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AACHM Oral History: Paul Edwin Wasson

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 2:40pm

When: March 6, 2014

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Paul Edwin 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.

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Transcript

  • [00:00:37.35] INTERVIEWER: So, right now I want you to please say and spell your name for me.
  • [00:00:43.01] PAUL WASSON: My name is Paul Edwin Wasson. My first name is P-A-U-L. The middle name is Edwin, E-D-W-I-N. The last name is Wasson, W-A-S-S-O-N, Sr.
  • [00:01:03.04] INTERVIEWER: What is your date of birth, including the year?
  • [00:01:08.24] PAUL WASSON: My date of birth is September 8, 1923.
  • [00:01:16.93] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:01:21.92] PAUL WASSON: I'm an African American.
  • [00:01:25.91] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion, if any?
  • [00:01:28.45] PAUL WASSON: I'm a Baptist.
  • [00:01:32.35] INTERVIEWER: What is your highest level of formal education that you've completed?
  • [00:01:38.46] PAUL WASSON: 10th grade.
  • [00:01:39.53] INTERVIEWER: 10th grade. Did you attend any additional school or formal career training?
  • [00:01:47.73] PAUL WASSON: I had arc welding. I went to school for arc welding-- A-R-K arc welding.
  • [00:02:01.81] INTERVIEWER: OK. Arc welding. What is your marital status?
  • [00:02:07.17] PAUL WASSON: I'm married.
  • [00:02:08.26] INTERVIEWER: You're married.
  • [00:02:09.18] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [00:02:13.21] INTERVIEWER: How many children do you have?
  • [00:02:15.20] PAUL WASSON: I have four children.
  • [00:02:19.64] INTERVIEWER: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:02:22.17] PAUL WASSON: I had two siblings, two girls. They're both deceased.
  • [00:02:30.73] INTERVIEWER: What was your primary occupation?
  • [00:02:36.16] PAUL WASSON: Primary occupation is a laborer.
  • [00:02:42.27] INTERVIEWER: Were you ever paid for work in addition to that? Did you do anything in addition to that? You said you were a laborer.
  • [00:02:57.17] PAUL WASSON: Well, I've been working jobs that was available.
  • [00:03:05.48] INTERVIEWER: And at what age did you retire?
  • [00:03:08.70] PAUL WASSON: 65. 1965.
  • [00:03:13.78] INTERVIEWER: So you've been retired quite a while.
  • [00:03:16.65] PAUL WASSON: Yes. A little while.
  • [00:03:20.19] INTERVIEWER: Now I'm going to jog your memory to ask you some questions about your childhood and your youth. What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:03:37.73] PAUL WASSON: I had a pretty good family life. We lived with my grandmother and grandfather, me and my mother. My two sisters, they married early back then. So they was gone.
  • [00:03:58.41] INTERVIEWER: What sort of work did your parents do?
  • [00:04:01.79] PAUL WASSON: My grandmother stayed at home. My grandfather worked on the railroad. My mother worked day work.
  • [00:04:20.31] INTERVIEWER: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you remember from your childhood?
  • [00:04:30.10] PAUL WASSON: Yes. I can remember from four years old, my mother and my grandmother and myself, we'd go to Georgia on Sundays, probably once a month, and have big dinners.
  • [00:04:56.82] My aunt had kind of a farm, but she kept the keys to the jail. She was a person that cooked for the jail, but she kept the keys. And we'd go down Sunday because that was a day off, but we'd come back kind of early, coming from Georgia.
  • [00:05:26.04] INTERVIEWER: Was that fun?
  • [00:05:28.60] PAUL WASSON: Yes, it was fun. It was lots of fun. I got to see something I didn't see was chicken, pigs. My aunt had all of those things. So I would be out there running.
  • [00:05:43.12] INTERVIEWER: So you said you drove to Georgia from where?
  • [00:05:46.00] PAUL WASSON: From Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • [00:05:52.24] INTERVIEWER: How were holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
  • [00:06:00.28] PAUL WASSON: Our traditions were the holidays.
  • [00:06:05.90] INTERVIEWER: Christmas and--
  • [00:06:06.85] PAUL WASSON: Christmas, New Year's. We'd celebrate Halloween. and Thanksgiving.
  • [00:06:19.68] INTERVIEWER: Did you do any kind of special things during these holidays? Any kind of special that your family did on Christmas, Thanksgiving or whatever?
  • [00:06:32.67] PAUL WASSON: Tradition. Everything same thing.
  • [00:06:34.24] INTERVIEWER: Just traditional. Just traditional. Did your family have any special sayings or expression during this time that you remember?
  • [00:06:44.68] PAUL WASSON: No, we didn't have any.
  • [00:06:46.64] INTERVIEWER: OK. You told me before that 10th grade was the highest grade that you completed. Did you do any sports or join any other activities outside school?
  • [00:07:05.24] PAUL WASSON: Well, I played a bass horn in school, in the 10th grade. They had football-- this is when I was at Booker T. Washington High School. And we would put a ball on the outside, but we didn't have balls. So we got old stockings and rolled them up and taped them around, for the ball we had. We played ball like that. That's the ball we had.
  • [00:07:45.90] INTERVIEWER: OK. What about your school experience? Now, where did you go to school?
  • [00:07:58.57] PAUL WASSON: Orchard Knob Junior High.
  • [00:08:01.14] INTERVIEWER: And are we still in Tennessee now?
  • [00:08:04.46] PAUL WASSON: Yes. This is in Chattanooga.
  • [00:08:07.22] INTERVIEWER: OK. Can you talk a little bit about what your school experience and how it's different from school today, as you know it?
  • [00:08:22.51] PAUL WASSON: Well, it's a lot of difference. Here, you had a little more leeway than you had down in the South.
  • [00:08:40.86] INTERVIEWER: More leeway how?
  • [00:08:44.49] PAUL WASSON: They didn't pick up men on the street and search them, and all kind of stuff like that. And they hadn't done anything. But they did down there.
  • [00:09:00.43] Other things that they would do. The guys would come-- white fellows would come on the corner by the guys-- black guys were usually standing and asked them did they want to work? And they say yes because they didn't have no job. Or they take the name down and tell them to be there in the morning at 6 o'clock or 5:30 or whatever time they said.
  • [00:09:30.64] And they'd come there and there would be eight or 10 black people there. And you'd tell them to get on a truck, and they'd get on the truck, go out to work. And some of them was never seen no more.
  • [00:09:48.22] INTERVIEWER: Wow. Were there any changes in your family life during your school years? Like were mother and father together all the time, or did someone pass away, or any changes-- or you moved or--
  • [00:10:13.16] PAUL WASSON: There was nobody but me and my mother after my sisters married. My sisters married 15, and the other one married 17 I think it was. And it was me and my mother, and we stayed with my grandmother.
  • [00:10:34.15] And after that we moved into our old house, my mother and I.
  • [00:10:42.18] INTERVIEWER: OK. When thinking back on your school years, can you think of any important social or historical events that were taking place during the time you were in school that personally affected your family?
  • [00:11:07.96] PAUL WASSON: No, I didn't have anything that affected my family.
  • [00:11:13.33] INTERVIEWER: Anything historically going on during your childhood?
  • [00:11:16.93] PAUL WASSON: Well, war was on.
  • [00:11:19.22] INTERVIEWER: The war.
