President Ronald A. Crutcher: I don’t know if you realize it: Your freshman year here at the University of Richmond was my senior year at Miami University [in Oxford, Ohio].

Barry Greene, R’72: Wow.

Crutcher: I graduated in 1969.

Greene: Yes. You started your senior year when I first set foot on this campus in September, back when school started after Labor Day.

Crutcher: Are you from Richmond?

Greene: Yes, I grew up here. Basically, Richmond has always been my home, the eastern part of the city in an area called Fulton. There were really prominent people, like Admiral [Samuel L.] Gravely [the U.S.’s first black Navy admiral]. My mom was a friend of his sister, and we all grew up in that neighborhood. It was one of those neighborhoods where you hear that it takes a village to raise a kid.

Crutcher: I understand. I grew up in a neighborhood similar to that.

Greene: I remember a family friend who was with Virginia Union University coming by one Sunday and telling my mom and dad that he thought the ABC program, A Better Chance, would be a very good program for me. My parents thought it was a good idea. Nobody consulted me on this, you know what I mean? Back then, you did what your parents told you to do.

Crutcher: Yes.

Greene: I went through all of this testing and was accepted in the program. They sent me off to Duke University for 12 weeks during the summer, and then I went off to the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, near Princeton. I was there for my junior and senior years.

Crutcher: It was one of your counselors or teachers at the Peddie School that interested you in coming back to the University of Richmond? How did that all come about?

Greene: I didn’t even know the University of Richmond existed. Really. Back then, you got this college catalog that had a list of all the schools. I was going through the book and thinking, “Oh, I want to go home,” because I come from a real close family.

I had also thought about Georgetown University. Good Catholic boy that I am, I looked at at least one Catholic school, but then I saw this University of Richmond in there. I thought, “Wow. There’s a University of Richmond, and it’s actually in Richmond somewhere?” I never heard of the place. I went to the college counselor and he said, “Yeah. There’s one there.”

I came here on an interview, [and] this place looked like the boarding school that I attended. That’s how I found out about the University of Richmond, even though after I applied and they accepted me, they originally said I couldn’t stay on campus.

Crutcher: For the obvious reasons.

Greene: Yes.

Crutcher: That you were African-American.

Greene: I went to the college counselor at my school and said, “I don’t understand. They’ve accepted me, they’ve even given me a tuition scholarship. But they won’t let me live on campus?” He said, “Well Barry, I’m going to call there.”

He called and then sent for me a day later and said, “Well, the good news is they’re going to let you live on campus, but I need to explain something to you.” I remember his exact words. He said, “Southern Baptists are not like northern Baptists.”

I thought, “Why is he saying this to a Catholic? It doesn’t bother me any,” having no earthly idea what he was preparing me for.

A conversation with Barry Greene
From left: Barry Greene's first-year portrait, from the 1969 yearbook; Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, 1970 yearbook. Greene is in the front row, fourth from left.

Crutcher: When you came to campus, did you have a roommate?

Greene: Yes. Oh my gosh. They interviewed students to see who was going to be my roommate.

Crutcher: Were you aware that they did that or you found out after the fact?

Greene: No. I was not aware. I found out after I arrived here. My roommate was a junior. It was the strangest thing. Then, as I got to know him and I got to know the school, I understood how that happened because he was a religion major. At that time, the religion department here was probably the most liberal department in the school. I’m surprised they didn’t get kicked out. Most of the students in the religion program were extremely liberal.

He was a super nice guy. Oliver McBride [R’70] from Martinsville, Virginia. Because he was a junior, I lived in the upperclassmen dorm, which at that time, the newest dorm on campus was Freeman Hall. As a matter of fact, I spent my whole four years on the third floor there at Freeman.

Crutcher: The entire four years?

Greene: The entire four years.

Crutcher: Wow. What was it like in terms of your own interaction with other men, or women for that matter, outside of your roommate?

Greene: My roommates’ friends would come by — I don’t know whether to see the black guy on campus or what — but they’d introduce themselves. My freshman year, I spent more time with his friends and the upperclassmen. I still see one of them now, Nelson Lankford [R’70]. He was a junior, and he lived in Freeman Hall. His brother was a freshman. His brother asked me if I would be his roommate my sophomore year, and so we were on the third floor of Freeman Hall again.

Crutcher: I’m assuming that having lived in Richmond in this time, you were accustomed to knowing where you needed to go and how to interact with folks. Were there any differences between the way you were treated on the campus and the way you were treated off the campus in the city?

Greene: No, I don’t think so at all. The neighborhoods that I lived in, we had a lot of, I have to say, Jewish shopkeepers on the corners, and so we saw them on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, my junior year, I joined the Jewish fraternity here. The parents of a couple of the guys in the fraternity owned stores on those little corners in the neighborhood. Zeta Beta Tau. I used to tease them. “I was black and a southern Catholic, and I joined a Jewish fraternity.”

But they were the most receptive, especially when they saw me in the dining room eating alone. I guess they were paying attention when I’d come in. A lot of times I sat at a table and certain students would get up and move. They didn’t want to sit at the same table and eat with me.

A lot of times [the fraternity members] would come over and invite me to join them at their table. They said, “Oh, you don’t have to sit alone. Why don’t you join us?” So I did get to know most of them, and they were very nice.

Crutcher: I have to ask you. What was that like to be in a place and then students get up and leave?

Greene: The first time it happened, I have to be honest with you, I thought he got up because he had finished eating, and then I realized no, he moved to another table. I must admit it bothered me to think, “What’s wrong with me?”

I’m not so sure I ever really got over that, and I think, for the most part, the people, the minorities working in the dining room and the maids and the janitors at that time, they weren’t all that very receptive of me being on campus. As they got to know me, they finally started talking to me and said, “First, we thought you were a foreigner.” When they found I was [a] black [American], then they thought, “Well, why is this uppity guy in here causing problems?” I wasn’t causing problems. Then they finally warmed up. The truth of the matter is, when it was time to leave campus, most of them caught the bus and went to the eastern part of the city —

Crutcher: Where you lived —

Greene: Where I lived. As they started talking, then they realized where I came from, and they became more receptive and opened up. They were a lot friendlier.

Crutcher: And probably some of them knew your people.

Greene: Yes, they did. They rode the bus out there. A lot of the people in my neighborhood worked at the Country Club of Virginia. As a matter of fact, even one of my great-aunts did. They would be on the bus talking, and my aunt would say, “Oh, no. That’s my nephew.”

Crutcher: You were what — 18 at the time?

Greene: 18. Yes, 18.

Crutcher: When I think about the experience I had [at Miami] and what you had to go through here, my hat goes off to you. You’re a strong man.

Greene: I never ever thought of it that way, Dr. Crutcher. I was raised to get an education. I thought, “Well, it’s going to be at the University of Richmond and whether they want me or not.” After I found out the situation, I thought, “If they’re going to teach the white kids sitting in the classroom with me, then they’re going to have to teach me, too. I’m not going to sit in the back of the classroom. I’m going to sit up front.”

You could tell from some of the looks that they were like — especially the first time I went into the classroom — “Who is this person?” I felt like, from the way they looked at me, they wanted to ask, “What are you doing here?”

Crutcher: “What are you doing here?” Yeah. I want to get into academics in a minute, but it makes me want to ask you a question. The way you articulated why you didn’t hesitate to go into this very challenging situation, [you said] “That’s exactly the way I was raised.”

At Miami, I remember walking through the residence hall. The thinking was, “I’m going to show you how smart I am.” I was determined.

Greene: You saying that reminded me I had to go all the way to school in New Jersey — that’s where the first time the n-word was used in referring to me.

Crutcher: What were the circumstances?

