Thomas Johnson, Jr., W&M Class of 1992

Thomas L. Johnson, Jr. arrived at William & Mary in 1988. During his time at William & Mary he participated in Ebony Expressions, the Black Students Organization, and was a member and president of Alpha Phi Alpha.

Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and graduated in 1992. He then went on to pursue a career in law, receiving his J.D. at Wake Forest University, and has worked as both Assistant and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney in the state of Virginia. He is currently an attorney at Bricker Anderson P.C. in Richmond, Virginia.

In his interview, Johnson outlines the negative experience he experienced at an admissions visit to UVA, ultimately leading to his attending William & Mary. He recalls that the dichotomy between minority and majority students was most apparent in the amenities provided to the majority (white) organizations, while black individuals and organizations had to actively request similar amenities. He reflects fondly on the impact of individuals such as Dean Carroll Hardy, members of the cafeteria staff, and the black community of broader Williamsburg. When asked if William & Mary prepared him for law school and his professional trajectory following, Johnson replies, “Definitely. The answer to that is 110% yes.” He ends the interview by expressing his gratitude that the college is supporting efforts to memorialize the African American experience. 


William & Mary

Interviewee: Thomas L. Johnson, Jr.

Interviewer: Carmen Bolt

Date: November 14, 2017                             Duration: 01:33:52


Carmen:           My name is Carmen Bolt, the oral historian at William & Mary. It’s currently around 2:30 p.m. on November 14, 2017. I’m sitting in the Alumni House with Thomas L. Johnson, Jr. Can you start by repeating your name back to me and telling me the date and place of your birth?

Thomas:          Good afternoon, Carmen. My name is Thomas L. Johnson, Jr. I was born in Richmond, Virginia, and I’m from Tappahannock, Virginia. Did you ask about date of birth as well?

Carmen:           Yes.

Thomas:          Okay. My date of birth is August 14, 1970.

Carmen:           Great. And What years did you attend William & Mary?

Thomas:          I was a student here in the undergraduate program from 1988 through 1992.

Carmen:           Great. And before we jump into your time at William & Mary, can you start by telling me a little bit—you mentioned where you were raised—but can you tell me a little bit more about being raised there and how you were raised?


Thomas:          I was the oldest of two boys, raised in Tappahannock, Virginia, or an area outside of Tappahannock known as Caret [Ka-RETT]. If you saw it on paper you would call it “carrot.” So I never told anyone where I was from because they didn’t know it anyway. And as I’ve gotten older and been around Richmond, Obviously people know where Tappahannock is because they go there for the events on the river.

But I grew up in a small area. Dad was a brick mason and my mom was an administrative assistant in Richmond. And pretty simple life. Middle income family. Didn’t really want for anything. Didn’t get everything I wanted, but middle income family. And that’s pretty much my upbringing. Country boy and like the outdoors.

Carmen:           When did you first start thinking about college?


Thomas:          Probably my sophomore year in high school. I really hadn’t given any serious thought to college. I can’t say that I didn’t think I was going to go, but I hadn’t given any thought to actually going, either. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a great group of peers. All my friends, we were very active. We liked to excel at whatever we did, so we made good grades, but it wasn’t for the purpose of going to college. It was just because we liked to excel at the time. So I guess the short answer to your question is probably my sophomore year in school.

Carmen:           And how did you find yourself at William & Mary in particular?


Thomas:          Well, interestingly enough, William & Mary was not in my list of colleges to even apply to. I was UVA bound. I had the shirt. I had everything ready to go to UVA. I had done multiple visits. But my mother worked for an individual. His last name was [Dozier]. He just passed. And I think he was an alumnus of here. I’m not sure. But I knew him as Mr. Dozier.

And he told her that I really needed to consider William & Mary. I’m the first generation in my family to go to college so my parents didn’t know much about schools other than what they heard from people that they were around. So whether I wanted to or not, William & Mary was put in the list of places to apply.

00:03:57          It wasn’t until I had an admissions visit with UVA that my mind was set on coming here. And that was due to a negative experience at UVA. And again, like I said, I had the shirt. I was a fan. I was ready to go. You know, a fan of Ralph Sampson. These were the people that were there when I was looking to go to school there.

So what happened was one Saturday a friend of mine and myself, we went up to UVA. He’s Caucasian, white male. And he went up and his admissions program was 9:00 or 9:30. Mine was 8:00 or 8:30. The fact that there were two different admissions programs was not unusual. It didn’t bother me. I knew that they had admissions programs directed at minority students and I knew that they had admissions programs for majority students, so that didn’t really bother me, thought nothing of it.

00:05:06          As the day went on, though, we came to lunch, and we ended up eating in—and I don’t want to misquote the place, but whatever it was in ’86, ’87, I think it was Lawrence Joel Coliseum, Memorial Coliseum. We had lunch in the basement of the coliseum, the black students that were there for admissions. And in the basement the area that we ate was divided off with curtains so you could look through the curtains if you wanted to see and see floor cleaning equipment, etc. That’s not the worst thing. The worst thing was our menu. We had fried chicken, watermelon, sweet potato pie.

00:05:58          Any stereotypical black food that you could think of was on the menu for us. My parents were offended, I was offended. And I left there with only half of an application filled in. Back then—I don’t know what the admissions process is now—but there’s two parts. I think there’s a standard portion and then there’s an essay portion. We left there.

My mom called her boss, told him about our experience there, and… Now I remember. He was on the board at UVA. And he let them have it, from what I understand. So much so that I was literally here, admitted to William & Mary, and committed as a student going, and for the first two to six weeks I got letters from UVA saying you can still turn in the second half of your application.

00:07:01          Of course it was too late then. The decision that I made to come here was based on that incident, primarily. But I also realized that being an African American student at UVA at the time—and it may still be the case—that UVA was perfectly fine with having two separate universities.

There were enough black students there that they could be amongst themselves and feel like they were part of the school, and they got their UVA degree, and everything was fine, and then the majority would stick to themselves. Well, coming here I couldn’t do that. Coming here I would have to integrate into what was William & Mary, whether William & Mary wanted me to or not. I would be forced to assimilate to the grand scheme of William & Mary.

00:08:04          Now don’t get me wrong. We had, while I was here—I’m sure this will come up later in the interview—we had our own set things that would support each other. One of the reasons Hulon Willis, etc. But for the most part, the notion of having a seven to eight hundred people UVA, or 1,000 black students at UVA that could be black UVA and white UVA, versus having the same thing happen here were two different things. It just wasn’t going to happen. So that was part and parcel of how I ended up here at William & Mary.

The second positive factor, though, as to why I ended up here was it reminded me of home. I knew that I had to…it was small enough that I could focus.

00:08:56          I could go and be by myself. I could sit under a tree and study if I needed to. But yet big enough to allow me to feel that I was independent and away from home. So that was the positive aspect of how I ended up here.

Carmen:           Right. Wow, yeah, I can’t even begin to imagine that experience at UVA, especially being so convinced that’s where you wanted to be and then having that experience.