  • [00:11:20.32] PAUL WASSON: The welfare. Everybody had to get on the welfare. They'd give you coal, a half a ton, every two weeks. They'd give you soup. It's a soup house. You'd have to carry a bucket and go down there and you'd have a card you punch.
  • [00:11:43.84] And they would fill up the bucket, punch out the card, and give bread and stuff away. And you'd take them and you'd turn around and walk back. You had about a three mile walk. But we walked it and it was cold.
  • [00:12:04.93] INTERVIEWER: It was cold?
  • [00:12:05.95] PAUL WASSON: Yeah, it was cold. We didn't have no car or anything, so people would walk it.
  • [00:12:15.58] INTERVIEWER: You lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? Was your school segregated in Tennessee?
  • [00:12:25.07] PAUL WASSON: My school was segregated. We had black teachers. We didn't have any white teachers. And the sports that guys play now-- you didn't get a chance to play too much sports because they didn't have money to buy sports in the school. So you made up whatever you wanted to do.
  • [00:12:55.85] INTERVIEWER: Was the elementary school near your home?
  • [00:13:00.33] PAUL WASSON: Yes. Elementary school was about four blocks from our house.
  • [00:13:07.28] INTERVIEWER: So you walked.
  • [00:13:07.76] PAUL WASSON: About four blocks. And you walked to school, you walked back from school.
  • [00:13:16.66] INTERVIEWER: Was there a high school for black students in the same area?
  • [00:13:20.95] PAUL WASSON: Yes. That's when I [INAUDIBLE]. And I just moved to the 10th grade. I went to Booker T. Washington school, and that was another black school. And I went there because they had games-- football, baseball. Almost everything that the white schools had, but they didn't have but a few of those, and just a few kids would get into them.
  • [00:13:57.95] So the easiest thing that I played was the bass horn.
  • [00:14:07.06] INTERVIEWER: Were you good at it?
  • [00:14:09.03] PAUL WASSON: Well, I went bop, bop, bop, bop.
  • [00:14:11.88] [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:14:16.12] INTERVIEWER: You mentioned before that you had black teachers and no white teachers at all.
  • [00:14:25.68] PAUL WASSON: No.
  • [00:14:26.49] INTERVIEWER: OK. And that was through high school?
  • [00:14:29.53] PAUL WASSON: That was from elementary school up until high school.
  • [00:14:34.26] INTERVIEWER: Through high school. Were there any eating places or restaurants where you lived that blacks couldn't go to?
  • [00:14:45.08] PAUL WASSON: It was the restaurants. I could count about four black restaurants. And then it was some Greek restaurants--
  • [00:15:01.00] INTERVIEWER: Could you go to those?
  • [00:15:02.27] PAUL WASSON: Oh yeah. They wanted the money. They was after the money. So you could go there, get a $0.05 sandwich, tripe sandwich, and hot dogs and different things. So when you had some money, you'd go ahead and sit up on a stool and eat.
  • [00:15:30.78] INTERVIEWER: How were black visitors accommodated when they came down from the North? Were there places that they could stay?
  • [00:15:45.00] PAUL WASSON: Yes. We had a hotel there.
  • [00:15:48.97] INTERVIEWER: Black hotels?
  • [00:15:50.07] PAUL WASSON: Black hotel. When the bands came down, like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, all the bands would come down to the auditorium. My whole bringing up around there I never heard anything-- when he come to town. He had a one night stand. And he'd stay one night over and everybody in town that could go went to that.
  • [00:16:21.30] INTERVIEWER: So they couldn't stay in white hotels.
  • [00:16:23.74] PAUL WASSON: No. No.
  • [00:16:29.02] INTERVIEWER: OK. I'm going to ask you about your adult life and marriage and family life. And this is going to cover a fairly long period.
  • [00:16:48.66] After you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:16:52.29] PAUL WASSON: With my mother.
  • [00:16:54.59] INTERVIEWER: And your mother was?
  • [00:16:55.86] PAUL WASSON: We lived in a three room house, me and my mama.
  • [00:17:00.13] INTERVIEWER: And still in Tennessee?
  • [00:17:01.63] PAUL WASSON: After I quit school, I had to work. Substitute money for my mother and everything else.
  • [00:17:18.78] INTERVIEWER: From the time you completed your education and entered the labor force or started a family, until all your children left home, and you and/or your spouse retired, where were you? After you married and your children left home, and then you retired, where were you?
  • [00:18:02.08] PAUL WASSON: Retired?
  • [00:18:04.51] INTERVIEWER: After you retired, where were you then?
  • [00:18:07.18] PAUL WASSON: After I retired, I built a house after I retired.
  • [00:18:13.01] INTERVIEWER: Where?
  • [00:18:14.13] PAUL WASSON: I built a house off of Packard. I'm across from the school there. One house and two lots.
  • [00:18:25.59] INTERVIEWER: You built it.
  • [00:18:26.50] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [00:18:26.89] INTERVIEWER: So we've missed something here. When did you come to Michigan? When did you--
  • [00:18:31.38] PAUL WASSON: First in 1943.
  • [00:18:34.13] INTERVIEWER: 1943.
  • [00:18:35.58] PAUL WASSON: The first in 1943.
  • [00:18:37.28] INTERVIEWER: And how old were you then, do you remember?
  • [00:18:39.48] PAUL WASSON: I was about 19.
  • [00:18:41.16] INTERVIEWER: About 19. So you've been in Michigan. Has it all been in the Washtenaw County area?
  • [00:18:49.35] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. Washtenaw County, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. I lived in both places.
  • [00:18:56.46] INTERVIEWER: And that was in 1943 when you first came.
  • [00:18:59.72] PAUL WASSON: Yeah.
  • [00:19:00.20] INTERVIEWER: So did you come by yourself then?
  • [00:19:02.53] PAUL WASSON: Yes, I came by myself on the bus.
  • [00:19:05.16] INTERVIEWER: On the bus. With all your belongings.
  • [00:19:08.05] PAUL WASSON: With a pasteboard suitcase.
  • [00:19:09.23] INTERVIEWER: With a pasteboard suitcase, OK. [LAUGH]
  • [00:19:18.07] So you told me beforehand that you had been married four times. So I'm not sure how you'll want to answer this question, but I want to get a sense of your married life and your family. So you can handle this any way you want, from your first to your current wife, how did that-- that was all in Michigan, all in the Washtenaw County area?
  • [00:19:49.90] PAUL WASSON: No. I married once in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • [00:19:55.54] INTERVIEWER: Started in Tennessee. Your first wife was in Tennessee.
  • [00:19:57.84] PAUL WASSON: Then I came to Michigan.
  • [00:19:59.71] INTERVIEWER: And you came.
  • [00:20:00.89] PAUL WASSON: Then I was drafted into the Army. And when I come out of the Army we separated.
  • [00:20:11.66] INTERVIEWER: How long were you in the service?
  • [00:20:14.48] PAUL WASSON: How long was I in which?
  • [00:20:16.23] INTERVIEWER: In the Army? How long were you in the Army.
  • [00:20:19.64] PAUL WASSON: In retirement.
  • [00:20:22.13] INTERVIEWER: In the Army. You said you were drafted in the--
  • [00:20:25.04] PAUL WASSON: I went in the Army right after I got in Michigan.
  • [00:20:30.53] INTERVIEWER: OK.
