Norfolk City schools in an enrichment kind of program. Same type of thing, only it was Norfolk City schools, and then I started teaching full time.

Kennelly: Then you started teaching?

Scott: Yes.

Kennelly: A regular teaching job when you graduated?

Scott: Yes. I was interviewed here. An interesting thing about that interview, the first question that the interviewer asked me, who happened to be the man who was in charge of personnel for Norfolk City schools, he said, "Miss Harper, now you know schools are desegregated. How do you think you could handle an integrated situation?" I said, "Ding dong, where are we?" I think I said that to him. I think my thoughts came out on that one. I said, "Ding dong, you're at Virginia Tech, how do you think I can handle an integrated situation? I'm a senior. I've handled it. That was that. The next question. So I knew I had blown at getting a job at Norfolk, but I thought that was such a stupid question. In fact, I never had any contact with him. Another interviewer who happened to come, called me and gave me the job.

Kennelly: The Norfolk job?

Scott: The Norfolk job. That particular man never spoke to me again, the person that actually interviewed me.

Kennelly: So you went then to teach at a school that was integrating at that time?

Scott: Yes. In fact, I started teaching in 1970, which was the year bussing began, so the whole school system was in brake flux. Teachers had been moved around. I mean, I was just a first year teacher, so it was my first job. There had been white teachers sent to predominantly black schools, black ones were being sent to white ones, and so it was just a very tumultuous year. No one knew what to do with anybody. Not only did we have these little mixed children now, but the faculty was very much mixed, and there were very unhappy people everywhere. It was an interesting time, and everybody had to go in Norfolk City schools to human relations counseling. We had to have these inservices, these workshops on human relations. That was interesting too.

Kennelly: Did it go pretty smoothly?

Scott: For me it did, but like I said, for people who were not accustomed, I think life might have been a little more difficult.

Kennelly: When you were teaching white and black students?

Transcriber: Cynthia Hurd

Scott: What my father said it come true. You needed to do exactly what you did. Here it is, here's the world like it is.

Kennelly: You kept with your teaching?

Scott: I taught continuously. I was out nine weeks for my son. I was not out a day with her. She came on the nineteenth of June, so I was out.

Kennelly: So you just steadily...

Scott: I steadily taught school.

Kennelly: You have two children now?

Scott: Two children.

Kennelly: Do you have any regrets about coming here, going through all you went through?

Scott: No regrets. No regrets. I don't look back and regret anything. I may have done some things differently in hindsight. But I don't regret having come here.

Kennelly: How would you have done things differently?

Scott: I tend to think I might have become more outspoken than I was. Earlier maybe than I did.

Kennelly: To your fellow students and student groups or just generally?

Scott: Generally. Not only with students but with the adults here. There were things like that lady not calling me up. Those kinds of little incidences I might have just have been a more of an in-your-face type person.

Kennelly: Which is this lady not calling you?

Scott: That wouldn't call me when the white fellow came to pick me up. So I suspect that there might have been some other little things that she had done because she didn't approve of us girls being here.

Kennelly: In that case, he sent another person up, he kind of circumvented the situation. You might have really called her on it.

Scott: Maybe there had been other incidences. Because that particular fellow had been over many time before. Because we were on that group together, just to talk. Not for a date.

Kennelly: As a friend...

Scott: As a friend. You just wonder. I might have just earlier have been more outspoken than I was. But that's hindsight. No, I have no regrets about going to Virginia Tech.

Kennelly: What about with your daughter, what kind of advice would you want to give her?

Scott: It's strictly up to her. If she would like to come here, that will be fine. If she can find some money to come to Virginia Tech, let's put that in there...MONEY...MONEY! You need money! Because that's out of state tuition. That's so much now.

Kennelly: Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven't thought to ask you or anything that you want to comment on?

Scott: Not that I can think of. I respond better to questions.

Kennelly: What strikes you on coming back to Tech as far as racial things? Your experience here? Do you have anything that you've thought about?

Scott: I understand that there are about 800 black students here, and I haven't seen anywhere near 800, so I'm wondering where they are. I've heard the girls who have come over and talked with us say that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of unity on this campus. Everybody seems to be preoccupied with their own thing--studying or whatever the case may be. That sense of community that we had, it's not here. But then maybe the world is changing. Maybe that's a good thing too. I don't know. People associate with whomever they want and that's a good thing. Nobody should be made to associate with anybody.

Kennelly: Is this your first time back here?

Scott: Not since I graduated. I came to graduate school here. One summer I came here and took twelve hours.

Kennelly: In one summer?

Scott: In one summer. Well it was still a quarter system remember. After that I left. I have not been back. I've been to graduate school. I have a Masters from Duke. But I never came back to Virginia Tech and I've never been here to visit. I have a son that's in college, I never brought him to see Virginia Tech. For one thing, we live in North Carolina, and we've got plenty of schools there.

