Interview of Calvin Nunnally. Interviewed by George Gilliam, Mason Mills, of The Ground Beneath Our Feet project.

Calvin Nunnally was a student in Prince Edward County at the time of the school closings.

This interview was taken in 2000 for "Massive Resistance," episode four of "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Virginia's History Since the Civil War," a production of George H. Gilliam and the Central Virginia Educational Television Corporation. George H. Gilliam is the Producer of the series, William G. Thomas, III the Assistant Producer, and Mason Mills the Director of Photography.

The transcripts represent what was said in the interview to the best of our ability. It is possible that some words, particularly names, have been misspelled. We have made no attempt to correct mistakes in grammar.

Mr. Nunnally: Yes, sir.
Mr. Gilliam: Good morning.
Mr. Nunnally: Good morning to you.
School Closing
Mr. Gilliam: I want to take you back to 1959, and I'm going to ask you about what was going on there in Prince Edward County during the early '50s, late '60s - late '50s, early '60s, and then I'm going to jump forward and talk to you about how successful you've been in later life despite the odds that you've confronted early in life. In June of 1959, the Board of Supervisors of Prince Edward County announced that it would not appropriate any money for the operation of the public schools in Prince Edward County for the fall of 1959. The white families had anticipated this news for several years and had actually collected something over $200,000 to start the Prince Edward Educational Foundation and the Academy schools. The black leadership in the county had been invited by the Educational Foundation to join with them and start a parallel black private school, and the black leadership said we don't want to do that. We want the public schools open. That's what we're fighting for is to keep the public schools open. And, as I understand the history, during the spring and summer of 1959, the black leadership hoped that the schools would open, not with standing what the white leadership would say. How old were you in 1959?
Mr. Nunnally: I was ten, ten years old in the 6th grade in 1959, and it was an interesting time because this all came sort of out of the blue for us, and of course, we were in the 6th grade and the news of no school sort of was appealing at the time. But, you mentioned that anticipation that the schools would reopen, and I remember that, even when the adults talked about it, that was something that was always said, that during the summer they'll work it out. The schools will probably open in the fall.
Mr. Gilliam: Where you a good student?
Mr. Nunnally: Average. I wasn't, you know, like most 6th graders.
Mr. Gilliam: I want you to go back and say, "I was an average student." I want you to try to, you know, see it up there on the screen; and they're not going to hear me. God knows they don't want to hear me, all they want is you.
Mr. Mills: Complete sentences, you know.
Mr. Gilliam: What kind of a student were you?
Mr. Nunnally: I was an average student. I didn't dislike school, but it wasn't one of my favorite things either. You know, like most 6th graders are, I guess. I went to school. I understood that an education was important. I mean, your parents had instilled that in you. The unique thing about that year was that it was the first year that I had been to school in Farmville. My 1 through 5 grades had been in Rice, Virginia, which is a little community about five miles east of here, and so, it was new in the sense of Farmville was like going to school in the city, and then all of a sudden you get the news there's no more school. So, there were a lot of things happening, it would appear, at the same time in a new town, at a new school and all of a sudden there's the idea that there's not going to be any school. So, it was sort of unsettling to say the least, but -
Mr. Gilliam: What did your parents do for a living?
Mr. Nunnally: My parents - my father has always had several jobs. At the time of the schools closing, he was working on the railroad, and he farmed. He always did both things. My mother was not working at the time, and it was much later in life that she worked as a bookkeeper, ironically at the local state park, which was Prince Edward State Park, which was the state park for blacks. And, it was a quite popular place because at the time it was the only park for blacks in the state, and I always thought it was interesting that people would come from Virginia Beach to Prince Edward State Park and it took me a long time to figure out that the reason they came there was because that was the only place they could go as blacks.
Mr. Gilliam: In the late summer of 1959 at the time when school had been expected to start, did you go by the school house to see if it was open, or did the word come out that it wasn't? How did you get the word?
Mr. Nunnally: It was like - the word came out through talk, common knowledge, discussion among people, and, I guess, as the summer started to wind down you would do the traditional back to school shopping, and that didn't happen for us. We often worked for- on our farm and on other's farms, and as the school year started to - or began we would get ready to come back to school and that didn't happen. We continued to work and it became clear the first few weeks in August the schools were not going to reopen, and all the summer there was always talk. The schools would open, they're going to open, something would come up maybe in City Council meetings, or Board of Supervisors meetings that would give a ray of hope, but it would fizzle out and we're now into September and the schools weren't open. I think that's when it really set in that the schools would not reopen that year when it was September. The neighboring counties had gone back to school and we were still waiting.
