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Dr. Dennis E. Chestnut oral history interview, April 23, 2008

Date: Apr. 23 2008 | Identifier: 45-05-01-3
Interview with East Carolina University emeritus professor of psychology Dr. Dennis E. Chestnut. Dr. Chestnut describes his youth in Tabor City, Columbus County, N.C., and how he came to East Carolina College in 1965. He discusses the experience of being an African-American student on a predominantly white campus, various professors who influenced him, and his experiences with student organizations. He goes on to describe his time as a student at the University of Utah, and his subsequent hire by the Dept. of Psychology at East Carolina University. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon. more...
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Transcript of Dr. Dennis E. Chestnut Interview
Interviewee:Dr. Dennis E. Chestnut
Interviewer:Donald R. Lennon
Date of Interview:April 23, 2008
Location of Interview:Greenville, NC
Length:One mp3 file, approximately 91 minutes

Donald R. Lennon:

This is Donald R. Lennon. I am interviewing Dr. Dennis E. Chestnut in Greenville, NC, for the East Carolina University Centennial Oral History Project. Dr. Chestnut has agreed to be interviewed and has given permission that his interviews be transcribed and placed in the University archives for permanent preservation and utilization by the public. Okay. On this, if it's okay, I will call you Dennis, because that's a much more comfortable form.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Of course.

Donald R. Lennon:

You came to ECU in 1966 as a--. When did you--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

1965.

Donald R. Lennon:

You came in 1965.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

August '65.

Donald R. Lennon:

Okay, I had the wrong date. [Pause, sound of papers]

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Nope, 1965.



Donald R. Lennon:

Okay, you came in 1965, and you grew up as a native of Columbus County. Is that correct?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Correct.

Donald R. Lennon:

Where in Columbus County?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Tabor City.

Donald R. Lennon:

In Tabor City, or outside of Tabor City?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Right in Tabor City, three blocks from city hall.

Donald R. Lennon:

Okay. And had any of your family attended college?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, neither mother nor father's side. There were fifty-two of us, including descendants from mom and dad's side, and I was the first one to attend college.

Donald R. Lennon:

And do you have any brothers and sisters?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yes, I have two brothers, one younger, one older, about two years apart. My younger brother also graduated from East Carolina. He came along two years later.

Donald R. Lennon:

How did you go about selecting East Carolina as a--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I was working at the A&P food store, but prior to that--. I really, what had happened was, in my tenth grade, New York Life Insurance Company put out a little book about college careers, and they had physical therapy in there. And I knew that physical therapy was medically related. [I would have chosen to be an MD, but I felt that was out of my reach.] At that time, only Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill had physical therapy programs, so I knew that I would--. My theory, and certainly my thinking--I'm being very candid, however; you edit it is fine with me--that I would have to go to a predominantly white university in order to be able to transfer to Carolina or Duke. So, working at the A&P, I looked at the most sweatshirts that I saw, and most of the



sweatshirts were from Campbell. So I got an application to Campbell and did get accepted, but the high school principal's daughter--of the Tabor City High School, which was white at that time--they were the most friendly, and she had an East Carolina sweatshirt. So I just liked them so much, the Burrelsons, that I checked East Carolina out; found out it was a much larger school than Campbell, and applied to East Carolina, and got accepted. That's how I came to East Carolina; basically on the grounds that the Burrelsons were so much more friendly than the preponderance of people from Campbell. And that was the only East Carolina shirt that I had seen there, and that's while being a bag boy at the A&P.

Donald R. Lennon:

Fascinating, how small things like that can have such a profound influence.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

One person was responsible, yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

Thinking back, did you always know that you were going to college when you were a kid?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yes, I knew I was going. In our town at that time we had had four African Americans prior to my coming to college who had gone. They had come back to be teachers, and I think that's why I was looking at this career book, because I was quite assured I was not going to be a teacher. I thought teachers had to be gods, and the community was always breathing down their back, so I said, "I will go, but I will not be a teacher." And that's how I was interested in this physical therapy, knowing that it was, again, something quite far away from teaching.

Donald R. Lennon:

What was your family's attitude toward your aspirations for college?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Very high. I was always one of those, you know, just in everything through high school: class officer, I graduated valedictorian of the class, and was always very,



very active. In 4-H Club I was the state officer when I was eighth grade, and all those kinds of things, so it was always expected, "Dennis will go to college." Mom and dad were definitely supportive.

Donald R. Lennon:

What did your father do?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Dad worked at a canning plant. We canned beans, and peaches, yams--Lady Tabor was the brand--and was what you would have thought of as a skilled person at the time; because on the entire east coast, all the way down to Florida, he was the only person that knew how to operate the great big cooking vats with the pressure and all. So, periodically they would haul him down to Florida to work on the machines or to teach somebody else how to do it. And mother was a line person. They had you clean the vegetables, pick the trash out of it. We, well before the canning plant came to Tabor City, were farm workers. My grandmother had a big group of children, nine children, so she was kind of the crew boss. She had three or four farmers that she provided, whether it was tobacco, digging potatoes, or whatever. She would outline who goes to which farm today, and that kind of thing. So up until the canning plant came, [we did farm work]. I was so bad, hated tobacco so bad, priming it, until I quickly [applied for the A&P], when the job came up--. We had never had an African American work downtown in any capacity other than janitor, but somehow I, at fifteen, managed to get to the A&P as a bag boy and wore a necktie. So the joke is I was the first one to wear a necktie. [Laughter] They never let me do the cash registers, but I quickly said, "I'm getting out of the tobacco field." [Laughter] Quickly!

Donald R. Lennon:

Appreciate that. Now, the high school that you attended was not integrated at the time, was it?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

No.

Donald R. Lennon:

When did that take place?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I graduated there in 1965, and then in '66 was when freedom of choice started. No whites came to our school, Douglas, but my brother, again younger brother, and two other students did go to Tabor High. So Douglas remained totally black until 1968, and then I think by '68, '69 the schools were literally put together. For those three years you had a freedom of choice idea. I was in what we call the last black class. Although the others, there were three years-[of classes after mine].

Donald R. Lennon:

Your peers, what did they think of the fact that you were going off to college? Did they support it, or antagonistic toward it, or what?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, everyone expected me to go to college, [they were very supportive] but I think one of the questions that is more--well, I won't say more significant, you're asking them--but my high school advisor, senior advisor, just did a flit. She refused to help me fill out any of the papers for East Carolina and Campbell. She stated very clearly that I thought I was better than everybody else, and I thought I was white, [Laughter] and just refused.

Donald R. Lennon:

to Central, or--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I had been accepted at Central and A&T. She was an A&T alumna, and she wanted me, certainly, to go to A&T, and she would have stood for me to go to Central, but just no way in God's green earth--[She wanted me to go to a "white" school]. And, my peers didn't seem to care much, because I was always kind of seen as a little different anyway. And I remember my eighth grade teacher, who had married a distant cousin, really just stepped in and said, "If that's really where he wants to go, she doesn't have to



help you. I'll help you." She took all of my high school superlatives from me, everything but valedictorian. [Laughter] [Pause] you hadn't even gotten it on. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

So, go ahead, she--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

That's how much she was against my coming. She took all the superlatives. We [the class] would, you know, "Best Dressed" or "Most Likely to Succeed", all of those, she took them. The only thing she could not take was the valedictorian, because that was based on grade average. She was quite perturbed to say the least.