  • [00:20:31.77] PAUL WASSON: They took me and drafted me back to Tennessee. And I had to go to Fort Benning. I had about 11 men I had to pick up.
  • [00:20:47.83] And I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and train loads of-- train was coming with just loads of black people that came from farms and came from other places. They had never seen the city. And we would sit and watch the white officers, how they would do the black people.
  • [00:21:16.22] And I was studying on that. And then we were shipped out after a certain length of time to Mississippi-- Biloxi, Mississippi, I'll never forget that. And we went down there and we trained. And then we got through training, and they didn't let us go to town. It was an all black group there. It was 1,000 Negroes, black.
  • [00:21:57.24] INTERVIEWER: The service was still segregated then.
  • [00:21:59.96] PAUL WASSON: Oh yeah. White officers was all there was. And you had to do what your white officer said do. And if you walked around camp, your arm was going like that because you didn't know what officer called.
  • [00:22:16.23] But anyway, I was down there and after I got to train the men I went to the office to see when we were going to town. Other groups was going to town and different places. And I had 59 men in. And that guy told me, the white guy, "No, you can't go to town."
  • [00:22:45.01] OK. I went back, we set up in the back and did do some things. A couple of weeks later I went back to the office and asked to go to town, because I was the lead man. They told me that "You will go to town when we are ready." That didn't set horses with me.
  • [00:23:08.59] So the next time I asked them I said, "We're not going to town, is that right?" "You don't question me." I said, "OK." After I'd been there so long, and the guys kept arguing, when are we going to go to town? When do we go?
  • [00:23:34.02] Well, I went to the officer and I asked this office, "Look, are we going to ever go to town?" He said, "We told you we would let you know." Well, other guys that I'd made friends with in the camp that they were going to other places.
  • [00:23:57.96] So I say, "Well, look, you're not going to let the guys go to town. But I'm going to town." He said, "How are you going to go to town? You ain't got no pass. You'll have to get a pass from the office to go." I say, "Well, if you be in town tonight I'll be there."
  • [00:24:22.11] Bus drove up that afternoon, after dinner, I had a friend of mine-- I'm telling this now, the friend of mine, I said, "When you get on the bus, go to the back of the bus, drop your pass out the window, I'll catch your pass, and I'll go around over here, get on the bus and I'll give you the pass back." He says, "OK."
  • [00:24:51.30] That's what we did and I was in town. But being in town, them white officers, they go in town. They did everything wrong, whatever they wanted to do. But that didn't set horses with me.
  • [00:25:09.68] And it just so happened, later on that afternoon, and mostly bars in town, I was going, looking-- I didn't drink so I was going around looking at people. All at once, I spied that lieutenant, and he spotted me. "Hey, hey, what--" I stopped. "Show me your pass." I didn't have one. "I know you didn't have one. Stand right here. Don't you listen?" Two MPs come and got me.
  • [00:25:51.49] INTERVIEWER: So it was quite a struggle.
  • [00:25:54.72] PAUL WASSON: Yup. Everything--
  • [00:25:57.76] INTERVIEWER: Was--
  • [00:25:58.33] PAUL WASSON: --was, and went back to camp, and that's when I got an attitude. I had an attitude from that day on. What I seen them do to them other black guys in the camp, I wasn't going to do it. And I didn't do it.
  • [00:26:18.71] INTERVIEWER: Did that get you in trouble in the service.
  • [00:26:21.52] PAUL WASSON: Well, it got me in trouble when he told me to come to the office and I went to the office, and three or four officers sat down, they said, "Well, we're going to put you on a restriction, and you're not to leave camp." All that kind of stuff.
  • [00:26:46.00] "And here's what we're going to put you doing. We want you to scrub this office, scrub it clean." I sat down and I listened to them. All of them went out, they was going home. One guy came back, the lieutenant. He said, "here's the basin and here's a toothbrush. We want to scrub this whole place."
  • [00:27:24.94] INTERVIEWER: So you put up with that for how many years did you say?
  • [00:27:28.67] PAUL WASSON: That same year.
  • [00:27:31.72] INTERVIEWER: Did you get an honorary discharge?
  • [00:27:34.45] PAUL WASSON: I got discharged on a-- Sherry, can you tell me, huh?
  • [00:27:45.29] SHERRY: It was in the '70s.
  • [00:27:50.74] INTERVIEWER: So you came back and then you and the current wife separated. And then what did you do when you got back?
  • [00:28:01.31] PAUL WASSON: I got back and went to work. Whatever I could find right then. But there was ads in the paper. So that's where I started from Michigan Aluminum Casting Company. And from there, I went to the University Hospital and I stayed there 17 years.
  • [00:28:25.83] INTERVIEWER: 17 years at the University Hospital. What were you doing there?
  • [00:28:30.56] PAUL WASSON: I was working as an orderly. And the director, we set horses right together, right then. He kind of liked me and I liked the job, and I moved on up from there to the charge of emergency.
  • [00:28:52.63] INTERVIEWER: So when did you have your children? How many children did you say you had?
  • [00:28:57.28] PAUL WASSON: Four.
  • [00:28:57.91] INTERVIEWER: Four. So when did you have your children?
  • [00:29:00.41] PAUL WASSON: Well, I married after me and my wife separated. And I had two children by that wife. And the third wife, we had the son, one son by her. That made the four.
  • [00:29:26.82] The first wife, second wife, third one, made it four wives. And my wife died. She worked at University Hospital, too. She died from cancer. But she was head officer and I had an office there. So she didn't know she had it, but anyway, she passed on.
  • [00:29:53.48] So about three years before I was separated. And I got-- I studied bonding. From there, I went to Lansing for a test-- they had a test of 100 questions.
  • [00:30:26.64] I was the only black in the class, and it was about 40-some or nearly 50. I'm the only black in the class. And I didn't think I was going to pass, but I passed. And a few of the white boys went for real estate and stuff like that. Didn't pass.
  • [00:30:51.40] Then I opened my bonding company.
  • [00:30:58.37] INTERVIEWER: And that was about what year?
  • [00:31:01.22] PAUL WASSON: '71.
  • [00:31:01.99] INTERVIEWER: '71 your bonding company. Now, were any of your children still home then?
  • [00:31:09.34] PAUL WASSON: No.
  • [00:31:09.51] INTERVIEWER: Everybody was gone.
  • [00:31:10.69] PAUL WASSON: Yeah.
  • [00:31:11.31] INTERVIEWER: And had you remarried?
  • [00:31:14.24] PAUL WASSON: No, I hadn't remarried.
  • [00:31:15.48] INTERVIEWER: You hadn't remarried, OK. So your children were gone. You opened a bonding company, and this was in the early '70s.
  • [00:31:24.29] PAUL WASSON: 1971.
  • [00:31:26.68] INTERVIEWER: In 1971. And--
  • [00:31:31.21] SHERRY: Paul, your son was home. You had your son at home. He was still home. He was younger.
  • [00:31:36.97] PAUL WASSON: Yeah, he was--
  • [00:31:39.33] SHERRY: I want to clarify that.
  • [00:31:41.70] INTERVIEWER: So you had one son at home during that time.
  • [00:31:44.21] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [00:31:44.98] INTERVIEWER: How long did he stay home?
  • [00:31:49.65] PAUL WASSON: He didn't stay too long. And then I set him up in business.
  • [00:31:58.23] SHERRY: He went to college.