Mr. Gilliam: What did people do? What did black people do?
Mr. Nunnally: What did they do in terms of occupation?
Mr. Gilliam: Well, in terms of trying to cope with the fact that schools were not going to reopen. Did people try to go to schools in other areas, or did they stay home? What did people do?
Mr. Nunnally: I think it was sort of a combination of things that people did in anticipation of whatever would happen that fall, and I suppose there were some who had really admitted to themselves that the schools weren't going to open and they started to send their kids with relatives in other counties and other states, things like that. And, of course, that was pretty much against the law. It was against the rules, but people did it anyway. Some of the people that would have been seniors that year, especially that group, the rising seniors, went with other relatives into neighboring counties and things like that. But, for the most part, I think the majority of the people still were hoping against hope that something would happen and that the schools would just open, and it really wasn't until, like I said, in September, early in October that it was pretty much in everybody's mind the school is not going to open and those that have not made arrangements to go somewhere else just wouldn't have school.
Mr. Gilliam: What happened the next year?
Mr. Nunnally: Same thing.
Mr. Gilliam: And the year after?
Mr. Nunnally: The very same thing. The very same thing happened year after year. In fact, after the second year, I think, it was pretty much anticipated that nothing would happen the next year, but in the mean time, people started to try and make other arrangements to have their children stay with relatives, if they could transport them across county lines to other schools, things like that. And, of course, people would set up programs in churches, but it was by and large for the smaller children it was voluntary and kids who were in the 6th grade, let's say, and upper grades, if they had a pretty good job working on a farm somewhere they continued that. Sometimes they went, sometimes they didn't. Student teachers I remember came down from New York and taught in our local church, but it was a volunteer thing and some of the adults acted as, I don't want to say mentors, but they were there to, you know, keep the kids under control and things like that. But, the other part of it was this whole business of logistics. We were not a two-car family. My dad had the vehicle at work. So, it was a matter of getting to these things as much as having them available to go to especially if our church was about ten miles from where we lived. So, now, it would seem that it would be easier to get there, but that wasn't the case then. So, a lot of us just stayed on the farm, we worked, we did what we had always done. And, for my family, it wasn't until my youngest sister became of age that we, I think, really gave serious thought to doing something else, i.e. moving.
Mr. Gilliam: Did you ever move?
Mr. Nunnally: Yes. We moved in '63. My father, by that time, was working at a local company in Nottoway County, and it was essentially a saw mill indoors, one of the few of those days because most saw mills were outside. And, the man that owned the company decided that he was going to build two houses, and my dad would move into one and another friend of ours, both of whom worked at this company, would move into the other. And we did that in the summer of '63, and in that fall we were able to go back to school, and, essentially, those two houses were where we grew up. And, I still see the other family, and, you know, we just sort of grew up together in Nottoway County.
Mr. Gilliam: How old were you when you went back to school, and what grade did you enter?
Mr. Nunnally: Well, when the schools closed in '59, I was ten years old, as I said, and I had just completed the 6th grade. I was supposed to go to the 7th grade the next year. So, when we moved to Nottoway County three years had elapsed. I was thirteen, maybe fourteen at the time, and I went back in the 7th grade, and the schools were not willing to make any allowances for the fact that we had come from this situation and because of our age, and the interesting thing is, when other people either moved or even when the schools reopened in Prince Edward County, a lot of the students didn't go back for that very reason because of their age - the age difference and they were not advanced to the grade that they were supposed to be in and they were larger kids. They had grown by that time. My brother is a prime example. He didn't go back because at the time that we moved Vietnam was starting to crank up. So, he enlisted in the Air Force, and two years later found himself in Vietnam.
Mr. Gilliam: Without a high school -
Mr. Nunnally: Without a high school diploma. He now has a Ph.D., but that was something that he worked on in the military, got the GED, and when he got out he went to - in fact, one of the local undergraduate schools would not admit him. Wouldn't even consider admittance simply because he didn't have a high school diploma. They said if you pass the graduate record exam we'll admit you knowing that he probably would never do that. He passed the exam and was admitted, and, you know, the rest is history. But, a lot of kids didn't go back because of, basically, their size. They were too big to be in the grade that they had left off.
