Interview with B. Oswald Robinson


Oswald Robinson interview took place at his home on Groveton Road in Manassas, Virginia, on May 17, 1986.

| Back to "R" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |

A: You are taking classes under Dr. Carlton?

Q: Right...right.

A: Pat Carlton?

Q: Pat Carlton. Yes, and uh...

A: Would you like to see my professional credentials to begin?

Q: Yes, that would be a good beginning.

A: ... and to that extent...(Showing several pages from a scrapbook) I offer you this....

Q: Ah....1957, so you got your credentials (Postgraduate professional certification) in '57 for ...

robinson audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: Yes, but prior to that...see I had done undergraduate work. We have to look at things as relevant to the time. Q: Uh, humm. And when I completed high school in 1928, I started teaching immediately. By attending classes (in the summer for the a normal certificate...which I did, and continued until I received an undergraduate degree from Virginia State College which is now Virginia State University. Then after serving three years in the navy I had the GI (Bill). I wanted to do graduate work which at that time all minorities were being sent to New York, to Massachusetts--northern states- state money....Pardon me just a minute. (Stopping to talk to someone in the next room.) Maude, I'm going suggest that you....(The recorder was turned off.) I decided I had been away from the family long enough. So the only institution that would accept me was Catholic University of America. Then when I presented myself, Dean Campbell said, "Well, young man, where you did your undergraduate work (was) not a member of the Colleges of the (Catholic) University of America so you will have to do our undergraduate work prior to doing graduate work. I prevailed upon him to give me an examination to prove what I could do. I could not satisfy their Latin (requirement). I could not satisfy their philosophy (requirement) and several others. And by completing those subjects, then my certificate was raised to that (pointing to 1951 Virginia Collegiate Professional Certificate).

Q: Uh, hmmm.

A: Then when I continued and received a masters, it was raised to Postgraduate on that side (pointing to certificate). So that's how those came about. Now if you want....

Q: I see Woodson was superintendent at that time

A: Beg pardon?

Q: Woodson was superintendent then.

A: Woodson?

Q: Yes, I see he was the superintendent of the schools.

A: Do you want to know something? I am a person to be very hard to express negativeness of a person, but he was a hard person...(shaking his head)...steeped in biases. His son married a German girl but he would not even speak to them. I asked for all kinds of considerations for our (Black) schools. He said to me, "Oswald, do you want your job?" We had one little boy who was a victim of polio. According to your compulsory school laws, he had to go to school...a complete misfit...I could get no program for him whatsoeveA: I have here, you see this (pointing to book of memories), I became president of the Fairfax County Retired Teachers Association. As such the wife and I always had the first executive board meeting here. He came, as a member of a committee, and right out here, while on two crutches, he said to me he says, "Oswald, I am so sorry I mistreated you," he said. But he was steeped in biases, and I'll tell you I had a hard row to hoe. And that people can be eloquent, school people, and be hard both. He was just that. Well, a lot of people glorified him but....(appeared lost in thought)

Q: I didn't know him.

A: You didn't know him?

Q: No, Funderburk was superintendent (when I came in).

A: I was principal under four different superintendents in Fairfax. Woodson was a hard man. And that accounts for the preparations that I had. Now when I went to Vienna in '48, the (Black) people in Vienna were very angry, very angry. But they had self prede. Now in '39 this was a school that was built for them.

Q: On Nutley (Street)?

A: Yes.

Q: Was it called Louise Archer then?

A: No, it was called the Vienna Colored School, and the people wanted to change the name and he (Woodson?) would not agree. They wanted to change the name in '48. Now in 1948 when Q: went there the (Black) people had bought 7 acres of land on which the new school was constructed. And to their surprise, after they bought the land, they had to deed it to the county -(a requirement) which they were not aware of. So that made them doubly angry. But they had pride and they wanted to go forward. Now this is the plan of the school (showing a page from a history of Louise Archer). You see that it was constructed in '48--which included those fouA: ...those three rooms. Then you had another in '51, '56 I think, and '61. But anyway all of these. And this is the present plan. Now the overall plan--including the gym--that took place in 1970. Now if you want, you can take this. You can take any of this out of here you want. Now the people did not want it known as Vienna Colored School. They wanted it Louise Archer School, named after the woman who was so instrumental in her work that yeaA: These three can read through here and see how she maneuvered, and how she attached herself.

Q: I appreciate this. I'll copy what I want and then mail it back to you.

A: Yes, you can take these pages out and add to your report if you want. I'm through with this.

Q: Oh, okay.

A: In fact I have another you may have that.

Q: Thank you.

A: Yes, I am a stickler for a report being made very, very clearly. Some of it pictorially and visually and written. Three ways that you can get that sometimes adding a picture emphasizes. It does. But the people would not let those things keep them down. Now, in this 1948 construction, you see they have a cafeteria. The county never gave one penny for anything to go in that cafeteria. The people raised everything, the money for everything to meet standards--state's (and) county requirements. The people cooperated a hundred percent all the way across the board.

