Michael Engs, W&M Class of 1969
Michael Engs arrived at William & Mary in 1967 after transferring from Christopher Newport College, now University, where he had been the first African American student at the institution. During his two years at William & Mary, Engs was a member of the ROTC, the first African American to do so at the college, and participated in intramural sports. He also worked as a historical interpreter for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation during his time as a student.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1969, Engs was commissioned into the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA before deploying to Korea. After retiring from the service, Engs continued his academic career at the University of Arizona, receiving his Master of Education in 1977 and at Northern Arizona University, receiving his Doctorate in Education in 1996. He went on to work for the Pima Community College District for 32 years as an administrator, counselor, and instructor. During his tenure he received numerous awards including Post-Secondary Counselor of the Year in AZ and Administrator of the Year for Pima College.
In his interview, Engs recounts his time as the “first African American male undergraduate for the College of William & Mary” in the 1960s. He expands on the hardships his parents endured as African Americans in the military and speaks on the racism he faced throughout his own schooling and career. He emphasizes the importance of history, research, and literature in his time at the College and how this pushed him towards working in higher education himself. William & Mary gave him invaluable exposure to the narratives of people of color, thus affecting his worldview.While he encountered many difficulties at the College, he claims the value of William & Mary has increased over the years for him, much like “currency.” From his time in ROTC and working in Williamsburg to his teaching career, Engs emphasizes the importance of African Americans in his growth. He owes his success to those people of “good will” surrounding him. He reflects the obstacles he faced and acknowledges that he paved the way for future African Americans at William & Mary.
William & Mary
Interviewee: Michael Engs
Interviewer: Carmen Bolt
Interview Date: March 19, 2018
Carmen: We’re recording now. So, my name is Carmen Bolt. I’m the oral historian at William and Mary. It’s currently around 8:30 a.m. on March 19th, 2018. I’m in the Brown Board Room in Swem Library at William and Mary with Dr. Michael Engs.
So, if we could start, I would just like to talk about the date and place of your birth.
Michael: Okay. I was born in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, April 8th, 1947.
Michael: My father, Robert Engs and my mother, Myrtle Engs were both part of a larger military family.
Carmen: Awesome. And what years, before we jump into your childhood, what years did you attend William and Mary?
Michael: I was a transfer student from Christopher Newport College. I was the first black student to attend Christopher Newport. I transferred here as a junior in 1967, and I attended William and Mary from 1967 through 1969, and graduated the class of 1969.
Carmen: Okay great.
Michael: I’m the first African American male undergraduate for the College of William and Mary.
Carmen: So, before we go into that time at William and Mary, and also your time at Christopher Newport, can you tell me a little bit about where and how you were raised? And some about your family? You’ve talked a bit about it, but if you’d like to expand?
Michael: I’m an Army brat. My father was one of the first officers commissioned by President Harry Truman when he integrated the service in the 19 – the late 1940s. So, I grew up in Europe, Germany. My earliest childhood memory is my mother holding me over the rail of the General S. Patch, an old troop ship, going across the Atlantic, and my memory is of this cobalt blue ocean, stretching out forever. And this feeling of exhilaration and excitement that I’ve never been able to duplicate.
And so, I grew up in Germany. By the time I was 14 I’d spent seven and a half years there.
0:01:59.4 Probably half my life. So, I have a very different perspective on America and the world than many people of African American descent. The other thing I remember about my childhood that strikes me, early on, is that I was being pushed down the street in a baby carriage, and we lived in a beautiful, residential neighborhood in Germany (not on the base at that particular time) and as we turned the corner, as far as you could see, there was nothing but rubble, because the war had just ended. World War II. And there were people kind of scrambling in the rubble, because they were starving. I learned later, from a priest in the Episcopal church in Tucson that I attended that, who lived there at the same time, that they were starving to death. And he was saddened by the fact that once he at a strawberry out of his mother’s garden, and she cried for two days. And that was the backdrop of my upbringing.
Michael: And I’ve never forgotten that people are suffering in the world, because of it.
Carmen: Yeah, I can imagine that experience had a profound impact.
Michael: Yes, always did. And then, when I was 14, we had lived mostly on military bases: Colorado Springs, Colorado, Fort Carson in Germany, all my life in the military. I’d really never attended a segregated school, even though the United states was segregated at the time. So, when I came here to Virginia, when I was 14 years old, my freshman year in high school, I went to George Washington Carver High School in Newport News, Virginia, which at that time was an all-black high school. And stayed there only one year, because the counselor at George Washington Carver felt that because of my abilities, and the excellent schools I’d gone to in the military, that I was probably going to be on the fast track to one of the best careers here in Newport News, which is as a welder in the Newport News shipyard.
0:04:00.8 My parents weren’t kind of accepting of that, because my brother was, at that time an undergraduate at Princeton University, National Merit Scholar, in the same class as later-Senator Bill Bradley. He went on to an accelerated doctoral program at Yale. So, my family’s aspirations for me was to be Ivy League. And though I never followed that path quite the way they wanted me to, it was still a lot of pressure in my family for academic achievement, because both my mother and father were college graduates. They’d graduated from universities in the 30s, middle of the depression. So, there were very high expectations for the sons of Myrtle and Robert Engs.
Carmen: Sure, and do you remember your particular feelings about that at the time, when the chancellor at your school was suggesting that you take this fast track to your call – what you, in particular felt, even though you were getting pressure from your family?
Michael: I particularly liked George Washington Carver High School.
0:05:00.0 Because you know, it was an all-black high school. My life had been spent in pretty much an integrated environment in the military, so, having as many black people around me as I’d ever seen before was kind of exciting. And I was kind of saddened by having to leave there.
And welders were respected, because my father was an engineer. People who work with their hands, so it didn’t strike me as being a bad career path, even now, because I’ve worked in a community college my whole career, and many of the people I like to work with most were people like welders, machinists and people like that. So, it didn’t strike me in the same way it was striking my parents at the time. I understand now why they made the choice, and I’m glad they made the choice for me, but yeah, there was some sadness of moving on from George Washington Carver to Walsingham Academy, where I ended up matriculating, and then on to Christopher Newport College. If that answers your question . . .
Carmen: No, you did. Thank you. And another question. From going from a somewhat more overwhelmingly integrated environment to an overwhelmingly segregated environment that was transferring to Newport News, which was this kind of segregated society at that time, what was that experience like for you, other than the positive aspects that you’ve already noted, about just being around far more African American individuals.
Michael: I think my whole upbringing from the time I was a child prepared me for this experience. The 60s were a time when African Americans were split, and are still split. In the symposium that I went to just this weekend at William and Mary, there was a discussion about whether it’s better to send children to predominantly black colleges, traditionally black colleges, or to send them to more integrated colleges, in terms of their overall experience. And many of my friends have gone to places like Morehouse.
0:06:51.7 And their experience in college was very different than my experience here at William and Mary, because the cultural enrichment you get from an all-black environment, as an African American, is so powerful for you, throughout life, in that if you don’t have that experience, you’re always missing part of yourself, a part of your culture, because you didn’t get immersed in your culture for that particular period of time.
So, I think there are pros and cons to each. In the 60s it was important, as was suggested at the symposium this weekend, here at William and Mary, that we have children and young people who do both, because – especially in the 60s, it was important to send a message to society that children should have, young adults should have choices to go anyplace that they choose. And if they choose to go to a traditionally black college, that’s okay, but if they choose to go to William and Mary, that’s okay, as well.
Carmen: Okay. So, this is a good segue then to go into your choice, I guess, to attend Christopher Newport College at the time.
0:08:02.1 And to integrate it, in fact, as you said.
Michael: Well, I was just the first black student who went there. They didn’t really segregate, because they had just opened. So, they were accepting pretty much anybody who applied during their first two years.
Michael: My choice of going to Christopher Newport was based on my SAT scores. What happened to me was that at Walsingham Academy, I was a basketball player, and I’d come back from a long road trip to Richmond, or someplace, and the next morning, I had to get up early and take my SATs. My scores were extremely low. So, of the colleges I applied to, which included Oberlin, Kenyon, Amherst, Princeton, William and Mary, I didn’t get accepted to any of them. So, here I am, in the middle of the Vietnam War period. I’m going to be drafted if I don’t go to college. I have to find an institution to go to. It’s the expectation of my family. And so, as a consequence, I went to Christopher Newport, and was accepted there.
0:08:56.8 And excelled there. And so, in my junior year, I applied to William and Mary (actually applied to Hampton University – which was then Hampton Institute) and Norfolk State and Virginia State, first. Those were my choices. They didn’t have the money that I needed to pursue my last two years of college. My family couldn’t pay. And so, as a consequence, I then came to William and Mary. William and Mary, at the time, was being pressured by the state of Virginia and the Federal Government to diversify, because it didn’t have any African American students, and they would have to lose their federal funding unless they diversified. So, when I walked in, they said, “Well, how much money would you like,” and I went, “Oh, this sounds good.” And having integrated pretty much every school that I attended since 10th grade, it wasn’t a strange experience for me. And they said to me, “Since you’re a townie,” (as we were called at the time – someone who had grown up in Williamsburg) “you don’t have to live on campus, if you don’t want to.” As a junior in college, nobody wants to live on campus, by yourself.
0:09:59.0 To me, that was a gift, so – I was accepted to William and Mary. Got a full scholarship, and lived off campus. The interesting thing about my experience here at William and Mary was that I had built, through my attendance at Walsingham and Christopher Newport, a cadre of friends who had gone with me to school for many years. So, my college roommate was a person I’d gone to Walsingham Academy with. Another Army brat, Russell Maxfield. Ron McGee was another Army brat that I’d met on my way. So, I had this whole circle of friends, who, despite my rage and anger at the kinds of things that were going on in society, were basically protecting me. They gave me unconditional regard. Mary Newman, who I went to Walsingham with, who then I met again at William and Mary, whose father had been inviting me over for dinner, because he was a Fine Arts professor here at William and Mary, since I was a sophomore in high school. So, I had this whole circle of people who really cared for me, despite everything that happened to us during that particularly tumultuous period of time of the late 60s.
Carmen: And I think that might be a bit of a unique experience, to come to college and already have a community in place there, with you, which I sure did offer a lot of support.
Michael: Yes. When you listen to the other African American students who attended William and Mary during the same time I did, their experience was very different, because many of them didn’t come from Williamsburg. And the feelings of isolation were much greater for them, because they didn’t have that group of people who they’d known since high school, who were basically protecting them from some of the negativity that we received from other students. There were, what I related to later in my historical studies, a very subtle shunning process here. Most students didn’t have contact with us African Americans. They really didn’t befriend us on a regular basis.
