O'Neil-White, Alphonso

Title

O'Neil-White, Alphonso

Subject

Segregation in Education
Associations, institutions, etc.--African American membership
Race discrimination--United States
Prince Edward County (Va.)

Description

Oral History interview between Aaron Moorer and Alphonso O'Neil-White, conducted on April 30, 2021.

Creator

Alphonso O'Neil-White
Aaron Moorer

Source

Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections

Publisher

Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections

Date

2021-04-30

Rights

http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/
The copyright and related rights status of this Item has been reviewed by the organization that has made the Item available, but the organization was unable to make a conclusive determination as to the copyright status of the Item. Please refer to the organization that has made the Item available for more information. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use.

Format

m4a

Language

English

Type

Oral History

Identifier

10010820

Coverage

Prince Edward County (Va.)

Provenance

Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections
Digital Repository materials are derived from the documents housed within Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections, and are made accessible to the public as historical record. Some materials within our collections may contain offensive images, language, or other content. They do not serve as a representation of views held by Hampden-Sydney College or the Walter M. Bortz III Library.

Interviewer

Aaron Moorer

Interviewee

Alphonso O'Neil-White
Alphonso Vance White

Transcription

Aaron Moorer 0:00
How are you doing today?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 0:01
I'm doing great. How about you?

Aaron Moorer 0:03
I'm doing all right, I'm doing all right. So I first would like to just thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. And just to reintroduce myself, my name is Aaron Moorer. I'm a senior here at Hampden-Sydney. And I'm also one of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion ambassadors on campus, working under Dean Hollemon and Nicole Austin. So, without further ado, could you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, like your childhood and your upbringing?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 0:31
[Laughs] A little bit about myself, huh? At this point, that's kind of hard to do in [unintelligible]. I was...I grew up, I was poor in Suffolk, Virginia, which is just down the road a piece from Farmville. It is, was at that time, the world's largest peanut market, home to Planters peanut. I spent my childhood there and I lived there until I came to Hampden-Sydney in 1968. So, my dad was a Baptist minister, and so we had a different view of the world, but we were still relatively poor. And so that's why going to Hampden-Sydney was a great choice for me. So, you know, I grew up there went to high school there and...

Aaron Moorer 1:39
Was your high school segregated or desegregated?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 1:43
Oh, it was, it was totally segregated.

Aaron Moorer 1:45
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 1:47
There was a white High School and a black High School, and, okay, white elementary schools and, and, and so forth. You know, it was..., I call it the American--I grew up in the midst of American apartheid, because it was the same thing. I mean, you know, restrooms were, were segregated, water fountains, but the bus station.

Aaron Moorer 2:15
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 2:17
I mean, living, it's an absurd situation to have to live in. And so there's no surprise that the world rose up against South Africa's...

Aaron Moorer 2:28
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 2:29
...system, but ours was pretty similar.

Aaron Moorer 2:33
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 2:35
But, you know, people went about their lives in a segregated world. It was tough times, for people of color. And so we, but we muddled through.

Aaron Moorer 2:53
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 2:54
So...

Aaron Moorer 2:55
Thank you. Yeah--

Alphonso O'Neil-White 2:56
Go ahead.

Aaron Moorer 2:58
I was gonna say, thank you for sharing, but keep going. [laughter]

Alphonso O'Neil-White 3:02
Keep going? Well, you know, I...my parents were very strong supporters of education as a way out of our situation. And my mother, you, she really brought home to me as often as she could, you know, "you could get an education, get an education, and you have a chance." And I bought into that. I mean, I didn't, I didn't really resist that, because I, I was looking for ways out. And there's no way I was going to challenge that. So they, so I got that kind of support from them. And my mother used to tell me the story about her education, you know, and she grew up in Virginia, and she...the high school, or the black kids in her high school...for the black kids only went to a certain grade, and I think it was like seventh grade or something like that. And she graduated from the eighth grade, and then...then after that, they would add another grade.

Aaron Moorer 4:18
Wow!

Alphonso O'Neil-White 4:18
So the next she would hear that, "oh, my goodness, they added the ninth grade." So she would go back, and she'd go to the ninth grade. And then they would add a 10th grade and she would go back and finally she decided that she was too old to be in there with all those kids. And so she stopped going back, but I was always inspired by that story that..., you know, Vince Lombardi used to say--I think he's quoted as saying that, the measure of a person, the true measure of a person is how well you do with what you are given. You know that was just a case of that, she was given this very restricted situation, but she made the best of it. And she passed that on to us. I always think about that story when people say, "Well, why did you do this or that?" and that's why I was so intent on going to college somewhere. I was obsessed with this around, you know, 11th, you know, 11th to 10th grade, I was obsessed with getting into college, so I did a lot of things that were driven by, by that, you know.

Aaron Moorer 5:40
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 5:41
Which job, getting a job, getting a job, is always a balance. But I would, I was always looking to get a job that was going to produce money that was gonna help me get into college. So that that was motivation in those days.

Aaron Moorer 5:56
Yeah. So that actually makes a nice segueway into the next question, which is what ultimately led to your decision on going to Hampden-Sydney College? Were there other options, or...? Yeah, tell me about that.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 6:08
You know, I would like to think that there were other options. But, and so--it's not to denigrate what Hampden-Sydney did for me financially. But as I looked at the financial package that they offered me, it had a clear message that said, "we want you to come to Hampden-Sydney."

Aaron Moorer 6:34
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 6:35
That was clear. And I said, "Yeah, well, I don't know about Hampden-Sydney. I don't know who they are, never heard of them, never been there."

Aaron Moorer 6:46
Right. Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 6:47
No idea where it is. So I had my strategy, and my strategy in high school was, as I said, to get into college, so I..., in those days--I don't know if they do it now--you have to submit an application fee. And then if you get accepted, you got to have, there's a fee to hold your spot. And so you went through [unintelligible].

Aaron Moorer 7:18
Yeah. Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 7:21
But, but so I wrote a standard letter, a standardized letter to all of these admissions directors and said, "You know, look, I want..., I'm interested in going to your college. I'm poor, I can't pay the money. Would you waive the fee?" You know, like, across the board, they did, except for a couple of Ivy League occasions. But yeah: "sure, send me your application." So I sent out hundreds, literally hundreds of applications to all...it was all of the HS, you know, the HBCU schools.

Aaron Moorer 8:09
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 8:11
You know, all of them. [Laugher] And Hampden-Sydney was on that list. Ask me why Hampden-Sydney was on that list, I can't really explain it. I was, I used to go to the counselor's office and thumb through catalogs. And just, just sort of get the feel of what college was about. And I had the Hampden-Sydney catalog that grabbed my attention, I thought I'll put those folks on the list. So then then there was the request for financial aid that goes after that, so I do all of those. It's just like a full time job almost. But the financial package that I got from the other schools--and there were many of them--didn't quite make the grade in terms of covering my expenses. I mean, I wasn't in a position to have to be able to pay any expenses, to be honest with you. But Hampden-Sydney, they had presented a thoughtful proposal. I mean, they basically covered everything. And, so anyway, I kind of I said, you know, "Hampden-Sydney can do this, why can't these other people do it?"

Aaron Moorer 9:40
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 9:41
And I thought, well, I would call them up and say "Look, you know, you offered...?" Most of them were tuition scholarships: we'll give you full tuition. But they'd say, "Well, we gave you full tuition. What more do you want?" You know, you've got to have some skin in th, that's the way they presented it, and I said "Okay, well, I don't have any skin to put in this game"--there wasn't any--and I said, "You know what, I'm gonna give it, I'm gonna give it a shot and...beautiful campus, a great, great reputation. I'll just go to Hampden-Sydney." That's how it happened. And then, you know, this is the funny part of it: I get accepted to Hampden-Sydney, and I accept their offer. And then people started coming up to me saying, "Did you, did you realize that this was an all white...?" What? What?! And then...I hadn't done that research, I don't know if there's any way you could find out--even if I wanted to. But anyway, people started telling me that there was a little news clip in the newspaper. This is was one that I still...it was that the news story was something like "Black Boy Accepted at White College."

Aaron Moorer 11:10
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 11:10
It was maybe a paragraph and a half, on the back page.

