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

Ruth Eggleston lived in Prince Edward County during the school closing crisis. Her son Carl Eggleston was a student in middle school at the beginning of the crisis.

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. Gilliam: Mrs. Eggleston.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me today.
Mrs. Eggleston: Very welcome.
Mr. Gilliam: I want to go back in time forty years. I want to go back to 1959 when you were a young mother with six children.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes.
School Closings
Mr. Gilliam: There came a time in the summer of 1959 when the Board of Supervisors of Prince Edward County announced that they were not going to appropriate money to pay the teachers and reopen the schools. And that the schools would not be closed and would not reopen in the summer of 1959. Had you been prepared for that?
Mrs. Eggleston: No. Not really.
Mr. Gilliam: What had you heard about it?
Mrs. Eggleston: That, you know - I just heard that they were having a problem, and I kind of wasn't expecting that they would close, you know, like that.
Mr. Gilliam: Was your expectation that the schools would open?
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh, yeah. At one time.
Mr. Gilliam: Now, the -
Mrs. Eggleston: At least some of them, they did. You know.
Mr. Gilliam: When you got the word that the schools would not reopen, what was it like as a mother?
Mrs. Eggleston: It was devastating, really, you know, because we wanted them to be in school, and there was nothing, really, we could do at that time but hope and pray that it would soon, you know, be okay.
Mr. Gilliam: You got into September and the schools didn't open, You got into October and the schools still weren't open. What did you think then?
Mrs. Eggleston: We still was hoping that, you know, it would be resolved, which I thought it would be sooner than it was, you know.
Mr. Gilliam: Did you and your husband talk about -
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh, yes.
Mr. Gilliam: - what in the world you could do?
Mrs. Eggleston: We did. We did. We did a lot. We talked with other people, you know, the neighbors and other people who had children.
Mr. Gilliam: What were people saying?
Mrs. Eggleston: The same thing. They were hoping it would soon be over, and everything would, you know, be okay, back to normal, let's say.
Mr. Gilliam: Now, some people sent their kids to live with relatives in other areas.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes. They did.
Mr. Gilliam: Did you have any friends that did that?
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh, yes. I had some.
Mr. Gilliam: Could you tell me who they were and where they went as best you can remember?
Mrs. Eggleston: Well, some went out of town, some went back to their hometown. I can't name specific people right now. I wasn't prepared for this - that question. But I knew a lot of people who sent their children with relatives, back to grandmothers, and, you know, relatives, sisters, aunts, and stuff like that, things like that.
Mr. Gilliam: But people were still separated from their families?
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh yes. Yes. For years some of them were - some never came back. You know, just stayed on over.
Mr. Gilliam: What did your husband do for a living?
Mrs. Eggleston: He was a cabinetmaker. Did furniture. You know, he had a business of his own. Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: And were you working outside the house at that time?
Mrs. Eggleston: Nope. Had all those - all the kids were small the children were small. They - no. I had a full-time job in the house at that time.
Mr. Gilliam: So, there came a time when you and your husband decided that the schools here were not going to reopen and if -
Mrs. Eggleston: We finally realized. Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: And you realized that if you wanted your kids to go to school -
Mrs. Eggleston: We'd have to do something. Yeah. But we were from Amelia. So, we didn't want to send them back down there. So, that was when we decided to, you know, go to Cumberland.
Mr. Gilliam: And did your husband move his business to Cumberland or did you -
Mrs. Eggleston: No. We just had to go there and stay as much as we could, and then come back up - you know, he came back up here to run the business. You know, cause he didn't want to relocate the business hoping and praying that it would all be over and we could all do what we did just resume - they could go back to school.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you remember what month it was that you made the decision to move over to Cumberland?
Mrs. Eggleston: No. I don't. It was before school was over, but I don't remember the month.
Mr. Gilliam: So, Carl didn't actually - Carl and the other children didn't actually miss any school?
Mrs. Eggleston: No. They didn't miss any. No they didn't.
Mr. Gilliam: And when were you able to move back to Prince Edward County?
Mrs. Eggleston: It was - I believe it was the - when we knew that the school were going to be reopened, you know and then we came. They started back the same year the school reopened. Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: Were you able to go to your same church?
