James Madison University
Shenandoah Valley Oral History Project
Oral History Interview With: Betty Kilby Fisher
Interviewer: Carrie MacLeod
Place: Winchester, Virginia
Date: March 28, 2006
Audio File Size: 31.4 MB
General topic of interview: Signs of Massive Resistance in Warren County and episodes of Betty's life during this time.
NARRATOR: Betty Kilby Fisher
DATE: March 28,2006
INTERVIEWER: Carrie MacLeod
PLACE: Hampton Inn Winchester Virginia
Betty moved to the Warren County area as a young girl. She attended the segregated elementary school in Warren County. Upon her graduation from the seventh grade her father filed a case with the NAACP to integrate the Warren County High School. Her older brothers had attended the Manassas boarding school and the black high school in Berryville, Virginia. In the interview Betty talks of things that she and the other students endured during the closing of Warren Co. High and events that took place after the school was reopened. She then talks about the achievements that she has made in her life and what she learned by going through the battle of integration.
I believe that Betty has a very important story to tell. Her father was the strong leader that brought integration to the school system. Betty shares how she grew into the person that she is today. I feel that this interview gives a good example of what the children of integration experienced and some of the emotional impact that it had on them.
In listening to the interview you can tell that even though it was 50 years ago, it still brings out strong emotions in her. Betty enjoys sharing her story because she wants to deliver the message to everyone that with faith and hard work you can overcome your obstacles.
Macleod: Let's start out that I am Carrie MacLeod, and I am interviewing Mrs. Betty Kilby Fisher. Um, we are doing the interview at the Hampton Inn in Winchester, Virginia and the date today is March 28, 2006. Okay Betty, can we just start with where is your birthplace?
Fisher: I was born in a little town named Rapadan, Virginia the larger town is called Culpeper, Virginia.
Macleod: And, can you tell me about your parents and your siblings that you had?
Fisher: My mom and dad were married for 60 years. They, my mother grew up in Flint Hill, Virginia. And my father grew up in Peeling Mills, Virginia. Um, my father grew up virtually one step above slavery. He um, they didn't get wages as he worked. As he a very young man, he left the Finks farm. My mother grew up rather well to for um, for colored people, as they were called in those days. Um, they owned their own property, Her father was a veterinarian, He never went to, was never trained for it, but he was a veterinarian.
Macleod: Are those areas close to here or how are they from here.
Fisher: Um, Flint Hill is probably about um, 40 miles from here, and um Peeling Mills is probably maybe about 60 miles from here.
Macleod: I thought I had heard of Flint Hills before. I wasn't sure. Um. What type as growing up as a child what type of activities did your family enjoy?
Fisher: We went to church. Everything in our lives evolved around church. We had box socials at church, that provided our social activity. Um, I went to Sunday school. We used to have the little Sunday program Easter Sunday, and Christmas and you did your recitations and you stood up in church. One time I did the a play for Sunday school.our Christmas event and so rather than to have everybody doing recitations we, um, did the play, I wrote the play from scratch. I was about 16 years old when I did that.
Macleod: Um, When did your family move to the Warren County area?
Fisher: They moved to Warren County when I was about six years old so I would say sometime around 1951.
Macleod: Um, Lets see how about, I don't know if you told this in your story already, what kind of education did your mother and father receive, do you know?
Fisher: My father had what was equivalent to maybe a fourth grade education, he had to work on the farm rather than go to school. My mother finished the seventh grade. But she kept going back after she graduated from the seventh grade because they learned more that just reading, writing and arithmetic. And she said that there were other things that she could learn. So she just kept going and going beyond....
Fisher: But it was the, um, school level only went to the seventh grade.
Macleod: The seventh grade. Um, what was the first .....Do you remember when you first heard about the Brown vs. the Brown vs. Board of education ruling do you remember anything specifically when that first happened?
Fisher: Um, when I was about 13, um, My father got up in church and he had gone to hear Reverend Frank talk about Brown versus the Board of Education and he was telling the people in church that we didn't have a high school in the county. We were loosing about 25% of the children. We're just dropping out after the seventh grade because it was to too hard for them to either go to Manassas and go to the boarding school or leave early in the morning going to Berryville. And Reverend Frank had talked about the colored school being behind academically. And he was telling the church that.
Macleod: okay.....um, Let see....now we will go into a little more about what your education was like before the integration process with Warren County. What was your schooling before...
Fisher: I went to Ressie Jefferies Elementary school. I still remember somethings I ... I ...still remember some of the poems that we learned in the fifth grade. It was a pleasant experience It was a happy experience. In fact most of my life up until the time ..............that integration started was happy, we lived in.in a community in you know I was normal.
Fisher: Just like every other child.
