6:01 - Moving from Bennett College to Woman's College [now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro].
Partial Transcript: HT: Do you have any recollection of what your orientation - what it was like coming here for the first time?
MCL: Because I was already in Greensboro, it wasn't like coming to a place that I had never been.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee's describes her early experiences and impressions at UNCG.
Partial Transcript: HT: As a town student, did you have any time to participate in any campus activities?
MCL: Not that I remember. But according to the yearbook I must have been involved at Elliott Hall with the Town Students Association.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes her activities outside of study, including her interest in music.
Partial Transcript: HT: Well there was quite a bit of a scene off campus as well. Do you remember anything about The Corner down Tate Street or Tate Street itself and Yum-Yum?
MCL: Oh, yes, Yum-Yum's was every day.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes the food on and off campus, including Yum-Yum's and the campus dining hall.
Partial Transcript: HT: How about your dad, did he have any regrets?
MCL: No, I don't think so. At the time I went into education. Taught in Charlotte, North Carolina for two years. And, then, moved to New York with my jazz musician husband who had gone to Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes moving and living in New York City.
Partial Transcript: MCL: My husband and I would work all day, and, then, go hang out at night and listen to music. And we could get up and [I'd go to] work again.
HT: Did he play in local clubs and things like that?
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee talks about her first husband, jazz musician Don Pullen.
Partial Transcript: HT: Well, moving on after Woman's College, after you graduated in '62, what did you do next?
MCL: Taught school in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was my first teaching job, and it was an art teacher, the art lady.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee further discusses teaching art and living in Charlotte.
Partial Transcript: MCL: And got married at the end of the second year to a jazz musician whom I loved but was also saving him from the Vietnam War - Korean War. What was it?
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes eloping to South Carolina with a jazz musician she had met while teaching in Charlotte.
Partial Transcript: MCL: I tried teaching for two more years, way out on Long Island, not in Manhattan. I had to drive in the opposite direction of traffic for two years. Lived out there the second year, because it was just hard to commute from Manhattan to Bay Shore [New York], Long Island.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes living in New York City. She also discusses difficulties with owning a car in New York.
Partial Transcript: MCL: ...do lighting until I got to graduate school, 1976 I went to Temple University to learn to do what I was already doing [again]!
HT: So, you were a step ahead of your classmates I would assume?
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee discusses her time at Temple University. This discussion includes curriculum of the MFA program and her classmates.
Partial Transcript: HT: And after you graduated from Temple, what was your next adventure?
MCL: Back to New York to what I was already doing. I just moved to New York and worked.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes her life as a professional theater costumer after graduating with her MFA. She discusses different aspects of the job, the travel and the technical work of costuming.
Partial Transcript: HT: Well, tell me about Glad Rags a little bit, how that came to be and what's that all about.
MCL: It was because of owning all these materials, costumes and [antique clothing]. Doing it was a tax structure.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes the inspiration behind her costuming company Glad Rags.
Partial Transcript: HT: Well tell me about the foundation.
MCL: The foundation is a literary foundation. It's a writer's foundation called the SonEdna Foundation, S-O-N-E-D-N-A. Named after my in-laws, Son Curtis and [Mayme] Edna Curtis.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes SonEdna, the literary foundation that she does most of her work with. She discusses the need for this literary work with schoolchildren in Mississippi, and the work the foundation is doing to connect children to writing.
Partial Transcript: HT: You mentioned the Delta earlier. I know there was a lot of flooding going on earlier this year.
MCL: Especially far west. I'm about sixty miles [east] of the [Mississippi River].
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee discusses the Mississippi Delta area. She focuses on the school systems, including the white academies.
Partial Transcript: HT: So, you're a wonderful advocate for the arts it sounds like?
MCL: Yes, I am on five boards. I'm arted out, but I like it. It's good.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee continues discussing her work with the SonEdna literary foundation, including workshops, fundraising, and administration.
Partial Transcript: HT: Well, tell me about your involvement with the National Black Theater Festival over in Winston.
MCL: I've gone to it before as a costume designer for plays that producer friends have done. My board president is a producer at Brown University's"Rite and Reasons Theater".
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes her work with the National Black Theater Festival in Winston-Salem. She describes the event, some of the actors, and collaboration.
Partial Transcript: MCL: It's for black people and nonblack people to learn about African American history, or American history as my former husband insisted. He doesn't like [the designation] "black history".
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes her and her former husbands opinions on "black history".
Partial Transcript: HT: Have you been involved with UNCG since you graduated almost fifty years ago?
MCL: Yes, recently. I represented the chancellor twice in two graduations, well investitures - one in the Delta.
Segment Synopsis: Colley-Lee describes her recent involvement with UNCG. The discussion includes representing the school. She also discusses the possibility of her exhibit traveling to UNCG.
HT: You can sit back and relax. My name is Hermann Trojanowski. I'm in theAlumni House today with Mrs. Myrna Colley-Lee, and she's visiting us from Mississippi today, and we're going to do an oral history interview for the [African American Institutional Memory Project, which is part of] the UNCG Institutional Memory Collection. Thank you so much for coming all the way from Mississippi today. It's a pleasure to meet you.
MCL: Thank you.
HT: If we'll get started-If you will tell me something about your background,where you were born, and when, and that sort of thing.
MCL: Okay. I was born in Hamlet, North Carolina on the East Coast of NorthCarolina in 1941. I was the first of four daughters-five daughters to Val Marie Colley and Alvis [Augustus] Lee-well, Val Marie Colley Lee and Alvis Augustus Lee. And my [paternal] grandparents, my grandfather was a preacher, Church of God in Christ. And I was born in a house in Hamlet, North Carolina with a doctor 1:00Robinson attending my birth. I wasn't a hospital baby. I lived in Hamlet for the first six months of my life, and then we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, for about a year while my father worked in probably automotives. His brother had a series of garages, body shops. Then we moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. I started elementary school at Bethune-Cookman College. We lived in Daytona. And I stayed there until maybe the sixth grade. Then we moved to Prairie View, Texas, also to another black college campus. It was Prairie View A&M College. And stayed there until 1957 when I graduated from high school, and we moved to Liberia, West 2:00Africa. Prairie View had a cooperative program, a pilot program of cooperation with the Booker T. Washington High School, a technical high school in Liberia. And my father went there to teach, heavy-duty equipment use and to run the physical plant. And I went there to start college. I started college in a little town called Suacoco, [Liberia].
HT: Do you know how to spell that? Maybe we'll have to look that up.
MCL: Hum. Maybe it's S-U-A-K-O-K-O. It was in the interior of Liberia, away fromMonrovia, and away from where my parents were in Kakata, K-A-K-A-T-A. Started there at a Methodist College called Cuttington College, C-U-T-T-I-N-G-T-O-N, and 3:00Divinity School it was. And after my first semester I got malaria. So, I came back to Kakata to where my parents were. And after I got well enough to travel, I was sent home to my relatives here in Greensboro, [North Carolina].
HT: Did you go by boat?
MCL: No, flew.
MCL: Propeller planes. Big, old Pan Am [Pan American World Airways] things thatlanded in the Azores.
HT: Oh, my gosh.
MCL: And Senegal. It, you know, kind of hopped. Huge, heavy things. And I cameback to Greensboro, and stayed with-well, stayed on campus at Bennett [College], but my aunts and uncles were in charge of me while my parents stayed to finish my father's tour of duty there. Went to Bennett for two years. And how much more do you need to know?
HT: Well, you were a world traveler at a very young age?4:00
MCL: Yes. Our trip coming-my trip coming home was with another family, becausemy parents didn't leave when I left. And we went to Paris, [France] and Amsterdam, [Netherlands], and [Brussels, Belgium], and a couple of cities. I'm trying to remember where else. I remember Paris and Amsterdam. It was the World's Fair then in [Brussels], I think. And I enjoyed that.
HT: So, you came back by yourself?
HT: But you were almost an adult by that time?
MCL: I was eighteen, or nineteen.
HT: And you say you went to high school in?
HT: In Texas?
HT: And what were your favorite subjects in high school, do you recall?
MCL: Literature. Didn't have any art classes. Music and literature. I also likedscience. I loved biology. Yes. And Zoology. We didn't have any plant sciences at 5:00the time. I didn't think-I didn't know I liked gardening then. Now, I'm a rabid gardener.
HT: Do you recall any teachers having a great deal of influence on you while youwere in high school?
MCL: Not in particular. It was a college campus practice school where thestudent teachers would practice on us. We were the guinea pigs and tiny, fifteen in my graduating class. So, my parents' friends were my teachers. And, so, I think I just knew them all, you know, as friends. We were all-all of the kids knew each other. We all grew up together, and their parents were our teachers. My mother didn't teach. She was a homemaker. She had five girls; she had four by that time, well, three by that time. And my father worked and supported the 6:00whole family.
