Living Oral History Project

Welcome to the Living Oral History Project, presented in partnership between the African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor District Library. The five community members below have initiated this project by participating in a series of filmed interviews. These interviews serve as a road map illustrating what local African-Americans witnessed, experienced, and contributed to building the community we share today. Topics such as race; gender; education; equality; faith; housing; employment; community building activities; and social infrastructure were presented and discussed. Each topic providing a spectrum of perspectives relevant to the issues and concerns of the African-American community in the history of 20th century Washtenaw County.

With special thanks to filmmaker Laurie White and the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History.

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Video by Laurie White.


Rosemarion Alexander Blake was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1923 to Jewel Alexander Price and Jacob Price. She was brought to Ann Arbor between two to four years of age by her great Aunt Hattie and Uncle Robert Alexander. Rosemarion attended Jones School Kindergarten through 9th grade and graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1941. She held a number of jobs after graduating and in 1945 became the first African-American woman to work in city Hall in a non-custodial position. A number of years later, she worked in Publication Sales at the Institute for Social Research from 1970 until her retirement in 1987.

Russell Calvert is the Owner/Operator of Calvert’s Roll-Off Container, Inc. Calvert’s Roll-Off Container, Inc. has been in business since the early 1950s. Burgess Calvert Russell’s father started the company with one truck; Russell joined the company in 1976 and has greatly expanded the business to include government and commercial services. As the Owner and Operator, Russell oversees the daily operations, development, and implementation of all programs and operations.

Lydia B. (Cromwell) Morton was born in Ann Arbor in 1916. Her great-grandmother came to Ann Arbor with Judge Kenny’s family in 1867. Her grandmother Laura Bell Chester was born in Ann Arbor in 1874 and her mother was born in Ann Arbor in 1894. Mrs. Morton has one brother George Richard Cromwell. From her four children, she has 12 great grand children, 6 great, great, grand children; all but four were born in Ann Arbor. Seven generations have lived here in Ann Arbor.

Dr. Willis Patterson is a professor emeritus of the University of Michigan of Music and founder of the Willis Patterson Our Own Thing Chorale. Born in Ann Arbor in 1930, he attended Jones School and graduated from Ann Arbor High School. After serving in the air force, Patterson earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s of music degree from the University of Michigan. He received his doctorate from Wayne State University and was a Fulbright Fellow. Patterson joined the University of Michigan School of Music in 1968.

Johnnie Mae (Jackson) Seeley was raised in Sarepta, Louisiana and moved to Ann Arbor with her husband Howard M. Seeley in 1954. She joined the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor where she was later crowned a Deaconess, and soon she became known for her culinary skills and hospitality, which led to some of the community's largest gatherings, first at her farm on the outside Ann Arbor and later on Beakes St. For years her garden provided food for Sunday communal meals and for the Human Service Project which donated food to homeless shelters.