Mr. Gilliam: What year did you finally graduate from high school?
Mr. Nunnally: '68.
Mr. Gilliam: You finally graduated from high school in '68?
Mr. Nunnally: I finally graduated from high school in '68, I was twenty-one years old, and I had been drafted twice simply because I was of draft age, but I was still in school.
Mr. Gilliam: What did you say to the draft man?
Mr. Nunnally: Well, not what I wanted to say. You know, that was sort of my first - being drafted was, I guess, my first activist thing that I did, and it was in the mid-60s of course. And I wrote them a letter saying that I had not had ample opportunity to complete my education and would they consider a deferment until I finished high school and they granted that, which really blew me away. And, when I was in college, the first undergrad year, I was drafted again. I made the same appeal and it was granted. So, it was a situation where it was something I had never anticipated nor encountered, but that was when - no. Actually when I went back to school is when it really became very clear how much I had missed by being out of school. It's sort of one of those things you didn't really miss it until you were back into it. Teachers were using terms that were sort of foreign to me. Things that - developments that had come about in public education that we sort of had missed, and I realized then there was a whole chunk, and, to be perfectly honest, I probably would not have gone back myself had I been a bigger child. But, I was still sort of the same size as those kids. The only thing that gave me away was my voice. It was starting to get a little heavy and it's been getting heavier ever since. But, in fact, they used to call me the little kid with the big voice. So, I went back.
Mr. Gilliam: Where'd you go to college?
Mr. Nunnally: I went to undergraduate school in North Carolina, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and that was sort of an interesting twist of fake as well. The man who had been my elementary school principal when we moved to Nottoway County saw me at the post office one day right after I had graduated from high school, and he said what are you going to do now? And I said, I'm going to go to Vietnam like everybody else. He said, no you're not. He said, how would you like to go to Elizabeth City. And I said, sure. I'll go anywhere as long as it's not in Vietnam. To tell you the truth, I was thinking he'd meant New Jersey somewhere. And I said sure, I'll do that. So, he said one day I'll come and get you and we'll go down, I'll check it out. I had graduated number two in my high school class. I was salutatorian. So, he said one day I'll come and get you and I'll take you down there. And the next morning, the very next morning, my mother came in, it was like 6:30 in the morning, she said Mr. Hill is out here blowing the car horn. He said come on. I said where are we going. She said I don't know. He didn't say. He just said come on. So, I got dressed in a hurry and he took me down there. It just so happened that the director of financial aid was an undergraduate friend of his. And, of course, I took my transcript and they looked at my grades and I got a full four-year scholarship, and - it was late in the summer of my senior year. A couple of weeks later I was in my '60 Chevy, clothes packed, going to college.
Mr. Gilliam: And you stayed there four years?
Mr. Nunnally: Stayed four years of course at the time - during those four years, this new term started to be used on TV and in the newspapers called inflation. And I mention that because inflation eroded that four-year scholarship into what amounted to two years. So, the last two years were really, really rough. I had to work, and, of course, go to school, and my parents - and we grew up very poor. They did the best that they could as far as financing education, and was fortunate enough to get some loans from the local bank. In fact, the local banker who gave me my first loan is still in the banking business and he often remarks the fact that they weren't really in the business of making loans to students like me at the time, but he took a chance anyway. And, actually, when I finished undergraduate school I had a fellowship to go to Ohio State, and I called my dad and told him I that I had this fellowship to go to Ohio State to work on my masters and his comment was what you really need to do is go to work and pay for the loans that we've already gotten. And that's exactly what I did. So, even then it was still a tight situation money wise.
Mr. Gilliam: When did you end up going to graduate school?
Mr. Nunnally: It was - I ended up going to graduate school probably the third year that I was teaching. My mother had - once I got out of undergrad school, as I said, my parents had this strange idea that I should now go to work and I thought it might be something to do. So, I did, and the man who was the assistant principal at the elementary school where I taught started to talk to me about undergraduate school - I mean, about graduate school, and I applied to Longwood College back in Prince Edward County again, and got accepted and I worked and went to class at night and summers and got the masters degree in school administration from Longwood College.
Mr. Gilliam: Where were you teaching?
Mr. Nunnally: I was teaching in Amelia County. In fact, I actually finished undergraduate school a semester early, and I had gone to a conference, an honor society conference out in Arizona, and when I came back that's when my mother started to make these sounds about getting a job, an I thought, to keep the peace in the household, I'd better do that. And I applied to Amelia - I'm not even sure if applied to anywhere other than Amelia, he called - the superintendent called me the day he got the application. I went down like the next day for the interview, and taught there. I taught seventh grade Virginia History, believe it or not, for the first four years, and then went on to teach government and economics at the high school and it was at the time when Virginia was moving towards the middle school concept. We built a new school and one of the existing schools became the middle school. I had been designated to be the assistant principal there. I had gotten my masters degree in administration, and, somewhere in the summer, the person that was going to be the principal - in fact, he and I had gone to high school together, decided he would take the job at the Department of Education. So, the superintendent called me and said would you like to be principal. I said sure. And I did that for a couple of years before leaving and going to another job.
Mr. Gilliam: When you went back to school in 1963, were they integrated schools or segregated schools?
Mr. Nunnally: They were still integrated. The schools - when I went back school they were still integrated. The schools did not integrate in Nottoway County until the year after I graduated from high school.
Mr. Gilliam: Let me back, you said still integrated, and I think you meant still segregated.
Mr. Nunnally: Segregated. Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: When you went back to school in 1963 in Nottoway County, what was the condition of the school?
Mr. Nunnally: When I went back to school in 1963 in Nottoway, the schools were still segregated. In fact, they did not integrate until the year after I graduated. My sister, who is a couple of years younger than I, was the first one in our family to go to an integrated school.
Mr. Gilliam: Then, when you were teaching in Amelia County, were you teaching integrated classes?
Mr. Nunnally: I was teaching - when I first started teaching, I was teaching integrated classes after having gone to a segregated undergrad school. So, it was very, very, very, very interesting, and Amelia County in rural Virginia was still not up to speed, I think, in terms of the whole integration process. It was still new. It had happened, but there was a lot of tension and especially the parents that I dealt with when I first started teaching let it be known that this was something that they still weren't quite ready to accept.
Mr. Gilliam: Calvin when you went to teach school you were teaching Virginia History?
Mr. Nunnally: That's correct. I was teaching Virginia History.
Teaching Massive Resistance
Mr. Gilliam: What did you teach kids about Thomas Jefferson?
Mr. Nunnally: What I taught kids about Thomas Jefferson was not what I supposed to be teaching them about Thomas Jefferson. Let me start out by saying that. The text book that we used in 7th Grade Virginia History, I think it was called, Cavalier Commonwealth, and the first day, I'm sitting there. I haven't gotten my students yet, and I look at - I open this book to the section on slavery and there's a picture of a slave dancing in front of the slave quarters. And the pages went on to tell what a great life slavery was, and I knew then that I had to tell them something other than what was in this book. I told them the truth. I said we really have a situation here where you have an individual that people call famous teaching about democracy, and liberty, and individual freedom who owned slaves. And I said slavery was not a good thing. I said look at the picture of this slave. I said if you worked all day in the cotton fields, you would not be dancing in front of your quarters at night. I said you would be trying to subsist to rest for the next day. My principal, who happened to be black, called me on the carpet and said you will teach what's in this book. And, of course, you have to consider I was a child of the '60s and insurrection was now in my blood. We had picketed at our school and gone to other schools for civil rights marches and this like this. And I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I was not going to do that, and, of course, it wasn't long before I was visited by the superintendent who wanted to know what the problem was. And I showed him the picture. I said, can you, in all good conscience, tell me that this is the way slavery was? He said no. So, he said, you draw up your own syllabus. Tell me what you're going to teach. Let me see it, and I will approve. I did. I showed it to him. He said this is great. Let's move on with it. And I took a lot of heat. I took a lot of heat for a long time, and it wasn't until, I guess a couple of years later, somewhere in the legislature someone started to say that we needed to do something about Virginia History. We needed to revise the text to reflect the real world, and I think that more than anything else sort of eased the heat on me. But it, again, being in rural Amelia County, it was still something that a lot of people had a hard time with. A lot of people had a hard time with me, but, you know, and it wasn't just because of my being a product of Prince Edward County and the schools closing, all though that was a lot of it, I just, at that time, had come to realize that there was a lot wrong with society in terms of the way it dealt with the races and the racial issue. I think that more than anything else is what prompted me to be a social science major to start with. When I graduated from high school my determination was to be a research biologist. I was going to cure all of the diseases of the world. And I got to college and I think my peers influenced me and we started to read the works of Stokey Carmichael, Malcolm X. And, while there were a lot of things about some of those guys that we read I didn't agree with, I saw that they made a lot of good points, and then I started to really become analytical about what was written in terms of race, and segregation, and that type of thing. I realized then that, while mine would probably not be a life of burning buildings and insurrection, that I would never just roll over, and we weren't raised to roll over, even in Prince Edward County. We realized that there was a problem, but we were determined not to let that problem stop us from doing what we needed to do in terms of moving forward, in terms of education, and in terms of our outlook on life. That's one thing our parents always taught us. It's foolish and a waste of time to sit around and hate white people because of what happened in Prince Edward County. My dad always said it's foolish to hate white people for what happens anywhere, white people as a group. Get past it. Move on. Do what you need to do in order to make something of yourself.