HT: Well, tell me how did you got to Woman's College [now The University ofNorth Carolina at Greensboro]?
HT: That route that you took to get here.
MCL: Well, I came to Bennett. Immediately fell in love with the art course thatyou had to take as a freshman or sophomore. And wanted to be an artist. My father didn't think that was a suitable career path for a young woman whom he was raising to be a wife. So, I probably pouted and carried on about it and was depressed to the point that we made a deal with each other. It was that I could do art, but I had to get a teaching degree. And he would continue to pay for my education if I did the teaching. Otherwise, I was on my own, an adult, and had decided I knew better for myself than he did, which wasn't really an option at that time. So, after I finished two years of Bennett and was in the choir a lot, 7:00traveling with the choir even, I applied to UNCG, because [there] was an art department over here. We were living-my parents had come home from Africa by then, and they were living in town. And, so, I only stayed on campus for the two years at Bennett. When I came to UNCG for the art classes and to get my education, diploma and degree, I lived at home.
HT: So, you had your own car by that time?
MCL: I had my own car.
HT: Well, what was the process for transferring in those days from one collegeto another, do you recall?
MCL: I don't recall it being complicated. I think I just filled out thepaperwork. I came over here and got the application form. I knew it had been integrated three or four years before me. And I had already investigated the art major, because my teacher, trying to remember his name, because he did influence me a lot. But he's dead now. HT: Was it someone here on this campus? 8:00
MCL: [James McMillan] at Bennett.
HT: At Bennett.
MCL: Yes. He was a printmaker primarily. It will probably come to me in themiddle of this interview.
HT: Okay. All right.
MCL: He suggested that I look into UNCG, because he took classes over here some.And, you know, studio classes, although it wasn't a men's college yet, he could take classes. And he thought I might like it. So, he encouraged me to do so. And I did. I don't think it was complicated. I don't remember anything. And the transcript transfer was easy.
HT: Did you come over in the fall, or was it just-
MCL: Fall. I started regular-I think so.
HT: Do you have any recollection of what your orientation-what it was likecoming here for the first time?
MCL: Because I lived in Greensboro, it wasn't like coming to a place that I hadnever been. And it was already integrated. So, there wasn't a lot of trauma 9:00associated with being a black student here. I was very comfortable, but I had traveled so much, and I'd been around all kinds of races of people. So, I didn't have a provincial point of view about it. I mean I knew the South was segregated, and I lived primarily in the South. But having traveled a lot of the world at that point, it was easy for me to accept. I didn't feel weird, or homesick, or any of that.
HT: Well, tell me about your major and why you chose that.
MCL: Well, I chose the education part, because of my father. And I chose theart, because I just really liked the whole process of being an artist, the concentration on it, and the development of talents. I could draw already. I dabbled, you know, as a teenager would do. My father was artistic in a crafts kind of way. So, we would design and build mammoth three-dimensional Christmas 10:00cards for the front yard every year, and Santas, and things that we would put on the roof. We wouldn't buy them. They didn't have the blow-up kind of stuff you have now that people-kind of ready-made Christmas. We made our own, because daddy liked doing it. He had a shop, woodworking shop, in the garage.
HT: Were they lit?
MCL: They were lit. HT: Oh.
MCL: Lit dramatically. I mean, I could play. So, we would light from the bottomso you could see them from the street, and we would decorate the house. And I was his son. [laughing] I was his boy. And I enjoyed doing stuff with daddy, so. You know, I drove. I painted. I climbed the ladders. I handed him the right tools. I knew all the tools to fix the cars, and to saw the wood, and I just did all that and liked it. Didn't like housework. [laughing]
HT: Well, which courses on campus did you like the most? And the least?
MCL: The art classes, all of them. Everything that I could squeeze in for the11:00allotted hours. I took everything I could take in the two years that, you know, was not-at that point it became required, because I was a declared art education major, and the electives that I was allowed were all art.
HT: Well, it sounds like you really enjoyed school.
MCL: I did. I always liked school. I do well in school.
HT: Even from first grade on?
MCL: From the beginning. And I was pretty young in first grade. I was likethree. Because it was within Bethune-Cookman-there really wasn't really a kindergarten, and my mother's best friend was the teacher. She just took me to school every day, because mother had another baby to deal with. So, not having me home was great, and I was reading already.
HT: And where was Bethune-Cookman?
MCL: In Daytona Beach, Florida. Being the first child, you know, they doted onme. So, I was reading already. I knew my alphabet. I knew my letters. I could sing all the little rhymes and loved going to school. 12:00
HT: Well, tell me about being a town student. How do you think that was adifferent experience than being a resident on campus?
MCL: Well, I had been a resident at Bennett. So, I knew dorm life, you know, andall the restrictions at the timeframe, the lights out. The women were restricted. We had to travel in packs, and we had to dress at Bennett.
HT: Did you have to wear hat and gloves?
MCL: Hat, and gloves, and seamed stockings, and girdles skinny as I was.[laughing] That was such a joke. But you weren't to jiggle. You weren't to be enticing, and clothes were not tight fitting. Nothing like now. And, so, you were proper young ladies. And it wasn't way different over here at Woman's College. It wasn't Bennett.
HT: I understand that Bennett was much more strict.
MCL: Much more restricted. You were representing a whole race, you know? It was-13:00you were much more conscious of the fact that you were Bennett young ladies. UNCG was more about the education. Not that Bennett wasn't-high standards of education, but the young lady part was stressed. And that was what my parents wanted. Going to Bennett was natural. Coming to UNCG was fine with them. They didn't mind that at all.
HT: Did any of your siblings go to Bennett or UNCG?
MCL: No. None of them did. By that time one went to [North Carolina] Central[College]. Two went to Central, North Carolina Central. Trying to think if anybody actually went to [North Carolina] A&T [State College]. No. And trying to remember. Okay, maybe one went to A&T. The one next to me that died. She went to A&T, Linda.
HT: As a town student, did you have any time to participate in any campus activities?
MCL: Not that I remember. But according to the yearbook I must have been14:00involved at Elliott Hall with the Town Students Association.
HT: I'm guessing you didn't have a whole lot of time.
MCL: No, I didn't. Studio classes took quite a lot of time. And little sisters,and driving home, and dealing with mother and the girls. I hung out in the library a lot, but I had found jazz and was in the music rooms. You could check out music, and you could study in there. Or you could just spend hours in there. And I spent hours in there.
HT: I was going to ask you what you did for fun.
HT: Music. So, are you musically inclined?
MCL: Married a jazz musician, first husband. And, so, I must have been musicallyinclined as a listener. I played piano, and I sang in the choir at Bennett. I didn't deal with music here except as a listener. I filled all that time with art. 15:00
HT: Well, there was quite a bit of a scene off campus as well. Do you rememberanything about The Corner down Tate Street or Tate Street itself and Yum-Yum?
MCL: Oh, yes, Yum-Yum's was every day.
HT: Yum-Yum's is still open.
MCL: Is it still there?
HT: Well, it's moved. But it's still Yum-Yum's. It moved across the street.
MCL: We went there every day. I wasn't much into coffee, but ice cream wasdefinitely a winner and milk shakes.
HT: They're still wonderful.
MCL: Yes, that would be my route. I would take meals over there. I wouldn't goback home for lunch or anything.
HT: Did you eat in the dining hall at all?
MCL: Yes, I think I had a day pass and could eat over there, a meal plan.
HT: Because I've talked to some students who said the food was not so good.
MCL: It was food, you know?
HT: Institutional-type food?
MCL: Right. Nothing to write home about. And salads.
HT: But filling, of course.
MCL: Filling enough. College-student food. [laughter] And not a lot of choicesthen. It's not like salad bars in colleges now. I don't know how they run it now. 16:00
HT: Well, they have all kinds of choices now. Well, we talked a little bitearlier about regulations over at Bennett College. Do you recall anything about the regulations on this campus in the early sixties?
MCL: They didn't seem to affect the townies as much. I don't know what the dormstudents had to go through. I knew it wasn't as restrictive as Bennett where they wanted you in by sunset, and young men had to be announced, and they couldn't be in your room. You had to be downstairs in the parlor. And, of course, dorms were not that free. Guys just never came upstairs. And you could take phone calls from the phones-there weren't cell phones then. So, you had to line up for the phone. Didn't-it felt more free here. But I was also a day student. So, I had a car, and I was free to come and go. Didn't have a home to go to that was on campus. So, I didn't spend a lot of time on campus except for classes. 17:00
HT: Do you recall anything about the traditions that were sort of being phasedout at that time such as the daisy chain. That was during graduation.
MCL: I didn't march.
