AACHM Oral History: Dorothy Wilson
When: April 1, 2014
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Dorothy Wilson was born November 28, 1911, in Mount Vernon, New York. She grew up in New York, where she also met her husband, living for several years in Brooklyn. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse and worked at the Brooklyn State Hospital. After her husband’s death she retired and moved, in 1972, to Ypsilanti to be near her family where she became active in volunteer work for Church Women United through Brown Chapel AME Church in Ypsilanti, the Beyer Hospital Auxiliary, and the Ypsilanti Historical Society.
- [00:00:37.05] INTERVIEWER: So first, we're going to say and spell your name.
- [00:00:40.76] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: My name is Dorothy May Wilson. And my first name, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y. Middle name, May, capital M-A-Y. Last name, Wilson, capital W-I-L-S-O-N.
- [00:01:01.52] INTERVIEWER: OK. What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:01:04.66] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: November, the 28th, 1911.
- [00:01:08.25] INTERVIEWER: OK. And how would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:14.36] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I'd just say I'm African-American, African descent.
- [00:01:17.71] INTERVIEWER: African descent, OK. What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:22.12] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: African Methodist, AME.
- [00:01:25.02] INTERVIEWER: Oh, you're AME?
- [00:01:25.75] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:01:26.43] INTERVIEWER: I'm AME as well.
- [00:01:28.30] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Thank you. I'm a member of Brown Chapel.
- [00:01:30.54] INTERVIEWER: OK. Very good. I'm Bethel AME.
- [00:01:32.36] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, I've been there.
- [00:01:33.64] INTERVIEWER: OK, good. I've been to Brown Chapel as well.
- [00:01:35.71] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:01:36.30] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:01:37.45] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:40.92] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I went to high school, two years went to high school. Then I had to leave because of finance to go to work.
- [00:01:47.99] INTERVIEWER: OK. So did you ever do any additional school in a formal training after that?
- [00:01:55.23] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. After that, then I went to Practical nursing, took a course, the Department of Civil Service, New York State Department of Civil Service. I took a course in Practical Nursing, and I became a licensed practical nurse, New York state.
- [00:02:11.00] INTERVIEWER: Oh, an LPN in New York?
- [00:02:12.32] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:02:12.64] INTERVIEWER: OK. Very good. What is your marital status?
- [00:02:16.81] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I'm a widow.
- [00:02:18.31] INTERVIEWER: OK. And how many children do you have?
- [00:02:22.06] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I have no children.
- [00:02:23.41] INTERVIEWER: No children? OK.
- [00:02:24.61] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Plenty of nieces and nephews.
- [00:02:25.82] INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's like me. No children and plenty of nieces and nephews. How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:32.68] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I have four. They all have passed on. I had two sisters and two brothers, but they've all gone. I was the youngest. And one of my brothers was the oldest.
- [00:02:42.78] INTERVIEWER: OK. And what were their names?
- [00:02:44.47] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Alexander and Harold, Ethyl and Margaret. Ethyl was the mother of Melvin.
- [00:02:52.74] INTERVIEWER: Your nephew that brought you here today?
- [00:02:54.78] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes.
- [00:02:55.30] INTERVIEWER: Very good. Nice nephew.
- [00:02:56.82] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:03:00.14] Let's see here. Siblings. What was your primary occupation when you worked?
- [00:03:06.57] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Working for the Department of Civil Service, Department of Mental Hygiene, New York State division. I'm a retiree from New York state. I worked for New York state as a licensed practical nurse at Brooklyn State Hospital.
- [00:03:20.09] INTERVIEWER: OK. And at what age did you retire?
- [00:03:23.83] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: At 55.
- [00:03:24.85] INTERVIEWER: At 55? OK. So you've been retired for a little while, huh?
- [00:03:28.16] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:03:28.68] INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] Very good. All right. Now we're going to go into a part two, memories of childhood and youth. All right? This part of the interview is about your childhood and youth.
