An Interview with Senator Yvonne Bond Miller

Uploaded by LibraryofVa on 09.07.2012

I was born on July the fourth in nineteen thirty four in Edenton, North
My fondest memories are being with my mother.
I thought my mother was the most gorgeous human being on earth and anything she
did I tried to emulate
my mother had thirteen children, I have none.
anything that dealt with people and how people behaved,
which also included
I did not do very well in art and music,
but I loved history and government.
Well I didn't really decide to go to college, I can't remember
when i first knew I was going to college. All my life I knew I was going to
My problem was,
it was in high school before I really understood that you had to have money
to go to college and the Lord was very gracious to me
because there was a teacher in my elementary school who walked to the
elementary school while i was walking to high school.
So one morning she said to me,
"it's almost time for you to graduate, are you going to college?" I said "of course i'm
going to college!"
she said, "how are you going to pay for it?"
Now that was the big shock,
when I realized that somebody had to pay for me to go to college.
and she was a member of the sorority called Zeta Phi Beta Sorority
The teacher's name was Mrs. Mabel Ellis Fox
and Mrs. Fox got the sorority to give me a scholarship.
So that scholarship was a part of my first year's tuition.
I went to Norfolk State University for the first two years of my college
and at that time,
the president at Norfolk State, he wasn't called the president he was called
something else
but maybe the director,
Doctor Brooks
was very skillful in getting money to keep students in school.
And so Doctor Brooks then facilitated
so that I could stay in school and Doctor Brooks took me to open my very first
bank account.
At Norfolk State University
I started a major in Elementary Education,
at that time, we did not have public kindergartens in Norfolk.
And the other thing about college was at the time I went to Norfolk
State, they only had a two year program
and so I finished my four-year program at Virginia State
University in Petersburg
and that was a different experience because at Norfolk State, of course, I
lived at home
at Virginia State University I lived in a dormitory
and they have lots of rules at Virginia State University which was strange to me
because I was always my mother's helper, I was always on my own, very independent
to do the things that I made the decision I wanted to do.
Well at Virginia State University I had to learn to live by other people's
rules. That was a little painful.
Massive Resistance was a part of a very
bad history in Virginia.
As you know, Virginia had a history of rigid racial segregation,
and so the schools were racially segregated.
As a part of Massive Resistance
there had been some attempt for African-American students to go to
schools that were then labeled
as white schools
and because
those schools
those young people were denied an entrance
into the schools
There were some school closings in Virginia
and there were high school students in Norfolk
who could not go to school because the schools were closed to keep out
African-American students.
but they weren't called African Americans at that time
they were called negroes, "to keep negroes out."
And so there was a church
in Norfolk, First Baptist Bute Street,
that carried on classes for those students.
I was teaching in the elementary schools, so the elementary schools
were open
and I taught my students to the best of my ability how to read,
how to behave well.
And one of the nicest, I taught first grade,
so one of the nicest things about teaching first grade was that I got
a kiss and a hug from all of my students at the end of the day
because I tried to make school a wonderful place for them.
Today, that would be against the law.
You're not suppose to touch your students and you try not to have the students
touch you.
But, in those days, I taught in a public housing project
in a part of town where I grew up.
My first principle was a principal who had been my principal
in elementary school. People tell me I was one of her favorites
and that is probably so, because as I look back on my experience as a first grade
in my first three years of teaching, she wouldn't let anybody from the school
come into my room.
She would come into my room at the end of each teaching day
to critique
what had happened that day. So, she helped me to become a very good first grade
and I taught in that school for ten years.
So, she benefitted
from all of the things that she taught me those first three years
and the children
and their parents benefitted.
I enjoyed the interaction between the students
and when I taught at the elementary school level,
we always carried on a kind of uh... PTA rivalry
to see which class had the most parents.
So I got to know many of the parents of the students that I had taught
and we often won
at the PTA meeting because the children liked me and if children like
their parents tend to like you
and they would come to the PTA meetings and so we had a good time.
Later on in my life, even now, when I park in Young Park which is a public
housing project in Norfolk,
other people's cars get broken into, mine never is touched
because people are told, "don't touch that car"
because there is still a residue
of goodwill toward me in that community.
That's a very interesting story.
I was very active in the community, I told you I taught at Young Park school
and I was very interested in the parents of the children and the
living conditions that they had, and so i did a lot of community work.
There was in Norfolk at that time an extremely powerful political group
called, Concerned Citizens,
and it seems that all the stars aligned just right
because during the redistricting prior to my
first entrance into politics,
had two pre-dominantly African-American,
or I guess we were called negroes in those days,
negro districts. But one of those districts was held by a very outstanding
member of the white community.