Fisher: And I graduated from the seventh grade.
Macleod: So that went up through the seventh grade?
Fisher: That went up through the seventh grade.
Fisher: My daddy was like the president of the PTA...
Macleod: Oh okay.
Fisher: And so that made me a popular kid.
Fisher: Everybody knew my father. You know. Then.so they kind of treated me good.
Macleod: Well good. Sometimes that makes school more fun. I guess When you are known by the classmates.
Fisher: But then you don't get away with anything.
Macleod: That's true. That's true.
Fisher: Because you know that they are going to tell you daddy. (laughing)
Macleod: Um, let's see, so you attended school in Front Royal until seventh grade. What were the physical characteristics of your school like?
Fisher: There were two buildings, um....one building housed, I think...first, second and third grade. And....they seventh Mrs. Jefferies seventh grade class there were two seventh grade classes. The other building Mrs. Corbin was like.the assistant principal and so she was the assistant principal in the other building and the other building was the old building, it was the original building and that's were the fourth, fifth and sixth graders and half of the seventh graders went.
Fisher: Um there was no bathroom facilities in the Corbin building but over in where Mrs. Ressie Jefferies was a.they had indoor, indoor facilities. We didn't have cafeterias. Um...I think maybe once a year the state would give the school cheese and maybe would have some cheese and then one time they must have given them beef because we brought like the potatoes and carrots and made beef stew. I love beef stew today because of that.
Macleod: I do remember that in your book about not having a cafeteria.
Macleod: How were you feeling when your par.....when you first um, I don't know if your father brought it up or how the subject was approached exactly. Um about when they had first talked about integrating into Warren County schools, were you in favor of it? or were you ....?
Fisher: Well you know kids in those days, you did what your parents told you to do. And so I really didn't have an opinion. But when I graduated from the seventh grade Mrs. Thorn was teaching at Berryville, and my brothers were going to Berryville and I was looking forward to going to Berryville because it was a more grown up atmosphere and Mrs. Jefferies had sent the pupil placement form home with me for my daddy to sign, assigning me to either Berryville or Manassas. And when he got the form, he had already, I could already tell he had already made up his mind. That even though we were talking Berryville, he wasn't talking Berryville. And so the very first time that he got it he just scratched out Berryville and Manassas and wrote in Warren Country and signed it and sent it back. Well being in the seventh grade it didn't bother me too much. Then when Mrs. Jefferies got it she tore it up, she was mad. And she told me, she gave me another form and she told me I want you to take this form and I want you to give it to your daddy, I want he to circle this one or circle this one and sign his name and send it back. He is not to write anything on it. Well ...... when my daddy got it he did the same thing, he scratched out both of them, he scratched out.he was so mad. He scratched at it he actually tore a whole in the paper. And then wrote in Warren County, signed it and sent it back. And based on the conversation after that I knew it was on.
Macleod: I am sure that was an awkward position to be in as a kid having your teacher be so adamant and not quite...
Fisher: Um you know when I think back I am still thinking back on it with a child's mind. You don't have any strong feelings you just say, "Ooh oh." You just you know there is a battle coming on. You don't feel in the middle of it, I didn't feel in the middle of the battle ....or anything like that. I was just a kid delivering the messages.....back and forth.just the delivery person.
Macleod: Lets see. I think I am correct in remembering the first that they integrated the schools you were.......the African Americans were the only students that went, that attended right.
Fisher: Right, let me just kind of lay it out for you.