MCL: So, no. I knew about it. But I didn't participate in it. I didn't do thatuntil I went to Smith College as a professor, as an adjunct professor, and attended a graduation. And the daisy chain was alive and well. [laughter] Is that a girls'school [thing]?
HT: Yes, I'm not sure it still is. There are so few girls schools left these days.
MCL: Is Smith [co-ed now]?
HT: I don't know. That I do not know. How about class jackets? Do you have anyrecollections of class jackets?
MCL: Not that I remember. I don't think that I owned one.
HT: They would have gotten-students got them during their sophomore year. So, asa sophomore you were still at Bennett. So, you probably would not have gotten one.
MCL: So, maybe I didn't own one.18:00
HT: How about class rings, and dances?
MCL: No. I kind of socialized with the kids that were on my side of town.[Social] life [was] still somewhat segregated in Greensboro. So, there was a community center across the street from the house I lived in on Gorrell Street, and there was a swimming pool. And I had a job as a lifeguard, maybe one of those summers that I was there. And I had classes for summer camp, and Bible school at St. James Presbyterian Church. So, my social life was more with my family, and friends, and A&T students. Because a lot of them were kids that I knew. The boys and a whole lot of the girls. So, I don't think I socialized much over here. And since the boys were there, and we had no access to them. The dances were at A&T. 19:00
HT: And there were very few black students on campus.
HT: Even in the year that you were here.
MCL: Right. I don't even remember a black students' organization.
HT: There wasn't until the Neo-Black Society was founded in 1968.
MCL: Right. So, we didn't even come together as a group.
HT: I think during the year there couldn't have been-
MCL: Four or five.
HT: Probably not more than that, because when JoAnne Smart came here in '56there were only two students. Then, I think, the next year there might have been three. And, so, it gradually grew.
MCL: Our group was probably about six.
HT: About six. Probably-definitely less than ten.
MCL: And I don't believe any were in the art department. Might have been ineducation. I just don't remember anybody. I don't think I became friends with anybody. Not that I was standoffish, friendly. Just made no strong connections.
HT: If you didn't have classes with a certain person, you wouldn't-
MCL: Right. You just don't get to know them. I'd hardly see them.
HT: And here you were going off campus as well at the end of the day so to speak.20:00
MCL: Right. So, my life was actually more of a Greensboro life than it was aWoman's College life. But I enjoyed being here. I never went, "Why did I change schools?"
HT: So, no regrets?
MCL: No regrets at all. I really loved it.
HT: How about your dad, did he have any regrets?
MCL: No, I don't think so. At the time I went into education. Taught inCharlotte, North Carolina for two years. And, then, moved to New York with my jazz musician husband who had gone to Johnson C. Smith [College] in Charlotte, [North Carolina]. I met him there. And, then, I became a social worker for a couple of years, because it was the easiest job to get in New York. You take an exam, civil service exam, and if you pass it from college, then you are a social worker. Teaching was harder to get in New York City at the time.
HT: Because of the union, perhaps?
MCL: Union, and also there was not any shortage of teachers at that point.Everybody and his mother was teaching.
HT: Now, where did you live in New York?
MCL: In Manhattan. Well, started out in Queens and then moved into Manhattan.21:00All over the Lower Eastside. It's cheap in comparison. HT: And what was New York like in the sixties?
MCL: I loved it. In the early sixties? Alive and well. Music, music, music. Iwas really a little jazz musician [groupie]. My husband and I would work all day, and, then, go hang out at night and listen to music. And we would get up and [I'd go to] work again.
HT: Did he play in local clubs and things like that?
MCL: Yes. Birdland [jazz club]. It was a pretty prominent one. So, he was-
HT: What instrument did he play?
MCL: Piano and organ. And, so, he-and he was in what they were calling AvantGarde Jazz. So, they were the crazies over in the corners. Except that Leonard Bernstein sort of noticed him. And, so, he had a kind of an interesting legitimacy through classical music, because he could play it. He did all but 22:00graduate from Johnson C. Smith, because he wanted to write and compose a jazz piece, and they wanted him to do a classical piece. And, so, he just quit before graduation. So, he finished the senior requirements and left except for his theses. He wrote it. They didn't want to hear it, so. It was beginning to be a time when people were wanting to be individual. And there was a lot of tumult.
HT: Was he quite prominent?
MCL: Yes, before he died. He died of lymphoma. Don Pullen was his name, P-U-L-L-E-N.
HT: And he was from Charlotte?
MCL: He was from Roanoke, Virginia.
HT: Oh, Roanoke, Virginia.
MCL: But I met him in Charlotte. Because as a student at Johnson C. Smith he wasplaying around in the area with a few musician friends. As a young teacher we all hung out with the musicians.
HT: So, you were working as a social worker during the day. Did you go to-?23:00
MCL: In Charlotte I was an art teacher. And it was the art lady with a car. Youhad to have a car to have the job. And you had eight schools. And you traveled.
HT: Oh, my gosh.
MCL: They didn't have an individual art teacher in each of the elementaryschools. So, I would spend two weeks of each semester in eight schools.
HT: Wow. MCL: Dragging around my art cart and going down the hall and someteachers thought of us as babysitters. As soon as we came in the room with our art supplies, they ran to the teachers' lounge. And some stayed, because they liked the art. The kids liked it, loved the kids. The kids loved me, and we had great fun. But you don't teach them a lot. You acquaint them with art. And you show them slideshows of other art. And you get them to express themselves in paint, and crayon, introduce them to materials.
HT: These elementary kids?
MCL: Yes, elementary. Well, no, it went from elementary through high school, 124:00through 12. My degree allowed me to teach art to any age group in the school system. But the school systems weren't that developed yet. It was a pioneering kind of teaching degree that daddy wanted me to get.
HT: Well, if we can backtrack to Woman's College days, what do you recall aboutthe political atmosphere on campus in the early sixties?
MCL: It seemed to me, I don't know how tumultuous it was to integrate when itfirst started with the two students, but there was no hatefulness, no ostracism that I noticed, no tenseness in the air. It was just women going about their business learning what they were learning.
HT: Do you recall where you were when the Sit-ins took place in Greensboro?
MCL: Participating. [laughter]
HT: Oh, did you really?
MCL: Yes, I was-my father had applied to the University of North Carolina ChapelHill law school the first year I came here in the sixties, yes, 1960. And he 25:00asked me not to become newsworthy. But he knew that my friends and I were supporting the whole thing. So, he paid for the gas and let me drive the car so that I could bring people in shifts to do the picketing outside while some of the friends were sitting inside at the counter.
HT: So, were you in Bennett at that time?
MCL: No, '60 I was here. It started here. It was 1960.
HT: February '60. Okay.
MCL: So, I was here as a student. I was driving. So, I would go to class. Then Iwould get in the car and drive some people. I had a schedule. And I was driving people to the Sit-ins and, you know, being lawful, legal, and dropping them off and picking up the next bunch.
HT: How often did you do that?
MCL: It feels like I did it every day.
HT: Because I know the Sit-ins took place-
MCL: Started in February.
HT: February, right. And didn't really end until several weeks later, because-
MCL: I think it was even a month-
HT: Woolworth's was integrated in July '60. I can't remember the exact date.26:00
MCL: And I'm not sure whether the Sit-ins actually lasted the whole time.
HT: I think there might have been some what they called cooling off periods inthere and that sort of thing.
MCL: Probably. I don't remember that as much. I remember when I was needed, Iwas driving. And it didn't displease daddy. And I didn't get in the paper. So, they didn't dog catch and put stuff on my head. I never sat in.
HT: So, you never actually went in and sat at the store or anything like that?
MCL: No, he asked me not to, and I was a good daddy's girl at the time. It madesense to me. I didn't want to ruin our whole family.
HT: Well, I've talked to several of the white women who attended here. I thinkthere were at least four or five who participated. And they got into quite a bit of trouble over doing that. One was expelled. She was reinstated. I interviewed her last year. So, it was a difficult time for a lot of people.
MCL: I suppose if you were an outsider in the community, and you didn't havethat sort of ease with the town, or know a lot of people, that you could get 27:00into trouble. Because you would probably end up with the more militant side of it all to make an impact, you know? But I was friends with all those people and useful with a supportive parent. Because daddy believed in integration.
HT: So, did you take people from this campus downtown, or from Bennett?
MCL: My memory is from A&T.
HT: From A&T, right?
MCL: I don't remember taking anybody from here. But that could be faulty. Itwasn't difficult. And it didn't feel dangerous. Because the police weren't stopping cars. I was just stopped legally at a parking space. And people would get out, and more people would get in my car, and then I would drive off. And somehow we didn't get targeted. I think the people who were picketing with the signs in their hands got targeted. The people, of course, who went in the store 28:00and sat at the counters, and filled in for each other probably, were targeted. Because they were the ones being the most active. We were support, service and supply. [laughter] Probably brought lunch to people or took them to get lunch, because they weren't being able to eat there. It was exciting, but not-didn't have that air of danger, didn't seem to become-I don't think we had riots, did we? I don't remember.