Donald R. Lennon:

The superlatives, when I came along, were very political anyway as far as who got what.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

They were voted on by the class, and so that's why I would get them, but this lady ruled with an iron hand and fist, and she just literally took them, refused to let me have them.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's a shame. Okay, did you visit East Carolina before?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

We had to come for a summer orientation program. I remember it was June 23, 1965. I remember that because the same high school--not high school, eighth grade--teacher brought me up to Fifth Street, and it was raining cats and dogs, and he put me out and left me, just left me. I was horrified. He brought me because my mom and dad did not know how to drive to Greenville. They did not read maps and didn't know how to get here and didn't have any idea where we were going. And he just drove up on Fifth Street, and we knew Wright Auditorium was where the convocation was being held, and he said, "I think that's the building there," and drove off. [Laughter] And the funniest thing about that was, that somehow back then the back way of going up Wright, where



you come [into the Soda Shop now]--used to be the student center and all--I ended up coming in the back door, and I walked out. I was on stage, and looked up. So there I was standing on Wright Auditorium's stage and seeing all those hundreds of students. [Laughter] So that really added to my panic, but in my theatrical style, I just turned around--[and went back out the same door through which I came].

Donald R. Lennon:

[You should've] taken a bow.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

[Laughter]I might have done such, knowing me. I said, "Once again, I've come in the back door," until I found my way back to the front door, and came in and sat down.

Donald R. Lennon:

And did this orientation go well? Did you--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, it went well. I don't know whether we had set the time that he would come back to get me or what, but he explained to me, which I now value very much, that, "Dennis, I knew you were going to be there alone, and I knew you had to stand on your own, and I figured you might as well start off without my holding your hand, and I knew you would do okay." And I value that, because I did hit the ground sort of running.

Donald R. Lennon:

And when you came back as a student in--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

August. Yeah, I was ready. Again, we had to get another family member that could read a map and know how to get to East Carolina to drive us up. Mom and dad did come, and they were apprehensive, very apprehensive, about my coming to East Carolina. At some point, I think this whole idea at this time of integration just starting, and knowing that--. So they were apprehensive, but the eighth grade teacher again said, "He is making the best choice, we believe." And I was always, even as a child, pretty definite about what I wanted to do and could always convince my parents. And since I



had had the experience of going away every summer to A&T for 4-H Club, and different kinds of things, they acquiesced and said, "Okay," and no problem, really.

Donald R. Lennon:

At the confusion and everything of the first few days of school in a strange place, how did you acclimate to Greenville?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Well, I didn't acclimate to Greenville, because at that time we were much more of a campus-oriented university. So just being at--. Mainly, I didn't know anything about anything but East Carolina. There's a funny little story--and I'm just going to just say it's a funny little story--about the humps coming up College Hill Drive and what my mother said those humps meant: "Keep humping it! Hump on back home!" [Laughter] And she used a few other words that we'll leave out. But the very first night I stayed in Aycock Hall, room 238, we had been assigned African American roommates. There was a Klan rally in a field that would now be one of our football/soccer fields over across the railroad track. Yeah. And I remember some of the students saying, "Don't go out there, Chestnut. There's a Klan rally." And a bunch of the white students, males, went out and ran the Klan away. Now that was the story. I never saw the Klan, because I did just what they told me: "Stay in the dorm, don't go out there." But I know that there was some fire, and people gathered out there. I question since whether my friends might have pulled my leg, that it wasn't the Klan that rallied, it's something else, but they told me it was a Klan rally. [Laughter] And they did go out and come back I think an extended period of time that we ran them away, literally. And so we [African-American students] took it as fact for quite some time, because we were the first to actually-- [live in the dorms].

Donald R. Lennon:

How many of you were there?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

In that group in '65 there were fifteen of us that came in, and that's why I always say we were the first class, although you had Leary, who had come in '63 but did not stay on campus, and then the next year, '64, I think two other people who lived in Greenville came. So we were what we call the first class, group, to actually live on campus.

Donald R. Lennon:

How was the dropout rate among African American students at that time? Were they able to stick it out?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I did not actually compute that, but I do remember out of the fifteen of us--and some of these things by now you hate to really state them as fact, because that's what gets history twisted--but I know that first year--. [Pause] To me it was--. I have to go back. Just give me a second to think about who graduated, and then I can pretty much--. [Pause] My thinking, without just sitting down pulling those names, is about half of that fifteen did not graduate. And whether they dropped out that first year or the next year-- [I don't know]. But when I think about how many of us actually graduated, my current thinking is seven or eight of us graduated; really finished the program.

Donald R. Lennon:

You know that's not a very bad figure when you consider the percentage--

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Not much different from what it is now. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

--that graduate now, from what you see on the statistics.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, it was somewhere around that number. I wouldn't be too far off. At least half of us made it through and actually graduated. But again I would of course want to think that most of us who came were--.

Donald R. Lennon:

Highly motivated.



Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, right. I mean, some of the students were really good students. I think the most--. Of course you'll probably ask me about academics, so let me-- [stop]. My problem's going to be having-- [to not anticipate questions]. Being a psychologist and used to interviews, I'll take your interview. [Laughter] You can ask me the questions. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

You go ahead and venture forth.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

When you asked me about adjustment, I had as much difficulty adjusting to African American students as I did adjusting to white students; if not more so, again because of the experience of having worked at the A&P and all of the young people there who worked were coming from State, Chapel Hill, to work in the summer. And also, I was not a partier at all; zero partying, no beer, none of the stuff. I didn't smoke. I did not play cards, and that was kind of--. You asked about dropout rate. I can remember during class changes black students would gather there in what was Mendenhall, the student center, and the bell would ring to go to class, and if they were in a card game, they just wouldn't go to class. They stayed and played gin rummy, bid whist, and I still to this day don't know how to play any of those. And so there were about three or four of us who were known to be, you know, "They're going to class." I do remember very specifically that I had made as my model that I had come to go to school. I'd come out of a Pentecostal background, so we thought playing cards was sinful anyway. I didn't like the smoke because they didn't smoke in the home. So that meant that I more quickly got involved in student organizations or developed white friends who didn't smoke, didn't drink. When they [most of the black students] were out on Saturday night, I'd sit in the dorm and play gospel records and stuff. And then there were always those lone white



students who sat in the dorm, so we developed quick friendship. It [the whole experience] was a jolt for me, taking [courses with which I was not accustomed]--because I wanted to go into physical therapy and we didn't have any physical therapy program, so they put me in a science sequence--taking chemistry, trigonometry. None of this stuff had I had. My high school chemistry--. Didn't have it in high school, we had biology, which was still dismal. So for the first year the biggest adjustment was making Ds and Fs when I was used to making all As. That came as close to ungluing me as-[anything]. And later, my switching majors and getting into stuff that I thought I was better, and did turn out to be. I remember my third--we were on quarter system--my third quarter. After two semesters of literally ending up on probation, I went and changed my major to sociology and made the honor roll. So that was the beginning of-- [my getting my footing]. And from there on out then I-- [I started adjusting better]. And, I was very much aware that I needed to be involved in student organizations. That was the third quarter. I said, "Dennis, your issue is, you do better work when you're involved." And so I at that time got started with the Sociology Club and the Student Union.