Thomas:          Oh, I didn’t tell you what my friend had for lunch.

Carmen:           Oh, yeah. No, you didn’t.

Thomas:          He was upstairs, and this drove it home. He was upstairs, and he had rice pilaf, broiled fish, and shrimp. It was night and day as to what was served for us for lunch. And we were there at the same time. And of course they ate upstairs. He and I are really good friends today. Because we’re on video I won’t say his name.

Carmen:           Okay, that’s fine.

Thomas:          But still really good friends today. He owns a business in Richmond, and we talk about that experience every now and then. He didn’t even go to UVA after that. He went to JMU instead. That was how I ended up here.


Carmen:           Wow. Well, how did the admissions process here compare to that, or what was the experience of that here?

Thomas:          Well, I came down here and I can’t remember what stage and at what point I met my mentor, Dean Carroll Hardy. I can’t remember if it was before the admissions process or after. I believe it was after. Some kind of way I came here, admissions, went through the process, and I was accepted into the VSTP program.

00:10:59          It was an admissions program that Dean Carroll Hardy decided to start, sort of a transition program for people that were accepted to the college, but on a conditional basis. And when I was in that program I found out she also had another program that was for juniors called STEP.

So VSTP and STEP were two programs that Dr. Hardy had in place, and I came in through VSTP. It was a conditional basis. I had to have a certain average over the summer. It also was my first foray into college life. I will tell you at the time Essex High School didn’t, even though we made good grades, there was nothing there to prepare you for college, so the transition was almost night and day, so I was very thankful for that program, to be able to get a taste of college before I got here.

00:12:00          And of course, obviously, I did well in that program and was admitted the following semester to come full-time. And the good thing was it happened over the summer, so I didn’t lose any time. I didn’t lose any option to go elsewhere if it didn’t work out, those kind of things.

Carmen:           And you mentioned this a little bit, but when compared to UVA that had such a large African American population there already, and you wouldn’t have had that same setup where it would be two different universities here, when you first stepped on campus, whether that summer or that first semester, what was your impression of the amount of diversity on campus here?


Thomas:          Well, I’ll go through both. During the summer it was just us here. There may have been some students sprinkled in taking other summer programs. So VSTP and STEP, which was all minority students, basically had the run of campus for the summer, so it was fun. The question of diversity at that point really didn’t enter my mind.

It wasn’t until full admissions and everybody got here that you were able…that you became fully aware of the dichotomy between the majority and the minority here. And what happened then, I still was very fortunate. My admissions class, I think to this day it’s still the most admitted African American students here for that particular school year. We came in, and I think there were 120 of us in the admitted class.

00:14:00          I don’t think—don’t quote me—I don’t think it’s been that high since then. And as a matter of fact, it dropped frighteningly low at one point. I think it got down to the 30s or 50s somewhere shortly after I graduated, based on some incidents that occurred on campus.

That being said, it really didn’t hit us until you saw the, I guess the difference in the parties, the amenities, and how they were set up for the majority students, the fraternity row, sorority row. Everything was laid out here for the majority, which was the white students. But everything we did we had to, I wouldn’t say fight for. I mean, I don’t want to make my experience here comparable to that of the three trailblazers. It wasn’t.

00:15:04          But everything that we did that was for us we had to convince the university that it was necessary and that it was needed, and why we needed it for us. And they would listen. But they had, I think part of that was they had no idea. They had no basis of knowledge. They had no reason to know.

Which is why I was so thankful for people like Dr. Hardy and the minorities that were in admissions. Dr. Hardy obviously was over Minority Affairs. And I’ll get into her again later, but don’t be surprised if I mention her throughout this interview because she was by far the biggest influence on me while I was here. But I think for the most part, from ’88 through ’92, there was a commitment to diversity.

00:16:01          Dean Sadler, who the Sadler Center was named after, was also one of those influences. And he listened to us. One of those things that was needed for us, I found out, as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, that my fraternity being here since 1975 used to have a fraternity house on campus. We found out where it was. It was over there on Jamestown Road just across from where Hardy Hall is now, across the road. And I made it my mission to convince the school that we needed an on campus house again. We had been here since ’75. I think Delta Sigma Theta had a house on campus in sorority row, but there was no fraternity housing to match.

00:17:00          And once again, to his credit, Dean Sadler listened to me, and he went to bat for us, and we ended up having a fraternity house for not only the rest of the years that I was here, but at least ten more years after that, across from the new stadium area in the campus center, the Sadler Center. That, it was Lodge 16, was our Alpha House.

And even when they tore down the houses where the Sadler Center currently sits, the Alpha House still stood on that side of the street. And I think they just tore it down, even though we haven’t been in there in a few years now. I don’t think we’ve occupied that house for the last ten years, possibly.

00:17:52          But those were the types of things—I use that as an example—where, you know, as a black student here, we had to convince the campus of the need for it, when the white students had similar, but I don’t think they had to convince, it was automatic. They had fraternity houses. And that’s just an example.

Carmen:           Yeah, and I think that makes sense. And that’s actually really helpful to know because as I’ve just been doing research in preparation for these interviews, I’ve noted how many firsts, like first homecoming queen of color, first females of color on the soccer team, like these were happening in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and that’s just…I guess for some it’s not mind-blowing and for others it is mind-blowing, because it’s just so recent.

Thomas:          Yes.

Carmen:           So yeah, it’s helpful to know what the climate was during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s here, for sure. So there are a number of directions I want to branch off after what you just said, and I do want to return at one point to hear about the incidents you were mentioning that maybe have led to a drop off in admissions, because I haven’t heard of that yet, so I would love to return back to that, but first—


Thomas:          Okay, I’ll make sure we do.

Carmen:           I’m putting that on you to remind me.

Thomas:          All right.

Carmen:           But first I’d like to talk just a little bit more about your personal experience here, including maybe your very first experience—and I don’t know if it was during that summer program or not—of coming onto William & Mary’s campus, and what that looked like, or felt like, or smelled like, I don’t know.

Thomas:          Well, the funny thing is one of the greatest experiences I had here—it’s going to sound really crazy and basic, but I think that’s the country boy in me. When I was a student here, I don’t think funding was an issue for state schools. I think the budget was nice and high.

00:19:56          This place was a manicured heaven, it really was. The sunken gardens was immaculate. The sidewalks, the grass everywhere was cut and pristine. And that really was attractive to me. It was very peaceful.

And one thing I noticed over the years, coming back as an alumnus, shortly after I graduated I think the state started dealing with budget cuts and things like that. That was the first thing to go here. And I think they’re making efforts to make sure that that is up to par like it should be. But that was one of the, the aesthetics of the campus was one of the things that I noticed and really fell in love with.

00:20:50          Second to that, one of the first impacts on campus was Dean Hardy—again, her name—had a way of finding students that—and she met them where they were. If she noticed that you were a leader, she made sure you were in leadership roles. If she felt that you were struggling a little bit in coming into your own, not necessarily with student work, she made sure she found the people to increase your confidence. And she also never let you quit on yourself.

