In Her Own Words

Written by Casey Gymrek, Graduate Assistant 

A growing trend in the world of archives is the preservation of oral histories. These interviews allow history to be told through the people who lived it, which provides a more encompassing and personal view of an event, place, or time. Here at the Albert Gore Research Center, we are fully embracing this technology. For the past twenty years, the AGRC has collected over 900 interviews with Middle Tennessee politicians, veterans, teachers, and more. Since February is Black History Month, I would like to provide a brief overview of one of our interviews with the successful and tenacious Olivia Woods.


Olivia Woods’ Yearbook Photo

In 1948, with strong insistence from her husband, Woods enrolled at the Agricultural and Industrial State School, a historically black college, and commuted to Nashville from Murfreesboro. Due to family obligations, Woods did not complete her degree from A&I. However, after her youngest child started school, she went back to college.  In 1962, with more educational opportunities available to African Americans, she attended Middle Tennessee State College (which later became MTSU) to earn a degree in Elementary Education.  When her African American friends discovered she would be the first black student, they feared for the mother, but Woods credited her faith for her own lack of fear. The lengthy commute to Nashville was the main motivator for the move to MTSC. Woods worried she would not be able to juggle being a wife, mother, and student if she also had to tackle the long drive. In regard to any negative reactions from other students, Woods revealed a story about her first day, where a young man sat next to her and made a snide remark about her skin color. Shortly after, the president of the university, Dr. Cope, reprimanded the young man. Woods claimed she did not experience any further harassment following the initial incident. The mother described her experience as a journey of determination. She did not want recognition as the first black student; she simply wanted an education and to better herself for her children.

For Olivia Woods’ oral interview and many others, please visit our website.

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