0:11:59.4 They, they kept their distance, if you will. That was not the case. And as I’ve studied history of Arizona, two of the people that struck me who came to Arizona were Henry Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point Military Academy, and Charles Young. During their four years at the Academy, nobody would talk to them, including their instructors. And so, they were shunned the whole time that they were there. There was a similar experience for African American students here at William and Mary, because people really did not have contact with you on a rolling basis. There were some. There were many people in my circle of friends: Shelby Tetiva, and as I said, Mary Newman, and Russell Maxfield, Rhonda Key, Chuck Elliot, who I pointed out to you in the yearbook, were all very close friends of mine. And people I could always depend upon to help me get through experiences that are worth going through here.
0:12:59.4 And being in a study group, if we were taking the same classes, which is always important in higher education –
Carmen: Right, and bringing up a study group, I just spoke with a graduate during the 70s who said, study groups in particular were a space in which she noticed discrimination very acutely, because she didn’t even know the study groups were going on, and she was never invited to participate in one. Then started her own with the individuals who were ostracized from those groups.
Michael: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, our group also included one of the first Hispanics that I had ever had contact with on a friendship basis, Patty Gracian, and so that foreshadowed my later experience in the Southwest, where it’s almost predominantly Hispanic. And, she was, I think, one of the few Hispanics, who lived here in Williamsburg at that particular time. So, she joined our group, because of its diversity, and because she wasn’t getting the response from others, because of her race.
Carmen: Right. So, outside of your group, which you noted as kind of a buffer of those things that were going on, or from those things that were going on, did you still notice shunning practices from individuals outside of that? Or are there any specific memories you have of individuals directly discriminating against you, here at William and Mary, based on your race?
Michael: No, I think the thing that you noticed at William and Mary in the late 60s was the Southern dominance. I mean, the fraternity and sorority system were very much grounded in a Confederate, almost subtle racism. Even as they paraded during homecoming, they’d wear Confederate uniforms, that women would be dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, out of “Gone with the Wind.” And it was pretty obvious. And we still struggle with this battle. This year has been a very important year in terms of Confederate symbols throughout the United States.
0:15:04.7 And to see that as a dominant theme in the major activities like homecoming at William and Mary was a slap in the face to us, as African Americans, because the admission – the failure to admit that slavery was an evil in this country, and that people were oppressed in the ways that they were, was kind of disgusting. And unless you admit that, and face up to that, then you are really ignoring the realities of history for many of us. To this day, I’m a member of the Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation, and it’s a historical re-creation, recreation activity where they’ve actually recreated the old fort built in 1775 that is the founding spot of Tucson, and Tucson’s first day, August of 1775, they have a flag ceremony in which all military units that have ever served in Tucson get to bring their flag, and one of the flags that they bring every year is the Confederate flag, because they were there for a month, back in the Civil War days.
0:16:09.9 And, I traditionally boycott that, because I’m just not going to be present and march in a parade that celebrates the Confederacy and slavery and all the evils that were done to the African American peoples.
Michael: Because you know, my journey was really a reversal of the middle passage. If you think about me as an 18-month-old child going across the ocean so my father can serve in Germany, it’s almost a reversal of the slave trade, because beneath me in the Atlantic Ocean, the bones of my ancestors who were brought from Africa, against their will.
Carmen: And your father was going to Germany to serve the United States, in the military.
Michael: It’s always kind of an amazing irony, if you study the service of military People of Color, especially African American. Charles Young is a perfect example.
0:16:59.8 We’re celebrating the 100th year in 1918 of the punitive expedition where we chased Pancho Villa into Mexico, after his invasion of Columbus, New Mexico in 1916. And one of the people who went was the third black graduate of the West Point Military Academy, Charles Young. And after he came back, the first thing he did was write his wife a letter saying, “I’ve just donated $600, $400 of my own money, $200 of the money of the soldiers of my company, to the anti-lynching league.” The beginnings of the NAACP. So, here’s a man who’s fought for his country in Mexico, chasing Pancho Villa for a year, served admirably in that role as one of the first black officers in the military, and then in 1918 comes back and has to write his wife a letter explaining why he’s given most of his salary to the anti-lynching group, because so many black people are being lynched on a daily basis here in the United states.
0:17:53.9 So, there’s a great irony for us, as African Americans, as persons who have served their country in every major conflict since the Revolutionary War, to understand that we are still not going to be respected on a level that we deserve.
Michael: Yeah, the term is really an indemnity. It’s a legal term, and what it means is, if you serve, if you are serving and protecting a group of people, you deserve respect and reward in return. And African Americans have never received indemnity in all their services to the many wars. My father’s a perfect example. He served in World War II, he served in Korea, he served during the Cold War. He was on the wall during the Cold War, because if the Russians had invaded through East Germany, as we expected they would in the early 50s. My father would have been the first to go. Yet, as he was treated in his military career, the stories of the abuses he received were horrific.
0:18:57.8 Never given credit for good projects, always blamed for bad, and failures that occurred around him. How he survived that in the way that he did is still amazing to me, because my family were like royalty. Remember, as the first African Americans who served in the military, especially overseas with predominantly white companies, from the South, he was always under pressure, as was my mother to provide an example to others. You know my mother was to me, as a child growing up, almost like a cross between Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. Was always dressed beautifully: gloves, hats. I mean, she was presenting an example to other military wives of my father’s company that this is the way that you have to behave in order to gain the respect that we deserve. And my father was in the same situation.
0:19:58.4 It was amazing that they could carry it off as gracefully as they did. And I still admire them for that, because as a child, I didn’t appreciate the pressures that they were under to survive, until I, myself went into the military and began to realize the type of pressure that you’re under. Representing, not only yourself, with respect, but all the people who’ve come before you.
Carmen: Right. So, how was it discussed in your household? Because you were a military family, or even at the point that you did decide to go into the military. Was this dualism – I don’t know what else to call it – was that address or spoken about in your family? How was that reconciled, that serving the country, but also taking –
Michael: Well, it was never reconciled in my family, because by the time I got to be of age, I was in ROTC when I was attending William and Mary. I had intended to go into the military, so, but I was very schizophrenic, because at the time, we were in the middle of the Vietnam era. And by 1967, ’68, ’69, when I was here at William and Mary, all of us began to realize that the war was really not a just war.
0:21:04.2 That there were some really strange things going on that had brought us to this point. That we were lying to the people about what was going on there. So, I would go from military drill in the Sunken Gardens, to an anti-war protest somewhere else on campus, without the same uniform on. Even when I was in the military, because I was stationed for a time a Ft. Eustis, I’d be at Ft. Eustis during the day, come home on the weekends, drive up to Washington, D.C., and march in protest parades. In fact, I was arrested while I was in the military for protesting the Vietnam War, and they were going to dismiss me from the Army because of actions “Unbecoming an Officer.” But, according to regulations in the military, you can express your political views as long as you’re not in uniform. I wasn’t in uniform. So, despite the pressure the military’s putting on you to conform, it was a time in which you really had to stand up for what you believed in, despite the consequences.
0:22:05.8 So, it was a very difficult time to be both a person who believed in serving your country, while at the same time, understanding that the war that you were involved in was probably not appropriate.
Carmen: Right. That’s – that’s something I’ve never even thought about, especially through the lens of like a college experience, participating both in the ROTC, and having the belief that you do serve your country, but also be morally against the current conflict that’s going on.
Do you mind expanding a little bit more upon those two things? Your experience in the ROTC here, and –
Michael: It’s a continuing theme within the American culture. Because if you go from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq, you see the same themes being played out.
0:22:59.5 The change that has occurred that is most hopeful to me is that we are no longer blaming servicemen for that failure of the country to make good decisions about how to use military force. And that’s the positive thing that’s happened. Because in Vietnam, as we came back from the war, I experienced it both here, before going into the military, and then again in Tucson, when I moved there in 1973, got my first job in the community college career that I pursued, was as a veteran’s advisor, helping veterans adjust as they came back from Vietnam. And we were being shunned; we were being spit upon; we were being – the treatment that veterans were receiving, the names we were being called in the early 70s, as the Vietnam war winded down, were horrific. Because we were the target. We were to blame for the war.
Carmen: The scapegoats.
Michael: The government, they were blaming us, as veterans coming back from the war. I never went to Vietnam, so – I don’t claim to have that experience.
0:24:00.0 But at the same time, the veterans that did come back were not treated very well. And I think it’s a – it’s something that’s continued on in our culture, because many of the choices that we’ve made to use military force have not been appropriate. And the veterans are the ones who bear that burden. And so, the number of people, as we talked earlier, Carmen, who are serving their country is shrinking. It’s like only 1-2% now. And the rest of the country is basically saying, “We’ll let them do that. We’ll let them protect us, and we’ll only respect them when we need them.” And to me, we’re missing the point, that we have to make better decisions on a governmental level about where military force is used, and how it’s used, because when people who do believe in serving their country go to serve, they have to receive indemnity, as I said earlier.
Carmen: Absolutely. Your perspective on this is really interesting, because of the roles you’ve had and individuals you’ve spoken to, and your role in the military, ever since you were, well, born it sounds like, because your family was in the military, but especially from your time at college and during the Vietnam War period.
Carmen: So, would you speak a little bit more, if you wouldn’t mind about just the experience of being in the ROTC at William and Mary during that particular time, and then also, if you wouldn’t mind, after, about participating in those anti-war rallies?
Michael: Well, I think I remember much more clearly the anti-war portion of my experience than I do of the ROTC. ROTC is, except for the summers when you have to go between your junior and senior year to ROTC summer camp, is really not an immersing experience. I mean it’s a once a week, twice a week drill.
0:25:59.3 You have some classes that you have to take that are of military training. To me, the most valuable experience ROTC was that it gave you a draft deferment. You could not be drafted as long as you were undergoing military training. ROTC was part of that. So, it buffered and protected me from having to go into the military until after I graduated from college, which was my goal.
I think that the only powerful experience I had in ROTC was really ROTC summer camp, because my upbringing in the military had taught me certain skills that really served me well in terms of ROTC summer camp. The summer between my junior and senior year here at William and Mary, because one of the things I realized early on is that military units are broken into parts.
0:26:58.7 And the part that’s the most important is the five people in your squad. So, as soon as I got to military – the summer camp, I began to look around and see other people, like myself, some of whom grew up in the military, as I did, who already had some of the thinking processes that would make us successful. And so, one of the things they did in ROTC summer camp was to allow you to choose your unit, your five cohorts, or crew of your cohort. And the five of us always chose each other, because we would do anything for the person who was in charge of us. Myself, somebody else the next day, somebody else the next day, in order to help them succeed. So, what happened is that end of the summer, because of our skill in supporting each other in unit activities, we were able to finish 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 in the company. There was this other person who just excelled, just because he was just so talented, who was fifth.
