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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, April 30, 1976. Interview G-0049-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decision to return to school and experiences at Berea College

Queen describes her experiences at Berea College in Kentucky. After having spent ten years working in a paper factory in North Carolina, Queen desired to continue her education, but feared that her time out of school and her economic circumstances would limit her opportunities. Here, she describes her decision to apply to and attend Berea College and she explains how her experiences at the school influenced her ideas about race, labor, and religion.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, April 30, 1976. Interview G-0049-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANNE QUEEN:
Well, you know Berea. You know that it was founded by John G. Fee, an abolitionist who went to Lane Seminary, and Lane Seminary was located right outside Cincinnati, but later became the Oberlin School of Theology. It moved to Oberlin. He founded Berea as a school for dispossessed or deprived mountain young people and of course, it was for blacks as well as whites. You as a historian know more about the history of the Day Law, but it was during the early part of this century that a law was passed in the Kentucky legislature which forbad whites and blacks being taught together. Berea took part of its endowment and established a school over near Louisville called the Lincoln Institute and the first president, and maybe the only president of that institute was Whitney Young's father. Whitney Young was born at Lincoln Institute and so for all these intervening years from the early 1900s until the time when the Day Law was amended, there was a strong influence in Berea to help liberate the young people who came from the mountains from any prejudice or lack of openness they might have in regard to race. Although I came from a background of no prejudice as far as I knew, there was never any prejudice voiced in my home, I have to say that Berea was really the scene of my liberation as far as economic and racial justices are concerned.
JOSEPH HERZENBERG:
How did you get there?
ANNE QUEEN:
How did I get to Berea? Well, yes, I'm glad you raised that question. My sister, my youngest sister next to me, Bonnie, went to visit a cousin in Hamilton, Ohio, and they stopped in Berea and ate at the Boone Tavern Hotel and she came back to tell me, "You keep talking about wanting to go to college and I really am impressed with Berea College and I think you ought to apply." We had had a cousin who had gone to Berea but who had by then died at a very early age of cancer. I had never known anyone else who had gone to Berea, but my sister was so impressed with it and she described the vine covered buildings and just the atmosphere and so I wrote to Berea. Here I had been out of school for ten and a half years and I received a letter from them and was so impressed with it and it was obvious that Berea was a place for a person like me, with no income. After I read the material, I felt some uncertainties within me about being able, after ten years out of school, to do college work. So, I had to reassure my confidence. I applied for what was then called a post graduate high school course. This was one year and I just can't tell you what a thrill it was to walk on the campus and it was the first good library that I've ever been in. When I read Richard McKenna's …he has a book of essays which I read just recently. I can't remember the title, but it's New Eyes for Old Eyes, or something like that and he has such a thrill at just walking into a library. I can remember now about walking across the campus from the dormitory where I lived to the library and there were times when I felt that it was a dream that I was there. After my first year, I applied to go on to college and some of my professors thought that I had wasted my time, but I don't really think I did. I did pretty good work that year and I applied to enter college as a freshman. My sisters encouraged me to go and they gave me spending money. They were both working. I guess that as I reflect on this experience now, I feel rather selfish that I was the one who went to college and not my sisters, because they are both so bright and I just wish that the same doors somehow had opened to them. After I was accepted as a freshman, I really began to dig in and I guess then I thought that I would be a social worker so that's why I majored in sociology, but now as I look back on it, I wish that I had concentrated in English and maybe in philosophy. But I guess that reflection is better than foresight. I did pretty well at Berea, I wasn't at the top of my class, but I did well. I expect that one of the most important things for me at Berea was to sort of have a whole new world open up to me. I came away from Berea firmly convinced that there is no institution that can educate a person, that what an institution does is to sort of sharpen the appetite for knowledge and give one the tools for what I consider a lifelong experience of education. It was at Berea where I learned to appreciate a library and what it means to read and then I think that the most important thing that Berea did for me was, it helped me to really feel at home in the world and I am so grateful for that experience. It was at Berea where I met the first black that I had ever met …well, I guess that I had seen blacks in Canton, there are not many blacks there, but I met the first labor organizer that I had ever met and of course, I was introduced to new ideas just constantly. It was at Berea where (I really began to question everything that I had believed in relation to faith,) but I think that I had a much less turbulent time in this questioning because I was older and I was able with some sense of security to sort out the things that are unimportant and retain the important things. I think that I came away with a much stronger faith with a lot of the trappings done away with. During the time I was at Berea, I had good summer experiences, which I see as sort of a complement to the academic experience during the year. I went back and worked two years in the paper mill and I am really grateful for that experience. I worked one year in New England and this was my first experience out of the South. I worked in a daily vacation Bible School in Northampton, Massachussetts, and by that time, I had had a course in American Thought at Berea, which was taught by a Yale man … there seems to have been from the time I went to Berea strains of Yale influence on my thinking. His name is Clayton Feaver, who is now the Kingfisher Professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma.