AACHM 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. 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.

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Phase Two

Johnny W. Barfield was born February 8, 1927, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. As a child he sold soap house to house and, after tenth grade, joined the U.S. Army where he served in France and Germany. After leaving the Army in 1947, Mr. Barfield became a wall washer for the University of Michigan, where hard work, entrepreneurship, and innovation helped him build the largest cleaning business in Ann Arbor. Mr. Barfield is widely recognized for his philanthropic work and support of the African American and business communities.

Tessie Freeman was born June 19, 1924 in Alabama and has lived in Washtenaw County since 1947. An avid lover of poetry and spectator sports, Ms. Freeman raised three children while doing domestic work and dressing hair to supplement her family’s income. Ms. Freeman is proud of her children and encouraged them to get an education, even going so far as to enroll at Wayne State University at the same time her youngest son. Ms. Freeman has always spoken for herself and she’s proud to share her story.
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Barbara Meadows was born October 1, 1933, in Albion, Michigan, and spent her childhood in Inkster, Michigan, before moving to Ann Arbor in her youth. She attended Talladega College in Alabama, followed by Smith College, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work. Ms. Meadows worked in the University of Michigan Neuropsychiatric Institute and worked for several years in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. She has been a leader or founder of several community-based organizations and served on numerous boards including the University Musical Society Board, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Washtenaw Community College, and the Peace Neighborhood Center. She was appointed to Ann Arbor’s Human Relations Committee in the 1960s..

Paul Wasson was born September 8, 1923, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After leaving school in the tenth grade, Mr. Wasson joined the United States Army at the beginning of World War II. In 1943, Mr. Wasson left the Army and came to Detroit. Arriving on the heels of the Detroit Riots, he decided to head west to Ypsilanti. Mr. Wasson marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s; worked at the University of Michigan Hospital for seventeen years, and is most proud of his children. He encourages all young people to get an education.

Dorothy Wilson was born November 28, 1911, in Mount Vernon, New York. She grew up in New York, where she also met her husband, living for several years in Brooklyn. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse and worked at the Brooklyn State Hospital. After her husband’s death she retired and moved, in 1972, to Ypsilanti to be near her family where she became active in volunteer work for Church Women United through Brown Chapel AME Church in Ypsilanti, the Beyer Hospital Auxiliary, and the Ypsilanti Historical Society..

Phase One

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.