HT: Not at that point-there were a few years later as I recall.
MCL: I think it was pretty raunchy inside the Woolworth's.
HT: There was some danger there. I've heard of some people saying that therewere some white fellows there with knives. Ann Dearsley, who was a student here on campus, said she had-
MCL: The one who got expelled?
HT: No, that was Marilyn Lott. Ann Dearsley was English and she was actually a29:00graduate student by that time, I think. Anyway, I think it was her that said somebody had a knife they were running up and down her back.
MCL: Ooh, and she was sitting.
HT: She was sitting at the counter. And, then, there was Betsy Toth, [whom I]interviewed last year said that there was a white woman behind her who had like a two by four.
MCL: Ooh. Threatening?
HT: And threatened her. She said that she was never actually hit, but you couldfeel the danger in the air and that sort of thing.
MCL: I remember when driving people they would be very hyped up and excited andsometimes frightened and crying. But they would get through it and do their stint and then come out and collapse, kind of, in the car.
HT: So much energy had sort of been expended-
MCL: Yes, and, you know, I guess it's frightening to be confronted with thatkind of hostility even if they don't end up doing anything to you.
HT: Because you never know if somebody is going to hit you.
MCL: Or what kind of a crazy there is. And with knives-and they were taught. I30:00remember the training, the nonviolent training. So, they were taught not to respond and not to talk back, not to do anything, and not to make eye contact. HT: Did you go through that training as well?
MCL: I must have participated in a sort of passive way. But my father hadalready asked me not to do it. So, I don't think I needed to-I don't remember any incident where even a policeman knocked on the window and said, "Move along." And I think we had our routes. So, you stopped at the corner, and they got to walk up there. So, we didn't make congestion for the traffic. Because we don't want to give them a reason to start hauling in people at all.
HT: Let me see. What do you recall about other classmates on campus, blackclassmates such as Zelma Holmes?
MCL: I do remember that name.
HT: Holmes. I think she was Class of '61.
MCL: And what was her major, do you know?
HT: Beg your pardon?
MCL: What was her major, do you know?
HT: I do not. She's already gone. These were members of the class of '61. So,31:00they would be a year ahead of you.
MCL: Year before me. But we would have met each other, probably at the Elliott Hall-
HT: And Margaret Patterson Horton. They both lived out of town. One lives inOhio, I think, now. And the other one lives in Pennsylvania. I met them at the reunion this past April.
MCL: Which I had to miss. I wanted to-
HT: You are going to come next year to your reunion?
MCL: Yeah, I think so.
HT: Well, good.
MCL: Then, maybe, I'll look at them and go, "Ah, I do remember you." You know,it's been so many years.
HT: It's only been fifty years.
MCL: Yes. [laughter] What memory?
HT: Well, how about from the Class of '62? There was a Jewel Anthony. MCL: Iremember that name too.
HT: I don't think she graduated. I think she went elsewhere to finish her degree.
MCL: Was that not her last year?
HT: She would have graduated '62, but I think she left early to go-I think shewent to Union College.
MCL: Where is that?
HT: I want to say somewhere in Virginia. But I'm not 100 percent sure aboutthat. How about Sheila Cunningham? 32:00
MCL: Now, that person, that name I know.
HT: She's now Sheila Cunningham Sims.
MCL: And she's where?
HT: I did not bring my information with me.
MCL: Well, Okay, you've named two names that are very familiar to me. So, I musthave known them, and they lived on campus?
MCL: So, we probably came in contact with each other probably in some classes oron campus. I think we were all aware of each other. There were six of us or less.
HT: And Edith Mayfield Wiggins. You'll meet her at lunchtime today.
HT: She also graduated '62. She went on and she became an administrator atUNC-Chapel Hill.
MCL: In what department? Administrator, just general?
HT: I cannot remember what-she's retired now.
MCL: See now, all of these names are sounding familiar. So, I'm sure that I metthem, had teas with them, and done social things. But because if they weren't in the art department or in education, I don't think we had a reason to run into 33:00each other, because I wasn't on campus.
HT: Right. And there are a couple of others. There's a Clara Withers. She's nowClara Withers Berryhill. She had another sister named-she lives up in the Maryland area now.
HT: I don't know what her major was.
MCL: That name is not ringing a bell. But, you know, when I see them it mightbe, "Oh, my".
HT: And another lady named Jean Morris Favors. She's supposed to live here inGreensboro on Moody Street, but I haven't been able to get a hold of her.
MCL: Jean Morris sounds familiar. She sounds like somebody I probably knew.
HT: And Brenda Roberts was the last person I could find from that Class of '62.
MCL: Have you interviewed all of them yet?
HT: No. The only person we've interviewed so far is Edith Mayfield Wiggins.
MCL: Do any of them remember me, or did they all go blank, too?
HT: Yes. No, as a matter of fact, I think-I haven't done the interviews with any34:00of these ladies. We hired a graduate student who did most of the interviews. And a couple of people have mentioned you in passing. And I'm not sure if Miss Mayfield did or not.
MCL: Probably they're going to end up being somebody I know.
HT: I'm sure. It's amazing what you-
MCL: It's like, "Oh, yeah." They have one moment that they remember we'llprobably start ricocheting off of each other.
HT: I'm sure that that will happen during lunchtime today. [laughter] Well, I'mgoing to move on to the administrators and professors on campus. Do you have any recollection at all of the chancellor from that period of time?
MCL: What was the name?
HT: Well, Chancellor [William W.] Pierson was actually acting chancellor aboutthe time you were here. And, then, Otis Singletary came.
MCL: I remember Otis Singletary.
HT: He was, apparently, a very tall person.
HT: And he actually went to work for the [President Lyndon] JohnsonAdministration. The art courses, were they teaching realism at that time, or impressionism? 35:00
MCL: Yes, we had life drawing and, hum. I had life drawing. I had beginningpainting. I had a printmaking course or two that I remember. Um, I think it was only twelve hours of art that I got to have, and probably twenty or so of education in the two years. Probably no history and no science at that point. I had done all those requirements at Bennett.
HT: All the electives were probably art.
MCL: The electives are what I got to do. I'm afraid I'm not a very patriotic interview.
HT: Well, moving on after Woman's College, after you graduated in '62, what didyou do next?
MCL: Taught school in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was my first teaching job,and it was an art teacher, the art lady. 36:00
HT: That's when you went like a circuit judge?
MCL: Exactly. The hanging judge. And, so, I knew all the schools in Charlotte.And it was still segregated-ish. So, I was in the black schools. It wasn't-there wasn't integration. So, the art lady came to the black schools, whatever was in Charlotte. I remember a ward, Ninth Ward, maybe Second Ward.
HT: And how did you end up in Charlotte? Did you apply for a job-
MCL: I applied for a lot of jobs, and that one-I just seemed to like that one.It was just wasn't too far from home. My parents weren't quite ready for me to go way away. And maybe I wasn't even myself. It was far enough away. I could come home.
HT: But you had enough independence because you were ninety miles away?
MCL: Yes, and we rented a house, my roommate and I. I think I tried to-I doremember living above someone else's house in a little attic room that had 37:00separate stairs my first two months. But I found a roommate, and we got a house and became adults, you know, [laughter] instantly.
HT: And, so, how long were you living in Charlotte teaching down there?
MCL: The two years.
HT: Just two years?
MCL: And got married at the end of the second year to a jazz musician whom Iloved but also was saving him from the Vietnam War-Korean War. What was it? Korean. What was it Vietnam?
HT: By that time it would have been '64 - '65. So, the height-
MCL: '64 was the height of Vietnam War. And, you know, he was a jazz musicianand didn't want to have his hands ruined. And we got married, ran off to South Carolina. I called my parents on the phone and said, "I'm married."
HT: Oh, my. How did that go over?
MCL: Not good. And to a jazz musician, too. Oh, ech. I had no family support for38:00that marriage. But we ran off to New York, stayed married for about a year and a half.
HT: So, you were young and foolish so to speak?
MCL: I think it was a way to get away from home, because you couldn't reallyleave home with my father unless you were married. So, I got married and left home. And then when it broke up he said, "You can come back home." Not! I didn't know I was a rebel until I got free. Then I realized, "Oh, I have a whole thing I want to do over here, and it has nothing to do with this." I tried teaching for two more years, way out on Long Island, not in Manhattan. I had to drive in the opposite direction of traffic for two years. Lived out there the second year, because it was just hard to commute from Manhattan to Bay Shore [New York], Long Island.