Q: How many people were there, uh, that lived in the area that year

A: For that particular 1948, there were 180 people, 180 school people. There were four teachers, myself--and I was teaching a half day and principal a half. All right, when that new construction was put on there, the same old furniture that was in the old three rooms remained, and in the other two rooms they brought in old furniture from out of the other schools. For every addition that was put on, there was never a new piece of furniture put in. Some of those desks were carved a quarter of an inch deep. And the people just could not move him (Woodson) to put in new furniture. Now, when the integration came, the opposite population (White) came oveA: We invited them oveA: We went through and they looked, and they looked, and I said to them I said, "I am going to request that every desk and every book we have..."--we had free textbooks then...we never got a new edition, always used editions--"I am asking for all of the textbooks to be withdrawn. I'm asking for all of the furniture to be withdrawn." On Tuesday before school opened, they put in all new furniture. All right, on Friday before school opened- Tuesday after Labor Day--the first, second and third grade came in, and (they) took out all of that new furniture and put in new plastic two-piece desk-and-a-seat. Never once did they give it to the others. Never once. So those are some of things physically that I had (to deal with).

Q: Did you get new textbooks that year, too?

A: Yes, we got new textbooks, textbooks, too. And that June I lost all 21 minority teachers. In September I picked up 21 Caucasian (teachers). I asked, "Just how did you apply to be assigned to here?" And to a person they said, "We were not assigned, we asked." And I continued to pursue that. And all I could get was they asked to come here. Now, one I knew in particular who did. I don't know about the others. There was one who came by and very... impressed me greatly. So I recommended that she be coming and sent her on up to Mrs. Murphy up in personnel, and I was called on the carpet by Mrs. Murphy who said I'm employing teachers. Never, I would not. Uh, it's difficult to understand actually what I went through, and I say I and others, too. Now Louise Archer School was the only school, minority school, that remained a school when integration came in. Five others all became media centers or office space or something.

Q: So there were six in the county that were minority schools?

A: Yes, yes, and even though now at the same time that occurred, one of the minority principals died that summeA: One found employment with the federal government; one stopped altogether; and the other two were assigned to other schools as principals. No two minority teachers were assigned to any Caucasian school. And one minority in each school all the way around. Now those people, some of them, according to disposition, had a hard road to travel. Because of that disposition you can be built up with emnity and you'd explode and make it bad on you. And you can make yourself, make yourself be acceptable and be a different a different person, too.

Q: They must have each felt a sense of isolation.

A: Yes, so I see it was a case of divide and control.

Q: I have a feeling you're right.

A: Now, when integration came, Paul West (?) come in, bringing in a team into the office, and sat down and said. "We are here for one purpose--and that is to see that things work smoothly. We do not want our children" --meaning their children-- "to come up in any ugliness." And they said to me, "What is the first thing we should do?" And I said, "Well, this being '65 (9 years after the 1956 Supreme Court decision the first thing to do is to take a school census. Now the administration can take it or we can take it. And they will pay us $ .11 each count which I am (permitted to do) as a member of the Virginia Congress of Parents and Teachers and the National Congress of Parents and Teachers and I'm a PTA person going and coming." I said, "This will give us a PTA treasury." They agreed. All right, suppose you pick the people to do the special note (?). The majority of the children are coming here to enroll at this school. Those picked will have to be seven. So we sat down and pitched the ball about it, and they contributed that they would appoint five and I'd appoint two. After it was over with, and they did a beautiful job, the wife and I invited those seven people with their spouse(s) to come here for cocktails and dinner, and I'm telling you without exaggerating, it was hard to get those people to go home that night. They went back to Vienna and did a beautiful selling job, a beautiful selling job! Now, the big question--how are you going to get all of these children into their rooms? They went down to the Post Office. They got 560 cards, because that was the count then. And at that time we had sat down and gone through the cumulative records that had come in, and each teacher knew exactly what her enrollment would be by her list. Each was given a sufficient number of cards. Even to beginners, little ones who'd never been to school, those teachers sat down and wrote a very inviting card to each one of these and mailed it. Even the Post Office people were surprised and asked what's going on. Now this was the first mail that many of those children had ever had. And on that card was designated the room into which they would be. When those bus(ses) rolled up that morning, they got off and everyone went right straight to their rooms. No confusion whatsoeveA: In the meantime W.T. Woodson had sent three men down to the school, and they told me that it was for my protection. Well, Q: ..I didn't need any protection. And twenty minutes after nine they came in the office and said, "We're not needed here," and went on about their business. And everything went just as smoothly as can be. Without a hitch. Now, going back just a little...when '48 when the new addition was made they had a library, and many of the people in this community just dumped books...just dumped books (on us). And I didn't know what to do with them. So, there's a gentleman who was in charge of libraries at Catholic University and he wanted to see the university was paying him a small sum in comparison to what Fairfax County would have been paying cause at that time Fairfax County was stretching out and employing a library supervisoA: ..and his name was Hurley. So I knew MA: Hurley on a personal basis. I went to MA: Hurley and told him about this job; and he came out, interviewed, and then he was employed. All right, I told him my dilemma and I said, "I wonder what you can do for me." All right, he goes back to Catholic University and picks up a class he's still teaching, and holding his job, brings a group of his students out, sorts out all of these old, no-count books, dirty books; and any that would meet the state required list, he shelved them, and turned that project over to Mrs. Goldman over at ------; and she took that over in lieu of a thesis. See, at Catholic you can get a masters but you have to do a thesis. My thesis was a comparison of the six regional accrediting associations and their antiquities (histories?) and it was used widely when it came to accrediting two high schools, two new high schools, in Fairfax County. So that's how the library got straightened out. Now I can document that by.... See this paragraph here- one of those paragraphs? (indicating a letter in the scrapbook). Does that speak to the fact that he came out and straightened the library out?

Q: Yes. Right.

