Oral Histories of Racial Integration at Carson-Newman College
Interview with Ann Carter Bowen
Ann Bowen attended Carson-Newman College from 1966 to 1969. This interview was conducted on at her office at Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee where she is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Special Assistant to the President for Diversity.
The interviewer's questions appear in the light blue rectangles while words that follow each are the interviewee's responses. To listen to each section of the interview, press the play button under the interview question. Some sections have been placed in bold text as reference points to aid in navigation.
Thank you for meeting with me.
I think I was reluctant to do it [this interview] in a sense but then I happened to think well Pat’s gone, Tony is dead. It seems like there was a boy from Newport but I don’t even know who he was or what happened to him. As far as the 60s go, the ones who really graduated then and were there the longest, I guess just leaves me. I thought well, back in the 60s when it really started I was the second African American female to graduate from Carson Newman. Pat finished that summer and I graduated in May of 1969. She always lauded herself as the first African American to graduate, which she was. So I thought she does need to talk to me because everyone else is dead.
Well, I really just want to collect your story and preserve the memories of what you experienced during you time at Carson-Newman.
I did a presentation two years ago, in a way, here on campus. Because I’m Special Assistant to the President for Diversity Services, part of my job is to organize black history events and programs along with other diverse cultural events. I got a few of us together. Not just those individuals that attended Carson-Newman, but those that were involved in colleges and schools during the integration era. This iswhat I talked about: my experience at Carson Newman. Ronnie Taylor, who finished maybe 5 years or 4 years after I did, also spoke. He talked about his experiences there, which were much different than mine not just because of gender, but because it had changed a little bit. He may have been more outgoing and I was more of an introvert I guess.
When they integrated the high schools in 64, my brothers and I chose to stay at the black high school (Nelson Merry). My mother was president of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association). The principal and the teachers came to her and said, “You know those who have already gone are gone but the rest of them are waiting to see what you’re going to do with your three children.” I was going to be Salutatorian and they said, “She will not be that at the other high school and what’s the point of her leaving in her last year?” Mom had been very active in the school and graduated from the school herself, so she decided to leave us there at Nelson Merry. I was in the last Black graduating class. I was the last Black Miss Nelson Merry also. There were nine students in my high school graduating class. Ann, the Valedictorian and I could not get scholarships to college because we were not in the top ten since there were only nine in the graduating class. We both chose Tennessee State University. I myself did not want to go to college; it had not been my plan. My plan was to get a job. Mom said, “No you’re going to college. You either select one or I’ll select one for you.” And of course she was pushing Carson-Newman and I was not excited about Carson-Newman. So I chose Tennessee State. It was either Carson-Newman or Knoxville College for her, but I chose Tennessee State.
I stayed there one semester and I wasn’t very happy. Mom said for me to come back home at the end of the semester and enroll in Carson-Newman, so that’s what I did. I entered Carson Newman in January of 1966. Mom had worked at Carson Newman previously so she decided to go back to work there. She was staying home with my grandmother at that time. In 1966 if you worked there, your children could go there for $35 a semester. Since Mom had worked there in the past, Dr. Fite, and I think the treasurer was Dr. Sloan, chose to let me go for $35 a semester. That was a blessing and I owe them much gratitude for doing that. They didn’t have to. It wasn’t an easy semester for me because I was used to all-Black schools. Even though you would have thought I’d be happy at Tennessee State, I was a stay-at-home person and a quiet person. I didn’t date and I didn’t go out much. There were 5,000 freshmen at Tennessee State that year so it was a little bit too large for me. Coming to Carson-Newman was quite a change because I didn’t talk a lot to anybody. Pat was there and had been there a year but our majors were different so we didn’t see each other. We both walked but we didn’t really walk together. So I was somewhat alone. No one picked on me and no one bothered me to the extent that would hurt my feelings.
