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AACHM BWC Interview: Les Jackson and Alice Gilbert

When: July 31, 2023


  • [00:00:03] LES JACKSON: I'm Les Jackson. I'm a descendant of Asher Aray.
  • [00:00:09] ALICE GILBERT: I'm Alice Gilbert, a descendant of Asher Aray .
  • [00:00:16] JOYCE HUNTER: Great. We have four questions. I'm going to start with the first one. Can you describe your family tree and ancestry?
  • [00:00:27] LES JACKSON: Yeah. Our family tree is quite extensive. Asher Aray is our third great grandfather, and he was the son of Jacob Aray and Berthena West. They came to the Michigan territory in 1827, and Jacob Aray and Berthena, they had four children and they settled in Pittsfield Township, near the intersection of what is now known as 23 and US-12. Back then, US-12 was basically an Indian trail. All the roads, or a lot of the roads in the state were built from the old Indian trails. And traveling on US-12 was no piece of cake. It was muddy, it was trenched. It had to be widened. They had lumbermen come in and widen the path. And they widened the path so that they could get more than just two people walking side by side because these were Indian trails. This was the basic development in the Michigan territory at that time. And right around 1824, I believe, they appropriated funds to try to widen Michigan Avenue or US-12, the Old Chicago Road, so that they could pass more traffic on the road. Back then, it was just exceedingly difficult. Like I said, the roads weren't really roads, they were just trails. The towns and the population sprung up around these trails so much to the story.
  • [00:03:09] JOYCE HUNTER: Well, that's a good start. You can always add to it, but I wanted to see if your aunt Alice wanted to add anything about the family tree and ancestry.
  • [00:03:20] ALICE GILBERT: Yes. I'm Alice Jackson Gilbert and 90 years old plus. I am a descendant of Asher Aray. That's about all I can say right now, that'll come to my remembering.
  • [00:03:38] JOYCE HUNTER: You have a very strong voice. It's great.
  • [00:03:41] ALICE GILBERT: I've always been a person that lived on East Cross Street, and I'm still living on East Cross Street.
  • [00:03:52] JOYCE HUNTER: And how long have you lived there?
  • [00:03:54] ALICE GILBERT: I'm 90 years old. [LAUGHTER] A portion of that time when I was younger and married, I lived in Romulus Michigan. But I returned back to Ypsilanti.
  • [00:04:11] LES JACKSON: There's a piece of property on East Cross Street that has been in the family for 107 years, 108 years?
  • [00:04:21] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
  • [00:04:21] LES JACKSON: Herbert Day. I'm going to talk a little bit about the tree.
  • [00:04:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Go ahead.
  • [00:04:31] LES JACKSON: Alice Jackson Gilbert was the daughter of Martha Day Jackson and Clinton Jackson. Martha Day Jackson was the daughter of Herbert Theron Day and Ida Adelle Sherman. Herbert Day was the son of Benjamin Day and Martha Aray Day, and Martha Aray was Asher's daughter. There's strong speculation that Benjamin Day assisted Asher Aray in the Underground Railroad. He was a very large man and there's no doubt in my mind that he assisted in Asher's efforts in transporting and hiding slaves, but there's no documentation. Carol Mull has been looking for documentation on this for years. Carol Mull wrote the book, The Underground Railroad in Michigan. Right around 1968, there was a fire at Alice's mother's house and it completely destroyed the house. I remember photographs hanging on the stairwell and in the other rooms and just beautiful photographs, large photographs. I remember I was a little pensive going up the stairs because Asher Aray was staring down at you [LAUGHTER] from this big photograph that was under a bubble of glass. It was pretty impressive. But anyway, that house burned and there's a lot of documentation that burned with it. We really don't have any artifacts from the era.
  • [00:06:39] JOYCE HUNTER: So I'm going to go on to the next question, and whenever you want to go back, you can also go back and add to it.
  • [00:06:48] LES JACKSON: Okay.
  • [00:06:49] JOYCE HUNTER: How did your family arrive in the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti / Washtenaw County area?
  • [00:06:54] LES JACKSON: Most likely they came by boat. The Erie Canal was finished. Well, about 1824, the Erie Canal was finished, and it made travel to Michigan a lot easier. Traveling by land was okay, but getting up into Michigan from Ohio, there was a huge bog that prevented people from traveling north out of Ohio and made it very difficult for travel over land. Here again, Carol Mull speculates that the Days and the Geddes, maybe the Harwoods and a whole group of people came over via the Erie Canal, docked in Detroit, and made their way westward to Pittsfield Township. The Aray family had owned property in Pittsfield Township before they got there. There's documentation that James Aray bought 80 acres of land in Pittsfield Township, January or February of 1827. The Arays, I think, they arrived in probably June or July of 1827. They had land to stay on. There's just this huge question as to who this James Aray was because James Aray was also one of Asher's sons. James Aray was also one of Ashers' brothers, and James Aray was Asher's uncle. Asher's uncle fought in the Revolutionary War for the New Jersey regiment in the Continental Army. There's speculation that he had a land grant for this property. I got a statement from 1818 that James Aray made to the War Department looking for assistance. It was very possible that he could have gotten a land grant, which is where this land came from, but we don't have any real documentation on that. That's one of the big sticking points that I'm trying to research so that I can figure this out. But James Aray was a very common name in the Aray family.
  • [00:09:35] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. I'm going to move to the next question. You already talked about that, but we'll go over it again. Were there any local places of importance for your family? It mentions here, describe the place and its importance. I know you mentioned Cross Street, do you want to talk about that a little bit more?
  • [00:09:59] LES JACKSON: Yeah. The address at the time was 614 East Cross Street, and Herbert Day apparently sold some property from the Aray family because he was in the lineage of inheritance. He bought four pieces of property. He bought 614 East Cross Street, which was a farmhouse, and it was part of the Gilbert estate back then. Herbert Day also bought the house next door, which was 620 East Cross Street. Then the third piece of property he bought was on Miles Street, M-I-L-E-S, and that address was, I believe, it was 224. My grandmother Martha, her sister lived there. Lillian Bradley lived in that house. Later in life, Herbert Day and Ida Sherman lived with Lillian and Benjamin Bradley over on Miles Street. The fourth piece of property was out in Waldron, Michigan, in Hillsdale County, I believe. During the Depression, Herbert Day moved his family down to Waldron, Michigan to live on their farm so that they could support themselves. Do you have any remembrances of Waldron out there?
  • [00:11:42] ALICE GILBERT: Oh, no. I remember a country road that I was often on, but that's about it.
  • [00:11:54] JOYCE HUNTER: So Miles Street, that property could be a picture or something we could use as part of the exhibit, is that right?
  • [00:12:02] LES JACKSON: Yeah. I think you can find a photo of the house.
  • [00:12:09] JOYCE HUNTER: That would be great. I'm going to go to the final question and that is, are there any people, artifacts, or pictures unique to your family that you would like to share? I know we've asked you to collect items for the exhibit. Is there anything special you'd like to share or talk about?
  • [00:12:31] LES JACKSON: Yes.
  • [00:12:32] JOYCE HUNTER: Go ahead.
  • [00:12:33] LES JACKSON: Aunt Alice's brother, Clinton Herbert Jackson, he was an officer in the army, and he fought in World War II and he also fought in Korea. There's a book I have at home called, I can't think of the name. I think it's The River and the Gauntlet. In that book, it describes the battle where the United States--or I'll say the United Nations forces--the United Nations forces were forced to retreat from probably 50 miles from the Chinese border all the way back to the 38th Parallel. I'm still working on documentation, but General MacArthur told President Truman that the troops would be home by Christmas. This was dubbed as the Home by Christmas campaign. They moved easily up into North Korea on the night of November 24, 1950, the Chinese attacked and they just slaughtered the American forces. American forces weren't prepared. In the book, it talks about supply issues, it talks about ammunition deficiencies and a lot of shortcomings the intelligence just dropped the ball on. It was really an embarrassment. But Clinton Herbert Day, he was captured in that battle in 1950, and in January 31, 1951, the Army declared him as deceased as a POW. He earned the Silver Star and some other medals. He was an officer of a mixed race unit in Korea which was just getting off the ground during that period of time. But we have a picture of him. I'm putting together a picture frame with all those medals and we'd like to donate that to the museum.
  • [00:15:52] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you for that. But I want to, before we sound off I want to see if your aunt Alice has anything she wants to say or add.
  • [00:16:02] ALICE GILBERT: No, I really can't. Being 90-plus, I'm just about thinking of today.
  • [00:16:08] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay, I understand. Anything about your childhood, that you'd like to share?
  • [00:16:14] ALICE GILBERT: Well, I can remember that we were, as I can recall, we were the only Black family there in that area.
  • [00:16:24] LES JACKSON: When Herbert Day bought that property on East Cross Street, he met up with a lot of resistance.
  • [00:16:30] JOYCE HUNTER: I understand that. Certainly.