BC: Good afternoon. This is Betty Carter. I'm in the Hodges Reading Room. Thisis April 16, 2010. I'm here with Ann Dearsley-Vernon. Also here are Dearsley Vernon [Ann's daughter], Laura Brown, and Sunny Yarbrough. We're going to finish an interview for the [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro] Institutional Memory Collection. The first part of the interview was done on May 21, 2007 in Norfolk, [Virginia]. So, the last third of the interview was missing either because of malfunctioning equipment or my total ineptness in operating the equipment.
AD: We know that it was malfunction.
BC: Malfunction. I agree. Okay. When we were talking in 2007 we had just gottenyou to the Woolworth's counter. The waitress had asked you for your order and you said, quote, "There's somebody else here before me," unquote. And with this statement, as you said in the interview, the cat was out of the bag. They knew that you were there for ulterior motives. So, let's begin there. What was the 1:00immediate reaction of the waitress when you spoke to her?
AD: Interestingly enough, the immediate reaction of the waitress was to say tome, "You need to go back to campus." And beyond that, I knew the manager of Woolworth's. Now, that was a totally unexpected development. But a friend of mine, who was an art major, one year ahead of me at Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, [North Carolina] her family had moved to Greensboro. And her father was "Curly" Harris, who was the manager of the Woolworth. So, I'm sure it was just as much of a surprise for Mr. Harris to walk in and see me sitting at his counter as it was for me to see him. But he also advised me to go back to the campus.
BC: Interesting. How about the black students seated near you, what was their reaction?
AD: Well, their immediate reaction was one of immense surprise when they2:00realized that we were there to support them. But, then, it was all extremely quiet. Everybody had brought their books. The whole top of the counter was completely covered with books. I actually have some sketches that I made at that time of the students either side of me. And without knowing the Nashville Code, because the Nashville Code had not even been developed at that time, we all instinctively followed the Nashville Code. So, it was looking straight ahead. Don't make eye contact with the people who are harassing you. Stay very calm. Don't respond in any way. Certainly, don't in any physical way respond to being taunted. So, everybody just suddenly realized that the group at the counter had been joined by three white girls in a jacket, in a WC [Woman's College] jacket, 3:00who were supportive. And the Sit-ins just quietly continued. So, I don't think any dramatic thing happened, just a general acceptance, "Oh, my gosh. We've got some white girls from WC who are here to support us."
BC: How about--supposedly there was a white crowd behind.
AD: Large, large white crowd.
BC: What was their reaction? Any noticeable--
AD: Oh, they were really upset when they realized that three stools had beengiven up by young white men to the three WC girls. And, suddenly, they realized that they had made a mistake to give up the stools.
BC: Right. You mentioned Mr. Harris, Clarence, or "Curly" Harris his nickname,he just told you to go back to campus.
AD: He did. He did. You know, I think back, and I think how complicated anddifficult it was for all of the staff there. That was custom. It was the law. It 4:00was legal segregation. They knew that if suddenly they were going to start serving black students probably they thought that their business would completely collapse. And they were very caught in the middle, especially the black employees behind the counter who also didn't want us there. Because they saw enough trouble coming out of this that they possibly could lose their jobs. So, it was complicated, the whole structure of racial segregation was so incredibly complicated that to challenge it was a threat in many ways to lots of people that I think we can't even think of today.
BC: It's complicated to establish it and to disband it.
AD: Well, and to disband it. Because you have to be able to think of--you can't5:00disband a system unless you have a concept of what the other system should be. There was no concept of what the other system should be with most white Southerners, because for hundreds of years it had always been this way. It was legally established that way and custom had established it that way. So, if it goes away, what do you have? They couldn't imagine anything else.
BC: Right. Do you remember seeing any policemen around at the time?