  • [00:31:59.63] PAUL WASSON: Yeah.
  • [00:32:01.03] INTERVIEWER: Your son went off to college.
  • [00:32:01.99] PAUL WASSON: [INAUDIBLE] ask me that.
  • [00:32:04.72] INTERVIEWER: All right. So you have this bonding company. Your son went off to college. And have you remarried yet?
  • [00:32:14.70] SHERRY: Yeah.
  • [00:32:16.41] PAUL WASSON: After three years of being single, I married.
  • [00:32:21.22] INTERVIEWER: OK. And this is your current wife-- your current wife.
  • [00:32:25.11] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. Well, that's my current wife.
  • [00:32:27.45] INTERVIEWER: Now, how did you all meet?
  • [00:32:31.10] PAUL WASSON: Well, I was a jail administrator at that time. And I had put out in several papers applications for a secretary. I got 35 applications, and I didn't get a black application at all. I know what they were thinking. They don't have blacks in this, that, and the other. And this needs to be put in. This is how it went.
  • [00:33:08.18] Because I saw the chef. He come down and told me, he said, "Paul," he said, "I know a person that you don't have, you should interview, too," he said. I said, "I'm through with the applications of interviewing. I've narrowed them down to five." And I said, "I'm setting up dates for those five." He said, "Well, this lady is in college," and this and that and the other.
  • [00:33:45.47] Anyway, I said, "No, Fred. I've got mine narrowed down fine." He said, "Well, she's a good girl." I said, "Well, you're the boss. I'm [INAUDIBLE]." So I said, "Send her in." And she came in and interviewed. I looked at her, I said, "This girl has topped all of them interviewing for me."
  • [00:34:22.17] That was my wife. There she is over there.
  • [00:34:26.85] INTERVIEWER: OK.
  • [00:34:29.50] PAUL WASSON: That was 36 years ago.
  • [00:34:32.51] INTERVIEWER: Oh my. OK. 36 years ago.
  • [00:34:36.82] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [00:34:38.88] INTERVIEWER: Wow. So now is she working?
  • [00:34:46.59] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [00:34:47.14] INTERVIEWER: She's working.
  • [00:34:47.95] PAUL WASSON: She's been working for a doctor. Her first job worked for a doctor. Worked 17 years [INAUDIBLE]. And then she told the doctor that she'd have to move on because she had learned all she could learn from him. And he said, "OK."
  • [00:35:14.18] So she went to work for another doctor that won't do that. And she's been on that job 19 years now.
  • [00:35:27.35] SHERRY: 20 years in June.
  • [00:35:32.76] INTERVIEWER: So did you enjoy what you were doing? Your bondsman, your arc welding. What did you do with your arc welding?
  • [00:35:43.41] PAUL WASSON: Arc welding. When I went to the foundry, I was working in a foundry and all the time I was thinking this is not for me. But I'm going to buy a paper every afternoon and find out what's in the paper.
  • [00:36:00.70] And the line broke down in the foundry, the line that runs all through the foundry. Take parts all through the foundry. Well they didn't have nobody else there to arc weld, and it busted loose. And I was working there.
  • [00:36:20.00] So nobody else could do it. So I told the foreman, I said I could fix the line. "You can fix the line." I said, "Yes." He said, "How can you fix the line?" I said, "Well, I had a little arc welding." He said, "OK."
  • [00:36:39.36] That line is, it needed other stuff. I fixed the line. The line was fixed in over half an hour. Started back running. Everybody was sitting down and they wanted to look at me. But he didn't promote me. So I went to [INAUDIBLE] looking for a job. And that's how.
  • [00:37:05.73] INTERVIEWER: What part of your career work, which part did you enjoy the most? What part of your work did you really like to do?
  • [00:37:21.00] PAUL WASSON: I liked to do arc welding.
  • [00:37:23.22] INTERVIEWER: You liked the arc welding.
  • [00:37:24.66] PAUL WASSON: Yes, because I went to school for that. But there wasn't too much around here when I got here. There was still prejudice when I got here. Yes, was still prejudiced.
  • [00:37:37.41] INTERVIEWER: I think they're very prejudiced.
  • [00:37:38.95] PAUL WASSON: But I had to fend my way.
  • [00:37:45.17] INTERVIEWER: What do you value most about what you did for a living?
  • [00:37:52.05] PAUL WASSON: Well, I know I had to make a living. I know I had to work for it. I know I'd put money into the bonding, and that it kept my eyes open 24 hours a day. I liked it. I enjoyed it. Going to the jails, getting people out of jail. I enjoyed it. Going to get bank robbers out of jail. I enjoyed it. But I enjoyed all of it.
  • [00:38:21.78] INTERVIEWER: You enjoyed that. Now, was bonding the last thing you did, the last work?
  • [00:38:28.60] PAUL WASSON: No. When the judges here cut out bonding, all the judges in the county called me over to a meeting and said, all of-- in the courtroom, you've got the courtroom now-- say we understand you're doing a good job. This is what she told me. We understand you've been doing a good job. And they gave me a lot of stuff [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:38:55.87] And then they said, "What we want to do, we want to give you the authority to, when men get locked up for drunk driving, and they named two or three other things. We want you to let them out when you think they are ready. You can let them out.
  • [00:39:21.63] INTERVIEWER: That's quite a responsibility.
  • [00:39:23.99] PAUL WASSON: I said, "I can let them out?" "Yes." I asked them again, "You all want me to let them out?" They said, "Yes, yes." Ager, once the head of the judges at the time, Judge Ager-- I know you might know him.
  • [00:39:47.11] SHERRY: That was when you were jail administrator, right? That was as jail administrator that you were told that. Not as a bondsman. You were jail administrator and they told you you had authority to let guys out.
  • [00:39:59.97] PAUL WASSON: No, no, no, no, no. They called me over there-- I'll tell you about it some time.
  • [00:40:06.79] SHERRY: OK, sorry.
  • [00:40:09.03] PAUL WASSON: He called me over there and talked to me. And finally I said, "OK. All right." So I can let people out. So I let one guy out. He lived in Detroit.
  • [00:40:27.24] So he was going to Detroit. He had a wife and six or seven kids, and he was crying about he didn't have a job. OK, I let him out. I let him out on a Friday or Saturday when I let him out of jail. He needed money to get the bus ticket. He got a bus ticket and went to Detroit where he lived at.
  • [00:40:51.91] I worked seven days a week, but I wasn't supposed to. I worked seven days a week. Somebody was knocking on the outside door, just knocking really hard. You could hear them knocking on a Sunday.
  • [00:41:09.05] So I kept hearing the noise. So I told the jailer, I said, "Go out there and see who that is knocking on the side of the building." He went and looked and seen it was some girls, you know, some girls.
  • [00:41:28.14] Anyway, and I seen, and he said, "And the guy's named [INAUDIBLE]." I asked him what was his name. I said [INAUDIBLE]? Yes. I told him open the door and let him come in.
  • [00:41:42.24] He came in, came into the office. I asked [INAUDIBLE]. I said, "What are you doing back here? I let you out." "Mr. Wasson, I come back here to stay." "Come back here to stay?" "Yes. You treat me better than I treat me at home." I said, "You can't stay here."
  • [00:42:08.49] So we went in and talked. I said, "You can't stay here." But I treated him so nicely.