Aaron Moorer 11:17
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 11:17
It's funny. It's printed in this newspaper, that I think the publisher is a Hampden-Sydney grad...of color. So yeah, the the Norfolk Virginian Pilot or something like that? I think that was the name of it. I think he is currently the publisher.

Aaron Moorer 11:42
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 11:43
But following up, I thought it is kind of an interesting coincidence. But anyway, that got me into Hampden-Sydney. I packed my pack.

Aaron Moorer 11:54
Then you will on your way.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 11:55
I was on my way. Yeah.

Aaron Moorer 11:57
Wow. Okay. And so, how did your family feel about your decision to go to Hampden-Sydney? Especially after finding out that it was an all white school? Like, how did they react?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:11
[Laughs] They were not happy. My mother, my mother particularly was very concerned about it.

Aaron Moorer 12:19
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:20
And they tried to talk me out of it.

Aaron Moorer 12:23
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:24
Do it and I explained the financial situation. So I said you know, "I gotta go where the money is."

Aaron Moorer 12:32
Exactly. I did the same thing.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:35
That sounds crude, but that's, you know, that's the reality of it. And I thought, you know, "Get in there and go get the education."

Aaron Moorer 12:45
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:45
But my mother worried about it the whole time I was at Hampden.

Aaron Moorer 12:49
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 12:50
And so, you know, she didn't give me too much grief about it, but I knew she was concerned.

Aaron Moorer 12:56
Okay. Okay. And so were you, did you have any siblings? Like, were you the first in your family to go to college or...?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 13:03
First and only.

Aaron Moorer 13:06
Okay. Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 13:07
Which was was kind of a surprise to me, but I'm the only one in my...my kids went to college. Yeah.

Aaron Moorer 13:18
Right. Okay. And so, you get there, and you realize, "Uh, yeah, I'm the only one." So how did you feel, I guess the first semester, the first year being at Hampden-Sydney? Like, what was that like?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 13:34
Well, it was, uh...it was a little crazy. It was--because I had no idea, no idea what to expect. You know, this was 1968. I mean, you have to keep in mind what the context was.

Aaron Moorer 13:56
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 13:57
The day before I got my acceptance letter from Hampden-Sydney, Martin Luther King was assassinated. As you know, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated late--well, you probably don't know any of this--people get assassinated. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated that year. Martin Luther King, there was, you know, just--

Aaron Moorer 14:23
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 14:23
--the Vietnam War was raging. It was...colleges and universities were going on strike around Black Studies.

Aaron Moorer 14:36
Wow!

Alphonso O'Neil-White 14:38
You know, the convention in Chicago that turned into a quote "police riot." And there's a movie about the people who were tried, because of their activities during the Chicago Democratic Convention, so it was, it was an era and a yearof, uh, lots of turmoil in the country.

Aaron Moorer 15:03
Yeah. Right. Wow. That--yeah, sounds like a lot just..., and you're starting a new like chapter and stage in your life and just hearing about all that on the news, like, "What is going on?" Wow. And so, during your time there, were you like, in any clubs or organizations? Or did you just stay to the books?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 15:27
Well, you know, I came...you know, I had spent, you know, in high school, I had joined this government program called Upward Bound. That was--it still exists, by the way, in a different format--but in those days, it was an enrichment program, not an academic program, and, and it was based on Norfolk campus of Norfolk State College. So, while I was in high school, like, in a week--during weekends, I'd go to the campus.

Aaron Moorer 16:05
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:06
I thought I knew all about fraternities.

Aaron Moorer 16:12
Oookay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:11
--Especially the black fraternities, and didn't really know what they were. So anyway, so I got, I get to Hampden-Sydney, and--you know, I don't know if that's true today. But the fraternity system at Hampden-Sydney was pretty, uh, strong. And--

Aaron Moorer 16:12
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:14
And pretty...if you didn't, if you are not a member of a fraternity--

Aaron Moorer 16:39
Who are you? Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:41
Who are you? And where were you? And what did you do on, come Friday?