I think I began to hide out in the cafeteria. My mom worked there and I knew all of the cooks, so I would go down in the basement and study. Well, someone found out I was in the basement studying. Probably some students, I don’t know who they were. I call them do-gooders because they thought they were doing something good for me but it just upset me. They told Dr. Fite that I was down there. I was called into Dr. Fite’s office and they asked me why I was going down in the bottom of the cafeteria in the locker room. I responded by telling him I went down there and studied. That’s when he said there had been complaints and I couldn’t go down there anymore. I found a room on the third floor of the old library; it was just a quiet section on the top level, I think it was the third floor. I found me a little corner in there and I spent a lot of time up there for a while. Sometime later I was asked, “Would you like to work in the cafeteria since you know everybody there?”, and I said yes. I went in as a student worker, which I enjoyed. I would eat my lunch in the back with the cooks. Somebody went to Dr. Fite again and said why are you making her eat in the back? He called me back again, he or Dr. Sloan one, and they said you can’t eat back there with the cooks. So I said I just won’t eat. They said no. From then on, Mom and the other cooks could not eat in the back anymore. They all had to go out to where the students ate. Of course, they were upset with me. They said, “You messed up our good thing” because they had a nice little colorful area back there they had fixed up for themselves. They had remodeled the cafeteria at that time. So they all had to go out and eat and they said, “You messed up everything for everybody.” (laughs)
Did the people who complained think you were being made to eat in the back?
Yes that’s why I call them do-gooders. But that was my choice. I probably shouldn’t have been eating back there, but that’s what made me feel good and made me feel happy. No one was walking in my shoes. It’s hard to imagine walking around on a campus of all white people. You tend of forget who you are and what color you are. Your mind kind of wanders; it’s very odd.
Students weren't really mean to me. The next year there were a few more African Americans there. Tony was one; he was a basketball player. The Black students would meet in the student area near the pool table next to where the mailboxes were in the old cafeteria. They would congregate there and have fun and enjoy each other. Well, I didn’t. Even though I knew them I just didn’t. That wasn’t me. Students would say why aren’t you over there with them and I finally learned to ask, “Why aren’t you over there with them? If you want to why don’t you go join them?” That’s not what I choose to do. Then the first African American football player came. Well I dated him some. He came probably that next June. But he didn’t like it that much either. He didn’t stay but a semester. It wasn’t his thing at all.
But my experience there was a good experience. You learn people.
At that time there was at least one African. I didn’t really get to know him even though he worked in the cafeteria, too. I got to know a few of the students. Some of them were in-town students and the few lived on campus. One of them was Sam, who owns Sam’s Meat Cleaver. Sam and Sharon, his wife, attended Carson-Newman while I was there. The Harris’ were another couple I befriended while there. The Harris man, I think that was his name, taught religion there. His son married a girl who became a friend of mine and I was in their wedding after we graduated. I made some pretty good friends while I was there. Kathy Wood, who works with me at Walters State, was there, too. Her name was Kathy Carter and I was Ann Carter, so our mail got switched a lot; that’s how I got to know Kathy. I got to know a few people but at that time, I wasn’t really outgoing. My thing was go to school, go to work, and do what I had to do, then come back home. When I graduated in 69 I didn’t have a teaching certificate. That summer I kind of looked for a job, but didn’t find one. In the fall I went back and got my teaching certificate. During that time, they let me oversee the cafeteria on the weekends. The dietitians name was Pearl McCann. I oversaw the cooks and the student workers from Friday to Sunday night. I did that for a semester while I was working on my teaching license. In essence, they kind of paid me to go to school. I got a check for working that was more than the $35 a semester that it cost me to go to school. My daughter was a Bonner Scholar there when she went to college.
So it sounds like in policy and idea, the campus was very open to having African Americans on campus, but when it came to you actually being there, they didn’t really understand how it was going to work for you.