  • [00:42:19.20] INTERVIEWER: So this was the most rewarding to you, the bond and the jail administrator, helping people--
  • [00:42:26.84] PAUL WASSON: Helping all of the people. People that I knew. All the people. I always like to help people with [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:42:39.82] INTERVIEWER: Now, what difference now and the career that you had, you've mentioned how prejudiced things were. What is the difference that you see now, currently than when you were actively working?
  • [00:43:01.83] PAUL WASSON: Well, I liked the job that I was working at. I was with CSA. I got a chance to be CSA's boss for a while till I interviewed another girl from South Carolina and brought her in. I got the paper. I can't think of her name-- only thing I can't think of.
  • [00:43:26.35] INTERVIEWER: Can you tell if there's a difference now than when you were working than the current in terms of less prejudice or easier to get the position?
  • [00:43:44.81] PAUL WASSON: I got the position. Well, Wheeler and I, we worked together for a good while. I got the position that they voted me in. I got the papers that show how they voted me in. And I had a-- in the county the other night-- had an office-- was one of the judge's office. I had once a month, I used once a month for the people that was on my committee. And I had a committee of 22 or 23 members all around the county.
  • [00:44:28.18] But they voted me to--
  • [00:44:31.04] INTERVIEWER: Working with Mayor Al Wheeler.
  • [00:44:34.08] PAUL WASSON: Yes. And I was appointed by the judge-- I mean the mayor.
  • [00:44:42.82] SHERRY: You were appointed by a judge.
  • [00:44:44.36] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. I was appointed by a mayor in Ann Arbor. He came to me-- gosh, I can't-- it's a good long time ago.
  • [00:44:58.01] INTERVIEWER: Tell me how it was for you to live in the community in Washtenaw County-- Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor.
  • [00:45:05.92] PAUL WASSON: It was nice. I bought a home in Ypsilanti, and I sold the home and moved to Ann Arbor. I had a house built in Ann Arbor. And the way I got the house, they had [INAUDIBLE] right off a packet, traded all the land. And I happen to drive that one day and I looked at how they section off the houses. Said I like it.
  • [00:45:38.88] So I went for the office where the guy was in the office, a white guy. And I went to him and I had looked at all of the property. And I asked him, I said, "What do these properties sell for?"
  • [00:45:59.44] He said, "Well, I [INAUDIBLE] tell you because we don't sell to black people." Like Negroes or somehow-- I don't know what he said. But anyway, I said, "What did you say?" He said, "We can't sell you this. My boss told me not to sell to Negroes."
  • [00:46:24.59] Oh yeah. And he stared at us just like that. And you know what I was thinking. But anyway, I got in my car, I drove over to Dave Killins. Do you know Dave Killins?
  • [00:46:42.98] INTERVIEWER: Killins concrete?
  • [00:46:44.14] PAUL WASSON: Yes. He owned all-- I drove over to his house. This was on a Sunday. I rang the doorbell. His wife came to the phone. She said, oh Paul, come in. Come in. I went in. I was real hot. Wasn't laughing at nothing. And I'm [INAUDIBLE], drank a little bit. And "Uh, Paul," he says. "Where's your wallet?
  • [00:47:15.53] I said, "Well, I went to see about buying some property." And I told him. And the guy told me he isn't selling to black people. He says, "Say what?" He said, "That's what he told you." I said, "Yes." "Well, wait till I finish this drink." He said, "I'll go over there with you."
  • [00:47:41.39] So his wife says come and sit. "Yeah, you go over there, Dave," she said, see what's wrong. She says, "He can't do Paul that way.
  • [00:47:53.09] Anyway, I went with Dave Killins. He had Dave Killins written on his car. A big car. We got out, it was kind of raining. We went in the office and the guy in the office jumped up, looked at him, smiling. I looked at him, he said, "Yeah, young man." He said, "Are you selling lots here?" He said, "Yup. Yes. Yes."
  • [00:48:24.73] He said, "Well, come on. Let's go out and let's look at some of their lots." I was with Dave and he looks at me. He hasn't said nothing. We went out there. Dave had told me, he said, "Which lot did you want?" I pointed it out.
  • [00:48:41.50] He said, "OK." We went back. He said, "My friend here wanted one of these lots." He said, "But I was told no, I couldn't sell him no lot." He said, "Who told you that?" He told him the real estate man's name. I won't sell to black people.
  • [00:49:03.49] He said, "Well, young man, don't you sell that lot. I'll talk to that man in the morning. Don't you sell that lot." He was right there. He said, "Yes."
  • [00:49:17.81] The next morning, Dave come and called real estate man. Told him this guy come, a friend of his, wanted to buy a lot, and the manager says don't sell. Well, just everything changed around then. "Oh, well, yeah, well that's alright." He said, "I want you to sell him that lot he wants." He said, "Yup, I'll sell it."
  • [00:49:44.48] I had a house built up there.
  • [00:49:45.86] INTERVIEWER: So they sold you the lot after all that.
  • [00:49:48.43] PAUL WASSON: That was in Ann Arbor.
  • [00:49:50.12] INTERVIEWER: That was it Ann Arbor. And that was about what year?
  • [00:49:54.98] SHERRY: 1967.
  • [00:49:56.25] INTERVIEWER: 1957.
  • [00:49:58.12] SHERRY: '67.
  • [00:49:59.00] INTERVIEWER: '67. 1967.
  • [00:50:01.45] PAUL WASSON: '67.
  • [00:50:04.52] INTERVIEWER: I don't know whether you've tried to buy anything or anything now, but do you see a difference than when you tried to get that lot than now?
  • [00:50:15.18] PAUL WASSON: Oh, yeah. Just a little differences. A little difference.
  • [00:50:19.47] INTERVIEWER: Just a little different, OK.
  • [00:50:29.66] When thinking over your life, tell me what you're most proud of?
  • [00:50:38.98] PAUL WASSON: My kids.
  • [00:50:40.03] INTERVIEWER: Your kids.
  • [00:50:40.91] PAUL WASSON: Yes, my children.
  • [00:50:42.14] INTERVIEWER: OK. You want to tell me about them?
  • [00:50:46.20] PAUL WASSON: Well, my daughter-- I haven't got a picture of my daughter on that, do I, Sherry?
  • [00:50:51.93] SHERRY: No.
  • [00:50:53.19] PAUL WASSON: No.
  • [00:50:53.50] SHERRY: No.
  • [00:50:54.71] PAUL WASSON: My daughter is 71. She just retired last year. She retired from-- she was in the Army for three years. She was in the Air Force when I was in, but it changed a little bit because she was the captain.
  • [00:51:21.46] Anyway, she got, when her term was up for three years, she came back and went to a job. A head nurse out to man's prison. That's why she left. And she retired as the captain. I got the picture of her as a captain. I had it [INAUDIBLE]. And then she-- oh yeah. Anyway, she draws a couple of checks. Big checks.
  • [00:52:03.86] INTERVIEWER: So you're most proud of your kids.
  • [00:52:06.69] PAUL WASSON: That's one daughter. My other daughter just finished teaching school. She retired.
  • [00:52:17.66] INTERVIEWER: She's retired.
  • [00:52:18.97] PAUL WASSON: She is part-- yup. And I talk to her every week on the phone. Their daughter is-- what is she Sherry?
  • [00:52:34.02] SHERRY: She has her own business with health food and natural products.
  • [00:52:38.57] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. I can't think of all of them. So thought of all of them.
