AACHM Oral History: Barbara Meadows
Sun, 09/28/2014 - 2:19pm
When: January 14, 2014
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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.
- [00:00:37.60] INTERVIEWER: Mom, I'm first going to ask you some simple, demographic questions. These questions may jog your memories, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can go into more detail later in the interview.
- [00:00:53.11] Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:56.58] BARBARA MEADOWS: Barbara J. Meadows-- B-A-R-B-A-R-A-- middle initial J for Jean, and Meadows-- M-E-A-D-O-W-S. Maiden name Evans-- E-V-A-N-S.
- [00:01:12.36] INTERVIEWER: Thank you, Mom. What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:01:17.30] BARBARA MEADOWS: October 1, 1933.
- [00:01:20.79] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:24.13] BARBARA MEADOWS: African American.
- [00:01:25.70] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion?
- [00:01:27.62] BARBARA MEADOWS: Protestant Methodist.
- [00:01:30.41] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:35.92] BARBARA MEADOWS: Master's degree in social work and some post-grad.
- [00:01:42.80] INTERVIEWER: And you did your post-grad--
- [00:01:45.91] BARBARA MEADOWS: I did my-- I received my master's degree at the Smith College School of Social Work in Northampton, Massachusetts. And then I took some postgraduate courses here at the University of Michigan.
- [00:01:56.71] INTERVIEWER: OK, what is your marital status?
- [00:01:59.44] BARBARA MEADOWS: Widowed.
- [00:02:00.81] INTERVIEWER: How many children do you have?
- [00:02:02.58] BARBARA MEADOWS: Two.
- [00:02:03.90] INTERVIEWER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:06.44] BARBARA MEADOWS: There were four of us and two are now living.
- [00:02:10.40] INTERVIEWER: What was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:13.85] BARBARA MEADOWS: Social work.
- [00:02:16.29] INTERVIEWER: And for how long?
- [00:02:19.64] BARBARA MEADOWS: About 36 years, I would say.
- [00:02:24.17] INTERVIEWER: And at what age did you retire or what year?
- [00:02:30.62] BARBARA MEADOWS: At the age of 64.
- [00:02:35.60] INTERVIEWER: And we'll now go to second part of the interview. It is on memories of childhood and youth.
- [00:02:43.40] This part of the interview is about your childhood and youth. Even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories for this part of your life.
- [00:02:57.49] What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:03:04.25] BARBARA MEADOWS: We were happy family. As I said, there were four of us-- two girls and two boys-- and my father was a Methodist minister. My mother had some education. She worked primarily when I was a youngster as a domestic. She would take the bus. We were living in Inkster and then she would drive to Wayne, Michigan where she cleaned houses.
- [00:03:33.34] INTERVIEWER: The next question was what sort of work did your parents do. You mentioned about your parents. What is your earliest memory?
- [00:03:46.24] BARBARA MEADOWS: I would say my earliest memory was in kindergarten when I had the privilege of ringing-- you know those little triangle bells? I had the chance to do that in the kindergarten class. I remember that.
- [00:04:00.96] And the only other thing I remember is on Easter Sunday. I had some beautiful black patent leather shoes and white socks. And I was going to Sunday school and decided to go through a field. We lived in Inkster, which was a rural area. And if had rained the night before.
- [00:04:19.18] And as I walked across this field, my shoes-- beautiful patent leather shoes-- and my white socks got dirty. And every time I took a step, I went down farther and farther in this mud field. And I had visions that I was in sinking sand-- stuff like that.
- [00:04:39.18] And when I got to church, I remember standing behind the door when people entered, because I don't want anyone to see me. I was crying and my beautiful shoes were dirty and so were my socks.
- [00:04:54.10] INTERVIEWER: Do you remember how your parents responded?
- [00:04:55.66] BARBARA MEADOWS: My mother-- when she came to Sunday school later-- she found me in the other room behind the door. And she changed my socks and took me to sit in the church next to her. And I felt OK after that.
- [00:05:14.50] INTERVIEWER: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:05:23.34] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, my father's birthday was on July the fourth. And so, we always had a combination. We celebrated July 4, but we also celebrated his birthday. The other thing I can remember-- for holidays particularly-- is that we would make chains to put around the house and at the windows. And these chains were made out of paper. And we had-- we would just glue them in loops. And we would put them all around the house. That was our decoration. We couldn't afford to buy regular Christmas decorations, so that's what we had.
- [00:06:07.02] INTERVIEWER: You touched on this-- the next question was, which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:06:12.29] BARBARA MEADOWS: As I said, July 4. But we celebrated Christmas. That's when we did the decoration. Christmas was a time my father, as a minister-- you know, we didn't have much money. But he would say, well, I don't think we're going to be able to afford a Christmas tree this year. And so, all of us would feel so sad about that. But he would always come in with a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.
- [00:06:38.37] And that's because the farmers would leave. They didn't want to take the trees home with them, so they just gave it to him. And he would bring them to the house. And we always took-- there was a big hole in the tree somewhere-- and we always turned it around so it was facing the wall. And we had ambrosia.
- [00:06:57.65] My parents were from Selma, Alabama. And one of the things that I think they had in the south was ambrosia-- coconut, orange, cherries-- and that was something we could look forward to on Christmas Eve. I tried to do it for my family-- my children-- but they didn't like it up here. So I stopped.
- [00:07:19.05] INTERVIEWER: The tradition ended. No more ambrosia.
- [00:07:23.15] How are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family? We touched it that. Was there anything you wanted to add?
- [00:07:31.78] BARBARA MEADOWS: I don't think so. It was a happy occasion. But one of the things-- we always would listen to The Messiah on Christmas Eve with our ambrosia. And even though I was Methodist, my father as a Methodist minister would always be listening to the Catholic's celebration on Christmas. And it was a combination of things that was just very pleasant.
- [00:07:57.54] And we always, of course, looked for toys under the Christmas tree. And sometimes we got quite a few and sometimes we didn't. But it was just the love and the appreciation for what we did have.
- [00:08:12.67] INTERVIEWER: Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:08:18.96] BARBARA MEADOWS: You mean my-- married?
- [00:08:23.66] INTERVIEWER: Well, this is still in regards to childhood and youth. Did you create your own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:08:33.26] BARBARA MEADOWS: I created-- when I was growing up, it was what my family, you know, as I said, what we did. Yeah.
- [00:08:45.70] INTERVIEWER: The next question was, what was the highest grade you completed? And I know you answered that earlier. Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:09:00.01] BARBARA MEADOWS: I ushered in the church. And I was a member of the youth missionary group. And we would-- periodically, as a young missionary organization from the church-- we would go to Eloise Hospital-- which is now called Wayne County General Hospital. And we would visit the patients there. And we would also go and sing and take them gifts.