A: Now, I want you to read....(pointing to another letter in his scrapbook). Read.... Is that to...?

Q: Patricia Allen?

A: Yes, I want you to read that. Take time to read that.

Q: That's to MA: Funderburk, a letter to him. Could I read this out loud?

A: Yeah.

Q: Okay, let's tape it.

Dear MA: Funderburk:

I am the parent of a four-year-old child due to start school in two years who, because of the re-drawing of the school district boundaries in Vienna, is now slated to attend the formerly all-Negro Louise Archer School. We are white. This letter is to state my strong wishes that the present principal of this school, MA: Robinson, be retained as its principal along with the teachers, especially the three primary teachers he most wishes to keep on the Louise Archer staff.

A great deal of passion has attended the redrawing of these school boundaries, and many things have been said without a lot of thought.

MA: Robinson and the Louise Archer teaching staff enjoy the finest reputation among the White townspeople of Vienna as being dedicated, well-qualified, and kindly folk who have done a great deal as respected leaders in the Negro community to prevent any racial flap in this town. They are, furthermore, very gentle and understanding with the children. I believe that to seriously disrupt the Louise Archer staff at a point when the school itself is undergoing a drastic change in attendees might well prove disastrous. The cultural shock, if any there be, involved in this integration will be greater for the colored children who are used to attending the school with only children of their own race than for the white youngsters, I believe, and I think it imperative that as many of the present teachers as possible, who know these children well and are used to working with them, be kept. I am no flag-waving Progressive; but I think that common sense dictates preserving as much continuity as possible in this school at this time. I for one will be far more confident with my child attending with the present staff than if a brand new staff is imported just for the sake of arbitrarily satisfying some mathematical ratio.

Gentlemen, please leave MA: Robinson and his teachers where they are. I like them.

Patricia W. Allen

A: Now....

Q: But they didn't do it.

A: No. Now would you want to read aloud this one from MA: Hurley. He's...

Q: Yes.

A: Uh, let's see if I can put my finger on it. Yes, there you are.

Q: Thank you.

A: I think I have it right. How about that? Richard Hurley.

Q: Richard Hurley.

A: Yes.

Q: And this is dated July 12, 1958.

Dear MA: Robinson:

The confidential report concerning your candidacy for a Fulbright grant has been forwarded by me to the Educational Exchange and Training Branch of the Department of HEW (Health Education and Welfare). I append below my comments (on the form):

1.I have known MA: Robinson for seven years, first as a member of the Department of Library Science, Catholic University of America, and next as Supervisor of School Libraries for the Fairfax County School Board and lecturer at CUA (Catholic University of America).

2.He has always displayed a professional attitude, securing his Masters degree in education with a dissertation which I found highly commendable, a contribution to our literature insofar as it involved a new synthesis of standards.

3.Limitations. I do not know of any.

4.He exemplifies a spirit of professional service over and above the call of duty. My first contact with him was at his school in Vienna, Virginia, where he asked that we help him organize his library. My students and I journeyed to the school to work with him, his students and teachers in making this school library an effective educational tool. This represents his alertness, professional zeal, and intelligent approach to school problems. His trip to Europe this summer in the furtherance of self-improvement is another example of his professional attitude, and the interest shown in seeking a Fulbright Grant is deserving of serious attention. Let me know if I can supply further information in this matteA:

I trust that the above is in accord with your wishes and meets your approval. Let me personally wish you every success in achieving this distinction and please keep me informed of developments.


Richard J. Hurley

Supervisor of School Libraries

A: (Looking through his scrapbook) Now read that one from Betty Briggs.

Q: Betty Briggs.

Dear MA: Robinson,

This is the eve of my departure on my journey across the U.S., and I have just submitted my resignation to Mrs. Murphy in Personnel. I did so with some reluctance because my plans are still nebulous and also because I have formed a real attachment to the library at Louise Archer and my work with the students there.

I realize that one of the reasons I found it so pleasant was the opportunity to work with you. You were always considerate and helpful and gave me the confidence I sometimes lacked. I know I will probably never be so lucky again, since people like you don't head every school, unfortunately.

This past year has done a great deal for me. I feel that I was perhaps overzealous in wanting to accomplish everything at once, but it was necessary for me to prove to myself that I really was capable of doing a good job, given my lack of experience and advanced age.

I will certainly remember my year at Louise Archer with affection, my association with you, and the hospitality which you and Mrs. Robinson extended to me.

I hope you both enjoy a well-deserved retirement, and hope that it will include a trip to California.


Betty Briggs

Now there are pages through here which I am going to let you...take this with you. If your house catches on fire, you get it out first.

Q: Yes, I will.

A: You may read these at your leisure.

Q: All right.

A: All the way through to the very end. To pick up tidbits here and there.

Q: Okay. I'll do that. Thank you. (Looking through book and pointing to an earlier picture of MA: Robinson) A handsome man.

A: Thank you. (Indicating items in the scrapbook) I, uh, tried to put together things as Q: ..after I retired, to go back and put some things together to really remembeA: Now, any other questions?

Q: Yes, I have some more. I think I'm going to change this tape make sure because I think I'm almost at the end. Would you like to comment on your retirement?