Fisher: There were the five cases that had gone before the supreme court that comprise the brown versus board of education, they came from Kansas, Delaware, Washington D.C. it is not a state but Washington D.C. was a part of it because it fell under the fifteenth, fifth amendment and then there was Virginia and South Carolinian. In Virginia, the Virginia legislature put together those laws, called the massive resistance laws that allowed the governor to close the schools. While in retaliation to that the NAA, the NAACP filed three more cases using the same strategies that they did on the national level. Those cases were in Charlottesville, Norfolk and Arlington. And my father had tried to be a part of that early on in a 1956, but they told him that you know they had those three cases, they were busy working on them so they had no time for it....When he came back in 1958, when he went rather than to just send a letter, he went to Oliver W. Hill and when he went the light bulb came on and all of the sudden it clicked for them. This is a winnable case because there was no basis for separate but equal because nothing from nothing is nothing because we didn't have a high school. And so we filed our petition on August the 29, 1958.. the judge handed down his decision on September the fourth. The white children had already started to going to private sc....well no. I am getting ahead of the story. When we filed the case, then the judge ruled in our favor on September the 4th. Then the governor took over and closed the schools. After they lost on appeal in the Maryland court. And so on September the 15th my school was the first one to close. Well the white people moved swiftly to get the white children educated. In any vacant building they could find, a church, youth center, the union hall, they were being taught all over Front Royal. While us little black children didn't have a school to go to we didn't have the finances to bring in teachers. One of the things that they were using was the teachers from Warren County were teaching in these.in these make shift class rooms. And so the NAACP moved to stop that and so they put a stop to that. And the teachers had to quit and go teach in the private school or stay with the public school. And then they were using busses and the NAACP made them start paying for their busses. Finally on December the tenth we got to go to school in Washington DC. We were boarded with, I was boarded with Reverend Carter who was the preacher at the Mountain [?] Church in Happy Creek. And by brother, my two brothers and I, and Rebecca and Steve Travis we all stayed there. And then we had to constantly try to raise money because even to get us in the DC schools...um...Mrs...um...I am seeing her face but...I can't...Mrs. Marks had donated a thousand dollars, another gentleman from Washington DC had donated, they loaned a thousand dollars each to our fund. That is how minuscule our fund was. And from after that then they went back to the Virginia Supreme Court and the Virginia Supreme Court made a ruling saying that the massive resistance laws were unconstitutional. The governor action in closing our schools was unconstitutional. And so Charlottesville and Norfolk desegregated.um.no. Arlington was the first one to desegregate. They had four little black children. They had ruled out everybody else based on five criteria. So they integrated with four children. In Norfolk all seventeen of its children integrated schools all over Norfolk so seventeen kids about ten schools involved and then Charlottesville went back.went to the judge and said whatever you say we have to do I am going to do. So they didn't close their schools so the kids that were part of the petition was, um, tutored at the school board office, and so they totally desegregated in September. Warren county was still hollering to hold out for massive resistance. And they had a meeting, the night before, 1000 strong and they voted not to take their kids out of the private education that was the make shift class and to continue that and to hold on to massive resistance. And in the mean time on the night before they came out ,.....well we call them the night riders, came out and they fired shots at our house. That was in the broad daylight, it was something like 5:00 in the afternoon. And we had heard about that little girl in Little Rock who had gotten separated from the group and how she was traumatized. We wanted to make sure that nothing happened to any of us like that. So we always had a meeting before for everybody, because you know, African Americans, colored people did not have a lot of money in those days and didn't have a whole lot of resources and a lot didn't have phones and so that was our way of communicating. And so after.um.during the meeting my father had told everybody about them firing shots at our house. And my father was a strong man, and we all depended on him. But his voice was animated, and so we knew that he was putting on for us. And we knew that my daddy was scared and so they had to work the next day so they couldn't go to the..... they couldn't take us to school. So we had cars, we had people lined up to pick up each one of us. What they made 'em do was to drop us off at the bottom of the hill, they wouldn't let the cars come on the school property, had to drop us off at the foot of the hill. Well in the foot of the hill was police officers, news reporters, and people who showed up to make sure that they held on to massive resistance. Rumor is that one person did come, he wanted to take his son up to Warren Co. but they talked him out of it and would not let him do it. And so as I got out of the car, it was just like it was yesterday, and I.I.I looked at the picture to find that women, in the picture, and she yelled were going to kill all you little niggers. And it was probably the scaredest time of my life. And I truly thought that I was going to die that day. And so we walked up the hill, we registered, we had been coached on...all of the ways to put our best self forward. They had told us to...an older child to sit with the younger child to make sure that you glanced over and made sure that they wrote properly. You could understand. And to make sure that the application was filled out completely. Even today, I still fill out all my applications. If there is not an answer I still write in NA. People sometimes still marvel when I hand in an application. But that was the way they had taught us. We filled out our applications and.um...I can't remember for the life of me how we got back home that day...um.but I can only remember being at the school for about an hour. I remember Mr. Duff. I was just this bubbly little kid. We had always, we had grow up in a black, a totally black environment, wasn't used to white people. But I had never, we never made a difference between people, people were just people. And I went, "Hello, how are you?" And that man looked at me almost as if he looked right through me as if I didn't exist. And never said a word. And I thought that was such strange behavior, you know for a man who was, he was like Mrs. Ressie Jefferies, because that was the position that he held. He was the principal of the school. But he knew, he never spoke. I do remember after that we got on the bus...the colored...the bus carrying the colored kids. ..... And they, half of them didn't like us because we had created all this confusion. In our town...and we were, where we had once had all got together and shared and made apple butter together...there was a distance...there was a line drawn between us and so it was just the people who were involved in the case...you know...that befriended us. And we rode the bus along with them to the Criser school and um...then.well no, Criser wasn't built then..ummm there was..... We rode the bus back and forth. but when everybody integrated in September we started to ride the bus with the kids from Criser.