Mr. Gilliam: What did you teach your students about massive resistance?
Mr. Nunnally: The main thing that I taught them about massive resistance is that, first of all, of course, with the text book that we had that it had not been given fair treatment, the whole issue of massive resistance, in books. And I taught them that massive resistance was not, how should I say, a movement against white people as much as it was a movement for the rights of all people. And, of course, these were 7th graders and they're looking at me like what is this man talking about, but the more we talked about it and the more they understood that black people were people too, especially the white kids. Again, integration was fairly new in Amelia County and there were still a lot of white kids who had misconceptions about black kids, about black people in general. But I could see the change and the gradual change in those students the more they learned that black people were people too. I mean, my white students would see me in the grocery store and it just amazed them that I was buying the same groceries that they had. I had breakfast just like they did, you know, pancakes and milk and stuff.
Mr. Gilliam: White milk.
Mr. Nunnally: White milk even. Yes. And the more they realized that black people were people too, I think the whole issue of what happened in terms of massive resistance became very interesting to them. And I probably dwelled on it a little more so than a lot of the teachers did probably I was living through it, but it was not to the extent that I came off that the races should hate each other. That there should always be this division between the races. More so, this is what happened and this is what we can learn from it.
Mr. Gilliam: When I talked to you on the telephone I asked you how you spent your time during the years the schools were closed and you had a great phrase.
Time Out of School
Mr. Nunnally: Well, when you talked to me and asked what did I do during those years, I probably told you I lived the life of an Indian. I did a lot of hunting and a lot fishing. This is Southside Virginia, very rural. There were no swimming pools in the summertime. There was no park to play in, but the interesting thing - and I did. I still like to hunt and fish, and I wouldn't take anything for the life that I lived, and not just during those years but my life in Southside Virginia. But the other interesting thing is that, in terms of the relationship between the races, the common people, you would have not known that anything had happened. The only difference was that the schools were closed. The poor white kids didn't have school either, any more so than we did. Those that couldn't afford to go the Academy were just like us. They lived the life of Indians as well. And there were white kids on the road that we lived. We still played with them. We still worked on their parent's farms. We were all sort of in the same boat.
Mr. Gilliam: You were all poor together?
Mr. Nunnally: We were all poor together. We were all poor together, and I think that's the thing that makes this whole situation very interesting because it was a situation that affected everybody and the affect was economic more so than anything else. And, those that could afford to do something else, did. White or black, and those that couldn't, they were in the same boat.
Mr. Mills: I have one request, is that we have him say the part of living like an Indian as if it's the first time you were telling us.
Mr. Nunnally: Okay. Okay. We can do that.
Mr. Gilliam: Calvin, how did you spend the time that you were out of school?