A: I can truly say that when I retired there were 19 parties attended for the wife and me....and even the Board of Supervisors sent commendations; and the library at Louise Archer School was dedicated and named the B. Oswald Robinson Library. Now I would ask that you go there and see two large books that the teachers put together for me which last year I gave to the library. Those same teachers and their spouse come here every yeaA: The wife and I give to those teachers and their spouse a Christmas Party. They still come. This will be the seventeenth year and it's already planned, and they will be coming again. The rapport among us is as one and it still is. Some have gone. Some of them have died. One of the teachers lived in a house right next door just across the way for 13 years. Two years ago unfortunately she and her father were crossing the street in Rome, Georgia. A car hit them and killed them. But.... That rapport was very strong, so much so that MA: Lindquist--now the county was divided into four superintendent areas. One superintendent who was superintendent of the area where Louise Archer School was (based?), called me and asked me to come to the office. I went. Well, his problem was--"Oswald, you're too good to your teachers for their own good! Yes, the idea of you telling the custodians not to clean that room or that room or that room...." I said, "Yes, I have told them that, but," I said, "at the same time I told those custodians not to let a teacher's car go away from here unless that car was warmed or if it had snow on it, that the snow was off." I said, "Now the time we were doing that, they could have been cleaning. No. The teachers and I both accepted those rooms not being cleaned if they didn't get to them." I said, "Now you pull out your (attendance) sheets and see how many sets of teachers you have had out (absent) the last three years at Louise ArcheA: " He did. And he scratched his head. He says, "Is that so?" And I said, "Well, that is so. Not one has been absent because of a cold. Not one has been absent because of not being accommodated." I said, "When they drive up here in the morning and it's raining, they get out right here. The custodians park their cars." You're too good to your teachers for your own good? No, it doesn't matteA: ..our working togetheA: Even when we had faculty meetings the custodian was present. Everybody shared. All the subs, supporting activities personnel shared in our meetings so there was continuity for what was going on in the school all the way through.

Q: Ummm, that's really wonderful because that's a major problem in the counties today. Not just Fairfax. The absenteeism is becoming serious.

A: I was to be invited to the wedding of the daughter of one of the parents. This daughter had completed high school and college here and was teaching in Spain. And she was marrying into the royal family. So she was married here in Fairfax, in the richness of both languages, Spanish and English. The attendants...the cars were just parked--just all around. This lady came out of the church behind me with two other ladies, and came out to the car lot and couldn't get the cars out. She said to the other ladies, she said, "When this man retired from Louise Archer School, even men cried. They did not want me to retire but I had had it. Well, there comes a time when it is better to leave than to be asked to leave.

Q: Then you retired because you were older and...?

A: Well, I have to tell you, chronologically (I was) sixty, but after all the business in the school, I sold property which will financially carry us all the rest of our lives. The wife was retiring. So why not enjoy it?

Q: Yes, it was a good time. How would you describe your school Louise Archer, how would you describe Louise Archer after the integration?

A: How would I describe it after integration?

Q: Right, as compared to before the integration.

A: Well, I would compare it in this manneA: It was a continuation of what existed back then, but it had more stuff because it had more people and people who had power than these people did then.

Q: How did the people in the Black community feel about the desegregation? Were they very happy to see the changes being made?

A: Well, they were unhappy in this respect. They always said it is our school and I tried to get it over to them it is still your school because your children are coming here. It went very, very faA:

Q: All the way out to Manassas?

A: There was no, there was no high school for minorities in Fairfax until 1954.

Q: This is just so incredible.

A: Yes. W.T. Woodson. I tell you. W.T. Woodson. And we had daylight time in Fairfax some months, standard time in others. All right, school in Fairfax--we get out at 3:00 and it would still be 2:00 here (Manassas). We would have to wait that whole hour until that bus finally got over here. In the morning it is that same time between. The bus would bring the elementary and high school children, and the high school children would stay there at Louise Archer until the high school bus came along and picked them up. You have no idea what we went through. Just did not make sense. Now, this is why in my opinion that there's so much emnity on the part of some Black minorities today. And they had nothing to do with that back then. I said to them cut it off right here. Do the best you can. Oh yes, (they'd say) my mother, my father were treated....Yes, mine were, too. We all had a burden to carry. There was a time when my father was the only (Black?) college graduate in Prince William County. My mother, my mother's grandfather was (white?) ... never married, came here from England, never married, met an American (Black?) girl... and six of those children crossed the line. My grandfather was one of those nine. My grandfather was light ... nineteen ... and my mother was light so she had a little advantage over the average minority people. This was right here in Manassas. If there was a restroom ......neveA: And everywhere she went ...I don't care how badly ... were aching, you could not be seen ..... Not so with my motheA: I had a brother who was a victim of epilepsy, and who was being operated on at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. . And those are horse and buggy days so--I know that, I rode a horse--my mother and father rode the horse and buggy to the railroad station. They were going to see a dying child. The conductor wouldn't let that train leave until my mother was in the so called white coach and my father in the colored coach. .... Now on our farm we were selling cream to the ice cream factory in Manassas, and my sister and I went in to town for an ice cream cone and we sat down at of the tables to eat it. We (were) asked to get up and leave, so we went out and peeked in the window, eating ice cream, watched them sitting in there, eating ice cream off the cream that we had sold them. You cannot believe what went on. But you do not, you cannot fight that. I was born and raised right here on the battlefield.

Q: I was going to ask you....I noticed that there is a Robinson House down the other end (of the road).

