Building a life on shared experience

February 9, 2020

“…and so they had learned something from each other, you know, and shared something. And that's important.”

Down south in Texas, I had gone to a segregated - I and my older brother had gone to a segregated public school, where my grandmother taught and my dad graduated, and my mom, both graduated there. And life was, you know, life was two worlds. A white world and a black world. It was the classic case of getting on the school bus in the morning and driving past the white school in the middle of town to go to our black school on the other side. And, you know, that's the way life was. In Kentucky, it was somewhat improved. But we still couldn't do things like go to the downtown movie theaters or stuff like that. You know, it was a segregated world.

At the same time my dad brought me here [to Notre Dame], the rest of the family - my dad had been transferred, and the rest of the family was moving to Washington, DC. And I didn't know what the situation was insofar as other black students. But that wasn't a real fear for me because I had gone to school with white kids, and so, and then my freshman year roommate showed up on the first day, after I did, and he was a nice enough guy, you know, we got along great.

There was a young lady from South Bend, right over about where I think I parked my car today near Eddy Street Commons and all that. There was a black community there, and she and her family lived in a house on that street, and I met her at an off-campus party because, you know, black students would go to parties off-campus there, and yeah, she was a student at South Bend Central High School, which was, you know, a big deal in those days. And so I got to know her, and even after we stopped dating, I'd see her and visit her family and whatnot. And when I came back here in the 2000s, I'd visit her parents and whatnot, they were really great people.

And if it hadn't been for the Scott family, I might not have survived that first year. They were, like a lot of black families in town, they kind of took Notre Dame black students under their wings and made them feel at home, and welcomed, and whatnot.

You know, it's interesting. I mentioned Bill Hurd. We did this book a few years ago, Black Domers, and Bill tells the story there of his freshman year roommate, a guy named Mike Holtzappel. Just by happenstance I, on the way home to Ashland, Kentucky one time, I sat next to this guy and we introduced ourselves. It was Mike Holtzappel, he told me he was a freshman at Notre Dame, I was too, and anyway. Anyway, they were roommates and Bill says, 'Mike came and he listened to country music all the time, while I listen to Motown all the time,' and then he liked to sleep with the window to the room open all the time, and I liked it closed. And then he said, 'By the end of the first semester, I was listening to whatever country music, and he was grooving to Motown. And I was sleeping with the window open-' and so they had learned something from each other, you know, and shared something. And that's important. Hey, that's what college is supposed to be about, you know, getting out of your old ways and learning new stuff. And new people.

About the interviewer

John (Jack) Lyons is a member of the Class of 2021 at the University of Notre Dame. He majors in theology and is a member of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy.

Don Wycliff

Don Wycliff is a retired journalist and editor, who worked at publications such as the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1969.