Mr. Nunnally: The time that I spent out of school during those years were spent pretty much living the life of an Indian. We would hunt, we would fish. If we get there days when we finished in the tobacco fields, especially if the weather was good, dad would say hey guys, let's go fishing. I learned to quail hunt during those times. I was quite a terror in my community. My dad had this notion to buy an automatic shotgun and I was about twelve years old at the time and very proficient with weapons. And, he let me quail hunt with the thing, and during the day, while he was working, I'd be out shooting quail. I became very good at it. The neighbors weren't too pleased with this automatic shotgun going off down in the fields three and four times. I mean, I could really rip them off, but that's what we did. We lived the life of an Indian. We would hunt, and fish, and work, and it taught me to work. My dad always had several things going. He had a little pickup truck, and while he was public working during the day, often times, we would cut a load of pulpwood and have it loaded by the time he got home. Didn't have a chain saw. I had to use what they call a bucksaw. One man on each side and you sort of cut the trees down. Hard work. And I think that more than anything else taught me the importance of work and the importance of education because every time I was on my knees cutting those trees I said if I ever get the opportunity to get an education and do something better than this, that's what I'm going to do. The sad part was not everybody was able to do that. There were a lot of people that, for instance, cut pulpwood for a living that are still doing just that. They felt that for whatever reason they weren't able to catch up. And catching up was a hard thing to do. When I went back I was, after being home year round for three years it's hard to get on a bus and go to school. I literally hated school, but it wasn't school that I hated, it was being away from home again. And once I made the adjustment, I realized that that's what it was that I hated.
Mr. Gilliam: White kids who could afford to went to the Academy, black kids who could went to some other county. Poor white kids were out of school and poor black kids were out of school. Race or class, that's what really drove the white leadership, do you think?
Root Cause of Massive Resistance
Mr. Nunnally: Race. Race. It was all about race because even when the schools were closed it was almost like little things would crop up. I remember when we came to Farmville, without any rhyme or reason if there were - I've known, had relatives and friends who were arrested for picketing without a permit when in reality the only thing they were doing was walking down the street three abreast and they called that illegal picketing. It was almost as if they decided to just pick on you because you were black, and I remember feeling very angry about that. You could walk in the Rose's Five and Dime store and immediately you attracted someone who would follow you throughout the store, especially if you weren't with an adult. If you were just a child walking in the store and if you didn't make a purchase very quick and move on someone would either just follow you around or actually ask you to leave. And it was a situation where it was very interesting because now that I think back on it, I only got that feeling when I came into the town of Farmville. I lived in the rural area in Rice. Where we lived, you didn't see that. I remember having what we thought, my parents thought, was appendicitis one time. And there was this man, he still lives there, Robert Bates, he was a deputy sheriff. A friend of my dad's. A white fellow. He actually came and took me to the hospital on his pickup truck. I'll never forget it, and I remember thinking that that was the nicest thing that man could have done because that was atypical at the time. It wouldn't have happened in Farmville, I thought, because these white people hate black people, but I didn't get that sense of that hate out in the rural area where we lived. But in Farmville, I remember being especially afraid of the police. The police just intimidated us because they, and I guess as a kid that age, represented authority, and authority that could be used against black people. They carried guns. They carried clubs. And, again, they would break us up sometimes if too many of us were walking down the street three abreast. And it was an unsettling time. You never knew - and, of course, this whole business of the Klu Klux Klan, of people burning crosses in your yard and things would happen from time to time. It was very unsettling. I remember - I don't know whether we were taught or told that Lundenberg County, which neighbors this county and Nottoway, was just a racially charged place. They would have cross burnings, and the Klan would have meetings in the fields and things at night, and it was very unsettling to, I guess, the young and old alike.
Mr. Gilliam: Has it improved?
Mr. Nunnally: Has it improved? It's improved probably on the surface, but I think - No, I know there is still a lot of division between the races in Southside Virginia, and just when you think it's gone, something will happen to let you know that it's not gone. I recently took a job as an intermediate school principal in Nottoway County. It's actually - the building that I'm in is my old high school where I graduated which is really neat. But, coming out of Richmond I had to find things that I had become accustomed to in Richmond, and, believe it or not, one of those was a cleaners. I don't have anywhere now a good place to take my clothes to clean them. So, I asked someone and they recommended a cleaners in Farmville, and I went to the cleaners twice and I got the same feeling both times that this lady really didn't appreciate my business. I couldn't even - and I like to think that I'm a charming lovable person, and I tried all I could to get this woman to just look at me, and she never did. I went to the cleaners twice and I since left that and I found another one in Waxville that's much more friendly, but it's little things like that that you still see from time to time in Farmville Virginia and even in Richmond Virginia. It's still there. It's still there and I don't care what anyone says. The racial tension, the desire among a lot of people to keep the races separate, it's still there. It's very real, and anybody that thinks otherwise, needs to get their head out of the sand.
Mr. Gilliam: How do you put aside your rage?
