Oral Histories of Racial Integration at Carson-Newman College
Interview with Mozianio Reliford
Mozianio Reliford attended Carson-Newman College from 1967 to 1971. He now teaches at Jefferson County High School. This interview was conducted at the Carson-Newman library on January 23, 2013.
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Integration took place in '65. Here in the city, there was a – here in the country I went a black high school, that was Nelson Merry. And all the black students went to it and when integration first happened, Nelson Merry wasn’t given the choice. That is, the school was going to close in '66. So, those that wanted to stay could stay and those who wanted to go to the new high school could. That happened to be my sister, she was in one of the groups that went to the new high school and I stayed at the old high school. So, in '66 the old high school closed and then we all went to Jefferson High School that was out here on the highway. I was only there one year because I was a senior. From there I was not in the first group to come to Carson-Newman because there were some before me. My first year that I started here [at Carson-Newman] was 66. And at that time there wasn’t too much to be said. I mean, there weren’t too many blacks on campus but we seemed to all get along pretty good. I wasn’t under any racial tension or anything, but I had a heads up in a way, because I was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was integrated. So, when I came here, it was segregated. I knew both sides because I had gone to school with whites before I even got here, so It didn’t even bother me.
I didn’t know of any great incidences that happened. To people’s surprise, integration here was not as smooth as everyone thinks it was. There were some places that wouldn’t serve you. In fact there was one cafeteria downtown that decided that they would close rather than serve blacks. Even in my family, my uncle, at the time he was a barber. He had a partner. His name was Howard Ingram, and his partner’s name was Tate, and they split over whether or not they would do black haircuts in their shop, as opposed to all white haircuts. I’m just giving you some basic history. At the time, there was some turmoil. I know, sometimes when I talk to people, I say, “Well did you know that Jefferson City was supposedly having a riot at one time.” People say, “A riot? How did this take place?” What had happened was a cab driver had gone over a hill, and had gotten beaten up really. He came back to town and word got out that a lot of the whites were going to come over and attack the blacks. So, at that time, it reached all the way to Chicago, because I believe there was an article in the Chicago paper whereby it said said that some guardsmen had to be sent to Jefferson City.
That was – it had to be 65. Yeah. At the time, we were just teenage boys. We thought it was so strange because there was just a handful of us, and this big happening was supposed to take place, and it wasn’t much of anything.
But my experience here was that I found everything to go fairly smoothly. Of course at that time, when you were a freshman, you were considered a rat. It didn’t matter who you were. You wore those little beanies and walked around, and the upper classmen looked down on you. At that time too, I was always around the athletes, and I came to know a lot of them. That’s who I hung around with a lot. I think that transition was a lot smoother, because of just knowing people. Here in Jefferson City, it was so odd too, that we all grew up together. So, even though you had the black high school and the white high school, in the summertime we’d play ball against each other, or have a pick-up basketball game. Then, when school got started again we’d go of course to separate schools. But when integration took place it was so much easier because we’d all grown up together anyway.
Where some parts of campus life easier for you to be a pat of than others?
It wasn’t too bad. Of course, when I say there weren’t that many blacks on campus, that’s not altogether true because you did have Africans. We all wondered, how far are they going to go, because growing up in the social atmosphere we had been brought up in, there were some things you just naturally wouldn’t do in public, but for them, it was totally different. We’d sometime have to pull them over and say, now look, you might not want go doing that. Of course, Carson-Newman being a Christian college, there wasn’t too much socializing anyway. They didn’t allow you to dance on campus, I don’t know if that’s still true or not. It was kind of a controlled environment in a way. I found it to be sort of a challenging experience in ways. But very meaningful. Of course, then too, it all depends on personality. If you’re raised up to believe that people are people, and you don’t look at color, you just look at people, it’s far easier for you to get along with folks than other people can do. I don’t think there was too much of a rough transition here.
I've spoken with Mrs. Ann Bowen and she said that, like you have said, the transition depended on personality. She was more reserved and shy so she had a little bit of a harder time than, say Pat Crippins because she was so outgoing.
Right, now they were the first wave to come in here. And I think there was a gentlemen from Newport that was with them too. If you’ve spoken to Anne, she told you how it was. I’m sure Anne told you too, and I never found it to where, for example, nobody ever threw insults. I think that comes from it being a Christian school. People have a different train of thought.
Did you live on campus while you attended Carson-Newman?
At that time if you were an employee of the college, you got to come tuition free, so I literally worked my way through college. For me, Carson Newman was kind of like part of my daily job. That’s why when, even now with my children, I wanted them to go to school, and enjoy just going to college. And to have time to achieve to your utmost. A lot of times when you’re working, it’s… I started out in pre-engineering, of course, I’m a teacher now, I teach at the high school. Often I ‘ve thought to myself, if I’d had the time, I’d have been an engineer, but I just didn’t have the time.
Do you have any other comments about the transition of integration or stories about your time at Carson-Newman that you'd like to share?
Just like always, a lot of the black students who came here were football players. So, you know how it is with an athlete, they’re kind of put on a podium to start with. I can’t think of any. But one little side story is that when I was younger, I was a paper boy.They had the old dormitories set over here, so I’d come up into the dormitories and deliver a couple papers. And there was a guy, I don’t know how he did it, but he could just turn himself beet red. And, he would do that and jump out in front of me and chase me around the dorm. They’d get the biggest kick out of that, but I always knew he was there to come at me.
So you grew up on campus?
Yeah, I'm from here.
I mean, your mom worked here so you were on campus a lot already. Delivering papers and things too.
Jefferson city being the way it is, you can just walk around campus constantly because it’s part of the public street system. It’s a college town