HT: So, you actually had a car in New York?
MCL: Yes, that was real rough. Lots of tickets. Finally, they took the car fromme for the tickets. Too many. I couldn't pay them. I couldn't afford them. 39:00
HT: You probably got a ticket almost every day.
MCL: Just [about] every day. If you didn't wake up in time and move it to thealternate side of the street, you just were doomed. It wasn't-and I wasn't used to not having a car. But once I lost the car I learned public transportation. I never got another one [while I was single]. Didn't need it anymore. You don't need a car in New York City. But I had to drive out to Long Island. So, I did need a car. I just couldn't afford the garage, which is why I moved out to Long Island.
HT: Now, what was it like living on Long Island?
MCL: Like living here. It was much more provincial and very far out andresidential and there was industry, but I didn't have much to do with it. So, I lived in Bay Shore. It was along the sea shore of the Long Island Sound, it was pretty and wonderful. And I had two schools: Bay Shore Elementary and another school on the other side of the island. So, I would run back and forth. 40:00
HT: So, you were still teaching art?
MCL: Yes. And I did that for two years and, then, moved into the city. And thiswas post-divorce. So, moved back into Manhattan and had a roommate. And that's when I found theater and never turned back.
HT: Was this the woman you're talking about?
MCL: The opera singer and the theater. She got heart disease, well, a valvedisease. What is heart disease, a blood disease actually? [Sarcoidosis actually.]
HT: I'm not really sure.
MCL: It damages your heart valves and your heart, the muscle. She couldn't singopera. So, she produced musical theater. I did posters at first. Then I did sets, sort of painted flats. Then I did costumes, because I could sew. Then I went to graduate school to learn how to do it! Because I was [already] doing it. There was a lot of black theater at the time. It was a second wave of black theater [different] from [the] WPA [Works Progress Administration] projects. And 41:00it was everywhere. The Ford Foundation was very supportive of the new burgeoning urban black theater. There were writers everywhere writing. There were plays to do.
HT: Almost like a second renaissance.
MCL: It was. It was kind of a black theater renaissance, especially inManhattan, in New York. Well, not just Manhattan. There was some in Brooklyn, [New York] too. So, I just did that. [My roommate Hazel Bryant] got grants, found a building, raised awareness, nurtured playwrights, and I made posters and cranked out flyers and held up flats. I would make flats, and sometimes they wouldn't be technically correct. And I'd have to stand there and hold one of them.
HT: You mentioned flats. I don't know what that is.
MCL: It's the scenery. They don't use it much in theater anymore. You paint onthem. They're stretched canvas on large panels.
MCL: They have a T-bar in the back so they stand like an easel kind of. And youcan create the scenery. HT: Okay. 42:00
MCL: Now, scenery is much more imagined or indicated. It was more realism then.Not as abstract. Especially if you hadn't studied it.
HT: So, you created those?
MCL: I created those.
HT: Designed them and actually manufactured them?
MCL: Built them, [painted them] too.
MCL: With other guys. There were carpenters around who also liked theater.Theater was alive. So, there were a lot of people, lighting designers. And, then, Brooklyn College had a little program, a two-year associate program where you could go and learn scene painting, or lighting, or costuming. It wasn't design. It was adjunct. It was how to get your show up. [A] two year [program]. And my roommate went for administration. I remember someone from the public theater, from Joe Papp's Theater would teach the classes. Bernie Gersten, a 43:00fairly major producer in New York. Everything was supporting black theater and it becoming, and Joe Papp was very championing of the new theater and would allow people to put on plays in his places. And we learned how to build the flats. I learned how to paint them more. I learned how to do ground plans and plot the stage and work with directors.
HT: And what are ground plans?
MCL: It's kind of like a house plan, like the floor plan, like where the thingsgo and where the fly space is and where things will come in so that you don't have something land on an actor's head or, you know, how much room they need for the bedroom scene. It's the technical part. And I could do that in a rudimentary way, but this was rudimentary. We had budgets of $500, $1,000, $1,500 at the 44:00most to do the whole thing. So, it was magic. Lots of magic. [laughter]
HT: Lots of smoke and mirrors.
MCL: Smoke and mirrors, a lot of smoke and mirrors, and painting. Painting wascheap, and I could paint. So, I would paint anything we needed: the park, the house, the bed, the floor.
HT: Where did you actually have the theater productions?
MCL: [Hazel] would rent-at one point we were across the street from Macy's on34th street in an empty building that she rented and got grant money to have as much theater as she could put together. All systems were supporting this movement of black theater. So, if you could write grants, if you had a college degree and were literate, you could find money. And she could find money. She was good at finding money. I didn't have to raise money. I just had to do, you know, I sort of- I was our shop. I was our poster maker. I was-if it was a 45:00realistic play, which most of it was, then the people would come in their own clothes. And I would tell them what to wear for the play. If I had to have something specialty, I could sew it. And if I didn't, and I started learning the houses that would let you rent costumes if you were a not-for-profit theater. And I sort of backed into both design of costumes and of sets.
MCL: [And] do lighting until I got to graduate school, 1976 I went to TempleUniversity to learn to do what I was already doing [again]!
HT: So, you were a step ahead of your classmates I would assume?
MCL: And older than them, too. I was thirty-six years old. Most of them werecoming in out of college and doing it. I was the same age as most of the professors. So, I kind of knew strongly what I wanted to do [and] learn and what 46:00I wanted in my portfolio. And it was black-theater oriented. And interestingly enough, I fulfilled a [diversity] quota for them, because I was both black and female. And they needed both in the graduate school to be [considered] diverse like they were required to be. So, they loved me. [laughter] And I loved them. And my professors would let me do some of the plays that were-the American Cannon [of] Theater, and then they would let me substitute some black ones when I wanted to. And, then, that would acquaint the other students with some black theater that they [wouldn't] know anything about, because I was the only black student in design. There was one in lighting design. But I was in theater design, which started out for me as set design, I thought. And, then, became costume design quickly. But I majored in both. I could do both.
HT: Was that a two-year program?
MCL: Terminal degree or Master of Fine Arts. But I didn't have a social life at47:00Temple, because you never left the theater building except to go home, maybe if you were lucky. We slept sometimes under the sewing machines. Did our laundry in the costume shop washing machines, because you didn't get home? And it was intensive, and it was a good way to learn a lot of theater for a person who hadn't come up through it in college. Everybody else in the graduate school had done it in college. I had done it in New York off Broadway, off, off Broadway actually. So, I had done it. And we had paid audiences. So, we were different than the college students. But we knew about the same things. They knew more history. I knew no theater history at that point. Graduate school, I learned it all. That was intensive. I'm glad I was an adult. Some of the kids who were twenty-something, it would make them have almost nervous breakdowns. It was hard 48:00
HT: Was there great attrition rate with the younger kids?
MCL: Yeah. Some just couldn't hack the time requirement or the pressure. I hadsettled into that pretty easily. I became kind of mama to some of those, though. Because I was old enough to spot them and their problems. I had a house in Camden, New Jersey. And it was a ten-room house. So, they were crashing and burning at my house often. [laughter] And I was feeding them. So, a lot of them are still friends. They were all a lot younger than me.
HT: Do you still keep in touch with any of these kids?
MCL: Yes. I know quite a few of them. And they're still working most of them.Not many dropped out after the freshman-the first year. If you made it to second year, then you made it to third year. But if you weren't going to make it, you stopped at the beginning at second semester usually. It was hard. I remember 49:00saying, "Why did I do this to myself?" in the second year. But my friends would all say, "No, you've gone more than halfway. Don't stop." And, so, I didn't.
HT: So you're glad you finished?
MCL: Absolutely. And I enjoyed doing it. It just was hard. Lack of sleep. Youcan do that in your twenties. Close to forty, it was a little harder.
HT: And after you graduated from Temple, what was your next adventure?
MCL: Back to New York to what I was already doing. I just moved back to New Yorkand worked. And, then, I was beginning to know directors. And they were pulling me out into the hinterlands. I worked a lot of regional theater. Everywhere, Cleveland, Ohio, California, Seattle, Washington, Atlanta, upstate New York, almost every regional theater that's in the country. Didn't ever do Houston or do the LA [Los Angeles]. But Cleveland, [Ohio] Playhouse, I must have done five 50:00things there. Crossroads Theater in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I did a lot of stuff there. Geva Theater up in Rochester, [New York]. Ah, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, what was that? Chicago, I did Steppenwolf [Theatre Company] and the Goodman Theatre [Chicago, Illinois]. In Seattle I did two or three different theaters. California, something in Orange County. I've done like eighty plays in forty years.
HT: That's quite a portfolio.
MCL: You know, I just worked as often as they called me. And sometimes I managedto do two at the same time, sometimes in two different places.
