Eugenia Seaman Marks
oral history interview, 2007
(on the Greensboro sit-in, 1960)

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the UNCG Oral History Collections.

Eugenia Seaman was a student at the Woman's College in Greensboro, North Carolina (now University of North Carolina at Greensboro) from 1958 to 1960.  In February of her sophomore year, she was among the few white students who participated in the famous Greensboro Sit-in, led by African-American students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T). 

Hermann J. Trojanowski interviewed her in 2007, when she was using her married name, Eugenia Seaman Marks. -smv

(NB. Numbering belongs to this excerpt, not the original source.)

{1}HJT: Do you recall . . . when you actually came to Woman's College, in the fall of 1958? . . .

Seaman: My parents drove me up there . . . with a steamer trunk that had belonged to  my grandmother. My mother had spent the summer refurbishing this trunk. My clothing was packed in it. My mother had sewed clothing for me to go to college in, and there I was with my tennis racket and my steamer trunk. [laughs] 
        I lived in Shaw Dormitory; and Shaw Dormitory was the integrated dormitory. I believe there were six black women who were a part of my class and they lived in one wing, all together, of the building. . . .   I guess I found it rather odd that they all lived together. That it really - - it was integrated, but it really wasn't integrated, because no one else lived in that particular wing even though there were rooms available there. . . .

{2}HJT:  Prior to the Sit-in demonstrations of 1960, do you remember having any contacts with students from A&T?

Seaman: There was no contact between me and anyone from A&T. There was no contact between me and any of the other women until maybe the day before, and it was in the context of a social conversation. . . . As I recall, Marilyn Lott had a brother at Greensboro College, and he had gone  to the Sit-ins, perhaps on the first day,  and it was through Marilyn that I learned of this movement, and you know, I was certainly aware of the Montgomery bus boycott and the bombing of the Baptist church in Montgomery. . . . I was a person who would have been interested in news of Civil Rights issues.   I was aware of those through news media, through newspapers, and Time magazine. Certainly not anything more sophisticated than that. . . .

{3} HJT: Do you recall when you decided to actually participate in the Sit-ins that were going on in downtown Greensboro? Was there any one certain event or thing that sparked your decision to participate?

Seaman: It's likely that I saw the newspaper article on that day and that I decided that it was the right thing to do for me to - - especially as a Southern [white] person, to show that not all Southerners were as bigoted as we are sometimes portrayed. And I felt that it was the just thing to do, because as I explained earlier, I had a fairly strong sense of justice from my religious background. So I walked downtown. I walked instead of taking the bus because I wanted that sense of thoughtfulness, and purpose, and thinking about what I was doing. So I walked by myself, downtown, from campus and I didn't know exactly what was happening, and I just walked into Woolworth's and walked back to the back where the lunch counter was and it became apparent what to do, which was to get a seat. And because I was Caucasian, I was given a seat by a gentleman and then the waitress would come ask about what I wanted to order and I would say, "The people over here," meaning the A&T and Bennett [College] students, "were there before I was and they should be waited on first." And so there was a stalemate created.

{4}HJT: After people started finding out that you had participated, do you recall what the reactions of the students were - -  your classmates, friends, and other students on campus?

Seaman: I don't recall any untoward remarks and I don't recall any necessarily positive remarks. I recall . . . the housemother - - who was a woman probably in her late thirties who had worked for the American Red Cross abroad, and so I had a sense she had a good sense of the world and, you know, - - saying, "Be cautious," but again, not saying, "Don't do it." And I don't recall other students' comments. . . .

{5}HJT: And do you recall what the reaction of your family was when they learned about the events that were happening here in Greensboro?

Seaman: Well, as you well know, communication was quite different in those days. There was a pay phone off the parlor in the dormitories and that was our access and so as I've said, I did not come from well off people. I probably mostly would call collect. I don't recall telling my parents what I was doing, but I must have. My mother and I corresponded weekly. . . . My mother was supportive. I expected my mother to be supportive because of her background. . . . I heard a story from her about a black M.D. who could not let his children stop for ice cream at Howard Johnson's [Restaurant] when they saw the sign because he did not want to tell them that they could not be served like everyone else. So that kind of work that she had done, and her value system led me to believe that she wouldn't be upset. . . .
        Yet, on the other hand, I must have known [that] the local paper ran a story about a "local girl," and named my family's name and what was going on and then subsequently my family received hate phone calls and - - and so on, so for many years I was concerned later that I had hurt my father's business. . . . I did ask my father when he was dying and I was sitting with him and I said to him that I was sorry that I had - - I had hurt his business but I had felt compelled to do this and he indicated that he was glad I had done what I did. And my sister, to whom I just spoke about this with yesterday, recalled that she had - - she was only seven at the time and that my mother forbade her from answering the telephone because my mother did not want her to hear whatever messages were coming in.

{6}HJT: I was just going to ask you if anyone commended you or criticized you for participating.

Seaman:  Well, I too got notes and letters on both sides. You know, it's the unfortunate thing that sex was something that people thought of immediately, and so there were innuendos about marrying black people and the horrors that that would bring, and then on the more positive side, through my Unitarian connections, and there was a regional youth group for Unitarians, and two of the people who were involved in that wrote me long letters of support. . . .

{7} HJT: And do you ever recall being afraid during that period of time? Once you started getting hate mail and that sort of thing?

Seaman: In the beginning, the day that I walked downtown, I was not afraid. I was so convinced that I was doing the right thing. I think that that may be typical of eighteen or nineteen year olds who are very centered on their own view of the world, but there were a couple of nights where cars drove down College Avenue, in front of New Guilford Dormitory and they were filled with young men who were shouting obscenities and I don't think - - I mean, that's a little dramatic. They - - they were hanging out the window and saying things. . . . But again, you know, there were not private telephones, there were not cell phones, so to some extent, we were insulated and rightly or wrongly I was under the perception that because I was a Southern woman that there was a certain insulation there that there was not for the black people. . . .

{8}HJT: Did you participate in anything else during that spring of 1960?  I know you attended meetings and that sort of thing, but?

Seaman: I don't think so. I recall going home to Florida for the summer and wondering what would happen. I remember - - what would happen in terms of the lunch counter functioning and the store, and I believe that the store was closed, but that's a recollection and someone would have to check the historic facts. I can't supply that. . . .
        I returned for my junior year. I returned for the fall semester and then I transferred to Carolina - - Chapel Hill, Carolina - - because I was engaged to someone who was graduating from Carolina, and it was our intention to stay while he did graduate work, and I was to finish my undergraduate degree, but that did not occur so I completed my undergraduate degree at New York University as an Art History major because I had too many courses in psychology to fulfill the New York University residency requirement.

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