- [00:09:30.58] I don't know, maybe that has something to do with my going into the field, too, of social work. I don't know.
- [00:09:38.96] And I was a cheerleader. I enjoyed that. And I played the piano some. Not as good as I would have liked to. But when there was a funeral at the church and the organist-- the pianist-- couldn't come, my father would ask me to play. And I had certain numbers I could do. But not very many. Sometimes they would sing songs that I just hadn't practiced so I couldn't play. But it was a challenge.
- [00:10:10.35] And I took piano lessons. At that time, they only charged $0.25 in Inkster. And there was a gentleman there who was a pianist, and he was teaching me.
- [00:10:25.39] INTERVIEWER: What about your school experience? Is it different from school as you know it today?
- [00:10:34.50] BARBARA MEADOWS: Oh, yes. Yes, quite different. At the time, for elementary school, it was primarily-- I was there in the Lincoln School, which was an elementary school. And I came here to Ann Arbor when I was in the sixth or seventh-- seventh grade, I think it was.
- [00:10:58.01] We did not go from one classroom to the other. It was a self-contained classroom. But now, they class change. In fact, everything is computerized.
- [00:11:11.57] INTERVIEWER: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
- [00:11:19.22] BARBARA MEADOWS: Can't remember anything like that.
- [00:11:22.41] INTERVIEWER: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
- [00:11:29.40] BARBARA MEADOWS: No. I can't recall anything like that. My father, while in the process of building a church in Inkster, Michigan. On one day, he was in the upper portion, a part of the church and he fell and broke his arm. I do remember that. And one arm always remained shorter than the other.
- [00:11:53.60] In fact, I think he said they put wire in it to hold it together. But that was the only thing I think I can remember.
- [00:12:03.81] INTERVIEWER: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:12:19.36] BARBARA MEADOWS: Are you speaking throughout my school career? Elementary--
- [00:12:24.22] INTERVIEWER: Childhood. And through your years here in Ann Arbor.
- [00:12:29.50] BARBARA MEADOWS: OK. In Inkster, for the school, we always celebrated Negro History Week, which was founded by Carter G. Woodson. That was something that my mother instigated, not only in the churches but also in the schools. We spent a whole week celebrating Negro History Week.
- [00:12:53.20] I came here to Ann Arbor-- by the way, I was in Inkster most of my life, my childhood, I would say. But I came to Ann Arbor in 1946. And I stayed here from 1946 to 1949. Then I left and went back to Detroit where I graduated. And then went on to college and from there on to post-grad.
- [00:13:29.33] But we did celebrate Negro History Week-- we didn't do that here except at the church. I would say in our church-- African Methodist Episcopal Church-- at Bethel AME-- we did celebrate Negro History Week there. And a little bit at the center-- it was called them Dunbar Community Center.
- [00:14:02.41] INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned you were here in '46, so shortly after World War II?
- [00:14:07.52] BARBARA MEADOWS: Yes.
- [00:14:12.27] INTERVIEWER: Do you remember anything affecting your family during that time?
- [00:14:18.55] BARBARA MEADOWS: No. That was after World War II, but no one from my immediate family was enrolled in the war. I do remember how sad we all were when President Roosevelt died. I also remember how he would give his fireside chats. And as a family, we were all-- we had to-- sit around the radio and listen. We didn't have a TV, and we would listen to President Roosevelt's fireside chats. In fact, I still have some of his LP records of those chats.
- [00:15:04.78] INTERVIEWER: You lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? For example, was your school segregated? Was the elementary school near your home? Was there a high school for black students in the same area? How did you get to school? Who were the teachers? Where there restaurants or eating places for blacks where you lived? And how were black visitors accommodated?
- [00:15:36.09] BARBARA MEADOWS: I was at Inkster, Michigan School from kindergarten through the sixth grade. I had only African American teachers. And when I came to Ann Arbor-- I was here from '46 to '49-- I went to Jones School. And I had white teachers there for the first time. And I had classmates who were also white. They were bused in from Whitmore Lake at that time.
- [00:16:10.30] All through the Ann Arbor Public Schools-- and I was here, I guess I left in 11th grade-- I never had an African American teacher. They were all white at that time. In fact, the Ann Arbor Public Schools-- no, that was when I came back-- had only hired two teachers. But at that time, the school system did not have any.
- [00:16:42.07] INTERVIEWER: How did you get to school, to Jones School while you were living here.
- [00:16:46.68] BARBARA MEADOWS: In Inkster, I lived across the street from the-- the church was located across from the elementary school. The AME Church had a parsonage attached to the church. And so I just walked across the street to my elementary school.
- [00:17:01.14] When I came to Ann Arbor, I lived, again, a block away from Jones School, so I walked there. And when I went to Ann Arbor High, I also walked there.
- [00:17:15.73] Eating in Ann Arbor restaurants, I cannot recall going to a restaurant and sitting down to eat as we do now. There were certain places where you could go and get ice cream cone. And Washtenaw Dairy, that was one of the places. But it wasn't like going to McDonald's and sitting down to eat or anything like that. Maybe some did, but I don't recall it.
- [00:17:52.42] INTERVIEWER: How were black visitors accommodated in Ann Arbor when bands would come into town or-- move in with students?
- [00:18:06.61] BARBARA MEADOWS: OK, I was a teenager. And I came back as someone who had-- I was here '46 to '49, and I returned in 1959 after having completed my education. And then I was married, too, in 1956. So I was away for 10 years.
- [00:18:24.44] But I can tell you that when we did have bands coming to Ann Arbor, there was no accommodations like going to a public hotel. If there were trains coming through the city, the people working on the trains, they would have to go to an African American home. And that's the way it was. There wasn't an open occupancy for entertainers that came to the city of Ann Arbor.
- [00:19:00.04] INTERVIEWER: So were those accommodations by way of mouth?
- [00:19:03.27] BARBARA MEADOWS: It was by way of mouth. If you worked on the trains, they could say, if you go to Ann Arbor, look up Miss so-and-so. This is her phone number. That kind of thing.
- [00:19:12.72] And this is true, also, of students who were attending the University of Michigan. The students would give the name of someone and the phone number and address of a place where they could stay-- an African American home. The university didn't accept that many. There were a few later on, but early-- when I was here in 1946 to '49-- I did not see that. And that continued for a long period of time.
- [00:19:49.18] INTERVIEWER: This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force or started a family, until all of your children left home and you and your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades.
- [00:20:15.01] After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:20:20.78] BARBARA MEADOWS: When I finished high school-- I graduated from Northern in Detroit, Northern High School in Detroit, Michigan-- I was living in Detroit at the time. My father was the pastor there. And I went to college in Talladega, Alabama. My mother had siblings who had gone there. She had attended some colleges there the south. And she's just thought it was a good thing if I had at least two years in a black college and then come back here if I wanted to-- to Wayne.
- [00:20:51.92] I went for those two years. I liked it so well that I stayed for the four years. And while there, I met my husband. We married 15 months after we graduated from college in 1955. And he didn't have much money either, so he went into the Air Force. And I came back to Detroit. And I worked for the Department of Social Welfare.
- [00:21:21.81] We were married in '56. And I got a scholarship to Smith College. But also by being married, he was able to help me with an allotment check with my education. And the plan was that as he helped me those years to get my degree, I graduated in '59, he came out of the service in '59, and then I was able-- with my master's degree-- to work and to help him through medical school.
- [00:21:52.57] We didn't have our first child until he graduated from medical school. And then we had the second one when he did his residency. So it was well-planned. That's all I can say. Of course, my parents wanted to know why we had to have-- what was wrong. Why hadn't we had any babies before now.
- [00:22:15.07] But it worked out. It worked out fine for us. And it was the best plan.
- [00:22:29.04] INTERVIEWER: Well, it says, did you remain there or did you move around through your adult life? And what was the reason for these moves?
- [00:22:37.01] BARBARA MEADOWS: No, we stayed here. When we came back in '59 and he entered medical school, we remained here. We decided that we had two children here. He had other offers but we thought that Ann Arbor really was a nice place to raise our children. And so we decided to stay here. And it has been a good thing for all of us-- for both of us.
- [00:23:10.58] INTERVIEWER: You've touched on this-- the next question was, I'd like you to tell me a little about your married and family life. First, tell me about your spouse. Where did you meet? Tell me what it was like when you were dating. What was your engagement and wedding like? Do you want to talk a little about that?
- [00:23:27.41] BARBARA MEADOWS: Oh, my. As I said, we met at Talladega for the first time. It was the first time I had ever gone south in my life. But he was born in Birmingham, Alabama so he was more familiar with the area than I was. In fact, when I left Detroit and took the train down to Birmingham-- we had to get to Birmingham to take a bus from there to Talladega College-- but I got to Birmingham.
- [00:23:57.24] And for the first time, I saw two fountains. Once said colored, one said white. I think my momma had warned me and told me about this. But I decided I wanted to taste the water at the white drinking faucet as well as the colored one, the white one, to see if there was any difference. The other students standing around thought I was kind of crazy. And that I might cause a riot or something. But in any event, that was my introduction.
- [00:24:28.74] After that, we came back here. As I said, he went to the Air Force. And we came here. We have lived here ever since.
- [00:24:38.66] He is a pathologist. He became a pathologist. Graduated from the University of Michigan. And we just stayed here for all-- he was supposed to, he said he was going back to Birmingham after he got his degree, but we liked it so well, we just stayed here.
- [00:24:57.22] INTERVIEWER: What was your engagement and wedding like?
- [00:25:00.38] BARBARA MEADOWS: Our engagement-- actually, I don't know if there was-- oh, yes, I did get a ring when he was in the Air Force. My husband and I, we were in college friends-- very close friends and buddies like. So we got to know each other that way. And then, as I said, 15 months afterwards, we got married.
- [00:25:25.59] And he sent me an engagement ring from Clovis, New Mexico when he was in service. Then he came up, and we got married September 1, 1956. My father married us and my brother gave me away. So my husband said there was no way he could have gotten out of this marriage. He was surrounded-- my brother the best man and my father who was the minister. So he was locked in.
- [00:26:03.39] INTERVIEWER: Tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living in the house. What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
- [00:26:20.30] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, as I said, I have two lovely children. The girl was born first and then my son four years later. I was working and my husband was in medical school, but we had an excellent baby sitter who took care of both of them. And we had an excellent pre-nursery school and nursery school for them.
- [00:26:46.64] And this was a lovely, lovely person. And the curriculum was good for kids-- very nurturing. I felt very secure working and knowing they were where they were. Growing up was-- the weekends were fun for us. We would like to take trips and go places. And in the summer, we would do parks. And on the weekends, it was home chores, household chores, and I'm trying to think.
- [00:27:22.22] Oh I know, this will be the time for me to do my daughter's hair. And this was the time when my husband would cut my son's hair. And he would take my son to-- there was a hobby store down, I think, on Washington here in Ann Arbor. And they built airplanes. They would choose a airplane. And then they would go down and pick up everything and come home and would lay it all out on the tables. And the family would go and watch my son fly this airplane that he had built. This was an ongoing kind of a thing for years. Needless to say, my son is now a pilot.
- [00:28:10.09] INTERVIEWER: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practice that differed from your childhood traditions?
- [00:28:20.88] BARBARA MEADOWS: I don't think so. I think it was sort of an ongoing thing. Of course, children's birthdays and that kind of stuff was always fun. I remember my son, he wanted-- he was a very active kid-- he wanted a circus or something. Somehow, we got a tent in the backyard and that was his big birthday celebration. And everybody in the neighborhood had fun.
- [00:28:52.49] INTERVIEWER: This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up to the present time. What was your main field of employment?
- [00:29:08.88] BARBARA MEADOWS: Social work was my main field. And I started out with my bachelor's degree working at the Department of Social Welfare in the categorical programs like EDC, old age assistance, aid to the blind, and that kind of thing in Detroit. And I went on and received and got my master's degree in psychiatric social work. And I was working then in community psychiatry, and also at the University of Michigan Neuropsychiatric Institute with adolescents.
- [00:29:42.21] And then I was with the Ann Arbor Public Schools for many years. And I enjoyed that. I truly did. I worked with families sometimes and their kids from the kindergarten through junior high. So I had-- I think I had three schools. But meeting them, sometimes, from the time they were born until the time they left junior high was a nice thing.
- [00:30:10.49] I got to know the families, the family's got to know me. And when there was an emergency or crisis of any kind, we could call on each other. And it worked out fine. It could be as simple thing as a family having a new baby that might have some effect on the child in school. And so, it was important to be aware of that kind of thing. And we were together-- the family and I-- we would work together on that.
- [00:30:38.89] INTERVIEWER: What got you interested in this field of employment?
- [00:30:45.75] BARBARA MEADOWS: As I said, I think it had a lot to do with the way I was raised. And I remember my mother who was very active in the missionary society and went on to become president of the whole state of Michigan for the AME Church. And it was always sharing and giving being concerned about others. And I remember her saying, "there but by the grace of God go I."
- [00:31:17.46] And sometimes we would see maybe someone with, unfortunately, become a young girl pregnant or something and out of marriage. And again, she would say, "there but by the grace of God go I." You support, you don't tear down people. And you help them when in need.
- [00:31:37.33] INTERVIEWER: What was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
- [00:31:44.04] BARBARA MEADOWS: As a school social worker, you never know when you get out of bed and you go to school, what school you go to and what's going to be there. But you're there to help, so some days would be very difficult. But that's what you were there for-- for the teachers as well as for the students.
