The Trailblazers: Their Stories

David Temple

Class 1969

Member, UVA Glee Club

Member, Young Democrats

Co-Founder & Member of Rechartered Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity

First African American to desegregate the Interfraternity System at the University

David Temple on desegregating the IFC

 

 Linda Howard James Roebuck James Trice Wesley Harris David Temple Robert Bland Raymond Gavins

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Other Featured Links:

The Preface

 The Road to Desegregation at UVA| The University 1955-75: The Timeline

UVA & the USA in the 1950s| UVA & the USA in the 1960s| UVA & the USA in the Early 1970s


“ Fraternity Man”

David Temple always had a sense of his possibilities and never of his boundaries. And as a result, he never really thought he couldn’t go to the University of Virginia. “When you are only an hour’s drive away from one of the third president’s “crown jewels” to American life, the choice to apply and attend the University might unknowingly have always been a part of me, perhaps before it might have been even a legal possibility,” said David. With that same reason, he didn’t think it was impossible to be in a fraternity, even though fraternity life had effectively blocked, African Americans from joining for the last 15 years before he attended the University.

Perhaps a great sense of his possibilities was instilled in him by his parents, and by his own activism in the Civil Rights movement as it unfolded in Richmond. “As a teenager I had been very much involved and participated in civil rights activities in Richmond on weekends, and as part of the NAACP Youth Core”. Temple and friends his age were trained in how to desegregate restaurants and other facilities using the nonviolent method that King and his fellow activists were using across the South at that time.

When President Johnson had authorized the full desegregation of higher institutions, Temple decided he would apply to the University of Virginia. Temple had his ample choice of fine institutions to attend had he not gotten into UVA, including the prestigious all-black male institution Morehouse College. “But it certainly was the principal, first-choice institution for me to apply,” said Temple, “it helped that I received a scholarship as well”. Attending the University, Temple knew there would be very difficult social pressures to deal with. However, Temple, kept a more optimistic view about it. “Coming as I did from Richmond, it was clear to me as I left for Charlottesville, that there might be hostility, other obstacles, and there would be pressures and issues there that I would confront. On some level I knew there would not be violence [though my training had put me in good stead just in case],”reminisced Temple thoughtfully.

By the time, Temple entered the University, it was possible for blacks to take classes in the College, thanks to the actions of a then recently graduated, black student named Leroy Willis, who had integrated the College in 1961. Temple, with his interest in human behavior, decided to be a psychology major. Temple entered the University in 1965, and it was at this time that the new Alderman Dormitories opened. Temple had his first real taste of racism at UVA when he moved in with his roommate who was white. His roommate, a Richmond resident, had agreed at the time of application, as had Temple, to the possibility of being assigned an other race roommate. On the other hand, his roommate’s mother had a different feeling about it. “When they arrived, his mother asked him in my presence if he wanted to change roommates. He indicated no, that it was fine with him, that all would be okay. She was very upset about it and seemingly willing to embarrass both him and me. After that awkward beginning, Temple and his roommate were to become lifelong friends.

In the classroom, Temple attested to the same feelings other black students during that time felt in their classroom setting, “isolated” and “ignored”. I don’t remember altogether terrible or overtly abusive moments, at least not to my face. I just remember feeling isolated,” Temple said. He didn’t always feel this way, but it was hard not to feel visible particularly in the encouraged “Southern gentleman” ideal environment. “Of course at that time it was all male undergraduate school, segregated legally by gender. The daily attire was jacket and tie. You felt very high profiled yet oddly invisible and ignored to and by the majority, and sometimes it was engulfing and lonely.”

For the most part, Temple kept to himself, dedicated very quietly to his studies. There wasn’t much of a social life for him outside of the handful of other black men who attended UVA, or so he thought. “The social life at the University at that time was defined, led and governed by fraternity life. I knew that I was not going to be included in the rush activities, that I would not be invited to visit and join any house,” said Temple, . “The handful of upper classmen-blacks had given me the heads-up on that,” he added. And, for that moment in time,would be the end of it.

When rush season arrived, his roommated received 14 rush invitations from 14 houses. Many groups of fraternity men in jackets and ties came to sit with his roommate, to ask about his career interests, his likes and dislikes, etc. Hours went by, and as the other blacks had predicted, and as Temple assumed, no one came to visit the sweat-shirted black man.

That was until what Temple defined as the “slip-up”. Three young fraternity men came to the door and asked for “David Temple”. As they did, they looked directly at his roommate and his roommate pointed directly at David. “I will always remember the contorted and open-mouthed expressions on the faces of the three ashen-faced young white men. They were stunned but nonetheless began to rapidly mumble the ‘script’ while simultaneously extending three uncertain hands,” said Temple.

The men tried to right themselves, as Temple recalled, but just barely. They asked briefly if he had a date and if he could attend one of their parties during the weekend. Temple replied he “might”. The fraternity men replied, “well we might see you this weekend then” and darted out the room very quickly.

