History and the people who make it: Mildred A. Hill-Lubin, pt. 2

Mildred Hill-Lubin [H], UF literature professor, was interviewed by James Myers [M] in June, 2009; the first part of this interview ran in the Jan-Feb Iguana.

This is the 52nd in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection. Notes in [square brackets] by SPOHP; interpolations in {curly brackets} by Iguana.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

M: Your son, from what I understand, integrated schools in Augusta.

H: He did, he did. That was one of the most unbelievable experiences. I felt it was necessary. He was in first grade, and President Kennedy was assassinated just about the time he started school, in [19]63. When Whites in the community discovered he was going to integrate schools, they started calling me on the telephone telling me that they were going to kill him as they shot Kennedy. That was a bad feeling. I wrote a letter to myself, and I said, “If he were old enough to go to the Army, he would be drafted to fight for his country to give us freedom.” I felt that enrolling him to help integrate schools was equally important. So, he did integrate the schools. 

Two young men at Paine College, students, agreed to come every morning, walk him to the school, and every afternoon walk him back. I’m trying to teach at the same time as looking out the window to see them walk across the campus to bring him home safely. So, it was miserable. And, to add to it, I was selected that year to go to Minnesota on an exchange program. I was selected to go to Hamline College to teach, and also to study at University of Minnesota. I took both of my sons and went out there for, well, little over a year. During that period, my first husband wanted us to get back together. So he came to Minnesota, and we drove from Minnesota back to Augusta for me to start teaching again.

Not very much African American literature was in print at that time, and nobody knew very much about it. We felt it should have been a part of the curriculum. I started reading and reading about African American literature. One of the directors who had started this program decided to go back and get her PhD, and she asked me to be director of the EPDA {Educational Professional Development Act} program. I also was becoming very competent in African American literature, so people were asking me to consult with them on teaching African American literature. 

We would have an institute in the summer, and then during the school year, it was the director’s duty to go visit schools that were desegregating. It would be such a terrible experience, seeing the Black children—most times, they were in the back of the room. Nobody was paying any attention to them. The classes were awful. One time I came out of this school, and it was such a horrible experience that I just closed the window of my car and screamed as loud as I could! [Laughter] 

But, we did do a great deal with desegregation. We had programs on Saturday, and many, many teachers would come. Because everybody wanted information about how to improve their teaching. 

At the same time, when I carried my son to integrate the school, I did ask one of the professors, the dean of students there, to go with me. The three of us went to this school, and we had to walk through Whites on both sides. That was rather scary. But we did do that. It was so funny that evening; everybody wanted to know what happened. Bob was so cool. “Momma, I had to help those children. They couldn’t even write their names!” And their parents would have had a fit to even think he was looking at them. [Laughter] 

The next year, I took him to Minnesota in the second grade, and no Blacks were in that school. He did a lot of breaking down barriers, too. I didn’t have to go do anything but just enroll him in Minnesota. They didn’t have any problem.

M: You came to the University of Florida in 1974?

H: Right. In [19]71, the students had had an uprising, requesting more Black faculty, and more African American Studies classes and so forth. When they went to the president, he would not receive them. So, they sat-in at the door, and he called the police and had many of them arrested. Many of the Black students left. In reaction to that, many of them did not come back. Well, they couldn’t come back. 

They did begin the Institute of Black Culture. Two other Black professors came: Carlton Davis, at IFAS, and Dr. Ronald Foreman in the English Department, and also the director of Afro-American Studies. In [19]72 or [19]73, Dr. Harris Shaw came. At that time, Dr. Ward Hellstrom was the chair of the English Department. They came to Illinois—all of us were from University of Illinois—and asked me about coming to Florida to teach. 

My older son by that time was in college, going to Morehouse. I only had my younger son, who had just been named to the basketball team in middle school in Augusta. So I had to convince him. I said, “Oh if you’re good, you’ll get to be on the team in Illinois.” So, he went with me, and he did play on the team in Illinois. There were two Blacks on the team, and the coach couldn’t play both of them together. He had to play one at one time, and one at another. The parents would have had a fit, you know, if there were two Blacks. That’s part of the experience at Illinois. But I really enjoyed Illinois. Because I was then studying African American literature.