Mr. Nunnally: It's hard to put aside your rage. In fact, just when you think you have it under control, something like the incident in the cleaners will happen to bring it back to the surface, but the more you mature the more you have to realize that the person who has the determination to do whatever it is to keep the races separate is the one with the problem. And you can't dwell on it, and that's what our parents always instilled in us. You can't dwell on it. My dad had the same problem. When we moved to Nottoway County, to Burkeville, he also, in addition to working at the sawmill - well it was a veneer company. It was a sawmill indoors. He became a part-time police officer in Burkeville and remained so. When he retired he was the chief of police and had been on the force for thirty-eight years. But, he encountered it more so than we did as children because there were a lot of people who were determined that no black man was going to arrest them, or put them in handcuffs, or come in to their home for a domestic dispute, but you've go to know my dad. That wouldn't stop him. He wore the gun, but we saw that. We saw that race was still an issue, and even today, we see that. But, again, I think he taught us more by example than by word that you have to get past it, you work around it, you do what you have to do, and you move on. And I think that's what he instilled in us. There were seven of us. My sister, who was just below me- younger, passed away when we were in the 8th grade, and that was a devastating time, especially just coming out of the Prince Edward County thing. But, even in that, and I often tell the story when she passed away I thought I would never get over it. I said this is something that will never go away, but it got to a point where I could deal with it. It took its place in my heart and in my soul and I lived with it. And so it is with the whole racial business. It takes its place, and then you move on. You get over it because as my parents often said if you dwell on it, it will just be baggage that you'll have to carry around.
Mr. Gilliam: But somehow you picked up little redneck.
Mr. Nunnally: Why do you say I picked up a little redneck?
Mr. Gilliam: Because you're racing cars, that's all.
Mr. Nunnally: I love racing cars. I love racing cars. You know, funny you should say that because when you grow up in rural Virginia, in Southside Virginia, and when you look at it there's not, beyond skin color, there's not a lot of difference between the races in terms of their likes and dislikes, their hopes and aspirations, things like that. And that's what I tried to instill into my students when I started teaching. To let them see more through example than what I, you know, preached to them every day that people are really the same where ever you go and they have the same hopes and dreams, and likes and dislikes, and things like that. I just happen to love racing cars.
Mr. Gilliam: Thank you, Calvin.
Mr. Mills: Can I get one question in?
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah.
Race Relations
Mr. Mills: What do you say to somebody my age, thirty years old - well, I'm older than thirty, but how do you describe some of the things that went through your mind when you were 10 years old, or how can you - what's something that you can easily put it into words?
Mr. Nunnally: When you try to describe to anyone what this was all about, it's difficult to put it in to words simply because people almost always expect me to blurt out hate and anger. People always expect you to say that you were devastated and that you were damaged beyond repair, and I don't say that because it's not true. It was an awful time. It was a time - and it's hard to describe it to someone who is now twenty-nine or thirty years old especially. And, make no mistake, we've made great strides in racial relationships, and it's hard to describe to someone what you're feeling when you're twelve or thirteen years old and you know that someone hates you so bad that they will actually lock the school doors, chain them up, to keep you out. It's hard to describe that. It's hard to describe what it feels like when you're walking down the street and you see a white person coming towards you and they move to the other side of the street because of who you are. That's something that's almost so devastating that people don't even try to describe it because they don't like to think about it. They don't like to think that someone could hate them that bad, but it happens. It happened then and it still happens. I have actually met white people on the street that I knew and I had to actually stop them to get their attention and then they focus on my face because they've become so accustomed to looking down and not looking you in the eye just because I'm meeting a black person on the street. And it surprises them sometimes when they realize, oh, yeah. It's you. I'm sorry. And they'll often say I didn't recognize you, but what the truth is I didn't look at you. I looked through you, and it's still, as a black man, you get looked through. As a black person people look right through you. And it's an awful feeling.
Mr. Mills: Is that the same as going to the cleaners and have someone not even looking you in the eye?
Mr. Nunnally: It's exactly the same, and it's the same as the incident I mentioned as going to the cleaners. Just when I thought, you know, I wasn't even thinking of race, and I went it and this woman wouldn't look at me. And I tried to make friendly conversation and be charming and delightful like I always am. And she did not respond one bit. And I told my wife. I told her about it. She said, well, maybe she just in a bad mood that day. I said maybe so. Maybe it was her personality. So, the second time I went I sort of cranked up the charm. Got the same response. She took my money, she didn't thank me, she never looked me in the eye. It was like I was a non-person, and it was Prince Edward County, Farmville, Virginia, in 1959 all over again, and this happened a month ago in 1999. I was thinking about it earlier, this - Prince Edward County was founded in 1774. In 1954, when this whole segregation business really started to boil, very little had changed in Prince Edward County in all of those years, and that's so sad. And, even now, even in 1999, you still see what I encountered in the cleaners. It's still there, and anybody, anybody that thinks any different, they're really, really fooled.
