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Strasburg (Va)
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School Integration-Virginia-Strasburg


Oral history interview featuring Willy and Marquetta Mitchell conducted on February 4, 2016 for the Shenandoah County Library's Black History Month Program. Willy and Marquetta were the first two African American students to attend Strasburg High School.


Zachary Hottel


Shenandoah Voices Oral History Collection


Shenandoah County Library


February, 4 2016


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Zachary Hottel


Willy Mitchell
Marquetta Mitchell


Strasburg VA


Oral History Transcript 16-0004
Interviewee: Laura Marquetta Mitchell & Willy Mitchell
Interviewer: Zach Hottel
Subject: Integration, Segregation, Strasburg (Va); Shenandoah County Public Schools (Va)
February 9, 2016

Zach: This is Zach Hottel. It is February 9th. I am here to do an oral history interview on integration and segregation.

Marquetta: My name is Marquetta Mitchell. I always like to say Laura Marquetta Mitchell and Zach is in our home here with my husband and me to talk about segregation and integration. We welcome him in our home and we glad for the opportunity.

Zach: Thank you.

Willy: My name Wilbert "Willy" Mitchell. I was born on August 3, 1948. Went to Sunset Hill Elementary School and shortly after graduation went to Strasburg High School.

Marquetta: I actually was born in Greenville, Tennessee. I always say that because my mother happened to be in Greenville at the time and that was her hometown. I call Strasburg my home though. I attended Sunset Hills School until I graduated from the seventh grade. When I graduated from the seventh grade that was when the segregated schools here, that was the last year of the segregated school. So I was in the first class that was officially went over to what was then called the white school which was high school for me which was 8th grade. Although there were other Black students there before I got there that had matriculated into the system before it was really official.

Zach: Just to clarify when did you finish at Sunset Hill?

Willy: I believe it was 1963.

Marquetta: I was 1964 wasn't I?

Willy: Must have been. I was the first Black male to go to Straburg High School. Prior to that Fay Mitchell, my sister, Gloria Hess, Priscilla and Angela Alsberry were the first from Strasburg to go to high school.

Zach: I found in the records that 1962 was the first year there were any African-American students there and then a few more in 1963 and finally in 1964.

Willy: I believe that is right.

Marquetta: I know the history. Let me call Susie Gaynor? and I can put my hands on it. If you want there is a whole story about it.

Zach: About this?

Marquetta: Her children. Would you like to get a copy?

Zach: That would be great.

Marquetta: It’s in the closet upstairs. Was it 64? Graduated 69 in 12th. 68 in 11th grade. 67 in 10th grade. 66 in the 9th grade. 65 in the 8th grade.

Willy: Because the years, my mind. I started school late because we lived out in the outer part of the county in Lebanon Church. My father worked on a farm. My mom worked on the farm also. We weren't allowed to ride the buses and so I ended up being moved to Strasburg to live with my grandparents, Turner ? and Letha Mitchell, down on B Street. So I stayed there and lived with them and went to school until, seemed like it was. I was at school at Sunset Hills and then we moved to Strasburg I think it was 1956 we moved into town.

Zach: I am curious about Strasburg. I know in Woodstock there was a geographic place where most of the African-Americans community lived. But then in Mount Jackson, New Market that was not the case. Was that the case in Strasburg?

Willy: Yes. Predominantly was B Street, now it is Branch Street. But it is known now as Alsberry Street was what we called it here up on the hill. That was where Sunset Hills School was. There were Black families up there.

Zach: So that area the hill up there around the school was predominantly Black.

Willy: With us we lived on A Street which is now Ash Street. It was like 3 families, 3 Black families we lived beside each other there and that was about it. Wasn't too many. Most all the Blacks lived between Branch Street and D Street and what was Alsberry Street.

Zach: Now can you talk the restaurants and the theater which I assume were segregated in Strasburg. Talk a little bit about in general about some of your experiences with those.

Willy: There were several restaurants in Strasburg at that time of course they were all segregated. But the one that we went to most of the time was Virginia Restaurant. Sager Realty is there now on the corner. But we had to go in the back in the kitchen area and that is where my mother worked as a cook. They had several booths back there and that is where we ate and were served. It wasn't until years later that we allowed to go out front. We were washing windows out front and stuff like that but as far as sitting down and eating we weren't allowed to go out front. And other place was the Tastee Freeze, that was after when integration started we were allowed to go to the Tastee Freeze. But as a young person I really didn't go to any of the other restaurants in town other than that. As far as the theater, we could go to the theater we could go to the theater but you had to sit up in the balcony which was great. We thought it was great! You set and the screen was right in front of you and it was nice. If that was punishment--. The thing was you didn't have the option. But then again we couldn't afford to go to the theater that much. Most of the time it was at Christmas when First Bank used to have Santa Claus and they would give you a, you would go in and sit on Santa's lap and tell him what you want, and get a bag of hard candy and an orange and a ticket to go to Home Theater.

Marquetta: I can't find it. I got to get that stuff together for a Virginia Tech reunion.

Zach: I talked to Gloria Stickley and she said something about you all having to start a reunion. I am curious a little bit if you could talk about-- I know you said you were born in Greenville. How did you end up moving from there to Strasburg?

Marquetta: Well, long story short, my mother and father, actually my father lived at the time in Washington DC. My mother worked for my father's parents, cleaning their house and that kind of stuff. And so my mother was from Greenville, Tennessee. She had moved from Greenville to Washington DC cleaning homes and doing what was called "days work". In Washington DC "days work", and I did" days work. It was basically Black folks working for white folks cleaning their house. And so my mother basically worked for my grandparents cleaning their house. And so I came along. So my grandparents had property here. The Witheralls, I am a Witherall that is my maiden name. The Witheralls go way back, way, way, back. The family Bible is over there. In Shenandoah County it is spelled three different ways. We are working on that. Because my parents had issues. My grandparents took all of us and brought us here to Strasburg because they had property in Strasburg that was on B Street which is Branch Street now. They used to rent it out to people. I t was like a rental property. So they came here and brought us here and raised us here. That is how Strasburg became my home. And Willy lived in the county and he moved to Strasburg in order to go to school. So that is how I got here. But the Witherall name was already here.