Aaron Moorer 16:46
Right?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:47
Good. You know, they and they were, either you were in or you were out. So--

Aaron Moorer 16:54
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 16:56
--I didn't know how to access that system, didn't know whether I even wanted to at the time, but nobody came to me and said, "Hey, would you like to be a member of our fraternity?"

Aaron Moorer 17:08
Right, right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 17:09
I was out, I was on the outside of that circle, and I would say that the fraternities accounted for 90% of the social life on campus. So, with that comes isolation. So it was a real struggle, just from a social perspective, trying to break through.

Aaron Moorer 17:36
I know it must have been, yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 17:38
Has that changed at the college?

Aaron Moorer 17:41
The vibe, I mean, what you said is pretty much the same, like most of the school is like 50% Greek life. And that's the--I honestly would say that's the main event, aside from sports, like sports have kind of turned into somewhat of a like, fraternity. Kinda like the baseball team and the football team, like, they'll...it's almost like a fraternity vibe as well. So, sports and Greek life, they, pretty much is like the main event here still to this day. So--and I already know, like, because I wasn't a part of either one--so it kind of took a little bit more effort, you know, to get to know people, like, a lot of people, I had to meet them through my classes and stuff. I wasn't meeting them, you know, through like, different..., how other people was, you know, through sports and stuff. I was meeting them in the classroom. So I know, it really must have been tough, like, in that setting, especially back then.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 18:40
Yeah, it was, I, you know, it's one thing, in fact, if I could take a moment to be critical of the college for how they dealt with my situation, that would be one. I mean, I just didn't know about it. I didn't know what this issue was. I didn't know that I would really be, you know, totally out of the loop.

Aaron Moorer 19:05
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 19:06
They could have been more supportive around that.

Aaron Moorer 19:11
For sure.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 19:12
At least given me some insight. But anyway..., but that that's, uh, yeah. I survived it.

Aaron Moorer 19:19
Right. And so...

Alphonso O'Neil-White 19:21
I still have some friends from Hampden-Sydney who were total Greeks. And so, but anyway, but I would talk about isolation and loneliness. Lonely--I make a distinction between loneliness and being alone. And loneliness: I was lonely for my home.

Aaron Moorer 19:46
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 19:47
And that's different. That's different from you know, I don't know--

Aaron Moorer 19:53
Completely isolated.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 19:54
Yeah, that. That's right. So come Thursday night, when everybody's planning to do what they're gonna do on the weekends?

Aaron Moorer 20:03
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 20:03
I was alone, you know, thinking about how to plug into that system. But that was just one.

Aaron Moorer 20:11
Okay. And did you, did you have a roommate? Or?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 20:15
I did. I did.

Aaron Moorer 20:17
Yeah. And was there any issues with that? Or was it pretty neutral?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 20:22
Ah, well, you know, I have since tried to, to get back in touch with him and I haven't been able to, but I think that he felt he felt this need to look out for me. I don't know whether somebody said this to him from the College, or what, but he had this intense fear that something was going to happen to me.

Aaron Moorer 20:54
Oh my goodness.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 20:57
So that's kind of how the--but that was the thing that created the tension. Because I, you know, I, I was, you know, sometimes the innocence is, it's a good weapon. You know, 'cause I didn't, I just didn't restrict my activities. I didn't restrict who I talked to, I didn't restrict where I went. I just, I just thought, you know, "I'm being like everybody else on this campus."

Aaron Moorer 21:20
Exactly.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 21:21
And but, you know, so that created some tension for him. But other than that, you know, I think we had a pretty decent relationship.

Aaron Moorer 21:29
Okay. Okay. Awesome. And so..., I could definitely just relate to everything you said about the isolation and stuff. And so I know, personally, the first semester I came here, I wanted to transfer. Were there any times where you were like, "I'm probably just not gonna finish. I'm gonna transfer to a different school"?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 21:47
Yeah. Yeah. That that that was--I didn't, I didn't think that I was gonna make it through my freshman year. I really didn't, and to that question: I thought about that any number of times, you know?

Aaron Moorer 22:04
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 22:06
Or I'm not, "I don't want to make it, I want out of here."

Aaron Moorer 22:10
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 22:11
Okay. What are your options? Are they any better than they were when you first came in?