- [00:03:45.02] Even if some of these questions jog memories about other times in your live, we want you to stay focused on the questions here. And like I said that there's things you don't remember, don't hesitate to say, I don't recall. No problem with that. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:04:04.05] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I don't recall my mother. My mother passed away when I was very young, so I have no memories of my mother at all. You know. And we had a very pleasant life, happy life at that time. And a lot of the things that we have today quite natural, we didn't have. So I can say we had a very pleasant life as a poor African-American family at that time.
- [00:04:31.74] INTERVIEWER: OK. And so what was your mother's name?
- [00:04:34.44] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: My mother's name was Margaret. I have one-- the sister that was named after her. Her full name, maiden name was Margaret Fuller.
- [00:04:41.30] INTERVIEWER: OK. And your childhood was spent--
- [00:04:43.38] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And my father was named Allen Jones, so my maiden name was Jones.
- [00:04:47.18] INTERVIEWER: Jones. OK. And so your childhood was spent where? Was that in New York?
- [00:04:52.84] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I was born in Mount Vernon, New York. It was spent in New York that was out in the country, not in the city. It was similar to Ypsilanti but not as quite natural and not as built up as Ypsilanti is today.
- [00:05:06.08] And my father worked for the lumber company, which was not too far away. Wilson Lumber Company. And there were two homes there that were supplied by the company. And there was a white family that lived about two blocks, and he worked at the mill.
- [00:05:26.49] And my father worked at the mill. And my father was a dispatcher, and also, he drove a flattop wagon with a horse. And he would load that and deliver the lumber. So that was, you know.
- [00:05:45.75] And then in my early years, I was thinking I was, like, probably-- I don't know what age when my mother passed. I don't have no recollection, none, no memory of her at all. Yeah. And then my father-- in my early years, my father remarried.
- [00:06:02.85] And I had a stepmother, and we called her Aunt Jenny. And so she was with us up until I reached my early teens. And then her and my father separated. So our life changed at different times accordingly.
- [00:06:16.63] And my older brother, Alexander-- I forget at what age, but he developed pneumonia and he passed in his late-- I think he was around maybe-- I don't know exactly what age. But he was in his teens. So I was left with three siblings-- one brother and two sisters.
- [00:06:33.87] INTERVIEWER: OK. All right. So that's very, very interesting. So you just sort of went into this already. But it says, what sort of work did your parents do? And you talked about your father a little.
- [00:06:45.18] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Father, yes, yeah.
- [00:06:45.68] INTERVIEWER: Did you want to add anything else to that?
- [00:06:49.11] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No.
- [00:06:50.09] INTERVIEWER: OK. That's fine. What is your earliest memories?
- [00:06:55.01] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I think my earliest memory when I saw a white person. And then that was first. And then I think one of my earliest memories-- I couldn't imagine, because when I would look out, I can still visualize-- I thought that the sky came down, say, maybe a couple of blocks. And I always felt, one day I'm going to go over there and touch that. And I thought that it was like a tent over us.
- [00:07:23.14] And then another thing that surprised me was the plane. I couldn't imagine how a plane could be up there. What could be flying and staying up there?
- [00:07:31.19] Then my next recollection was when the milkman used to deliver the mail-- I mean the milk. And the mailman would come twice a day. He would deliver the mail. And I couldn't imagine why he looked the way they did, because I was used to seeing people with color. It was just like you see a little-- sometime a white child that has never seen you, they're used to seeing a person of a different color, and they take a little extra look. So those were some of the things that were kind of strange to me that I remember.
- [00:08:03.24] INTERVIEWER: OK. Well, good. All right. So with that first seeing a first Caucasian, did you inquire at all about it? Or you just sort of saw that--
- [00:08:14.40] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I don't remember inquiring. I just remember looking, you know, just like if somebody came in this room now with an odd face or something, you would have to look.
- [00:08:23.09] INTERVIEWER: OK, great. Now, were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:08:31.51] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Christmas. Christmas.
- [00:08:32.42] INTERVIEWER: OK. So talk to me about that.
- [00:08:33.77] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: My father would hang up his sock. Sometime they had a hole in it or something. But it would be clean. And my brother. And then that's the time we'd get a piece of fruit. If you got an orange-- maybe we'd get that at Christmas. And a candy cane.