0:28:01.9 And the rest of us were always together, and nobody else figured that out, except us. And I remember, when we’d do things, it would – I’ve loved maps since I was a child. I’ve loved maps. In fact, I just did a project for the Tucson His – Presidio for Historic Preservation, on maps in the Spanish Colonial Conquests. And we realized that we were supposed to attack a position, and by looking at the map, you could see there was a gully to the side. Instead of going straight at them, we went through the gully, and came up behind them. And they complained that we had cheated, but basically, we were just being strategic.
Michael: Because of our skill at reading maps. And I still, to this day, as I said, love maps. I’ve just done a project for the Trust. Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation that is responsible for the old fort they’ve rebuilt to look like it did in 1775.
0:28:59.7 They’re trying to become, 50 years from now, Williamsburg West. And the project that I worked on was called Wayfinding, and it really comes from my love of maps that I learned in the military, and then through ROTC, and that sort of thing. If you would look at a topographic map, the lines on it are drawn to show elevations. And my father somehow taught me to look at a map and now it becomes three-dimensional to me. It’s a skill that I don’t know – that a lot of other people have, if you look at it, it actually changes, as you look at it, to be three-dimensional. And it’s a real special skill to have.
Michael: Being an outdoors person.
0:29:49.5 Because while I was here at William and Mary, I think the things that I have now that most - are most pleasurable to me are love of history, love of literature, love of the outdoors, and love of research. And those things that I do now in my retirement are all related to that. And to my William and Mary experience. And it was that cadre I spoke about earlier that taught me those things. When I was here at William and Mary, one of the other things that happened to me is that during Spring Break, Mary Newman, who was a friend of mine from Walsingham Academy, that I met again when I came to William and Mary, whose boyfriend at the time, met her husband, Carl Grimm. Family lived in the Shenandoah Valley. So, we would go and help them plant their spring garden and paint their house, because his parents were getting Parkinson’s disease. And then go hiking in the national park.
0:30:57.8 And at that time, even though my father was a military man, he didn’t like the outdoors. I mean, he’d slept on the ground enough. So, we didn’t go camping when I was a kid. And so, going camping was just an amazing experience, especially in the Shenandoah Valley. Because it is beautiful. And so, ever since then, I’ve had this love of the National Parks, and my bucket list is to see as many as I possibly can, which is – I’m getting real close to.
Carmen: Yeah, I bet. Especially, you’re well-positioned there in the West to get the whole expanse there, right, all the way up to Glacier in Montana, and then through all the parks –
Michael: We’ve been there. My wife and I became an item, because a friend of hers wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, and hike into the Grand Canyon. And his girlfriend wouldn’t go unless somebody else went, which was my wife Sidney. And she had never gone hiking before. And so, she asked me to go along. And so, the four of us went and hiked into the western part of the Grand Canyon, which is called Havasupai.
0:31:58.7 It’s a two-mile walk downhill, into the canyon. And then another six miles onto to the reservation and the waterfalls that are down there, that are just gorgeous. And we walked down. And from then on, we were hooked. We hiked Zion and Bryce Canyon and Glacier and Yosemite. The list goes on and on and on. Just what we like to do, before we got too old to do it. Because it’s rough on us. It’s rough on you to do that over the course of your life. But the feeling that you get, being two or three days from the nearest road, it is something that’s irreplaceable.
And now, because we’re studying the African American history of the Southwest, back to the Spanish Conquest, what we’re seeing is, we’ll be reading an account of a Spanish journey, and we’ll be able to say, “We were there. We were in that spot at a different time.”
Michael: So, we have a connection with the early settlers, going back to the conquest of 1590 1519, when the Spanish first arrived here in Mexico. But it’s pretty cool.
Carmen: That’s very cool. I – one of the things I love to study is how history ties to space. Like, they cannot be separated.
Michael: Yes, history is space.
Carmen: Yeah, and so, when I hear of specific locations or places, and history, and how it’s tied to that, regardless of how much time passes. Regardless of even if something was removed from that place. History is still tied to that, I love hearing about that. It sounds like that’s part of what you’re uncovering there in the Southwest.
Michael: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, it’s very special to know that there are protected spaces, and you can go to those protected spaces, and it will look almost exactly like it did hundreds of years ago. And they’ll be the same as those people who were first coming here.
0:33:58.1 And when you know that those people were of African descent, because African peoples began to come here, we study the diaspora of African peoples from South to North. See, most people think that African people are from East, the 13 colonies, and worked west. But what we’re finding is long before that happened, the Spanish were bringing their slaves over, and they came in from Vera Cruz, marched on Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, to defeat the triple alliance, the Aztec. And as a consequence of that horrific nature of that conquest, the Spanish freed their slaves. And so, you have this whole group of freed black people from 1519, 1521, at the end of the conquest of Spain – ah, Mexico. Marching north towards what is now, Arizona. In fact, the first non-native person to cross what is now the invisible line between Mexico and Arizona, was a black person.
0:34:59.6 His name was Esteban. In 1539. That’s 80 years before the first black people came to Jamestown.
Michael: And the stories of women are even more exciting. We have people like Maria Feliciana Arballo. She was in Southern Arizona, in a place called Tubac, which is 40 miles south of Tucson, just north of the Mexican border. Her husband was killed in an attack just before they were supposed to go to California. So, she persuaded the commander of the journey to take her anyway. So, in 1775, 1776, here’s a woman with two children in tow, marching across what is now the border of Arizona and California. And the kicker of the story is that her daughters who were with her at the time, the two children, grew up to marry men with the surname of Pico. Picos are the governors, Spanish governors of early California.
0:36:02.0 So, she’s the matriarch, this black woman is the matriarch of the first political family of California. And for her to walk from Tubac, which is between Tucson and the Mexican border, to California, and then to San Gabriel, California, on foot in a period of weeks, is the most amazing story of courage that I can imagine I’ve ever heard.
Carmen: It’s incredible. With children in tow..
Michael: With children in tow.
Carmen: That’s incredible. It’s really an incredible story.
Michael: And she’s an inspiration. When you think about that, that she could do that. And I’d love to hear the conversation that she must have had with the commander to take her along after her husband has already died. Because normally, you wouldn’t take a single woman, two children on such a journey, as the one that she went on. To me, it’s just amazing.
Carmen: Right, and completely history-altering.
Michael: And we have her story, because what happened is, they crossed the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing.
0:37:02.0 The Indians actually swam them across on their backs. And she got across. They had broken into three groups. The three groups joined again, because there were about 300 people in the party. Twenty percent of them were of African descent, that we know of. And they weren’t slaves. These were free people.
Michael: And she began to tell stories about the journey up until that point. Funny things had happened. And dancing to bring up the people’s spirits, because they were just bedraggled and just really road-weary. And they began – they rose – brought their spirits up. And they started to party. And they were partying, and the commander realized the positiveness of this event. So, he broke out a case of brandy, because it’s near Christmas. It’s December, 1775, and the priest on the journey, Father Font--who’s kind of a prig--is so upset that they’re partying instead of praying, that he writes her up in his journal.
0:37:59.5 And that’s why we know who she was. So, we have this first had description of her. Those for historians are golden.
Carmen: Oh, absolutely.
Michael: First hand account of a person in history like that.
Carmen: The places are there, at that time, at the moment.
Michael: The places are there, at that time, doing that . . .
Michael: You just have to love that stuff.
Carmen: Oh yeah, I do. My background’s in history, too. So, I – I adore it.
Well, so – this is all incredibly fascinating to me, and it makes me wonder in fact, why history wasn’t your chosen major when you were going to school. You did English, is that correct?
Carmen: Am I correct in saying that?
Carmen: So, what –
Michael: It’s a great question. What happened was the nature of the bureaucracy at William and Mary at this time is that the head of the department is your advisor, so he’s going to be the one to help you get recommendation letters for graduate school. He’s the one who’s going to tell you the courses that you take. He’s the one who’s going to direct your research. He is the most important person in your experience in your major.
0:39:06.6 And my first class with the history professor, Ludwell Johnson, at William and Mary, was a course on the Civil War, because I was fascinated with the Civil War. It’s why I would later study, and still study the Buffalo Soldiers, because I love the idea of cavalry. Men on horseback, you know, on the open plains. So, I had really wanted to take a course on the Civil War. So, I’m sitting in the first day of class, and I’m sitting in the first row. I learned early on, from my brother and my parents, who were both college graduates, always sit in the T. Starts across the front, in the middle row, towards the back. It’s called the T. You know? And a professor who’s reading notes looks up every now and then, and looks at the front row, and looks at the T. So, we call it the reverse T. And I’m sitting right in the middle of the front row, in the T.
0:39:59.0 And he says, “And today, we’re going to begin our study of the war of Northern Aggression.” And he begins to read this poem from a Presbyterian minister, about the wonderful nature of the slave culture of the South. And he’s being facetious, and I know that. I was sophisticated enough, even as a junior to know that. But the other students in the class are furiously taking notes, as if this is the truth coming down from the mountain. And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” And he says, “We need to talk after class.” And so, we did. He says, “You know, you should never challenge me in class again.” And I said, “Are you telling me I shouldn’t speak up in class?” He says, “Yes.” And I said, “It’s going to be very difficult for me to learn, unless I ask questions that are important to me.” He says, then we may not get along very well.” And at that point I realized that a major in history was not going to be a very good path for me at William and Mary.
0:41:06.4 So, I immediately looked for another major. I’d had very good success at Christopher Newport, and especially at Walsingham Academy, had wonderful teachers in English Literature and Creative Writing. I was a good writer. And so, I just moved in that direction, because it was the path of least resistance.
Michael: And because of that, I met my friend Chuck Elliot, who was also an English major, and we studied together and made it through. Graduated, probably some of the only folks who graduated on time in our classes. At that point the transition from four-year college to really what is now, five/six years of college was starting to change. We graduated in four years, because of our study group. So, that’s why I didn’t major in history.
0:41:55.9 But it was also the best thing that happened to me at William and Mary, because now, as a historical reenactor and interpreter in Tucson, it’s a form of play. My wife called it grown-up dress-up, because we like to dress in costumes. We can do six costume changes in a day, looking a different periods of Southwestern history, from both the female and the male aspect. We don’t have to take it seriously, because we’re not scholars, as such. We can encourage other people to do it the way they want to do it. Here in Williamsburg, because I worked at CW the whole time I was in high school and college as a historical interpreter. You were in character. In Tucson, we’re still not there yet. We allow people to be themselves and talk about history. We allow others to be characters at some points, maybe not at other points. Some of us do play characters. And so, we have that freedom, because we’re not scholars, we’re not officially scholars, to study and experience history on the level that’s comfortable for us.
0:43:04.1 If I had been a graduate of history from the College of William and Mary, I might take it too seriously. I might not have the fun with it. And I might, especially, not be looking at the sources I’m looking at that gives the perspective of African peoples of the Southwest. So, there’s a lot of benefits to negative experiences. And a graduate student myself, and a mentor and coach of graduate students to this day. In my career, I think one of the things that I began to understand is that somehow, between ’69, when I graduated from William and Mary, and the present day, the whole educational process has changed. We are no longer teachers. We are facilitators of learners. I can’t teach you what you need to know.