Aaron Moorer 22:17
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 22:19
No, I don't. And let's see how to wade through this. You know, like, in my freshman year, they had--second semester--what they called an academic crisis at the college. I think the average, the average GPA was in the tubes. That's, I don't know why, you know, it was just, and I say that, so there were all these other students were struggling as well, which was, which was interesting to me. But, if you think about the context, about what was going on in the world, a student in 1968 was just walking on pins and needles.

Aaron Moorer 23:13
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 23:13
Because there was, not only was all this stuff going on in the world, there was the draft. People were getting drafted.

Aaron Moorer 23:22
That's right. That's right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 23:24
And, you know, I helped a friend of mine become what they call a conscientious objector, as he didn't want to do it. And there were...another friend of mine who was pre-med, got drafted. I don't know if he ever came out and finished, but it...those kinds of things hanging over, you know...?

Aaron Moorer 23:47
Yeah, that's a lot.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 23:48
It's riots in the streets, on campus it was crazy.

Aaron Moorer 23:52
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 23:52
So that was, that happened. I was like, "Oh, my goodness. Alright. I'm not gonna leave voluntarily, they're gonna kick me out." Because my grades, okay my grades: the average was a two, I think I had at 1.98 something. Right at the borderline, but they didn't kick me out. They, you know, had a lot of discussion about it. Some professors said, "You know, it's just those kids, they'll get over it."

Aaron Moorer 24:26
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 24:28
Some people were clearly concerned. But, but I got over that. And then I decided that I, I might as well do this academic thing better than I had before. [Laughter]

Aaron Moorer 24:45
So what kept you going, like what kept you going to finish and stay strong and, you know, reach that goal of graduation?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 24:54
Well, you know, there was my mother, who...my parents who kept saying, "Hang on, hang in there, this is your big chance."

Aaron Moorer 25:02
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 25:02
And then, you know, I think I found my sea legs. I, you know--and this is something I think people of color will talk about--you could join in. I mean, how do you get through? I mean, just living in a society, in a white society--

Aaron Moorer 25:21
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 25:21
--had challenges. Even when people are trying to be positive, trying to be non-racist, trying to...clearly working on all those things--there's something, there's something in the water, that's, it's anti color, I just have to tell you.

Aaron Moorer 25:44
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 25:45
And it's something you've got to deal with every single day. It doesn't all add up. So you have to work on one, protecting yourself and at the same time being yourself.

Aaron Moorer 25:59
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 26:00
That's, you know, and I think--I know--that there are people at Hampden-Sydney who had wonderful intentions, honest and sincere intentions of doing the right thing. So I'm not going to say that there weren't those people there. There were those people there, I had some, still have some great friends. So, but that, that's the environment.

Aaron Moorer 26:29
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 26:30
And, you know, so we call, I think they call it microaggressions, you know, and I, I say, they're not even necessarily aggressions, as such, as...you know, there was one student, I could give you the list. And I think most people of color that I know, don't like to go down this list, but there's this issue: one student walked into my dorm room, about a month after I had been there, and he said, "You know, my mother tried to take me home, and not let me stay here, because you were here." And he said, "And I resisted her, and I said, 'No, I'm going to stay.'" And he lived down the hallway from me--actually we became pretty good friends. But, you know, that's a pretty powerful thing. I mean, it was for him, you know--I thought, you, you're okay.

Aaron Moorer 27:34
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 27:35
But that, that..you know--

Aaron Moorer 27:38
'Cause it's never, it's never the kid's fault. It's the parents who are implanting--

Alphonso O'Neil-White 27:43
Yeah.

Aaron Moorer 27:44
--these beliefs and thoughts that are illogical and just irrational. So, WOW.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 27:49
Irrational. But that's just one on my list. But, you know--

Aaron Moorer 27:53
I know you have stories for days, I do. But we don't got time, although I really would love to like, hear it. But I'm also curious about...so after going through, like, the Hampden-Sydney archives, we saw that, well I saw that, you know, he was the editor of The Voice newspaper, and I was just curious, like, how you initially got involved with that?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 28:14
Well, that was, you know, one of the things you asked me was how did I keep going. You know, there, I connected with some people in the community. Actually, they connected with me. And they, they they came to my room on campus and introduced themselves and said "We're, we're here to help support you, how...however, you know, if you need it" so I said, "Okay, great." So and then I kinda connected with them. And then--you probably ran across this person, Burwell Robinson. The name B-U-R-W-E-L-L Robinson. He was a Hampden-Sydney grad who stayed in the community after he graduated, became a teacher at Moton High. And that was controversial because, you know, you know, I don't know if you know that story, but those students were pretty, pretty aggressive over there.