- [00:32:05.06] And then working with other agencies in the community. That could be juvenile court or what have you-- hospitals and that kind of thing. I also worked with the school-age parents. They had a program of that kind where we tried to keep the students in school and also arrange for the care of their babies.
- [00:32:35.47] INTERVIEWER: What is the biggest difference in your main field of employment from the time you started until now?
- [00:32:44.76] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, I think there's more paperwork. I was faced with a situation here where I was told since the state was paying my salary that I could only work with special ed kids. And that bothered me.
- [00:33:07.56] And I remember saying to the director of the social work department, I said, "if I come to school and I find a child sitting outside my door with tears in their eyes, are you telling me I cannot talk to that student?" And he kind of said yes. You know, you're hired by the state and they pay your salary, and you're supposed to work only with special ed.
- [00:33:34.30] So any event, I get around this by spending my lunchtime with the kids. That was my time. And so, I would spend lunch, I'd say, anybody who wants to come see me, you can.
- [00:33:50.03] We didn't talk a lot of personal things, but we would do things as simple as setting the table-- how to set a table. And the fellows, how to assist a woman with her chair when she was sitting down. How to set the table-- table manners. So we did a lot of things during that lunch hour, because that was my time-- my free time-- and I could do whatever I wanted to. And I did.
- [00:34:29.56] INTERVIEWER: What do you value most about what you did for a living and why?
- [00:34:39.34] BARBARA MEADOWS: There but by the grace of God go I. But more importantly, I think that if you are really sincere and interested in helping people to find some happiness and some degree of satisfaction and comfort in life, and if you're training as a social worker-- and that's why I became a social worker-- then you work with that. You work with that individual. And you hope-- you know, there's no magic wand.
- [00:35:13.48] And there's no way that I can say everything I did was right. But at that point in time when I am with that person with that problem and we're talking about it, I hope that I am giving them the best advice at that time. No guarantee how it may turn out. But at least we can work together on it.
- [00:35:41.43] INTERVIEWER: How did your life change when you and/or your spouse retired and all of the children left home?
- [00:35:51.93] BARBARA MEADOWS: We traveled some. That was one of the things that-- in fact, we travelled with the kids a lot. We went to Africa several times. We went around Lake Michigan and this kind of thing. And then, my husband and I, we travel. I've been to Africa I guess for about four times myself. And we went to Alaska. A lot of places. That was fun. And that was one of the things we enjoyed doing.
- [00:36:21.15] INTERVIEWER: When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time and how did they personally affect you and your family? So like, between the time you came back in '59 to now.
- [00:36:44.62] BARBARA MEADOWS: OK, I came back and Ann Arbor in 1959 and began working. I remember at that time leaving work and coming down to City Hall and picketing for open occupancy housing. Because we did not have that in Ann Arbor. Not for so many of the students or for other people.
- [00:37:20.87] I am reminded of a friend of mine who came here looking for a house. And the realtor was showing her certain places and she was saying, "No, that's not what I want." And he would take her somewhere else and she said, "No, that's not what I want." And she had a family.
- [00:37:37.41] Finally, he says, "I think I know what you want." and he took her to this place. To a street, and he says, "I really can't sell you this house."
- [00:37:47.59] And she says, "But this is what I want."
- [00:37:49.68] He said, "I thought so."
- [00:37:51.02] And he did sell her that house. That realtor was fired. He lost his job because she had rented and bought this house in an area where African Americans were not supposed to.
- [00:38:06.84] So this went on and this was going on when I returned to Ann Arbor. It was here in 1946 to '49. And when I returned in '59, it was the same thing.
- [00:38:19.49] I can tell you that I did-- I was appointed by a mayor-- I think it was Creal-- to the Human Relations Commission. And we were concerned about open occupancy. And we would send someone-- let's say you were renting a home. We would send an African American there. And the person who would own the house would say, "I'm sorry. The room is no longer available."
- [00:38:48.16] And then, we would send a Caucasian-- a white person-- there. And she would say, "Oh, yes, the room is available. Come right in."
- [00:38:56.86] So this went on. And we documented. And gradually, we have changed the pattern here in Ann Arbor. That took some time. That took some time.
- [00:39:12.08] And this was also true with the public schools. There were two African Americans working as teachers at the public schools. And we talked to the personnel director at the high school, and asked him if he would-- this is when I say we, I mean Human Relations Commission, when we were looking at this whole housing and racial discrimination in Ann Arbor-- and he brought his applications from African Americans to our meeting.
- [00:39:46.25] And it was interesting to see that many of those who had applied-- African Americans who had applied-- for jobs here, it was recommended by him that they go to Willow Run and look for a job, they go to Ypsilanti and look for a job, they go to Inkster and look for a job. But they were never hired here in the Ann Arbor Public School system. Except for the two that were here.
- [00:40:14.48] I think that changed-- oh, I think the Turners-- Hazel and Dick Turner-- when they were hired as administrators. But there was a pattern in the city. And I was a part of what I would say was the change.
- [00:40:41.16] INTERVIEWER: They mentioned historical events. Do you remember maybe the assassination of Kennedy or MLK or--
- [00:40:49.16] BARBARA MEADOWS: Oh my gosh, yes. Yes, I remember those assassinations just as I said I did President Roosevelt. It was a very sad time for this country, very sad. And the fact that they came so close together-- we just had to ask ourselves what's going on. We were taking one step forward, it looked like we were taking two or three steps backwards. And those who were at the forefront of trying to make a change in this country were being assassinated. You know, it was kind of scary. It really was.
- [00:41:31.29] INTERVIEWER: Tell me-- we're in the last part of the interview-- historical and social events. Tell me how it is for you to live in this community now.
- [00:41:45.38] BARBARA MEADOWS: It's a nice feeling living in this community now. As I said, in the past I can remember when the first African American woman was hired on State Street to work as a sales lady. Everyone in the black community was talking about it. Up until then, the only time African Americans went on that campus was when they were a maid cleaning the dormitory or they were a janitor. That's how things have changed. That's no longer the case.
- [00:42:28.60] I can remember a young lady by the name of Gwen Baker went on to become-- she was born and raised here in Ann Arbor-- she became a national president of the YWCA. But when she was living in Ann Arbor, she was denied admission. My brother was denied admission. And the only way we broke some of that was because he was such a great swimmer. And the YWCA competing with others needed some boys who could swim well. And so, he was accepted.
- [00:43:07.56] I can also remember-- it was about, oh, maybe that time-- the public school, we had to have swimming lessons as a requirement to graduate. So we would go there and we could swim, but that was it. We couldn't take out membership or anything.