Mr. Mills: I'll just say that for a white guy that grew up where this stuff had already taken place in a way, there was no real major movement during my life span, at least that I remember. And, you know, for me to say well, my head is in the sand because I don't witness that. And if someone's doing it right next to me I don't notice because it's not - you know, Pixie and I would go in and she would well this is what this guy did and I wouldn't even know. And I've had women say that to other guys.
Mr. Nunnally: The other side of this racial thing is this business of what you notice and what you don't notice, and there are a lot of people, a lot of people, black people, who notice a lot of things that they call racial slights that may or may not be, but some people are very, very sensitive to it. And, maybe, I've become desensitive, if there's such a word. Not so sensitive to it, but it is true that once you've been through something like the Prince Edward situation you do notice things that have racial overtones more so than people who wouldn't. I have been in the company of people from the North, for example, and, for instance, in a restaurant and just the way the waitress treats you it disturbs me and the other person is just chatting away and has never noticed a thing. And I'll mention it and they said oh, I didn't notice that. But, once you've been through something like this, you notice those things and it's hard not to notice. And this doesn't mean that you react every time that something like this happens, but it's certainly noticeable. It's real noticeable, and I guess some people are more sensitive to it than others.
Mr. Gilliam: This is great Calvin.
Mr. Mills: Is there anything else because - I mean, that's the stuff, for me, that's very interesting is knowing what you - I mean, here's a ten year old kid that doesn't really like school that much-
Mr. Nunnally: Right.
Mr. Mills: - but all of a sudden now you can't go.
Mr. Nunnally: Right.
Mr. Gilliam: You know, and now you're like why can't I go. You know, now it's almost I want to go now, but -
Mr. Nunnally: Yes. You know, what happened, once we returned to school even, it was a situation where it wasn't until we went back that we realized what we had been deprived of, and I think that more than anything else is what drove us to do what we did. Even going back to school, as I said, just the fact of being away from home all day was an adjustment, but it wasn't so much of missing the education that drove me to get an education as it was the idea instilled in us by our parents that by getting an education it was one way to help bridge the gap. It wasn't a guarantee. There are no guaranties, and our parents always said that. There are no guaranties, but my dad and my mother always would say if you get something in your head, no one can take that away from you. You can take away the schoolhouse, you can lock that up, but if you have the knowledge, the understanding, the formal education. And we were fortunate enough to, all of my brothers and sisters have degrees. My brother, who did not finish high school, has a Ph.D. in finance and business law from the University of Virginia, teaches at UNC Charlotte. But I think what we - the one lesson that we learned from all of this was the value of an education. What it can do for you in the economic and social environment that you have to exist in. And we don't think that we're anything any more spectacular than anyone else. We just - had a wake up call, so to speak, that this is really important, and I come from a very large family and not all of those family members were that blessed and that fortunate. Again, when the schools reopened many of them felt I would never catch up, and probably would not have. I saw a lot of lost potential. A lot of people who had the ability to do and have made good lives for themselves. A lot of it has been because they have a lot of good common sense, and that's invaluable, but could have done so much more had they had the opportunity to finish school and to get a formal education, but have done well nonetheless because they did have the potential to do well. But there's an entire, in my mind, generation out there whose entire lives were changed because of what happened at a Board of Supervisors meeting in Prince Edward County. And the sad part is it was going on right under our noses and we didn't know it. But we were poor farmers. We weren't politically connected, and I think that has made a lot of black people more sensitive to the fact that they really need to keep up with what's going on because it can affect you in a lot of ways. And, I think, especially those of us who grew up in Prince Edward County came to realize that once this bombshell fell and Mr. Austin came in and said there will be no school next year. I mean, there was a silence. A strange eerie silence all over the school, and it wasn't that as 6th grades, when they got out into the streets here at Mary Branch school they just went haywire. It was like wow, no school next year. But it was a silence that took - it was something that took people by surprise.

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