In 1964 I was a 19-year student about to begin my first year at the University of Texas in Austin, TX as a Sophomore in the School of Nursing. I was excited because the school had been newly integrated and I was one of the first Black students in the Nursing Program. Two other black students preceded me in Nursing but they had moved on to the Galveston campus as Juniors. Hence, I was the only black female student in my class. I transferred to UT because the school where I spent my Freshman year lost its accreditation and I decided to “move on”. Besides, Galveston was my hometown and the final two years of nursing school were to be spent at the UT Medical Branch in my Island city. At that time I had two major problems. My first major problem was that I was not saved. I was raised to go to church but I certainly was not a true Christian. My second major problem was that I did not have enough money to complete a year at UT. My elderly grandmother got a job taking care of an even older neighbor across the street from our house to help me as much as she could. My parents could not afford to send me, but no matter, I went to Austin, TX anyway. I felt that some way or some how I could make it. I was the first to go to College in my entire family and they trusted my word that I would be able to make it through the second year. My family was only marginally involved with members of other races so they were very excited but also amazed that I was bold enough to step into this new world for us. Well, reality hit soon after I arrived on campus.
Black female students were assigned to either the “Black” Dorm or the “Black” Co-op, which were located on the same block. Although housing was officially integrated, it took a couple of years for a regular dorm room to become available due to the waiting list. I was assigned to the Co-op, which was a little less expensive because we prepared our own meals. These houses (both Dorm and Co-op were houses) were important for black students because male and female students gathered together at the end of the day for encouragement and mutual support. The house mother of the Dorm was a black female who was kind and caring. Many of us cried on her shoulders when the going got rough.
Reality hit the morning of the first day of classes. I discovered that I was in serious trouble when I learned that I needed white shoes, hose, a cap, a watch, two blue uniforms and two white pinafores for clinical practice in the hospital, which would begin in about a month. I certainly did not have the money for those things. Apparently I should have received information concerning the requirements during the summer before entering the School, but I had not been informed. Racial prejudice was alive and well but it was very subtle. I also discovered that working the first semester was out of the question because of the schedule and rigor of the program.
My problems seemed insurmountable. I had broken up with my boyfriend and it seemed that all was lost because I would not be able to attain my nursing degree. My answer to my problem was to write a suicide note. I wrote a goodbye to my family and informed them that I was going to kill myself. I told them that my plan was to drown myself in the Gulf of Mexico when, not if, I had to come home. Although that letter had to be shocking, no one called me or even mentioned my letter. It was only later that I realized the miracle that it activated.
I started my studies and, in spite of a few racial incidents, I was OK for the time being. Most of the negative “experiences” related to the integration situation were that we were simply ignored. I really enjoyed learning at that level and I loved the whole school experience. And then we were at the end of the first month. Money for housing was due soon and the need for the infamous uniform was staring me in the face. Granny’s little job kept me eating, but rarely anything above that. I had to do something, so I came up with what looked like my only option. I would not wait until I was forced to return to Galveston to drown myself, I decided to commit suicide on campus.
Young ladies did not go out of the dorms at night and walk the campus alone during that time in 1964. We had a curfew and, had I been caught, the Campus Police would have picked me up. My plan was to jump from the University Tower. No fuss, no muss. No blood from wrist cutting, no gunshots, none of that appealed. I sneaked out of the Co-op, went to the Tower doors and they were locked! I never considered that I would not be able to get into the Tower. So now I had to concoct a new plan. I decided to go to one of the busiest streets and get hit by an 18-wheeler. None came through at that time of night, not even a car. I had to come up with a new plan. But something miraculous happened as I looked for a way to kill myself.
I passed by the large Baptist church on campus and a little light shone across my path. I looked up to discover a light streaming from a little room. I looked inside and saw two small pews, a little altar and a large open Bible. I knelt at the altar and something wonderful happened to me. The desire to kill myself lifted. I instantly knew that I would be able to finish Nursing School and I knew that everything would be all right. I still did not know how it was going to work out, but I knew that it would. The same absolute assurance that I felt when I decided to go to UT returned. I wish that I could remember what the scripture was that I read but I haven’t been able to recall it. What I do know is that the Word of God delivered me. I got up from my knees feeling joy and excitement. My only problem now was that I had to get back into my Co-op without being seen by the Campus Police.
I walked stealthily across campus and fortunately, there were no Campus Police in sight. Then I reached the last hurdle of the evening. I needed to get inside my building. Cell phones were non-existent in 1964 so I couldn’t call my roommate. I didn’t have a key and the doors should have been locked. But when I touched the door my roommate snatched it open and pulled me inside to safety! She fussed at me for being out but she never knew why I was out.
And then came Monday morning. As I walked through the doors of the Nursing building my Dean was waiting for me. She called me into her office and confronted me with a stern look and the question, “How are you fixed for money?” Well, here it was. My worst nightmare was upon me. I answered, “I don’t have any”. She replied, “I know you don’t”. Then she smiled at me and said, “I have some good news for you. A student nurse decided to drop out of the program. She donated shoes, hose, watch, caps, uniforms and pinafores to the School of Nursing for anyone who needed them”. And they were just my size! I couldn’t believe it. But she was not finished yet. She said that she had received a scholarship for any Black student in the School of Nursing who was from Galveston, Texas. That person had to be me! I was the only black student in the School of Nursing from Galveston, TX. It was a miracle. The scholarship was enough to get me through the rest of the semester. And then she gave me a list of Fraternities and Sororities that had money available for students that needed it. Finally, a National Nursing Loan came through that allowed me to complete my degree.
God blessed me in such a tremendous way. Now I know that many will read this and think that I must have been a little “crazy”. And as I look back, I can see why. But I know in my heart of hearts that I was led of God to step out on faith because I KNEW that I was supposed to go when I went and in the way that I went. I strongly advise all students to have a viable plan before branching out…but this is my story. I have been reluctant to share this story but God deserves the Praise for His deliverance power. And perhaps someone else will be helped to stay away from the slippery slope of a suicidal spirit. Suicide is never an option because you cannot repent once you are dead. You will open your eyes in Hell. Choose Christ. He will see you through your storm, no matter what it is.
There is a Part II to this story, which follows. But I just want to stop here and thank God for His grace and His mercy. I believe that what I experienced when going to the University in the way that I went was a tremendous step of faith. I further believe that He allowed me to experience the Gift of Faith “on credit” because though I was not saved, I was a worshipper of Him and He knew that I would live for Him one day. He didn’t let me foolishly kill myself because suicide is never a viable option. I am alive today and I have been a nurse for 48 years because of His love and mercy. I have also been saved and full of the Holy Ghost for 40 of those years. Thank You Jesus! My life and everything I am and ever will be I owe to you.