One of the biggest things coming into college here, and I don’t know if it happens on colleges across the country, but I think it’s endemic here, is that when you come in, or back then when you came in, you had a certain level of confidence because you had been successful in high school.

00:22:03          But things would happen here to cause your confidence to wane very quickly. The grades that you would get weren’t what you were used to. The looks that you would get sometimes walking through campus or trying to fit in, etc., they were blows to your confidence.

And Dean Hardy was there to make sure she checked the temperature of every African American student here, if they made themselves amenable to that. And whenever you felt like you wanted to give up or you wanted to do something else, she found a way to step in and give you that extra push so you could keep going.

00:23:00          So that was one of the main, overriding experiences that I had here the entire four years. Specifics back then, Dean Hardy was very…she was very in tune to bringing in people that were popular at the time, people that were making a name for themselves in the African American community, and then she involved us in those roles. I remember going to the airport to pick up Giancarlo Esposito, who was, for the young people that don’t know who he is, he was in…what was the name of the show? Just was on. Eisenberg. I can’t think of the name of the show. It was very popular.

00:23:59          But anyway, he was in that as the evil character in that. But he’s also been in a lot of shows before then. And for me, at 19 yeas old, to drive to the airport to pick up a celebrity that I had watched on shows like “A Different World,” and made guest appearances on “The Cosby Show,” and movies like Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” and I’m going to the airport to pick this person up to bring him back to campus and cater to him while he’s here for us, it just was an amazing experience. The same thing, Cicely Tyson. I think Earl and I, Earl Granger and myself were responsible for picking her up one day.

00:24:47          So to have a minority administrator be in tune to bringing in the things that appealed to our culture and what we needed at the time was a gift that we, I don’t think we really knew the gravity of while we were here. But obviously you look back on it and those were the things that gave you the extra push to do what you needed to do here academically.

The spiritual aspect that was here. I was a member of Ebony Expressions and the BSO, and so we would go to practice once a week and then sing on Sundays and travel to different churches. If a parent knew that their child was in Ebony Expressions, it wouldn’t be unusual for their pastor to invite the entire choir to the church to sing for them.

00:25:56          Obviously they wanted to see the member that was in the choir and bring them back. I think we went to my home church at one point. So we would travel on Sundays. And the William & Mary Green Machine bus would take us. It would take us to these particular churches to sing on Sundays.

And it was that kind of energy that would give you what you needed to get through the next week, or to get motivated for the exams that were coming up. So those were my experiences here. We’ll circle back to some of the things that I think why the numbers went down in a moment, in addition to that fraternity life, obviously. I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha in my second semester my freshman year.

00:26:54          Because of the amount of African Americans here, we were able to have parties that would fill up nice size venues and rooms, so we had a good time. But I think it would get a little old because you would see the same people all the time. So that was…we didn’t have our own separate William & Mary. All of us had to assimilate. But when we wanted to get together amongst ourselves, we could. So that was the difference, I think, between here and a school like UVA at the time.

Carmen:           Right. Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I’m kind of wondering how, as a freshman, you find out about things like the BSO or Ebony Expressions and really begin to get ingrained in those. Was it through a point person like Carroll Hardy, or were they really well known enough to the point where you would go seek those out?


Thomas:          Well, back then, I mean, today it’s social media. Back then it was as simple as putting flyers up on bulletin boards or stuffing mailers in the campus mailboxes. Those were the things that we did to get the word out. We would have interest meetings for fraternities and sororities, and you would see flyers go out for those. Or if the Deltas were having a party, they’d post a flyer and everyone would know to show up for that because that’s where all the black people were going to be on that particular evening or that weekend.

So Dean Hardy, in addition to the flyers, obviously she had certain people that worked for her. And once you were in VSTP at the time, or STEP, or anything like that, and you came up through her, you were always connected to her, and you were sort of…she was brilliant, now that I think about it.

00:28:55          She groomed us and then she had her minions. So we became her, you know, we would spread the word for her because, you know, that’s what she wanted us to do. And made sure we were fed. It just was a… In the midst of what could have been a bad experience, it was a really good experience because of her.

Carmen:           Yeah. And I think that’s great, actually, that her name comes up so often because it’s just a testament to the person she was and kind of just the figure she was on this campus, and the impact that she had.

Thomas:          My wife told me not to cry while I was talking about her, but I can’t promise that.

Carmen:           Yeah. No, she sounds…I am very sad I never had the opportunity to meet her because yeah, I just think that’s great, and I do, I hear her name come up a lot in these interviews, and that’s wonderful. And that of Sam Sadler as well, that he had such an impact. So you have mentioned Carroll Hardy and Sam Sadler. Were there other professors or mentors at William & Mary or even in the broader Williamsburg community that you recall during your time here?


Thomas:          Well, I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but my track here was government and a philosophy minor, and for whatever reason, it kept me away from one of the most dynamic professors that was here during the time. And I didn’t know it. And I had the good fortune of meeting her at the 25th anniversary. And that’s Dr. Joanne Braxton. If there was some way I could come and take a class with her now, based on what I’ve heard and the people that she influenced that took her English classes, I would do it.

00:30:52          She…to have met her and only sat with her for an hour, two hours during the gala and talked with her was one of the best experiences that I’ve had. I mean, at the end of the gala we embraced, or after she spoke and gave her speech we hugged and it was almost like I had been one of her students. So that was one of the professors that I know was a great, an extreme influence over other black students here, Professor Joanne Braxton. And I think she retires in 2018. So beyond that, though, there really wasn’t any that stood out for me.

00:31:55          There were obviously plenty of government professors that took interest in you, and, you know, it wasn’t because they were African American. They bought into you succeeding, and I appreciated that. But by far Dr. Hardy and Dean Sadler were the two biggest influences here.

Dean Sadler, he just seemed to be a natural—now that I’m older I realize what it was—a natural politician. He knew how to take what we wanted and figure out how to make it fit into the grand scheme of things without, I guess, upsetting the apple cart, so to speak, here with the powers that be. He knew that balance.

00:32:53          And I think how it worked was Dean Hardy reported to him, and he was responsible or in a great part responsible for bringing her on board, so we all benefited from both of them. We benefited from him in having the good sense to bring on Dr. Hardy, and obviously we benefited from her because she was interested in our transition here.

Carmen:           And I keep meaning to ask in these, and I think it’s important to ask if the African American community on William & Mary’s campus, or at least in your experience, had any interaction with the African American community in the broader Williamsburg area.

Thomas:          Yes, we did. And I think it varied for many. A lot of the good part about the African American experience, and we call it Divine Nine with regard to our sororities and fraternities, is community service, okay?

00:34:00          And that community service is not just us and hosting tailgates and stuff like that. A big part of that is going out into the community that you’re a part of, and it’s ingrained very early on, that service aspect. So we would have—and because I’m not here now, I don’t remember specifically a lot of the programs—but we would have programs with students from schools. We were involved in at least three or four different churches around here that we would go to.