- [00:08:48.99] And at that time, the Christmas tree, they'd go in the woods and get a tree. And you didn't have the electric lights, quite natural. You had candles. You'd light a little candle and then put it on the tree. So Christmas was one of our big days. That's one of the days we probably celebrated. But I remember Christmas more than any other days of holidays.
- [00:09:09.16] INTERVIEWER: And so getting a piece of fruit was really special at that time?
- [00:09:12.67] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, really special, because it was not plentiful with us, you know.
- [00:09:16.91] INTERVIEWER: Right. Whoa. That's interesting, because now children get so much stuff.
- [00:09:22.40] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's right. That's right.
- [00:09:24.05] INTERVIEWER: And sometimes I think they take it for granted. [LAUGHS]
- [00:09:26.33] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes. Because things like bananas, you know, you just didn't have supermarkets. You just had like a little general store, and they didn't carry any fruit. A lot of the Italian people, as they migrated here, they used to have an Italian man come around with, like, a wheelbarrow, but it was made like a wheelbarrow. And he would have bananas on it. And he would have the, bananas for sale, bananas! Then you'd run out. And that's how you bought your bananas.
- [00:09:53.67] INTERVIEWER: OK. Wow. It's interesting. OK. Now, you mentioned Christmas. But which other holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:10:05.57] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Sometime at Easter. But I don't remember as much. I think Christmas was the one I really remember. It's the strongest one in my mind that I remember. Christmas. And on Fourth of July, my father would-- they had fire crackers or something like that out in their yards. But our biggest was Christmas was our most important day. And it still is.
- [00:10:29.57] INTERVIEWER: All right. So in terms of the Fourth of July, was there anything special that went on during the Fourth of July in terms of food or just the firecrackers?
- [00:10:37.88] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No, no. Just firecrackers and candy and things like that. Nothing special. It was just the Fourth of July.
- [00:10:45.79] INTERVIEWER: Candy was sort of special, though, wasn't it?
- [00:10:48.18] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: [LAUGHS] Mm hm.
- [00:10:49.33] INTERVIEWER: OK. And so the next question sort of continues with that. It just says, how are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family? And you sort of talked about that. Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations? Did you create any things?
- [00:11:04.81] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, in the family, we still celebrate Christmas. It's very-- you know, mostly Christmas. And Easter also was a special day. You have a special dinner or something like that. And gift-giving. Sending cards and things like that.
- [00:11:20.81] INTERVIEWER: What about birthdays and that kind of thing?
- [00:11:23.88] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, we still do in the family. Send cards and Christmas cards. I always think when you're writing a card that you're thinking about that person. So I always like to send cards myself.
- [00:11:36.00] INTERVIEWER: Yeah. That's nice. Now, this is going to sort of be similar to another question, but that's OK. What was the highest grade you completed?
- [00:11:45.30] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I went up to second year in high school. As finances and things began to get a little hard at home, I decided to go to work, get a job.
- [00:11:55.90] INTERVIEWER: OK. Very good. Now, did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:12:01.99] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No. We we'd play handball, mostly handball, throwing the balls, things like that. And different little games-- playing jacks and doing things like that. Jumping rope.
- [00:12:15.60] INTERVIEWER: Those are some of the things that students still do-- jump rope, playing jacks.
- [00:12:19.35] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And then most of the girls had dolls. And it was a long time before we saw any African-American dolls. Most of the dolls were white. But you'd like to sew and make doll clothing, and sit out in the yard, and make mud pies. And like your parents would make a biscuit, we would take the mud and try to make biscuits and things like that with the mud. And those were some of the things. And most of the time, we were barefoot.
- [00:12:49.84] INTERVIEWER: Right.
- [00:12:51.13] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Most of the time, when you went to school, you had shoes. And at that time, everything was leather. There was nothing plastic. Your shoes were leather. You had Sunday clothes. And you had school to go. When you come home from school, you took your clothes off. And then you had clothes that you wore on Sunday. So we weren't rich and wealthy, but we had a very happy, pleasant life.
- [00:13:15.13] INTERVIEWER: And riches sometimes can come in different ways.
