Ruby Nell Sales oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, 2011-04-25.
And, um, I went to Tuskegee because my homeroom teacher, Marion Pitts Armstrong, went to Tuskegee. I had some notion in my rebellious state that I wouldn’t go to college first. I would go to the Army. Well, that was a delusion. First of all, I wasn’t old enough. Secondly, when my mother found out about it, she went right down to the recruiting office [laughing] and reminded them that I wasn’t old enough. And then, I thought I’d go to Drake University in Iowa. Well, that was also a fantasy, and I ended up going to Tuskegee.
JM: Um-hmm. Tell me about, um - tell me about the experience of landing at Tuskegee in the fall of ’63, because, obviously, um, the early ’60s have been tumultuous in so many respects in the United States around race and other issues, but especially race, of course. And, um, uh, you arrived at a time when there was an awful lot happening in Alabama.
RS: Yes. The Movement in Alabama resonates at Tuskegee when I get there. As a matter of fact, Gwen Patton, who becomes the president of the student body, was part of the Montgomery boycott and had been around the Movement since she was a young child. So, she brought to Tuskegee movement consciousness. In addition to that, Professor Gomillion had been involved in challenging gerrymandering in Tuskegee. So, Tuskegee already had built there, when we got there, an atmosphere of protest and movement.
RS: And our dean, Dean [Betrand] Phillips, encouraged us to be involved in the Movement, unlike many deans. And so, when Gwen Patton asked the student body - let me just go back a moment -
JM: Sure, please.
RS: To say that when I first arrived at Tuskegee I did not choose to be a part of the movement. I wanted to be a beatnik. And so, I was running around Tuskegee, trying to be a beatnik, [laughing] drinking wine at the local pub, hanging out, you know, quoting poetry, Al Ginsberg. [15:00] And so, I did not have any thought of being in the Movement, because I had built my life around Virginia Woolf and, um, had built my life around Greenwich Village - in my head. And so, Tuskegee was just a road, a penance I had to do before I could go to the Village. [Laughs] And so, that was not in my mind.
Uh, and - so, Stokely Carmichael came to campus, and people from Lowndes County came to campus, and they gave a rousing conversation about the importance of participating in the Movement. And it was at that moment that I became galvanized and I became interested in the Movement. And so, I threw away my Catawba Pink. I cut my, uh, ponytails and I began to grow natural hair. And I went down to Dallas County, Alabama.