- [00:43:26.01] So there's been a lot of improvement in this community. I think that we've learned to work together. And that's a good thing. I think the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation has done a lot to bring this city together. I think the University Musical Society-- these are just a few that I'm mentioning-- who I know have worked hard and are trying to make a difference. And I have served on their boards, and they're sincere.
- [00:44:01.46] But there was a time, also, that you didn't get a job here unless you were recommended by maybe another minister or something. But not on your own merit. There was almost a lot of demarcation between the citizens where we lived and the university-- State Street and the stores there. We seldom went up there to do anything. We did it mostly on Main Street and went to the movies here. I don't think we were denied admission to the theatres. It's just that we went very seldom. And when we did, we always sat in the balcony. And maybe that's our problem. I don't know.
- [00:44:56.98] But that's the way it was. But Ann Arbor has come a long, long ways. And I feel very comfortable and very happy. And I think you can see it in the students that come here now. And many of them are staying. You can see it in the larger middle class that we have here that we didn't have before.
- [00:45:25.92] And you can see it in the students-- their participation in a variety of things. You can see it with the teachers that we have, the doctors that are here. When my husband was in med school, his class of six African Americans was the largest class that the University of Michigan ever had in the medical school.
- [00:45:52.93] INTERVIEWER: What year was that?
- [00:45:54.09] BARBARA MEADOWS: That was in 1959. 1959. There were six. And that was the largest they said they ever had at the U of M Medical School. Even though he was addressed as boy.
- [00:46:10.81] "Come on, boy. We're going to help you, boy."
- [00:46:14.42] With him coming from the south, he knew exactly-- you can imagine how he felt when he heard that. But they have changed. The university has changed. It's a nice place.
- [00:46:32.93] INTERVIEWER: I think you've pretty much summarized all the questions that I have left. Except for this one-- what advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [00:46:48.03] BARBARA MEADOWS: I think there are doors open now that have never been open. And that you need to know your history, but don't dwell in it, but to take advantage and to try to make things better for all men, for everyone. Use your intelligence, work hard to get your education, and see yourself as being a part of this whole network and this country-- not only the City of Ann Arbor. But to make this a better world for everyone.
- [00:47:24.65] INTERVIEWER: All right, Mom. So I wanted to go back to your youth. Can you tell us when and where you were born?
- [00:47:35.40] BARBARA MEADOWS: I was born in Albion, Michigan, 1933. And moved to Inkster, Michigan. I guess I might have been about three years of age at that time. Inkster was a very-- I think of Inkster as the place where I really grew up. Not so much Albion. I was born in Albion, but I think I really grew up and became knowledgeable in terms of my own socialization in life.
- [00:48:08.63] Inkster's a very small community. It's between Dearborn and Wayne, Michigan-- Right off of Michigan Ave. It was a very small community primarily of African Americans who many of them-- the majority-- came from the south. And that's because there was work here in the north, particularly at the Henry Ford Motor Company. And their role was important when, I think, the union went on strike at Ford Motor Company. Then you have many of the workers coming from the south, living in Inkster.
- [00:48:50.93] The majority of them were buying their own home-- owned their homes. Everyone had a garden. We never thought about locking our doors to the house. There was no breaking or entering. If you were baking a cake and you needed some sugar-- a cup of sugar-- you can just go to your neighbors and get a cup of sugar and likewise.
- [00:49:16.76] INTERVIEWER: Just walk in the door?
- [00:49:17.87] BARBARA MEADOWS: You just walk in the door. It was always unlocked and safe and secure. I don't remember any murders. I don't remember any child abuse. I don't remember adolescent crimes and things. It was a very warm, congenial community.
- [00:49:41.63] I'll just say my mother at that time was working as a domestic, but also very much involved in the community. And I will say my father, who was the minister, we were well known in the community. Everyone had their own little chickens running around with eggs, so you always had fresh eggs. It was a very nurturing environment.
- [00:50:10.27] All of my teachers were African Americans. There were about three churches in the neighborhood. And it was just a safe, nurturing environment.
- [00:50:22.81] INTERVIEWER: You said your mother was a domestic. How did that affect your family-- I mean, influence her?
- [00:50:32.47] BARBARA MEADOWS: My mother as a domestic-- she had also had two or three years of college at the time and so had my father-- he graduated from the Payne Seminary-- but my mother learned an awful lot, I think, by being a maid at times into the upper-- and she brought that knowledge into our home and our family.
- [00:50:55.37] There were certain types of furniture-- like for instance, I remember, when we moved to a home, she wanted twin beds. Not just twin beds, but double decked twin beds. And I had never heard or never seen anything-- Duncan Phyfe furniture, there were china cabinets, these are things that she learned as a domestic and she brought it into our home. So we learned through her experience.
- [00:51:23.80] I can also remember my sister who was five years older than me. We had a thing about cooking in my family. My mother enjoyed cooking. Her mother had been a cook in Selma, Alabama where both of my parents came from. And Mother's Day was a very important kind of thing. I had one sister five years older, and so one Mother's Day Sunday, we decided that we were going to cook dinner for my mother who was at church that Sunday.
- [00:51:57.82] And so, we were going to kill this chicken for my mother's dinner. And you know, we always saw people when they would kill the chicken, you just take it and you know, you twirl it around in your hand and let it go. And they were dead and you could cook them. Well, we tried this and we tried it in the backyard. We could not kill that chicken.
- [00:52:21.21] Finally, a neighbor next door came over and she said, "Let me take that chicken out of it's misery."
- [00:52:28.76] And we finally killed the chicken-- she did. And that Sunday morning for dinner, for some reason, I could not eat chicken. And it took some time, I think, before I started eating chicken again. But everyone had their own fresh eggs. They had their chicken, they had their garden, and we had lots of fresh vegetables. We had some who even knew how to make soap, you know, after they killed the hogs and things like that. So it was very warm and nurturing.
- [00:52:59.36] We put on plays in the church. I can remember one time, I was in a play that my mother-- she was always putting on plays for everyone. And one of the plays was a red head stepchild. And I was the red head stepchild. Now, we had no idea what that meant, but anyway, we learned our parts. And we did it. But I was supposed to have had red hair, I guess, the red haired stepchild. But it was fun. And the teachers were always encouraging.
- [00:53:35.63] INTERVIEWER: You mentioned something about black history we give the differences between--
- [00:53:40.89] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, the black history week in Inkster, it lasted for a good week if not more. My mother was the one that started that program from Charles Wesley who's the founder and everything. And she had programs in the schools as well as in the churches in which we would recognize and remember what it was like for us as a race and who were also some of the leaders.
- [00:54:16.05] And Martin Luther King wasn't there at the time, but there were others-- Paul Laurence Dunbar, we would recite some of his poetry, Booker T. Washington and Carver T. Washington, he came to Inkster while I was living there and Henry Ford set up a laboratory for him there on the Dearborn campus. He became famous for what he did with the peanut.