- [00:13:15.96] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: A lot of things have been different maybe if my mother had lived. Yes. I probably would've went further with my education and a lot of things. But I thank God that I was able to do what I did do at that time.
- [00:13:28.91] INTERVIEWER: I think you did wonderfully well. Also, I wanted to say that sometimes riches isn't because of what you possess but what you have in terms of family and love.
- [00:13:39.18] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's right.
- [00:13:39.67] INTERVIEWER: So you were rich in that way.
- [00:13:40.78] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's right, that's right.
- [00:13:41.98] INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little bit more about handball. What was handball? Was it just throwing the ball back and forth? Or what was handball?
- [00:13:48.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, it was handball. And then my brothers would have, like, a broomstick, an old broomstick. And then they would use that as the bat. They would throw the ball. And sometimes, the girls would just play ball. It was like a big, like a tennis ball, but it was larger.
- [00:14:09.81] And we'd just throw the ball. Sometimes the boys would bat it. We would do that ourselves in the yard together. But we didn't have any sports at the school.
- [00:14:20.21] INTERVIEWER: All right. And so those were things that you'd create and that were things--
- [00:14:23.85] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Things we did, yeah.
- [00:14:24.61] INTERVIEWER: And you didn't have to buy it.
- [00:14:25.46] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And then at that time, whatever my brothers could find. Or wheels from the baby carriages, they had really baby carriages. They'd make their own wagons. And if you had roller skates, you'd make your own scooters.
- [00:14:42.05] And so a lot of things, you did yourself, because quite a lot of those things weren't even invented. And so it gave you an idea to do things for yourself yourself. We made doll clothing. That's something learned you how to sew.
- [00:14:55.87] INTERVIEWER: So really, you were inventors. Good thing you didn't patent some of that stuff, huh?
- [00:15:01.56] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's right.
- [00:15:02.69] INTERVIEWER: OK, great. OK. What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
- [00:15:12.18] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, the school was not segregated. When I first went to school, I was with the [INAUDIBLE] school. My teachers were white, the students was white. There was one other black boy, and one of my sisters was still in the school. But the school was integrated. You know.
- [00:15:29.60] And a matter of fact, I must say that I never experienced much unpleasant or discrimination, because by starting off like that, being in an integrated school-- I remember my teacher's name was Mrs. Hall. And I remember the address where I grew up-- 212 S. Terrace Avenue, Mount Vernon, New York.
- [00:15:50.69] INTERVIEWER: That's a great memory.
- [00:15:51.59] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. And school. So all the way through school, even into high school, you were in an integrated school. And far as the education, I never saw an African-American teacher or principal, any of the staff.
- [00:16:14.23] Everything was always white from the beginning. So in the beginning, I didn't have the idea of being segregated into a mix. So the few blacks that lived out in the country, they went to this same school as the white.
- [00:16:31.66] INTERVIEWER: All right. OK. Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
- [00:16:40.35] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: God willing. My stepmother would always say with most things-- and I still that phrase today. So and so, and she'd say, god willing. God willing. And I still use that expression today on some things.
- [00:16:55.61] Somebody would say, well, so and so. I'd say, yes, if god willing. And I still use that expression. That was one of her favorites. And my father would use it sometime-- god willing.
- [00:17:04.11] INTERVIEWER: OK. And that's a good one to say, right?
- [00:17:06.04] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:17:08.32] INTERVIEWER: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years? You sort of talked about that a little bit with your mother passing. But were there any other changes?
- [00:17:16.14] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. My mother passing. And I think things might have been a little different, because maybe by her being our mother, maybe I would have had a different experience. But I must say that by knowing my stepmother, Aunt Jenny-- we called her Aunt Jenny, she was very good to us.
- [00:17:42.38] INTERVIEWER: And that's good, because sometimes that isn't always the case. So that's great.
- [00:17:45.46] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And even after later on in life, I often wished a lot of times she was still living, I said I wish Aunt Jenny was here. I could go visit her. I could go get her and bring her here like that.
- [00:17:58.63] Even though our mother passed-- but we still had a very good, cohesive family together by having her there with us. And my father was quiet. He didn't do much. And if we got a whipping, it usually was my stepmother. But she'd always say, go out in the yard and get a switch.