0:43:58.5 I once told a class of mine in leadership, I can’t teach you what you’re going to need to know to build the first sustainable environment on Mars. I can help you learn the skills to do that. So, we are now facilitating learning. And that’s what I do with the Tucson Presidio Trust. I facilitate learning and let people go to the sources they need to go to absorb the information in the way they need to, to then learn something about how to do something. And many times, it’s something that’s never been done before.
And then education, that’s the movement that really is occurring. And it’s occurring very slowly at the university level. Much more so at a community college level. And at a consulting level – I consulted for many years for Phi Theta Kappa, the honorary society for community colleges – and I began to realize that when you are helping teachers begin to understand a discipline that they are now going to teach, you are not teaching them anything.
0:45:10.7 They’re adults. It’s called andragogy. An adult does not – is not taught something. What they’re doing is they’re serving information to an already existing personality. They are learning something that they then transfer based on their uniqueness as a person. And until you begin to respect that process of andragogy and how people are now absorbing information into their existing knowledge base, and then transferring it and applying it to different situations, some of which have not happened yet, because of our advances in technology, then learning is not occurring.
0:45:56.4 So, you don’t take out a set of yellow notes and read from them and then expect people to regurgitate that information and call it education. What you want to do is have somebody take the ideas that they have shared with you and with others around them in their class, and then come up with new ideas that make the world what it’s going to be in the future, hopefully a better world.
Carmen: Right. So much more nuance than this idea of just speaking and essentially something repeated back to you. It’s way more nuanced.
Michael: Exactly. Exactly.
Carmen: Yeah, that’s great.
Michael: Yeah, because the things that we have done in the past shouldn’t be repeated. I mean, if you look at environmental issues, if you look at the way we interpret history, if you look at the interaction of people within groups, and how we influence one another, all those things are occurring in new ways every day, and especially if you overlay the technology that we are using in social media.
0:46:57.4 So, you really can’t teach people. What you can do is help them learn new things by discussing the relevance of things that have happened in the past.
Carmen: Which they then take in through their own kind of world view and lens, and it gets refracted back out as something new.
Michael: Exactly, exactly.
Michael: Because it is new. It’s not going to be, hopefully, the repetition of what we learned in the past. Because we’re not doing a very good job of taking care of this world, either. I love the line that Nikki Giovanni used at the symposium this weekend, she says, “One of these days, we’ll stop realize- we’ll stop saying that we’re from Virginia, or we’re from Arizona, or we’re from the United States, and realize that we’re all Earthlings. That Earth is in space, and that we live in space, on the third stone from the sun, and we have to take of that stone, because now it’s the only one we have.”
Carmen: Out of everything you just said, there’s so many questions and ways I want to take that, and I don’t want to lose anything. One of the questions I had was when you brought up the fact that you, during high school and college, were working in CW as an interpreter. And I would love to hear about some of that experience, if you wouldn’t mind sharing>
Michael: Yeah, one of the things I most wanted to do in the week that I returned is go to the governor’s palace, because I worked for CW from the time I was a sophomore in high school, on weekends during the winters and then full-time during the summers. And one of the most meaningful experiences I had here at William and Mary, as a person who was somewhat isolated, except for my small cadre of friends, was the subtle support I got from African Americans here in Williamsburg. I used to work in the governor’s palace. I was a candle maker. I first started as working in the leather shop, making leather goods.
0:49:01.3 They then discovered through research that very few apprentices were going to go through that process. So, they put me into what are called now, household crafts, which my brother-in-law, Robert Watson still does. And making baskets, making candles, that sort of thing. And during the summer, I would work in the backyard of the Wythe House, outdoors. The iron pot full of wax, dipping candles and talking to people about candle-making and household crafts, and the lives of black people at that time, who were slaves. And then in the winter, I would be in the kitchen of the governor’s palace, working with these two women. And they never said anything about me attending William and Mary, but there was this subtle support. It was almost tangible, like you can’t fail us here, Michael. You’re representing us, somehow, and you have to be successful.
0:50:00.2 And this warmth that would radiate to me, on a subliminal level was just so powerful. Another example of it was, I was on scholarship, so, in the old cafeteria, you’d go through the food line, and at the end of the semester, when your money was running out, the ladies in the line, all of whom were black, African American, they’d just pile the potatoes and the carbohydrates on your tray. “Oh, you look a little peaked today Michael. You need to eat more.” You know, just like, “we can’t let you fail.” And that warmth that I got from the Colonial Williamsburg family, if you will, of black people was just amazing to me. I really didn’t appreciate it at the time as I do now, because I now appreciate what they were doing, on a very subtle basis, to me.
0:51:02.3 And how they enhanced my success at that particular time. The other thing that working at CW did is it continued my interest in history, so, seven years ago, when they were digging up the parking lot at the Y in downtown Tucson, they discovered the original wall of the Presidio, the fort the Spanish had built in 1775. And they said, “Good grief, we can’t cover this up again.” And an attorney in Tucson, Lewis Hall said, “You need to pay attention to your history here. And they did. And what they did is they actually rebuilt the northeast corner of the original Presidio or Fort of Tucson, as an adobe fort, so, it’s an adobe-walled fort, with dwellings built up against the inside of the wall, and a parapet around the top, with cannon at one end.
0:51:57.7 And then they brought in the Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation, who are now – on a living history day, we do living history days, every second Saturday of the month between October and April, because it’s too hot otherwise. And we have about 30 people dressed in costume, who basically represent what Tucson would have looked like in 1775, during its founding, and doing crafts. We have soldiers dressed as the Spanish soldiers would have been dressed. We have artisans, weavers, blacksmiths. My wife and I have developed a whole series of activities centered around toys and games that children would have played from the games that Native Americans would have taught us. The games that we have basically brought back from Williamsburg that represent the same period of time, 1775-76. Founding of Tucson, Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington. Same period of time.
Michael: And oddly enough, the Spanish in the Presidio in 1775, actually supported the revolutionaries. The Jeffersons and the Washingtons during the Revolutionary War, both financially, militarily, and spiritually, in their support. And so, there’s an interesting connection there between – because they weren’t supporting the British. They were supporting the – the Spanish were at war with England. So, as a consequence, they were basically supporting the revolutionaries. So, when we come back, we can take things from Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg, and they fit right in to the Presidio of Tucson.
Michael: And my last project was wayfinding, so I brought back brass compasses and telescopes and maps. Things like that that would have been used to help people find their way from place to place in 1700s, Spanish Colonial Tucson.
0:54:03.8 And built a whole instructional activities as we call them. So, when a person walks up to you, you start talking about the movements of peoples in New Spain, from Mexico, Central Mexico, up into Northern Mexico, and what is now Arizona, and then on to California. How they found their way from place to place. Well, maps were existing at that time to help them find their way from place to place, and helping people understand the lifestyle of the people in the 1700s. And we hope that 50 years from now, especially if we get a Rockefeller to come in and give us $80,000,000, like they did Colonial Williamsburg, the Presidio of Tucson, and the Tucson Presidio Trust will be very much like Colonial Williamsburg is now.
Carmen: That’s fascinating.
Michael: It’s interesting to come back to that. You know, I’m 70 years old this year, and I’m doing the exact same thing I did when I was 14 years old, at CW.
Carmen: Right. And drawing connections across the nation. Yeah, that’s fantastic. Wow.
Michael: It’s real exciting.
Carmen: It’s interesting to see how that trajectory is played out throughout your life, and even still is playing out.
Michael: Exactly, exactly. And it’s a wonderful way for children to learn history. What I’m finding is, when you, when you reach out to children from the perspective of a costume presentation, with items they can touch and experience, and they can play with, their love of history just expands. And that’s what happened to me at CW, and now it’s happening in Tucson to young children who are learning Spanish Colonial history, because they get to experience it. They don’t have to just sit and read a book. They can dress in a costume, play with a telescope. They can manipulate a toy that would have been of that period.
Michael: And when you ask them, “Do you like these toys better than the electronic stuff that you have at home?” They go, “Yeah, we do.” I say, “Why?” And they say, “Because it’s physical.” You know, we have taken – we have jumped from a physical activity that I involved in, I was involved in when I was a child, to video games.
0:55:59.6 And we’re seeing the consequences, that children don’t go out and play anymore. And I think, when they experience that kind of physical play in the outdoors, the dressing up as characters, and the experiencing of that, they like it better. They don’t like having to be so distant. Viewing a video screen is telling you everything. It’s like one of the things I joke with children about is, when I’m playing with them, I say, “Don’t you have sound effects?” Because, we played as kids, we had sound effects. And now they don’t because the sound effects are built into the game. So, they’re very quiet. They’re not interacting with each other, through noise. And they’re missing that, but they don’t know that they’re missing it, until they get it back, in an historical reenacting. They get it back.
Carmen: Interestingly, the reenacting, the dressing up, the tactile kind of activities, becomes the more immersive experience.
Michael: Exactly, exactly.
Michael: We think it’s video games, is the more immersives. But in fact, it, I think we miss something. We missed a step there, it turns out, for children.
Carmen: Sure. Oh wow. Well, that’s all – that’s – seeing these threads that began early in your life, and seeing how they’ve carried out and continued to carry out is excellent. And I want to talk more about that. But before we do, I want to ask a few more questions about your time at William and Mary, and then we can change to your trajectory following.
So, one of the things – well, I guess two points you made kind of connect for me. This idea that negative experiences with people at administrative or professor level here, altered your trajectory in certain ways, being that history course shifted your trajectory. But I’m wondering if the same didn’t happen with positive mentors, or if there were any positive role models, or mentors, advisors. Anyone kind of at that level while you were here.
0:58:06.2 You noted the individuals at Colonial Williamsburg that were supporting you there, and even here, but were there any other individuals that are –
Michael: I can’t remember a single instructor that I had at William and Mary in the two years I was here as a positive role model. I don’t. That experience enriched me as a professor, and administrator and counselor in the community college, because I didn’t have it, and I knew what was missing.
Michael: See, in my career as an educator, I think there are – I made these notes during the symposium this week, and I think there were a couple things that struck me about my career in education. One is that when I came to William and Mary, there were not support systems.
0:58:58.2 There was no career center. There was no advising, and luckily, they didn’t make the assumption that I was somehow underprivileged and undereducated. So, I had to survive academically, on my own. And because of that, I became extremely adept at academic rigor, and research, because I had to do it on my own. Now, the assumption is, and I’m as guilty as anybody else, because I helped create many of the programs in the community college system since I began working in it in the early 70s, that somehow, students of color and other students lack academic background. So, they need remedial education in order to attain that.