Donald R. Lennon:

I noticed that you had a Columbus County Club. Those were students at EC from Columbus County, had their own organization?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, in fact, yeah, and I remember just most recently we had--. Jenny Wright, I remember, who lived a few doors from us [in my hometown]; white young lady, we still kind of enjoy that. When she'd come--[to Greenville]. She was on the alumni board here, so when I would go back home, for a number of years, it would be great. And now of course we have a number of African Americans from Tabor City, from the church with which I work, who are here, and lots [of students] from Tabor City



who are here. But yeah, we had--[a Columbus County Club]. I would, by my Sophomore year, would ride home, because a bus trip here was horrendous. It was a six-hour bus ride and you stopped everywhere. So there was a gentleman, a white student, his father pastored the church there, and ran Jones Department store, and he had a car, and we would come home, Russell, myself. [He would let another guy named Russell and me ride home with him.] And this was like my second year, basically. We would come home on the weekends together. So there were four or five of us.

Donald R. Lennon:

By that time you had a pattern of coming home most weekends--

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, no, no, no, no!

Donald R. Lennon:

--or just special weekends?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Special weekends. We still had a-- [residential focus about which] we were adamant about--. We were not into the suitcase college idea. "You have come to go to school, so why are you running home every weekend;" that got very strong for us. [Going home was for] special weekends.

Donald R. Lennon:

Now, with regard to academics, who did you have as academic advisor?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Switching to sociology, and he really did become my father surrogate, Mel Williams, Melvin Williams, the chairman of the department. I would rather have a bad grade to take home to my parents, because I could talk them out of why I got a bad grade, [Laughter] than I could with Mel Williams.

Donald R. Lennon:

[Coughing]He was something else. Would you care for--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, I have some. I brought my own, actually. He was so influential in my career that I, even after the first year, discovered that sociology wasn't really what I wanted to do--I was back on this idea of medicine. So I discovered that clinical



psychology was more medically oriented than sociology--but because I did not want to leave Mel Williams as my advisor, I took a double major in psychology and sociology so I could continue-- [with Dr. Williams as my advisor].

Donald R. Lennon:

Did he realize what you were doing?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

It was just the fact that he did not mean for me to leave that department. [Laughter] I mean, he made that very clear. So I just carried both of them. As time passed, I mean, I got Outstanding Senior in the sociology department and first runner up in the psychology department. So he would sometimes say, "See. You're our first [number one] Outstanding Senior. Over there you're just second." [Laughter] So even until a few years ago Mel would be at football games. I mean, we still kept a-- [close contact].

Donald R. Lennon:

He used to sit right behind us.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, he's just a cordial--. He was really a father surrogate for me. I remember A.A. Fahr, who taught me history.

Donald R. Lennon:

Farmer?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, Fahr. This is A.A. Fahr, what is it, F-A-H-R, if I'm not mistaken. Yeah. You're looking at me like, you're going like, "I just don't remember that." I'm sure. It wasn't Farmer. It was Fahr, was his last name, A.A. And I got--. [I remember him because] the first semester I made honor roll--not semester, that third quarter--I was checking all my grades and that was the one I said, "I don't have a B in that class." And I was so afraid--you used to have to check your grades up on the wall--and his was the last I checked, and I had gotten a B. And I went to him and asked him--of course I'd already told the children [my friends] the Lord said I was going to make honor roll, and they all



laughed me off the map, black and white, but I was, again, very much a religious-oriented person--and I asked him how could I have made a B in this class? And he said, "Dennis, when I look at the test grades, or whatever, you did not." He said, "But if I think about that entire class, if any student in that class deserved a B, it was you. You came prepared every day, you would discuss." He said, "This class would have been dismal [without your input]." It was US history. It was divided into two parts. And he said, "You were enthusiastic, you helped to stimulate the class, and I backed away from the grades and looked-- [at your overall performance]. I said, 'If anybody deserves--.'" So that was the first time I made the honor roll, and that for me-- [a real starter for me]. I didn't follow it [this procedure] very well as a professor. I was a little bit more of a stickler about it; had to be. But I will not say that I have not had students that I did pull. I just had the rule that if I pulled one student, other students that were in the same boat got pulled also. But that to me was a great impetus to really get in and do, whether you knew the material or not, to be diligent about it, and you might can tell I can talk. And so I will remember him very, very well. Ralph Rives, who was my English composition professor, he took us, I'll never forget, to the Candlewick for dinner. He said he chose, one year, each semester, quarter, he'd choose a class to take [to dinner]. I would always on my compositions get F-plus. I'd ask him, "Why the F-plus?" He says, "Well you just have such beautiful penmanship and rhetoric. [Laughter] I can't just fail you."

Donald R. Lennon:

What were you doing that he didn't care for?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Well, back then, really composition was composition. And remember Ralph was, you know, [par excellente, Panacea Springs,] I mean, his dissertation and stuff. [Laughter] I mean he was just about as British as one could be, other than Kilpatrick.



Donald R. Lennon:

And his degree was in rhetoric.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, so he said I had such beautiful rhetoric and penmanship that he just couldn't bring himself to give me an F. So we remained friends all the way through, then when I came back as a colleague with him, and we'd laugh about that kind of thing. There were quite a number, you know, like I said, if I were to go back through the professors that I would remember. Those three right away pop up in there. We had--I don't even remember the name, thank God--one composition lady who stopped and got fired in the middle of the semester, and Ms. Adams--. Frank Adams taught and his wife took over the class, and she would always just was--. It tickled me. I got a B out of there, so it was always a big question about what were they going to do with the previous half of the semester grades. And she said, "Well I can't just,"--although I made almost perfect scores part of the semester, she took--. She said, "But you know I can't just throw those out the window." But she was a real-- [humor and good]. I enjoyed her a lot.

Donald R. Lennon:

They had some interesting characters in the English department back in those days.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Oh God, yeah, yeah. There's no question about it. Yeah. Ralph , one of the professors we were scared to death of. [Most students would drop the course if they got him.] [Dr.] Kilpatrick. [Laughter] Ralph really would be on my case because I was a sociology major, and he always wanted me to be in his class, but somehow I just always-- [managed to avoid taking his class]. [Laughter] But we were good friends.