Something as small as the African American experience with regard to a barber shop. We had the two—there were two barber shops, one, Tony’s Topper, that everyone went to, and the experience of going to the barber shop and interacting with the locals that went to that barber shop, and how they made you feel comfortable coming in as a student even though they didn’t know you.

00:35:05          And you ended up developing relationships. I will regret to this day if I don’t go back and mention another African American influence that was here.

Carmen:           Sure.

Thomas:          There was a cafeteria worker here, and I’m sure someone watching this video will be able to name her just like…  But every black student that went to school here knows her. She looked out for us and treated us like we were her own. When we would come back to campus ten years later and see her, she knew our names.

Carmen:           Oh, my goodness.

Thomas:          And, you know, I’m going to tear up thinking about the fact that I cannot remember her name right now. But you would see her and she would call you by name. And this is after graduating ten years.

00:36:01          And to think the number of African American students that have come through and know this woman, and for her to remember your name is a pretty big deal. It’s a pretty big deal.

Carmen:           Yeah, that’s huge.

Thomas:          It was people like that, people that drove the buses, that made sure you got home safely and looked out for you, and waited that little extra moment to make sure you disappeared into the building that you were supposed to go into. It was a sense of community in the sense that they knew… [Tearing up.] They knew the history that you were making by being here. And I guess they wanted to make sure you succeeded. So, you know.

00:37:06          That was a pretty big deal. All right, let me get myself together.

Carmen:           That absolutely would be…to have that sort of support system here.

Thomas:          Yeah, yeah. So those are the things that I remember when I focus on, you know, my time here. And, you know, when you think about it in the grand scheme of things you don’t necessarily, I guess, think about it every day, but I guess when you’re sitting for an interview and you’re thinking about your experiences, they come up. They come up.

Carmen:           Yeah. Well, we’ll figure out her name and we’ll add it into the notes for the interview. That way—

Thomas:          I would appreciate it. I’m sure she would, too.

Carmen:           We will absolutely do that. Yeah. No, that’s great. And I actually—and this is a side note and I can talk more about this after the interview—but I would love to interview members of the staff who worked here a long time because their experience is part of the full experience on this campus as well.

Thomas:          Yeah.


Carmen:           And I think it’s important to do so. So any names, in the future, that you think of, I would love to reach out to those individuals as well. But for now we are focused on you, of course. You mentioned this earlier and I didn’t want to lose it entirely. You studied government and philosophy minor, you said. Why did you choose that?

Thomas:          At the time when I chose government, really, I think, half of it was I was scared of all the other courses. [Laughs.] I did not have a math brain. I just didn’t. It didn’t work that way. So I had to figure out something to do to get the degree here. And then it came to a point where, all right, well, if I get a degree in government, what am I going to do with that? Am I going to be a page? Am I going to go and work with Congress? Just what am I going to do with it?

00:39:01          And had a little bit of experience with that through internships and determined that that wasn’t the way I wanted to go. And then it dawned on me that I needed to actually dig in, so to speak, and try to turn whatever grades or experience I had as a government major into a law school admission. So basically I think it was chosen by default.

I always had an interest in how government worked. I was very argumentative all the time. Always have been. I think I was put out of classes multiple times in high school because I disagreed with the teacher, and we would argue, and instead of being a bigger person and debating with me, they would get frustrated and ask me to leave. [Laughs.]

00:40:09          So I think I’ve always naturally been a person that, you know, would engage in debate and those kinds of things. So that’s how I ended up in law school, and that’s probably how I ultimately ended up being a government major.

Carmen:           Were there any venues here on campus or arenas within which you could have kind of those debates or debates about important issues of the day while you were here?

Thomas:          Any club that we ran. [Laughs.] Because there was no shortage of opinions, you know, fraternities, BSO. But as far as academically, I’m sure that there were. To be honest with you, with the extracurriculars that we were involved in, for the most part, getting involved in like a debate team or something like that would have probably added too much to the plate.

00:41:08          Now if we found those things first, you know, we probably would have gravitated toward them, but the things that we found first were more geared toward enhancing our experiences as black students here. And those were the things we tended to gravitate to.

Carmen:           Well, it sounds like within those organizations you had  plenty of opportunity to have those discussions and debates, so that’s great. So you talked about some of these, but I wonder if there are any moments or events or experiences in particular that stand out as your very favorite, like a very favorite memory you have of your time here.

Thomas:          Okay. There are multiple.

Carmen:           Yeah, you can tell all of them.


Thomas:          Let’s see. One was a step show. There were two step shows. [Laughs.] Before the Sadler Center was built, we used to have step shows in various places throughout campus, and one was the old campus center, which was across Jamestown Road. And we did this huge—my fraternity had been…there had been only one or two members that would pledge or go through the process prior to my line, which was three people. There were three of us. So it was sort of like a rebirth of the fraternity. We were infused with new members and coming back.

And we decided to do a step show. There was a song out by a group called Soul to Soul at the time, and the song was “Back to Life.” And for some reason I guess they figured that I would probably eventually end up being the president, so they wanted to make me the feature.

00:42:58          So we made this coffin and we did this Egyptian themed entrance to the step show where I was in the coffin and four fraternity brothers who were in sphinx heads brought me out, set me on stage, and in front of them were people carrying tiki torches. And then of course the music would start and I burst out of the coffin, and did a step, and it was back to life, that kind of thing. Extremely fun, extremely, you know, the crowd went wild, those kinds of things.

Well, one of the things we didn’t think about in this brilliant idea of the tiki torches is that the buildings have fire alarms. So we’re walking down the hall at the beginning of the step show with the tiki torches burning, and all of a sudden the fire alarm goes off.

00:43:54          So we have to basically reset, stop the step show, stop everything, deal with the fire department. Go ahead and laugh. You can. [Laughs.] Deal with the fire department, convince them that we weren’t really trying to burn the building down so that they would let us have our step show and we would finish.

Carmen:           Wow.

Thomas:          That was one experience. And the other one, with regard to a step show, and I’ll give some more soon, but with regard to a step show is that—and this was after I graduated, actually. I think it was a year or so after I graduated. But we were on a tear as far as the fraternity was concerned with bringing in new members and infusion of people that were interested. And right before I graduated, my line brother, who is deceased now, Chris Baker, ended up going to Egypt and learning Arabic over the summer.

00:45:01          Now, when I say learn Arabic over the summer, I mean fluent. And so much so that he ended up, before graduating here, I think he was fluent in seven languages, and it just was a natural for him. But anyway, he came back and he infused all of this multicultural influence into the way we did things at the fraternity—hookah pipes, just different things.

And the next thing you know, we had this sweetheart court. And our sweetheart court was the most multicultural thing you would ever want to see. We had Hispanics, we had Arabics, we had—[laughs]—black girls, I mean, just, it was…it was absolutely amazing. So anyway, that atmosphere, I believe, generated a bigger interest in my fraternity.