- [00:18:17.45] INTERVIEWER: She'd tell you to go and get it?
- [00:18:18.66] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Tell you to go out and get it. And I'd go out and I'd get the smallest one. And she'd say, take that one back. And she would whip you. I could still feel those little on my legs. Sometime I can imagine. And she would hit you around your legs, you know, do things like that. So even though I didn't have a mother, but I still had a good life.
- [00:18:37.93] INTERVIEWER: Well, some traditions continued on, because I can remember being told to do the same thing. [LAUGHS]
- [00:18:43.11] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:18:45.01] INTERVIEWER: Didn't like it very much, but I did it.
- [00:18:47.20] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No, that's right.
- [00:18:48.15] INTERVIEWER: So you--
- [00:18:48.96] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And then after I-- yes. And then later on, I think when I was in my early teens, I don't know how many years in between. But anyway, later on in life, my stepmother and my father separated. So that made a change.
- [00:19:08.03] Then we stayed with our father. It was three siblings and myself. And then my older brothers and sisters, they ventured out. My brother went and got a job at the next little town, New Rochelle. He got a job. Then my older sister, then they went to New York, to Harlem. Moved to Harlem.
- [00:19:35.12] My father's health was failing. And so then they said, well, Dorothy, you can get a job here. Why don't you come and go? So I just gave up school and just decided to go out and try to make a living to help. So I went into New York, Harlem, at 17. I went to New York. And I was in New York.
- [00:19:55.24] My sister, older sister, which is Melvin's mother, and his father, Chester Roper, who was from Ypsilanti happened to be working in New York. And they happened to meet my husband in some way.
- [00:20:13.31] So one afternoon when one of my sisters, the older sister had a sleep-in job. When I say a sleep-in job, a lot of jobs at that time for African-Americans was a couple would take a job with a wealthy, white family. The husband would be the butler and the chauffeur, and the wife was the maid. So my sister had a sleep-in job as an individual. She was still single.
- [00:20:38.61] But anyway, her day off was on Thursdays. So that Thursday, she decided that we're going to have a get-together and have a dinner together. So she had met Chester Roper. And we had never met him.
- [00:20:53.76] She said, you're going to meet my boyfriend. So she brought Chester Roper to the house where she was staying when she was off. And she brought this gentleman, George Wilson, with him. And that's how I met my husband.
- [00:21:12.29] INTERVIEWER: All right. So she brought her boyfriend, and you got one right along.
- [00:21:15.69] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. That's the first time I'd met Chester Roper. And so from then, we talked and we talked about the different things that were going on, and we talked about the race relations. And they were all very race-conscious. And so then, my sister would have us over at different times for dinner.
- [00:21:37.87] So then my husband-- future husband then-- we took a relation. We started going to the Statue of Liberty. He called me. We'd go to the Statue of Liberty. We went to Ellis Island, and we went to the Bronx Zoo.
- [00:21:51.21] So at 19, we decided we weren't going to tell anybody. We got married. So I said, I want to get married where I was born. So we went, him and I, on a Saturday went back to Mount Vernon. And we got married by the mayor. The mayor was Mayor Berg at that time that we were married. Then we came back, and we got our own place.
- [00:22:11.71] At that time in New York, there was a lot of influx of West Indian people coming in-- African-Americans. But most of them that came in already had a trade. They were seamstresses or dress-makers. And they had money. And a lot of them bought these brownstone homes that used to be wealthy, white people used to live in. And they turned them into rooming houses.
- [00:22:34.25] So a lot of the African-Americans coming from the south, a lot of them didn't have the money. So they would go in and rent rooms. Rooms were like, say-- sometimes you'd get a room, a plain, just an ordinary room was $7 a week. Then if you had a little, like, a closet, they'd make that like a kitchenette, and you'd pay maybe $7 or $8 a week.
- [00:22:57.72] So the influx at that time-- when we got to Harlem, we lived in a rooming house. And then after my husband got a job with the Salvation Army Headquarters as a chef cook-- but he always wanted his own business. He didn't like the idea of working for other people. And that was his aim in life. He said, I just hope one day I could have my own business.
