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AACHM BWC Interview: Mike Bass

When: August 22, 2023


  • [00:00:07] MIKE BASS: My name is Mike Bass and I'm a descendant of Louise and Dr. Thomas J. Bass of Ypsilanti. My dad was originally from Paterson, New Jersey, and my mom was born in Auburn, Arkansas.
  • [00:00:27] JOYCE HUNTER: Mike, thank you for doing the interview and thank you for being part of this upcoming exhibit. We're so excited about it. We're going to start with the first question, which is can you describe your family tree and ancestry?
  • [00:00:43] MIKE BASS: Well, it's somewhat limited. On my dad's side, we know that my grandfather, his father was born around 1872-73 in Antigua. Quite frankly, he boarded the ship as a stowaway and traveled to New York, and there he jumped ship. My dad was born in 1910, and it's been history ever since. My mom, who was born in Arkansas and she was born in 1919, spent much of her time in St. Louis before her and my grandma, Emma Kent moved to Dayton, Ohio. My sisters and I are in the process of trying to do our family tree, but that's quite an endeavor. Fortunately though, we have some people on both sides who are looking at all of these things, who are more adept than I am in going through all of this. But we're so very thankful, my sisters and I, for the parents that we had. Very fortunate. They understood all of the trials and tribulations that most Black people went through in the early 1900s, all the way up to when I was born and my sisters were born, which was in '40s, and then my youngest sister in 1954. But from that time my sisters and I have continued to feel just how fortunate we were to have the parents that we had.
  • [00:02:57] JOYCE HUNTER: You touched on that just a minute ago, but how did your family arrive in the Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti / Washtenaw County area?
  • [00:03:05] MIKE BASS: Well, my dad went to the university at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and then he went to med school at Meharry in Tennessee. After graduating from Meharry, he actually settled in River Rouge. He was there for several years and decided to open up his practice though in Ypsilanti. That's where he met my mom who was actually associated with Eastern Michigan at the time. I think it was called Normal at the time. They got married and we grew up actually on the south side of Ypsilanti, in an area that is called Parkridge, the projects, and so forth but it's changed quite a bit. But early on that's where we grew up and most of my life was spent on Harriet Street, and the rest is history. Dad at the very beginning was one of two Black doctors in Ypsilanti. The original doctor was Dr. Clark. When Dr. Clark passed away, my dad for a number of years was the only Black doctor in the Ypsilanti area. But during that whole period of growing up, we had a very sound foundation. Quite frankly, we didn't feel like we had lost out on anything and I think this is a tribute to how my sisters and I were raised by my mom and dad. They were proponents of education, and as a result, so are my sisters and I. The key to education--the key to any success is based on the foundation of education.
  • [00:05:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Mike tell me a little bit about, I know when we interviewed you before you talked about your father making house calls, and that so many people knew your father. Can you talk about that a little bit.
  • [00:05:34] MIKE BASS: He was the original GP and he constantly was making house calls. I remember helping him pack his bag when he had to go to these calls and he was dedicated to his profession. He really wanted to help people. For a long time, he didn't even have an office, he worked out of the place that we lived at in Parkridge. Time and time again, he would make these house calls, and a lot of times he didn't expect to get paid, but he certainly appreciated the sweet potato pie or the chicken dinner and he took that instead of the actual money. He was very proud of that because he was dedicated to his profession. The many times I went with him as the oldest in the family, and there was some very good times, and there were some sad times as well. As for a period of time he was the county medical examiner and often times he had to pronounce people dead and so forth, which was interesting to me, and at the time I just had to listen and I understood the grief that accompanied someone passing away. But he developed a following, and I think is personified by just how well respected he was and still is in the Ypsilanti community.
  • [00:07:28] JOYCE HUNTER: Also, I think I recall, you mentioned your mother being involved with, or instrumental in opening or moving forward on the Parkridge Community Center. Can you talk about that a little bit?