A: That is my grandfather's house, and great grandfather's house. A hospital during the time of the WaA: That grandfather--now we're still going back to my mother's great grandfatheA: When they built the Massey Building, they were going to sell the old courthouse. And when they looked up the deed, they found that this old great grandfather (Atkins?) had given the two acres on which it was constructed, with a reversionary clause that his heirs would get it back if they sold it. So they called us all in at the time and said that they're not going to sell it. They'd have a mock court once a year, and it would continue to be a courthouse. So I own a little piece of that. Q: That's the truth. Now that's on mother's side. On my father's side, his grandfather who was my great grandfather, his father was King CarteA: Did you ever hear of King Carter?

Q: I believe so.

A: King Carter owned all of the land (reaching?) from the Rappahannock to the Potomac to the Blue Ridge as far as the eye could see. He was the bastard son of the king of England and was given this royal grant to get him out of the hair of the royal family. And the old rascal went down to the cabin and met with my great grandfather, and he gave him his freedom, four acres of land and the right to go in the woods and build his house. Now, no slave had a surname. They just called them Dick, Harry, Jim. When they were emancipated, they had to have a surname. Most of them took the master's name. He did not take the name of CarteA: He took Robinson--because Carter had imported a tutor from England to tutor his two daughters (names of daughters). On the sly, he tutored Jim. Jim was so impressed with him that (he decided ?) to take the surname of Robinson. Now he opened up a . store in this town, all of the livestock and stagecoaches .... He put those up, and he was able to buy (?) three of his children. Two he could not buy. They were sold for the (best price?), walked to Alexandria, put on a boat, and went to New Orleans. And the way we know this is (?). So that's the history on my father's side. Now these monuments all through here that are donated by New York, Massachusetts, Illinois were dismantled and shipped to a railroad station that no longer exists.

(On the first part of side 2 MA: Robinson is discussing the distress of the area after the Civil War, the desperation of white women whose husbands had been killed in war, and their need for husbands to help them farm the land, to support them, and protect them He continues....)

A: Now I know myself of seven Negroes who married Caucasian women. And they all ... starving ...(?) men were very very ......and the war had .... and they were stripped of everything they owned. This old great grandfather from 1870 to 1875 ...when reconstruction came along ... so when he died ..... (?) All right, during the period of 1857 and the end of the waA: .... He was born in 1879 right across the way .....(?)

Q: The land is a part of the park now.

A: Yes, it is and everybody enjoys it. Horseback riding, sleigh riding, etc.

Q: One of the questions I had put on here to ask you (indicating a list of questions) was what made you decide to go into education and then to become a principal?

A: All right. In 1928, that was a year of the depression, there was nothing much for me to do. My father had .....and I could help with the milking.... There was nothing else. So much so that when I was in the service, I was three years working with the illiterates, at Great Lakes. If I were active today, you know what? Your governor has a program that inmates cannot be turned loose from prison except they learn to read and write. That's where I'd work. Q: Where you'd be working today.

A: Yes. I have all of the sympathy in the world for a man who can't write his name. And to see those grown men, what comes over them when they learn to write their name. No money could buy it.

Q: And then you just naturally moved into a principalship. You had the education, the background.

A: And qualifications.

Q: Qualifications then. Uh, did you do any special things for creating a climate for learning for the children?

A: Yes, for instance, when integration came, we had in the second, third and fourth grade, in each grade we had two or three who just did not meet the requirements, just did not, and they were holding the entire class back. I fought tooth and toenail to get a special class for them. And there turned out to be eighteen of these in need. Now the state law says special education is twelve. Twenty-four is the the minimum for a class. Eighteen didn't fit. I worked day and night and finally got a teacher for eighteen. And those parents were the happiest! No child went into that class unless we sat down and an evaluation was made with that child and that child's parents. And I can tell you there was a child whose mother had never think of having her child in that class. And I'm going to tell you the day she walked in and she said, "MA: Robinson, why didn't you make me put my child in the class." Now, (anecdote about another parent and the special class). So I can say that's one of the happiest days eveA:

Q: Um, hmmm.

A: All right, we had the Head Start Program. I worked with the Medeira School. Every Saturday a Madeira school bus came and took those children up, carried those children up to Madeira for a (special ?) program.

Q: What year was that?

A: That was in '56 and '57....

Q: What do you think teachers expect principals to be?

A: I'm not sure what they expected of me but I'll tell you one thing, this one never expected a teacher or a student to do anything I wouldn't do. Would you believe I have been chastised by the teachers (reference to cleaning up unintelligible) .... The custodian was not around. I grabbed the mop and mopped up ....

Q: That's good. If you won't do it, you really can't ' expect....

A: I have gone into school and been in the office and teachers would come in and sign in in the morning and Q: ...(unintelligible) anything for those teachers. (?) have to work with ......

Q: Did you encourage your teachers to get further degrees?

A: Yes. We even had .. ?.... picture of a teacher shows the teacher of the yeaA:

Q: How did you handle teacher grievances?

A: Teacher grievances?

Q: Right. If they had any. I can't imagine after hearing about your school that they had any.

A: I can absolutely tell you this, I never had that problem.

Q: Wonderful, so you never had to fire a teacheA:

A: No.

Q: Cause that was one of the questions. That's one we can skip totally.

A: I did, when you speak of firings, I did have several to be 'married, that I would like very much to have kept, but I never had to fire one.

Q: What kind of evaluation system did you use for evaluating , the teachers?

A: Well, at that time, at that time, evaluation wasn't what it is today.

Q: Okay.

A: All that paper work didn't exist, no.