The Concerned Citizens said to that politician, "we are collecting this seat.
It was drawn for an African American and we are going to run
an African American person for that seat."
That group came to me and said,
"would you run?"
and they said, "you have a quality called electability."
In those days I didn't really know what that meant. I've learned over
time that it meant that there are people in the community who trust you
and are willing to give you money to represent them in Richmond.
And so
I said "yes" once I made it clear to them that I could not raise money, I still
can't raise money as a politician today,
once I made that really clear that I couldn't raise the money they said, "we
will raise the money,
you will be elected."
And the day I announced, I knew I would be elected
because in those days the group was powerful enough
to close down support for anybody who ran against me.
So my first election was a breeze.
I ran in nineteen eighty-three
for the House of Delegates and I won that election.
I was sworn in in nineteen thirty four
and that was how i got into politics.
Once I was in Richmond, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I was in a delegation that was all male except for me so,
I could not hang out with the male members of the delegation, that would
have ruined my reputation.
And so there was a large delegation of women here from Northern Virginia.
They took me under their wings,
they taught me the process,
and because I'm an educator I always wanted to learn new things.
And they actually had meetings during the week
so that we could understand the process, and so
that we could plan our strategies for the floor
and it was an exciting time for me.
I thoroughly enjoy politics,
I have enough wins to keep it interesting,
I have a lot
of losses to keep me humble.
Well, it was okay for me it was uh...
frustrating for some people
because there were people who thought that
this African American woman walking the halls of the General Assembly
was one of the maids
and they said that to me.
And they thought my egislative assistant was one of the maids,
and so for awhile
I had to try to think of how to say to them that was not the case,
but say it in a way that was not offensive
because when they said it to me, I was offended
but I realized that they were operating
on their history.
And so I had to figure out how do you interact with people
who hold you and your people in such disrespect
that it never entered their heads
that I could be
a member of the House of Delegates,
and so I got over that hurdle.
One of the things I learned though
is that many of the things that my mother taught me were very good in
One of which was
whenever anyone is doing something for you, remember to say thank you, to be kind
and to be
very humane in your interactions with people, no matter their roles.
And that has worked very well for me,
one of the things that I learned in my first year
is that I really wanted to do something for those people so I started something
that i still carry on today,
which is a big Valentine giveaway
and I learned to think of ways to do things for people
that made them feel comfortable
and brought a smile to their faces.
That's a very difficult question for me because there are things I'm very proud
about in my family.
In my family, I was the first person to finish high school,
I was the first person to finish college.
I had all of these brothers and sisters behind me
and I'm very proud that I had a great deal to do with
the outcomes in their lives.
So I was able
to help many of them through school.
There was a rule in the house,
I didn't make a lot of money, I was a teacher,
and one of the sad things that happened to me when I graduated from college,
because my family lived
in a public housing project, I could no longer live with the family because I
made too much money, even though teachers weren't paid much.
And so that meant that I had to live someplace else,
fortunate for me I had a very fine
um... godmother
Mrs. Bessie Riddick,
who had her own house and lived
in what we considered the better part of the african-american community. And so
she took me in, of course I paid her rent. She didn't want me to pay her rent
but my mother taught me that you don't take advantage of your friends
and so i paid her rent.
And I lived with her, but I was able to do some things to help my family, like
helping to improve their diet by taking lots of fruit and things when I went to
visit, by doing special things for my mother and I asked my mother
"what is it that I can do for you
that would make you very happy?"
and my mother had two things she wanted to do. One was to send money to
foreign missions
and the second thing really surprised me,
she wanted to go on the radio
and so I purchased for my mother
a fifteen minute radio show
on an African American radio station.
And my mother, who was a deeply religious woman,
used that
to talk to the community
but also to
to pray and to minister
to the community which made her happy.
I thought she would say do something to fix up the house
or do something to get them out of the housing project or something like that,
no, they were the two things she wanted.
She had taught me earlier in my life that you make people happy by doing
what they want you to do,
not what you want to do for them.
And so, that made her happy and it made me happy.
To follow your gifts and talents,
play to your strengths.
Every human being alive has strengths and you need to take
time to try to assess your strengths
and play to your strengths. Develop your gifts, your talents and your
all of us have them.
And think positive about yourself,
never put yourself down, other people will do a good job of doing that,
but always say good things about yourself
and learn to play to your strengths
And skills with people bear great fruits.
If you develop your people skills, people will do things for you because you're kind,
that you can't buy, you can't pay them to do them.
But they will do them for you if you're a kind person
just because they like you.