00:46:00          And we went from that to when I graduated having a good number of guys on campus in that Alpha House that I told you about. I think at one point there were 16 to 18 Alphas, 20 Alphas on campus. That’s a lot. But anyway, they had the step show. And the step show featured A Tribe Called Quest. They came in. Dean Hardy agreed to bring in A Tribe Called Quest to William & Mary Hall.

And a lot of us came back. And this was probably the first year after I graduated. And to come back and see that we’re now stepping in William & Mary Hall, and the guys’ entrance for that particular step show involved driving an actual limo or car into William & Mary Hall and getting out and getting on stage after A Tribe Called Quest performed.

00:47:02          It was unbelievable. It didn’t…no one could tell you that this was William & Mary. These were the kinds of experiences that we had here. And I don’t think it can be repeated, or it has been repeated since. I listen to some of the other alumni that are older than us and I think their comparable experience was—and I wish I was here—they were able to bring Earth, Wind and Fire here. That’s pretty amazing.

Carmen:           Yeah.

Thomas:          And so those type of experiences really stand out, even though that last step show that I just described was after I left. But to bring people like Giancarlo Esposito, Cicely Tyson, those experiences are unmatched, in my opinion, and they were some of the best here, they really were.


Carmen:           Yeah, wow. Do we have these step shows on video, I wonder.

Thomas:          Well, you know, I have gone and attempted to track down these, and every time I try to get them or think I’m getting close, the effort fizzles out. But I think Beth Young, Elizabeth Young, has some on video. I know Dean Carroll Hardy had several. I don’t know where these videos are. But I am just as curious to find them. I know they were taped. They were VHS. We were not that old. They were VHS tapes when we were coming along. Maybe not the Back to Life one that I told you about with the smoke detectors. [Laughs.]

Carmen:           That’s what I’m wanting to see, if I’m honest. That’s the one.

Thomas:          But they’re on somebody’s tapes somewhere.

Carmen:           Okay. We need to find them.


Thomas:          So we need to find them.

Carmen:           Yeah. Will make that a personal goal because I would love to see those. That would be great to have in our collection. But that first one, man. [Laughs.] The fire alarm one.

Thomas:          It was pretty funny.

Carmen:           Yeah, yeah.

Thomas:          Pretty funny.

Carmen:           I always try not to laugh on tape, but it’s on there. So shifting gears a little bit from favorite memories or funniest memories and experiences, I’m wondering is there any difficult memories that stick out in your mind from your time here that you can point to?

Thomas:          This is going to sound crazy in light of everything that, many of the experiences that different people have had here. For me personally, I would have to say the hardest thing here for me was getting adjusted to the academic rigor. It wasn’t the…for me it wasn’t the social atmosphere or anything like that.

00:50:00          I had a good time at William & Mary. And I guess that’s what I struggle with most now as president of Hulon Willis Association. I know a whole lot of people didn’t. And I didn’t have a good time because I forgot who I was. I mean, I assimilated with blacks, whites, all. But I had a good time…I don’t know whether it was my attitude, or whether it was because there were so many of us, or whether I had an easy time making friends. I don’t know. But the hardest part for me here was the academic side and staying…and feeling like I was constantly beat up academically.

00:50:57          I mean, obviously I came out okay. And to struggle to get that B was, you know, I mean, As were unheard of. But to struggle to get that B and to have a decent B average going into graduate school for me was the hardest thing here for me.

Negative experience, if I had to pinpoint it, it would be the effort in getting something done. And that would be the aspect of convincing Dean Sadler or someone that we needed this and why we need it. Eventually it would happen, but that would be the biggest negative experience. I’ll also say that my class seemed to be the class that would make the most noise about something, and then the class behind us would benefit from our noise.

00:52:03          And to give a perfect example of that, back before ’92, William & Mary’s law school, for instance, would have…was in the habit of basically swapping students between here and UVA, so if you went to UVA it was almost automatic that you got into law school here, and if you went here undergrad it was almost automatic that you got into law school at UVA. I don’t think people realize this, but the lack of knowledge that you have at 20, 21 years old compared to what you have after you’ve lived a little bit is night and day.

00:52:52          So to add to and continue with my experience at the beginning of this interview, I didn’t know, at the time, the difference between $8,000 and $13,000. It all seemed like money to me. So when I was applying to law school, I applied to University of Maryland, Pepperdine, William & Mary, and Wake Forest.

I didn’t even apply to UVA. Probably would have been instantaneously admitted to UVA, at least that’s my—especially based on my history. I was still mad at UVA, so I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. But I also didn’t realize how good of a law school education it would have been, and how cheap it would have been compared to what I paid for Wake Forest. Fast forward a little bit. I started this part of the conversation by saying that my class was the class that made noise and the next class would benefit from it.

00:53:58          So I applied to William & Mary for law school. They put me on the wait list. I was devastated. Dean Hardy was not devastated. She was pissed. [Laughs.] She was upset. So much so, basically I think she made it her personal mission to address the dean of the law school and whoever would listen to her to highlight my experience here and try to let them know that she thought this was a place that not only looked at academics, but how a person’s leadership and the things that they did while they were here also transitioned into what kind of person they were, what kind of person they would be.

00:54:55          I think I graduated with a 2.9—yeah, it was just below a 3—2.9 here. And I don’t mind saying this now because it doesn’t matter. Back then I probably would have been embarrassed by it. And I was wait listed here, but I also was the president of this, the leader of that, and involved in everything on campus—or lots of things on campus, I can’t say everything. And that should have counted for something.

Just like with UVA, I was at Wake Forest, the day I met my law school roommate, the day I met him, we were out on campus getting our admissions stuff and getting ready to go, I get a call from William & Mary, hand to God, you’re off the wait list, you can come to school here. Now, you know, in retrospect I probably should have said yeah, but I was angry.

 00:55:52         Now I was angry at William & Mary because I was wait listed and I had given my, in my opinion, my heart and soul, everything to this college, and I was wait listed at the law school where I wanted, and I was going to be here three more years—intended to be here three more years. That next year the largest African American class of law school admittance in William & Mary’s law school history to that point of its own students that went to school here. The largest. And I know it’s because Dean Hardy went to bat for me and probably some of the other African American students that may have been wait listed or didn’t get in.

At Wake Forest, I ended up down there with… I know that there were at least four other students ahead of me that had gone to Wake and had established a reputation. So Wake was becoming a pipeline for students that had gone to school here.

00:57:02          Stanley Osborne, Rita Simpson, Holly Guest. Those were three that I can think of that had gone to Wake Forest after having graduated here that were inroads for me to go down there. So inadvertently the community stayed strong and looked out for each other. But that would be my negative for here.

Carmen:           Yeah, absolutely. To have already had kind of a complicated situation when you planned to go somewhere for undergraduate and have that happen, and then to have that happen at the place that you had grown to, like, become ingrained in over four years would just…yeah, I can definitely see how there would be some anger associated with that.

Thomas:          Yes.