  • [00:07:42] MIKE BASS: Yes. Like I said, I had two sisters, an older sister, Anne, who was two years younger than me, and then my youngest sister, Leah, who's nine years younger than I am. But early on, it was for a while, just my older sister Anne and I. My mom didn't really work actually until we got in high school. During that period of time of our growing up, she was very active in the community and particularly active with the young girls at the time. She started a girl scout troop, she started a club called The Teenagers. Many of those girls at the time became my babysitters, particularly the Frierson girls, and also Mary Louise Foley and a number of others. Miss VanSlyke. There are just a number of them. I grew up with the old saying that it takes a village, and as a result, if I wanted to, I couldn't do anything wrong because it didn't take very long for my mom to know just exactly what I might have done, that I shouldn't have done. We were constantly on our Ps and Qs. But we felt the love of the community. We also felt the respect that my mother in particular had earned among these young women in the community.
  • [00:09:35] MIKE BASS: She remained very, very close friends and a guiding light for many of them. I still recall so many of them who constantly have referred to her, as well as a number of the students who, after we went into high school, my mom decided to go back and teach school. She was a teacher for a number of years at the then East Side Junior High School. Even periodically when I might post something on Facebook, many of her former students would have very kind things to say about her. It just made me feel good that she was able to make those contributions, not only to the girls in the community, but also her students as well.
  • [00:10:40] JOYCE HUNTER: Were there any local places of importance for your family? If so, please describe the place and why it was important to your ancestors.
  • [00:10:51] MIKE BASS: The first thing that I can think of is the AME Church on Adams Street. That was a meeting place for all of us, and my mom and dad were members and my sisters and I joined as soon as we could understand the benefits of religion and the guidance that religion could give us in leading a productive life. I would say that the AME Church on Adams really played an important part in our upbringing. The other thing that was so important was the Parkridge Community Center. That was on Harriet Street as well and it was just up the street from where we actually grew up and it was the meeting place for just about every activity on the south side of town. Jesse Rutherford was the director at the time, and there was just something happening there at Parkridge almost every day and we looked forward to going there on Friday evenings for our dance and dancing and getting together. The third thing was the Perry School, which at that time, when we were growing up, was known as the Harriet Street School, but again, the majority of almost all of the students there were all Black and Mr. Charles Beatty was the principal at the time and I can remember all of those teachers who we had were consistently reminding us of how important it was that we pay attention, that we follow instructions, that we remain respectful, and that we do the very best that we can when it comes to education. Finally, the fourth thing that I continued to appreciate was the fact that we had little league baseball and it was always exciting for us to go to recreation park where we had not only school activities every year, but where I learned to play baseball and that was my first actual experience in athletics because it was the central place for all of us. That's the first time that we really came in contact with a lot of white kids. Fortunately, because of the teachers that we had, we were not as ignorant, you might say, of the fact that there were people who were different from us but no better and that was important as well.
  • [00:14:17] JOYCE HUNTER: Mike, you mentioned the AME Church, so you're referring to Brown Chapel AME, is that correct?
  • [00:14:24] MIKE BASS: Correct, yes. They've since built a new church there on Michigan Avenue. But at the time that we were growing up, it was Brown Chapel there on Adams and I very much recall Mrs. Kersey, and I've seen pictures of her when she taught at the Harriet Street Elementary School, as well as her being the organist at at Brown Chapel. What a fine lady.
  • [00:15:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Are there any people, artifacts, or pictures unique to your family that you would like to share?
  • [00:15:09] MIKE BASS: Well, in terms of photographs, I always remember the photograph of my mom and dad together later on in life. Everything was so positive around our household and fortunately, and sometimes I wonder if it wasn't a curse, my mom and dad actually emphasize the fact that we were going to participate in everything that occurred in Ypsilanti. In so many instances, my sisters and I were the only Black people who participated in these things. Not only in swimming lessons, but other things as well, but I remember constantly that my mom and dad emphasized that no matter what the situation was, we were equal to anybody and that it was important to us that we not have any prejudice whatsoever, even at this time. I remember, and I'm 78 years old, of her saying to me Michael, and that's what she and my dad always called me, Michael, you do not want to be prejudiced. You don't want to have any bigotry. As a matter of fact, being prejudiced is a sign of ignorance. At five years old, she was saying, Michael, you don't want to be ignorant, do you? That sticks with me all these many years. I've developed an attitude of trying to judge every person by the way that they judge or interact with me. We all have our prejudices, but being able to put yourself on the other side and trying not to give off the bad vibes that some people have a tendency to do, I think it's helped all of us quite a bit.
  • [00:17:36] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you, Mike. That concludes our interview.