Greene: We were passing on the campus. I was by myself, heading back to the dorm area and a group of them were going in the opposite direction. After I got past, one of them asked a question, “Do you have a cigar?” And the other one says, “No, but I sure do have me,” using the word to rhyme with it. I kept walking as if I didn’t hear anything they said. I had somebody spit at me. I was walking up the steps. Didn’t get on me, but it fell right in front of me. I’m sure it was said here on [this] campus, but nobody ever said it to my face.

I never shared any of this with my mom or my sisters because they had enough going on without having to worry about me. [I thought,] “I’ll deal with this.”

I was raised to get an education. ... I thought, 'If they're going to teach the white kids sitting in the classroom with me, then they're going to have to teach me, too. I'm not going to sit in the back of the classroom. I'm going to sit up front.'

Crutcher: What was it that made you decide to pursue a major in biology?

Greene: Probably, if I had to do it over again, I would not have majored in biology. I would have majored in history. In my family, everybody that went to college majored in science. It was always, “Oh, you’ve got to be a doctor. You’ve got to be a doctor. We’ve got a veterinarian in the family. We’ve got nurses. We’ve got technicians.” So, I was programmed thinking that’s what I had to do.

Then I thought, “You know, I have got to do this for me. So I need to take time off and think, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’” I felt like biology and chemistry [were] not coming easily. I don’t mind working hard, but it should be easier.

I was even accepted at pharmacy school. After I got in, I thought, “I don’t even want to do this.” I started working in broadcasting. When I interviewed there and said I was from the University of Richmond, the general manager didn’t believe any blacks went to the University of Richmond. So, before they would even offer me the job —

Crutcher: He had to verify.

Greene: He had to verify. After I was working there for several years, a graduate from the University of Richmond worked there, Ukee Washington [R’80, now an evening co-anchor at CBS3 in Philadelphia]. He was there, and we would chat on occasion. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I remember him.

Crutcher: Was there any one professor that served as a mentor to you?

Greene: Probably the one that I was closest to was not really a professor. It was the dean of Richmond College, Austin Grigg. Once a week I met with him. My best friend, Mike Keck [B’72], he’d say all the time, “Any time we saw the big dean walking across campus, we knew he was coming to visit you.” Then it turned out I got into the work-study program. And where did I work but in his office. And basically it wasn’t really work because he’d have me studying. He was a psychology professor, and when he went to teach his class, if I happened to be working that day, I used his office to study and do homework. His secretary, Amelia Fernandez, who I still hear from — ever since I graduated from here, she has never missed sending me a birthday card. I could go to my adviser for the biology, but Dean Grigg was the one that I went to. If I had an issue or needed to talk to somebody, he was the one.

Crutcher: Tell me a little bit more about your social life. You joined ZBT.

Greene: I didn’t join ZBT until my junior year, and prior to that it really, truly was not a social life for me on the campus. I did not stay on campus. I’d go home every weekend. At that time, we had Saturday morning classes. When it ended, I left campus. Then, I’d come back on Sunday evening. My sister or usually my uncle or my dad or someone would bring me back to campus.

Periodically my first-year roommate would — because he had a vehicle — he would invite me to come along with a group of his friends. I would go to some of the basketball games with them. That was really eye-opening because the fight song for the school was “Dixie.” The mascot was a spider in a Confederate uniform. It took some getting used to. I was always nervous at those games. Even though there was not supposed to be drinking, you would hear somebody’s bottle slip and go crashing to the concrete floor. I went to a few. Not many. I was never that comfortable at those type of events.

Crutcher: I have one question I was going to ask you. It may seem odd, but I’m going to ask you anyway. Basically, did you enjoy your time here as an undergraduate student?

Greene: You know, I probably enjoyed my junior and senior years more than I did the freshman and sophomore years.

Crutcher: After you joined the fraternity.