His roommate was embarrassed. Temple was glad to have the whole episode over said little else about it, even though his roommate suggested he go. “I was not ready in the first few weeks of my first-year orientation to wade into that racial minefield. I chose at that time, not to bother with it,” he said simply. “But,” he added, “I didn’t forget the event nor the pain of it.”

It was not until later in his college career he and some of his dorm friends and their friends were interested in re-founding a fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi was its name. “The fraternity had been part of the University fraternity leadership prior World War II and had been disbanded just as the war was beginning. We discovered that it was a national, non-sectarian fraternity, one that heralded desegregated and non-sectarian life as the principle part of its creed,”said Temple. In short, it was at its core something the men found worthy of trying to rebuild as a part of their social activism, and their University legacy.

It was then that Temple and his soon to be fraternity brothers would find obstacles in rebuilding Pi Lambda Phi. The powerful Dean of the University, was continually vocal to the fraternity’s national leadership of his extreme displeasure at having a “n***** race” as part of fraternity life on Grounds. The remarks and even the ongoing administrative blocks were useless, by 1969, Pi Lambda Phi, had re-chartered and had fully become a part of the Interfraternity Council System.

Besides being an active fraternity brother, Temple was involved in the Glee Club, and the Young Democrats. Temple attended the University toward the end of the 1960s, a tumultuous time to be an impressionable young person. It was at the annual Spring Concert performance of the Glee Club in April 1968, when they interrupted the program to report that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis. Temple, remembered, the dead silence that fell across the room, and the horror and lonely pain that filled him, at the announcement. Some of those feelings came back to haunt him when he learned of presidential contender Robert Kennedy’s assassination only weeks later. “These had an extraordinary and profound impact on those of us who were watching the world evolve before us and seemingly and predictably dissolve around us,” said Temple. “It was a horror-filled time, with the Vietnam War looming, and very, very scary”.

Although he was friendly with his fraternity brothers and other white associates, Temple at that time didn’t feel sufficiently comfortable with sharing his personal challenges as a black man at UVA. “It wasn’t really possible for me at the time, but I wish I had had the opportunity or confidence to seek out or create African American mentors,” said Temple, “those who might have made me feel better about what I felt was a lack of preparation for unanticipated differences in communications and instruction, especially in the mathematics area. He felt uncomfortable in sharing any perceived weakness, fearing that it might get “unfairly generalized by some and used against to all blacks, present and future.”

Like those students who came before him, Bland, Harris, Trice, Temple developed a defense mechanism to block out his surroundings. “My response was to suck it up, feed it even with false pride and, you know, put the chin out and walk forward,” said Temple finally. “A Ridley Fund entity or a OAAA (Office of African American Affairs), even a rudimentary office, would have been a Godsend.”

On his years at the University, Temple is anything but bitter about them. “It took a while, but I came to realize that I learned, gained, and gave a lot. The emeritus perfect attendance award he received in high school for never missing a day of school throughout his four years did not hold up at the University. “ I found that I was spending more time staying up at night, talking, exchanging, debating, sharing of views, hours of ‘socializing’ and yes, learning with a broad diversity of students, “I rationalized that too to be my responsibility. He adds, “it was fairly irresponsible at the time, occasionally I thought it was more of my learning experience than sitting in Biology 101.”

Now many years later, Temple keeps close ties to the University. Recently he returned to the University, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pi Lambda Phi on campus. He helped to organize a large event at the Rotunda, where President Casteen, spoke. Brothers of the Pi Lambda Phi, pre-World War II and post-World War II gathered. All of them from many different walks of life, cultural and religious, from Jewish brothers, to African Americans, to Asians, to gentiles. Unlike a great many black alumni, that have little to do with their general class, Temple regularly attends his class reunions. When he agreed to serve on the 25th anniversary committee for his class, some were scratching their heads when he was introduced to the committee. They were all former student leaders—University Union, Corks & Curls, Cavalier Daily, Judiciary and Honor Committees, football teams etc. “Looking into the yearbook they saw me there, but could not fathom how I could not appear in their individual memory banks,” said Temple. “Even as I joined in recalling specific events that we all shared as a student body. No one said it, but I saw profound expressions that sometimes come with 25 year old revelations.” Since that first reunion committee, Temple and many of the others have remained in good contact.

Does Temple consider himself a pioneer? “Pioneer,” well yes, but only in the sense that, by definition, someone had to precede someone else, and to see it through,” he says. “And, I guess, I helped to introduce a new element of African American life to the University, one that also broke new ground. I suppose that makes me a pioneer, but only with a small “p”.

To Temple, the pioneers for him are Dr.Walter Ridley, Bobby Bland, James Trice, John Merchant and Buddy Yancey, those who made it easier for him to do what he had to do.

Nowadays, this former Virginia Deputy Secretary of Education for the Clinton Administration and award winning federal executive, is a public and private sector consultant based in Alexandria.


 

 

Works Cited