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Harrison B. Wilson

University President and College Basketball Coach Harrison B. Wilson was born on April 21, 1925 and is a native of Amsterdam, New York. Wilson is the fifth of seven siblings. His mother was a school teacher and his father worked in construction. Wilson served in the United States Navy from 1945 until 1947, when he enrolled at Kentucky State University at the age of nineteen. There he received his B.S. degree, was an honor student and a star athlete in basketball, football, baseball and track.

In the early 1950s Wilson received his M.A. degree and his D.H.S. in health science and administration from Indiana University. Between the ages of twenty-three and thirty-nine, Wilson worked as a professor, administrator and coach at Jackson State College (now Jackson State University). Wilson was the head basketball coach from 1951 to 1960. He then became chairman of the Department of Health and Physical Education from 1960 until 1967. Additionally, he became chairman and professor of health and physical education at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee that same year as well. Wilson then briefly worked at Fisk University as the assistant to the President of Fisk before being named President of Norfolk State University in 1975. During Wilson’s term at Norfolk, which spanned over three decades from 1975 until 1997, Norfolk State University’s annual budget increased from $14 million to $86 million, enrollment increased from 6,700 students to 8,100 students, and the number of faculty and staff has grown from 377 to 412, with a student-faculty ratio of twenty-two-one. The University also added fourteen new buildings and acquired fifty-one acres of land during Wilson’s tenure.

Upon his retirement in 1997, Wilson was honored by Old Dominion University as one of their Strong Men and Women Excellence in Leadership series. Wilson is active in a number of boards and organizations, including the board of directors of Virginia National Bank, the lay advisory board of DePaul Hospital, the Virginia State Advanced Council on Vocational Education, and the board of directors of the Virginia Health, Welfare, and Recreation Planning Council. Wilson is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Mu fraternity.

Wilson is married to Dr. Lucy Wilson, and he is the father of six children.

Harrison B. Wilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 11, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.012

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/11/2010 |and| 5/13/2010

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

B.

Organizations
Schools

Kentucky State University

Indiana University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Harrison

Birth City, State, Country

Amsterdam

HM ID

WIL51

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Saratoga, New York

Favorite Quote

God Bless America.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Virginia

Birth Date

4/21/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chesapeake

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Ham, Chicken

Short Description

University president and college basketball coach Harrison B. Wilson (1925 - ) was president of Norfolk State University in Virginia. He was also on the board of directors of Virginia National Bank.

Employment

Jackson State University

Tennessee State University

Fisk University

Norfolk State University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Harrison B. Wilson's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his paternal great-grandfather, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his paternal great-grandfather, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his paternal great-grandfather, pt. 3

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his paternal grandfather's life after the Civil War

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his father's inheritance

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his mother's family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his paternal uncles

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his father's move to Amsterdam, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his early years in Amsterdam, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson describes the president's house at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his father

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his siblings

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson describes Amsterdam, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School in Amsterdam, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers the influence of Joe Louis

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls boxing throughout his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his father's discovery of his boxing activities

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his reckless teenage behavior

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls his competition with classmate Rocco Petrone

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers being denied from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls joining the U.S. Navy

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about serving at Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his service as a corpsman

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about World War II

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers working as a surgical assistant

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers visiting the South, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers visiting the South, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson describes Kentucky State College for Negroes in Frankfort, Kentucky

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls being hired at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson describes Jackson State College

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers meeting a Chicago Bears football player

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson describes how his college work prepared him for Mississippi

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about changes in Mississippi collegiate sports

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about Medgar Evers

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls being arrested in Mississippi

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson describes Medgar Evers' personality

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls the civil rights activities in Mississippi

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls leaving Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers becoming reacquainted with Lucy R. Wilson, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers becoming reacquainted with Lucy R. Wilson, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls proposing to Lucy R. Wilson

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers marrying Lucy R. Wilson, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls being hired at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about Walter S. Davis

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers marrying Lucy R. Wilson, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls negotiating his wife's salary, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls negotiating his wife's salary, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his work at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers the speakers at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University and Fisk University

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his duties at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers buying his home in Nashville, Tennessee, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers buying his home in Nashville, Tennessee, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls being hired at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls his first impression of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his work at Fisk University

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls the support of his wife

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his challenges at Fisk University

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls his interviews for university president positions

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his qualifications for university president

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers vying for the presidency at Norfolk State University, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers vying for the presidency at Norfolk State University, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his leadership of the Norfolk State University board

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his friendship with Virginia Governor Mills Godwin

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his father's legacy

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers his early work as president of Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls building the president's home at Norfolk State University

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his political moves as Norfolk State University president, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his political moves as Norfolk State University president, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls building the L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center in Norfolk, Virginia