  • [00:52:44.15] And my son, he's 55 or 56. I don't keep in touch with him, but every now and then. And his son, he finished high school last year and is going to community college for something.
  • [00:53:09.12] SHERRY: He's at Eastern in nursing.
  • [00:53:11.56] PAUL WASSON: Yeah.
  • [00:53:12.51] INTERVIEWER: So you have a very productive family and you're very proud of them.
  • [00:53:19.43] PAUL WASSON: Yeah.
  • [00:53:23.53] INTERVIEWER: Tell me, in thinking about your children and how successful they have become, and when you were growing up, can you tell me what some of the differences are between them being successful and some of the challenges you had to face.
  • [00:53:52.96] PAUL WASSON: In my childhood, I worked from the age I told you, up until I was 17-- somewhere along 17. I worked summer school. I was working out at summer school as soon was school was out.
  • [00:54:17.12] We had the [INAUDIBLE] our block, lived up a half a block from my home, was Jewish people. They lived in the back of the store. I worked, cleaning, doing things. And ever since that time I can remember I worked in grocery stores and different things.
  • [00:54:47.72] Far as me and my mother, that was all. My mama worked. She worked day work and whatever she could get. My mother works and she works for a dollar a day. I had to substitute.
  • [00:55:07.37] INTERVIEWER: So that's quite a difference in when you're bringing up your children. Tell me what impact on you and your family with the election of the first African American president, President Obama.
  • [00:55:27.74] PAUL WASSON: I was elated. I was elated. Because I thought I would never see this day. He writes [INAUDIBLE]. It's not from him. I was getting about once every month. I wasn't going to share it. No. [INAUDIBLE] Obama, he writes all sorts of [INAUDIBLE]. And I got a pile of stuff at home.
  • [00:56:01.68] INTERVIEWER: So it had a big impact on you.
  • [00:56:04.43] PAUL WASSON: Pardon?
  • [00:56:04.86] INTERVIEWER: A big impact on you.
  • [00:56:07.47] PAUL WASSON: Yes. I sent him money.
  • [00:56:10.44] INTERVIEWER: You send him money.
  • [00:56:11.23] PAUL WASSON: Keep it going. Keep it going.
  • [00:56:13.44] INTERVIEWER: OK. All right. I'm going to ask you one more question. What advice would you give to the younger generation with all your experiences and talents and success in life?
  • [00:56:37.22] PAUL WASSON: Get an education.
  • [00:56:39.14] INTERVIEWER: Get an education.
  • [00:56:45.71] PAUL WASSON: Get an education. Because I didn't have a chance.
  • [00:56:54.85] INTERVIEWER: You didn't have opportunities that there's so many now.
  • [00:56:59.57] PAUL WASSON: Yup.
  • [00:57:02.05] INTERVIEWER: Is there anything you want to tell me that I didn't ask you?
  • [00:57:05.52] PAUL WASSON: [INAUDIBLE] take us all day. [INAUDIBLE] it'd take a day or two, three so like I said before. I'll say a lot of things happened. I marched with Martin Luther King. I met him out to the airport.
  • [00:57:28.56] INTERVIEWER: Really?
  • [00:57:29.60] PAUL WASSON: Yes. Senator Thayer. Do you know a Senator Thayer? Senator Thayer was here and lived in Ann Arbor. Him and I were tied together.
  • [00:57:50.23] He called me one day and said, "Paul, I want you to do something with me." I said, "Do something?" I'd always ask, "Do something with you." "Yeah." I said "What do you want me to do with you?" He said, "Well, I got an invitation. That Martin Luther King is flying in here. Well, on [INAUDIBLE] Airway."
  • [00:58:20.64] He said, "Would you go with me to--" now, listen, this is-- "Would you go with me to the march? I've never been to a march and I've never been with that many people." He was meaning that many black people. Anyway, [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:58:42.81] So I said, "Yeah, I'll go with you." So the day came. The State Police drove up in front of my house. He was in the car. He told me what time to be ready and I got ready. I went out. They opened the car-- the guy in the back of the car. Rode out to the airport. Without [INAUDIBLE], the plane came in.
  • [00:59:07.69] And everybody was trying to rush around and see Martin Luther King. Well, I was with the State Police. I got a little [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:59:21.23] INTERVIEWER: Where are we now with this march?
  • [00:59:24.08] PAUL WASSON: The airport. We at that airport.
  • [00:59:26.11] INTERVIEWER: Here.
  • [00:59:26.74] PAUL WASSON: King came in.
  • [00:59:27.87] SHERRY: Detroit.
  • [00:59:28.39] INTERVIEWER: In Detroit, OK.
  • [00:59:29.90] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. One big airport. Anyway, they were trying to get to him, but I got to him. I shook his hand and I asked him how many times he'd been to jail. But the reporters was just diving in like birds. And you just couldn't hardly get through, but I got his picture and all that thing at home.
  • [00:59:56.47] We went to Detroit in 1963 for the march in Detroit. I didn't have a pass from Lansing. So what we did, since Thayer told me, he said, "Paul, I only have but one pass to get inside. How am I going to get you in?" He said, "I ain't going to go without you. I'm going to get you in there."
  • [01:00:29.82] I said, let me study it. "Oh, I know what you can do." He said, "What?" I said, "You go, you're sitting on the podium. You go, go in there." I said, "Get up a little bit higher on the podium you're sitting on. Drop your pass down to me." Because I looked at his pass. He didn't have a picture on his pass. "Drop it down to me." Same as I told the boy in service.
  • [01:01:01.01] Anyway, he drops it-- he got up, sit up there, sat there for a while. I said, now he ain't going to bring me down and leave me. He finally got to [INAUDIBLE]. Dropped it. I got the pass. I went up [INAUDIBLE].
  • [01:01:18.71] INTERVIEWER: Wow. What an experience.
  • [01:01:21.52] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. And so we all got in formation with the State Police, and we was about the third car-- third or fourth car from King. And the State Police had motorcycle police was clearing the way, clearing the way all the way down to Detroit.
  • [01:01:52.54] SHERRY: Paul, tell her about when you came to Ypsilanti in 1943. Where you ended up and how you got to Ypsi. What was happening [INAUDIBLE].
  • [01:02:01.54] PAUL WASSON: That's why I say if I can get through these stories.
  • [01:02:05.43] I came from Detroit.
  • [01:02:07.14] SHERRY: No. You came in Detroit and there was the riot.
  • [01:02:12.91] PAUL WASSON: Oh yeah.
  • [01:02:13.50] SHERRY: Detroit riots of 1943.
  • [01:02:14.52] PAUL WASSON: That's right. I came in Detroit. Got off at the bus station. Went to the-- I was catching a street car.
  • [01:02:25.43] INTERVIEWER: Where were you coming from?
  • [01:02:26.78] PAUL WASSON: Chattanooga, Tennessee. That's when I first came in--
  • [01:02:30.75] INTERVIEWER: When you first came up.
  • [01:02:32.18] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. And I kept seeing two police on every corner. I had just left home. My mother told me to leave home. She says, "You gotta leave home." She said, "Because the white folks was going to get you and kill you. Because you don't take nothing. See, you don't take nothing." And she says, "You'd better go up to Detroit." I had some kin people up there.
  • [01:03:03.29] So I got on the street car. I kept seeing two police on every corner-- two big burly white police. I kept looking.