Carmen:           So gosh, that makes me want to ask questions. I do have questions here about your trajectory after, and I do want to talk about some of that. I have one more question about your time as a student here before we jump into that, if that’s fine with you.

Thomas:          Okay.

Carmen:           So this is something I try to research when I’m preparing for these interviews, how sociopolitical events worldwide, or nationwide, or statewide unfolded on William & Mary’s campus, or if they did at all. So I’m trying to think of different things that happened during the time you were here nationally or beyond. The Rodney King riots happened. I mean, a bunch of things, really, in those early ‘90s. Do you remember any sort of activism or reaction to nationwide or worldwide events on campus, whether you were part of them or not?

Thomas:          No. The biggest thing that happened here, and just because of the amount of time that’s passed, I’m not exactly sure the time frame, but I believe it was my senior year.

00:59:05          And I don’t know how closely related this was to Rodney King. I don’t think it was. I think it just was someone with regard to the “Flat Hat” decided to take their cartoon to another level, and there was a cartoon character called Mighty Whitey. And Mighty Whitey had…it was a play on William & Mary, the W and the M, and Mighty Whitey would come out with, I think two or three comic strips ran in the “Flat Hat.” And there was a big upheaval and protest about the things that were coming out of that comic strip, the fact that the “Flat Hat” was printing them.

00:59:57          Obviously we know freedom of speech, etc. But there’s a certain type of speech. And we considered that hate speech, which is not free speech. So that was a big upheaval while I was here. And I think that was my senior year.

And I am 100% certain that those articles and the fallout from those articles were the primary reason that the next four to six years the admissions population for African American students here dropped to a critical level. Of course for me, in law school, it was the O.J. Simpson verdict that happened while I was in law school, but I was already gone from here when that came out.

01:00:53          But here it was the “Flat Hat” and the Mighty Whitey articles that were a big deal when I was here. And I’m sure in your position you probably can find some of them, if you haven’t already. But those were the things, that people would feel emboldened enough to do those kinds of things, make cartoons of us.

Obviously the biggest, the fraternity that we had the most trouble with here and that still I scratch my head today was KA. They would do a march on campus, and for the—there was an African American student that was in my class, I believe, but he didn’t associate with any of us, that was in KA.

01:02:03          And this fool—and I don’t have any hesitation of calling him a fool—was at the forefront, like he was the grand marshal of their freaking Confederate parade. And so those were the kinds of ignorant things that happened while I was here. So I kind of take back a little bit. It wasn’t all glory and good times for me when I was here. But I guess I was able to push that stuff back and repress it. But those were some of the things that…

And I don’t know if KA still has that parade. I don’t know. But I know it went on and I know it’s a KA tradition. But to see an African American student be in the midst of all of that and almost be oblivious to—well, he would have to be oblivious to what they were doing, or be brainwashed that they were somehow celebrating a good thing was very disturbing.


Carmen:           Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, I believe those marches have ceased to exist. But you’re right, they continued for an incredibly long time. What was the reaction to those? Or do you recall? I mean, they continued to do it year after year, so I don’t know, necessarily, that any reaction stopped them or made them pause.

Thomas:          Well, there were so few of us here that they didn’t give a darn, I mean, you know, so, you know, we would do our little protest. You know, there could be ten to 25 of us that would kind of jump in front of them, meet them in the street. But it never amounted to violence or anything like that. But it really didn’t make a difference. I don’t even think it made news that we were… It was just like a regular day on campus.

01:04:03          Which was, you know, for something like that to go on and it be like another day in the day of days is pretty incredible, in my opinion.

Carmen:           Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for kind of going back and thinking about that. I think it does speak to your experience that those positive things, the community that you had here and the good memories you have stand out most to you. I think that speaks a lot about your experience here. But yeah, it’s good for us to know the kind of things that went on, for sure.

So to now jump into your trajectory post William & Mary. I now know how you ended up at Wake Forest and how that ended up being. And you said there were others there from William & Mary that kind of were just, you know, familiar faces there maybe.

Thomas:          Right.

Carmen:           So how do you feel, or do you feel that William & Mary prepared you for that trajectory following your time here?


Thomas:          Definitely. The answer to that 110% is yes. I wasn’t prepared for William & Mary coming out of high school, but I certainly was prepared for law school coming out of William & Mary. There was nothing here close to what one would call grade inflation. And academically I felt that that applied across the board to everybody, no matter who you were, white, black, whatever. Either you got it or you didn’t.

And they were there for you to help you through it, but there was no special treatment here. And I think the college enjoyed that reputation, and I’m glad that they did because as an adult you see what that means compared to other schools that everybody gets an A just for showing up.

01:05:58          If you didn’t come to class here, you got an F. So, I mean, you know, there was no showing up and Professor, what can I do, I need to get out of this class or my mom is going to disown me. It was none of that. You could come to class here, work your hardest, and still get a C. And it was baffling at times, and frustrating, but when you look back over it, what they were looking for and what they ultimately got out of you prepared you for the next level.

I was fortunate—and I know this is a William & Mary interview—but I was fortunate to have a person similar—she was a white admissions dean—but similar to Dean Hardy at Wake Forest. Her name was Melanie Nutt. I’ll never forget her.

01:06:55          And you may, if you were to interview Rita, if you were to interview Holly, if you were to interview Stan, they would say the same name. Where she had the knack of looking out for you coming from William & Mary. And to this day I think if I ran into her, if she’s still alive—I would hope she is—if I ran into her she would know my name. And she had a special knack for knowing every student that came in from William & Mary. And I think people like those, especially when it comes to academia, are very special people.

Carmen:           Yeah. They definitely make you feel valued, I guess. Definitely remembering you, especially, after having so many students cross their path.

Thomas:          Yes.

Carmen:           That’s great. Were there any other things or aspects of your time here that you took with you into your eventual law profession?


Thomas:          Probably the biggest thing that I took with me from here would have come had I been wherever Dean Hardy was. And I hate to go back to her again—

Carmen:           No, go.

Thomas:          But she taught me to persevere, she taught me to be a leader, she taught me to be confident in myself when I wasn’t sure. So all of those things that came from her that my parents didn’t know how to do—not that they didn’t want to do, but they didn’t know how to do.

I mean, you’ve got to understand, I have no one in front of me that has gone to college to say hey, do it this way, watch out for this pitfall, watch out for that pitfall. I think students, which is why I always—I’m going to digress a little bit. There is a school of thought that thinks that the playing field is even just because you open the gates and you let everybody start.

01:09:01          And I just don’t understand, for the life of me, how that can be when there are generations upon generations upon generations of white students that have college educations, they’ve had their parents, the benefit of their grandparents, their great-grandparents having college educations, and we’re just, as African Americans, getting to the point where we’re having two, three generations of students that have gone to college.

For me, I was the first. I was obviously here with some people whose parents were academics and had gone to college. And for the most part their profession was probably a teacher, a lawyer or a doctor were the professions, and my classmates were second generations in that group.