Q: So you didn't any of those EBO's or objectives that you had to write out, which teachers do hate to do today.

A: Maybe we had a question, "Do you recommend this teacher for the next year?" Yes, always.

Q: Uh huh. When you were becoming a teacher and then a principal, did you model yourself after anyone in particular?

A: No, I can't say I probably ever did. I knew what was right and what was wrong.

Q: Uh, huh.

A: Now going back to that program in '47 involved the community and stores. For instance, there came up a question identifying a grain of corn, a grain of wheat, a grain of barley, and a grain of rye. And only one teacher knew it. That teacher was from a farm in (?). So I went down to Southern States to get a sample. He surely was surprised and gave us (a professional display off the shelf.)

Q: You did get a lot of cooperation from the community.

A: Yes.

Q: Like Madeira School and Southern States?

A: Right. It came up a matter of interest, I'd go down to the (old bank?). They gave us the most beautiful illustrations, and things of that nature. The community were right there. Now, right here last year or the year before last, Louise put on a drive for $25,000 to build a playground for the school. In six months they had it.....

Q: So Vienna has always supported its schools.

A: Yes, it has.

Q: When you were principal, were you primarily an educational or instructional leader? Principals today feel that they are more of a manageA: Do you feel that's what's happening to the principalship?

A: To me managing seems to be more like bossing. And I never assumed that mantle. NeveA: And ... ironed out ....(?)

Q: Do you think the schools in the county today continue to have problems, minority problems?

A: I think sometimes they incur problems. Yes. I do.... today are just not (the way) people were twenty years In many respects, thinking particularly. And I think economics is what has done it. I think economics is what has ' done it. We sometimes.... Now take this very thing. Who's going to say which teacher's the best and which is not. And then, too, that teacher may get a group of kids this year, that, that nobody can handle and she can never be called an effective teacheA: Well, she's working with what is sent to ' school, or comes to school, and the limitations on her are such that she can only do so much. I think this principal in (name?) School in Washington, D.C. that walked out--I think (it was) one of the best things that ever happened. Right here in Virginia, the principal (?). You had a (?). Children were children were being expelled. I wrote to the Attorney general and asked him. These children who are in the compulsory age limit are being put out of school--and they were mostly minorities and they were put out, in my opinion, because of biases; most of the parts of the administration was steeped in biases. The biases are something you just got to ' throw off. Asked him, what provision is being made for these children who we put out. And he wrote back and cited the code that they had had their chance. And they're out there on the street. Now to me that's vicious. There could have been some kind of a program. Now since then they have inhouse ' suspension--came out of that, came out of that. In this book (indicating the scrapbook) you will see that Governor Dalton me as one of thirteen members on the (Committee) for 1 Standards of Achievement. I was responsible for the area of human resources. And I have a letter in there written .... ' what I propose he should do about it. And Wilkerson, who now is a law professor at the University of Virginia, who was law secretary to one of the chief justices, ...he tells... I explained to him as governor, he should tell the governor this is what he should do for minority groups. In a school the you....Did you work under Jack Davis?

Q: Yes.

A: In my opinion, Jack Davis is a man.

Q: I thought he was excellent. And he has just been reappointed by this recent new... They couldn't get anyone betteA:

A: Right. Now, Dalton also appointed me as one of five to monitor minorities in the college and universities. I was totally shocked and surprised to find a number of youngsters receiving remedial work which should have been done on the high school level. I was attending a Phi Delta Kappa meeting at Old Dominion College. While I went to Richmond for this meeting with this group and from there to Old Dominion College for the Phi Delta Kappa meeting, and I arrived there a little bit early. It came time for the evening meal. I go into the cafeteria, and these minorities have segregated themselves. I wanted to know why. I went over and sat down at the table them. And they had ever so many reasons which I thought all very negative as to why they were over here and not over there among the Whites. At that time the state was paying $1,000. for every minority who attended the first year of the college there. (remark about the $1000.) I asked them if they were getting the thousand. Huh? They'd never heard (of) it.

Q: They weren't getting the thousand dollars.

A: They'd never heard of it. So I went I went on to the meeting, Phi Delta Kappa meeting. Shortly after the meeting began, a knock came on the door and it was answered .... I went out in the corridor and the corridor was filled with these minority youngsters. They wanted to know more. So I said you follow me. I went out to the car, took my briefcase out, and showed them the law. They were up in arms and were going to the office the next morning. I said no. Look, I'm the one who broke the ice. Let me be the one to follow through. Let me go to the office. I went to the office the next morning and one of the secretaries ...., ' and she finally called the chief man. And I asked him about it. Yes, but they had never said anything to us about it.

Q: So they never told the students.

A: So they come to find out even the high school counselors had not told these youngsters about the money; and the colleges hadn't eitheA:

Q: Did they say why they hadn't told them?

A: Didn't say why...yes, they did...because they (the students) hadn't asked. Now to me it's the counselor's place to tell them that, and it's the school's place. So all of that was ironed out smoothly. But just look what would have happened...that how many did not go because of that. When that was over, I and my big mouth...

Q: Hooray for your big mouth!

A: I and my big mouth--oh do you want to tape this? I and my big mouth said in a meeting when we got together last yeaA: I said, this thousand dollars a year, for the first year, is not the most, the most economical way to do accounts. I said some of these youngsters have this thousand dollars--and the help from their parents carries them through that one year and then they leave college, and it's a waste of money. I said why not evaluate those who are continuing, and ' if academically they warrant it, it be given to them, and if there's some left over, start new ones. And they said thank you. Because this is what was happening. This is what was happening. It is a shame to start and then not be able to go on with it. Economics played a big part.