Willy: We found out, doing, Marquetta more so than me, with research and everything and talking to the Alsberrys, one of the main reasons that they moved here from the Rappahannock County was so their children could get an education. And because in that particular area they might have to have gone to Manassas.

Marquetta: Miles and miles. My dad went to school had to leave here to go to Charlottesville and Manassas to go to school. That was that generation, But now my grandparents were retired teachers of the colored school when they moved here. So that is how we had to do good in school. My grandfather was the schoolteacher, before the Sunset Hill School that was the school over on Queen Street. Pigtail Alley. And then my Auntie, I don't if, I can't remember if Auntie taught at Sunset Hills because she was one of the teachers at Woodstock, at Creekside. I can't confirm Creekside, I just remember Woodstock school. And I think she did do some subbing at _____ Sunset School. But Poppy, my grandfather was the one that taught here, and I know my grandmother subbed here, taught here at Sunset Hills school because they were already retired teachers.

Zach: Now talk a little bit about what Sunset Hills Schools was like. I know it was a one room school but I guess just give a description of what the classes were like, if you liked you teachers and just kind of a general overview.

Marquetta: It was a one room school. Coal stove. It was, I won't say it was always warm in terms of temperature though, physical temperature. It was a class divided up in rows by class and what I remember was Mrs. Payne was my teacher.

Willy: Dora H. Payne.

Marquetta: Dora H. Payne and her sister Mrs. McClain taught in Woodstock. She, I remember so well, because the teachers lived at different houses and ours was the main house. So I remember very well. We hated it. When you had to be at school and then Mrs. Payne followed you home. So the classroom. I liked school. I didn't know how to compare it to any other school. I liked school. I enjoyed school. I excelled in school. So the kids that excelled or did well they taught other kids. I liked that, I liked teaching other kids. So I wasn't the only one. So all the kids that did very well sort of became teacher’s aids in how to teach the other classes which I liked. And then if you really did, it was a really big deal for Mrs. Payne the teacher to take you home to her home in West Virginia for the weekend. So that was like a really big deal so everybody wanted to go home with Mrs. Payne, you know. I liked that. I liked the discipline of learning. The teachers were for me really good. There were some kids who got in trouble or they might not have been but I was one of those kids who was a pretty decent student and I did fine. I enjoyed school. School was fun. We had recess outside. We sang, started every morning with prayer, said the pledge of allegiance to the flag, we sang songs. We sang songs where you moved, we had plays. We had talent shows. My brother and I we had dance talent shows. We had speaking talent shows and I liked it. There was not anything I didn't like about school. But really the part that I did not like, I was like a year ahead of kids my age, because my grandmother did that and I didn't like it because it left me very isolated. I didn't have a clique or group. I knew they liked me and I liked them but I wasn't ever a part of a girlfriend group or that kind of stuff. That is the part I didn't like. I liked going home for lunch. His brother Ray, after school, everybody when run and jump on his bike, he must have sometimes it seemed like he had six kids on his bike, that is an over-exaggeration. But he would stand up, someone would be on the seat, someone would be on the fender, and someone would be on the handle bars. And we would come down that hill, pop the tracks but my grandmother never knew about that. There was a bully in school. was Raymond. He used to chase us home every day. Not every day but often enough for my grandmother to come out of the house with a broom and chase him down the street. I enjoyed school and I looked forward to going to Frederick Douglas school because the kids who were older than me they caught the bus right down the street at Mrs. Riffey's(?) house on Bragg Street and I used to watch the teenage girls with their pretty skirts, and their oxford shoes and their transistor radios. And sometimes they would be dancing all the new dances before they got on the bus and I could not wait to be a part of that. Mrs. Payne always would say, "I am going to get you ready to go to the white school. You have to get you ready to go to the white school. And you are going to learn this. Because I don't want to be bad-mouthed when you get to the white school. And I remember that. I remember that was her thing. And my grandmother was there too. I wasn't looking forward to going to the white school; I was looking forward to going to Frederick Douglas where all the other Black kids went. But I enjoyed school. I liked being a student. I was happy in school. Even when I looked back today I think we got a better education than those most kids today. And we got extra when we got home because I lived with teachers. We had to go upstairs. Everybody got an extra dose of education. My grandfather was an invalid who was a teacher also. He taught history. So after we ate dinner, Poppy had to go over our lessons from school. He would always teach us something different, extra multiplication tables, addition, subtraction tables, all of the stuff. I so when I think about kids today, education, it is just real different. But I got a good education. It may have been in a secondary school. It may have been with books that were thrown in the trash can at the end of school. They were. We knew that. I may have been with tiny pieces of chalk but the discipline was there and the hunger for a good education was there. There wasn't a parent that I knew that didn't want that for any of their kids. Would you agree with that?

Willy: Yes

Marquetta; Very serious about education.

Willy: She was.

Marquetta: But most parents were. There were some kids that didn't go astray. You got the strap on your hand. You had to hold out your hand.

Willy: It was a ruler.

Marquetta: Yes but Mrs. Payne used a strap too.

Willy: That wasn't on your hand that was on your back.

Marquetta: No. Mrs. Payne used a strap on my sister.

Willy: She used it on my buttocks.

Marquetta: Yes but she used a strap on my sister's hands. I never will forget that. Anyway, so that is my experience.

