This Day (We’re All Hokies Edition)

Published:June 7, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1919, T. O. Sandy—a farmer, scientist, and teacher who once attended Virginia Tech and who operated Virginia’s agricultural extension from its campus—died at Locust Grove, his farm in Nottoway County.

On this day twenty-four years later, Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Writing as Nikki Giovanni, she made a name for herself in the 1960s as a provocateur with an affinity to the Black Power of Malcolm X. “We ain’t got to prove we can die,” she wrote. “We got to prove we can kill.” This sort of talk caught the attention of the New York Times, which described Giovanni, with almost punishing understatement, as “basically angry.” But by 1989, when she accepted a teaching position at Virginia Tech, Giovanni had become (to quote the Times again) the “Princess of Black Poetry.” And then, after the murders in 2007, she became something different again: an icon.

“We are brave enough to bend and cry,” she told a crowd of ten thousand mourners at the time, “and sad enough to know we must laugh again.” “We will prevail,” she insisted, repeating the line four times before intoning, “We are Virginia Tech.”

IMAGE: Nikki Giovanni inspires the crowd