Donna Allen Harris Oral History Interview, 2008

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  • Donna Allen Harris speaks about her background, primarily in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; the impetus for integrating the local high school being unknown to her; her being a part of the group that was going to integrate the local schools at various levels; the group dwindling to a small number, many of whom were in her family; her family's emphasis on education; her parents' insistence that she be part of the group to integrate the local high school as a sophomore; her desire to be with her friends instead; the difficulty of her three years at the high school; her memory of the first day walking into the school; the difficulty of the first few months and the first year; some of the actions of fellow students; the expectation from her community that she would do well academically; her loss of connection with her group of childhood friends because of the lack of contact; her sister integrating the junior high school; her being the only African-American student in her class; her desire to be alone sometimes as an adult as a result of that isolating experience; her being steered into nursing as one of the few options available to her; her satisfaction with nursing as a career; her feeling that the Duke University School of Nursing was training its graduates to go into nursing administration; her desire to be a hands-on nurse rather than to go into nursing administration; the ability of the Watts School of Nursing graduates to outfunction Duke University School of Nursing graduates in patient care; graduating in the same class as the Duke University School of Nursing dean, Dr. Catherine Gillis; sometimes feeling guilty about not going into nursing administration; her application to Fisk University and to the Duke University School of Nursing; her desire to go to Fisk to be with people more like her; her receiving a full scholarship to go to Duke; her choosing Duke for financial reasons, even though she knew she would once again be the first African-American; her sense of isolation at Duke; the other African-American students (university undergraduates) living on the other side of campus; her friendship with fellow nursing students in her class; those friendships being her solace; an incident in which she felt disappointed in a faculty member, after which she decided not to look to faculty members for support; receiving a wedding present from a faculty member; dating her future husband while being a nursing student; letting the friendship ties fall after graduation; going back to work at Duke; her previous declaration that she would not go back to Duke; her connection with friends but distrust of Duke as an institution; her nonparticipation in the 1969 student takeover of the Allen Building; her being a "middle-of-the-roader" as far as activism; her lack of memory about her sorority; not necessarily feeling community support at the time, but now not discounting that there might have been those who supported her; her first job after graduation from Duke and also being the only African-American RN there; how prepared she felt after her education at Duke; other jobs after graduation; her ultimate choice to go into public health nursing and it being a good fit for her; there not being much recognition of her being the first African-American nursing student to graduate from Duke; her blocking a lot of memories from nursing school; the 2007 Tea with Trailblazers being the first time she was really recognized for being the first African-American nursing student to graduate from Duke; now feeling a sense of accomplishment playing that role; and remembering those who have gone before her.
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