0:59:57.7 So, over the years in a community college system, what we did is we built this whole system of remedial education, until we reached a point where maybe as many as 74% of students entering the community college were deficient in reading, writing or math, or all three. And we then created courses on those level. We call them – in most schools they call it English 101, Writing 101. We had English 70, English 100. Maybe as many as two to three levels before you got to the college level of 101. And we offered those courses. And early on, young students coming to college at a community college in Arizona, for example, and probably throughout the country were taking these remedial courses. You know, Math 70, Math 60, before they would take beginning Algebra at a college level.
1:01:03.8 Reading improvement. And it was necessary because of the deficiencies of the high school system, but at the same time we were giving the students the impression that in fact, they were college ready. Then we began to make the assumption that none of the students were college ready, and for those who were, it was almost an insult to them. I was never insulted on that level. They just assumed that I was going to take college, English 101, when I got to college. And you sink or swim.
At Christopher Newport, it was a sinking process. I remember in my first English class at Christopher Newport, my freshman year, there were 22 of us, I got a B in English class, because of the great preparation I had from Walsingham Academy, and the Sisters of Mercy, there. Another student got a C; another student got a D, and everybody else flunked.
Michael: And it was the way Christopher Newport was building its reputation for becoming the university it is now, through saying, “We’re so difficult, not everybody’s going to make it here.” And that has continued on, and the community college system has become a system of remedial education. Below The blowback that, that’s occurred in the last few years is, the federal government did not realize how pervasive that system was. So, if you were an underprivileged student coming to college, and you took remedial courses, you could still receive federal financial aid. Once the federal government, several years ago, figured that out, they said no. So, now students who are on a remedial level can come to college, but they can’t receive financial aid. And for those with poor backgrounds, that means you don’t go. So, over the last five years, Pima Community College, where I worked for 32 years, which was once the fifth largest community college in the country, has lost a third of its enrollment.
1:03:03.1 You can’t sustain an institution when you’re losing that many students that quickly. So, they’re under a lot of pressure right now, to figure out what to do.
The other thing that happened is that, and this happened on a much larger scale, and speaks to my experience here in the Tidewater Area – when I went to George Washington Carver High School, in the early 60s, all the teachers were black. And they all cared for their students. When the schools began to be integrated, those students, those teachers were not brought over. We lost them. And so, the teachers who began to teach us, saw us as lesser. They didn’t care for us, as students. They didn’t care for our success. And you can see that now, in education where so many of the teachers are there for a job, but they’re not there because they truly care for the students.
1:04:09.9 And it’s not always about race, although many times, it is. It’s about really liking students. I mean, truly liking them as people. Enjoying their presence. Enjoying being with them. Enjoying sharing ideas with them. You know, going back to my discussion about the difference between teaching and learning. When you’re in a learning environment, you just glory in the ideas that your students are coming up with, that you’ve never thought about before, because of the piece of information you shared with them. You know, the teaching part. You really like that; you want that. And when you get tired of liking it, which I did at a certain point, you need to leave. You need to move on, and do something else. Because you’re not any good anymore.
1:05:01.3 But so many people just hang in there until the bitter end. And they’re no good for our students. And I think that we are seeing a lot of that now, where our teachers are no longer there because they really, truly like their students, and like their ideas, and like their energy, and like their enthusiasm for life. And if that’s not there, education is not happening.
Carmen: Seems without that it would become incredibly cynical space to operate within, as a student or –
Michael: It is a cynical space. You hear it from students all the time. We had this group at the symposium, four or five, five or six young ladies, three African American, definitely, from the University of Richmond, talking about the University of Richmond, and their process of integration, and the brilliance of their research and their digging into documents, and talking to people about the history of the University of Richmond was just so exciting, to think that an undergraduate student would do that.
1:06:12.9 Because it’s not about a grade. It’s not about getting this class done. It’s about truly being passionate about learning something about the history, about the past. And when you see that, you have to love it, and encourage it, and if you don’t, if you don’t care to do that, maybe you should move on to something else. But, you know, in teaching it’s so easy. It’s backloaded. I mean, you make so much money at the back end, when you retire, it’s really pleasant, but if you’re just doing it for that, wow, you’re wasting people’s time.
Carmen: Right, and it won’t sustain. Like, that’s not enough to sustain.
Michael: Well, I don’t know how it’s going to sustain itself into the future, you know?
1:07:04.1 I think with the way, the way that we were now, through technology, that schools are not going to be sustainable. Why would you pay as much as you have to pay to come to a William and Mary? If you can learn (quote) “learn” the same things online with a group of people, like-minded people. You know? Some of the most brilliant ideas, and people in our generation, my generation (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, in the garage, with a group of crazy people who probably dropped out of high school, because they didn’t like that system of these elitist people trying to tell you that they know more than you do, when in fact, they have no idea what you’re talking about and at some times resent your brilliance, they’re going to start to be like dinosaurs, you know? And I don’t think people realize that.
1:07:59.0 Because, you know, the schools now – look at this room that we’re in – we think they’re too big to fail. But it’s really about students wanting to come here. And when they stop wanting to come here, as is happening at community colleges, like the one I used to teach at. When people cease to want to come, these spaces will be useless. Because without us in these spaces, doing what we’re doing right now, they’re useless.
Carmen: What meaning does it derive without people?
Michael: Yeah. It’s the people that give this place meaning. It’s not the building. You can see throughout our entire history, and William and Mary is a perfect example, because it’s the second oldest college in the country, next to Harvard. Without people in these spaces, what meaning do these spaces have? And if people stop coming to these spaces, because of the cost that they’re paying to come to the space, and the lack of value that they’re getting from coming to this space, then what meaning does the space have?
1:09:08.2 And unless we come to grips with that, and stop thinking that we as professors, doctors of this or that, are the important thing in the space. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are – University of Arizona’s a perfect example. They have a huge research component, in astronomical sciences and optics, and computer science and mathematics, and lots of different things that are probably going to move us into the future. But, if you look at majors in the Liberal Arts, and I am a Liberal Arts major, I’m proud of it, we need to do something different, in terms of interdisciplinary studies, to keep that alive. Because if you graduate from the University of Arizona with a degree in Sociology, a radiology graduate from the community college that I taught at is going to make more their first year than you’re ever going to make.
1:10:07.9 A machinist, a welder is going to make more their first year, and ongoing than you’re ever going to make. And so, we are not realizing that the shifts in the economy are so great that these spaces are really becoming obsolete, and we’re not even recognizing it.
Carmen: Right. Wow. I mean, that speaks a little to one of my questions, which was going to be kind of the change you’ve seen over time at an institution like this, and then even more specifically, at William and Mary. One question I wanted to ask you before I lose it, because you brought it up before we even started this interview was – it gets back at that period of time you were here, and specifically, 1968, which was such a tumultuous year, nationally, internationally.
1:11:02.3 And then maybe even how it was played out and lived out here at William and Mary, so I was wondering if you’d speak a little bit to that. What was going on that year nationally. How you saw that unfold here on campus.
Michael: I – I didn’t see it unfold on campus as much as I did off campus. As I said, my lifestyle here at William and Mary was not one of campus life. It was the next generation of African American students who really began to build campus life at William and Mary. We six (and there were only six of us) when I was here between ’67 and ’69, when I graduated, had no campus organizations. There were no fraternities or sororities for us. There were no African American student organizations at that time. So, my lifestyle was really a lifestyle that was outside the campus. So, I saw that all playing out outside the campus, within my circle, and my group of friends, and people that I had been interacting with.
1:11:59.8 One of the things that the group that I was with at William and Mary did a lot of is to go up to D.C., and Baltimore on the weekends, because we had friends who lived there, or some of us were from there. And we saw that as much more vibrant, more active, exciting kind of space than Williamsburg was at that particular time. It was much more connected to the world. And again, the culture of William and Mary focused on the importance of professors and scholars and buildings and history and the background and reputation of William and Mary. It was not something that many of us were taking very seriously at that particular time, you know? It wasn’t something that we, I in particular appreciated until later. That William and Mary was some sort of special place for me.
1:12:58.5 William and Mary was very much a deal that I cut with the devil. You know, you gave me money to go to a really good school, and give me a college education, and keep me out of the Army for the next unknown period of time. So, don’t get drafted and sent to Vietnam to die. I’m okay with that, but that’s really what this is about. It was a contract that we made with each other. And that’s the way I was looking at it at the time, you know? We were very existential. The books we were reading: Camus and Sartre, and people like that were about death and dying and plague years, and just the horrific nature of civilization as it goes into its ultimate decline and fall. And that was the attitude that they were having. William and Mary to me was not a – the place that I see it from the perspective of age.
Michael: When I was here.
Carmen: So, this – yourself and those five other individuals, was there – there were no organizations in place, and doesn’t sound like there was really any support from higher ups in place, but amongst the six of you, was there any sort of community, or –
Michael: No, the fact that I know them better now over the last two days than I knew them then.
Michael: You know, one of the things that struck me was that when I was introduced to the three women who were being celebrated by the legacy project for their 50 years of being the first resident students, was that they saw me as what they call a ghost. They knew I was here. They’d see me periodically, but I can’t remember even having conversation with them. The other thing was, you know, I lived here. I knew this place. This was my home town. So, I didn’t have the campus as the center of my life. And they were so much younger. They were freshmen, and I truly felt older.
1:14:59.7 You know, I was a working person to survive and to support myself. I was living off campus. I was in ROTC. I’d grown up in Germany. So, I felt a lot older than them, in the sense of what I’d experienced in life. So, there was a distance there that’s closed since that time. Now, when I speak to them, it’s like we have a great rapport for the experience of being here. But there really wasn’t that much contact between us.
Carmen: That’s helpful to know. I think that’s an important part of this. And you mentioned a few minutes ago, that it really was the next generation of students coming in after, really the trailblazers, those few of you who were here before that time, that started to establish these organizations, and create a campus culture there and community.
Michael: Would have been nice if they’d been there, but they weren’t, at that point in time. So, I didn’t look to them. Didn’t look to that as a sustenance, as support for who I was at that time.
Carmen: That makes sense. Thank you. So, the note about this being 50 years African Americans in residence, based on – one of the big questions I wanted to ask you, which is just a reflection on the importance of having diversity and inclusion on campus, and the importance of that and the value of that. If you wouldn’t mind expanding on that?
Michael: Well, you know, being an instructor of leadership at the university and community college level, we understand now that it’s important to have as many voices at a table as possible when decisions are being discussed, because you, you can’t reach decisions that are going to help the future be more prosperous and holistic, without different voices.
1:16:58.9 I read a definition of diversity several years ago, and it said that diversity, equity is not the acceptance of people who are different; it’s not respect for them. It’s the admission that people who are different than you are make you better. You need them to complete your personality and your accomplishments. So, my whole career has been based on having people who are very different than I am around me, because they disagree with my basic opinions. So, it’s the conflict in a discussion where you are not attacking the person on a personal basis, you’re attacking their ideas. And you’re disagreeing in a healthy way to come to a better conclusion.