HT: Wow. And, of course, you would have to travel say to California and staythere for- MCL: Three of four days. It's not long [in] time as a costume designer, [the] commitment, they all have theater shops.
MCL: Where they build the costumes. Or if it's a modern new shop, then they takeyou out to [shop] or if it's a thrift store, meaning "near period," down to the 51:001950s and 1940s you can find still antique clothing stores. And they don't fall apart yet. Um, but you go-when they first read the play and the actors are there, and you've already designed between you and the director, you've talked about design and you know what he wants, and you've decided on a pallet. And you've talked to the set designer, and the lighting designer. And you go in and meet the actors, hear them read [the play], and stay for two or three days where you do the first fitting and measurements. And if anything is ready then, like if there are existing clothes, then you try them on and the shop begins to make them fit. Then you come back in the middle for a designer run through where you see them up doing the play with the blocking, they may have books in their hands, or they may have memorized some of it. Then you come back for tech three days before they begin to tech where you see the last final touches, and you 52:00know what the play really is. But you've already designed the costumes and most of them are manufactured by then. And you stay through tech. So, [then] you have ten days of residency.
HT: Oh, I see.
MCL: So, you're there if they have problems. You're there if you have to re-dosomething, if you got to tear it apart and make it over, or if they change their minds about something. Or if they need it rigged in a way to get out of it fast or into it fast, or to hide it on stage. The technical stuff. So, it's not a big time commitment. You can do two if they don't cross so you don't have two techs at the same time, or two read-ins (the beginning) at the same time.
HT: But it still requires a lot of travel on your part?
MCL: Yes. But they house you. They give you a car or somebody has a car thatdoes what you need doing. And per diem so you can feed yourself. And you mostly do graduate school all over again. You don't do much else but go to the theater.
HT: Now, who actually owns the costumes?
MCL: The theaters.
HT: The theater does?
MCL: Almost always.53:00
HT: So, you have no-almost like a patent type thing or anything like that?MCL: Only on the designs. But that-if they produce that show again, you would have first right of refusal to redo it before they can get somebody else. But directors- if it's a different director, they want a different show. They don't really want the same. That's why you could see a play six different times in six different theaters, and it's not the same. The words are the only things that are the same. Sometimes the period is not even the same. A director might want to experiment with a Shakespeare piece and do it in a modern time if it fits. If they can make the sensibility work. And so, no.
HT: So, what happens to the costumes after production is finished?
MCL: If they are not so specific as to be unuseful to another show, like, youknow, if you did Harvey and you did the rabbit, the rabbit doesn't get used until you do Harvey again. But if it's a 1940s suit, because somebody was wearing one, then next time they have another 1940s play, they can drag it out 54:00and use it again. So, they use them a lot.
HT: Oh, I see.
MCL: It's the only way they can afford to do theater.
HT: I imagine it's rather expensive to produce these costumes.
MCL: It is, but because it's a job in-house, and they are salaried employees,it's less expensive than if you were doing Broadway, and you were going to a competitive costume house that's in the business of producing costumes. The Goodman [Theatre in Chicago, Illinois], for instance had a costume shop-do you want to know all this?
HT: Oh, yes. It's fascinating.
MCL: The Goodman Theatre had a costume shop that was independent of theGoodman Theatre. And, so, jobbed themselves to the Goodman. So, they got to keep the costumes. The Goodman didn't own them. But, then, they could rent them to other theaters. Smart deal for the shop owner. So, the Goodman got to have anything they needed made, and paid just the wages, and for fabrics, and so they had a budget. But the costume shop owned the costumes and could rent 55:00them online to other theaters who were doing the same play or other plays [of the same period]. The designer is just a designer that gets paid for designing that show, and we go on [to the next one].
HT: But you get to keep your drawings and that sort of thing?
MCL: Oh, you own your drawings. They don't own the drawings. And they don't ownthe plot, and your interpretation of the play, which was a collaboration between you and the director most of the time. But he doesn't have any claim to the costume design either.
HT: I understand there's a huge costume collection at Mississippi State that youdonated, is that correct?
MCL: Yes, and it was [mostly] antique clothing that I collect.
HT: Okay. So, it wasn't things that you had designed?
MCL: For the most part, no. There were three pieces that the Steppenwolf let usbuy, that the Steppenwolf shop let us buy for the Wedding Band, because they were too specific. Well, I'm not sure why they let us buy them. Maybe they just decided [they] probably [were] not likely [to] use them again. So, they sold us 56:00the wedding dress, the wedding suit, the linen suit for the man, and one more dress that the same actress who got married was wearing. 'Cause, they were so specific and probably not useful otherwise.
HT: I would imagine there would be a lot of wear and tear on that type of clothing.
MCL: [There] is. They're dry cleaned once a week, sometimes twice a weekdepending on how active the play is. But they're made differently, too. They're not made like ready-to-wear clothes. They're flatted to another fabric, meaning doubled. So, it's that it is not just [the] one-fabric. It's double fabric, wide seams so if they had to take it out for somebody else, [they] can or let it in. Industrial-strength zippers. Not much Velcro if you could help it. Because that doesn't launder well, and makes weird noises on the stage if somebody is taking it off. Um, it's very specific. People say, "Oh, do you make your own clothes?" 57:00No. [laughter] I don't get to do my [own] sewing. I don't get to sew.
HT: I was reading recently, I think it was the Sunday paper, somewhere in Texas;it might have been the University of Texas has some of the costumes from Gone with the Wind.
MCL: The original movie?
HT: Right, the original movie. And the-remember the green velvet dress that she wore-
MCL: The drapes?
HT: The drapes.
HT: Well, apparently, it's been light damaged over the year. Of course, it'sseventy-some years old now. And they were trying-they really couldn't fix it up to make it look pristine any more.
HT: So, they-
MCL: Retiring it to a box?
HT: Well, no, I think it's going to be on display or something like that. Butthere was, apparently, some brown-it had turned like mustard brown in places.
MCL: Sunlight will do that. And green dyes have a lot of brown in them. It's acombination of blue, [yellow] and browns.
HT: So, are any of your costumes on exhibit somewhere?58:00
MCL: Yes, they are in-at the Mississippi State [University].
HT: Mississippi State.
MCL: They will take out groups of them and grouping them on mannequins and justshow them. But from my collection, they are [mostly] antique clothing. I use them sometimes in plays. If it [is] a period piece like the forties, thirties, fifties, sixties, sometimes I already owned pieces like that, because I like to shop. I'm addicted to shopping in antique clothing stores, and thrift stores. And you find something special, you just sort of own it. And it's in a box under your bed until it grows into its own room [laughing]. And, then, it grows into needing to give it to a college so that they can use it. So, they use it when they do little plays if there is a piece that they can use. I let them use it. And they show it.
HT: Because, we have a small textile collection over in University Archives. We59:00put some items on display from time to time. We have a small collection of gym suits, things like that. The earliest piece is 1913.
MCL: Oh, wow.
HT: Black, wool. It must have been horrible to wear that thing in this heat.
MCL: Remember what they used to swim in. Would sink. They were knit, and theywere wool, and you would probably sink.
HT: So, we put them on display every so often, but people don't wear them. Weput them on mannequins, because they are so fragile.
MCL: Well, some of the things that I own were so fragile. I would find antiqueclothing that was Victorian and Edwardian and buy it, because I liked it. But if I could use it in some scene that was non-active part and somebody sat, and, then, she came off stage and lifted off and put it away. And, so, they have some of that. But nothing from shows that I've done except that Wedding Band. Because you don't get to have them.
HT: But, then, you have all the design, the drawings and things like that?
MCL: They have use of the drawings. They show them. I haven't given up my60:00portfolio yet.
HT: Okay. MCL: I will eventually. But at the moment it's about to become atraveling exhibit.
HT: Oh, where it's going?
MCL: All over. Colleges will probably be the most attracted to it. [Some of itis] going to start at the McNeigh Museum in San Antonio. That is San Antonia. It's not Houston. San Antonio. Because they have a large costume collection. The Tobin Foundation. It's opera oriented. But I'm so specific with black theater mostly that they are intrigued and want to have it simultaneous to other costume designs. So, I get a [small] exhibit. And, then, it will start there and other people can-
HT: Is it coming our way?
MCL: You can. I'm sure [my assistant] Benjamen [Douglas] will contact thecollege and see if there is any way it can be useful here, especially since you have a good costume department.
MCL: And there are other renderings that I did in graduate school that were justgraduate-school assignments and were never realized as clothes, but they are 61:00renderings, useful for graduate students to see. And it will be a pretty big exhibit. I've got a 100 and some different drawings.
HT: Are these drawings water color, gouache?
