FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
It's time now for StoryCorps Griot recording black Americans from across the country. Each Tuesday, we bring you a story from this project. And today, we hear from Clayton Hall. In 1975, Hall enrolled at Virginia Military Academy or VMI. He was one of just a few black students in his class. When Hall came to StoryCorps with his daughter, Breana, he remembered his first day at the southern military college.
Mr. CLAYTON HALL (Resident, Virginia): Everybody comes in the gym, and all the parents are there and everybody's hugging each other and saying goodbye. But when all the parents leave, it goes crazy. The guys start yelling at you. You got to get in line. You got to go get a haircut. I mean, there's yelling. There's screaming. It's like a boot camp. And that first day was definitely a culture shock.
Ms. BREANA HALL (Clayton Hall's Daughter): How did you feel about your roommates? Were they all of different racial backgrounds?
Mr. HALL: All my roommates were white. A lot of guys - their dads and grandfathers went to VMI and being the big southern military institute, during the Confederate times, those cadets fought for the South. And they had this big thing called the Battle of New Market. So every year, there's a tradition for cadets to ride up to this place called New Market and have a parade. Being a black person - being an African-American, going to parade on a Confederate battlefield - that's hard to do.
Ms. HALL: Did you feel a little hypocritical?
Mr. HALL: Hypocritical is not the word. I felt bad.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HALL: I felt horrible, but there was nothing I could do, and that brings another thing, too. If you exited the barracks through any one of the exits that had a Confederate general statue, you had to salute. Sometimes, you're running late for class so you couldn't go all the way around so you had to actually go out of this arch where Stonewall Jackson was standing there so I had to salute Stonewall Jackson.
Ms. HALL: Do you want to go home to UVA or something like that?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HALL: Well, I wanted to go home. Yeah, you're right, I did. But I didn't quit. I was obligated to do the best I could because my parents, your grandparents, had just come out of those sit-ins. They just came out of those marches in trying to get things integrated so once integration came, we couldn't just quit. You know, we couldn't go into these places and quit because we didn't like what we had to go through because we fought so hard to get there.
CHIDEYA: Clayton Hall talking to his daughter, Breana Hall, in Richmond, Virginia.
The StoryCorps Griot booth is currently in Oakland. All the Griot Initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
To find out how to record your interview and to hear more from StoryCorps Griot, go to our Web site: nprnewsandnotes.org.
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