My 20th Year – 1974-1975 What’s a Poor Girl from Richmond doing in a Place Like This?

My first job at Duke was as a receptionist at the desk in my dormitory. Gilbert Adams was a large all-girls dorm on East Campus. Boys were not allowed in the building unless accompanied by a resident. There were rooms on the first floor of the dorm that were available for boys and girls to study together or to visit, but the boys had to check in at the front desk to be announced. My job was to use the intercom system to let the girl know she had a “caller.” Most of the time it was a pretty boring job and I could study, but Friday and Saturday nights tended to be busy.

That was not a very exciting job but as an incoming freshman it as a good way to fulfill my required ten hours of work each week. The work-study program was how I earned my spending money while in school. For the second semester my freshman year, I got a job in the East Campus library. I had always loved libraries so being able to work in a beautiful library about a five-minute walk from my dormitory seemed ideal.

When I started at Duke I was planning to go to law school or pursue a career in international relations. My advisor was a professor in the political science department but like most undergraduate advisors, I never found his advice that helpful and I don’t think he really knew who I was. Duke seemed so big and for someone who thrived on teacher student interaction (i.e. I liked being the teacher’s pet) I was lost. There was only one professor who I connected with, my political science professor Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook.

I looked him up to write this post and I realized how lucky I was to have been in his class, probably one of the last he taught at Duke. He became president of Dillard College in New Orleans, LA in1975. You can see him and read more about him here: Samuel Dubois Cook

Dr. Cook became good friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  when they entered Morehouse University together in 1943 when they were 15 years old. In addition to his professional accomplishments, Click Here Dr. Cook tried to fill the void left in the lives the King children, Yolanda, Marty, Dexter and Bernice, when their father was assassinated in 1968. Just before Thanksgiving break in1974, Dr. Cook had some of his students, including me, over to his house for dinner when the King children were visiting. King’s oldest daughter, Yolanda, was my age. I remember talking with the two oldest children and I remember the younger two being very young.

Dr. Cook often called on me in class, I think I was terrified at first but I guess it got easier as the semester went on. My middle name is Ann so my initials are KAK but Dr. Cook jokingly called me Miss KKK (the initials for the Ku Klux Klan). As I write that now, I think to myself – did he really do that?  He did. Dr. Cook was not only the first black professor at Duke University, but he was the first black to hold a regular faculty appointment at a predominately white college or university in the South.

WOW – I really hope my children read this someday. I know they are too busy now and I don’t blame them, but in the process of compiling my “life story” I remember so many things I had forgotten. I would have described my time at Duke as more negative than positive. I had forgotten about Dr. Cook. But more than the specific details of my life, as I research the people and places that influenced me, I learn (or remember) things I had forgotten.

I’ve always thought that we are the compilation of the many people and places that influence our lives. I don’t think we always know what or how a particular event will impact us, but we gather bits and pieces along the way and we become our unique selves because of so many forces that we cannot explain or even remember. If we are lucky, we allow that process to continue throughout our lives. Always evolving.

I know this is getting to be a long post, but I must share this paragraph from a letter Sam Cook wrote to Martin Luther King, Jr. in March 1956 – in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.

My mind, heart and spirit go out to you and to all the others for heroic efforts in behalf of human dignity and freedom. Freedom is not a gift but an achievement. Historically and morally speaking, it is the fruit of struggles, tragic failures, tears, sacrifices, and sorrow. Likewise, social changes, if more than accidental occurrences, if constitutive of moral goodness, are products of imaginative constructions and presuppose the will to make the “is” conform to the “ought.” Morris R. Cohen, in The Meaning of Human History, notes, with great truth, that one of the tragic lessons of history discloses that “good causes are more often defeated by negligence in the pursuit of the right than by positive forces of evil.” The tragic lesson of American Negro history is not so much rooted in the activity of evil spirits but the inactivity of men of goodwill—in their willingness to yield instead of fulfill. Your activity and that of others similarly located reveal a radical departure, a new orientation.

You can read more from that letter HERE

I made it through my first year at Duke and went home to Richmond for the summer of 1975. I was confused about exactly what I wanted to study – things weren’t going so well for me in Political Science or French, so I was starting to rethink a career in International Relations. But I had one more European adventure in store for me.

Michele, the oldest daughter in the Luxembourg family that I lived with during the summer of 1973 was getting married in late July and I was invited to the wedding. I knew I had to make enough money to afford a flight to Luxembourg so I began working two jobs as soon as I got home from school in mid- May. During the day I was a life guard at a pool and from 5 to midnight I worked at the snack bar at the bowling center.  I worked seven days a week for most of the summer.

While I was away at college my mother changed jobs and became the manager of a new bowling center in Richmond. It was a lot of long hours and hard work, but I think she really enjoyed that job. I was glad she had it because it meant I got a job at the snack bar. I learned how to serve beer from a tap (with just the right amount of head) and how to make french fries in a deep fryer. Not skills I use every day but it gave me the chance to earn enough money to fly to Europe at the end of July.

I spent three weeks in Europe during the summer of 1975 – arriving in time for Michele and Roger’s wedding and then taking a ten day trip to Sweden and Norway with Odile – the daughter who was closest to my age and her friend whose name escapes me at the moment. I loved visiting the Scandinavian countries but I didn’t get along with Odile’s friend. She took every opportunity to criticize America, Americans and the way Americans (and by association – me) did anything – from decaying moral values, to not having dinner together as a family, to fast food restaurants, to not using the metric system – Americans were quite inferior to anyone from any country in Europe. And for someone who had never been to America, this friend of Odile’s was quite the expert, and vocal critic, of all things American. I felt under personal attack for most of the trip – not the warm happy feeling I had always experienced with my Luxembourg family from the summer of 1973. I was not sad when the trip ended. I was ready to come home.

My adjective for my 20th year is – alienated.

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