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson remembers improvements he made at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls building the athletic facility at Norfolk State University, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson recalls building the athletic facility at Norfolk State University, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Harrison B. Wilson reflects upon his life

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Harrison B. Wilson reflects upon his legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Harrison B. Wilson reflects upon his legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Harrison B. Wilson describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 1

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Harrison B. Wilson describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 2

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Harrison B. Wilson talks about his fighting background

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Harrison B. Wilson narrates his photographs

DASession

1$2

DATape

2$9

DAStory

7$3

DATitle
Harrison B. Wilson remembers his early years in Amsterdam, New York
Harrison B. Wilson recalls the support of his wife
Transcript
Now, can you kind of tell us what the neighborhood--you, you said you grew up in an Italian neighborhood basically in Amsterdam.$$Yeah.$$Yeah what, what kind of housing was there and what was the neighborhood like.$$(Laughter) Well that's, that's an interesting story. They were usually the worst house in that community. We--my mother [Marguerite Ayers Wilson] had to, and I'm growing up I'm a little kid, I'm, I'm living wherever, wherever we moved to. But what I found that my mother would take the house whatever it was and beautify it (laughter).$$So you lived in several different places?$$Several, you had to move when they (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And this is, just so people viewing this will understand this is during the Depression right when you were--?$$Right, during the Depression.$$Yeah, you were five years old, old I guess--$$Well, let's say--$$--or four or five when the Great Depression hit.$$Yeah.$$Yeah.$$And, and you have to look at, look at what I'm seeing through my eyes too; that's the other thing. And what I'm seeing is my father [Harrison Wilson, Sr.] being respected in that community, Italian community where you had Italian people who were just over from Italy. They were immigrants. They were clannish. They were friends. They were Catholics, and they would have a vineyard that they'd build like they had in Italy and on Sundays the old guys would get under there and drink their wine that they, that they made. They made wine. And they had a Italian spaghetti, and what you call pizza today was a poor man's food because what they did the mother would, would bake bread and they had vegetables and she'd cook tomatoes and she'd throw whatever they had on that piece of bread and the kids ate that. We used to laugh at them when I first saw that, and then I got nerve enough to taste it and it was good. It was good. And then later, you know years later, that was pizza. You know, I don't know how many will admit that, but that's, that's, that's the Amsterdam, New York, story. And anyway, my father had the great respect of, of the Italian people, and I can tell you why because he worked hard, he loved his family and protected them, and loved my mother. My mother ran, ran the house. My father thought he was in charge, but my mother was always in charge. And it was amazing how he changed. Even my father changed from being somewhat--coming from a family where he had everything to having a family during the Depression years. My father, people won't believe this, but my father would walk five miles in snow to catch a ride to go to a job thirteen miles away. My father was a bricklayer. He was a plasterer. He was, he, he cleaned up. He started with a job, if it was a matter of working on the foundation he did that. And when, if the matter--you needed a man to plaster he could do that. He could lay brick. They didn't have unions then. And then he'd clean up the area around it.$Lucy [Wilson's second wife, HistoryMaker Lucy R. Wilson] helped me with my speeches. Matter of fact she wrote my speeches for me and, and when, when, when I got to be president of the univer- here [Norfolk State University, Norfolk, Virginia] she wrote all my speeches. Of course, I paid her, I paid her. I, I got somebody to mop the floors and did all that and so she didn't have to do that, that was my way of paying her and I'm joking for the sake of the record (laughter). She would kill me if I left here, but I wouldn't. No she's, she's steady the, the woman behind me. I, and I would tell people. I'd give a speech and tell them about her and how she came to my aid. A lot of people thought all the children were hers. They thought we'd been married all those years, and I, I didn't, I didn't feel right not letting them know what, what I did or what we did, and they shocked. Every Sunday we were at our church that we went to, we took a whole pew. And when this little baby girl [April Wilson Woodard] came, I had those four boys and one bigger girl that was three years old [Jennifer Wilson], but I had that little baby girl I had to carry it in, in the church, not to the church, in the church and I'd hold her for a few minutes, and when she'd started crying I'd give her to her mother. But anyway it was, it was, if I'd ever had any bad luck or any, any, anybody had ever done anything that was distasteful or hateful to me growing up or any, anywhere in my life, I felt like my, the Lord, and I, and I believe in God, pointed out who I should marry. I didn't know--you know, you never know for sure, but I'm telling you she--and I embarrass her a little bit saying this--but she was, she was just something special. She, the only way I could say it as if she was 6'9" and you were counting on her to make the NBA [National Basketball Association] and in her first year she made the All-Stars and, and took you to the national championship or, or the pro championship, well that was Lucy.$$She's the Magic Johnson of marriage (laughter).$$She, she was Magic Johnson of my life.$$Okay.$$And because--$$Now, now, now let's see, let me--$$All right go ahead.$$--let me get you to--$$And I'm gonna try to talk a little, little less and answer quickly and stop.