- [00:54:44.48] I could also remember the time Henry Ford came to my home. He was in a long black car. He had on a long black coat. He had beautiful white hair. And he came to our home and talked with my father who was in the process of building Smith Chapel, AME church there, which would have been the first brick church in the neighborhood. All the others were wood. And Henry Ford offered his support. And made it possible for my father to build that church.
- [00:55:23.41] There was another company, I think-- Fellrath, yes-- and they also helped with the wood. But that was his support. Now, Henry Ford also had a commissary there in Inkster. So that if some people didn't have enough money to buy food, they could go and get the food there at this commissary. And then pay back when they had the funds to do so.
- [00:55:49.36] INTERVIEWER: How old were you when you left Inkster and move to Ann Arbor?
- [00:55:54.79] BARBARA MEADOWS: I left Inkster when I was in the sixth grade. And I moved here to Ann Arbor. That was in 1946. Now, I just want to go back a little bit here. This was during World War II when I was in Inkster, and I was just leaving there. While Inkster lived between Inkster Road and Middlebelt Road and was on the south side of Michigan Ave. On the north side of Michigan Ave-- that's where the white population was.
- [00:56:35.52] We didn't have much contact with one another. And I can remember very vividly that during World War II, for the first time, the two races came together. And that's because we were equal. Everybody was on stamps. You had to use stamps for your butter, your sugar, your gasoline. It didn't matter how much money you had. The government had everyone on these stamps and so-- it was a rationing kind of a thing.
- [00:57:08.05] It was also at that time that the two races begin to share rides and got to know each other. Because of the shortage of the gasoline, they were sharing rides--
- [00:57:20.84] INTERVIEWER: Carpooling.
- [00:57:21.56] BARBARA MEADOWS: And then to the factory to work. And so, when you get to mingle and get to know one another, it changes things. And so, I think that broke down much of the barriers between the two races.
- [00:57:37.77] I was very young at 12, but I can remember and experienced that. Maybe that took me into sociology later on in life, I don't know. But it was just an amazing thing to see. We were equal and we got to know one another.
- [00:57:58.15] When the soldiers were going to war, my father would-- as a minister-- would go to the draft board and pray for them and everything. And wish them well when they left. And he got to know some of the other white ministers, so there was a break down in the racial barriers.
- [00:58:16.15] War is a bad thing, but it did bring some good in that community at the time. So when I came here in '46 in Ann Arbor, I left one segregated type of community and I came to another. Ann Arbor had its own little geographical areas where African Americans lived. And it was hard.
- [00:58:48.45] For the first time, however, I did have white teachers. I had never had a white teacher. They were good. There was no problem there at all. The only problem I can remember when we moved here was when my sister was in high school and they were having a play. And she asked to be in the play, because we always had plays in Inkster, and we always did.
- [00:59:13.08] She asked to be in the play and the teacher told her that there was no maid role in that particular play. You know. All of a sudden, it was a change. So she was not accepted as someone who could play any role in a play. But it was designated that if there was a maid then she could be in the play.
- [00:59:38.54] We began to also bus children in from Whitmore Lake. I attended Jones School. And there was a busing of Whitmore Lake children there. I enjoyed my time at Jones School.
- [00:59:54.54] I left Ann Arbor in the 10th grade, and that's when I went to Detroit. My father's a pastor and went there. And so, the family moved there. And I graduated from Northern High.
- [01:00:10.56] INTERVIEWER: Can I ask you, during your time in Ann Arbor, what were some of the activities that you did as far as how to make money or socializing?
- [01:00:27.32] BARBARA MEADOWS: In Ann Arbor, the Dunbar Community Center was the place where African Americans went. The YW/YMCA was closed. The only time they changed the YWCA changed their pattern was when my brother and a couple other friends-- they were known to be great swimmers and divers and athletes. And in the competition, the YWCA-- in their competition with others, they needed those boys to help their team. And that's when things broke.
- [01:01:08.89] But most of our social activities was in the Church-- African American church-- and the Dunbar Community Center, which was located there on North Fourth Ave. There I took cooking lessons with Virginia Ellis who was the Assistant Director to Douglas Williams. And she also had cooking classes for us. And I think that began my interest-- in addition to the cooking we did at home, it was a matter with her, we were reading recipes, things of that nature-- setting the table and learning so on.
- [01:01:51.66] The Dunbar Community Center was the center for everything. And she also had a singing group, which I belonged to. And so did Willis Patterson. He was one [INAUDIBLE]. And I had always been interested in music. And I had taken some piano lessons in Detroit.
- [01:02:10.81] But I became more interested in music when I was at the Dunbar Community Center with Virginia Ellis. And we learned to sing many of the negro spirituals. And we would go around to the churches, particularly during Black History Week and Christmas and so on. And we would be asked to sing. We were called the Dunbar Singers. And it just increased my interest in music and it stayed with me all through college and to this day. I would say that it was the beginning for me.
- [01:02:54.12] I came back to Ann Arbor and then sang in the Willis Patterson Our Own Thing Chorale. And that has been going on for years. And I was president of that for about 10 years.
- [01:03:11.68] INTERVIEWER: As far as your childhood here in Ann Arbor, can you speak any about your mother and father's involvement with the church. Where were they? What church were they affiliated with?
- [01:03:23.87] BARBARA MEADOWS: My father came as the pastor at the Bethel AME Church-- it was located then on Fourth Ave. It has since moved to Plum Street in Pontiac. But he was the pastor there and he started the building fund for the church. And then we moved from here and went to Detroit.
- [01:03:43.70] My mother was very much interested in community affairs. She we always taking courses in college. I remember she was working in the bomber plant in Ypsilanti. But she was going to Ypsilanti Normal-- at this time it was called-- taking educational courses. And as long as I can remember, she was always somehow enrolled in college and taking courses.
- [01:04:19.23] She was active very much also, I would say, in the missionary. She worked with the young people in the church. And she's always worked with the young peoples, whether it was in Inkster or here in Ann Arbor.
- [01:04:33.96] INTERVIEWER: OK. What year did you go to college and where did you attend college?
- [01:04:41.50] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, after I graduated from-- I left Ann Arbor in 1946. I'm sorry, I was here in Ann Arbor '46 to '49. I then went to-- my father moved to Detroit and I was there for my 11th and 12th grade. I graduated from Northern. And then I went to college. I had thought of Wayne State University, but my mother thought that I should at least go to a southern college-- for at least two years go south. So I did.