Aaron Moorer 29:21
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 29:23
They were...they really...I was honored to have known them. And so he, you know, a white teacher in this black school, became an icon over there and he could..., I connected with him. He connected me with Reverend Griffin, L. Francis Griffin, Senior.

Aaron Moorer 29:50
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 29:54
And let's see...you know the story of Griffin? You know that story--the Brown versus Board of Education?

Aaron Moorer 30:03
Yes, sir.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 30:04
Griffin who is one of the plaintiffs in that case was the son of Reverend Griffin.

Aaron Moorer 30:10
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 30:10
I think that's how it works. But um, yes, I connected with him, he was running the community action program.

Aaron Moorer 30:17
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 30:18
That was just one of 100 things he did. He was he was a man of all ages, I think, brought all ages. Real figure in the community: leader, a great leader, strong personality, and just a fine human being.

Aaron Moorer 30:37
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 30:38
But he, he, The Voice was, at one time it was, it was, ah, it was like a newspaper. It, it looked like a newspaper, and they distributed it like a newspaper. And it was a, it was a force. Asked me if I would kind of revive it. But that's how that happened. And then it sort of--we, we didn't have the money to make it look like a newspaper. So we--it was more like a newsletter.

Aaron Moorer 31:13
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 31:14
So, you know, I had, I had to think long and hard when people asked me about that, because because I had totally forgotten! You know, it was about 50 years ago. I forgot some things. But yeah, he asked me to do it. And I said, Okay, I'll do it. And it was one of those things where you'd say, "Uh-oh, now what did I get myself into?"

Aaron Moorer 31:36
Right?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 31:37
You know, gathering that news, that newsletter was a lot of work.

Aaron Moorer 31:43
Yeah, I'm sure.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 31:45
[Unintelligible] You gotta you know, you got to interview people. You gotta fact check. You got to do all this stuff. But--and I had no staff, it was just me.

Aaron Moorer 31:54
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 31:55
But so I, we kept it going for as long as I was there.

Aaron Moorer 32:01
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:02
We'd go--

Aaron Moorer 32:03
Wow. Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:05
That's how that happened. And I just, you know, Reverend Griffin, and all the other folks in that community were always active. I mean, I think they have a lot to be proud of. And they made some huge sacrifices, laid the foundation for for the good work that's going on in the community today.

Aaron Moorer 32:29
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:29
And so I was, I was...I actually worked for the Community Action Agency, and I set up the Summer Youth Work program for them.

Aaron Moorer 32:41
Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:42
That's how I earned a little money between--

Aaron Moorer 32:45
I know that's right. [Laughter]

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:47
There's--yeah. So, so I did quite a bit with them. We, you know, they were, as I say, they were pretty active. And, and I think they [unintelligible] you know...

Aaron Moorer 32:47
Yeah, for sure.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 32:51
...you know, just, just knowing people... I just not run into anybody who didn't graduate from high--there are people who didn't graduate from high school, because it was all high school.

Aaron Moorer 33:15
Exactly.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 33:17
And I--and you could see the impact of that on their lives.

Aaron Moorer 33:22
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 33:23
That was so you, you begin to understand the depth of the meanness that caused folks to take those actions.

Aaron Moorer 33:35
Sure. Okay, and now you answered it. And so were there any, like, events that you wanted to write about that you couldn't because of censorship? Or was it pretty much whatever y'all wanted to talk about, y'all could pretty much publish?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 33:52
Yeah, we had no censors, except our own sensibilities. An d that wasn't an issue. We could write about, we tried to write about things that people would want to know about.