Willy: You went through a lot when you were a kid. Basically when I started school I always felt, "why am I here". I got an education but I don't think I got what I should have. I think my father was a better teacher on things like math. My father only had a sixth grade education but if you would say Dad what is 6 x 9 plus 4 plus 3 he would have it for you. And I look at the math that we did and the math that these children are doing now and we had it really easy. But even the math that we had was not as simple as the math that my father had. Everything was simplified. My experience in school it really was not that bad.
They did away with the coal stove and got an oil stove. The oil tank was in the back at one of the ends and it was an old stove. When I was in the seventh grade I got the job as being the stoky??. So I had to be there early in the morning and make sure the fire was going. That was a lot of responsibility. I had to make sure the fire was going, the door was open and the lights were on. I got paid by the county $12 a month. And sometimes in the evening we had this oil that would come in these 5 gallon cans and we had to mop it on the floors to keep all the dust down so I used to have to do that and get some of the guys to help me. Make sure that the chalkboard was all cleaned. I think about the rainy days when we couldn't go out. We had like shuffleboard and horseshoes and things like that. At times like Christmas I believe the kids from, I don't remember if it was from the high school or the middle school and they would bring us textbooks that they were finished with them and we still have some with their names in them. Because some of those books were just tossed and just like the guys down at Morrison's??. I found with Marquetta's name in it and my brother. We had one bully and I beat the bully. Yeah, I stopped that. He became one of my best friends. It was a lot of --it was the first place I had ever met a Puerto Rican. They moved in to our community, we don't know where they moved from, so they had to go to our school also. So that was very cool. And I think that even today I like to meet people from different cultures. It is really interesting. But when graduation night came I was the only one who graduated. It wasn't but one person in that class that graduated because I started late and I might have been back a little bit. But I was the only one who received a diploma that time. I remember my father meetings downtown with the school board, I remember vaguely sketches of that. Getting things ____ and going thru a lot of arguments and discussions about us children integrating the school.

Marquetta: Mongolizing. They didn't want their kids mongolizing.

Willy: That was my father. My father was told that, "you know, Wilbur, your son and my daughter, they are young and they might mongolize." Well my father said, "My son is not a dog and neither is your daughter and they will be just fine." My dad was very calm type person, but my mother was a little fiery. But my dad was very calm type guy in the essence of "we can talk about this." But his mind was set that we were going to Strasburg High School. But Sunset Hill it was good. But I look at education now, some of the things, the tutors, and I believe if I would have had access to something like that I would have made out much better. But I haven't done bad.

Marquetta: No. You haven't. But you know our parents did not want us to go to Frederick Douglas at all. At all. And like his parents were involved in that movement. My grandparents were involved in that movement for integration. I don't know, I don't remember I was just a kid. I don't remember any parent wanting their kid to get on that bus to Frederick Douglas. I didn't because of all the teenage girls________. Sometimes you want to have that bus______ to Winchester because sometimes you had to tie the door closed with rope.

Zach: Yes, I have heard something about that. In fact, it wasn't the bus that went to Frederick Douglas but I have talked to a guy that rode the bus to Lucy Sims in Harrisonburg and he had some pretty vivid descriptions about the bus.

Marquetta: Now my grandmother taught at Lucy Sims in Harrisonburg. She was in Rockingham County before she came here. Our parents generally, it was a move, an initiative, by the Black folks in this town they not be segregated, that they go to the so-called white schools in this town.

Zach: Now what do you all think was the big push for that movement because and I think that was unique because both the people from the South end of the county in Woodstock have told me that they don't remember there being a movement to get-- they have told that they were sent to Central because their parents--it was more of a personal reason.

Marquetta & Willy: Yes. Same thing. It wasn't like Warren County. That was not Shenandoah County.

Marquetta: I would agree with the lower end of Shenandoah County. It was more of parents getting together as parents taking a personal responsibility to verbalize that their kids are going.

Willy: It took courage. With all the turmoil that was going around in the United States at that time.

Marquetta: Civil Rights Movement.

Willy: And all that stuff. A lot of the parents, my dad and mom, with 5th and 6th grade educations, work for the rest of your life, all your life, but they did have a lot of common sense. And just kind of pulling everything together. But the thing also, when you had the PTA meetings parents were there. The teachers and the parents they had a communication. My parents would go the school and set down or Ms. Payne would come to the house, or Ms Trusdale, and set down or take them out to dinner. There was a respect there, it was almost like family. They watched out more for each other, a community type thing. Our parents did.

Marquetta: I think what really helped with that, all the teachers from the different sections of Shenandoah County, we imported our own teachers you see. And so all the teachers lived with the parents of the students in the community so they got to be a part of the community. I like I said most of the time it was at my house, Mrs. Payne. Mrs. Trusdale I don't know where she stayed.

Willey: She stayed over at Mrs.Hilda Mormon's?? house.

Marquetta: That's right. I can't remember where Ms. Bremitt?? stayed.

Willey: I think it was all in the same place.

Marquetta: But it was all in the same community. If they stayed for the weekend they would, most of the time they didn't, they went home except for the ones, Ms.Trudale and Ms. Burge were from North Carolina and South Carolina. So if they stayed for the weekend they would go to our church. So they were in our churches, they were in our schools, they were in our communities. And the community you have to remember we were a very small Black community so everybody knew everybody. So they became a part of our family, they were like family and they were treated very well. Now at our house we had to give up a whole room and there were five kids in our house. Some of us had to sleep downstairs. But a room was given up in our house for that teacher. And so the teachers at that time were very lofty in terms of their position in those communities. So the definition of a teacher is very different than a definition of a teacher today. There was so much respect and so much reverence. They weren't God but they were up there. Okay. So that made a big difference. Everybody was involved in making sure these kids were ready for the white school. It was a drive without saying it was a drive. It was a move without defining it as a move. It just happened because of all the lives that just melded together.

Willey: But there were meetings with the Board of Education and some of the town leaders also and things of that nature also.

Marquetta: And sometimes those things were pretty trying.

Willey: Yes but it wasn't to the point where they were burning crosses in the yard, killing cattle and stuff like that.

Marquetta: One of the reasons why it didn't happen. I don't know all the reasons. I know the first day of school was very scary. The schools were segregated but we were on a Black bus. I remember a teacher standing up there and saying "We don't want to teach you". I never will forget that. I never will forget that. And so I was scared most of my school year. I talked to my colleagues, my high school people. They forget that I didn't start-- most of them, who were white they forget that I wasn't in elementary school with them. But I was afraid most of the time in high school. All it had to do with braces a lot of it did but I was just a tiny little. But when I graduated I only weighted 95 and I was just extremely shy. And then with everything that was going on around Front Royal and the Civil Rights stuff was just scary but I didn't know these white kids. But some of the white kids were just as scared as I was because they didn't know these Black kids. You know I was scared. I was_____.People thought I was shy that is true but I appeared more shy because I did not open my mouth but I was scared. You didn't know_______with what you were seeing on TV. Daddy was scared for us. So I never really thought about that until Willey just said. It took a lot of courage for our parents to push us to go to that school because nobody knew what was going to happen. I never thought about that before. But I know Daddy was scared. I remember seeing the look on his face. I knew he was scared.