AD: You know, I really don't. I don't remember seeing policemen. That doesn'tmean they weren't there. I just don't remember it. I think that if you had had the kind of volatility a little later on in the Civil Rights Movement, violence, I think, would have erupted. By which I mean this was the beginning of the Sit-ins, passive approach was working well. But as you know, after the death of 6:00Martin Luther King [Jr.], and before his death even, there was a big push within the black community being led much more by people like H. Rap Brown, or Stokely Carmichael, or Malcolm X, to get moving, get this thing going. That kind of impatience hadn't struck yet. So, I think that's one of the reasons we were not actually physically assaulted, policemen or no policemen at Woolworth's. And, also, it was an age when not everybody carried a gun. Today you think, "Oh, my God, I've offended somebody. I've looked the wrong ways at somebody. They're going to pull out a gun." That really was not my fear at that time. I didn't think about somebody having a gun. Now, I know now that guns, especially rifles and long guns were frequently taken out to keep black people in place, everything from the Ku Klux Klan to local sheriffs, you know, keeping a black 7:00population in place with gunfire. But I didn't see any guns, and I also I can't remember seeing any policemen. Doesn't mean that they weren't there.
BC: Right. Well, now, you know there was at least one news photographer wasthere, because we have a photograph of you, Genie [Seaman]--
AD: Genie: Yes.
BC: --and Marilyn [Lott]. Were you questioned by this photographer?
AD: Although they had--somebody got our names.
BC: So, no reporter questioned you that you remember?
AD: Betty, I am--I can't remember giving that information. And I think therewere some TV cameras there. Although I've never seen that footage, and I'm not positive that that's correct.
BC: I believe Betsy [Toth] was talking today that she thinks she remembersseeing the footage. I have actually talked with some of the Channel 2 people here several years ago. And they are not aware of it being in existence now. I 8:00think stations would tape over the film.
AD: And, also, don't forget that television was really being perfected.
BC: That's true.
AD: And the idea of a photographer being able to take an over-the-camerashoulder and be able to move through a big crowd like that with some ease. So, I don't know. I've never seen any footage of TV. But, clearly, we do know that there was a photographer there.
BC: Right. AD: Because that was the photograph that we still have a photograph of.
BC: In all honesty, I have never been able to find the photographer who tookthat photograph.
AD: In the paper, the abstract from the paper, that you published here, first ofall there's no date on the top of that sheet. We were looking for a date the other day, couldn't find it. Had to deduce that it was the fourth day. Because Dearsley [Vernon] asked me which day was it, was it the third or fourth day? And we counted back from February 1. It had to be the fourth day, the Thursday, we think. I think that photograph was taken on the fourth. Well, I know it was 9:00taken on the fourth now. Because the date when we finally came around of putting a date with the newspaper was the fifth.
AD: So, it had to be the day before.
BC: We agree.
AD: We agree that we think it was the fourth. It's good that we agree on that.Well, like you say there is lots of revisionist history. And it was fifty years ago.
BC: That's what Genie kept reminding Hermann [Trojanowski]. "Hermann, it's beenfifty years."
BC: I'm assuming that Woolworths closed around five o'clock?
AD: 5:30 [p.m.].
BC: 5:30 [p.m.] And you stayed until the closing?
AD: We did, because we didn't know how to get out.
BC: So, you made no plans for leaving the store?
AD: We hadn't. We didn't realize that it was going to be all volatile like this.I mentioned in the earlier interview, we were really naive about what we were walking into and how complicated it was going to get. And, honestly, I think if I had known how very complicated it was going to get, might not have done it. 10:00
BC: Of course, this was in the day before cell phones and that sort of thing.
AD: Oh, yeah.