1:18:05.3 A more holistic conclusion. You want that. You don’t want to be agreeing with everything that the other person is saying, you want to be disagreeing to the point where you’re both moving forward, or the group is moving forward to a better resolution of problems that you’re trying to solve.
Carmen: Right. A sharpening process.
Michael: Yeah, because problems are multi-dimensional. They’re multi-faceted.
Carmen: We’re coming back on the same date at 10:30 for part two of this interview. And I believe we left off talking kind of about diversity, and how it sharpens the individual, having different ideas presented. Sharpening the individual.
Michael: Yes. I found in teaching and studying leadership development over the years, and having my doctorate degree in that subject, is that the more diverse a group, the more likely the group is to come up with a solution that really addresses problems.
1:19:04.3 Because problems are multi-faceted, multi-dimensional. There’s no problem in the modern age that really has one dimension. So, to hear from a variety of people, and to have some disagreement in the discussion, especially on a healthy level, is really a good thing. When you teach leadership in higher education, there’s a module in the Phi Theta Kappa textbook on leadership that deals with conflict, and how healthy, good conflict is good for groups, and the lack of conflict can stifle groups, because they really don’t come up with the best solutions to problem solving.
And so, what I found in my career is always associate yourself with people that are different than you are, rather than those who are the same. My business partner for many years, because Phi Theta Kappa (the honorary society for community colleges) had a teacher training program, and they chose pairs of people to present to groups of teachers, to teach them how to teach leadership at their community colleges, and would certify them.
1:20:09.1 And my partner happens to be a 6’3” Italian American who is also my best friend and bicycle partner, and we disagree a lot, but we do it in a healthy way, and therefore, we come up with better solutions to problem solving. And those people who, in the modern age are not comfortable with that process, who want everybody to agree with them, everybody to be like them, are really stifling thought and stifling progress, because they don’t look at different solutions. And the whole idea that we want to return to some spot in the past where everybody agreed with each other, and everybody was the same, and we were somehow homogeneous is just nonsensical to me.
Carmen: Right, and it sounds, from the way you described your time at William and Mary, that there wasn’t really a forum or a place for that, at least at William and Mary at large with your group of friends, but not during your time here.
Carmen: On campus.
Michael: That was the healthy part about the civil rights, and the anti-war movement, is people did disagree, because the risk you were taking was to go to jail, and you had to make sure that you expressed your anxiety about that whole process of what you were going to do to get to that point, because that was oftentimes the outcome. You were going to be arrested; you were going to go to jail; you were going to get beat over the head. Something was going to happen, and when you admitted to that anxiety, and you discuss strategies for what you were going to do within the context of that anxiety, then all of a sudden, you could move forward into the active part of what you were going to do.
And the beauty of the, of the movement in the 60s, the anti-war movement, the free-speech movement, the women’s movement, all the movements of the 60s, that are still going on now, (the ripples are still being felt) is that I was describing to a lady name Kitt Kimble, who was one of the major volunteers for the Tucson Museum of Art, and I said to her, “When I met you, I realized something I had known for a long time.”
1:22:08.7 “That in the 60s, when people like John Lewis (Congressman Lewis) crossed the bridge at Selma, and was beaten back, we didn’t stop. We came across the bridge again. Not at that time, because Dr. King did not want to cross the bridge again, and have that kind of incident occur. But those of us who learned from that incident, crossed the bridge again. And we found people of good will on the other side, and that is when the work began. And the work continues. We were still doing the work of making progress towards greater ends, greater social cohesion, greater interaction – positive interaction between peoples who are different from each other. And part of that is healthy conflict.”
Carmen: Right. And I think, or I hope, looking at William and Mary now, there are forums now for those kinds of conversations that maybe did not exist before. I don’t know if you have a perspective on that, or if you’ve been able to –
Michael: I didn’t hear as much of that as I would have liked in the symposium that I attended this weekend. I think that what I did hear was that people are still concerned that we are giving lip service to – through symposiums, through meetings, through gatherings, through recognizing certain groups on campus. And this happens all over, through the country. (I’m again, from Arizona.) Rather than actually problem solving. When you actually allow people to take the next step, you know, when you – I went to the Tucson Museum of Art last Spring, and was called in to talk to their docents about insinuating more black content into their collection, because they basically this Summer tore up the entire museum, and then rebuilt it inside.
1:24:09.0 And I’ll be working on a new exhibit when I get back to Tucson. So, to tell me that they’re going to do that, to bring me in to talk to their docents about that is one thing. To actually do it, which is what they’re doing now, is the next step. So, you have to have some sort of action that expresses your desire for change. Without the action following the discussions, the conflict, the disagreement, change does not occur. And what I hear is that in most cases, that step is not being taken in as active a manner as most people would like. We’re getting stuck. And we can always blame the administration. We can always blame the government. We can always blame others. But in fact, it’s people of good will who will do the work.
1:25:00.3 We’re a country that has always been founded on the work of people, rather than the actions of government. And we have to keep remembering that. We don’t want to look to somebody else to do the work for us. We do the work. And unless we’re willing to do the work, the work’s not going to get done.
Carmen: Was there expression at the symposium of what maybe that next step should be? That the action step should be?
Michael: There were many expressions of that. I think that people who were there the longest – Jacqueline McClendon, others could speak better to that than I can, because I was in and out, based on my commitments here, and visiting my family. So, they would be better to speak to that on the perspective of William and Mary than I would.
Carmen: Sure. Okay, thank you. So, I keep saying we’re going to change your trajectory, although you’ve done such a good job of weaving that into your whole story. You view it in such a holistic way, how things have played out throughout your life.
1:25:59.8 So, I’ll just ask my last couple questions about your time at William and Mary, and then we can really get into the meat of your entire time since then. And these are really broad questions, but there are – if there was a specific difficult experience that stands out to you as defining in some way, or very impactful during your time here. That’s the first question. So, do you have any that you recall being specifically impactful here at William and Mary? Or it might be more than one.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I talked about a person that I – who was in my study group at William and Mary in the English Department, Chuck Elliot, and I think one impactful experience that I had was, was the understanding that I had the freedom to explore knowledge on my own. Because what happened my senior year is that I had a senior seminar, and I hadn’t gone to class for a long time.
1:26:57.2 And I showed up and Chuck Elliot was standing beside me, and the instructor said to me, “You must be Mr. Engs, and you must be Mr. Elliot.” And we said, “Oh, you know us.” He said, “Yeah, because you haven’t been to class all semester.” And we went, “Oops! We blew it here. Busted.” And the assignment was to basically write our senior seminar papers. And because we hadn’t been here, it wasn’t a problem for him. He said, “This is the assignment. You know the assignment. When you turn in the assignment, I’ll grade it.” And it turned out to be a senior seminar. I chose John Steinbeck as my subject matter, focusing on his novel, “East of Eden,” because of its diversity. And studied it for the whole semester. Read all of his books, and then wrote my senior paper of 50 pages, or more, and it was a really freeing experience, because the instructor was not telling me what to do. He was saying, I approve of your topic. I approve of your approach to the topic.
1:28:00.0 You do the topic. You hand it to me, and I will grade it as if you were a scholar. And he did. And I got an A in the class. And from then on, I realized I was a scholar. That’s something that happened to me that changed my life. That I would never be able to be anything else but that. That I could look at a subject matter on my own and pursue it on that level. And it was very enriching for me, at that time to have that happen.
Carmen: It’s a powerful moment.
Carmen: So, in your time at William and Mary were you looking out and already knowing kind of what you intended to do? You were in the ROTC, so you –
Michael: Not at all. Not at all. No. No.
Michael: As I said earlier, we were very much existentialists at the time. We didn’t think we were going to live very long, because of the Vietnam War. And the other things that were happening in society. I’m still surprised I’m 70 years old. That I made it this far.
1:28:55.3 So, when I went into the military right out of William and Mary, because I was commissioned the same day I graduated. I was a Second Lieutenant. I took three months off and went into the military in October, 1969. Came to Fort Eustis, stayed for two years, and then because of my political views, the military decided that I would be troublesome if they sent me to Vietnam as a black officer, with the attitudes that I held. So, as punishment, I guess, they sent me to the Republic of Korea. I stayed there for six months. I came back. I was extremely troubled young person at that time. I was armed and dangerous. I went to Fort Lewis Washington, from Korea. I was out-processed from the military the same day I got there. I came back to Virginia, through San Francisco. I was staying with a friend who was one of my roommates from college, that I mentioned earlier. And the first day I was there he said, “You have to leave.” I said, “What’s wrong?” He says, “You’re scaring my kids.”
1:29:59.4 I didn’t realize that I had reached a really strange level of behavior, because to me it was normal.
Michael: And so, I came back here. I continued to get messages from my friends, some of whom were from my years at William and Mary. They were still here.. Living here. And I realized that I was troubled. I needed to do something different. And a person introduced me to the book, I was asked just a few weeks ago, what was the most important book that you read in your life, and the book was, “Tao Te Ching,” by Lao Tzu. The way of life. And I read the book. I got involved in the study of yoga and meditation. And it changed my life. So, in the summer of ’73, spring of ’73, I went to upstate New York to study under a person named Swami Satchidananda – Hatha Yoga practice. You know, you do nine days of silence, you get up in the morning, take a cold shower, chant for two hours, do yoga, do some work, then do it again, then do some work, and then do it again.
1:31:03.5 And you do that for nine days, and you don’t talk to anybody. And he said that I was becoming so enriched by that experience I should go to Los Alamos and study under Yogi Bhajan, which I did. And then I went to Oregon and studied under another person, whose name I can’t remember now. And I was headed back to Virginia from that journey, the summer of ’73, and I got stuck in Arizona. I broke down. I ran out of money. So, I went to Phoenix first. Phoenix is now, I think is the fifth largest city in the country. It’s all concrete; it’s hot. Especially in August, and I said, no. I can’t stay here. So, I went down to Tucson. Stayed with some people I’d met that summer, and – one of the ashrams that was there in Tucson at the time. They said, you can stay here as long as you pay us back what you owe us when you leave.
1:31:58.0 And the second month I was in Tucson, after working odd jobs, Circle K at night, moving furniture during the day, Goodwill, helping edit the how-to books, because my English background from William and Mary. I got a job in a community college as a veteran’s counselor/advisor. And that changed my life. I never did use my English degrees to teach English. I became a counselor. Of course, several months into that job of being a veteran’s counselor, there were about 6,000 veterans attending Pima Community College at that time, and I was watching them come to my office, very troubled people, you know, some putting guns on my desk, because they’d been done wrong by the VA. Thinking I worked with the VA instead of the college system. We had a million-dollar grant, which I was administering in order to help veterans get into community colleges, to continue their college education under the GI bill. And I realized I needed help. I was not adequately trained. So, I went to the University of Arizona to get my degree in counseling and guidance, which I did in 1974.
1:33:00.1 And came back as a counselor to the community college. And then I became an administrator in the community college system. In the end, I had 32 years of service and nine different assignments. Met my wife, had a child and never looked back, even though I wanted to leave Tucson, many times, every time I tried to, something nice would happen to me. So, I think the changing point in my life in terms of whether or not I knew what I was going to do is, no. I didn’t. The career that I fell into was totally unexpected. And the things that I did in that career were unexpected. Administrator of a community college. Never envisioned that as a career. Being a counselor, and helping people in that way was not expected. I wrote a book on how music affects people, throughout history as a part of that job. I did a study of financial aid that showed that if we didn’t do something, that financial aid debt would be out of control within 10 years.
1:34:04.5 Which in fact, happened. So, I had a really good professional experience in the community college system. And then about a third – two thirds of the way through, I was hired by Phi Theta Kappa, to train teachers to teach leadership. I travel all over the country. Trained over 1,500 teachers from different community colleges, to train – to teach leadership, and help write their textbook on leadership. So, my career was totally unexpected, but very enriching, and very satisfying.
Carmen: Yes. That trajectory is just fascinating, because it was, it was so not planned out, and it led to so many different locations, and so many . . .
Would you care to expand on the mindset that viewed as destructive or dangerous there before pursuing meditation and yoga practices to kind of . . .?
Michael: Well, I think there was some expression of that mindset at the symposium this weekend, among many student and professionals who attended William and Mary at that time, because you have to understand that within the African community to this day, there’s a certain amount of rage and anger towards what happens to us in this society. Now it’s related to the fact that we are unsafe. Our children are unsafe. You know, we talk a lot about the conversation that you have with your children when they first learn how to drive. We shouldn’t have to be having that conversation. When you look at the number of black people who’ve been murdered by police officers in this country, and you, as an adult cannot protect your children from that, there’s a certain amount of rage that goes back to – historically, in the black community, because we have always been unsafe.
1:35:59.7 Lynching was just another pattern of that feeling of lack of safety. And for men especially. black men especially. To feel that you cannot protect your family from others creates a rage that is just sometime uncontrollable. And that’s what I was expressing before I began to study yoga and meditation, is that rage. Because you don’t want a person who has that much anger who knows how to use a weapon, from their military experience, to possess that at the same time. That combination is volatile. And one of the things we often don’t talk about is how volatile it is in the black community, because there are many, many murders in the black community every day, because of weapons, guns, which is another issue our society won’t deal with and address. So, that’s what was happening. I had to get beyond that.
1:37:00.2 And I went back to an experience that I had at George Washington Carver High School, really, in freshman year in high school, because I had the same level of rage, at a different age when I was a freshman in high school, because I’d come back to this country from integrated schools, military experience, in which everybody was accepting (to a certain extent) of each other, and ended up at an all-black high school in Virginia with a lot of strange things happening. Black water fountains, Black bathrooms. You couldn’t eat in restaurants. That’ll create a certain amount of rage in you, every time.
What happened to me at George Washington Carver is I had a music teacher, and she would introduce us to different forms of music. And one day she played Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” And I realized I was so angry that I couldn’t appreciate the beauty of that piece of music, which I still listen to, to this day.
1:37:59.5 And that changed me just enough to be able to change even more so, later. Because I realized that at certain points in my life that rage blocks beauty from your life. And to have that level of rage, blocked your access to the beauty in your life. Those who have caused the rage have succeeded in creating something that you didn’t want. I often talk to students, even to this day about oppression is going to exist. You choose to internalize it. And as long as you don’t internalize it, then you can still appreciate the greater whole, the greater beauty within your life.
My mother once told me when I was most angry in my high school period, she said, “Those people who are making you angry have a problem, Michael. Don’t make it your problem.”
1:39:00.0 And I’ll always remember that.
Carmen: Wow. I’ve had another person I interviewed articulate something similar that her parents told her. Racism is not your disease. It’s the disease of the oppressor. It’s their disease.
Carmen: And that you shouldn’t have to be the one to have to carry that burden.
Michael: Yeah, you choose to absorb it, to internalize it. So, now, because of my study of meditation and mindfulness, I am able to see when I’m absorbing evil, and block it out, instead of letting it come in. And then now, making it my own. Owning it. You don’t have to own it, because it is, as you just said, not your disease.
Carmen: I’m just thinking of the gravity of that, that rage that is valid, beyond justified for this horribly contentious history, and cruel history.
1:39:59.0 And that as a community, African Americans might carry that work – it’s been on them to carry. What is to be done about that, in your mind? That’s too broad of a question, I realize it’s too large of a question to ask, and maybe not the right question to ask, I’m not sure, but –
Michael: I think throughout my life what happened to me is there always have been people of good will. My cadre of people here at William and Mary. My friends in Tucson to this day, who are African American. Give me the signal, the message, the feeling that it is not all bad. That not everybody is sharing in this craziness that our society tends to perpetuate, called racism. And as long as they exist, as long as these people of good will continually approach me, from year to year, involve me in projects to do the work, to make this a better place, I have to be hopeful.
1:41:04.2 I concentrate on that. I don’t concentrate on these people over here who seem to have a problem. And I think that what’s missing is, too often, many of us don’t have people who are different than we are in our circle. And therefore, we can get caught up in them versus us mentality. And with social media and technology, and talk radio and all the things we have moving towards sexualization, where there’s only one message being given out, and everybody can be reinforced for their most negative ideas, it’s even more dangerous a time not to have a social group around you that has diversity within it, because you can’t say all white people are bad if several of your friends that you are biking with every week, people in business with you every week are those people.
1:42:03.2 You can’t say “those people” any more, because they are those people. And they are not like that. So, I think it’s about having a broad circle of friends, and interacting with them in positive ways, within positive projects that brings away from sinking into that rage, because you can’t have it if you’re facing a person who’s different from you. You know? You can’t focus on that anymore. Because that person is not like that.
Carmen: I love that. thank you for expanding upon that. So, in some way or another, we have touched all these questions I have, because as I mentioned before, you just have this way of weaving every part of your story. It doesn’t even have to happen chronologically, or linearly. You’ve woven it back so well. So, what I would like to do at this part of the interview, is really open the conversation up to you, and see if there are things that we haven’t addressed in this interview that you would like to bring up.
1:43:01.7 Or if there are topics related to William and Mary, or otherwise, that you think are important to talk about, that aren’t being talked about. So, I’d just like to open it up to you at this time.
Michael: Well, I think, having this experience, being in the symposium this weekend is a really enriching experience, because you get to reminisce. And something that happened to me this weekend that was really powerful was a lady named Valerie, who is a reenactor, did a presentation on Friday night. And I realized as she talked about the experience of going through integration, and integrating schools, she put a name and a face on that experience within her reenacting. And it was the first time I’d come to grips with that. I had never really personally owned my experience at William and Mary.
1:43:59.8 Even with the Lemon Project, because my brother was so heavily involved in developing the Lemon Project, and they had never contacted me before, I had moved on. And it wasn’t until I came back this weekend that I really came to grips with what happened to me here. And that was very enriching. And what happened, as I can see it now, is that I gave many people a sense that they could do what I had done. I met a couple people this weekend. One was a professor in business here at William and Mary, and I just said to him, I said, “Boy, I wish you’d been here when I was here.” And he said, “I wouldn’t be here if not for you.”
And then there was this young student (I think she had just graduated) who’d gone through ROTC when she was here, so we talked about our military experiences, and how she was at Fort Eustis as I was, and she said, she – she thanked me for being here.
1:44:59.0 And I never thought about that. And then there was this other woman, I think she was a judge here in town, African American. And she says something I’ve always talked about in terms of my ancestors, she says, “I am standing on your shoulders for having been here, because you were the first.” And I never pictured it quite that way before. And how –
And as I said to you earlier in our conversation, William and Mary is like a currency. If you have it, it never loses value, like bitcoins do. And it gives you an ability to succeed in the world beyond anything you could imagine. It’s amazing for an African American man to have had a career, where I had, in the community college alone, nine different assignments.
1:46:03.5 And then be a consultant. The college even hired me as a consultant after I retired 10 years ago, for the last nine years. Never been told, “No, you can’t do this.” Always getting the job that you want. Always given the opportunity to join. To have had an experience that gives you that kind of currency is invaluable. And I don’t think people who haven’t had it, and then experienced it for the number of years I’ve experienced it, can really appreciate that.
William and Mary is amazing currency that people don’t appreciate until maybe much later, after they’ve done the experience. And when you live as far away from William and Mary, as I do, in Tucson, Arizona, and you realize that there are no schools in West, in the academic community, that have a better reputation, other than Stanford, Cal, Berkley and the Ivy League.
1:46:59.4 Then you realize the importance of what’s happened to you here.
Carmen: And how do you reconcile an experience that was isolating, and that was difficult in a lot of ways with the currency, with the payoff. How do you reconcile those two things? Do you look back on your time at William and Mary as a positive thing? Or how do you view it as a whole?
Michael: I, I think what many young people, and I didn’t understand, is the most negative things that happen to you in life, actually are the things that make you the strongest. You don’t become strong through positive experience. You become strong through negative experiences. So, later on, unless they’ve killed you, you value them as positive experiences.
1:47:55.2 I think that the reconciliation that I have, and I’ll probably continue to appreciate as I go away from this experience is that in higher education, you are not supposed to have everybody succeed. Colleges were not made so everybody could graduate. That’s why we created community college. That’s why we created technical schools. That’s why we have apprenticeships. Everybody should be gainfully employed, and usefully employed. And we don’t do as good a job with that as we could. But it’s not all about people going to college. See, that’s a mistaken belief that people have, where if Johnny or Mary doesn’t get to go to college, or get to go to William and Mary, somehow, they haven’t been successful. When in fact, if they’re a welder in the Newport News shipyards, and they’re supporting their families, and they love what they do, and they’re working with their hands, and they just made the next generation of aircraft carriers, that person is extremely important to our society. And we should respect them for that.
1:48:59.6 And so, as a consequence, higher education was by its very nature designed to be selective. You know, one of the jokes that was told all during the weekend, is that it’s really hard to get into William and Mary. I mean, when I applied initially in 1965, they were accepting one out of every nine out of state students, and five out of every in-state students, based on a criteria that rejected even more before you got to that point. When you get to a master’s program, and you apply, you don’t see everybody getting masters’ degrees. And you particularly don’t see everybody getting a doctorate degree, and it’s intended to be that way. If everybody got one, the value would not be there. And I think people have to understand that.