Fisher: One of the reasons that it has been hard for people to overcome this whole thing is because prior to my daddy filing the case, he kept saying give us a high school, give us a high school. And they kept telling him that he was the only one complaining, there was no money in the budget and they couldn't give us a high school and when he filed and the judge ruled in our favor. All of the sudden there was money in the budget. They built that high school in record breaking time. The high school was a nice facility. The black children had everything any black people could want in a school system. And so we gave that to them, but they never saw that. What they saw was...they, they have given you what you been asking for, but once my father had signed on the petition to desegregate the schools, that was one of the things the lawyers had ask him to do. We want you to be committed to this. These are some of the things they are going to do to get you to try to get you to not do this. But keep in mind that the school system, the colored school systems are inferior. They are not going to give you everything you need. And so my father had come too far to pull out. And the strange thing and the thing that bugged me for a very long time was my sister went to that colored school. My father still kept his hands in making sure that in bring in teachers, he served on committees there. He was still hated, but he was respected enough that people could not stop him from doing the things that he did and he was. He was different because he kept us in Warren County. He honored that commitment, but he left my sister in the colored school system. She was there until she was in the 10th grade. Then in 1964, when the civil rights passed all of Warren County was integrated. The year that I graduated is the year she went to Warren County.
Macleod: So she was younger than you?
Fisher: She's three years younger than me.
Macleod: So you were attending Warren County and she was?
Fisher: By brother Jimmy, my brother Bubble, and I were attending Warren County.
My sister Patty was attending Criser combined high school. My brother Jean was attending the Criser combined high school. They were our two younger siblings. They were not part of the case.
Macleod: Okay. I appreciate you clarifying.there is so much background in the whole Brown vs. Board and all that.
Fisher: One of the things that I have found since I have been doing this is how truly twisted the story is and when I think about it none of us talked...none of us talked. The children, we as children were so traumatized that all we wanted to do was to put it behind us to forget it. How do you tell your child.... that somebody hated me so bad...that they attacked me? How do you tell your child and take the hate out of it for them? How? How? How do you do that? And so we didn't tell them because we didn't want to make them bitter. That was one of the biggest mistakes that we ever made. Because when they look back on the period of slavery and they see all of that and then in the mist of this period of social change they have no clue. They don't have a clue of the battle. And its probably one of the reasons that even the people of Front Royal, they don't realize that when they gave 'em the colored school, that was just another way of dividing us as people. And then when the 1964...We had people on the panel yesterday who said I'm not sure that integration was a good thing. Because...in the school system little black children were loved in the colored school system. They were protected...and when we went into the integrated system, we lost all of that. But if you.one of the...another one of the things they talked about...all of the tentacles associated with race, and gender and civil rights. When you look at all of the tentacles if you take out one [holding out finger] If you have an octopus and you take out one of its legs, it still don't function properly. So in order to look at integration you have to look at the whole picture. And there are very few resources and when Dr. Hostrum [?] made me write about desegregation, he kept yelling you're....he kept saying and he was all excited when he was saying it, you're a primary source. You're a primary source. And it took me a long time to understand that if you don't have your primary sources, pieces of your puzzle is missing and then history is not told in the proper manner. History is not told truthfully. Um, people try to put everything there, but the answers to the questions just wasn't there. I remember when I did my first research paper on slavery, and it said, "And slavery ended." But I knew that my father lived on that Fink's farm and worked for no wages. And so he was no different from a slave. And so if slavery ended in and I knew that, then there was a piece missing. And when I did my oral interviews, that was one of the things that I was asking all the older people. What happened after slavery? And there were as many situations and scenarios as there are people. And the same is with desegregation of the schools. There are as many situations. And if you take this situation, and put it with this, and it don't belong there, you are still not going to get a true story.
Macleod: Yeah, there is just so many different, the little bit of research that I have spent on it, there are so many different, you can read one thing in one book and turn around and read something completely different in another and it is all in how somebody has interrupted it.
Fisher: Yeah and who wrote it.
Macleod: You and your older siblings went to Warren County and your younger ones.do you know why your dad chose to do it that way?