- [00:23:21.46] So anyway, we were fortunate to get a three-room apartment. When I say three-room, it was two bedrooms and a kitchen.
- [00:23:34.31] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to interrupt you just--
- [00:23:35.24] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: The bathroom was out in the hall.
- [00:23:37.01] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to interrupt you just for a second. You just put your paper down on your lap, because we want to get that pretty face and continue on.
- [00:23:43.00] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Oh, yes, yes. So we got a job-- like a superintendent of a building. They'd give you their apartment. You didn't pay any rent, but you took care of the building. You would help. You'd cut the rent, turn the rent into the landlord. And most of them were West Indians, because when they came in, it's so odd that they came in from the islands of Jamaica. And they come into the city. And we, as African-Americans, never have any opportunity to advance to that stage to make any money, we ended up living in the homes that the immigrants came in from the islands.
- [00:24:20.84] And from there, we seen the progress-- begin to save money. We stayed there quite a while. Then we decided, well, let's go to Brooklyn. So one weekend, we went over to Brooklyn with some friends, and we liked it. And we decided that if we got settled and got enough money, we were going to move to Brooklyn.
- [00:24:46.47] In the meantime, my husband's family, they migrated. My husband was from Emporia, Virginia. So he could tell me what was going on in the South, what they went through, the discriminations, and how they had the separate drinking areas and things like that. And he said, someday I hope I'd be able to take you there, so you could see. Because I had never experienced that.
- [00:25:08.83] So then when my husband's family-- out on Long Island. It's 110 miles from New York City. Greenport, Long Island. They migrated there. A lot of the blacks-- I don't want to say blacks. But a lot of the African-Americans. The reason why, because that's where the Long Island oysters were, that's where the Long Island potatoes, Long Island ducks.
- [00:25:34.14] That was known for that area, because Long Island is the Atlantic Ocean on one side and then the East River. But it goes over-- Connecticut's on the other. That's Long Island. It's 110 miles, starting from Brooklyn, and then you go into Nassau County, then Suffolk County. And that's out the end. So his family was out there. And so we used to go out there to visit them.
- [00:26:02.72] And so after we got in Brooklyn, and I took my tests, and passed my New York State Civil Service Test, and became a Licensed Practical Nurse, I went to work at the state hospital, Brooklyn State Hospital. I was assigned to the medication room. I did the dressings, blood pressures, ordered the drugs from the pharmacy in the building. So I just loved the idea of just walking the halls, being there helping people.
- [00:26:35.42] INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful.
- [00:26:36.26] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. So then after my husband always wanted this business. So we started saving money when we got to Brooklyn. And the first car we bought was called a Jewett. I don't know what company made it.
- [00:26:48.67] INTERVIEWER: Jewett?
- [00:26:49.43] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: A Jewett. We had the car. And we would go out to Long Island. So we finally ended up buying two acres of land on Flanders Road, 271 Flanders Road in Riverhead, which was about 40 miles from where my husband's people lived on the island. And it was business property.
- [00:27:10.51] So on the weekends, when I'd be off from my job at the hospital, my husband was working as a head chef for the Salvation Army Headquarters, we would go down, get the land cleared off-- would help. My husband went in and got a small contractor. And we'd go down in the meantime. We finally got the place going, got it built.
- [00:27:32.81] And so say now, where are we going to live? And so we built the business and the home together. We had an apartment in the back added on as our living quarters on the building. And we wanted to know, what we're going to name the place? So we said, well, let's take three letters of our last name and three letters of my name. So we named the place Wildot Terrace.
- [00:28:00.19] INTERVIEWER: Wildot Terrace?
- [00:28:01.06] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Wildot Terrace. Yeah. And so we were very successful. The place had the utilities, and got the windows in. So we were able to go. So we decided to move from Brooklyn to Long Island.
- [00:28:17.26] So I said, well, what am I going to do about my state job? I just love being at the hospital. So I took a year-- I'm glad I didn't resign. I took a year's leave of absence. Because I was too far to drive back and forth at the hospital. And I went out.