Donald R. Lennon:

You said that you got involved in organizations very early on here, including the Student Government Association, chair of the Student Judiciary Board, and on from there. Any comments on any of those involvements?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, I think the kind of things that would be important--. Well I ended up making "Who's Who" in '69, so that certainly meant that I-- [was involved]. And I kind of laughed because Benny [Teel] was the first African American [at ECU] to have made "Who's Who", and Benny was somewhat of a role model for me in being in organizations. [I sometime say I would have been "the first African American" at ECU for a lot of things if Benny had not been there.] Organizations for me were a lifeline. There were several things, however, I think if we were to look at being stimulated at the same time, some of the not so wonderful experiences--. I remember my first major outing was with Model United Nations. I'd never flown. It was in St. Louis, Missouri. That was exciting to me, flying. And of course when the plane, they stopped the motor, my only concern was I had not taken out life insurance, because I thought the plane was going down, [Laughter] and we had arrived in Atlanta to change planes. With the Student Union, they would elect--. You knew the main officers of the Student Union were going to go to the [conference], we had to go to the University of Tennessee Knoxville. And I got nominated from the floor. It is significant to me--I guess you'll filter out other people's names--but David Cobb, who still lives in Greenville, kind of a quirky guy, he nominated me from the floor, and by golly I was one of the six that got elected to go. Little did I know that the other officers had already planned how they were going to sleep and the sleeping arrangement. I did not know that people were saying behind the scenes, "We're not going to sleep in a room with that," you know, "African



American, that black guy." And one young lady, Carol , whose father taught in the business school, I remember said, "Well, if you guys won't sleep with him, I will," and that was significant. [Laughter] And so Carol and I exchange Christmas cards even to this day. That was very, very important. It often brought up the issue, I think in the organization--. I made the cheering squad here three times. Never got to cheer, because if they tell us to be here on Monday before school starts--. "Oh, we met over at the Lambda Chi house, and you weren't there, so you got thrown off the squad." That kind of thing with organizations.

Donald R. Lennon:

That was preplanned?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, because it wouldn't have happened three times, that they would have the cheerleading tryouts and I would make it, but again it was very much a fraternity/sorority locked in system. No question about it. I equally as much would remember the senior class president. I remember Steve Morissette got it, but by that time what was supposed-[to happen]. I was thinking about this last night. A young lady, who was also an African American, it had been planned that she would run for president. We had [political] parties then. I don't even remember the name of them, but two major parties on campus. And she was supposed to run for president in the other group, and I was going to run for president in my group. Well, everybody knew that I was going to beat Evelyn and I would be senior class president, but somehow the other group got wind of this plan, and made Evelyn vice president, and so Steve ended up getting president.

Being in Men's Glee Club, we had to go down to Hamlet, North Carolina, to sing. And again, I guess I was kind of, I don't know what you would call, I just had never really paid much attention to race. I knew the difference in white and black, and I'd been



around white people all my life, working with them, and around black people. And I guess I thought I had come to the land of the free and the home of the brave, but I now know that they had to scramble to get a black family to let me--

Donald R. Lennon:

Stay.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

--stay with them. But out of that I still saw positive in that I can remember one person in the Glee Club who just could not--. I went following Benny, who was an African American. Couldn't sing squat. Bret--can't remember Watson's last name, I'm blocking it--was doing the auditioning and he would ask was this note higher or lower, and I would get it wrong even on a piano scale. But he was very, very good as a director; [both he] and Clyde [Hiss] , and they didn't show any differences, and I think they wanted the choir to be integrated, so they were excellent. And one of the persons standing next to me could sing less that I could, and yet he treated me more as an equal. Really we developed a close bond until even no longer than a few years ago. He was the person that put in my heating and cooling system. And we laughed about the times with the Glee Club. So those kinds of bonds, and within, at least by my junior year, I was well acclimated into the system. Like I said, I was in student government, the legislature, men's judiciary. I seemed to act like I didn't know you weren't supposed to do those things, and was kind of popular.

Donald R. Lennon:

In most cases, except when it came to traveling and things like that, did you experience any really negative response?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Not after, like I said, particularly Knoxville, which would have been my sophomore year, and getting the feedback later, but even those people and I became very, very close friends. So I would say that particularly after the sophomore year that I was



unaware of difficulty. We did once go to Atlantic Beach, and I happened to be dating a young lady from up around the Ahoskie area who looked white. That was not pleasant. That was scary as heck. Our car broke down and the police would not give us any kind of assistance and, oh, just terrible. And she got back--. Back then we had curfews at the dorm, so her house mother gave her up the hill about it and that kind of thing. But again that would have been somewhere in my sophomore year. Pretty much by the junior year was when they actually started [integrating] in residential living; really just to-- [started assigning students to any room]. They did not separate. They did the first two years.

Donald R. Lennon:

Probably by that time too most public schools were integrated, and so--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

By '68, yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

More and more were accustomed to dealing with interracial backgrounds.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

In '68 I had a white roommate, and we liked each other so well--from Jacksonville--who was very friendly. I'd go down and visit him. We'd go visit his family in New Jersey. We decided to be roommates the next year, and that kind of stuff, so it had totally-- [changed]. That was like by '68, '69. Those were free years, and cutting up. I wasn't a big partier again, but I felt comfortable. They would pay me all I could eat to drive for them so they could drink. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

You were always designated driver.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Right. Just buy me all I can eat. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

I like that. The ECU Collegiate 4-H Club--I was not even aware that EC had a 4-H Club.



Dennis E. Chestnut:

I have very little remembrance of it. But we did have it. Of course I brought my year book here, [inaudible], but I have very little account of what we really did, how it interfaced.

Donald R. Lennon:

I would have thought that NC State would have a collegiate 4-H, but EC--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I was certainly in it, and knowing me, as a pack rat, because I still have all my notes and all from college, even high school, we had one. And I just don't remember much--.

Donald R. Lennon:

I was never invited to join so I feel like--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Were you bad [Laughter] that you weren't--?

Donald R. Lennon:

After all these years I find out there was one and I wasn't invited to join.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

One thing that was significant, if you go back to the student organization issues, that it would have been when SOULS, which is now ABLE on campus--it was S-O-U-L-S, Student Organization for United Liberation of Students--was formed--very much seen as a militant group--by African American students. I would not join the organization. A number of us would not join because we just felt it was militant. A group of the students boycotted, blocked the cafeteria line, and had a sit-in at the chancellor's house. And four of the students literally were going to get expelled, I mean gone. And Dean Mallory, whom I love, and Dan K. Wooten, who was over housing, Dean Mallory called me in his office that day, and I was on Men's Judiciary, and said, "Dennis, if you don't--." And I was kind of going like, "Let 'em go. They don't like me anyway." Because I would literally get, sometimes almost physically hit by some of the African American students.

Donald R. Lennon:

Because you weren't more militant?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah, right. And he called me in and said, "If you don't defend them in the Men's Judiciary, they're gone, because you're the only African American student, or black student, that knows that system." He said, "And they'll be creamed." So they ended up getting suspended for a semester and one of them actually did graduate. Two of them graduated. One of them is an attorney here in Greenville now. One of them went on to be with the FBI.

Donald R. Lennon:

[Laughter]

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah. [Laughter] And I don't know what happened to the other two. But that's--.

Donald R. Lennon:

Were they really as hard core militant as they seemed to think--

Dennis E. Chestnut:

They weren't--. The militancy was to block the cafeteria line, and to sit in the administration building, so they weren't militant, if we would think of-- [real militancy].

Donald R. Lennon:

They just wanted attention.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

They weren't the Black Panthers and all. I just was not verbal. I remember I was always the one, "I'm going to class." Because my thing is I'm not going to get thrown out of school, same as I was about cards or whatever. I'm not going to let this deter me.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, Leo Jenkins was still chancellor, or president, your entire stay--

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yes.