BC: Somehow, someone called a cab for you or had a car for you? AD: Well, as faras we can tell, and my daughter is sitting here with me, and Dearsley heard some of those stories [in] Greensboro, what was it, close to ten years ago now when I was given the Unsung Heroes Award. And that was the first time I realized that the guys who got us out of the store were the [North Carolina] A&T [State College] football players. Now, Marilyn didn't talk about that in this morning--this afternoon's interview. But I remember that from the counter at the back of the store, all the way back out to the street was a long way. That's a long building. And it was full of very unhappy people, people who didn't like what we were doing. And I remember being put inside a circle of big guys who put their elbows kind of close together, stuck the three of us, the white girls, in the middle. I don't remember the Bennett students coming with us. I just 11:00remember a wedge with the three of us in the middle. And, frankly, I don't know how there could have been many more than three of us, because if you recall, the set up at the Woolworth's had all those tables, big, flat open tables, that you would walk between. So, if you've got a bunch of big husky football players, they put the three of us in the middle and sort of squeezed up through. And it's a miracle that nobody was knifed or shot or punched out. But they weren't. And I remember coming out on the sidewalk and having a group of A&T students surrounding us saying the Lord's Prayer.
BC: That is what I've always heard.
AD: And, then, a cab rolled up and the guys opened up their flying wedge and putthe three of us into a cab. And, then, when I finally met some of these football players about ten years ago at this other ceremony, I sort of joked and said, 12:00"And I still don't know who paid for the cab." And I still don't know who paid for the cab, but that's how we got back to campus. Because I think that walking back would have really, really been dangerous.
BC: Yes, I agree. Yes, I don't think you would have gotten very far.
AD: No, and as I mentioned once we were on campus we were [confined]--Ibasically didn't go off campus for the rest of the year. Because we had so many threats. And that was one of my concessions to the administration. Now, that wasn't as tough as it sounds to the young ladies sitting on this interview, because it was hard to get off the campus anyway. You had to have permission to go anywhere and everywhere at any time. So, it wasn't the big deal that it would have been today. We were used to not going off campus.
BC: Right. And I was just thinking in February at about 5:30 it was dark.
AD: It was dark, yes.
BC: You would not have walked back in the dark.
AD: It would not have been smart to walk back in the dark.
BC: Okay. So, three of you go back to campus in the same cab. Did you talk?13:00
AD: I'm sure we did. But it's so long ago, I cannot remember it. And, also, wewere not all in the same dorm I don't think.
BC: Well, I know you were in Guilford [Residence Hall].
AD: I was in Guilford.
BC: And Marilyn and Genie, I don't remember.
AD: I was thinking--
BC: I don't remember. I could track that down. That was going to be one of myquestions. Did they deposit you in front of your dorm or just take you to campus and say, "This is it?"
AD: I guess, you know, it was--I guess. I really can't remember. And because atthat point we thought, "Well, we've done it. Maybe we'll go back tomorrow." We didn't realize that the whole thing was going to blow up and that Dean [Katherine] Taylor was going to be so incensed and was going to throw us out of school. I didn't really get thrown--I mean I did get thrown out of school. But, then, almost immediately, I got thrown back into school, because Dean Taylor, as far as I've ever been able to put all of these pieces together, Dean Taylor 14:00called my parents who were living in London and said, "Your daughter has done such and such and such, and this is against the rules, and we're going to expel her." And my father said, "No, you're not." And whether or not it was because I was on my way to [an] MFA, and maybe there were a little bit easier rules for me being a graduate student than being an undergraduate student, I just don't know any of those pieces. I was never privy to any of those conversations or any correspondence or anything. But I did not stay out of school. I had that huge scare. I mean, [for] four or five days I [just] knew that I was going to [be expelled]. And you know they said, "We are going to throw you out." But, then, I thought, "Oh, my God. My parents live in London. Where am I going to go?" And I don't think that the school would have said, "Here are your possessions. We're going to line them on Tate Street," because that would have reflected really badly on the administration. They probably were like, "Oh, my God, what are we 15:00going to do with her because her parents live in London?" But, suddenly, I was back in school, and I was able to finish my MFA here. But I did not participate in my graduation ceremonies. Because that [the situation] was still--it was still too volatile.
BC: Do you remember when you came back to campus--your roommate? Did she say,"Where in heaven's name have you been?" Or--
AD: No, nobody never really said that, because it still wasn't late. See, wewere back by about six o'clock.