- [01:05:16.10] I went to a historical black college in Talladega, Alabama. On the way there-- I had never been south in my life-- and I went down with my grandfather to Chattanooga. Then I went on to Talladega, Alabama. And then the bus station. There was a bus you had to take from there to Talladega. And in the bus station, I'd noticed a fountain that said black and white. I had never been south in my life, but my mother and my father had told me about these situations.
- [01:05:52.68] But when I saw the two fountains in the bus station, I said to myself, "I wonder if the water is any different tasting for the black as it is for the white."
- [01:06:04.60] So I went to the fountain and I tasted some water. I had a drink out of the white fountain. And then I had a drink out of the black fountain. And the students around there grabbed me and said, "Are you crazy?" And they were telling me that there was a difference and I should respect that. But I guess I was a little bullheaded or something. I was curious.
- [01:06:33.27] INTERVIEWER: Did you want to share any more experiences at college?
- [01:06:37.14] BARBARA MEADOWS: Talladega was a beautiful place. I loved it. I, again, was in the choir and sang there for four years. I guess it was in my junior year, my grades were such that they had a honorary house and I was able to stay in that. And I also pledged at that time to my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.
- [01:07:04.68] It was all black. The teachers, however, were white. And it was an unusual experience. There was a clear demarcation between that campus and the rest of the city. But the campus sat up on the hill. And you would go down into the city-- it was at lower level-- and they discouraged us not to attend the theaters there in the city. And so, we always had movies at Talladega Chapel on Friday nights-- for only $0.25. And good movies. So that was to say that stayed on campus rather than that. But regardless of all the segregation around, here we were, all black students, and our teachers the majority-- overwhelming majority-- were all white. So that was a very unusual kind of situation to be in.
- [01:08:12.14] INTERVIEWER: Do you want to elaborate more on-- what did you do after leaving college?
- [01:08:19.12] BARBARA MEADOWS: When I graduated from college-- sociology was my major and I think history was my minor-- I then came back to Detroit where I worked in the Department of Welfare for two years. Then I applied to Smith College School of Social Work at Northampton, Massachusetts. And I received a scholarship there. And I went there and got my master's degree.
- [01:08:51.51] INTERVIEWER: And what year was that, and how did it work into your married life?
- [01:08:56.26] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, actually, I got married before I went to college. What happened is that I had met my husband, Ted, at Talladega College. He went into the Air Force. I came back to Detroit and worked. We corresponded, and 15 months after we had graduated, we got married.
- [01:09:16.82] He went back to Clovis, New Mexico where he was in the Air Force. I then went to Smith College. As a airman-- he was in the Air Force-- he financed my support-- financially supported me in college, you would say, at Smith College in addition to the scholarship I had from Smith College.
- [01:09:49.83] So with those two funds, I graduated from Smith College, returned to Detroit at the same time that he was discharged from the Air Force. So having supported me a little bit to get my master's degree, I was able, then, to help him when he decided to go into medical school. And that was in 1959.
- [01:10:18.67] He was accepted here at the University of Michigan Medical School. And we moved back-- I moved back to Ann Arbor with him and have been here ever since. So it was something that we planned. And I felt that with a master's degree I would be in a better position to help him financially through medical school. And it worked.
- [01:10:42.13] Four years after that, we had our first baby. Of course, my mother and his mother was wondering, what are you waiting on? Why haven't you had some children by now? But we knew we had to plan. And so, when he graduated from medical school, we had our first child, our daughter, Deborah. And then, when he was finishing up his residency, just before that, we had our second child, a son, Randy.
- [01:11:15.17] INTERVIEWER: Would you like to speak more about your community involvement?
- [01:11:21.81] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, you know, when I came back to Ann Arbor in 19-- I left in '49. I was here '46 '49. I returned in '59. And I remember picketing. I remember leaving work and coming down to City Hall on Fourth Ave. and picketing for open occupancy. That was just before, I guess, maybe Martin Luther King was getting also into popularity. And he had his fight for civil rights.
- [01:11:59.99] And so, I stood up for open occupancy at that time. And I've been involved throughout, I guess, the time that I've been here in Ann Arbor. I served on the board at the Peace Neighborhood Center. I was with Washtenaw Community College. I was on a board where we tried to keep students who got pregnant, to keep them in school-- high school so they could complete their education.
- [01:12:36.06] I served on the University Musical Society Board-- and I might say, when I was a member of an organization called The Links, I chaired a committee in which Jester Harrison, a famous African American composer, was coming to UMS. And I went to Ken Fisher at that time and asked him-- Ken, of course, is the executive director of University Musical Society-- and I asked him if there was any way I could get a block of tickets for some senior citizens to attend the concert of Jester Harrison.
- [01:13:20.85] Ken was very kind and generous. And he agreed to give me a block of tickets for that. The reason is because many of these women worked at the University either in the dormitories or as a cook-- in that capacity-- but had never, never attended any social function at Hill Auditorium.
- [01:13:46.73] And didn't know what it was like. So I did get those tickets. And with the help of Jim Bradley, who owned the automobile-- Cadillac-- franchise here. He loaned me a van. And I had those senior citizens to come to the Ann Arbor Community Center where I had a driver, Ed-- I think his name was Burton-- he had a chauffeur license. Ed goes to New Hope Baptist Church. And he chauffeured these senior citizens to Hill Auditorium.
- [01:14:27.79] Now this was the first time that they had ever been in that building. They were dressed in their Sunday going-to-meeting clothes. And there were some of us from this organizational-- the Links Organization-- to meet them at the door of the Hill Auditorium when they came in so they would see a familiar face. And then we worked with the ushers who took them to their seats. It was a lovely occasion.
- [01:14:52.62] We did this for many years after that. And thanks to the help from Ken Fisher and the University Music Society and the staff there. To the point that we had to use a bus. We went from a van of six or eight people to a busload of senior citizens going to these affairs.
- [01:15:19.47] I think this was one of the highlights, one of the things I enjoyed working with, the senior citizens. And I have served on the board of the Lurie Terrace, which is a senior citizen housing thing, so I knew about the needs for many of our senior citizens.
- [01:15:42.03] INTERVIEWER: Did you want to elaborate anymore more about your involvement?
- [01:15:45.91] BARBARA MEADOWS: Well, I have served on the board, also, for the University Musical Society, Washtenaw Community College, Peace Neighborhood Center, the Willis Patterson Our Own Thing Chorale-- which has been here for many years-- and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.
- [01:16:05.61] And while serving on that board, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, I became interested in other ways that we could help African Americans here in the community. So I was one of three-- Willis Patterson. Joe Dulin, and myself decided that we would work to try to establish an African American endowment fund. It took us years going around and meeting with groups, with people in the community, explain to them the whole concept and the purpose of this.
- [01:16:42.06] We raised over $100,000. And in raising that, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, then, agreed to support us with $50,000. They matched us. It was a matching grant.