Willey: I remember the first time they, they being Mom & Dad, took me to Strasburg High School. It was before school and we met with Mr. Stanley Dellinger and he gave us tour and I was in awe of it. It was so big. And the gym. I told Daddy it was the biggest gym I had ever seen. He said, Where have you ever seen a gym before?" I still remember that. But my only thing was after I started school at Strasburg High School it was lot of times by yourself especially in the 8th grade, it was just like people didn't talk that much to you. Teachers seemed like they were kind of offish. Some of them were. So I just kind of muddled thru. And one day I was, I guess I was in the 9th grade and I was putting something in my locker and Larry Bright came up to me and said,"Hey man want to play football?" And I said I don't know I never played football before. He said why don't you come out and try, what the heck? And I said "Sure".

Marquetta: I didn't know that.

Willey: I call Doc Bright today. But then athletes that is a different, whole different thing, you earned their respect. It was really good to me because that way I could put a whole lot of negative energy into the football thing, and later on track. I was on the first wrestling team.

Marquetta: You weren't the "Big Star".

Willey: I was just an athlete.

Marquetta: He is so modest.

Willey: But to me it was just like you could really get rid of a lot of stuff, stress by just channeling it differently and that is just what I did. I just channeled it all into the next play and that just keeps down a whole lot of anger and stuff like that. But even looking back now, with hormones running wild when you are fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. I don't see how Mr. Proctor?? put up with it. But you know what I am saying. It was good. Sports was good. I have always said they are three men my life that have made me the man I am today. That was Jesus Christ, Wibert Mitchell, and Glenn Proctor. In that order.

Zach: And do you think that being on the sports teams helped you be accepted by the student population better?

Willey: Yes. Just like my dear, little wife there, she was on the debating team.

Marquetta: I didn't have a sports bone in my body.

Willey: But everyone doesn't do sports. I have been doing a little debating but you know ________. She was on it. What she did was challenge all hers to education. Me I wished I would have done more education. But it all worked out. But yes, but you know the thing that gets me today. It's just like two months ago I had a young man come up to me, well he's in his forties now I guess, and you never know what impression you give, you never know how people are going to read you. And he comes up to me and he said, “Brother I want to tell you something." And I said,” what’s that?" He said," You were always my hero". And I said,” Your hero, how is that?" He said I like the way you always carried yourself. You never got angry or mad. You never did things that would cause embarrassment to your family or school. He said, 'That's the way I wanted to be. I wanted to be just like that. So the way you carried yourself that is the way I carried myself. So I went Wow. And that is when I was in the 11th or 12th grade. And when you hear a full grown man tell you that. And he was the second one that told me that. And me I am going Wow! And I just treat people like I wanted to be treated with respect.

Zach: Now I am curious for both of you when you went to the all white or predominantly white schools, how did, first of all how did the students react, were there any issues there? And how did the teachers and administrators react? You talked a little bit about that. But I have quite a variety of stories on both those types of populations and I wanted to get your reactions were.

Willey: Her class had a different well it's like what Marquetta said, it was all 30 or 40 children just went to the middle school and the high school then.

Marquetta: My father had a real hard time at the middle school. Did he go to the middle school? He had a hard time.

Willey: I hear that. But when I went to the high school I didn't. The only thing I ran into was people would not talk to you. Which I was somewhat a loner. I always hunted and fished and was off to myself. But all that changed. Just like I had a young kid come up to me and say I want to ask you something. And I said, "Yeah what?' He said, "Do you all carry knives' and I said, "No, I don't carry a knife, do you?" And he said, "No, but my mommy and daddy said that all you people all carry knives." I said, “No, not all of us carry knives." But it just with me it was a feeling out of each other. You know what this kid is different. I think by the 9th grade by me doing hunting and fishing and doing sports and doing stuff like that that fit right in with everyone.

Zach: With what everybody else did.

Willey: Still do, except the hunting part I don't still do that just fish. But as far as fights, I have never been in a fight, cursing and hollering and all that stuff. Other than encouraging someone in football camp or something like that we never had to go thru that. I hear Marquetta’s brother Robert saying this and that. They used to have a lot of fights and things of that nature. One on one type thing. But I never was involved in anything like that.

Marquetta: You knew who----. I know my father was a fighter. I was not a fighter. I was always quiet.

Willey: Negotiator:

Marquetta: Well I feel in negotiating, I just watched. But my brothers had a hard time. Very difficult time. But I could sense things, a very acute sense of things, I knew who didn't want to deal with me and I really didn't care. I take that back, I really did. But I knew because of elementary school ______hear you talk. Because in elementary school I really was not in with a group so I wasn't missing a group. You know how some girls and boys have a clique. I was never in a clique so I never missed a clique. And I didn't have a need. I wished I was. I wished I had a best friend and all that. I really wanted that but I was used to not having that. And with the circumstances I was in I never looked for it.