BC: So, it's no big deal.
AD: We could have just been studying at the library for all anybody knew.Because we hadn't really told anybody that we were going to do this. We just sort of struck out for what we thought would be a minor adventure that turned into a major adventure.
BC: How about when did you first--Katherine Taylor first confront you?
AD: Must have probably been the next day. I don't know how quickly she knew. Shemay not have known what we had done until the next day when it hit the newspapers. 16:00
AD: Because we didn't go tell her, and I'm not sure that anybody else would havetold her. See, so who else would have told her? There were no other students down there.
AD: And if it was on television or on the news, she could have heard it thatevening even on the radio. But if it was not on television, then it would take the next day to be published in the newspaper.
BC: Right. Did you ever have a face-to-face meeting with [Chancellor] Blackwell?
BC: Did any of your teachers mention this to--
AD: Oh, yes. My teachers, my favorite teachers loved it. I had great supportfrom my favorite teachers.
BC: Did you really?
AD: Who were the same favorite teachers? Everybody had favorite teachers. Well,Gregory Ivy had mentored me through my [years at Woman's College]--Gregory basically got me my first job teaching in the University of Georgia. I really just adored him. And he was very supportive. Randall Jarrell and I had a lovely 17:00relationship as a graduate student. That was the first graduate program offered in the Arts. But my relationship with the faculty changed, shifted. Well, it got better. You know, it was much more "peer," because I was a graduate student instead of undergraduate. Randall Jarrell was so supportive. Warren Ashby was so supportive. I think so many of the thinking faculty here, or the--no, I shouldn't even say that. Let me say, the faculty that I knew well enough on a personal level to express their thoughts to me were supportive.
BC: Okay. Did you encounter, other than [Dean] Taylor and [Chancellor]Blackwell, any other negative administrators or professors?
AD: Teachers did not discuss this with me as far as I remember. There were a lotof young women on this campus who thought we had been absolute fools, and were not supportive. Most of the class was from the South, North Carolina, [and] had 18:00grown up, as I say, with that custom. Plus, don't forget, [many of] the women who were here would have been products of homes with enough money to have a maid. It was interesting for me to hear today the story from one of my classmates about how it was different in her house, because she could sit down with Clara, the maid. Yeah, kids sat down with Clara, the maid. But, then, what happened when they got older? And I bet they sat down in the kitchen. I bet they didn't sit down in the living room. So, even as she said that today, I bet it struck you, didn't it? Even as she said it today, here we are well into the twenty-first century, I thought, "This is the Southern custom." For these gals, this was born and bred in their bones. They may have been nursed by a black 19:00woman. But, you know, this whole paternalistic sort of approach; even if you think you move past it, a lot of times if you're Southern born and bred, that's the custom that I'm talking about that is so hard to get through.
BC: You don't even realize--
AD: You don't even realize it. This was still a point of pride to one of myclassmates that she had sat down with Clara, the black maid.
BC: I know.
AD: No, it was Okay. It was Okay. It was a reminder.
AD: It was a reminder, and I'll say it even though it's on tape. For you youngladies, pick up Tim Tyson's, Blood Done Sign my Name. Have you read it? It's a book that encapsulates for me so perfectly what it was like to be a white person in Oxford, North Carolina in the fifties and sixties and how even the good people, the people who wanted to go out and make a difference, who really 20:00thought that they would perhaps join a sit-in or go march someplace couldn't do it because it was so much a part of their culture and their custom. They just couldn't think about rocking the boat to that extent. And they were good people. They knew it was wrong, but they just were sort of frozen. And I heard a little bit of that today. And I thought it was fascinating. I thought it put [things in] perspective. I just wondered what students thought who were here, who might not have heard that tape for awhile. Very interesting. But we're all seventy--seventy-one years old. So, that explains a lot.
BC: I agree. I've heard that there were telephone threats, the FBI becameinvolved. Is that correct?
AD: That's what I was told.