Greene: After joining the fraternity. Well, and then the other thing was my best friend [Keck]. I was interacting more with him ... He was the president of Phi Delt, and a lot of times I was visiting with them. If there was some type of event or activity they were doing off campus, he would invite me to come along with him. I never will forget that was my first encounter with seeing Jesus Christ Superstar. He had gotten the tickets and invited me to go with him, so we rode with his fraternity brother. They would tease me a lot saying that I was the only guy they knew who was in two Greek fraternities. My fraternity brothers would say the same thing to me. They were pretty close together [on fraternity row].

On occasion, I did stay on campus on the weekends based on what was going on. Not many though, even my senior year. My fraternity brothers, a lot of times we’d go out to different places. As a matter of fact, my freshman year [with my roommate and his friends,] I got to ... Is it Mary Washington?

Crutcher: Yes, Mary Washington University.

Greene: That was when they all decided to show how liberal the religion majors were. They all got in their cars and offered a ride to me. We went up there to see Dick Gregory speak. That was eye opening, too.

Crutcher: As you look back on your four years here, are there things that you have a better understanding of now than you did then, when you were younger?

Greene: Not sure how to answer that one. I would say, yes. Especially when it comes to relating to people. My sisters, they tease me a lot, but I think I’ve gotten better at relating to my own race. Because they would say, “Well, you went off. You were in the all-white prep school, then you went to the all-white University of Richmond. You’re preppy.” I think I’ve gotten to be more tolerant.

The conversation turns to Greene’s attendance at an on-campus event the week before. At it, summer fellows presented their research for the Race and Racism Project. One subject of discussion was George Modlin, UR’s president from 1946 to 1971.

Greene: Since [an attendee] made mention of Dr. Modlin, it’s probably important for me to share that I was really disappointed that Dr. Modlin retired before his name could get on my diploma.

My junior year, my father was murdered in the city. He was a truck driver for Richfood. He and a store owner were both killed in the store. And so, you get a call in the middle of the night: “Your dad’s been killed. You’re coming home.”

After I finished my junior year, [Modlin] had Dean Grigg call me. Dean Grigg says, “Barry, we don’t exactly know what the situation is, but Dr. Modlin wants to make it perfectly clear to you that if you, for any reason, are not able to come back here for financial reasons, he wants to know first because he wants you back on this campus. He does not want you to think that because of what’s happened, the tragedy in your family, that you’re unable to complete your education here, that by no means do you say, no, you’re not coming back because of finances.”

I thought that was remarkable. My reply was, “Dean Grigg, I’m planning to come back. Right now, I’d like to have a rain check. I don’t see where I’m going to have any financial issues, but I like to know that if I do that you and Dr. Modlin will be there for me.” He called me to make sure that I knew that Dr. Modlin was saying, “You’re coming back here. Don’t let finances interrupt you finishing your education here.” I think it’s important that he sent that message to me. He didn’t have to.

The conversation then turns to Greene’s decision in 2008 to begin talking publicly about his undergraduate experience.

Greene: I heard from my friend Mike that Alison [Bartel Keller, now director of the Center for Student Involvement] want[ed] to invite [me] out to speak. It was back in 2008, Black History Month. Alison tricked me because she said I was going to be speaking to about 20 students from Fairfield Middle School, which is out in the neighborhood I live in.

I got my notes together and went to see her. I said, “Alison, this is what I’m going to cover. By the way, you said it’s going to be 20 students.”

She said, “Well, now it’s about 350. Everybody heard you were going to be the speaker, so the place is filled.”

And I said, “As long as there are no reporters.”

Well, the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch was there. That Monday my phone is ringing off the hook. He had put a reporter on me. And I said, “No, no, no.”

I went to another friend’s house and told them what had happened. They all said, “Oh, you’ve got to do it.” I said, “No, I don’t have to do anything. Let me go talk to Rob [the friend’s son]. He’s the only one in this house that’s got any sense.”

Rob was 15 years old then. So I go down into the family room, and you know a 15-year-old, they’re playing on their [video] game. I said, “Rob, I need to talk to you.”

The whole time he’s playing his game, and I’m talking. Finally, he put his game on pause and his exact words were, “Barry, that’s messed up. I think it’s worthwhile for you to tell your story.” I called the reporter back and said, “You’ve got a 15-year-old to thank.”