Mrs. Eggleston: Of course. Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: During the time you were in Cumberland -
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: - did you come over here to go to church?
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes. We were from Amelia anyway and we were members of churches in Amelia so we had to go to Amelia anyway. You know, so we - that didn't affect our church going.
Mr. Gilliam: What other aspects of your life were, I mean, you know, you had to move. So, that's a huge disruption, what else? I mean, were you in any social organizations, were you in any things where you were active with your neighbors that got disrupted?
Mrs. Eggleston: No not-I can't think of any right now, anyway. No. I didn't, you know, I wasn't in any clubs or anything like that - right at that time.
Mr. Gilliam: After you were able to move back, what - what did you - what have you told your children about that - that phase of our history?
Mrs. Eggleston: Well, we didn't tell them anything specific except that it was just a bad time. It was very unfortunate that that happened, but at least they didn't miss any, you know, any schooling. They didn't miss any classes or anything like that, you know. So, really it - it was bad, but I mean, you know, we just dealt with it the best we could.
Mr. Gilliam: Has it had any lasting effect, do you think, on your kids?
Mrs. Eggleston: I don't think on the rest of them. Carl. Carl is - he's still kind of like dealing with it. Carl has - Carl is - he's - I don't know - he thinks about it a lot and he talks about it. I think it affects Carl - it affected Carl a little more than it did the rest of them. Yes. He was always into things, you know, and he was one of them that would try to console the rest of them and he - Carl always acted as if he was the oldest one although he isn't. He's always kind of - He's been always a kind of take-charge person, you know. So, he - and his sister, she just went right along with them whenever, but the rest of them were too smart. They don't even, you know, it didn't effect them very much at all. I mean, not that they were aware. It did. Of course it has to affect you if you can't go - you have to go somewhere to a school, but, I mean, another school. But I don't think it affected them as it did Carl. It really did affect Carl tremendously.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you think race relations are better today, forty years later?
Race Relations
Mrs. Eggleston: You want my honest opinion, right?
Mr. Gilliam: Yes Ma'am.
Mrs. Eggleston: It might be a little, but I don't think too much. Not very much. I don't think very much. That's my opinion, just mine, just mine.
Mr. Gilliam: When you meet white people - let me - let me start this over again. Most of your - when most of - when most of the people that you know well meet with black pe - with white people, what - is there a sense of rage, is there a sense of you have let us down. How do most of your - your contemporaries, people who were parents during this time, what sort of bitterness and rage do they still feel towards the white leadership?
Mrs. Eggleston: I don't really know how they feel. We don't talk about it. I don't to my friends. But, you asked me what do I meet white people. I think, some of them I love most of them, but I can deal with any of them. I have my own way of dealing with people. I think I'm pretty good at dealing with people, but I kind of - the way I feel about it is they just didn't realize. You know, they had grown up imbedded in their head that they had to be separate. That's the way it had been for years and I don't think they really realize. So, I don't hold it against them or anything. I have a lot of white friends and I love them to death, and I don't know anybody personally that was really directly involved in that. You know, I'd say would be the cause of that happening. It's just something that happened.
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah, you weren't involved with the leadership?
Mrs. Eggleston: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No I'm not. I'm kind of a quiet, reserved person. [Laugh]
Mr. Gilliam: Well, if one of those people who had been one of the leaders, one of the ones who said we've got to close the schools rather than let a single white child go to school with a single black child, or they would have said Negro child, -
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: - if one of those people who made that kind of speech came in here and sat down in this chair, what would you want to say to him?
Mrs. Eggleston: Well, I would hope I wouldn't have to, you know, discuss it with him, but if I did - if I did I would just say it was wrong and I realize that you didn't really understand. Maybe still you don't understand why you felt that way, and then - I, my opinion about the whole thing is they grew up believing that, and that's the way it was for years and years and it's hard to change something that, kind of like, is in you. You know, that you - your mind is kind of psyched up to, believe that that's wrong, or that's right, or whatever, and everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But, I think it's wrong. I still think that a lot can be done to improve race relations and it's not good - I think it's really a lot of improvement. Again, I said that's my opinion.
