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Remembering the pioneers

I was deeply touched to read the accounts of the loneliness, courage, and dignity of the pioneering black students at VPI in the early 1950s. My father, Winston H. Reed (Ph.D. chemical engineering '51) was a graduate student just before these young men enrolled. We lived in Radford in one of the former arsenal workers' houses, bought for $8,000, from which Dad commuted over rural roads to Blacksburg in our family's green Hudson Hornet. As Northerners, my brother and I were newly exposed to segregation. At Belk's Department Store, we waited eagerly by the colored water fountain, expecting, naturally, colored water. We raced to sit in the back of the bus (where the engine was the loudest), not understanding the prevailing customs. My father drove us to Radford's black school, pointing out the dissimilar conditions for the black children: no water fountain, only a spigot protruding from the building; no nice landscaped playground, only hard-packed earth. This was my first awareness [of segregation].

Dad died last year at age 93, but the arrival of his Virginia Tech Magazine is always a reminder of his affiliation with Tech during an era when things were just beginning to change. As I write this, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of affirmative action in admissions to the University of Michigan, my alma mater. Your sensitive story, portraying the pain, shame, and triumph of those first students, and the conflicted roles of the earliest administrators whose actions led--reluctantly --to positive change, was one of the finest I have read in any alumni magazine.

Diane K.R. Jowdy
Shelton, Conn.

Bravo to you! Your articles on Irving Peddrew III, Charlie Yates, and African-Americans at Virginia Tech were very informative and inspiring. They made me proud to call myself a Hokie. As an African-American alumna of Virginia Tech, I often speak of the rich heritage and tradition of our school, but this makes me even more pleased about my decision to attend. I have a 14-year-old nephew who has firmly told everyone in our family that he will only attend Tech. I will be sending this magazine to him to reaffirm his decision.

Kimberly Myers-Hale '92
Waldorf, Md

I just received my copy of the spring 2003 issue and read with some nostalgia the article Paving the way: African-Americans at Virginia Tech.

I was especially struck when I read the paragraph about the sit-in at the flagpole in front of Burruss Hall following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which, by the way, was announced to the student body in a packed Burruss Hall auditorium during a debate on civil rights between NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins and Senator Strom Thurmond. I remember very well the article that described the very tense, confrontational situation, quoted from The Virginia Tech article, because I was the author. I can still recall interviewing the students as if it were yesterday--what a surprise to find the article published on the Virginia Tech Web site verbatim.

I went to the Special Collections Web site and found some errors. The photograph taken at Hillcrest Dorm on Freddie Hairston's webpage correctly identifies Jennifer Minogue (my sister), but I was Linda Edmonds' roommate, not Jennifer. (Diana Blevins is on the far right, front row, next to Brenda Kibler). In Part I of Linda's interview, the same picture is published, but using my name, and it also appears that way at

In fairness, Jennifer and I were often mistaken for one another, and we still look alike to this day.

Linda was a terrific roommate, mature and studious, and I enjoyed knowing her, as I did all the women mentioned during that era. Linda Adams was our resident assistant in Eggleston, and she was a wonderful role model for all students as well.

Thank you for a trip back in time.

Lucy Rowland 69, MS 72
Athens, Ga.

Editor's note: The corrections have been made. University Archives apologizes for the misidentification and gratefully receives corrections and additions to its Internet offerings.

I just read the article Pioneers of Progress in the spring 2003 edition of your magazine. It jolted me into the realization that it has been 50 years since Irving Peddrew and I were freshmen at VPI.

Peddrew and I had many classes together. We enjoyed one another's company but didn't always agree on how to solve all the social problems of the U.S. of A. He, however, superbly played out that role which destiny called him to. I don't recall hearing a single derogatory word or seeing a single derogatory act from any of his classmates during our years at Virginia Tech.

One day, we went to get a Coke together, and when I turned around, there was a flash. Peddrew told me it was a photographer from Ebony magazine. He later told me that my mug, which appeared with his on an Ebony cover in the fall of '53, would not have been his pick!

Edwin (Sonny) Gallion '57
Crane, Texas

Faithful Hokie passes away

Tech has lost another loyal and longstanding alumnus. My father, William (Bill) Watts (chemical engineering '39), passed away on March 21. Five or so years ago, Dad started a scholarship fund for the engineering department in honor of his cousin, Edwin W. Allen, who had made it possible for him to attend Tech in 1935. Life was difficult on the farm so soon after the Depression, and without Cousin Allen's financial aid, our father would not have received higher education. Dad took advantage of his time at Tech, going from the ROTC program to spend four years as a captain in the Army overseas during WWII. When he returned home, he worked first as a chemical engineer at the American Viscose plant in Roanoke and eventually started his own construction business, as well as being quite an active member of the Roanoke community. He was always grateful to his cousin and to Tech for the opportunities provided to him.

I can tell you that my father raised my sisters and me to appreciate a good education and to be Hokie fans. Every year while we were growing up, our parents would throw a party for their friends after the Tech Thanksgiving football game that was played in Roanoke's stadium at that time. After the new stadiums were built in Blacksburg, our parents would drive up for basketball games, and it was always a treat to be included. A decade ago, I made my father a needlepoint belt with VT colors on it. He wore it everyday after that; however, the only personal memento we placed in his casket was his Hokie hat.

We have asked that memorial gifts be sent in Dad's name to the E.W. Allen Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund in the College of Engineering. We hope Tech alumni might help us raise more money for this good cause.

Ellen Watts Burke
Fairfield, Conn.