They didn’t understand how it was going to work and they wouldn’t have wanted someone calling the paper and saying they’re making her do this or making her do that. Why Pat Crippins didn’t face any of that, I don’t know. She was more outgoing that I was. She was probably everywhere, all over campus. Me, I was hiding out and sometimes when you’re not the one doing the talking, then you kind get spotlighted at all the time. It wasn’t a bad place to go to school at all. I enjoyed some things and I did a little bit, I ran around with other students some. I did my first ice skating trip with a group at the college. I would go to things at night. It seems like I even tried to run for office at one point. I didn’t know anybody but they wanted me to run for office. I could have joined the choir. No one said you can’t join the sororities or anything like that. But you’re just going to be there by yourself.
And this was as new to me as it was for them. It was a true learning experience for me. I don’t regret my time there. I appreciate my time there. I’m glad I graduated from there. I’m glad I had the experience. But it was so different from the time I was there to the time [my daughter] was there, so different. She was a Bonner Scholar and she worked in the Registrar’s office the whole time she was there.
Now you lived at home right?
I lived at home.
Did you have the option of living in the dorm?
I could have lived in the dorm and I’m quite sure it wouldn’t have been a problem at all. It wasn’t like they hadn’t had Africans students there before.
It was just that at home it only cost $35 [for tuition without room and board] to go to college. We were barely making it and I didn’t have a car. Our house was, if you know where Nelson Merry, was across the railroad track over on the hill. Our house was right up that street. I walked to Carson-Newman every day. You could not miss class then and you could not miss chapel. You were more likely to be put out of school for missing chapel than you were for grades. Your parents got notices if you missed classes or if you didn’t attend chapel. I walked to school every day all kinds of weather. I think that I can’t imagine myself in weather like this [as it is very cold and rainy today] walking to school. But I did every day, back and forth, because we didn’t have but one car and Dad had to work. So I walked. Blanc and West was located as you go across the bridge, where there is a lumberyard. The owners used to watch me go up that hill every day, in all kinds of weather. He said he admired me because he said, “You went up that hill everyday no matter what the weather was.” And you had to wear skirts. Can you imagine how cold I was when I got there every day? Because like I said, we couldn’t wear pants. I was wet from head to toe. And I think about the way the wind blows your umbrella inside out.So it was a good experience. I’m sure Ronnie probably had a much better experience than I did because he came a long a couple years later.
Yes I was really surprised by what he said when I spoke with him and his stories. I was surprised how it changed so quickly. He probably got there about the time you graduated, but I would think he would have had more trouble. He seemed to have a really good experience as well.
No there was no trouble. Like I said, they wondered why I was so quiet. The football team messed with me more than anyone, but they were just playing with me. They’d say, “There’s that little quiet one. She doesn’t say a word.” That’s what they’d say. Then they’d say things to me and I take the tongs and squeeze up their little bread or I’d throw their food all on top of each other. They’d just laugh. But I didn’t get angry because I knew they were only playing with me. They were just having fun and probably trying to make me feel comfortable in their own silly way. So I did not have a bad experience
I guess it makes since that, like you said, it was new for everyone and no one really knew what to do.
No one knew what to do at all. Period. Like I said, I’m sure it was a learning experience for the college. And I really didn’t think about it, until you mentioned it, I never really thought about it being hard for them. I never really thought about the newspaper being there or maybe TV cameras. I didn’t really think about it. I guess that could have been possible, if there had been trouble. And I wonder now, did they talk to the student body before they did this? I’m sure they talked to somebody. Maybe the Student Government association was consulted.
I’d say government funding probably pushed the lever. The fact that they closed down the high school probably pushed the lever. But Pat went, and like I said, she must have entered fall of 64 because I graduated in 65 from high school and entered there January 66. She had been there a little while before I got there and I never heard her complain. I never heard her say anybody was mean to her or anything. She had a really bubbly and outgoing personality. She was probably talking to everybody who went by on the sidewalk. Me, I’m probably looking down like I even still do now. Really, I basically didn’t want to be bothered. I mean, basically I just wanted to go to class and do what I had to do and go home. There was definitely a difference in our personalities. Tony [Mills], by him being a “basketball star”, I’m sure he got loads of attention. His mom worked there also.
I enjoyed the classes. I enjoyed Dr. Brashear probably more than anybody. The sociology teacher, Gary Farley I think was his name, was really good because he would take groups of white students along with Pat and I and any others who wanted to his home. At that time Tony was there. I don’t know who else was there. He would take us to his house and he would sit down and talk to us about social issues. He was trying to make sure there was no trouble, trying to see what everyone was thinking. We were in an atmosphere where we were free to say whatever we wanted to say because we were not on campus. I can remember those meetings and nothing bad that came out; nothing at all.
Did I date while I was there? I could have, but I chose not to. I mean I had plenty of offers. Caucasian boys offered. I wasn’t dating hardly anybody period at that particular time. That was a little strange, a little odd.
You know, Jefferson City is a different place. Jefferson City has always been in its own way integrated. There’s never been a true separation of communities. I mean, where I lived there were always White people down the street and White people round the back of us. As children we played together at the school in afternoons. My brothers played with everybody and the way my parents worked, there was always someone of a different color at our house.
I have heard wonderful things about the education at Nelson Merry and that helped with the transition.
Yes. Everyone who went to Nelson Merry was taught like they were going to college. You know, now you have the trade school. Prior to just a few years ago every Black person in Jefferson City had some type of training or had been to college. Now I didn’t say they graduated. Prior to 1965 most of them had been in a college door or they got training up here at Morristown College or in the service. Most of the females in Jefferson City had been a through college door and quite a few of the men. There are quite a few highly professional people from Jefferson City 1965. Yes there’s Mark Dean who is the big IBM person; he created a lot of the IBM software. Of course everyone knows Carolyn Peck who’s on ESPN every other day. There were quite a few intelligent people who gained PhDs prior to 1965, African American people.
We were a very educated community, an accepting community. There was one young biracial girl, Yvonne, in Jefferson City. Her mother was Caucasian. The white schools would not take her in Jefferson City. My Mom, being president of the PTA, talked to Mr. Peck, the principal at that time and said, “The child needs to go to school.” So we took her in our school. Her brothers went to the elementary school, Jefferson Elementary School because they were not Biracial, but Yvonne came to our school. Her family even joined our church, Martha Davis, which is at the bottom of the hill down on Black Oak Street. It was an accepting community. People could have said no to Mom’s request for Yvonne to come to our school, but said that’s not the way you do things. That’s not the way it should be.
At Nelson Merry they taught all of us a high school curriculum geared to a college education. I can even remember my brother had French classes. There wasn’t a French teacher but they used those big 33 and 1/3 records or whatever it is to learn French. In fact, our science lab looked better than the one at Jefferson High School because they had just built ours a few years before it was shut down. I had Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Trig, Geometry, Algebra I, and Algebra II all in high school. Anyone who elected to go was prepared for college. Like I said, after 1965 it doesn’t seem to me as many Blacks attended college for whatever reason. Maybe they weren't guided toward college at the high schools they were in.
Many people do say that some things lost in the community when Nelson Merry closed. It’s too bad that they chose to close it in the process of integration.
They should have done something. But you know and I know that no one outside the Black community would have come to that school. Like I said, our science department there had labs that were far better than those at Jefferson High School’s. I don’t know what Maury looked like. We began to lose, not ourselves, but our contact with the Dandridge individuals and the White Pine individuals and the New Market and Strawberry Plain individuals. I think we began to lose the closeness we previously had Nelson Merry at that time. But it was a good school and the teachers there were well trained. Ms. Hardy, Mr. Peck, Coach Locke, and Earl Barnett were some of them. Mr. Barnett, who was from Jefferson City, was an excellent math teacher. We were always in the math contest at Carson-Newman. It was a very, very good school. The parents were involved in PTA. Did they become involved in PTA when their students moved? Very few of them became involved.
It would have been hard to make that change.
It was very hard to make that change. It was very, very difficult. It changed the outlook in the community. It’s still a quiet little place. I did enjoy it at Carson-Newman. I hope you emphasize that. It was a blessing to get an education. Especially at the cost I got it for. That in itself was a blessing, you know.
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