Q: Right. Do you think all the recent Federal laws that have come into being-- the title programs, like Title l--all the Federal laws, the laws that have been passed giving economic assistance to education have been very helpful?

A: Well, you have to look at it from my point of view. You have to look at it several ways ...(?).... There's abuse in some of it. There's abuse in some of it, and some of it you couldn't do without. But in all things you're going to find abuse. There's never any more abuse than as in the welfare. In some welfare cases it perpetuates the situation. I'll give you a good example. We own the property right there at the foot of the hill. Three of those properties are occupied by welfare people. ... (noise from a kitchen machine made this sentence unintelligible). Do they work .it? No. All right-- Social Services takes a bus. Carries all those children to Kings Dominion. Social Service, in my opinion, should take that same money and buy a rotary tractor and go once a week, house to house, work with them, and show those people how to work for their (lives). Now we have a church right here that is sponsoring Vietnamese. A number them, they have gardens, and that's the way they are. But here we're perpetuating....

Q: Not giving them the means to get out of their problem....

A: And they tell me to keep my mouth shut. It's hard to do it.

Q: They need a cap.

A: It's hard to do it.

Q: And you're not going to keep your mouth shut anyway, if I know you. Uh, what was one of the most pleasant things that to you when you were principal?

A: One of the most pleasant things that ever happened to me....You couldn't say one....

Q: No....

A: You couldn't say one. You couldn't say one. Uh, all of these things, all of these things.

Q: Was there one in particular unpleasant experience that you recall?

A: Unpleasant experience? Well, the unpleasant experiences I had was feelings for the others. For instance, we had several entries or entries several times. And televisions were taken out of the rooms, which to me did something to those children, and I had a feeling for them. So much so that in one instance, on the QT, I never told anybody, I replaced it for over $400.

Q: You really were in the right profession. You never had an assistant principal, did you?

A: No. I would not have. I have--I think even if I had (a school) of two thousand, I wouldn't have wanted an assistant because there would have been times when he and I would not have seen eye to eye.

Q: What do you think makes an effective school? What's the most important ingredient for an effective school?

A: All right, parental participation. We had...there was never a day that we didn't have as many as thirty or more volunteers to come in. So much so that they knew what was going on. It was not a matter of running the school or being critical of the school or interfering in the school.

Q: What about testing?

A: What about testing?

Q: What do you think about the testing--all testing?

A: Testing, testing doesn't prove anything. You have, uh, for beginners you have a test that shows a wood range stove. How many kids today know about a wood range stove?

Q: None of them.

A: Most asinine. And this thing of testing see, a good teacheA: ..there is no way, in my opinion, you can evaluate...can construct a test to evaluate a teacher or a person. There's no way. I'll wager you that my daddy who taught reform school (couldn't) answer those reports, and some of those boys never wanted to leave. Now you couldn't construct a test that would want those boys to stay. Right off hand you think you want to go, want to go.

Q: Do you feel we're making up tests and subjecting teachers and students to tests that are not reasonable?

A: A waste. Now, my brother's daughter (name) is one of the chief researchers in the New Jersey Testing (Service in Princeton) came to Washington the other day and had a big testing program, uh, big meeting and uh, tests--I can't go along with (Carol).

Q: What advice would you give somebody who was considering becoming a principal?

A: I don't know whether Q: ... First of all you have to be a person that likes people, particularly children. You can not be a domineering person. You have to be very, very flexible. So much so that you'll take the very negative and turn it into a positive.

Q: And that's something that can't be taught. That's true. What do you think of preparation, about requirements they have for becoming a principal--the paneling that they do, the course work.

A: I think the better way--I'm not saying the best--the better way for one to be equipped to be a principal is to work--I will not say under--but work in a situation where there is a desirable person as a principal, and be willing to assume or accept or copy, if you will, from him. And you can't do it in one yeaA: You can do it in maybe two. But that experience of working with someone who'll give you an insight into how things go....I often think of Ted Moshos--Ted Moshos, I don't know if you ever knew Ted Moshos or not.

Q: I worked with Ted Moshos for about 10 years.

A: What did you think of him as a principal?

Q: I thought he was a great principal. He was probably one of the best principals I worked undeA:

A: Oh, that you did. Don't say undeA: Say with.

Q: With, all right, when Ted retired, I made the remark, "Principals may come, principals may go, but there'll never be another principal like Ted Moshos." Well, you're the one who got me the job with Ted Moshos. You had hired me to work at your school, and I was bumped by someone who had been riffed from another school. So you said, "I have a great friend, Ted Moshos."

A: Ted was here the day before yesterday. He just had an eye operation for cataracts and (?). He sees perfectly. I am so happy.

Q: Oh, wonderful.

A: Now I can't, see, because the cataract in my eye is not on the surface. It's on the back of the eyes; and the second opinion says it's too risky. So I'm having quite a time. Ted Moshos is the one who invited me to apply to Phi Delta Kappa in 1968. And he was surprised that it at the Kappians (sic) who objected....

Q: To your belonging to the organization?

A: To minorities--to being in the organization.

Q: I understand that many of the men in Phi Delta Kappa objected to women being in the organization.

A: I was the representative of that first chapter in New Orleans in 1971 when the question of women came up, and I was for it.

