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2012 News Releases
Longwood's first African-American graduate speaks at MLK Symposium
January 25, 2012
When N.H. "Cookie" Scott participated in orientation as a Longwood freshman in 1968, she was told she would not be welcome on Sunday morning at the downtown church where she was attending a required candlelight service. The day she moved onto campus, her mother was refused service when she tried to eat at the lunch counter at a department store on Main Street.
Scott, however, was not deterred by the racism of that era-in fact, she was motivated by it to become a stronger person. She went on to become Longwood's first African-American graduate and is now deputy director of administration for the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC). She returned to campus in January to share her story and to commemorate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader who paved the way for her and others.
"It's good to be back here with a good feeling," said Scott, the speaker for Longwood's Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. "I'm not bitter about anything that happened [in Farmville], but I would say the church experience changed me-it didn't make me angry, just sad."
Scott's primary message for the day was that good people-and not so good people-come in all colors.
"My life is filled with great people-black and white-who were caring, compassionate and supportive. And, while I did not have the opportunity to personally meet Dr. King, the folks in my life reflected Dr. King's spirit and values."
In her remarks, Scott agreed with a speaker she heard recently who suggested that, in addition to making "to do" lists, people should also prepare "not to do" lists.
"In honor of Dr. King, I think we should all put first on our not-to-do lists, not to diminish others by judging them on artificial criteria. I'm not suggesting color, heritage, ethnicity, race and religion are not important, but, as a basis for judgment, they are not factors upon which to determine the character or worth of an individual. While I can't lay claim to no prejudices, because we all have some whether we acknowledge them or not, I know my journey has convinced me if they surface, I will beat them down. I am a true believer in Dr. King's words that one should be judged by the ‘content of one's character,' not the color one's skin, no matter the color of that skin."
Scott's journey began in a small town in southern Albemarle County, where she was born into poverty. She was raised by a single mother (Scott's dad died when he was 37 and she was 5) and moved to Richmond just before entering school. She grew up on Cary Street, now a business district but then a low-income African-American neighborhood.
She remembers a "defining moment" when, as a youngster, she was asked to run an errand to a grocery store on Main Street, one block over, which was a low-income white neighborhood. She had always been told by her mother that it "doesn't hurt to speak to anyone," so she "pleasantly" said hello to a girl about her age accompanied by her mother.
"Both mother and daughter scowled at me and refused to speak. Well, I learned my lesson, and that wasn't going to happen to me again. The next little girl I encountered was walking alone, and I looked straight ahead and kept walking. She smiled beautifully and said hello. I learned very quickly not to judge all people by the actions of some. People are not all the same."
Scott attended segregated schools until her senior year of high school, when she transferred to Albemarle County High School (her family moved back to Albemarle County the summer before she entered high school), which was integrated in fall 1967.
"I was fortunate; I had excellent teachers in both the segregated schools and when the schools integrated," she said. "As an adult, it is easy for me to look back and see those teachers who were invested in my success, the success of all their students. Thank goodness they were few, but I can also name those who tolerated me, made my life difficult and were awaiting my failure so they could say: "See, I told you ‘they' could not do it."
Scott said the detractors were outnumbered 20 to one by her advocates, "champions even," in both the black and white schools she attended. "Those persons made the difference in my education and my life," she said.
Scott attended Longwood at the urging of Virginia Dofflemyer, a 1941 Longwood graduate who was her high-school guidance counselor.
"Ms. Dofflemyer put me in her own personal vehicle and drove me to Longwood for a visit," she said. "In 1968 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, that was taking a personal risk, but she took it for me. My life has been replete with people like Ms. Dofflemyer. I used to say Ms. Dofflemyer convinced me-implying she did something to me-but I now believe she helped me to see that I had an obligation to pave the way for others."
Scott described her experience at Longwood as "fairly lonely," even though she made friends here-both fellow students and professors-who remain her friends today. Scott recalled being invited into the homes of professors, including Dr. Carolyn Craft, professor emerita of English and world religions, and Dr. Susan May, professor emerita of English, both of whom were in the audience for the symposium.
"I succeeded at Longwood because of my family and friends," said Scott, giving special credit to her mother, "a strong black woman though she wasn't always aware of it."
After graduating from Longwood with a degree in sociology, Scott signed on with the Department of Corrections, Virginia's largest state agency, in 1973 and became its first black female deputy director in 2002. At 28 she was the youngest court director in the state.
"I didn't arrive where I am today without lots of support from black mentors and white mentors, all of whom lived the spirit of Dr. King's message. So not only am I recipient of the changes in the laws which impacted my education, my living conditions and my social circles; I have also benefited from those caring people who live the tenets of Dr. King's messages and influences.
"In this country, we have declared war on poverty, war on drugs, war on crime. In 2012, let's take a bold approach and declare peace for all people. I leave you with the words of Gandhi, with whom Dr. King studied and shared the vision and the message of nonviolence: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.' That is my challenge to each of you."