1:49:58.4 That higher education is not a process in which everybody succeeds at everything they want to do. You have to have the intestinal fortitude to make it. I’ll tell you, when I entered the doctoral program at Northern Arizona University, everybody else that we could think of, eventually there were, 30 of our colleagues were involved in that program. Only four of us actually finished the program. The rest were ABD, or lesser. And we look back and we see a lot of people who didn’t make it, who are actually brighter, smarter, stronger than we were. But there’s an intestinal fortitude that is required to get through an educational experience, and part of that intestinal fortitude is built from resistance on the part of the powers that be, doctors, your instructors, the institution, the administration, the policies and procedures, to say, not everybody’s going to make it.
1:51:01.4 To make the experience of value, and once you understand that, and once you can help other people understand that, then the value is gained. I helped mentor a person who became the first doctoral student to finish the Educational Psychology program at the University of Arizona. And she was struggling with the fact that her professors were very resistant to her success. They did not want her to get through. And I said to her, Kamel, that’s why you want to get through. Because if you do, and you are successful, then the degree has more value. And now she’s a very successful consultant. She started her own business. She has that ability to create beyond what she ever imagined, because of the challenge of the experience.
1:51:58.2 And if the experience had not been challenging, she wouldn’t have those skills. So, you want it to be difficult. You want it to be hard, because if it’s not, you’re not getting what you really wanted out of the experience. It’s not about a piece of paper. It’s about you become the person you want to be.
Carmen: I mean, it’s a very hopeful way to look at it, because given difficult experiences if people did choose to bow out, I guess, in the face of those difficult experiences, then they would never receive the success they could be having gone through them.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. I tell all my doctoral students who I mentor and coach that that is the way it is.
1:52:56.9 Right now, I’m having difficulty writing a recommendation letter for a particular student who wants to get into Vanderbilt University, into their program, and I’m thinking about my experience with him, and I’m realizing, did I see that. Does he want it that badly? You know, I remember talking to my advisor at NAU, and we were extension students. I would drive six hours to Flagstaff to meet with him during my doctoral program, and – he was doing something to me and part of my study group where he would not remember what he’d told us to do. And so, we would present a copy of our dissertations, and he’d say, “Change this.” And I’d say, “You told me to do the exact opposite last time I was here,” because I’m saving every copy. And I’d bring up that copy and I’d show him notes, and he was doing it to my – one of the other members in my study group, who’s now my business partner, who I talked about earlier.
1:54:00.8 And so he began saving all of his documents and taking them with him when he went up to meetings, because he wouldn’t remember. And he wasn’t being malicious, he was just busy. As busy people are. But we had to remind him, “You told me to do this last time, now you’re telling me to do this, the exact opposite. Here’s two copies of what you told me to do.” And he says – he thought I was being belligerent, and I guess it was my tone of voice or something. And he said, “How badly do you want this?” And there was this woman staff member walking outside his office, because it was on the first floor, and I’d say, “I’d kill her and I’d kill you to get this done.” And part of my earlier personality emerged at that moment, and he saw it, and it scared him. And I apologized, because I knew what was happening, and I knew where it was coming from, because I’m very self-aware. And he accepted the apology and we went on from there.
1:54:59.0 And I succeeded. And I did get my doctorate. But, in a sense that’s how badly you have to want it, and if you don’t want it that badly, then you shouldn’t go after it, because it changes you. You know? As a doctoral student, what happens to you is you – you know, I was working on my doctorate, working full-time as an administrator in a community college, raising a family (had a young daughter who was still in her toddler years) would call her oftentimes and say, “How you doing today, Stephanie?” And she’s says, “You’re not coming home for dinner again?” I mean, that kills a dad, because you know if that goes on too long, you won’t have a daughter later on. You won’t have a relationship with her. You’ll have a daughter, but you won’t have a relationship with her. And I realized that yeah, I wanted to do it this badly, that I’m going to have to get this done, so I can get back to being a dad.
1:55:53.0 And, what I think I’m realizing is that, in being that busy, to balance all those important things in your life, you take on a new level of energy that you didn’t have before. And you’ve always got to direct it usefully, because otherwise, it’s going to drive you crazy. You’ve got to be busy.
So, when I retired 10 years ago, my doctor reinforced that. He says, “Write me a prescription, Michael.” I said, “You’re the doctor, you write the prescriptions.” He says, no. You’re retiring. You’re going to decide what you want to do in life. Tell me what you’re going to do mentally, physically and spiritually, every day of the next year, so you’re going to keep busy, because you can’t just sit still. People who retire and sit in their lazy boys, have 48 months to live. You’ve got to be active, and you have to be active on a very high level, otherwise, you are not going to survive. Something’s going to happen, and it’s not going to look good.”
1:57:01.9 There was this gentleman, who’s on the University of Arizona basketball team, his name is Rollie Hawkins. He’s like the sixth man. I admire him, because that’s like I was. I wasn’t the best player on the team, even though I made all-state in the State of Virginia, in the Catholic League in the 1965, but it was because of his attitude, he calls it the savage life, you are at your highest level of commitment to success, mentally, spiritually and physically, every day of your life, and if you’re not there, you are wasting your time. And once you achieve a certain level of success, like a doctorate, that’s the level that you’re on now, so you have to be careful, because living the savage life can either be a very positive thing, or it can be a very negative thing.
1:57:57.6 And if it’s going to be positive, you’re putting your good where it’s going to do the most, every moment, rather than slipping into disillusion and evil and bad habits that you can achieve.
Carmen: Well, from what you’ve told me throughout this interview, it sounds like you have put your time and your effort, mentally, spiritually and physically towards really productive, good things since you have retired. I mean, the work you do with the history of Southwestern United States, the going to these things in costume and kind of acting out and taking on that character, and present with that, working with children to create a new, a new/old way of learning. You’ve come full circle.
Michael: Well, I think the most satisfying thing about teaching the history of the South – African Americans in the Southwest, to me is the whole idea that it’s not a slave narrative. And what happens is, if you teach children the alternative to slave narrative (African Americans, especially) they become different over time.
1:59:04.7 They value themselves differently. And that’s the most important thing.
I saw this young grandchild of one of the three women who were the original legacy people with the – and she brought her to all the sessions this weekend at the symposium, and I realized that what she was hearing, just like the 8, 9-year olds I focus on in Tucson, was a message that was really not going to reverberate with her until later. You know, in counseling we have this concept where you touch a person here, and they were moving in a straight-line direction, this way, and they would have been here five years. But because of that moment, they are redirected, and now they’re here. They’re in a much more positive place that’s very far away from where they would have been. But you’ll never see it.
1:59:58.3 And one of the frustrations of being a teacher and a counselor is that your most powerful impact on your students is something that you’ll never see, because it happens so long after you’ve touched them, because life is an evolutionary process, and instead of being here, they are somewhere different, and somewhere better. And so, by changing a person’s consciousness about who African Americans truly are, they aren’t slaves, they’re courageous people. Like the woman I talked about earlier, Maria Feliciana Arballo, speaking to young girls about her, and have them not think of Aunt Jemima and all the negative caricatures of black people is going to change them, forever. Especially if you touch them when they’re eight, eleven year-olds. They’re great.
Carmen: That’s immensely powerful. I just from individuals I’ve spoken to have mentioned the shame that – that narrative – the diaspora narrative can carry and that they carry, you know hundreds of years later, because of the association with that.
2:01:11.7 And this other narrative that operating outside of that, simultaneous to that, or even before that, preceding that, but operating outside of that, it’s entirely – it’s not a counter – I don’t know if calling it a counter narrative is right, but it’s a different story that does not carry that shame. And in fact, that story you told me earlier about the woman, is so empowering. And it speaks so much of agency and how choices made on her part altered history.
Carmen: Indefinitely in the West. And that’s just the power that carry this.
Michael: Yeah, it’s immense. It’s immense.
Carmen: It is.
Michael: And I really resist that slave narrative for young black children, because it’s not an alternative narrative, it’s a narrative that gives them a different way of looking at themselves, and the slave narrative doesn’t have to be what you teach them. You’re choosing to do that.
2:02:04.8 And in Arizona, it’s even worse than that, because we have been fighting a four or five-year battle against not teaching ethnic studies in the school system at all. And now that they have overcome that in the school system, they’re still not going to teach this narrative, simply because textbooks are generated from the states that have the most schools. California and Texas. And much of what I’m talking about is actually considered Mexican history, because it all happened in New Spain. It’s a Spanish narrative, and we don’t consider any connection to Spain in our history. So, we as individuals in the community have to promote that narrative on our own, and the way we do it is by associating with agencies, like Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation, Pima County and have them let us come to talk to kids.
2:03:01.5 We have a children’s program through the Tucson Presidio Trust for Historic Preservation called Friday at the Fort. The kids come to us, every Friday. This year we went over 3,500 children who are now – have heard this narrative, and that’s meaningful.
Michael: So, that’s what you do. You do the work.
Carmen: People of good will.
Michael: With people of good will.
Carmen: This – just your whole story has been immensely inspiring and so multi-faceted and couldn’t have been charted out. There’s so much from this, it’s just been a really rich oral history interview for those reasons, and more. And I want to again, open up to you, if there’s anything else, of maybe you thought that I would ask that I didn’t ask, or anything else that you would like to include at this point, before we wrap it up.
Michael: I think, talking about William and Mary, one of the most enriching things that ever happened to me here was majoring in English.
2:03:58.8 But, my English major, and creative writing, really took me on a path in which literature has become extremely important to driving my personal narrative. And one of the things that happened to me is I really started reading people of color. Once, several years ago, I was started discovering, because I got very tired of American literature, or Latin American literature, and so authors like Garcia Marquez and Jorgé Amado, and Isabel Allende are just amazing at helping me understand my culture, because they have, within Latin American literature what’s called mystical realism, and they help us relate to our ancestors on a personal level, which my grandmother has always taught me to do, even though she’s passed. And other people of her generation where we don’t consider that our ancestors are passed.
2:05:05.0 They’re still with us, and that every time we mention their names, they come back to teach us things, and to reinforce the things that we know. And then people like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and more recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates with his Black Panther narrative, is starting to give us another burst of energy. So, I think that the value of a Liberal Arts education, despite what I said earlier, that we need people who can work with their hands and make things and move on, and that it’s always going to get you a job, is invaluable in that it enriches you spiritually and academically and mentally on a level that later, you’re seeking things that bring you joy, not because they bring you money, but because they make you better.
2:05:59.2 And literature is one of those things. And had I not come to William and Mary and studied literature, I never would have learned that.
Carmen: Great. Thank you. Well, again, this has been – I’ve been honored to sit here and listen to your story, and I appreciate you talking with me all of this time.
Michael: Well, thank you.
Carmen: It’s been really wonderful, and I appreciate you rolling with the punches of – it became chaotic, but –
Michael: I’ve got to go, anyway.
Carmen: Okay, well, I appreciate it, and just thank you so much for participating.
Michael: Sure. Thank you.
[End of recording]
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