Zach: OK

Marquetta: So it was very, very lonely. I couldn't play sports. I tried to play sports. I tried to play basketball. I loved volleyball. Because it worked for Willey. It worked for Edgar. Edgar was in my class. He was another sports star. I mean everybody loved Edgar, everybody loved Russell, everybody loved Willey. The boys they had the sorts. but I didn't have anything. There were some girls that spoke to me, Pat ________? She really liked me and I really liked her. People did seem like they didn't know what to do with me. I wouldn't say there was anybody really nasty to me because I was too shy I really was. Kind of like invisible. As far a relationship with a teacher, Mr. Proctor came from West Virginia. His whole thing about integration/segregation was way different than the way Virginia treated it. And I don't know why but to this day he is one of my best friends. But he would come to me almost every day. I guess he felt sorry for me. I was this tiny, little thing, I looked like I had Ricketts I was so skinny. I must have looked so sick. So I was this invisible, quiet, kind of smart of kid and he could come. But I was so shy. My name was Marquetta Witherall. So some people would come up to me and they would say,” What’s your name?" Huh? I couldn’t even say my own full name. I was too shy to say my own full name. And he would always check on my every day and he is the one that made me feel like you are going to be Ok. That was Glenn Proctor. He always checked on me. And when I graduated and went to college and would come back home I always sought out Glenn Proctor. There was something about that man. He was just a good man and he understood Black students. I am going to say it like it is. He understood it because he couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. I guess that was how he saw me and to this day he hasn't told me. I need to ask him that when I see him. He took an interest in me but he did. And so he always would check on me. Now the Principal made me feel safe. Mr. Dellinger was our first principal and the reason why stuff didn't pop off at Strasburg High School is because he threw the media out.

Willey: He would not allow them in.

Marquetta: They were not allowed in. He would not allow them to come in and interview us because that is what the media wanted to do. He said no. He kept the lid on. And so when we had our first reunion at Strasburg Museum we asked him to come and speak with Glenn Proctor. He spoke with the Superintendent of Schools and all that to recognize for the first time in this county that they did exist and you need to honor them. And all our graduates, the wonderful people that taught and the wonderful students that came out of that school. And he spoke about that. So that was my experience. My personality was too shy to start any trouble. But I knew that there was a little trouble in river city with the Cooper boys, my cousins. You don't remember that.

Willey: I was gone.

Marquetta: You were gone. That was a little bit later. They were my cousins and they were wild but they didn't take any stuff. So whenever stuff happens, up in the mountains and in the hills and the police would_____?. And that is all I am going to say.

Willey: The thing that I think about with Mr. Proctor is when we were supposed to play John Mosby. Mr. Proctor got a call from the coach at Mosby and said we will not play you all with the Black players on the team. And Mr. Proctor said then we will just not play you at all. And that is where Mr. Proctor almost lost his job because him and Stanley Dellinger had it out then because Stanley said," Glenn we have a contract. We won't play them next year." I got two young men who are my two of my key players and you are not going to let them go because of these people? It ended up we didn't go but he had to go. And he had to but they lost too. I don't know if it would have made any difference if we were there.

Marquetta: You mean the two Black players could not go.

Willey: Yes. Leonard Alsberry and myself were not allowed on their field. It was kind of sad. But that side of that county was a whole different mentality. I mean because we played Turner Ashby, Montevideo, Elkton, Stonewall, Central.

Marquetta: Warren County was real different.

Willey: Yes it was.

Zach: I get that sense especially, get a sense with the different newspapers in the county. The Northern Virginia Daily because they cover Warren County and so I get the sense there completely different than the way the other two papers in the county at that time covered things.

Willey: That is the first and last time I have ever been spit on in my life was when we played Warren County in Bing Crosby Stadium. I said I couldn't believe this. It was sad. Really sad. It is hate is what it amounts to. And it is really sad but I looked at it then as I look at it now. You have an option. You could go out there and fight and bust your knuckles and use all that stuff. Or just play duck and let it roll off your back and just play the game. Keep yourself straight, follow the rules and just play the game.

Zach: I am curious a little bit about kind of the difference in how people, I don't really want to say the different classes treated you but the different backgrounds. And the reason I say this is one of the things I have gotten is this theme, the more educated people who lived in town treated African-Americans differently than the people who lived like out in the country. And you mentioned that about something happening out in the hills. Did you all have that experience, something similar to that or was it kind of a generic white people treated you?

Willey: I think I understand what you are saying. But with me I didn't, it wasn't any different. I can't say there was any difference. Because the guys who lived out in Coal Mine, Star Tannery, Lebanon Church, we all squirrel hunted, target practiced, and groundhog hunted and played football. So it was like we had so much in common. With me it goes back to respect thing. Then again I looked up to guys who were straight A students or on the track team or in class with. Let's say on the track team for example, "Willey, just do what you need to do, you need to work on your start, you need to get in your box this way." It was positive. In my mind I can't think of negative stuff. No matter A student or straight B student. That was with me.

Marquetta: I have never really thought about that way. In high school.

Willey: Let's see you had your valedictorian.
Marquetta: It was Marcy who was white and the valedictorian. I had this conversation with her 5 or 6 years ago. I used to say to her ", Marcy do you ever notice that when you look at those class pictures that I was always somewhere around you not just because you were________?? It was because you were supposed to be the smartest so I was always watching you because I wanted to beat you at everything you did", and I told her that. She said, “I didn't know that". I just wanted to beat her, but I know that I had to work 3 times as hard as she did to get the grade and I knew that. And I considered myself a good student but I wanted to be a great student. I wanted to show her, really what it was. It wasn't about her personally what I wanted to do and how lonely it was. She cried, we had lunch together; we are in the same industry. I said, "What's the matter?" And she said,"Marquetta, I was just as lonely as you were. I was a teenage kid without friends. She was. The smartest girl in school. A lot of people were jealous of her, didn't want to be around her. And I understood her, and for the first time I understood her. And so we had a good cry and lunch. But I understood that. So for me I never thought about it like that in high school. And only having an adult perspective on it, not a high school perspective. And my adult perspective, when I look back over my adult years I would say if I were to look at it like that in terms of grades of people like you say. I would say there is no difference. Racism is racism. If you have an education you think you had it better were high fancy words. If you don't have the fancy words or haven't learned them it is pretty__________which is what I appreciate about it. Where an education will teach you how to practice racism like this. At the same time you are doing like this. Where we are now, "I don't like you_____OK. It is the same thing. That is my adult perspective. My high school perspective, I don't know that I thought about it. I was just trying to survive.

Willey: But I see what you were doing. See where I was using sports, you were using education. You just said, Marcy was good at this, this and this and I can do this too. It is like channeling.