Donald R. Lennon:

--as an undergraduate. Did you have any contact with Dr. Jenkins?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yes. [Laughter] Boy! My first invitation to the chancellor's house was when Barry Goldwater came here. And because one of the organizations I was in, they had a



dinner, and I was invited. But a very specific--. And I almost apologize for being candid, I guess because I want things to be so positive, but I understand in history you are trying to get the real essence. And so, I heard--. One afternoon I was working, it would have been in '68, and I heard two professors--. I was working over in the student computing center, the first computing center we had. I worked as a student worker there. And it was late in the afternoon and I heard two professors, again, history professors, spare calling their names, say, "Let me go see what my 'n's' did in class." The "n" word. And I heard them. There were four of us in the class. I knew there were four black students in that class. Now of course we know we can know the book where it talks about students in general. It could have been generic or whatever. But I was so much, particularly at that time, not wanting any great stir on campus, that I went to Dr. Jenkins, asked for an appointment, the secretary asked me what did I want to see him about, and I said, "It's personal." And I repeated to him what I had heard those persons say, and both of them retired the next year. [Laughter] So I don't know whether retirement was there, but the students who were in the class--I wasn't in their class, somehow I knew how to pick my professors--but they had complained all semester about those two professors. And I clearly heard them, both of them.

Donald R. Lennon:

Jenkins had a way of getting things done.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

And they were both in the history department, and both of them mysteriously retired the next year.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's interesting.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

That was, you know--. And so I really felt endeared to him as a person with that kind of integrity. It felt comfortable then, and he did say to me, "Chestnut, if



anything goes wrong, come--. You did the right thing. I appreciate your handling it this way." And I did not breath it to anybody else, you know, and seldom mention it, even since then.

Donald R. Lennon:

Any observations about campus life outside of the organizational structure that you were a part of?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I'm not sure I'm clear on your question.

Donald R. Lennon:

Any thoughts about campus life outside of the organizational involvement?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Outside of the organizations? Well again, it happened to be, particularly by '68, '69--. Those were wonderful years of the country: the freedom, felt comfortable with-- [racial integration]. I remember the freshman dance. I got my first kiss [Laughter]. I learned to dance, because I would go away in the summers to live in Newark, New Jersey. So when I'd come back--and I didn't know I could dance, because we were Pentecostal again, didn't know it--and I'd be doing dances and the students would be, "Oh! You're doing--," you know, the Pony, or the Twist, or whatever. So those Friday night dances were really, really important at Mendenhall. I loved Miss Cynthia Mendenhall because she was just Cynthia Mendenhall. If you did what you were supposed to do, she was a very gentle, loving, caring kind of person, and could be rough if you didn't do what you were supposed to do. So I felt very comfortable on campus, just no doubt about it, enough to just turn around and come right back into my master's here, and by that time I felt like I owned a piece of the rock. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Well there are those of us that had a soft spot for--. And the only reason I bring this up because one of the other persons to be interviewed made a really big point about how much he enjoyed the cafeteria.



Dennis E. Chestnut:

It would be interesting you'd bring it up, because if there were a negative point about the cafeteria, and I had thought of it as we were chatting--. I came here with a $150 scholarship I got--it was not the United Negro College Fund, it was United Negro Fund--and a job. And literally, my parents not being educated, they were sending me fifteen dollars a week--I'd get that money order every Monday--to eat. And I had the job. My job was in the cafeteria. We could only work in the kitchen. One of the meanest, hate-fullest men that I have ever known was the director, and I'll spare again his name.

Donald R. Lennon:

Julian?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Julian. Was just mean, mean, very much a bigot, very abusive, to almost spitting in your face when--. I guess he chewed tobacco or something. Miss Clark tried to be fair. She was the nutritionist. But we could only work on the dish machine in the cafeteria in the back. And because of my not being an upstart, the same person that went into the FBI would work with me on the dish machine, a black guy, and he would sling the dishes on the floor, so I'd have to pick them up. So I was quickly very much happy with Tanella Gross and Jack Gross when I got to work with them, Tanella in the computing center and then that summer Jack was in philosophy and was doing his dissertation, so I was his student helper. And quickly, kind of like I wanted to get out of the tobacco field, I wanted to get out of that cafeteria as quickly as I could. I'd hate the days that I--. We did it everyday. I really would hate--.

Donald R. Lennon:

You were there as a freshman, just the one year?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah. It was miserable, just miserable.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's interesting. I was thinking more in terms of the food.



Dennis E. Chestnut:

The food. [Laughter] Well that was an experience, because you did have to pay for things a la carte, and having fifteen dollars a week, but again I never went hungry; did fine. Mother was always sending--. If anybody came or we'd go home, she'd cook chicken and stuff and cakes and all. So I didn't go hungry. Fifteen dollars a week was significant but that was new for me to have to buy food a la carte and stuff. But the work experience, you got the idea. That was one of the most negative experiences I had.

Donald R. Lennon:

Glad I brought it up in innocence. [Laughter]

Dennis E. Chestnut:

[Laughter]Yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

Okay. And you graduated in '69 with the Outstanding Graduating Senior from sociology that particular year.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah. As I said, I was first runner up in the psych department. I always like to throw that in. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Both covered there. Any thoughts about that?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

It was not surprising. By that time I had very good professors in that department. You knew how to avoid the ones that were not. We had one who had a major physical disability who was just a grouch, and you stayed out of his class. I guess the thing about the thoughts of it was again the torn kinds of things. When I graduated they had just started their master's program, and I applied for the master's program in sociology and applied for the master's program in clinical psychology. And again Dr. Williams, they gave me full money to come in the sociology program, and I chose the psychology department. But at the same time I had gone to a summer law program at the



University of Virginia, and had gotten full scholarships in law to Notre Dame and Carolina.

Donald R. Lennon:

Goodness gracious!

Dennis E. Chestnut:

So I go home to my parents [Laughter] and tell them, "Okay, you can have a lawyer--and by the way I'm only interested in criminal law--or you can have a sociologist or a psychologist, and I really know that I will go farther with law or psychology than I will with sociology," because the program was just starting. And my dad said, "Well, I don't know." All he could think of was Lawyer Soles. R.C. Soles is from my hometown, and so he could think of R.C. Soles. And my mother said to me, "Well, you know you're a Christian. If you're interested in criminal law, you're going to be defending people you know are guilty, and that's going to tear you apart." So I came right back and signed up for the master's clinical program. So that kind of thing, the spin off from having been outstanding sociologist, helped me to feel that I had choices. Yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

And once you came back in graduate school you were also the dorm--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I was assistant advisor for Scott Hall, the assistant, and then I became the head advisor for Tyler when they built Tyler. That was excellent, because by that time, particularly in grad school, was different as night and day. You [We] were very close family and the residents, you know, we had our little cooking facilities. Wonderful little story about this though. It goes back to the spirit of the time. We were over in-- [Scott Hall]. One of the other resident advisors came to my apartment. We were going to do a beef roast. [Pause] We were doing a pot roast, and he had come early, and I was salting and peppering and stuff. And I noticed he was watching every move, and I thought maybe he's just scornful and wanted to make sure I was clean. And when I finally put



the flour on it and browned it, he said, "You cooked that just like my mama!" And for us, we became inseparable friends. And I would sometimes tell my class about that, that something as simple as eating-- [can be a point of similarity]. And I always gloried to people that I was a southerner, that many of the things that we might have called soul food was just southern cooking, and that food has often been a mechanism to transcend differences. And that was very poignant. From there on out we were [at each's others' place], about every night; cooking together and that kind of thing because I made a pot roast just like his mama did.