Q: The next year in St. Louis in 1973, there was a little more calmness. The following two years... in '75 the government said they had to. They swallowed their pride and now do you know who really builds the budget? The women. So it wasn't such a bad idea after all.

A: No. Are you a member?

Q: Yes, I am. I have been for about four years.

A: Now, I became a member in '68 and in '69 I became treasurer and was treasurer up to '75 ....and in '75 I became vice president. Before serving as vice president, the central office in Bloomington ... crisis situations (end of sentence unintelligible).

Q: So you really know the organization.

A: Are you going to the meeting Wednesday night?

Q: I'm not sure. I'll have to look on my--everything's on my calendar, but I will definitely make it a point to go Wednesday night. Are you going to go?

A: Well, there's supposed to be--l don't know what it's all about but they made all kinds of arrangements for me to be there--they said something about some honors or something. So the wife and I are invited.

Q: Okay. What took up most of your time when you were principal?

A: What did I spend....

Q: Most of your time on...when you were principal. I hope it wasn't paper work.

A: No. It was not. It was not. Well, I was up and down the halls. I'll tell you the truth, in the morning I never went in the classrooms till they were here, because I could go into those classrooms in the morning and tell what was going on. I could go into those classrooms in the morning and tell what was going on. And I was always there because I brought the wife by, she was on the way to work and I got to school early. But there were many, many things--that was not paper work. Just didn't have it, the paper work.

Q: Um, hmmm.

A: Now I can tell you about one thing for sure--at the end of the year we had reports to Richmond and we always had a column that went, "Caucasians, Minorities, Hispanics, and Others," and they all fitted in that first column with never any deviation. They were people, just like those teachers--they didn't see color when they taught children. The children understood it and the parents understood it.

Q: Right. Do you think that teacher preparation should be changed in any way--the way they prepare teachers in colleges today?

A: At one time I was very attuned to the changes at the teacher college--preparatory schools for teachers. Today I have--there has been such a separation I do not know of.... Now all your registers are kept separately, even our teacher rolls. As a teacher you do not keep the rolls. All right, formerly the teacher kept their place. And those little girls right there in the teacher college--preparatory college--they never see the books and it was the worst thing. At the end of the year, to get all those absentees and presents we put in 1 hours. Now to me then some of that should have been taught then. Or at least given some instruction. I really would not be able to comment on that question today because things are so different. Things are relevant.

Q: You think there should be more practical things though, than theory?

A: Yes. Theory to me is a curse. We do not have some, some uh...That's a new experience....Now who's going to give you the experience, that's it. Now you go to get a job and the first question is what is your experience. Somebody has to give you the experience, right?

Q: You have to start somewhere.

A: But this theory business. I never will forget. I raised my hand in biology class and I said, "Doctor, what would be the penalty if I disagree with the book?." He said, "What do you mean, MA: Robinson?" Slowly I said, "The author says the frog throws his tongue out of his mouth to catch the bug. That's all wrong. If he throws that tongue out of his mouth to catch the fly, how does that tongue get back in there? Now actually he doesn't. The frog has a double tongue, and the bottom lip goes out--see just like my two fingers--and this bottom here is pivoted here and goes out there, but the author says he throws his tongue out." I said, "Now your President of the United States throws out the first ball." I said, "Now, somebody out there catches it or that ball isn't retrieved." He said, "MA: Robinson, you talk to me after class."

Q: That's good. I think I asked you most of the questions that were on here. My last question was, "What haven't I asked you that I should have asked?" Is there anything that you think I was going to ask you that I haven't asked you yet?

A: I often think that I first started teaching at $25 a month, the school term then was 7 months. When it became 8 (months), minorities had to raise half of the eighth month's salary. When it became 9 (months), minorities had to pay half of the ninth month's salary. All right, how did I get into the Navy? When the United States Government Supreme Court said equal pay for equal work, every school division had to make a case of its own. Now I'm not a loud speaker, you know. I'm very quiet. I speak very softly. But when I did speak this time, the judge said to me, "You are here to speak up because of pay equalization." At that time I was getting $64 a month and the others were getting $#64. My draft card was ID- Necessary Work Performed in a School. Within two weeks I was changed to LA. So I knew right away. Now all of the people around here were being sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for six weeks of basic training and I wanted no part of the army- I had walked enough. You see we lived right out here where that Robinson House is, and the farm and barn and things a little farther down the road. They were taken down because ... on account of the waA: And we walked from there to Manassas to the high school, the (?) high school. There were no buses. I walked. So I went to Washington to join the Merchant Marine. And he said to me, "Young man, you have a family. You'll be six months in training with no pay. There will be no insurance. You'll be paid on tonnage delivered." And that wasn't right. He said, "Now if you really want sea duty, we would suggest that you go out of here and join the Navy." So I came home and enlisted in the Navy. That was the story of that.

Q: So that's how you got in the Navy training the ones who couldn't read.

A: So asking for equal pay got me into the Navy.

Q: It tends to get people in trouble; even women have found themselves in trouble these days.

A: I knew that. I knew that. Everything I needed was furnished me right on the base: razor blades, shaving cream, etc. I got $50 for the wife, $30 for the first child, $20 for the second. Then when I came out I had insurance and the GI Bill for my education.

Q: That was probably one of the best things that happened to you. I really appreciate your time. Thank you, MA: Robinson.

| Back to "R" Interviews | Index of Interviews | Protocol | Home |