Kennelly: Your son's going to school down there?

Scott: Yeah. So I just never been back here. It's not a place that's on the beaten path to anywhere else. You just don't even get to pass it going anywhere. I just never had a real reason to come.

Kennelly: Did you have a real sense that you were breaking ground when you came here? That you were a pioneer?

Scott: I knew that we were pioneers. Even though I knew we were pioneers and I knew we were being watched to see if this little grand experiment was going to work, I was determined that I was going to be me. I wasn't going to behave in some prescribed way that people wanted me to if I didn't think something was right. I'm saying this in terms of there were students here who were basically afraid to speak out on anything because they would jeopardize their scholarship or whatever. I didn't care. If I lost my scholarship here, they weren't going to ship me home. I'd go to Virginia State finally. That was my attitude. So I was not going to be some little goody-two-shoes that would just sit back and let things happen to her. I wanted to make things happen. That's how I was. This was a grand place for me to do it. There was something to make happen here that had never happened. Being that we were the first. They didn't know what to do with us apparently. With the other little set of rules. We had to be paired together, and I roomed with a white girl the next year because hey we're not going to do it the way you want us to do it. I felt somewhat like a pioneer, and I think that in turn molded how I was going to be for the rest of my life.

Kennelly: And mold how it affected...

Scott: ...my job. Absolutely. If I felt something wasn't being done equitably with students, I've never been afraid to tell my administration so. And that's been throughout my 25 years. I may not have been very popular with them. By the same token, if there was anything that was questionable, they'd come and ask me about it and see if it was all right with me.

Kennelly: They know you'd tell them.

Scott: They know I would tell them. I've always felt good about things like that. I was the one, and I still am where I am now. People come to ask as opposed to anybody else because they know I will tell them. If I don't think something's right I'm going to let you know. I got that from my father. His thing has always been: "Hold on to what your convictions are and your principles. If this what you feel, then this is what you tell them." My mother was always a very cautious person. Don't upset the apple cart too much. My father pushed the apple cart over if he wanted to. I always had these two diverse people, so I think I kind of tempered it pretty much, and I do a lot of things with humor. That can diffuse a lot of potentially very bad situations. Gosh knows if I didn't try to find the humor in everything I'd be a bad, bad person.

Kennelly: It helps.

Scott: It helps. I've been an advocate for children. Especially black children who have taken the brunt of bussing and being taken from their neighborhood and brought into a predominantly white neighborhood. When you think about how schools were desegregated, generally speaking the black ones closed which meant black people had to be bussed out of their neighborhoods, and white people resent bussing, but their children weren't being bussed for the most part unless it was by choice.

Current kinds of things, I've been very active with site-based management in my school. I do think the long way and not necessarily to an organizational, an organized way of doing things. Just where I am. I'm concerned with this is the school that I'm in, so this is the place that I'm most interested in, and this is where I do my activity as opposed to a big system of things. I'm nobody's leader of any union or anything like that. It's where I am, I'll try to make it right as best I can.

Kennelly: Are you living in an integrated neighborhood now?

Scott: Oh yes.

Kennelly: For your kids, things are different than...

Scott: Oh yeah, they are. They have no idea what it is to be in any kind of a segregated society, but children self-segregate.

Kennelly: That's the case now?

Scott: Oh yeah, certainly.

Kennelly: With your friends, in your own social life is that still the case that more of your...

Scott: My best friend's black. But we certainly, like in neighborhood groups and what have you. I live in an integrated neighborhood, certainly. We have neighborhood parties and things of that nature, and so those are integrated. The same thing with some co-workers that I'm relatively close with. We may go out together.

Kennelly: To have lunch or whatever?

Scott: Sure.

Kennelly: What does your husband do?

Scott: My husband works for the postal service. He works in management on the budget and things of that nature. He manages budgets.

Kennelly: Where did your sister go? Your sister was eleven years behind you, did she go to school around here?

Scott: She went to Virginia State, where I wanted to go. So she got to go. She did very well there. She graduated Cum Laude from Virginia State. She's in Columbia South Carolina now.

Kennelly: I have one more question on Affirmative Action policies. What's your feeling about Affirmative Action policies?

Scott: I think they've been great for white women but the perception is they've been too great for black people, and I think that's an erroneous perception out there too. I think that Affirmative Action should stick around. I don't think of it as reverse discrimination. But the rest of the world seems to look at it that way. I don't think they're looking at it in terms of what it really is. I think those kind of programs need to be kept. I can see more harm coming as the result of ridding the nation of this because discrimination is still there. Racism still exists. Sexism still exists. People look at women as women first. They look at black people as black first. The only people who get to be looked at as individuals are white men. Since it is white men looking at all of us I really still have this gut feeling that that's still the case out there. People are still not being judged by the content of their character but first by either their sex or their race.

End of Interview


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