Donald R. Lennon:

That's interesting. How many graduate students were [inaudible] at that time?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Okay. We had had, prior to my coming into the-- [program]. What I thought was--. We had one person. Curtis Mabry had come [into the clinical program] the year before I started grad school in that [same] clinical program. And I was not aware of any other graduate students until that time, but I-- [just heard]. Most recently, the person--wasn't it Walter something, that they said was in education; the person that just got the Outstanding Alumni award last year. But if he were in education he was certainly off campus working because we-- [would have known each other if he were on campus]. I was only aware of one graduate student, [Curtis Mabry]. Benny, I guess-- [could have been in graduate school]. Now somehow Benny had not actually graduated and went on to graduate school, because Benny was in languages and all, and he might have been taking [graduate courses], because he had double majors in French and Spanish--. Because Benny had not graduated, and Benny did not go to grad school here, I don't think. He went to Barcelona and the Sorbonne and stuff. So I was aware [of my being



the only Black student] at that time. And when I came Curtis was away on internship, doing six months internship in Raleigh--so at that time, as far as I knew, I was the only graduate student.

Donald R. Lennon:

How was your course work? Different from what you had experienced as an undergraduate?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Night and day, night and day. I remember the difference being is that in other courses you had a textbook, and your exam was going to come from the textbook. And, I remember telling people in my-- [family terminal program]. And the clinical program we called a terminal master's. Back then really when you finished you were ready to be a clinical psychologist. But it literally was a terminal master's. It was a classical program that we did all the testing and interviewing; a very rigorous program, which turned out later on to be to my benefit, because even when going into doctoral programs, I had taken most of the courses that the doctoral programs were offering. I had them: the testing, the interviewing. But I said the difference was the professor, he would walk into class and stack six books up on the desk, and tell you you were going to have two exams, a midterm and a final. You'd have three questions on each exam. And you'd ask him, "Out of which book?" [Laughter] Six books. And at the same time I remember again, Charlie Mitchell would have been coming in as acting chair after Clint Prewett, that he told me my first day of grad school, he said, "Chestnut, you missed your class this morning." And I was horrified. I think you already get the flavor I always wanted to be a good boy. I was horrified that I missed my first class. I said, "Well the schedule said--." He said, "No, the one that you're teaching." I said, "What?" He said, "Well, we ran short." At that time graduate students could teach intro courses. He said, "We ran short.



We knew you could do it." He said, "Just do it." So I had an 8:00 class I had to teach. I was a dorm advisor and teaching, so for me that was just great. And the first semester, God, with the testing, the teaching, but I was one of those all-nighters. Maybe that's why I'm still an all-nighter kind of person. But I developed vertigo the first semester. [Laughter] I'd stand up and get dizzy, but I enjoyed the teaching very much so. Then leveled off in the class and did fairly well.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well now, was Tom Durham in the program at the time you were?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Tom would have come after me in the program. He came after me in the program, I want to say. John Childers, seems like, came a year before me. Seems like Tom was a couple of years after me in the program. But we were very much like a family. There were thirteen of us in the class and we were just a family. I mean, we were joined at the hip. [Laughter] It was a very tight program. Tom Long, to this day is a friend of mine, was the director of the clinical program, ran a real tight ship, but was a very humanistic kind of person. Made you feel comfortable and would tell you the truth, very soft spoken, but you knew-- [he meant whatever he said]. And he kept that program very tight. He was one of the ones who helped develop the whole school psych program in the state of North Carolina. He was on the licensure board, and also to have that kind of-- [direct contact with policy making was great]. And he was personable. During that time it was nothing for students, and particularly graduate students, and professors to hang out and stuff. And he'd always come to our parties and stuff, and we'd be laughing, "Oh here's Dr. Long," but he was just a wonderful person, and still it.

Donald R. Lennon:

There was a room over in what was the south cafeteria where the faculty and graduate students would meet for coffee of a morning. I don't know whether--?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

Our graduate room was up in Speight. We had one big room. But we had a lot of off campus parties by that time. I was on campus as an advisor, hall advisor--not hall advisor, dormitory advisor--so I didn't have a lot of parties at my house. But the other students were off [campus], so we had a regular thing of eating and meeting and greeting and that kind of thing.

Donald R. Lennon:

And so you graduated in '71. Sounds like you had a wonderful experience.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Very, very, very positive. I, by that time, had decided pretty much to stop with the master's, but I was also aware to really be a supervisor or something in clinical psych you needed that doctorate, so I had said-- [I would get a doctorate if I got in a top notch school]. At that time as soon as you got your master's you could come back and teach like two years as an instructor. I kind of knew that I could do that at ECU, but I saw applications on the bulletin board, and I said, "I'm going to apply to three top schools: Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State." I said, "If I get in any one of them, okay, if I don't, alright." But I also looked up and saw one from the University of Utah, and you didn't have to send in an application fee. So just on a whim I filled it out--.

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you know anything about the University of Utah?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Utah? Nothing, nothing. All I knew was Tom Long had been there at Hill Air Force Base; nothing about the program, but the mere fact that I did not have to do that application fee. Didn't hear anything from it. I must have filled it out in the fall. In April I got a letter saying that, "We had 611 applicants, we chose four, you have been chosen, you have a full NIMH grant," and I still wasn't going to go. And, God bless his soul, Bill Grossnickle, pulled me in, in his way, and for the first time he said, "Don't be d--- stupid. You're the first person in this University grad school who's gotten a full



NIMH grant in this department. You go." I was told two things: "I hope you don't like trees," and "Take your long underwear." And so I loaded up my car [Laughter] with a tire tied on the back, with a barbecue chicken and a pound cake that my mother had made, and headed off to Utah. That's how I ended up there. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you find the academic community much different in Utah than it was--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

A little. First of all, I went there, and again, most of the courses they were requiring in the doctoral program I had had them in my master's program. So I ended up taking things in ethnic and cultural diversity. Found the students, to me, I thought they were a little smarter. They had had a broader education, not as classical. They knew more. I mean, I felt real bad that there were black authors that I'd never heard of that white students knew. But again, my typical fashion, the first semester I was there, I applied for a position. They wanted a clinical psychologist to work with learning disabilities. They had seven pilot projects in the country, and I went down to the state faculty office there and applied to be that examiner for one of those learning disabilities programs. And came back [to campus] nonchalantly, and they called me later in the office and said, "Dennis, you got the job," and I said, "Oh, I always get the job I want." And they said they had interviewed thirteen people prior to my getting it, so I felt very good that from the whole learning disabilities stuff--I even now have data that I collected I've never published from that program--so I was well prepared. That was good, but it also put me in a position to not be in core classes with other people. Very quickly I moved--. I lived in a house for international students, wonderful cooking in the kitchen and stuff, but very quickly--.