Mr. Gilliam: What do you think - what would you like to see changed?
Mrs. Eggleston: About what?
Mr. Gilliam: In race relations. How would you - if you could draw a picture of the perfect world or the perfect farm, what would it look like?
Mrs. Eggleston: Are you sure you want to hear this? [laughter]
Mr. Gilliam: Yes, ma'am. [laughter]
Mrs. Eggleston: Okay. I think that if we were really, truly together in race-wise and such that we wouldn't have so many separate churches for white and black, cemeteries, white black. Its - I don't think, really, I say again, I don't think there's been very much improvement in race relations at all. I don't see but a very little. The most, I figure the most that has been done has been because of court orders and stuff like that. I don't think anybody too much - I don't - I wouldn't say anybody, but I mean, a lot of people - I don't think they've done it because they really want to improve on race relations. I'm not going to say that's my opinion again, I'm not going to repeat that again. But, that's the way I feel. Do you understand what I'm saying; I mean, do you understand what I'm trying to say anyway?
Mr. Gilliam: I think so. Mr. Lincoln is looking over your shoulder. What do you think he thinks about the way things are today?
Mrs. Eggleston: I don't think he would be so pleased. I don't think that much progress, I have to say again. I don't think - I think he would have envisioned much - a different, you know, a different - more progress in race relations. You see, we deal with a lot of people in this business of white and black, and I don't - I'm not involved as much like Carl is, but I observe a lot of things. But, that's what I think.
Mr. Gilliam: All right. You say that you were not one of the - one of the leaders. You were -
Mrs. Eggleston: Nope
Mr. Gilliam: A quiet person who want to be left alone basically.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yep. That's true.
Mr. Gilliam: Are you glad, however - or do you think that the fight that those people fought that you were a victim of was a fight worth fighting?
Mrs. Eggleston: Of course. Definitely. Yes. Definitely. We wouldn't have progressed - we wouldn't have progressed as much as we have if not. We would still be in those little tar shacks and such, you know, and, uh, segregated. I really - Yes. Definitely.
Mr. Gilliam: Mason, do you have any questions?
Mr. Mills: Well, I do have one. I'm thirty-two, and what - did I have - how can I exp - ask this except for someone - let's say your son. Did he have the same equal opportunity that I had growing up and learning in school?
Mrs. Eggleston: No. No. I don't think so. Definitely not.
Mr. Mills: Can you explain what you think was the difference?
Mrs. Eggleston: Well, as far as I know, the schools - they had better equipment, better - they were taught more. Anyway, the black, they said Negro at that time, but the blacks - they didn't have all the opportunities to do stuff and to learn and all of the things that the whites had, and I really don't. No, no. My answer would be no.
Mr. Mills: But that was the goal. It was to get that though, right?
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes. And I don't think they have it yet. I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel.
Mr. Gilliam: I think you're right.
Mrs. Eggleston: I don't think -
Mr. Gilliam: I agree with you, there is still a gap.
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah, They haven't reached it yet. I don't know. It'll probably be another century.
Mr. Mills: But can you tell me, someone that, you know, there's no way that I can understand exactly because I'm, you know, I don't witness those - when we were talking to Calvin I don't witness the same things -
Mrs. Eggleston: I understand what?
Mr. Gilliam: Well, there's certain things that happen to him from white people that will treat him a certain way -
Mr. Gilliam: He was talking about racial slights, people not looking him in the eye when he comes into a store, and you know, just -
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh, yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: - he says that black people and white people still treat each other differently.
Mrs. Eggleston: I would - Yeah. I wouldn't say all. I - like I said, there are a lot of real nice ones. They'll speak to you and smile with you, and we have a lot of friends that are white. Like I said, they - I think they forget they're white, and we forget they're white. They're just people to us, but I - I don't have anybody to, you know, slight me, as you say, or anything like that. But I usually just speak to them. Sometime I don't even turn around to see if they spoke back or not. I just keep going. Hello. Keep going. You know, because I did what I'm supposed to do. If they don't do it that's their fault, you know, that's their privilege or whatever.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you remember what Richard Nixon said when he went to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church in Atlanta?