- [00:28:35.18] And the business started picking up. We did very well. We had a catering business. We'd have weddings. My husband did the cooking. We'd have different groups meet there. And we had so much support from the white people. Different groups would come in and rent the place to birthday parties and things. And we did very well.
- [00:28:54.26] So then each month, I would receive a newsletter through from the Silver Service, because I was still connected with the state of New York. And that's when they were going at the Social Security. That's when they put the new rules in that if you paid extra into your pension fund, you could retire at 55.
- [00:29:13.60] So I said to my husband, I'd better go back. I said, because I don't know when the future-- that might be some assets. So a month before my year was up, I applied. But it was too far for me to drive from Riverhead, Long Island to Brooklyn. So I had to look up and find out, what was the nearest state hospital on Long Island.
- [00:29:38.32] And the nearest one was an hour to 45 minutes away, driving. That was the Central Islip State Hospital. And I still have some nieces that live there. So I went back and was reinstated as a Licensed Practical Nurse for the state of New York Department of Mental Hygiene.
- [00:30:02.59] And worked there 12 years. So I had the 10 years from Brooklyn State and the 12 years. So I have 22 years in as a Licensed Practical Nurse with New York state. And so at 55, I retired.
- [00:30:15.29] INTERVIEWER: And what year was that?
- [00:30:18.98] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: 1966.
- [00:30:20.34] INTERVIEWER: 1966.
- [00:30:21.14] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I retired from New York state at 55. And my husband's health began to fail. So in 1967, December the-- my husband passed. So I stayed at the place. I knew I wouldn't be able to run the place by myself. And nobody in the family at that time was able to help me. And we had a liquor license and all that.
- [00:30:44.70] So I closed up the front part of the building, just put Closed. But I continued staying. So I stayed there for five years. In the meantime, I used to come in on the train. It was New York Central. It wasn't Amtrak. I used to come on the train to Ypsilanti. And the visits with my sister and her family. And so my husband had visited here, too. And I said, maybe I'd like to live in Ypsilanti.
- [00:31:10.51] INTERVIEWER: Nice place.
- [00:31:11.38] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And I said, because maybe my husband had always liked it here. And so I said, I'd go back home and I'd think it over. I'm going to sell the place, and I'm going to move to Ypsilanti. Then I changed my mind. So I told my sister. She said, I'm not talking to you. Whatever you do, I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do.
- [00:31:29.74] So the last time I came, she took me all around different places, showed me the different apartments. And so I decided on an apartment-- Village Green on Packard Road.
- [00:31:40.19] INTERVIEWER: I know that place. [LAUGHS]
- [00:31:42.00] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And so I paid a deposit on it. And so I went back. I didn't put no sign up, the place was for sale. I put it in the real estate hands. In the meantime, there was a Jewish man that lived further up the island and was looking for a place to expand further out on the island.
- [00:32:01.69] And so within a year, I was able to sell the place. I brought in the auction company, put all those things, that business things up for sale. And I knew what size apartment I was going to come in, and I picked out just what I would need.
- [00:32:16.66] INTERVIEWER: For the apartment.
- [00:32:17.46] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: So April 1972, I arrived in Ypsilanti.
- [00:32:22.01] INTERVIEWER: OK. So you've been here--
- [00:32:24.43] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Since 1972. But it's so odd. Seems as though from the time I was born until I left New York state, I was always in New York state. Was born there, went to school there, had a business there, owned property there, married there, and had a pleasant life, and did what I wanted to. Had a chance to work in two hospitals. And I just loved the idea of meeting and talking to people.
- [00:32:53.05] Then when I came to Ypsilanti, I said, well, what I'll do, I'll take a test, and I'll transfer my license to Michigan. In 1973, I joined Brown Chapel, because I had came here when my brother-in-law passed. I came here for his funeral.
- [00:33:12.51] So I had been to Brown Chapel. I joined Brown Chapel. In Brown Chapel, I met so many nice women there. I got involved in Church Women United through that. Have you ever heard of Church--
- [00:33:25.33] INTERVIEWER: I've heard of it. I've not participated.