Donald R. Lennon:

I see where food plays a very important part in your academic training.



Dennis E. Chestnut:

Oh yeah. You learn--. I mean, the people were mainly from Iran and India and China. So I stayed in there a semester. I quickly moved off campus, and had a lawyer that I moved [in with], and moved to the ski slopes in Alta and Snowbird. So I was very much a different student. I came home for Christmas the first semester and was offered a job at East Carolina. So the first semester away I signed a contract to teach, so that was hanging over my head.

Donald R. Lennon:

Had you pursued it, or had they just--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I came to visit, went by the department, and they said, "How would you like to come back and teach." And that again, that was so much, if there was anything that was out of the ordinary for me, to somewhere never in my wildest dreams that I would think that I would be teaching at East Carolina. I knew I would be somewhere, so I took exactly what they offered me. I didn't ask for anything different, and I later got told I could have asked for five thousand dollars more. [Laughter] So, that's kind of Stuff. So my professors at Utah were very upset. First of all, I went back and told them what I was making, and one of the things that upset them was because at that time I was getting pretty much what some of them were getting. They felt like they had lost me as a student. They would meet me, the professors, in the elevator and say, "Hey, thirteen five." Already I was, you know--. And they said, "We don't turn out our students to go back to podunk universities." Same thing happened at NYU, same statement basically. They wanted me to go to Columbia or Princeton, and I said, "I'm going back to East Carolina."

Donald R. Lennon:

Did you finish your studies at Utah?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

I did not finish. That's the story. They gave me three years to go on and do my doctorate. And after the three years, I was working with Dr. [Schenkerg at the VA Hospital who was doing research with Dr. Kuff at University of Utah Medical School Kidney Center] then at the Kidney. My first dissertation was on hemodialysis, helping decide whether people had to go to the centers or could do home hemodialysis, and it was very involved. I had a major death. My aunt died, and I went home to the funeral and let my advisor present my final colloquium for me. He was at the Veteran's Hospital, where I had done two years of full internship. See, I didn't have to take any courses, basically, so I was full-time at the Veteran's Hospital for two years. And there was this squabble between the Veteran's Hospital: do we own the students or does the University own the students? And I got back from the funeral and they told me my colloquium had failed. That's the only time I ever thought about suicide, the only time, because I had sailed through the program. I had--.

Donald R. Lennon:

What grounds? Did they--?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

They said-- [one of the Department Committee members told me]. What happened was, is that my advisor, every time they questioned-- [my advisor from the VA Hospital, he would just say he didn't know]. We kind of put the cart ahead of the-- [horse]. We had collected all the data before we did the little formality of getting it approved by the University. The mistake of doing your research-- [outside one's department]. You've always got to go through and do that colloquium and they say, "Okay, go do the research." And we had spent two years doing the research and hadn't done that one formality. That was the only thing I needed to come out. I went back, and then East Carolina said, "You have got to take the job now or we're going to pull the



job." So I chose to come back to East Carolina, and then was going to go back and work on the dissertation. I went back one summer to work on it and the papers that I turned out weren't satisfactory to them. They gave me a conditional--what do you call it?--a conditional failed on the papers, and I had a five-part doctoral program. And so I felt very cheated, very angry with them, and just said, "I'm not going to keep on messing with them. I've got enough, first of all, behind me. I can live, make a living," because I would have had everything--back then, ABD was a degree--and went on with that and was kind of comfortable with it. I decided I was not going back to Utah, that they had really-- [messed over me]. And they did get sued. The guy that became the chairman at Hampton was in the program, and the same kind of thing we had done, just what we had signed to do, and he did the same thing, and they came at the last minute and said, "Oh, you didn't do enough of this," and he sued them and won the case. I said, "I just don't want to be bothered with them." And came up for tenure [at ECU] in '78 and got another switcheroo pulled--just to be absolutely honest--at that time, and I was bitter about it, because they had let other people with ABDs get tenure. And I was told all along those years, "Dennis, you are progressing fine, as long as you are working toward the doctorate." And then six months before I came up for tenure I got told by my chair, "You don't have to be working on it, you have to have it." So the only way that I could stop that process was I started applying to go to other schools to complete my doctorate. And so I said, "I don't want to-- [be trying to work while trying to get a degree]." Some people went to State and kept on teaching; got their tenure, and they got their doctorate two years after I did, so it was a flat out lie. And I stopped and went to NYU and thought I was going to be continuing my clinical program and ended up in community



psychology. It was brand spanking new. But again it was the best thing that ever happened to me; to live in New York, in Washington Square Park. I was the first one in the program to finish, and a lot of the students were from Harvard and Yale. I got it, again, had a job offer at Columbia and one at Princeton, and chose to come back to East Carolina. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Your mother and father, I'm sure, loved you every time you made the right decision for them.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Oh, they didn't want me to go to Utah, and my mother boohooed and cried and carried on. Again, being a spiritual person, my aunt came over and said, "The spirit of the Lord said, 'Let him go.'" When I went to New York there were times I boohooed and cried. I did teach full time at Medgar Evars College while I was there, and worked with Betty Shabazz and all, so I was always an advanced student because they had literally nothing that I needed to take. At Utah one semester I took jazz dancing, skiing, and karate. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Goodness gracious!

Dennis E. Chestnut:

In a doctoral--.

Donald R. Lennon:

As part of your doctoral program.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Well the hours-- [counted as graduate hours]. But that again talks about the strong clinical program and background that I had in my master's at East Carolina. Any of the programs that I got in, even if they were new programs such as community psychology, just about anything they mentioned, if I hadn't done the two-years internships, full internships, at the Veteran's Hospital in Salt Lake City--. I mean, they



talked about a clinical practicum, I mean it was like this man has had a clinical practicum out of the wahoos. And it was great for me, personality wise.

Donald R. Lennon:

How did you like Salt Lake City?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

I ended up loving it. Remember it was the largest city I had lived in. At that time it was about the size of Charlotte. The only thing I missed was seafood. Boy, that was a-- [real longing].

Donald R. Lennon:

They didn't do fishing in the Great Salt Lake?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No, the brine shrimp aren't quite the same. They had one seafood place. No, I missed the water, the ocean. But I would frequently go to L.A. I miss that. But I loved being in-- [a metropolitan setting]. It was the largest city [in which I have ever lived]. I very quickly-- [adapted]. I didn't join the LDS Church, but this also was the time, somewhere around '72 I think, when they had this edict that blacks had become equal. The attitude, particular of the LDS Church, was that particular for progressive people, they were all up for it. And I was progressive. They built a church for us. We had six members. They built the church for African Americans, six of us, and we had a very modern church. We went to sing, our choir, for the state legislature. I had friends [who were LDS]. I'd go to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concerts and stuff. So being in a city was the main thing. I tried to ski. I just decided it wasn't for black people. [Laughter] But I did take a lot of skiing. And bought a brand new spanking car, because again the money and stuff--. I always somehow managed to slightly live as I guess I do now, above my means. But by meeting the right people, that's what happens.