Mrs. Eggleston: What?
Mr. Gilliam: He got up and, of course, he was the only white man in this church and he didn't know what to say. So, he got up, I mean, he was certainly no friend to black people and he got up and he said just because I have white skin I want you to know that like you I have a black heart.
Mrs. Eggleston: [laughter] I don't know if he realized all whites -
Mr. Mills: What I was getting at -
Mrs. Eggleston: I guess he thought that was nice, but I don't really appreciate it.
Mr. Mills: But in school, as a student, what were some of the difference, you know, that they may have had? Or were some of the different things that you may have seen your children go through?
Mrs. Eggleston: I was just reaching to tell you, I wouldn't know that because when I was in school we were just black and white. Um, I can't think of anything, you know, one single incident or anything that happened. Carl can probably enlighten you on that a little better than I could. You know, I don't - I can't answer that question honestly.
Mr. Mills: You mentioned that when you went to school. How can you share the difference between when you went to school and when Carl went to school?
Mrs. Eggleston: A - it was a great - It was great difference. It was a big difference because we accepted the fact that the whites and the blacks were at different schools. We had these little beat up schools and the white ones had the best schools. We had the high school the same thing. We had to go outside in the cold to go to this place and that place, and they had, you know, they had the best and we had less. That's the only - that's the best way I can describe that. And it was a great difference. The expression goes black and white. It was like black and white, salt and pepper, it was just like that. Does that explain?
Mr. Mills: But when Carl went to school, was it still that way?
Mrs. Eggleston: Yes. At first, yeah. Until they reopened, of course, it was the same way, the same, basically the same - as far as I know, now - I never was there, but I'm sure it was. Yes.
Mr. Mills: So, that's why people were fighting, was to get that equal -
Mrs. Eggleston: Equal opportunity in the schools.
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah. That's what they were fighting for. The same as the rest, and I guess they - I don't know. I can't - I can't say because I don't really know what was in their minds. I can only say what was in my, you know, what I think and what was in mine.
Mr. Gilliam: I think its been sort of interesting to me in trying to learn about this period and what was going on is that up until Prince Edward County, the goal of the NAACP had been for separate but equal.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah. That's right.
Mr. Gilliam: They wanted equal schools, and once they saw what happened over here -
Mrs. Eggleston: Separate but equal. What did you mean by that?
Mr. Gilliam: They wanted equal facilities, but they thought that they would always be separated. Thought that there would be black and there would be white, but they would be equal.
Mrs. Eggleston: I guess. I couldn't -
Mr. Gilliam: And then once they saw over here, something happened and as a result of the Moton High School situation it caused the National NAACP to change their goal, and the goal changed in the 1950s from equal to integrated.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: And it happened right here.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: In this county.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah. Yes. Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: And that set the pace for the whole nation?
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh Yes. Yes. That's true.
Mr. Gilliam: It's amazing.
Mrs. Eggleston: It is amazing. It's really amazing.
Mr. Gilliam: I think they came here and they said it is never going to be equal until it's integrated.
Mrs. Eggleston: That's true. That's right. That's true.
Mr. Gilliam: But that transformation was here.
Mrs. Eggleston: That's right it was.
Mr. Gilliam: It wasn't Chicago, or Phoenix, or Los Angeles. It was Prince Edward County, where that - that - they changed their approach.
Mrs. Eggleston: That's true. That's true.
Mr. Gilliam: That's pretty exciting.
Mrs. Eggleston: It is very exciting. It is.
Mr. Gilliam: We're in historic ground.
Mrs. Eggleston: Yeah.
Mr. Mills: Do you remember the Moton sit in?
Mrs. Eggleston: Oh, yeah. What, you mean in 1950?
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah.
Mrs. Eggleston: Well, no. We moved to Farmville in, I think it was '51. So, I wasn't up here at that time. Not that - Not that, I remember the walkouts and the marches from the school to the courthouse. That - a little bit about that, but - I don't.
Mr. Gilliam: Thank you so much.
Mrs. Eggleston: You're very welcome.

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