- [01:16:57.09] One of the things that came out of that-- and I might say, the African American Endowment Fund, we're just celebrating our 20th anniversary and we've given out over $68,000 in grants to schools and other programs-- but one of the things that came out of it in terms of meeting with Ann Arbor rights organizations and trying to raise this $100,000 to establish the fund-- the African American Endowment Fund-- the whole concept of an endowment fund-- the whole concept of investing money and realizing the interest from that-- was an educational experience.
- [01:17:45.98] So after the African American Endowment Fund was established, I then thought as a member that this is another generation coming up, and we need to do something to help our youngsters to understand. So then, with the help of Stephanie Jones, who was a graduate from the University of Michigan School of Business, we sent letters to organizations such as the neighborhood centers, the churches, the Greek organizations, and so on asking if they knew of any youngsters that were interested in money management and would like to be a part of a group that we were establishing.
- [01:18:35.29] So we did organize a group of teenagers. And this was back in 1999, I would say. Again, Mr. Bradley allowed us to meet there at in his office for the first meeting. But we outgrew that space. And we had about 17 or 19 youngsters in this organization. So we needed another location, and professor Alfred Edwards, at the University of Michigan School of Business-- he was an African American professor there-- found a space for us to meet there.
- [01:19:21.88] And our whole purpose, really, was to help these youngsters manage their money, to be able to have some idea of how to invest funds, and how to read the financial paper. We taught them how to choose stocks. They did do this. They bought stocks in a sense and we invested that. And I guess it was a fun, loving kind of experience.
- [01:19:58.57] We didn't have anyone to drop out, but they learned about mutual funds and other financial matters. And we also stressed volunteerism.
- [01:20:15.44] It's been fun. I've enjoyed it. In addition to the other cultural kinds of things, one of the things we did at my home, my family, we would always invite students from the University of Michigan. They were away from home, so we would have them there for Thanksgiving, for Easter Sundays, Christmas, and things like that. That was a good exchange for both of us.
- [01:20:45.15] Some of the youngsters that we helped while they were students here, actually, one of them I remember has had a chance to sing for the pope. He's an Opera singer in Germany doing quite well. Another student I helped went on to Juilliard. And he's been on TV and had an opportunity to conduct the Sphinx Orchestra for a whole year traveling around, including coming here to Ann Arbor. Many of the others I know are teachers or administrators in historical black college.
- [01:21:22.63] And I served here on the United Negro College Fund, my husband and I did for years. And in fact, we were so honored by the Washtenaw County United Negro College Fund for our help and assistance in that field.
- [01:21:47.52] INTERVIEWER: In looking back over the years, what gives you the most enjoyment or what is most meaningful to you?
- [01:21:59.44] BARBARA MEADOWS: I guess it's been a good life here in Ann Arbor. I have had a chance to see the change that has taken place and to have been a part of that. Both my husband and I, that has been a rewarding kind of experience. It's something that-- you make a living by what you get, but you make a you by what you give. I'm not sure if that was Winston Churchill that said that or what, but that has been one of the things that has kept me going. And the other was "There but by the grace of God go I" and "To whom much is given, much is expected." So those have been so my guiding golden rules, you might say.
- [01:22:58.45] And to have been a part of the tremendous change that has taken place in this community for the benefit of all. Ann Arbor has come a long ways. There was a time when you couldn't-- there was a time when you couldn't buy a home outside of a certain geographical area that was designated for African Americans. The landlords wouldn't rent to you.
- [01:23:31.26] INTERVIEWER: Was that Fourth and Fifth Ave?
- [01:23:34.08] BARBARA MEADOWS: Most of us lived-- were confined within a certain area-- Fourth, Fifth Ave, Beakes. Oh, there were a few-- I think maybe three families-- across the bridge, Broadway Bridge, there might have been three families over there. And maybe two families around Green Street. But everything was concentrated in a certain area.
- [01:23:59.66] Businesses for African Americans was hardly-- there was just very few when I came here in 1946. But now we have more businesses. Now, businesses in Inkster when I was a child, we had quite a few. There was a grocery store in Inkster called The Allen-- it was a grocery store-- and it went on to become known as the largest black-owned supermarket in America. And it started right there in Inkster in a little front room of his house. And then he would go down the streets selling vegetables. But he went on to become recognized as the largest African American owned grocery store-- chain grocery store-- in America.
- [01:24:54.34] But Ann Arbor was quite different. One landlord I remember-- no, one realtor who did rent a home to an African American in another area was fired by his boss, his employer. That's how bad things were.
- [01:25:17.47] I served on the Human Relations Commission. And we would send African Americans to a home to rent. And the rental sign said room for rent. And as soon as an African American appeared, the sign was taken down and they were told that the room had been rented and was no longer available. Then we would send a Caucasian there, and all of the sudden, the same landlord who said it wasn't available to the African American, it was now available.
- [01:25:51.59] And so, we had to deal with this whole problem of open occupancy. That was back in 1960, somewhere along there, when I was on the Human Relations Commission here in Ann Arbor. I was appointed by the mayor to that, and that was the problem that we were facing at that time.
- [01:26:16.89] And then another one was in the field of education. I think there were probably one or two black teachers. Harry Mial and Ellis, Herbert Ellis, I think were the only two. And we met with the personnel director at the Ann Arbor High School at that time. That was back in the '60s.
- [01:26:47.92] And he would open his applications for African American teachers who had applied. Every teacher was encouraged, you might say, to go to Willow Run, Ypsilanti, or Inkster for a job, but none were hired here in Ann Arbor. And you know, that we thought was unfair. Many of them had even master's degrees, but they were not allowed. And so that was also changed when Doctor Hazel Turner and her husband came here.
- [01:27:29.41] I can even remember when I was a student-- oh, back, we're talking now going back to when I first moved here to Ann Arbor, '46 to '49-- I used to see a woman early in the morning while I'm getting ready to go to school. I saw her pass the house all dressed and going somewhere. Every morning. Finally, I asked, you know, where she's going and who is she?
- [01:27:54.95] This woman had a Ph.D degree in English. And she had to go and take the Greyhound bus every morning and go outside the city of Ann Arbor to teach. It was pretty difficult then. And as I said, when we couldn't go to the Y and YWCA, finally I lived to see Gwen Baker-- who became the national president of the Y and YWCA-- but she grew in a community years ago that she was refused.
- [01:28:34.48] INTERVIEWER: She grew up here.
- [01:28:35.47] BARBARA MEADOWS: She grew up here in Ann Arbor, but we were not allowed to go to the Y and YWCA at that time. But she went on to become the national president of the Y and YWCA. So we made a lot of progress. And we've all learned, I think, in the process. So it's been a good life. I've enjoyed every bit of it and being a part of it.
- [01:29:03.64] And it was a beautiful place to raise my children.
January 14, 2014
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