Oral Histories of Racial Integration at Carson-Newman College
Interview with Ronnie Taylor
Ronnie Taylor attended Carson-Newman College from 1968 to 1972. This interview was conducted on November 6, 2012 in his office at Walters State Community College in Sevierville where he is the Director of Educational Services.
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.
Could you introduce yourself?
I’m from Dandridge, Tennessee. It is of course ten miles or so from Jefferson City. I decided on Carson-Newman because it was close by. I didn’t really want to drive to Knoxville or go to the interstate because I was close to family and I didn’t want to get too far away but I still did want to get away. My first year I commuted. My parents gave me a car when I graduated from high school so I commuted. I also worked because I needed the money and it is kind of expensive. Even though, back then tuition was I think $4000 which might not seem like a lot today but it was then. And I worked chapel at school and I worked at Magna Vox. Which I don’t know if you even know what that is now they’ve changed their name but they’re a cabinet making company. I choose Carson Newman because it was a Christian school and I had pretty strong Christian ethics. I was a church-goer: a member at the Presbyterian church there. I was an officer in the church so I wanted to be able to go somewhere that I could experience my Christian values. So that’s kind of the reason I did it. A small school. I got to know bunches of people. It was one of those environments where you could walk down the sidewalks and your arm would just get tired from waving and waving at people. I’m a social person anyway. Sometimes I would be with friends and they would say who was that, I’d say I don’t know I’m just waving, you know? But it was a friendly environment for me.
What did you study at Carson-Newman?
Eh! I started out in math because I thought I was good at math in high school. So I decided I wanted to teach so I wanted to pursue math. After a year and a half, math and I really didn’t get along very well. It was really because of me and because of my slovenliness to not study and to not really commit myself as a freshman student in college. So not faring very well in that major I decided to change and I changed to elementary education. In my senior year, I was short of some credits. I went to my advisor and said, “Okay, I need to get out of here. Just what do I have that I can use and finish?” We decided that we would go with English. I was always really good, especially in composition in high school and in to college. So I got my bachelor’s degree in English. I went then to University of Tennessee and majored in curriculum and instruction.
You enrolled at Carson-Newman four years after it first integrated. Did it still feel new? Obviously it was still a predominately white school but was there a good amount of diversity?
Yeah, there were very few of us.I was commuting so I wasn’t really there than much. The second year I came I lived in a house over on the South side of Andrew Johnson highway.It was a big house, kind of a boarding house for students.I stayed there with about seven other guys.It was pretty much a multicultural background of guys that lived there. My roommate was Reggie Butler, he was from the Nassau, Bahamas.We had another roommate who was from China.So, you know, it was a pretty diverse environment so I did get to experience the diversity to some degree there.Then as a junior I stayed in the dorm, Alumni dorm.My roommate was white. But you know, I’m just a friendly person.I didn’t really look at that stuff.It might have been predominate there but I didn’t see it.It just didn’t – I wasn’t one who had problems getting to like people.
Did you live on campus while you attended Carson-Newman? Did you enjoy living in the dorms?
I was in Alumni and then New Men’s Dorm my senior year. So I really got to experience it all: commuting first, then living in the boarding home second, and the dorm experiences the junior and senior year.
It had its goods and bads.What I liked about that environment was that there were a number of things that happened that created excitement but I didn’t like that when it came time to study, it was a constant 24 hour noise session. There were things that just constant on the hallways and my roommate in New Men’s was a crazy guy. He played guitar, he never went to class, matter of fact he flunked out of school.
What was it like studying at Carson-Newman?
Well I’ll go ahead and tell you this: I did get in trouble my sophomore year academically. I went up to Holt Gym during the summer to register for classes and they did not have my admissions record. So, they said “You need to go up to the administration building because there’s a problem and we don’t have your record here to register. You’re on academic probation.” I said “You kidding me! What? We’ve got to fix this because I can’t go home. My parents will kill me if I go home!” So, I had to appear before a readmissions committee. Now as I sit here and I talk to students over there, I can tell them what its like to sit before a readmissions committee. I tell them, “You know what, while you’re here let’s get serious because you don’t want to have to face that committee.” Its rude. It’s brutal. They set me up a place in the library for me to stay late hours there. I mean, it kind of set a precedent for me because they were going to give me an opportunity to prove that I was worthy of staying. So from that moment on, I was a good student. But it took that fear to get me on the right track. And also from that moment on it was very difficult for me to get my GPA back up to what it needed to be to graduate. I know we’re talking about Carson-Newman but I will say that at least experience at UT was different. I was a very much more mature, more settled, more determined. So I left there with honors.
Well you said you were very social and I'm sure that, as a freshman, you had to find a balance between studying and social life.
Oh I did and I have a constant reminder of how I was then: down in our rec center there is a ping pong table and some of the guys from China and Africa and I used to play with each other, against each other.We were the point of attention when students would come through the rec center which was also where the mailboxes were.Students would come from class to check their mail and just stop in their tracks to see us play ping pong. Those kinds of activities that kept me away from my study and the discipline that I should have had but you know, I learned my lesson after a couple years.Became more of a better academic student. I had a friend on campus from Florida and she was white. We became really very close friends and there was never any tension among students about the friendship we had on campus. There was also an African student there who played soccer and he had a white girlfriend they dated for two or three years.I just never saw the racism. It wasn’t blatant if it was present. It wasn’t blatant at all.
I understand that in some cases the student bodies were prepared for integration before the administration, even asking for the change in policy. Is that what you experienced?
Exactly right. Another reason that reinforces for me, at least a trend toward the change, was that Lorenzo Wyatt was a basketball player on the team and he’s from Bristol, Tennessee. He ran for student body president and came in second. Now during that time that was really something to accomplish as an African American student on campus. He was very smart. He really was. He was the child of parents who were – I think his father was a principal of a high school up in that county. And I think that the athletic programs created a closer bond with students. I went to many ball games and we were all just clustered together, you know. Didn’t matter, we were all there supporting the team.
Do you think that sports was an early avenue to the acceptance of racial integration? It was at least a publicly visual way to see the change happening.
Yeah, I can back up to give you more of a background that probably attributes to the freedom I felt. In 1964, the first year of high school, I was one of four black students to integrate the high school in Dandridge. At Maury High School. What better experience could you have than to be one of four in an environment where there’s over three hundred students and they’re all of another race. So I integrated. If you had those year books, you would see something a little bit different than you see here (in these Carson Newman yearbooks). Because when we had a social in the gym, you would see all these white students in the gym and you’d see a little brown dot right here and you’d see three others way up in the corner because my black associates didn’t integrate. They were there but they really weren’t there to integrate. I was there to integrate and that I did. So when I went to Carson Newman it wasn’t a shock. My shock was 9th grade. But for Pat Crippins and those, they probably had similar experience to what I had as a freshman in high school.
Are there any other things about your time at Carson-Newman that stick out to you?
It was kind of lively over there at times. Actually, I guess it was when I was a junior there was a lot of rumbling around campus about having a dance. So the student body couldn’t really get the administration to say yes to it but for whatever reason we decided to go on with one and we did. On that particular night we had a streaker to come up the steps in Holt Gym and run through the gym naked and back down to make an exit. And that night memorable too for having a dance and then to have a streaker run through the dance. It was one of those memorable moments.
When I’m recommending Carson Newman, and I do quite often, I guess the basis of my support is that it was for me, a very caring and friendly, cordial environment.I left there with a sense of pride. With a sense of appreciation and it was a great experience for me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.