Fisher: I think.and.and one time I asked him...but I was upset when I asked him. And I can't remember what his answer was. But I think that my father knew how tough it was...When we got together in later years and my father had decided that our place in history had been swept under the rug.nobody talked about it and nobody admitted the role that we played. He thought that we should tell our story. And we had family meetings and he had shared all of the documents. In my book I used the letter that he sent to J. Edgar Hoover. I only had the answer to the letter. So he.he talked to us and he told us and he told us and he had never told us before...that on the day when we went to Warren County that he was working way down in the plant and he said somebody threw a hammer at him. And he said that hammer came so close he could hear it whistling as it went by. And he said he went into the stairwell and he was so scared he...he couldn't move. And so he said he just stood there silently. He doesn't even remember if he prayed. He said he just stood there silently until he got himself together where he could move again. And so knowing that he was experiencing that kind of fear, I can almost guess. I mean it was like I was an insane child during integration. I could fly off the handle knowing that I'm going to get a whipping, and yell and scream and cry. And he didn't whip me, but he always whipped us. You know when we disrespected or we did things. So I can imagine that he knew.he knew how difficult that it was. And so I always thought that he protected them. Both my.sister graduated from school, went on to Howard University. My younger brother graduated from school and went on to Howard University. My brother John.um....he he he he is very, he doesn't talk about integration at all.
Macleod: Now is he the oldest?
Fisher: No, Jimmy is the oldest. Jimmy wrote a book, but he talked very little about integration. But I feel his emotion because he was.he was sent out of town 18 years old... and run out of town so he wouldn't have to testify against my brother for a rock throwing incident that we got involved with with the white boys that I talked about in the book. And I feel his emotion, but my brother John went on to college. But he was smart. He was smart through high school. I remember Mrs. McFall, [?] who was one of the nicer teachers in the school, saying that Bubble didn't apply himself. My brother never took a book to school. Never. You know when he was at Johnson Williams, he made all A's. He got a scholarship to go to Fisk University, but he will not talk about this period in his life. It is something that he wants to forget forever. And I have never heard my brother Jimmy talk about it, but he is fighting to get the school in Warren County named after my father. And I told him that I supported him in his fight to do that...my mission.my ministry is different. Mine is to focus on education. To touch the children so that they might know and understand the past, and that they might find the power within to be able to move us forward and to do the right thing in life. And so it affected us all differently.
Macleod: Um, you had mentioned about how you felt the principal just looked through you the day you registered, how were you treated by the rest of the teachers or the administration when you were first integrated?
Fisher: The rest of the teachers...had that same...my girlfriend taught me the phrase persona non grata.that we didn't exist. So we were nothing.nothing very special. They didn't show an outward hate for us, but at the same time they didn't have...you could tell that they didn't have any love for us. And when you've gone through a colored school and you've experienced that, you know even when a teacher punishes you in the colored school, you knew it was out of love and out of wanting you to do better or out of wanting you to be your best self. But we missed that.
Macleod: I never thought about it from that perspective. That safe feeling, even when like you said, even when you are being disciplined they are wanting better for you. How, how or do you remember any specific episodes, or what was it like when the white children first came back into the school system with you? Do you remember?
Fisher: OHHHHH yeah! We would get on the bus and we would talk about who you could trust; who you couldn't trust; who was violent. And my worst nightmare was a boy named Tony Spencer. He was big. He had dark hair. He had the wet look, and he would say, "GIG." Didn't call you the N word, but he would call you gig. He threw spit balls at me. He was relentless. He'd never let up. And Kenny Hamilton was one of the boys that we got involved in the rock throwing incident. And Kenny was more of a follower, but him and Tony Spencer hung out together. And they taunted my all the way through high school. I will never ever forget there faces. They taunted me. They called me names. They threw spit balls at me. They never physically touched my but always that that mental thing. That always sent me in a fit of rage, and I remember one time in particular. I was sitting in Mrs. Arniskey's [?] English class. I can't remember why she moved me, but I sat.there was a vacant chair, and then there was me, then there was Tony Specer in that chair behind the vacant chair. Over in the next row in the very last seat was Kenny Hamilton, and they would come prepared, and they would throw spit balls at me throughout the class. And I can't remember for how long, but everyday I got up out of that class and I looked around and I saw the spit balls. And I knew that Mrs. Arniskey had to have seen those spit balls. She never said a word. And then one day I blew up....and I just hollered, "MRS. ARNESKY....WOULD YOU PLEASE MAKE TONY AND KENNY stop throwing spit balls at me?" And I got detention hall. I got detention hall for disrupting the class.
Macleod: And she had the physical evidence.
Fisher: The physical evidence everyday.everyday. [teary] You know, sometimes you just start thinking, am I crazy? Am I crazy? How come she can't see it? And then you start thinking maybe it wasn't there, maybe I'm the crazy one.
Macleod: That seems crazy. When the school was finally integrated in together, were you guys given the same types of privileges and benefits as all the students or were there lots of things that you feel were still.