Marquetta: It is. That is what I was doing. If I think of it now, I felt you know I can do exactly what she is doing. For a while there I thought I couldn't but I watched her. And Joe_______, he is a sweetie pie, but Marcy I didn't get, but she was like the smartest kid, and there was that female thing going on.

Willey: Oh yeah!

Marquetta: You have to realize I could do what she did but I had to study real hard. And I would never go to school without having anything unanswered. If I had to stay home my grandma would have to make me go to bed. And sometimes I would not get the last answer but I would get up in the morning real early because I would never go to school without having all my answers done. I am still am that way. But that was me. And I couldn't participate in a lot of after school activities because there were five of us and I had to help my grandparents take care of my brothers and sisters. My dad______. I wasn't involved in a whole lot of social stuff. But I was always envious, not jealous, but envious that other kids like Willey and Edgar could do that and I didn't. I didn't have a social life. It's true.

Willey: I was going to the Tastee-Freeze, eating 15 of them quarter hamburgers and drinking a milkshake.

Marquetta: You see we were never allowed. I could go to the Tastee-Freeze with permission but we never allowed to go with a group of kids anywhere like that. We were pretty protective in our family. They didn't let us, you couldn’t get in a car and go someplace and nobody knew where you were. First of all we didn't have a car to get in. So we were not allowed to roan like that.

Willey: Not like we were.

Marquetta: That's right. You all roamed. We were kind of protected.

Zach: Now I am kind of curious. You mentioned about the principal not letting the media in. From your perspective what was the media trying to accomplish? Because I have read the newspaper accounts of integration and things and they didn't do very much coverage of any of Shenandoah County and mean there were short articles like on Page 2. What were they trying to accomplish with that do you think?

Willey: Well I think personally, it would have been other areas and how everything was put on the tube, on the radio and some of the newspapers. They wanted to keep all the drama down and put a lid on it. "We are going to do this but without all the drama".

Marquetta: Like Front Royal was having.

Willey: Or other places. _______, we don't want to do that here. We think we can just keep it down. Keep these kids going to school. Not going to have a bunch of pictures taken and all that stuff. Keep it low key.

Marquetta: Violence.

Willey: And I think that what it was. And it was a transition. I can remember it just like yesterday, Lawrence, I can't remember Lawrence's last name. I remember getting off the school bus, and walking in the school. I was just like the first day was just like all the other days. It was nobody hardly speaking to you. But it was just like walk on in. Try to find my locker and my classes. You know it was nobody saying anything. Every once in a while someone would say good morning. But everything was just-- and that transition was just smooth and that was what Mr. Dellinger wanted.

Marquetta: He didn’t want any trouble.

Willey: He thought the media might have wanted--

Marquetta: To stir it up.

Willey: Inadvertently maybe but some people. Sometimes when I look on the television, I try not to watch too much news but some of it can really get you riled up. Keep it down. Not put it out there for people but keep it at a lower roar.

Marquetta: Because there are people enough around to stir a pot. He was just doing his, he was just keeping it down. He was doing his job. He was protecting his students. And he took it a step further. And a lot of people don't know about this. He said it for the first time when we had that celebration at the Museum. People don't know he came up to Sunset Hills School. He didn't have to do that. And he talked to those teachers and knew how he could make the transition smoother for us. He didn't have to do that. That how the visits started, pre-school, making sure that we kids could have a chance to go over to the school before the school started so we could have a chance to see what a locker is. We didn't know what a locker is. What's a cafeteria? What are you talking about?

Willey: And a gym?

Marquetta: Do you really get in a line with a tray for lunch?

Willey: You don't have to bring a bag??

Marquetta: You don't have to bring a bag! He made sure that happened. For him to have that foresight, in that day and that time. That was a heck of a thing to do to have the forethought for kids who know nothing about a locker and a cafeteria and how to matriculate into classes. And then we had two floors! We had one room school first with a water fountain on the outside that froze in the winter.

Willey: Yeah but they moved it inside.

Marquetta: Then we had an add on and there was a bathroom, one for girls and one boys. We were like in heaven then.

Willey: No johnnies!

Marquetta: That's right! So to go to a school with two floors and showers in the locker room. So he came to the school and worked out a plan with the teachers to make sure we were afforded that. So to me that was protecting and taking care of your kids. Not just the boys the boys in trouble but helping us thru the transition.

Zach: That's interesting because the same year that you started at Strasburg I talked to a student who started at Stonewall the same year and she gave a completely different story of her first day. She said when they got there the media was there. She said they had police there and there was a lot of excitement and a lot of drama. So that is a very interesting contrast.

Marquetta: You see I remember the teachers saying we don't want _______? You see his memory of it is different from mine. He wasn't on my bus.

Willey: I was on a whole different set-up. Remember I started before you did.

Marquetta. It makes a difference.

Willey:But also, we were talking about this last week. Some of the teachers that used to snub us. Not really be very friendly. Or some of them that we see now are some of our best friends. It is awesome.

Marquetta: My first client that they gave me, called me at my house on a Saturday.

Willey: You want to say where you work?

Marquetta: Oh, I am a financial advisor with _________. My office is right downtown. My first $350,000 check OK, I am thinking, ______?? First of all it is a production thing, especially the first one. You got to make money. And so I know that they have money but I know who he is. One of the biggest racists in town. Because everybody in Strasburg at the time was a racist. So I called him, Mr. So & So. I said, "This is what I'm doing. I know you know me because you know we know we know each other and we don't have to go any further, but this is what I'm doing. He let me in his house. Which shocked me. These kids used to call us "N" words and we used to call them "C" words.
I was never a fighter. My brothers and sisters, they would be fighting going to school, fighting coming home from school. So I talked to him a good six months. But I am persistent and quiet. So one day he called me here at this house and said," May I come to your office?" And I said well of course I will open for you. How much is your check?
He said, "$350,000." First of all I was shaking all the way down to the office. And I to this day I can't tell you why he gave me that check or why he trusted me.

Willey: Maybe it is because he trusted you.

Marquetta: Yes. But what I am saying is that he was one of the worst. And that was _______?_. And his daughter was in my class and we had a few "nice" words. I didn't let people run over me. I didn't have a nasty mouth. I didn't curse. But by the time I got finished with you, you knew you were cursed out by the time you got home. Because my grandmother taught me how to do that.