01:09:58          But there were just as many here who were first time students. I forgot the question. I knew where I was going with that. But my point was the playing field is not even. And I understand the theory behind it should be even, but if you’re running a 300 meter race and somebody has 200 meters out in front of you, and you start when they come back around, and you start in the same place, they’re going to cross the finish line first.

And that is where we have to get, in my opinion, as a nation, to understanding that all we want as African American students and as African American people is a shot to be. We want the same things that everyone else wants.

01:10:58          We love our families. We want each other to succeed. And given that shot, given that opportunity, we can excel at it just as well as anybody else. That experience was emphasized here through the confidence that was given to me in completing this education here. And now I get to, whether my kids go to school here or not, I get to instill that same confidence in them because I went through it.

Carmen:           Yeah, absolutely. That was so well said. And you did answer the question, so that’s great. I know the answer to this question, but I want to get it on tape. Are you still involved with William & Mary, and in what ways?


Thomas:          Yes. Obviously you knew the answer to that. I am the current president of the Hulon Willis Association. Hulon Willis was…Hulon Willis, Sr.—I think it was Sr.—was the first African American student to get a degree from this campus. Not the first student to have residence here. We know we’re here celebrating the 50th for three wonderful women that were brave enough to dawn the halls of the campus as resident students. But we celebrated our 25th anniversary as an alumni affinity group this June, past June. And I have been president now for two yeas.

01:12:52          And one of the things that I wanted as president to see the club do is have us in a position where we’re transitioning to the next 25, 50 years, and that the African American students here now know that HWA is their affinity group. The hardest part about what I’ve been involved in with HWA is actually making that connection with the undergraduate group. We’re working on it.

The first step was getting our house in order, and celebrating us and what we have. And I think that went across and came across very well with our 25th. Now it’s time to transition and show all right, look at us and look at what you have to step into, what legacy has been made for you. So that’s one of my connections to campus.

01:13:58          Earl Granger, I have the fortune of being a classmate of his, so he has no qualms or hesitancy about Thomas, you need to give some money. [Laughs.] So reaching back. That’s his job. And I appreciate him and applaud him for it. So the connection that I have with him and other people that are here that have some experience with Dean Hardy and decided to come back and work here is pretty amazing. So I’m involved with him and Chon Glover. And I don’t intend to be president much longer of HWA, but I intend to continue to be engaged in the college.

Carmen:           Great. I have a couple of questions about the Hulon Willis Association, given that we just celebrated the 25 years, and I was at that event, and it was incredible, in D.C. this summer.

01:15:03          But it started that year you graduated. Were you involved at that point, or did you know that this was being formalized?

Thomas:          I knew that it was being formalized, but I wasn’t involved. That credit goes to an ad hoc committee or spearheading committee that Dean Hardy had the vision to set up. She realized that she had put into place outlets for us as students here on campus and that she was looking out for us here on campus, but she also realized that we would graduate, and what was there for us to maintain that same connection when we graduated and have an affinity toward the college.

01:15:58          So she and Julian Bond, I believe, and a couple other people decided that we needed an African American affinity group. They formed a committee, and I don’t want to misquote or leave names out, but Elizabeth Young was one of them, and several others got together that came up with the name and the mission, and presented it back to Dean Hardy to give her what she needed to present it to the board. And that’s how it was born. So it was a vision of hers. She set a committee in place to look for what she wanted, and that’s how we were born.

Carmen:           That’s great. Can you speak a little bit about the—I mean, I think it’s obvious what the significance is—but could you speak a little bit about the significance and the impact of this organization’s existence over the past 25 years?


Thomas:          Well, the biggest impact, in my opinion—and it’s twofold—the scholarships that we have been able to give to deserving African American students. But not only that. The camaraderie that we have and were able to bring back when it’s time to come back to campus and it’s time to gather again. We’re able to do it through HWA. We’re able to do it through an alumni group that’s our own, that we share the same interests. We’re able to talk about our experiences here, which are very common, and we’re able to bond over those things.

01:17:58          So it is almost like a mini reunion amongst reunions when we come back to campus. That has probably been one of the biggest impacts of HWA, is the sense of camaraderie and the fact that we have, as African Americans, a shared experience having graduated from the College of William & Mary.

Carmen:           Sure. And I believe it was during conversation with Earl that he had mentioned that similar to anything else, this organization had ebbed and flowed with the years as well, and there were a couple years where it was definitely more difficult to get some involvement. But then when you compare it to this summer, when there was such a huge turnout in D.C., and just so much excitement surrounding it, do you remember anything that caused that, or was it really just those natural processes of…?


Thomas:          Well, the real reason behind it is I felt, as president, that it was, with the 25th coming up and the things that I had seen that we had done, that we could use that particular timing as a springboard to show that we as an organization can do more, okay?

I had, even though I had been coming back as a member of HWA before that time, one of the things that we would always do, we would put on events, and some of them would be grand, and some of them would have something missing, and some of them would… So one of the visions that I laid out for a committee of people that were involved in the planning of the event was that I wanted it to be topnotch.

01:19:59          And we were always concerned about cost—does it cost too much to do this, and people don’t come out because they don’t like to spend money. I think one of my biggest accomplishments was convincing them that we’re adults. Obviously everything has a value, and if we value HWA we will spend for that value. We spend for the value of everything else that we want.

And I think it was that mindset that transitioned into every committee, into the alumni support that we got from the college, the support that we got from the 50th committee, all of that translated and built into the gala and the weekend, the celebration of the 25th.

01:20:56          Because we had gotten to the point where we had transitioned from being afraid that people weren’t going to come out because they didn’t want to spend X, Y and Z to a point where, if you give them something of value, they’ll spend the money and celebrate it. And to me that was the biggest transition that I wanted to create for HWA. And I hope that we’re able to maintain that, that we step up our level of what we do for each other, and because we’ve shown that we can do it on a grand scale that we’ll continue to do it that way.

Carmen:           Great. So I have a couple of broad questions before I actually turn it over to you to add anything that you want to. I’m wondering what changes you have seen at William & Mary over time and what you think of them.


Thomas:          Well, obviously I like the…the changes that I’ve seen that I like the most are its growth. I think the fact that the school has grown both in its vision with how it accommodates its students and what it provides its students makes me proud to have been an alumni of the school. It’s continuing to grow, it’s continuing to remodel, and it’s continuing to be ahead of the needs of the students. So that I’m extremely proud of. Was that a two part question?

Carmen:           Well, just, yeah—

Thomas:          Because I’m getting ready to go into the negatives. [Laughs.]

Carmen:           Oh, no, that’s fine, too. There’s space for that, too. Just what you think about the changes you’ve seen.


Thomas:          So I’m very excited about that. What I’m most disappointed about is that the school has not yet found a way to attract African American faculty and to create an environment that African American faculty want to come here and thrive here. And it’s a problem that needs to be solved.

And I don’t know what else can be done about that yet, but I think the college’s recognition of the importance of African American students and our contribution to the college, and everything that they’ve put into the 50th is a good sign toward that. I applaud the school for that, and I hope that that leads, or at least it’s the beginning of their commitment to trying to figure out the problem when it comes to African American faculty wanting to be here on campus and making it an environment that they want to thrive.