Fisher: We were still segregated in an integrated school. We could not participate in sports. Charles Lewis was a basketball player. Charles Lewis was tremendous, and when he tried out for basketball he made the team. And they went to Charles, this seventeen year old boy, and said Charles you made the team but if you play there will be no team. And we went to the committee and you know because we were supporting Charles. The committee met with us almost every other Saturday at Mrs. Catherine Butler's lodge right out in Happy Creek. And they told us, "You're there to get an education. We are fighting for your parents to have jobs. We are fighting all of these battles, and this is.this is a low priority. We want you to get an education." And so Charles dropped off the team...focused on his education. Geraldine and I tried out for the majorettes. Geraldine was pretty good at it, because she was in the tenth grade she had gotten her foundation at Johnson Williams, so she could twirl the baton. I couldn't do nothing. And neither one of us made the majorettes squad. I saw in my yearbook that I was in the national.the teachers club...the only club that was listed by my name. So evidently towards the 11th and 12th grade they did let us into clubs. But I couldn't go to my own prom. There was a club called the star lights of 63 that hosted the prom, and they wouldn't let me go there. They would not let me join. I was stupid. [laugh] I, I tried any way despite the fact that we were not going to get any support from the committee, and I still lost. And I am going to tell you, throughout that time I was really a crazy person. I went to Douglas High School's prom here in Winchester. I went to the prom in Harrisonburg.Simms. I went to William C. Taylor's prom. I went to Criser High School's prom. I went to every prom in this district of the colored school, because I could not go to my own prom. And I do believe I ended up in the hospital after that too. [pause and tears] Toward the end of the time I got to the point where death would have been easier than facing that everyday. And so there was no outlet...no outlet. There was no normalcy in my life. I could close my eyes, and I could feel my body go limp in any situation at any threat of danger.
Macleod: That is not a good feeling.
Fisher: NO...you know when you...when you...when you are in that situation, it seems like it's.it's the only...I used to call it shut down...I used to call it shut down. And I could shut down. [pause] And you see the other thing here is when Reverend Frank had left...Reverend Frank was the person that we went to. Reverend Frank was the person that we cried to...and um...he was our outlet. But he got moved, and so it seemed like...when my brothers were gone...our numbers had diminished down to...where it was only about five of us left. The last year was...I...over time you get broken down. And then you add all of the other things in there, and then you know it is like there are so many less things to hold on to.
Macleod: I feel like it is a tough time in just everyday life for teenager, and let alone to have everything that you were going through at the time. I can only imagine, only imagine...You mentioned a committee...was that the committee of support?
Fisher: It was the same committee that was raising money for us. And some of them were parents, we had Mrs. Witte, that came from DC, Mrs. Marks, the white lady that came form the northern Virginia area. And we all meet at Mrs. Catherine Butler's house. Because there were no social outlets for us, they had shuffleboard; they had swimming pool. She hosted our parties for when we did graduate, and they tried.they tried to take care of us. Early on we were meeting every two weeks. Towards the end, toward the end everybody got tired and you could tell. My class was the last one. We were the last ones to graduate, and I did have.I had a nice party. I had.all of my friends came from the colored school, but not Criser.came from the surrounding schools. The Crescents over here in Winchester, they played. I dated one of the guys in the band, and they played at my graduation party. I had a pretty decent crowd. Barbara, and Matthew and Steven Travis and me.we were the four.we were the last four that graduated from the original group.
Macleod: Good. Lets see...do you remember like outside of the school system what the atmosphere was like in the community.other than, you had spoke of your dad how he was being treated at work?
Fisher: We went to Flint Hills church. We didn't go to church in Happy Creek, we went to Flint Hills church. You know outside of all of that we had the normal family thing, you go to family dinners on Sunday, um you hung out with relatives....
Macleod: I miss those days.
Macleod: When life used to be like that.
Fisher: Yeah I do too. Since I moved to Texas, and moved away from the family, but we still get together for something big once or twice a year. Last year we did Puerto Vallerta. Three of my kids and half of my grandkids. We all met in Puerto Vallerta. We had a three bedroom house, a two bedroom house , and a one bedroom house. And we had a great time. We do big stuff maybe once or twice a year.
Macleod: How many kids do you have?
Fisher: I have four kids and nine grandchildren.
Macleod: They say that is the best part, the grandkids.
Fisher: They steal your hearts big time.
Macleod: After graduation, where did your life take you?