Aaron Moorer 34:06
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 34:07
You know, this--you know, you asked me earlier about segregation. I mean, the place was segregated. I mean, there was doors in Farmville that you couldn't go into, that just had signs, little signs...there was this one clothing store that had a little sign in the corner of the window that said, "Whites only" or something like that. And I just remember, there was a, uh--we're having a demonstration for something, I don't know, we're picketing, outside picketing. I walked past this guy's store and he came out and he said, "You know," he said, "You know, I'm Jewish." And I said, "Yeah?"--is that why you know what suffering is, and discrimination, bigotry and all those--said, "Yeah, I...great. But why do you have that sign in your window?"

Aaron Moorer 35:04
Exactly. That all makes sense.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 35:07
He actually went in and took it, took it down.

Aaron Moorer 35:11
Oh, okay. Okay.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 35:12
And explained to me why he had it and why, and why I should somehow sympathize with him.

Aaron Moorer 35:17
You was probably the first one to actually ask him that question. And so he was probably like "Oh, maybe..." you know." Wow. And so, you actually are answering pretty much all the questions that I have. And I remember in one article that y'all published, it said that Red Cross is part of a conspiracy. And it was just talking about how like, the white people were, I mean, basically, you know, y'all thought the white people were conspiring against the black people in Prince Edward County, and how the local Red Cross was, like, refusing to teach the black kids how to swim. And so, you know, just reading an hour ago, I was like, surprised, like, was that common in print that y'all were like, [unintelligible] saying stuff like that? [Unintelligible]

Alphonso O'Neil-White 35:18
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, that pool is a whites only pool.

Aaron Moorer 35:22
Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 35:28
And, and it was owned by the city of Farmville or the county. But yeah, so taxpayer dollars, built and maintained this pool. And so, so the Red Cross decided that they were going to have a blood--it's part of their blood drive, you know, the, the people were organizing, and they're all volunteers. And so I called a woman who was organizing, who happened to be an Asian, a person of Asian descent. And said, "Now, don't you think that...you know, you know, you, we--people of color can't use the pool at all. They can't take swimming lessons, they can't do any of this. And you're gonna have people come over here and give blood? As a matter of fact, you're not even going to allow people of color to give blood?" So this is how bad this was. So I said, "If you do this, there is a possibility that people are going to come and picket your...

Aaron Moorer 37:15
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 37:15
"...your red cross blood drive."

Aaron Moorer 37:17
Right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 37:19
So that's really how that all kind of started. I tried to talk them out of it. I said, "Look, you know, guys, why don't you have it somewhere else? You know, go to someplace where you don't have that kind of history." And then I sort of broke off into a personal conversation with [unintelligible] and she just couldn't find a way to do this, because she said to me that she was...she would be an outcast in her community, ie the white community, if she gave in to my demands. And they finally did in the end, they cancelled it!

Aaron Moorer 38:05
So, awesome. I know that's right.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 38:08
Fine by me, but it didn't, it just didn't make any sense. But they were depriving...just like shooting themself in the big toe...

Aaron Moorer 38:15
Right? [Crosstalk] Wow. That's like, it just goes back to just nothing makes sense when it comes down to stuff like that. And so, also with the, with that paper, you guys wrote, like, "The Voice is dedicated to letting the truth be known. Beautiful or ugly, bittersweet, black or white--the truth shall be written." And so did you ever, like, encounter any one who tried to confront you about some of the things that you posted in the paper? Was anyone ever, like, bold enough to just be like, "Hey." 'Cause I know your first and last name was in there, so...

Alphonso O'Neil-White 38:48
I know, yeah. I didn't get any flack at all about it. You know, we, I got this a little bit of flack, and I can't remember the details of why but it was, it was one of the people in the black community thought that I was being a little too aggressive. [Laughter] But other than that, it was...people didn't bother me because of that.

Aaron Moorer 39:16
Okay, good, good. Okay, and so, um, you know, having that your name was on the cover of these newspapers and stuff, were a lot of people at Hampden-Sydney College like, were they...were they aware of the newspaper too, or were they just kind of in their own bubble like--you know? How was that?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 39:36
You know...that Hampden-Sydney and its bubble. I don't know if it still exists, it probably does to a certain extent. But it was, it was: Hampden-Sydney was missing in action during the turmoil after Brown vs the Board of Education and the whole massive re--[crosstalk]--massive resistance school shutting down in Prince Edward. Hampden-Sydney was missing in action. And I don't...I'm saying that as a historical fact rather than [crosstalk] and I don't think anybody would argue with that, but they just were not engaged with that community.