Then I went to Mass that Sunday and was talking to the priest. Four students gathered around me and said, “We heard your speech at the University of Richmond. You were awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that.”

I thought, “Wow, they’re students, and they go to my church. They saw me, and they thought it was wonderful.”

Barry Greene, 2018Crutcher: What do you think alumni and students today can learn from your experience here?

Greene: For me, it was you’re either going to be a loner or you’re going to be friends with the ones that want to be friends with you, and they’re going to accept you for who you are, not because of the color of your skin. I heard some students say they need their space. I guess my biggest fear is moving toward segregating us from the environment.

When I came here, there were only four, two girls, two guys, and they all lived at home. I think it’s important that students don’t go back in time and segregate themselves from the environment.

Crutcher: I’m going to push you on that a little bit. There’s a lot of discussion these days about safe spaces. I think I hear you saying that’s probably not a good idea.

Greene: I don’t think it’s a good idea. When I was in broadcasting, one of the guys I got to be friends with was in the Masons. When he and I got to talking, he said, “There are white Masons and there are black Masons.” I said, “So what you’re trying to tell me is if I want to join your Masonic lodge, I can’t because I’m black?” He says, “Yeah, because they have black ones.”

That made no sense to me. I said to my best friend, “I would hate to think that you would join an organization that would not allow me to join with you.” I know him well enough to know that he would never do that.

I came up during the time where we were pushing for integration. We were already segregated. I just don’t want it to go back in time. I grant you, I’m sure the fact that I was the only one on campus, nobody saw me as a threat because it was only one. What’s one? One’s not going to cause a problem.

Crutcher: As an alum, what are your impressions of the University of Richmond today?

Greene: I think the University of Richmond is a wonderful university. It’s come a long way. I think as far as diversification, it’s got a long way to go. I actually now feel proud that I graduated from the University of Richmond. Like I said, it wasn’t until 2008 that I actually came on this campus and actually started wearing the University of Richmond logo.

I must admit that the main reason I still stay and I don’t mind giving interviews now is because of Dr. [Tina] Cade [associate vice president for student development and director of the office of multicultural affairs]. I’ve told her that I wish there had been a Dr. Cade here when I was here. It probably would have made a big difference, but the fact is I came to get an education, and that was the goal — to leave here with one.

Crutcher: I remember very fondly your standing in line to introduce yourself to my wife and I when we were introduced to the community. That’s the first time I remember meeting you.

Greene: Yes, I thought it was wonderful. I really thought it was nice that my university was moving forward more than a lot of the others around. I’ll always remember that day. I also remember Dr. Cade kicking me — it wasn’t physical, but I’m just saying — and telling me, “They need to know who you are.”

I said, “No, all these years, I’ve been very quiet with who I am, and it’s a little much for me to share the story.”

Crutcher: But you understand how important it is for our current students to hear your story.

Greene: Yes, thanks to Dr. Cade, I do. That’s the reason why whenever she asks me, I never say no. When the students called me [for an oral history interview for the Race and Racism Project], I said, “Dr. Cade would not be happy if I said no. I’ll even go a step farther. Any question you ask, I will answer. Nothing’s off bounds.”

I think the university for the most part was ready for a minority student to be on campus. Most of the students did not go out of their way to make life uncomfortable for me. But like I said, I was just one person.

Crutcher: Well, it’s clear to me that you had a lot of determination. You knew what you wanted to do, and you were here to get your education and to get through. Thank you so very much. I really appreciate this.

Greene: Thank you for having me. I’m sure there were some things I probably forgot that I would have mentioned. I have not said anything that needs to be censored.

Crutcher: I love it, I love it.

Greene: Well, you have to be honest. You know, it’s the truth, and it’s going to be the truth 50 years from now.

Editor’s note: Barry Greene, R’72, is now a vice president at Bank of America in Richmond. This conversation has been condensed and edited.