Fisher: After graduation I had tried to get into colleges and didn't. I started working down the county just like my mamma. That was probably one of the biggest disappointments of my life. I was still going through the crazies because I was eighteen years old. I was not allowed to date. If I went out with a boy, I still had to take my sister and her two friends. So, it didn't get a whole lot better for me after graduation. I ended up getting pregnant out of wedlock. That was the worst sin a girl could commit during the course of those days. I got pregnant out of wedlock. I found out the boy that I was pregnant by was a heathen. He had somebody else pregnant. That, that ended up being disastrous. I think that.that...when I look, and a lot of times I separate the me that I am today from the little girl that went through integration, and I look at her from outside the window, and I think that...inside she knew what she wanted. She just wanted to be normal.just wanted to be like everybody else. But there was nothing about her life that made her normal. And so in constantly trying to fight outside that box in order to get into the scheme of normalcy...you.you...you just make dumb decisions. And you zig zag between the irrational and the rational, and the part of me that caused me to get pregnant out of wedlock with the person that I got pregnant by was irrational. After having taken a good look at this man, the rational side took over and said, "You can't keep on down this road." And my mother often told me, "There is a brick wall down there, and I see you running toward it, and you are going to run right in to it. Because that is the way you are." And she was absolutely right. It was probably the perfect analogy of me. And.it...it has caused me to do some really great things. Because...because you don't have that fear. I don't have that fear that I say normal people have. The bad side of it, when you are acting in the irrational realm is very destructive. And so I stopped seeing the man who had gotten me pregnant and never told my mom and dad anything. Anything that perpetrated my irrational behavior, I gave irrational responses. When they asked me who I was pregnant by, I told them that I didn't know. And then my husband came along, and he told me that it was very important in those days for your baby to have a name. We got married with the understanding that he was going to give my baby a name. He had absolutely nothing to do with my pregnancy, he was just a nice guy. And we were going to get married, and then get divorced after that. But then anybody who cared that much for me, I kind of wanted to hold on to. [laugh] And so I held onto him, and we had that baby, and then we had another baby eleven months later, and I put it all behind me. I was one of those people who never wanted to revisit it again ever in my life. And I put it behind me, and I thought that we were going to live happily ever after. And then I had gone through.I had gone back to school sixteen years after I had graduated from high school. Got my education, had good jobs, fought and got good promotions, and then my, I found out that my daughter was on crack cocaine. And one day when I figured out how detrimental crack was, I had a bond revoked and had her put back in jail for her own safety. And in her fit of rage, she called me from jail and she blamed all of her problems on me. And she told me that the reason she was so crazy was because she had been raped when she was younger. And when I was raped, I had always imagined that it was my grandmother, and it was my aunt and it was old man Dick Finks. And then when she told me, it was like, "Okay girl, here it is all right back to hit you again. So now you've got to deal with it." [tears] I decided that...you know...I had to deal with me. Reconcile myself and then deal with her. And so when I had gotten laid off in 2001, I had decided to write my book. And wanted to leave, so desperately to leave that chapter out...wanted so desperately not to say it again, not to tell anybody. I felt guilty because the school locked the auditorium doors, and I think that they always knew that was not safe being able to come in one door and out the other, and the stage being there. And I always felt guilty because I went across the stage anyway, and I tasseled with the idea and how do you write the story and leave out these pieces. And then just like that wall that my mother talked about, you are going to run right into it. I decided that I couldn't. I visited Sojourner Truth, and Sojourner talked about telling the truth - telling the truth. And so I knew that the story had to be whole. That's why I published it myself. Nobody was going to sensationalize on it. In fact the first TV interview that I had was big time.it was an international television station, a family station, and the guy who was interviewing me, he said, he was going to ask me about that. I totally freaked out, "You can't...no.no. I won't do this interview." And he said you have already opened that door. And so he respected me, and he didn't ask me. And finally I got.I didn't realize you had to do all of these things that you have to do when you write a book. I didn't know that you had to go and talk about it. I didn't know that people would not pick up this book and read it without you telling them about it. At first I talked about it in third person, as if it was her. And then finally I got through enough where I could talk about it in first person. But at first...you know...it is.this whole process has been a growing process - a growing in a different way from growing in your career and fighting those obstacles. This has been an internal battle, because you are dealing with emotion. You are dealing with self, and.and that has been very difficult. And then I had to always remember why I had to do this. And when I look out and I thought about my daughter and the trouble that she got into because...we didn't talk. And I look at the school system, and I look at the children of today and see where they are because we didn't talk. And so I knew that during that whole ordeal God had shielded me and protected me and given me just enough strength to keep on going, because he was telling the story.
Macleod: I am sort of taken back. Oh lets see...I don't know where to go from here...
So you got laid off from your job, I believe you worked at Rubbermaid, right?