  • [01:03:15.99] So when I got out, I asked the street car conductor would he call out the street I had on paper. When he gets there I would get off. I told him-- I didn't know him. But he said, "OK."
  • [01:03:32.87] So when he got to the street number, we was on Hastings Street car. Mack Avenue I was going to. So he called Mack Avenue. I got off. This is jogging my mind, bringing back things.
  • [01:03:48.42] I got off at Mack Avenue. Two police was across the street. I got my little suitcase and I started looking at the numbers. And I finally seen the number. Bring up on the porch and knocked on the door.
  • [01:04:09.39] A guy came to the door. I said, "I'm Paul Wasson." He said, "Paul Wasson." I said, "Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] we met," he said. I said, "Man, tell me what them point police is doing on every corner." He said, "Man, ain't you heard?" I said, "No." He said, "Man, there's a riot here."
  • [01:04:35.52] I had just left from Tennessee coming up here. I was on the police force when I come up here. I was the youngest person on the police force. The youngest person. I got pictures of me with detectives and different things.
  • [01:04:54.56] INTERVIEWER: So you came up here and were in the middle of the Detroit riots.
  • [01:04:58.62] PAUL WASSON: Yes. I told him, I said, "Well, goodbye." I went back [INAUDIBLE], went to the bus station, and asked the bus that had the name of a person up here in Ypsilanti. I had never been in Ypsilanti.
  • [01:05:23.18] I caught the bus, and I had told the bus driver-- the bus went from Detroit to Chicago, straight I-94. Right through Ypsilanti, right on through-- they didn't have 94 then. They had Route 12, from Detroit straight 12 all the way to Chicago.
  • [01:05:51.37] So he said, "OK." So I was afraid I'd go to sleep because I'd been a couple of days trying get that figured out.
  • [01:06:02.48] Started up Michigan Avenue, and he said, "Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti." And he cut the lights on. I said, "Wait just a minute. I'm coming." I almost overslept it. And I got off the bus. I got off the bus. No lights, no nothing. I'm all in the dark. I stood there. I couldn't see nothing.
  • [01:06:39.30] I said, "Lord, what have I done to myself here now?" I said, well, the bus was going straight there. I said, best I can do is take my suitcase, just follow the bus, the way the bus went. And every now and then I'd see a car-- they didn't have many cars here. Every now and then I would see a car.
  • [01:07:01.17] INTERVIEWER: Did you have relatives or friends that you were going to meet there?
  • [01:07:04.94] PAUL WASSON: I didn't have nobody but the name of a guy that used to-- he was from Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I'd never seen him and I didn't know him. But he liked my cousin. She was a pretty nice little girl. But her mother didn't let her court. But they would court by mail.
  • [01:07:28.36] Anyway, I kept walking. And finally I was just [INAUDIBLE]-- just started thumbing, a truck stopped a little ways up from me, but almost half a block. And the guy got out. He said, "Come on, come on." He had three guys in the truck, three white fellas.
  • [01:07:49.24] And I starting not to get on that bus because something told me what would happen down in Tennessee. But my mind say, yup, you gotta go on the bus. Well, I didn't have anything happen to me, I just thought a lot of things.
  • [01:08:08.99] Anyway, he say, "Where are you going?" I say, "I'm going to Ypsilanti." He said, "Well, we're going to Chicago." He said, "Well, I'll drop you at Ypsilanti." There's three of them, I was thinking the whole time I was riding that bus.
  • [01:08:28.17] So he got to the [INAUDIBLE] of Ypsilanti and Huron Street. And a light corridor ahead was one or two or three lights in Ypsilanti. And I jumped off before he even told me to jump off. And I thanked him. And he said, "OK, you're welcome."
  • [01:08:49.60] So I'm in a town and nobody in the town but me. So I looked up and I saw a fella coming on North side of Ypsilanti. I waited until he got pretty near me, and I seen this white guy, and I said, oh, god help me.
  • [01:09:16.85] I says, "Mister, could you tell me where the nearest police station is?" He said, "Yeah. You go down this way, you go down this, you go down this way. And you see the light, that's police station." "Thank you."
  • [01:09:35.01] Me and my suitcase start [INAUDIBLE]. We went and we found a police station. It was a house-- a house the police was in, setting up the desk. I'm on the door and I went in, because you could hear the screen door. The sergeant was sitting out on the desk. "Can I help you, boy?" Struck me again. Don't call me boy. But I didn't say anything.
  • [01:10:09.75] I told him, "Well, I was looking for dormitory. There was two dormitories in Ypsilanti. One on Worden Street, and the other was on Harriet Street-- 72 men to a dormitory.
  • [01:10:27.49] Anyway, he told me what I wanted. You go up here, seven blocks, you cut over, you go two blocks. It was around 11 o'clock or some time right at that time. No lights. I went to walking. I followed his directions. Turn, turn, came right to it, the dormitory. The guys was in a black dormitory, all of them black.
  • [01:10:58.21] Went in the dormitory. I asked the guys if they knew a Robert Johnson. They told me-- a lot of them told me they didn't know him. And then they said, "Well, he'll be in about 12 o'clock. He's out partying somewhere. All the guys are out partying. You just sit over there on that couch."
  • [01:11:20.95] Anyway, I sat over on the couch. When I woke up it was 1:30.
  • [01:11:27.86] INTERVIEWER: So that was your introduction to Ypsilanti.
  • [01:11:31.34] PAUL WASSON: Yes.
  • [01:11:32.05] INTERVIEWER: That's how you got here.
  • [01:11:32.97] PAUL WASSON: When I got to. But 1:30 when I woke up, there was a guy coming down the hall going to the latrine. And I asked him, I said, "Do you know a Robert Johnson that lives here?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Do you know where he live?" He said, "He live across the hall from me." I said, "Yeah?" He gave me the number.
  • [01:12:05.63] I went down there, knocked on the door, knocked on the door. knocked again. I'd start saying again. He said, "Who is it?" Hated being woke up at that time. I said, "Paul." He said, "Paul who?" "Paul Wasson." "I don't know no Paul Wasson."
  • [01:12:28.14] I said, "Yeah, you do. You like my cousin. You [INAUDIBLE] from Chattanooga, Tennessee." I was outside the door. He said, "Chattanooga, Tennessee. Are you from Chattanooga, Tennessee?" I say, "Yeah, that's my cousin." "Oh, wait, just a minute. Wait a minute."
  • [01:12:47.20] He got up, snatched that door open in his BVDs, whatever, and the room was just a little room they charged five dollars a week. Anyway, "Come in. Sit down." He wanted me to talk. "How's Vivian? I just wrote her a letter the other day." Went through all that.
  • [01:13:06.42] He said, "Where you living at now?" I said, "I'm not living nowhere." And I told him how I come. He said, "Well, you can spend the night here with me." And the bed was about like this. And he says, "If you want to, you can bunk over in the bed with me." And he says, "You're going to bunk butt to butt." I said, "OK."
  • [01:13:40.38] I went to sleep. Before I know anything he was waking me up. "Paul, it's time to get up." I get up just that morning. I have to be out to the foundry. So you have to put your clothes on. So I had my same clothes on. I went down, so we walked.
  • [01:13:56.83] It was about a mile and a half we had to walk. Went down to the foundry. He said, "I know the foreman here." He said, "He's a pretty good guy." He said, "Go with me." He had a cart that came in pulling another cart. People sold sandwiches off there in the morning for breakfast. They had all kinds of stuff.