01:24:17          And I think if they do that, if we do that as a college, then we will see an increase in minority students, and it won’t be a superficial increase, it’ll be one that is a lasting one that people want to come here and get an education because they’ve heard about this professor, or they know this particular person was here and they wrote this book, and they’re responsible for this movement. That is the kind of college I think that we need to somehow turn into. And I don’t know what has been the holdup when it comes to that.

01:24:58          So as I transition from my role in HWA, those are the areas that I hope to try to move into in trying to help. I don’t have solutions. I don’t. But to whatever extent that I can offer a voice and help that process, I hope to be able to do that.

Carmen:           Yeah, definitely. And are there any other changes you hope to see in addition to those obvious and just heavy efforts to attract faculty of color?

Thomas:          No. I’d like to see us not schedule JMU for a football game at homecoming—[laughs]—ever again.

Carmen:           Yep.

Thomas:          Especially after they won the division. But that’s obviously—

Carmen:           That’s a real wish.


Thomas:          We have a special thing here at William & Mary, and some kind of way we have to figure out how to make this old campus attractive to a varying degree of people. And I don’t necessarily know the answer to that. But the effort needs to be put in that category, I think. I really do.

Carmen:           So just one more question before I turn it over. We are in the midst of a celebration for 50 years of African Americans in residence on campus, and we touched on this a little bit throughout the interview, but I’m wondering if you would mind articulating what you believe to be the value of diversity and inclusion on campus and in the world.


Thomas:          That’s a broad question. That’s one of those ones that could keep us here a long time. But I’ll try to be short. The value here on campus should be evident based on the value of diversity in the world. We have…there’s evidence out there wherever you look that everyone’s experience culturally benefits from having the mindset that you’re inclusive to other cultures, to other ways of thought, and to other ways of doing things. We are a liberal arts school. As a liberal arts school, the last thing we should be struggling with is diversity, but for some reason it seems to be one of the main things we struggle with.

01:28:00          The biggest hurdle, in my opinion, to diversity is having a closed mind. If you are already set in a certain way, that could be okay, but if you’re set in that way and you’re not willing to listen to other points of view, you might as well have a parachute that doesn’t open. So in any successful business, in any successful socioeconomic experiment, in any successful movement, all have been the end result of taking different frames of thought, different ways of doing things, and different ways to excel.

01:29:18          And we as a college together need to figure out a way to mix that all in and make it part of our soul, our fiber, our wellbeing. It seems that we have gotten there as a college for the most part when it comes to diversity of sexual orientation, but we haven’t gotten there when it comes to diversity of thought for ethnic orientation. VCU is light years ahead of us when it comes to the contributions of minority students from all walks of life.

01:30:16          There is no reason that we shouldn’t be at least modeling ourselves after academic institutions like that. And part of the reason that we may be struggling in that aspect is because VCU is so close and they end up attracting people that would normally come here. I don’t know. But for us to truly transition into what I feel would be the college of the future as far as William & Mary is concerned, we have to embrace diversity and multiculturalism. We have to embrace it.


Carmen:           Thank you for answering that. And now I want to ask you if there is anything that I haven’t asked that you thought I would. And this is also an opportunity for you to add anything and everything you want to.

Thomas:          I think for the most part the questions, whether I went off track or not, allowed me to get out all of my thoughts. I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to allow me to sit down and present my oral history. I don’t know that I am anyone that’s important enough to justify this type of documentation, but my experience here at William & Mary is such that I think the African American student that thinks that maybe they’re alone and someone else doesn’t understand what they’re going through may benefit from this.

01:32:18          The student that thinks that…that doesn’t necessarily believe how hard it was for students here may benefit from this. And the students that had no idea what it was like because their experience here is completely different and has nothing to do or is anywhere closely related to our experiences here can look back at this and say wow, just in 1988 this is what it was like here at the college, and that wasn’t that far, that long ago. I know I’m old, but I’m not that old.

01:33:06          So for those reasons. And I’ll just wrap up by saying I appreciate the opportunity for being here. I appreciate the fact that the college has the vision to realize that this is important and that they’ve hired people like you to put this on tape and memorialize it.

Carmen:           Absolutely. And I want to thank you for participating. I can’t tell you. I think every single person I ever interview says they don’t why, they’re not sure if they should be on film or that their story isn’t, I don’t know, they’re not sure why it’s being captured. But for all those reasons you listed and more this has been inspiring, and so informative, and just thank you for participating.

Thomas:          You’re welcome. My pleasure.

01:33:52          [End of recording.]


Non-Commercial Use/Fair Use

Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries welcomes non-commercial use and access that qualifies as fair use to all unrestricted interview materials in the collection. For more information about fair use, see William & Mary Libraries guidelines here.

The researcher must cite and give proper credit to Special Collections Research Center. The preferred citation is as follows:

  •  [Interviewee name], interview with [Interviewer name]. [Interview date], [Name of Collection], Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.

  • Example: Powell, Michael K., interview by Carmen Bolt. June 12, 2017, 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence Oral History Project, Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary Libraries.


Commercial Use

For commercial use of any sort, including reproduction, distribution, derivative works, public performance, and public display that goes beyond fair use, the researcher must obtain written permission from SCRC by contacting SCRC by email here. Permission will comply with any agreements made with the interviewee, interviewer, or donor of materials. This permission is valid only insofar as Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, as owner or custodian of the material, has any rights in the matter. This permission does not remove the responsibility of the author, editor, publisher, or broadcaster to guard against infringement of any rights, including copyright that may be held by others. The researcher must cite and give proper credit to SCRC. SCRC reserves the right to refuse the right for commercial use.

For most unrestricted interviews, copyright has been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries. When the copyright has not been assigned to Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries, copyright is retained by the interviewers/interviewees, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.



SCRC works to uphold the obligations and legal commitments made to interviewees, interviewers, and donors of material. Some interviews have restrictions imposed by the interviewee, interviewer, or donor; restricted interviews are clearly marked. In such cases, it is the researcher’s responsibility to uphold the restriction appropriately and completely. Researchers may, for example, be required to obtain written permission from the interviewee or interviewer to quote from the interview. Contact SCRC with any questions about restrictions by email here.

Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which Special Collections Research Center at William & Mary Libraries and William & Mary assume no responsibility.

Additional Details

If an interview has been transcribed, researchers should quote from the transcript. If no transcript is available, reference to material in the interview should be taken from the audio recording.

For preservation purposes, use of audiotapes or videotapes will require production of listening or viewing copies. If a researcher requires the creation of a listening or viewing copy, the researcher will be responsible for the cost. For more details about audio/visual reproduction policies at the SCRC at William & Mary Libraries, contact the SCRC by email here.

If you are in need of any accessibility accommodations that require the creation of a listening or viewing copy of material, please let us know prior to your visit. You can also find information on the library’s accessibility services here.