MCL: I experiment with medium, also magic markers, and crayon. And, then,collage. When I started doing a lot of modern black theater, it was modern enough that you had to shop for the clothing. So, there's no point in drawing it. You won't find what you're drawing. So, you create yourself a shopping list of what you want the character to look like basically. And, so, I would cut up magazines and pictures and make collages. And that was my shopping list to dress the actors. So, I have a lot of that. So, I still get to do art. And it was somewhat problematic. Because my graduate school teacher said that too much of 62:00my rendering was suitable for framing, because I took too much pains with it. It was supposed to be a working drawing, and I was there with a two-hair brush doing lace on Cyrano de Bergerac. Because the painter in me just wanted to paint it. So, I'd be up in the middle of the night painting renderings that I should have drawn like this and showed to somebody [who] said, ["We can do this."]
HT: So, did you do fine art on the side?
MCL: It was almost always related to my costume designs. They became- HT: Butyou don't do landscapes or things like that in your spare time?
MCL: I'm now thinking-Yeah, right. [laughter] That commodity. I don't reallyhave spare time. And I have art equipment in a studio. But I haven't gotten into it to paint yet. I want to. But now I've got this foundation.
HT: Do you have your studio at home?
MCL: In Mississippi in another house.
HT: In another house, Okay.
MCL: But walking distance from my house. I find it's better that I don't work in63:00my house. I will clean up my whole house before I will get to the studio. The procrastination level is intense when it's home. I'll read a book. I'll feed the cat. Do the laundry. But if I have to go to work, I'll do it better.
HT: That makes sense.
MCL: Some people can get out of bed and paint. I can't live with the smell even,the turpentine. I don't know if I would go to bed. Probably [not]! HT: What's your favorite medium?
MCL: Watercolor, because I know it best.
HT: I like watercolor, too.
MCL: And I'd like to learn to do watercolor like for landscapes. Because I doit, you know, for costume it's not very-I maybe paint like gouache. It's heavy. It's dense. There some light shadow, but there's much more paint. It's very painterly. You know, I want to do paint. I'm a thwarted painter. 64:00
HT: Did you ever dabble in oils?
MCL: Yes, it's a dabble, though. They take too long to dry. I need-acrylicswould probably be more appealing, because you can shove it around like water color.
HT: I'll have to get back to painting one of these days myself.
MCL: I want to, too.
HT: When I retire. [laughter]
MCL: There you go. [laughter]
HT: If that ever happens. MCL: Yes, I'm probably not going to be retired. It's[always] going to be something-I'll have to assign myself some project.
HT: Well, tell me about Glad Rags a little bit, how that came to be and what'sthat all about.
MCL: It was because of owning all these materials, costumes and [antiqueclothing]. Doing it was a tax structure. It was doing business as Glad Rags. I just came up with a name for myself as a costume-as a designer. And it owns my portfolio, or it and me owns my portfolio. It's an entity as a tax structure, 65:00but [its symbol or emblem came about] when we were studying clowns [in grad school]. There was a delineator, which was a kind of a black face clown that had something to do with Vaudeville, I believe. I think he was the one that would present the show in the tradition of black face. And, then, the minstrels would come out and do what they were doing. And I saw a photograph of it in a book on black, [or] theater history and minstrels. And [one would] refer to his clothes as glad rags, [as in "I've got to] put on my glad rags." It appealed to me for [my] costume design [logo]. So, in designing a clown, I took that same figure and put him in white face and dressed him. And, then, of course, I described how it would be made (if it would be made). It was a clown project [or at least it] 66:00started out that way. So, it's framed. [laughing] And it became my name. It's, you know my umbrella. And I still use it. I still design. I do about one a year now, or one [or] two in about three years. If a favorite director will call me, then I will go work [with] him. [But now] my foundation is taking up all my time.
HT: So, you are semi-retired from-after design work?
MCL: I will do [a show] if I want to, yes.
HT: Well, tell me about the foundation.
MCL: The foundation is a literary foundation. It's a writer's foundation calledThe SonEdna Foundation, S-O-N-E-D-N-A. Named after my in-laws, Son Curtis and [Mayme] Edna Curtis. I just took part of their name became a word I had invented 67:00it back for a family reunion about fifteen years ago. And then called my foundation that. It is-bringing writers, both modern-well, modern at the moment and new, to the Delta, which is where I live in the Mississippi Delta. It's an area where kids aren't in high school aren't required to read great literature. They can read the Cliff Notes.
HT: It's happening everywhere.
MCL: I raised a child there, and I would not permit her to do that. So, she hada reading list. And we talked about literature. And, then, I just decided I have a lot of friends who are writers. And I started bringing them to the Delta and presenting them to the school system, and they would talk about their books. And we would do workshops for kids to write journals and to understand about literature and the spoken word. There are a lot of at-risk kids in Mississippi 68:00for one reason or the other. Not so much like urban kids with drugs as pregnancy and just dropping off the face of the earth. You know, just nothing to do, no jobs, or abusive parents situations, or abusive home situations. So, they, before going to the prison population, there will be sort of halfway organizations that will capture them and try to give them things to do, ways to express themselves that aren't so dangerous to them. And so disruptive to society. And, so, we get those groups and do workshops with them and bring in writers for them. And those kids are very expressive. And some of them probably are going to be writers. They've got a lot to say. And when they figure out how to say it, it's pretty powerful and painful. For them, too. And, you know, as an audience member or as a sponsor (like we've become) you let them, and you allow 69:00them, and you encourage them too. But, boy, you want to jump out of a window when they finish telling you about what they've been through or how they feel about people in their lives.
HT: So, do they write articles, or just stories?
MCL: It's just stories and essays now, you know, because they're beginning. Andwe're trying to attract more kids and get in more groups. We found that it doesn't work well through the school system. They're not very supportive of writing or reading. They're just trying to crank them out and make test scores and stay accredited [at] the low level [that] they're staying accredited-the arts get dropped from school budgets immediately as soon as they lose it, but not football. Don't get me started. [laughter]
HT: How long have these workshops been in existence, or the foundation in existence?
MCL: Well, the foundation is five years old now. So, I would have to associatean event with a board meeting because my board is all over the country. They're my friends, and they're mostly in theater or writing, and they would come down 70:00[for an event] and we'd have a board meeting [also]. We would present an event, and we would do workshops with kids. And if the kids had a sense of organization-if they were in an organization like this, a Sunflower County Freedom Project that has structure in Sunflower County and a van. And two adults who are attached to these kids all the time. Then, they will follow through, and the kids will continue to write until we see them again in six months. So, it's like being the art lady again. [laughter]
HT: What comes around goes around, right?
MCL: I'm doing it because it's the only way you can get it to them. So, you doit the way you can do it until I can start to get big enough to get enough notice to start raising some money so I can maybe take it to them. If I could get a bus, I could take it to them. It's hard for [most of] them to get to us.
HT: So, you do this all over the Delta, or just the county where you live?
MCL: All over the Delta. All over [north] Mississippi.
MCL: Because we have partnered with other organizations. The Mississippi Museumof Art helps us do a lot, because they have a way of having people come to a 71:00space. Um, Ole Miss does, Mississippi State does. Community colleges; we connect to them. Now, we're connecting to the B.B. King Museum, because it's about to become a venue for the Smithsonian Institute [in Washington, DC] that is developing a new museum, a new branch. Well, I guess they call them whole museums, like what seventeen of them? This one is going to be African American culture and experience. That may not be the right title. They're attracted to my foundation because we produce Readers Theater. And they want a presence of literature in the museum. And they want it lively and interactive. And, so, we're pursuing that, trying to be what they need when they need it. And they are 72:00watching us. And, so, it's-you know, we hope [it's going to be a partnership].
HT: You mentioned the Delta earlier. I know there was a lot of flooding going onearlier this year.
MCL: Especially far west. I'm about sixty miles [east] of the [Mississippi]River. So, it hasn't reached us. But it's [very wet at times] on the river. The Delta goes from Memphis to Greenwood, Greenville, actually in a sort of a triangle. And it's mostly because it was the Alluvia Flood Plain that produced all that rich cotton land. It's flat as a flounder, you know! And goes from where I am, which is like a gateway to the Delta, over to the [river]. [It's] the area where [the] Emmett Till [murder] happened. Where the school system is just the biggest mess. And it's [very] rural. You know! And academies were formed when the white students-when the parents didn't want their kids to integrate. So, there are a lot of academies. And, then, there are a lot of public schools. The academies can integrate now, though they don't pursue it, 73:00because they don't take state money. So, they don't have to. But they're not a good education any more. Everybody wants sports. Nobody wants the arts. And they think the-a lot of rural states don't think the arts are business. They don't think you earn money in the arts. They're mistaken. So, I'm also [a] Mississippi Arts Commissioner. I have a government job, too. Job, volunteer. They don't pay us. We practically pay them. [laughter] Well, we travel, and we spend NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] money, state money, [and privately funded money].