Donald R. Lennon:

Interesting. Can you think of any other aspects of your study here at EC, or elsewhere that would interact with your career at EC, that would be of interest to us?



Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah. I, again, first of all feel very dedicated and loyal to ECU. There are a sizeable number of African Americans who don't feel that way. Some of them, I have given Maury names of people to contact. There are some I knew not to give him because they were bitter. They are still very bitter. My brother laughs at me for flying the ECU flag. They call me "Mr. Black, Purple, and Gold." The younger generations don't seem to have that issue. It was certainly--. In all candor, I am one of the few people to have come out assistant professor emeritus with tenure. I got hassled around with tenure as I said--people were getting it--and did not. It was very discriminatory in the department all across the board as a professor. They would constantly change rules: one publication, two publications, but when I'd do it, "No, uh uh." So I had that hassle all the way through. So part of my--. People often ask me, "Why would you stay there?" I guess I was just too mean to be forced out, and that was my attitude, that I was not going to be forced out, you know, just too cantankerous.

Donald R. Lennon:

And you think that's what was afoot from the departmental administration, trying to--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah. Some people--and I kind of agree with it--say, "Don't go back where you graduated from. You're going to always be junior. You will never be equal." Particularly--and I really, really am glad you asked me this question, because I get to make my bones--I think, and I don't know now, that maybe we are serious about diversity. It was literally the year that we had [what we called] minority initiative by previous chancellors just smokescreen. They did not-- [really want to do anything but make a show]. I was interested in diversity, and the last thing they wanted was diversity. I've had courses that I designed that got lost at the University curriculum level for



review. In the department I've had courses sabotaged, just because, again, they were not [interested in diversity], if anything--. And we were a [divided] department--. I think now we're coming together, the department, but we went through, I think, six different chairs, acting chairs, within a five-year period. It was very much divided. You had quite a number--. I think we had far too many graduates of the program who were there as teachers, colleagues. A few of them were just outright bigots. So I left with a very sour taste with that [when I retired], and I'm able to separate my love of East Carolina, the good academic things that I experienced, from my experience as a faculty person, very much able to separate those two kinds of things.

Donald R. Lennon:

Interesting. Any other tidbits?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Any other? Well, kind of, like I said, I've lost track of the question, so I can quit it . I've lost track of exactly what you were asking me. I just hope that they are really, really, really-- [interested in diversity this time around]. And I seem to think that they are. We do see more signs of interest in diversity.

Donald R. Lennon:

Yeah, I think it's an honest effort.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

The administration, the whole issue of-- [having so few African-American Administrators]. Something is wrong, why we can't get black administrators still. We get people over, different minorities, they're gone within a few months. And there are different reasons for that. So I hope that some of those kinds of things improve. I think a strong point, and I think we see it nationally, certainly it would have to do with athletics, that I've always been proud to be-- [ECU] boy, I'm that--and then to have what I see as very integrated teams. I did watch the baseball team, and we do have an African American [on it now]. I've often wondered why with all the sports you didn't have but



one or two [on the team]. Although I did, just recently, went back [through the yearbooks] for the basketball program and pulled up their first black athletes for them, and still know Vince Colbert who was one of the first who played. [African American to play here] I remember the first black athletes, in other words. I was here with Clarence [Stachavich, who was then football coach]. Dr. Jorgensen was wonderful when I was struggling through the physical sciences, going to be a physical therapist. But I think athletics have helped us to-- [integrate and appreciated diversity]. [Recorder abruptly stops]

Donald R. Lennon:

I don't know why it stopped. Okay it's going now. I don't know what happened.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

That is a signal, Don, [Laughter] that we probably--.

Donald R. Lennon:

Shall I go back and see where we left off?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Okay, you can.

Donald R. Lennon:

Let's see if I can figure out, if I can remember how, this is supposed to be done. [Pause] Well, here we go. I don't know what this, why it was acting up, but I think it's--. It's not giving much of a volume on here so, I can't tell why it's, because it was doing very well. About a minute ago it stopped making--.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Doesn't it just make you feel great when you don't know what's wrong?

Donald R. Lennon:

And when it comes to technology I don't know. Okay, now it appears to be doing what it's supposed to be doing. Okay, go back and let's try again.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Well anyway, the point I was making was, is that, particularly as a faculty person, being the faculty advisor for the gospel choir, I took them on their first tour that they ever had. They just did the big article in the "Daily Reflector" [on the history of the



Gospel Choir]. They mentioned none of the albums they recorded, none of the presidents, but for that group became, actually ended up teaching the ethno-cultural course, because I wanted the gospel choir-- [to get credit for the time they put in and the work they did]. I wanted gospel music to be accepted in the school of music, and they constantly had no place because it's a classical place [program]. But yet that, for many of the African American students, created a bond for them to stay together; helped them if they were having trouble with studies. And I'm glad to see that the University has come full circle to actually seeing the choir-- [as a valuable asset in promoting diversity]. Because I think we were some of the best ambassadors that East Carolina had. They didn't even believe we had a gospel choir, and to have done that. I did that for thirteen years. I raffled off my Lincoln, an old Lincoln I had, to get the first money to take them down to Myrtle Beach, [SC, and then to my hometown] Tabor City, and again comes in with going in with Dr. Jenkins--. I want to say, yeah, Dr.--. Who came right after--? Well it was Dr. Jenkins. Holt?

Donald R. Lennon:

As chancellor?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

After Jenkins you had this guy from Texas who came in for awhile.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

It wasn't Brewer.

Donald R. Lennon:

Brewer. He came in after Jenkins.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

And then Holt.

Donald R. Lennon:

No, Holt never was chancellor. John Howell.

Dennis E. Chestnut:

Howell, Howell. I want to give Howell the credit, but it might have been Dr. Jenkins, that we went to him for that tour and told him that we just didn't have the



money, and he went into his discretionary fund and gave us three thousand dollars. That was one of the most positive things that I had seen done to recognize-- [and promote the choir]. And they even--. I thought it was significant that we didn't have robes. I tried to go to the textile companies that did the band uniforms and could never make it work. But I talked Charlie Moore, over at the school of music, into letting us use the concert choir old robes that they had had packed up. And I have pictures of this, of us in those [robes]. So when we came out in those burgundy robes--. Now they had had those robes ever since I was a freshman, and they had long since not used them, but this would have been in '78. And, so I know when I was a freshman they had those robes. And that was a kind of thing that did help, I believe, move diversity along until now. As I said, the choir is intricately involved in the University. I still don't know if they get any credit, musical credit. We've worked on it at different times and gotten the different points, but I would often be called to interview people [candidates for] on the music faculty to see if they had some interest in gospel music. But that was a real family builder, and a positive step for East Carolina, and I certainly want that to be part of it. And I'm glad to see that integration [of the choir into mainstream events at ECU]. Yeah.

Donald R. Lennon:

Okay. You have any other thoughts?

Dennis E. Chestnut:

No. [Laughter]

Donald R. Lennon:

Because I've covered just about all the questions that I had in mind. It went a lot quicker than I thought it would.

[End of Interview]

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