Willey: Nancy Nice.

Marquetta: Nice Nancy. Because she taught us nice, you know, that you had to stand up. You don't pick a fight. You walk away. Every time we did.______________? Here's what you say. And she's even very nice. And so you know I still remember him handing me that check. It was almost like he didn't know what he was doing. So I took the check and put it in his account. That was my first real big account. And when that happened to me I knew I was going to be okay in Strasburg. As long as I truly respect people. If you don't respect me that's your issue. But I am going to respect you, and if you don't respect me then we don't have any business together. And that was a turning point for me, a good turning point for my business as an adult. I knew that I could handle Strasburg, I do all right in Strasburg. And so he was not a very nice person. Truly he was not. So anyway that's one of my adult stories coming from a child in school with his daughter, who taught his kids how to do the "N" word. I know he did. So that is how people can change. If he can change, anybody can change.

Zach: Now I am curious you knew one of them I guess, the teachers at the Black Schools. Number one I can't figure out what happened to them after the Black schools.

Willey: That's a good question!

Marquetta: We are still looking.

Willey: I know one Mrs. Eudora H. Payne (?) went back to Ranson, West Virgina and she had two daughters and that is where she lived until she passed. Which hasn't been too awful many years ago.

Marquetta: Now we don't know what happened to her daughters.

Willey: George Heller.

Marquetta: I had a crush on George Heller(?)

Willey: George Heller and then Mrs. Burbidge(?) We have been trying to see if we can find them. But we have had people try to see if they can find them. From what we understand, the county they don't keep records but for a certain amount of time. And someone brought us some stuff that had been throwed out in the trash.

Marquetta: It was Judy Jackson. It was at John-Manville? In the trash. It was Mr. Howard's attendance book and it had my name and all my sisters and brothers name in it. Where he was from, his address in Roanoke and everything. We had not been able to find him. He went to Virginia State College where I went. Of course years before and I find it in the college book, but he has probably passed away.

Willey: But those three we been trying to locate, Richmond, all those things trying to locate them.

Marquetta: And one minister, Rev. Greer (?) he was your relative, but that was before our time. That was Sunset Hills School before our time. But we have a list of teachers that we have accumulated thru the older citizens that were there thru the younger citizens that were there. And as much information as we were able to get but we are still working on it.

Willey: It is at the museum.

Marquetta: I know we have it upstairs.

Zach: I was curious they were working for the county as teachers and then the schools integrated and I am sure, and this is the case almost everywhere, that they are just no longer teachers here in the county. Even at the time you couldn't have a Black teacher teaching the white kids. You know. So what happened to them?

Willey: That's a good question. We wondered that too. But think back when we made that transition, all our focus was on the now and never even thought about what happened to the teachers. But we were kids. But as adults we wanted to look up and find out where they went and what happened to them. But the only one we know of was Mrs. Payne.

Marquetta: It was there focus. They were so focused on us doing well at the white school when you get there. That was the push. I want you to do well. I want you to show them. That was the push and then they just left.

Zach: There was one and I forget her name now was the teacher at Creekside.

Marquetta: Mrs. McClain, that was Mrs. Payne's sister.

Zach: The Church there in Woodstock, Mt Zion, they know where she is buried. She went back to West Virginia. But I don't know anything about the ones that were the teachers in Strasburg.

Willey: We were hoping but people just trashed their records. That is so sad. So much history just trashed.

Marquetta: We made a copy of George Heller's (?) book that was found. It is there. It looks like the original. We did a real good job. I never thought about it like that. That is an excellent question. I feel guilty we didn't think about the teachers but we were kids.

Willey: And then there was that push. Get out of school. What are you going to do when you get out of school? Some of you are going to go in the military; some of you are going to college. That was a chaotic time in a sense.

Marquetta: It was a traumatic time.

Willey: But I look at now and I look back at then. That isn’t too bad compared to some of the stuff that goes on now.

Marquetta: Even with all that stuff I think we were focused. We were a lot more focused. And then at the same time there were things motivating you. There was the Civil Rights, there were leaders, and there were people there to guide you in your community. The community mobilized where there was a local mobilization. There was the push. There is not that anymore. We knew that education or something beyond high school you were going to need, vocational school, college, military. But I don't know I think our focus was more simple. Do you know what I mean than what the kids are experiencing today? Maybe I am wrong I don't know.

Zach: And then looking after integration, after the schools integrated, I guess maybe we can do it like we did at the beginning where I ask you to talk for a minute or so about how things were kind of focusing on Strasburg after integration progressed. Racism continues but you know what, how has that change maybe, what the community was like and how that changed a little bit in terms of how people dealt with race and things like that. Were there any bad instances after integration comes at the schools? I hope that makes sense.

Willey: All I can say is that at schools, then again, I think some of the guys from what I understand after the school was started after all that you did have some fights. You have boys or some girls you are going to have conflicts no matter what. But it seemed like it was somewhat of an acceptance of what we had come thru as a community. but yet as some of the ladies in the church used to say, you still got some of the ______?? in the back thinking the old ways and that is on both sides of the race. “We shouldn't be over there or we shouldn't be at that school and of course the swimming pool thing. Some of the Black people won’t let their children go to the swimming pool today.
Because of something that happened back then. We weren't allowed to go then. But sometimes you got to move on a little bit because hate begets hate. My thinking is I have a granddaughter that goes to the pool. We have a granddaughter that goes to the pool. I would not allow her to swim in the river. I had a ball. All my friends were there because the poor white families couldn't afford $100 a summer couldn't afford that. So we were swimming at that river together and having a ball. But maybe that answers a part of your question.

Zach: I think it does. You know that was the kind of what I was looking for the overall.

Willey: You still got hate in there. You still got, you will for a long time.