Fisher: Oh I did not get laid off from Rubbermaid. I retired from Rubbermaid. I had sued Rubbermaid. I had become the highest ranking African American female there, and um...it was sort of a freeing experience. I had sued them, won, they had never made an apology, and so I decided I wanted to know what the rest of the workplaces were like. And so I retired, and I was $5,000 and a couple of courses from my MBA. And they had given me this $100,000 education, and I wanted to make it work. And so I left Rubbermaid, and I just started to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do. My kids were in college, I bought a house, put them in a...set up a...a...a rooming house. And that was fantastically successful. My kids ended up getting out of college without college bills - no student loans that they had to pay for because I had taken the skills that I had learned in school and put them to work in a real project. I...I...that was the first time I did a history project. I did a history project at James Madison for a...I can't remember the group but Professor...Dr. Hofstra, who had taught me, was part of the panelist that I was on. And I was like fresh out of college and this was...this was big time. I did that and...I did that and then I got to the point were I had to go back to work. And so I started all over again. I didn't exactly start at a minimum wage job, but I started at like $10 and hour being a customer service rep in the bank. I was way over qualified. But I went in and talked the man into giving me the job. They loved me on the job, because I have always been a hard worker. I was a hard worker. I could put forth ideas and they were paying me pennies on the dollar. Then I went to Atlantic Coast airlines. I had this outrageous boss that gave me wings and let me fly. She was still paying me pennies on the dollar, and I was just...I was just making quantum leaps. And you could see, it was just as clear as could be, how the education had developed me as a person, how it had given me confidence. And so life was good...life was good, and you know I went from one airline to another. I thought that it was just absolutely fantastic. When Dianna and I were at Rubbermaid, and we would be watching our products come in on truck, tracing the steps of that truck. And here I am in an airline where your stuff [snap] can get there in record breaking time. And so I was excited about life, I was excited about the jobs...It was...it was just great.
Macleod: Okay, it was a happy ending.
Fisher: You know in the whole thing it is a happy ending, because today I work for the best boss in the world.
Fisher: Myself. And so when I got laid off, I already knew that I was going to get laid off, because the woman that I was working for, she degraded me. She made me feel like she was sitting way up here, and I was sitting right here. And I had already tried to get out of her department, and the man that had hired me had been pushed out, and she was the one that had came in. And we got together like oil and water. So I had decided I was going to get out, and I started to apply for jobs that were greater than the job...greater than her position...That is like professional suicide. And so...I knew that I was...it was sort of like God had set me up. For I had been in that department and that job for three years. I loved that job. I managed properties in twenty-five different cities. My job consisted of negotiating leases, negotiating contracts, and these are multi-million dollar contracts, and I had power because I could say no to a director of an airport that you are not going to get that Humvee, because it has x impact on the rates that we will be paying to you at this airport. And over the long term it translates out to x number of dollars, and I loved that job.....loved it right up until the time Laura Einspeneer [?] became my boss. Then she made my life a holy hell. Having gone through Rubbermaid, there was no way in God's green earth, nobody was ever going to make be feel that way again. And so when I got laid off it was a relief. I already knew what I was going to do. I already knew.
Macleod: It is like they opened the door for you....
Fisher: They opened the door, and you know I had a little thing, "When God closes one door he opens another." And I believe that. I knew that. Ever since then...yeah, there have been challenges. [laugh] Sometimes I live...as poor folks say, "I am one paycheck from being bankrupt." [laugh] But it has afforded me some of the greatest feelings that I have ever felt in doing this job - in going around the country selling this book and going around the country talking to people making a difference in the life of a child. Life just don't get no better than that.
Macleod: I think you have made a tremendous difference.
Fisher: The journey from start to finish.and that is why my struggles did not extinguish my self respect, nor did it stifle my ability to move forward.
Macleod: You share a very important message.
Fisher: Yeah, and so if you can get that....we have...no matter what you are going through, and if you believe and have hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If I can make that difference in somebody's, life then my living will not have been in vain. And I have seen it.I have heard it from people. I have people that write me and tell me, "After talking to you, I went out and wrote my book and now I am out here publishing it." And I have young girls that say, "That what happened to you, happened to me.Still can't say it; still can't identify it, but I was blessed by reading your book." Says so much.
Macleod: An amazing feeling I am sure.
Fisher: Yeah and you know, it tells you your on the right track.
Macleod: Bringing good out of all the experiences that you've been through.
Fisher: Oh I have always say, "That which is meant for evil, turned out to be good." Even down to my boss before I got laid off. Being so ugly.has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened to me..
Macleod: Go back and tell her thank you.
Fisher: Someday when I see her I will. But I don't want to seek her out. But if I ever encounter her, I will have to thank her.
Macleod: She probably already knows.
Fisher: Yeah, she probably [laughs].It is sorta' like...sorta' like when people do things that are ugly to me, I always say, "I don't have to do anything, because God will take care of them." And I surely don't want the wrath of God to come down. [laughs] I would rather that the cornel man do it.[laughing].then to have the wrath of God to come down upon me.
Macleod: Do you have anything else you would like to add?