BC: I've heard there were calls from Martin Luther King, Jr.? Did you get that?AD: I seemed to recall, but it's sort of vague. And God knows, don't let me do a revisionist history. 21:00
BC: I'm trying to avoid that also.
AD: Yeah, there were talks about--from somewhere, that I heard from somewherethat Martin Luther King's organization--
AD: --had called and said, "If these girls need to be defended in court, we willcome and stand by them." That said, I cannot give you any of the details. It sticks in my mind, but I can't give you definitive proof of it.
AD: So, I'd love to think it was true, but I can't swear to it.
BC: Did you ever have police protection?
BC: And you mentioned you did not march at your graduation or did not cross the stage?
AD: That's correct.
BC: And you were there [at Woolworth] for just one day?
AD: We were there for six, seven hours. You know, if that. This is theastounding thing--to be talking about something fifty years later that literally took just a long afternoon.
BC: Had you ever been shopping at Woolworth's before that?
AD: Probably not. Because, you know, as an undergraduate it was--you couldn'tget off the campus. You couldn't just say, "I'm going to walk uptown by myself." 22:00Nobody did that. Like the woman in the conference today, my Jewish peer, saying, "We had to sign out to go to synagogue. But everybody had to sign out to go to all churches." So, it was not just a synagogue.
BC: Right. Okay. The big question, why did you do it? Why did you go toWoolworth's? What was going through your head? And I'm sure you've answered this many times.
AD: And I've never answered it very well.
BC: Well, we'll take another stab at it.
AD: It just seemed so silly to me somebody couldn't get a cup of coffee becauseof the color of their skin. And to be really honest, I mean I really think it wasn't a whole lot more complicated than that for me. Because, certainly, as a student in the South, in segregated schools, one of the things that we had not 23:00learned was the position to which black people had been placed by the whole history of slavery, Civil War, Plessey v. Ferguson, etc., etc. Jim Crow laws and so forth. Believe me, that wasn't taught to white Southern girls. And, so, I didn't know any of that background. I honestly didn't know the extent of the racial injustice other than just sort of observing as I walked in town. I didn't know any black people at all. Oh, but that's not really true. When I was editor of the Coraddi as part of student government, I had some interaction with [North Carolina] A&T [State College] students through their student government. So, I had been on the A&T campus a couple of times. Very impressed by their red porphyry library. I can remember that to this day. And what an attractive group 24:00of students it was, how well-dressed they were, well-spoken. We had meetings that were productive. But that was just, you know, maybe at most four or five times that those kinds of meetings had taken place. So, I didn't have that whole knowledge of how dreadful that system was. So, honestly, for me it was, "Well, this is ridiculous. Everybody should be able to buy a cup of coffee no matter who they are." And, honesty, I was very naive. It was sort of that simple. [It] just felt, as we just heard from the panel members, like the right thing to do.
BC: Do you remember ever discussing this sort of topic with your parents in your home?
AD: No, not really, not much. I remember my mother was a stay-at-home housewife.She liked doing her own work. She didn't want a maid. And living in Raleigh, North Carolina a maid would have been black. So, I didn't have that opportunity. 25:00It was really not much of a topic that raised itself, partly because white students my age were pretty oblivious. Society was totally segregated. You didn't--you weren't aware that all these injustices were going on, because, basically, in my nice, upper middle-class white upbringing I didn't observe very much of that. Because there was just, basically, no rubbing shoulders at all. I didn't see it.
BC: When you graduated in 1960, your undergraduate degree, there were about adozen African American students on campus. And I think we learned today that you really--they were really--
AD: I was really oblivious to it.
AD: They weren't in my major. Everybody worked incredibly hard on their work.And I think today we met a couple of the kids who were here today. And they have, I think, easier--it sounds like easier schedules and gaps and chances to interact [on] the campus. You wander around with a lot more freedom to interact. 26:00You know, fifty years ago we really didn't have that. You had to sign in and out every time you left the dorm. You had to sign out to go to the library to study. You had to be in early and so forth. So, I was not aware of the fact. I met JoAnne Drane today for the first time. I had never met her before. Now, certainly, if I'd known she was on campus I would--I believe I would have said, "I'm going to offer a hand of friendship." I honestly don't remember even knowing about it, it was kept so quiet.