Aaron Moorer 40:27
And so I know the students wouldn't, definitely. But what about the professors, like, were they...'cause I know they would have to, you know, they would be reading the newspaper, too like--

Alphonso O'Neil-White 40:37
Yeah, we..you know, like I said, I'm not condemning everybody. But we did have some faculty, faculty members--Rob Heineman, who is one of the people who just died recently, he was a history professor, one of my good friends. He was, he was active. There were some others who were supportive as well. But, you know, the students were students, they saw this, they understood that the...that Hampden-Sydney should have been more engaged with this community. And they, there was some efforts to do that. There was a group of people who wanted to pop the bubble, so to speak. And, you know, it was a--we did some cooperative things with the community. I had Reverend Griffin, and some other speakers come over, and we did a conference on the campus around the concern. So when, when I was there, it was, there was a beginning of this new kind of engagement with the community, which--I think I get the sense that it is better now than it was. And the community was really pleased to see Hampden-Sydney get engaged, talking to Reverend Griffin about it. And he said that this is a real, real breakthrough. I mean--

Aaron Moorer 41:59
Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 42:00
--he said he hadn't even been on the campus!

Aaron Moorer 42:03
Oh, wow. [Unintelligible] Wow.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 42:07
So some good things had begun to happen.

Aaron Moorer 42:10
Okay, and you you just..., after you pretty much just keep answering my questions, because the next one was, "What impact do you think you had on the community?" And you already just said it, so that's awesome. And what would you want students today to take away from, you know, your experience? And, you know, you working during that era, you know, being active in The Voice? Like, what do you want students to take away from just your experience?

Alphonso O'Neil-White 42:42
Well, I would, I would think that...gee, that's, that's good. I...you know, that's a good question. I don't, I don't know what I would say...I would say I'm talking to you to talk to you. And I mean, it's not it's, you know, the world of micro aggressions, I think that you just really have to develop some effective strategies for dealing with that and, and be consistent with it, take care--take care of yourself. And that's really what it's about is taking care of yourself. I mean, you're--you know, it's like, the analogy I use is when you're on the airplane, they say, put your oxygen mask on first?

Aaron Moorer 43:34
Yep.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 43:35
Say yourself before you save anybody else.

Aaron Moorer 43:38
Exactly.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 43:39
So, you've got to take care of your mental health, your physical health, your emotional health, and things, things that are negative, that try to impact those things you gotta, you gotta have a strategy to deal with. And it may be...maybe for some people, it's, you know, telling people to take a hike, or get in their faces and all that stuff. But you know, that's one strategy. For me it doesn't work. But, but I think that's something you've got to keep in mind, that it's all there. You know, we have these expectations of white people...that I think a lot of times are just unrealistic. And one of the things I learned about being being at Hampden-Sydney is that people, people don't get up in the morning thinking about, "Gee, you know, how am I going to be? I'm not going to be a racist today." People don't think that way! [Crosstalk]...think about this...issue. So why do we have this expectation that they will? So you know, I always say one of the keys to success in life is to lower your expectations. Yeah, that's it, just say that, but--or modify your expectations. That's probably better.

Aaron Moorer 45:08
Okay, awesome. Well, that's all the questions I have. And I, I just would like to thank you once again for taking the time. I really appreciate it. You know taking the time out of your day to talk with us. Yeah.

Alphonso O'Neil-White 45:24
Glad to. Well, tell me about yourself. Where are you from and where are you going back to?

Aaron Moorer 45:28
Yeah.

Original Format

m4a

Duration

00:45:29

Bit Rate/Frequency

70kbps

Citation

Alphonso O'Neil-White and Aaron Moorer, “O'Neil-White, Alphonso,” Hampden-Sydney College Digital Repository, accessed May 25, 2024, https://dams.hsc.edu/items/show/2599.