  • [01:14:21.35] So I ate and he said, "Come on, we go up to the office." I went up to the office. I sit there. Matt came in, and he told him, he said, "This is my cousin. He's from my same home town. And he come see about getting a job. I told him that you would give him a job."
  • [01:14:46.14] And we talked and he asked me, "Do you have iron-toed shoes?" I said, "No. I've got the shoes I got on." He said, "Well, we got a commissary downstairs. Do you have the money?" I didn't have no money. I had $2.50. That was all I had.
  • [01:15:10.23] He said, "Well, on the strength of Robert-- Robert's been with us a good while. He's a good worker. And Robert was making $200 and some dollars a week. That was a whole lot of money.
  • [01:15:22.09] INTERVIEWER: That was a lot back then.
  • [01:15:22.96] PAUL WASSON: So like I said, he got the book out. He said, "I'm going to write you a $50 advancement because Robert know you. I want you to go downstairs and get you some iron-toed shoes." "Thank you."
  • [01:15:43.37] I went downstairs. I was bigger than I am now. I went downstairs, grabbed me some iron-toed shoes, and I had some money left, because it didn't cost me, but he advanced me the money.
  • [01:15:57.24] So I had the shoes. So he says, "Take this note down to the foundry boss and he'll show you what you have to do." I went down there. The boss is white. He told me, he say, "You get that wheelbarrow." I said, "OK." He said, "Come with me." And the train run in there throughout the foundry. [INAUDIBLE] big box out there.
  • [01:16:35.90] He said, "I want you to get the wheelbarrow full of sand and take it into the foundry and give it to the molder." I said, "OK."
  • [01:16:49.50] INTERVIEWER: So that was your first job in--
  • [01:16:51.38] PAUL WASSON: That was my first job.
  • [01:16:52.87] INTERVIEWER: --in Ypsilanti.
  • [01:16:53.33] PAUL WASSON: I said to myself, "Paul, this is not for you." So I worked there for a little while. But I was getting the paper every day. Every day I'd buy a paper just to find--
  • [01:17:05.01] INTERVIEWER: Find out what was going on.
  • [01:17:07.80] PAUL WASSON: And then I seen a job that I thought I would like would be better than that, [INAUDIBLE], very hot iron. So before that job there was another job that I wanted. It was eating-- because we didn't have no place to eat. Black people didn't have no place to eat.
  • [01:17:27.12] So there was a lady sold--
  • [01:17:30.38] INTERVIEWER: They had no place to eat in Ypsilanti?
  • [01:17:34.18] PAUL WASSON: Right. The lady that sold food lived on First Avenue. She sold bread, Bologna, milk and pop. That was all she sold. You'd go up, get you some Bologna, stack it up.
  • [01:17:55.92] But you couldn't keep it in the room, because the woman that would come in in the morning, they reported everything to the guy in the office, what was in there. So you couldn't have nobody or nothing in the room where you slept.
  • [01:18:13.60] [INAUDIBLE] I seen an ad in the paper, dishwasher. Lord, I remember washing dishes. I see you get a lot from your growing up home around your mother and you have to do a certain thing.
  • [01:18:31.53] I told him, I said, I want to come down and see about dishwasher. The guy said, "OK." I went down to see about dishwasher. He said, Well, it's from 4:00 to 12:00 or something like that. Whatever, it was just right because in the foundry we got showers, the men did, we'd all take a shower [INAUDIBLE]. I said, "I'll take it." He said, "OK. Can you be here at 4 o'clock?" I said, "Yes."
  • [01:19:02.86] Then I was working two jobs to get that money to send to my mother. And I kept looking in the paper. I didn't stop. And then--
  • [01:19:16.82] INTERVIEWER: Then you were working two, one at the foundry and dishwashing.
  • [01:19:20.44] PAUL WASSON: Yeah. I know when I wasn't pouring metal then I was washing dishes. When I was seeing the paper, I kept reading the paper. I seen another job at a Michigan Aluminum and Casting Company. I applied down there to them, Michigan Aluminum and Casting Company. The guy say, "Can you pour metal?" I say, "Yes, I can pour metal."
  • [01:19:46.37] Had never seen any metal poured. Didn't know what metal was. He talked to me, he said, "Can you report down there in the morning at 5 o'clock, 5:00, 5:30?" I said, "Yes." He said, "OK, be down here in the morning." I said, "Does that mean I've got a job?" "Yes. Why'd you think I told you that?" Something tell me [INAUDIBLE].
  • [01:20:14.01] Anyway, I went down there the next day and they had the pots there. And the aluminum bars, aluminum bar like this here. It weighs about 60 pounds, pick up one [INAUDIBLE] in the pot.
  • [01:20:29.17] Anyway, some black guy's doing that. Whereas the black guys, I got along with them. I went to ask them questions. I got along with them and they told me how to do the pots and how to put pigs-- you call them pigs-- how you put-- all of that.
  • [01:20:48.50] And I said, "Well, when your pot is full and [INAUDIBLE], show me how you pour it." This is the truth-- I'm telling you the truth. He said, "OK." He showed me how to pour it. The man made the molds low to the hole, was about this big around. And hot metal, you had to pour it in that hole for it to [INAUDIBLE]. Goes to every pot and it freezes in no time in aluminium.
  • [01:21:20.05] Well, I learned in that day I had it pat pouring metal. I made twice as much money as the foundry did. So I moved from that. I kept moving. Just moving-- till I get to the right spot where I figured I was made for. And I finally got to it. It was University Hospital.
  • [01:21:54.42] I started as an orderly. I worked myself up. I came here one day, a sister did the hiring. One of the nuns. She did the hiring. I went in there, she said, "I don't know whether I got something. Yeah, here's one here."
  • [01:22:17.78] OK. I'll take it whatever it is. She said, "Well, this one is working in the [INAUDIBLE]--" drug department or something like that. I said, boy, that sound like just what I want, to myself. "Well, I'll take you down there."
  • [01:22:37.84] Took me down there and introduced me to the [INAUDIBLE]. She went up. The guy said, "Will you come over here? I want you to start washing all of them bottles." Them bottles that they had different segment of different bodies. I looked at that, oh, this ain't what I wanted.
  • [01:23:09.52] So I worked that day, cleaning them nasty, stinking jugs out. I went home. I didn't go back. Two weeks I couldn't find a job nowhere. I came right back to that lady that hired me. She didn't even know she had hired me for the job. She's about 60-some years old, nun. She said, "Oh, yeah, Mr. Wasson. I think I got a job for you." I was looking.
  • [01:23:46.97] She said, "Yes. Come with me." Didn't know I hadn't been at work that day.
  • [01:23:54.22] INTERVIEWER: Well, you've had quite a bit of work experience, and I just want to thank you for remembering all this.
  • [01:24:04.82] PAUL WASSON: Well, you jogged my memory. You really jogged it.
  • [01:24:08.87] INTERVIEWER: Jogged your memory.
  • [01:24:09.85] PAUL WASSON: There's a lot of stuff. I got--
  • [01:24:13.87] INTERVIEWER: Really fruitful life.
  • [01:24:15.45] PAUL WASSON: --went through to get to these parts. Nobody never know how much I [INAUDIBLE]. And I worked all my life.