Marquetta: That is an excellent question because I was asked that question and had an opportunity to answer that question by someone white just the other day. And here is how I answered that question. Well the question was proposed a little bit differently. Is there still racism? The person had had a conversation with someone Black in the community and felt _______? wasn't done because of racism. Do you still think that exists in Strasburg? Well of course. Well really? If you, in order for you to mention that to me because I am Black then you know it must be something like that. You are an intelligent person I know that and I like you. I don't know you that well, but in order for you to ask me that question you know there must be. But the person wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. And I said this," Couple of things you do not want to do. Do not appoint a person in Strasburg who is Black to deal with Black stuff. Do not do that. Because there you are ______? it. But you know it happened here and I know you do because you asked me about it. Look at it as an opportunity to say to the person, "Do you think is racism?" Don't be afraid to say the word race or racism. You need to understand that anybody past 50 or 60 or so in this town had had to deal with that and that is part of who they are. And so because it is part of who they are it is going to affect how they respond to certain things. And so if you really want to do a great job don't deny what they are thinking. They are opening up an invitation for you to talk about it. It is just a dialogue in and of itself. It is a step forward. You must take the step forward. You must take the step forward. It's okay to talk about race. Let us not pretend that it is insignificant and it does not exist. And when you take that step, you are taking that step forward every time even if you still end up disagreeing about the issue you are talking about. But to deny is the worst mistake you could ever make. There is racism just like Willey said was a part of many white folk here. Racism was a part of many Black folk here not that there is a whole bunch of Black folk. But there is. And we can only take a step forward when we are in dialogue together. If I can be of any help, I will be glad to be of any help to anyone who wants to have a conversation but I don't represent Black people. And that is where a lot of white people make a mistake. And so that was an excellent question you asked and that is my answer to that.

Willey: And you are sticking to it.

Zach: There is one last question and I am glad you brought this up. The Strasburg pool. I know the story of the Woodstock pool integrating. Do you all know anything in relation to the Strasburg pool and segregation and integration?

Willey: Only thing I know was you had to pay a fee.

Marquetta: It was to keep us out. And riffraff too. You know what I mean. That was the way it was seen.

Willey: Well that was the way it was set up too. Every time I think about that I think about a story that Glenn Proctor told. It was this young boy named Carter Alsberry. He used to play with Glenn's children okay. One day Glenn was going to take his boys to the pool. Carter asked, "Coach Mr. Proctor you going to the pool?' Coach said, " Oh no, we just, it is time for you to go home and we are going to take these boys for a walk etc." Because coach didn't want to break his heart to tell because he was going to take his boys to the pool and he wasn't allowed to go. So that being said time went on. But right down the road on Battlefield, Gypsy Falls, Carter with some other boys was down there swimming when he drowned. And that haunted Mr. Proctor for so long. Here he is one of the leaders in his community, wanting to do the right thing and get along and here is this young man who his sons played with and he thought a lot of drowned because there was no other place really with a lifeguard or something like that for him o go to. So I think he withdrawed his children from it then. But that being said it got to the point where as people where not supporting it and it was getting into disrepair so ended up having to open up everything and we got to get this thing fixed or we are going to have to shut down.

Marquetta: And then they started letting the riffraff and the Blacks in.

Willey: No, anyone that wanted to go there they were allowed in.

Marquetta: Daddy didn't let us go. But I really wasn't interested in because I was not a swimmer. So it didn't bother me at all. But for a long time, I was very angry about that because there were a lot of Black people who needed to learn how to swim and wanted to swim and weren't allowed. So as a young woman who went to a Black college specifically and my Daddy hated it. I was coming back with like A's_________________. I really did. My dad was so afraid. And I remember being very angry about that. But you know you get over stuff. But I don't like the history. I was in the pool with Bree honey. I was in the pool with Bree.

Willey: This woman can't swim a bit. But she went to college and took a class on swimming and passed.

Marquetta: It was only 2 credits. I went off the board and everything.

Willey: But then all of a sudden it is like "I can't swim.

Marquetta: But then I go to the park because I helped paint the park and it is not right for me not to go to the park when I want my family to go to the park. And so we had our first reunion of _______school, Queen Street in the park and you know it was so neat, everybody in town came and it wasn't just a Black reunion. It was a Strasburg thing.

Willey: And that is the way it is supposed to be.

Marquetta: And that is where dialogue like yours with different people and dialogue with each other would happen. Dialogue changes things because it gets you to know you a bit better."Oh yeah well he is an Okay guy. Things grow and change. But we have a thing at the Museum. It was the largest attendance. And was the thing to celebrate the Black schools. It was the largest attendance of any event in the museum. Because it was dialogue. And people had a chance to cry with us. We weren't the only people crying. Strasburg cried. That is why I am here in Strasburg now. It is not the most perfect place.

Willey: There is no perfect place.

Marquetta: There is no perfect place.

Willey: Maybe Myrtle Beach. Outer Banks.

Zach: Maybe perfect weather.

Marquetta: Strasburg is what it is. It does not pretend to be something it is not. When it is time to rally, it rallies. And good people in it. And for the most part, when there is a dialogue even if it comes to fist-fighting sometime, we dialogue. Or the town council does sometimes.

Willey: The thing that amazes me is, see where do you live?

Zach: Woodstock.

Willey: Woodstock, Edinburg, Mount Jackson, Strasburg, all of them are so different. So different. You know I mean. It is amazing. Even Maurertown, Toms Brook. We are all right here in the same sock, but we don't fit the same shoe. But we are all so different and that is what makes it so unique in my opinion.

Marquetta: It has been quite a journey and we are all allright with it.

Zach: That's good.

Willey: But one of the things I didn't like about the swimming pool thing. After I went into the Navy and we did all this swimming stuff. It's chlorine! Now of course we thought the river was the greatest thing since sliced bread, now we find out it is so polluted. It's awful. Marquetta and I have been blessed to live through all that we have gone thru and we look back and just think about some of the things that we have seen. Some of the players that have been in this drama that we lived and it has been pretty unique. One of the things I would change is I would take a typing class my last year. (Laughter follows)

Zach: I get a lot of people that say that and they are usually guys.


Zachary Hottel, “WILLY AND MARQUETTA MITCHELL ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW,” Shenandoah County Library Archives, accessed March 7, 2021,