HT: So, you're a wonderful advocate for the arts it sounds like?
MCL: Yes, I am on five boards. I'm arted out, but I like it. It's good.
HT: It keeps you out of trouble.
MCL: It does. It keeps me off the streets. [laughter] And connects me to artistsall over.
HT: Sure. Now, getting back to the workshop that you have. Do the kids74:00eventually want to be published perhaps?
MCL: I don't know if they know it that way yet. Mostly, they're expressing andmeeting other people who express and realize that in a way, they're peers. Because these people write and they write-
HT: Would you like for some of the kids to be published?
MCL: Sure. Absolutely. Eventually, I would love that! We're trying to developprograms for kids. And we have to find venues. Because those small-we just identified last year that schools weren't the way to do it. Organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs-because you've got a captive audience of kids, and somebody running it [are the most sustaining and supportive]. So, all you need to do is bring your programs to the kids. We can't get the kids to the programs. So, I didn't end up needing a place to make the programs happen so much as to make the programs and take [them] to the kids. I have a big SUV [sports utility vehicle]. So, I just haul my board around. [laughter] And we would just do it, you know? I 75:00think a lot of my black theater experience of, you know, I've-got-a-barn; let's-put-on-a-play is pretty much how I function [with my foundation too]. [laughter]
HT: Sounds great to me.
MCL: You do it wherever you do it, you know? And, then, we try to find themoney. And because I am on all of these boards, I'm beginning to understand how money functions in the arts. And who has it. And how to get it. And my assistant wanted to run an arts organization when I met him as a nineteen-year-old sophomore. And he's now twenty-seven-eight year old running my life. And kind of running my arts organization. He's the executive director. And we're learning how to get ready to write grants so we can get some money.
HT: I imagine grant money is going to be rather scarce in the next few years.
MCL: Scarce indeed. But, you know, we are all pretty connected to otherorganizations. So, [we] can coattail, and they give us space. We don't have to 76:00do rent. I get friends to come. And, then, my friends are now my age. They've succeeded [at] what they're doing. So, they can afford to get on a plane and come help the Delta, and they like to. A lot of them are from the Delta. One of my actors that was in North Carolina, Hattie Winston, was from Greenwood. She is a Delta actress. She just said yes to being onboard. And she's coming to the Delta to do a reading at the B.B. King. So, is Phylicia Rashad, and she's not from Mississippi. I think she's from Texas. But she just liked it and wanted something to do, also-
HT: These are folks that you met over in Winston-Salem, I guess?
MCL: Well, I didn't meet them there. They were in [the] play [we produced]. Iknew them from before-from theater. I've dressed [some of them as a costume designer]. I just call up people that I know. And because we're doing dramatized readings the actors [I've known] are useful to me as a literary person. And some 77:00of it is theater literature. One of my friends wrote the play about Emmett Till. We read it as a dramatic reading. Because it was literature. It's just theatrical literature. [We're] not limited to novels. It's theatrical literature, poetry, [the memoir], novels, even textbooks. [We] have a mystery writer. [We] have [two people] who did [the] memoir [form]. The memoir is one of the forms that fits [well] for the kids, because that's kind of their approach. They start from what they know. None of them are making fantasy yet, or fiction. They don't know fiction that much. Their lives are stranger than fiction for the most part.
HT: I bet they are. Well, tell me about your involvement with National BlackTheater Festival over in Winston.
MCL: I've gone to it before as a costume designer for plays that my producerfriends have done. My board president is a producer at Brown University's "Rite 78:00and Reasons Theater." It's a-one of Brown's theater projects. And this time we brought our own production there. But it's a festival that is now nineteen or twenty years old. It [happens] every two years in Winston-Salem. It's grown huge. The city of Winston-Salem is behind it 100 percent. Streets are named "Black Theater Way" [for example]. And we take over the Marriott Hotel and that hotel across the street. I think it's the Embassy Suites or something. It's just like the Fringe Festival in Scotland: theater, theater, theater. [There] must have been fifty productions. You could see something morning, noon, and night, and [even] later at night. There are even late-night things, cabarets and such. So, we've managed to get our reader's piece done there as a reader's piece. I was a producer this time. And we got Phylicia Rashad and Hattie Winston as two 79:00name-brand actors, which the festival enjoyed and publicized. And, so, they gave us some money. We got part of our budget donated by the festival itself, because we created a draw for them. Partnerships, I'm learning about partnerships.
HT: Collaboration, that's the only way to go these days-
MCL: It's the only way to function. Nobody can do it by themselves anymore.
HT: That is so true.
MCL: And funders don't even respect you if you are trying to do it by yourself.If you're not collecting other audiences, they don't-they need you to be diverse, too. So, I'm learning all that. I listen well. [laughter]
HT: So, have you attended just about all the festivals over in Winston?
MCL: No, not to [all] nineteen. I've been to maybe five or six. I was honored atone for costume design and life-time achievement. That was about four years ago or five, oh, seven. Maybe it was seven. I've been to three or four of them. I 80:00have friends in everything there. It's old home, we're going to show up. And all of us are old now. [laughter] So, we're standing back and watching the young people do it, enjoying them. It's just a great experience. Their slogan now is, "Black Theater for Everyone," because they're realizing that they don't want their audience to be [just] black. They want their audience to be everybody, because there's so much history that didn't get done in history [books] that you learn through theater, because the people that are writing it are the people [who] lived it. They're filling in the blanks that didn't happen in the history books. It's a great way to learn. It's for black people and nonblack people to learn about African American history, or American history as my former husband insisted. He doesn't like [the designation] "black history." 81:00
HT: That's true.
MCL: And I don't [really either]-the concept. It just was necessary, but it'snot preferred. It is a way to deal with filling in the blanks. And maybe one day it won't be necessary to call it that. It will just be American history.
HT: One hundred years from now perhaps.
MCL: It will be American history. And our kids will go, "What? Why did they callit black history?" And he says it [ought to be that way now].
HT: Have you been involved with UNCG since you graduated almost fifty years ago?
MCL: Yes, recently. I represented the chancellor twice in two graduations, wellinvestures-one in the Delta. The university, that won't come to me, right now, the name of it [Valley State University]. But I had my cap and gown and went and stood in for my alma mater.
HT: That's great.
MCL: I'm beginning to get more involved.
HT: That's wonderful.
MCL: And I think I'm coming to the reunion next year. And I'm here now.82:00
HT: That's right.
MCL: And this is my first time here in the fifty years.
HT: On campus?
MCL: Yes, on campus. But, yes, reconnected to all of it.
HT: That's wonderful. It's great to have you here.
MCL: It's great to be here. And perhaps my exhibit will end up here.
HT: That would be wonderful. I'd love to see it.
MCL: I have to figure out who to ask about that, or who to see. Benjamen, I'msure, will figure that out.
HT: I'm sure. It will probably be someone over at the costume department.
MCL: I guess he will identify who that is and see if we can book it here. It'san independent tour with a booking agent. But it's almost complete essays about the experience of black theater [is] one of the components we want to put together, and that's not me. I mean I'm sure this interview, parts of this [will] probably end up in it, too.
MCL: Because when I talk a lot comes out, and it's useful. And I'm best atinterview. Don't make me write an essay! [laughter] 83:00
HT: Well, you've done very well. But I don't have any more formal questions foryou. Do you have anything that you would like to add [that] we haven't covered? Because we've covered so much this morning.
MCL: I've noticed. You got me talking, and I'm just blabbing away. I didn't knowI had so much to say.
HT: And you were afraid you didn't have anything to say.
MCL: I really-because I thought it was just going to be the Sit-Ins and theCivil Rights Movement. And I wasn't very political then. I was service and supply. [laughter] You know, why I say that is because the play, the reading that we just did, was about World War Two. And the blacks that went to Europe to fight, and how they were shuffled off to the front lines and made to be service and supply, and they didn't have defense for the most part. And there's a song in our reading that was about service and supply. So, I've realized that's how I fit into the Civil Rights Movement I was service and supply.
HT: Everybody has to serve their part.
MCL: And daddy felt that way. I was pleased to attend, and he didn't thwart my84:00desire to be among my peers. He just directed it. [laughter]
HT: Well, thank you so much. It's been wonderful talking to you this morning.It's been a great pleasure meeting you.
MCL: Well, thank you. I've enjoyed it. From not knowing quite what I was goingto do to taking over your whole life for two hours. [laughter]
HT: That's fine. It's always great talking to you ladies. It really is. I hopeto see you here next year.
MCL: I'm going to plan on it. I think that will be great.
HT: It would be. Again, thank you so much.
MCL: Thank you.