BC: I think that the separation has become very obvious in y'all's discussion today.
AD: And they weren't art majors. These gals were not art majors.
BC: That's true.
AD: And that was who I saw. I was getting my master's degree, and it was down tothe wire. And I spent all of my time swinging lithograph stones around. 27:00
BC: So, you got your master's in '61, I think your bachelor's [in 1960]. So,that next year, [the] '60-'61 year, was there any reaction to your being on campus during that time? I mean was it--
AD: I think because I was a graduate student, and I was so focused on finishingup, and it was so close to the end, I think I was just able to sort of immerse myself and plow ahead and just move through it very quickly.
BC: Did you have any contact with the A&T students after it happened?
AD: Didn't have any before or after.
BC: Okay. How did attending WC affect your life?
AD: Oh, it was the most wonderful five years I had in my whole life. It was justthis extraordinary opportunity to open my mind intellectually and even though the campus was nowhere near as cosmopolitan as it is now with the student body, 28:00it was still people from different areas of country, different viewpoints. And, for me, it was really a great level of freedom. Because I have European parents, and they were very, very strict. So, despite all the signing in and out, and having to be in the dorm at 10:30, eleven o'clock at night, to me it was a level of freedom that I had not experienced before. But in terms of professors, oh, my God. We had the most extraordinary professors. And it was the age--it was the sixties. We were all going to go out and save the world. So, there was a whole lot of conversation about going out and saving the world.
BC: And the participation in the Sit-ins, how did that affect your life?
AD: It really didn't. You know, [I] got through that last six months, [then]went off to teach in Georgia. Completely forgot that all of this had happened until about thirty years later. And I think it might have been WC that first 29:00contacted me to maybe jog my memory. And all of a sudden a whole lot of other people were contacting me to jog my memory. But I can't really say that it did have any--
BC: That's fine.
AD: --impact. I walked away, and went on with another kind of life in Georgia,no less. So, maybe as a faculty member at the [Woman's College of the] University of Georgia [in Milledgeville], maybe it was not time to bring up the Sit-ins [laughing].
BC: Not if you wanted to keep your job.
AD: In the early sixties.
BC: This question, do you see any social issues in today's world that need theequivalent of a sit-in?
AD: And I'm very involved with it.
BC: Tell me about it.
AD: Very involved in Virginia with a group called "Equality Virginia" which asksfor legal protection for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. And I see 30:00that as a new frontier for a kind of Civil Rights action. And I, also, know that prejudice of all kinds has not gone away, and will probably never go away. And, so, the idea that we need to be continually vigilant for all people who have less, or who are weaker, or who are not in a position to have an equal voice. I think you have to stay vigilant for that the whole time.
BC: Okay. Have I omitted anything that you might like to cover, either about theSit-ins, or WC, or?
AD: No, I had--
BC: Your whole life?
AD: [laughter] No, I'm really impressed. I've had a life like everybody else. Ihad a fabulous education here. And it's been fifty years, and there have been 31:00lots of ups, and lots of downs. But I consider myself blessed in one very specific way in addition to my four wonderful daughters, [because] I think what WC gave me was [the chance] to become a lifelong learner. So, I am never bored. I never have to worry, you know, how am I going to amuse myself, how am I going to contribute to the next cause that I'm interested in. And I really do credit WC with making me a lifelong learner. That means it's a pleasure to walk through the world.
BC: Very good. Well, I certainly appreciate you doing this interview twice. AndI really appreciate what you did in the sixties. It was a gutsy thing to do. And it may have taken fifty years for everyone else to appreciate it. But I think they finally have.
AD: Thank you very much.
BC: Thank you very much. Okay. And now I'm almost afraid to turn it off.32:00
[End of Interview]