While I was in Augusta, Martin Luther King was killed in 1968. For me, the world changed. All of my life I had believed that if you did the right thing, and worked hard, everything would work out all right. When he was killed, that made me change my mind, and it said to me, you have to start questioning. That was the beginning of my—well, people would say “militancy,” 

I guess the worst example of it was not too long ago, just about the same year I was retiring. My sister did sewing, and ended up becoming the supervisor of the tailor shop at the {US} Naval Academy. They were having a party for her retirement, and all the family were there. I looked to take a picture and I saw the flag, and I said, “Unh-uh! I’m not taking a picture under this flag!” 

The irony of this is that, my sister’s husband had been a soldier, and they had traveled all over the world; children were born, some of them, in Germany, and the nephew had been in the Army. They thought the flag was just heaven, and here I’m saying, “I am not taking a picture under that flag!” He just could not get over that. 

When Obama became president, I said, “Now I can begin to say the pledge of allegiance, and I’ll be willing to take a picture under the flag.” Obama’s presidency became another change in my life. The major thing I like about him is his inclusiveness. I would like to see a world that is inclusive of all people. We can make it so. And I do go to church very much, and I give credit to God for everything I have received, or done, or whatever. I still do that. To God be the glory for everything.

M: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?

H: I did get married a second time. I married a professor whom I met at an African Literature conference. He taught Francophone African literature because he was from Haiti, and he worked a great deal in Haitian Literature. He collected the first book of poetry of Haitian writers, and his name was Dr. Maurice A. Lubin. 

I met him at an African Literature conference, in Boone, North Carolina, of all places. [Laughter] The next thing I knew, he had come to Gainesville, and I was treating him as a colleague. We went the next year to that African Literature Association conference, as husband and wife. [Laughter] We lived together for almost twenty years. He was teaching at Howard University in Washington D.C., and I was teaching here. So, we commuted for one year. Then I had sabbatical and went up there to stay with him. The next year he took the sabbatical and came down here. And the next year I think he retired, and then he came down to stay here.

I haven’t said very much about my stay here in University of Florida. It was a bittersweet relationship. I was very pleased to be here teaching. I came in just at the time when the women at Florida were beginning to say “We need more women! And more Women’s Studies programs!” I was one of the first Black professors, and a woman. Many men would ask, “where’s the professor?” I’d say, “I’m the professor.” These women were trying to organize, and I said, “Well, I’m going to join you, because I want the Black woman’s voice heard, too.” 

That meant I was in on the starting of the Women’s Studies program. We also created what is called Association of Women Faculty. I started the first course in Anglophone African Literature at the University. I had to write it in such a way that the English Department would accept African Literature in English. Many of the people in my department thought I was going to be teaching in translation. I had to tell them, “No, there are writers in Africa who write in English.”

I’m very proud of having introduced a number of things at the University of Florida. I was one of the first women, and the first African American woman, to be a dean in graduate school. But it was also a lonely kind of existence. I didn’t have another person in my area to give me feedback about my research. 

I did do research on the Black Grandmother, another area I liked, because I had a very good relationship with my grandmother. My grandmother saved me when I was born. I was almost dead. The midwife, my grandmother asked her whether she was going to do anything. She said, “I ain’t God.” She walked off and left. 

My grandmother bounced me, and blew on me and everything, and finally I cried; I came to life. I always say that God left me here for some purpose. I enjoy teaching, although I did have trouble with many students. I would get this feedback on my evaluation, “She’s not teaching American Literature. She’s teaching women and Black literature!” [Laughter] 

I did serve as a trustee on the Santa Fe Community Board. I also worked in Washington D.C. in the American Council on Education for the Advancement of Women in Administration. But now, I am enjoying my retirement! I just look back over it and say, “I taught forty-two years. I think that’s enough!”

Search for “Hill-Lubin” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu “Quick Links” for the recording of this interview and another, on African literature, in 2014.

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