- [00:33:26.54] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: It's a national organization-- medical organization. And from that, I got involved in volunteer work. I joined Beyer Hospital auxiliary and worked as a volunteer there for 22 years until Beyer Hospital calls-- you've heard of Beyer?
- [00:33:45.41] INTERVIEWER: I have.
- [00:33:46.03] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. 22 years. I was the only African-American president they had ever had of the Auxiliary. From that, I went into the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. There's a lot of history in there, too, about some of the blacks.
- [00:34:02.14] INTERVIEWER: It is.
- [00:34:03.12] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: In Ypsilanti. You've been to the--
- [00:34:04.76] INTERVIEWER: I have. We actually--
- [00:34:05.62] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, I'm a docent there. I'm still a member.
- [00:34:07.88] INTERVIEWER: Oh, well, I'll have to come sometime when you're acting as docent.
- [00:34:10.56] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Huh?
- [00:34:11.18] INTERVIEWER: I'll have to come sometime when you're acting as a docent.
- [00:34:13.79] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, now I don't go around as much, because I don't walk as well.
- [00:34:16.75] INTERVIEWER: Oh, OK.
- [00:34:17.61] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: But I enjoyed that. I'm still a member. So then I got involved in Beyer Hospital. Ypsilanti Historical Museum. Ypsilanti Fish Shop, I'm a member there. The Red Cross. And I just got involved. Matter of fact, sometime I'd be more tired just volunteering than I was when I was working. But you know, I enjoyed it.
- [00:34:42.31] INTERVIEWER: Right. People often--
- [00:34:43.92] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. I really enjoyed it. And then as Beyer closed, the University of Michigan and the Turner Geriatric Clinic had the program, The Early Stages of Alzheimer's. And they wanted a site in Ypsilanti. And they decided to do it at Brown Chapel.
- [00:35:00.41] So I joined. Went in with that with the University of Michigan. I used to come over here and get my annual tests. And I worked with that for almost 10 years. And so now I live at a senior high-rise, and I'm involved in-- we're making up a cookbook. That's where I was yesterday. We're trying to get an original cookbook made up for the building and the community.
- [00:35:25.07] INTERVIEWER: That's where you were at when I called?
- [00:35:26.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:35:27.09] INTERVIEWER: OK. What I'm going to do now is I'm going to pause this for a little bit. We're going to take about a five-minute break.
- [00:35:32.15] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:35:32.69] INTERVIEWER: And then you can take some water. OK. So we're going to continue now with the interview. Part Three is Adult, Marriage, and Family Life. And you shared some really good information about that.
- [00:35:44.20] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:35:44.80] INTERVIEWER: But some other things I might ask you to go over again just for a second. And so tell me a little bit more about your married life. I know you said you met your husband when you met your sister's future husband. And then so--
- [00:36:00.48] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Then we married. And that's when I moved to Brooklyn. That when he always wanted-- like I said, he always wanted his own business. That's why we both tried to work and save our money.
- [00:36:12.18] And it seems as though that after we got into Brooklyn and got into our own apartment and he had a steady job and I had a steady job working for the state of New York, we seemed to progress. And that's when we decided to buy the property. And we had a very good life. We were never separated. We were all together. He was 11 years older than I.
- [00:36:34.62] And he would be doing some carpentry work and doing something. He said, Dorothy, where are you? Come and look. Some day you might want to do this. I hadn't learn how to drove. He taught me how to drive. And a lot of things that I use today to go through life was things that he taught me.
- [00:36:54.75] INTERVIEWER: All right. And you were married for how long?
- [00:36:57.37] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: We were married from August 9, 1930 until-- he passed away in December of 1967.
- [00:37:09.10] INTERVIEWER: OK. So then he actually never lived in Ypsilanti with you. You came here after.
- [00:37:16.41] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Oh, yes. He had passed. After he passed, I stayed at the place. After, I sold it five years. And then I moved to Ypsilanti. He visited here when he was living, but he never lived here. Because he had passed. I moved here after he passed. If he had lived, eventually, probably, we would have moved here anyway.
- [00:37:38.84] INTERVIEWER: All right. So you mentioned that he taught you how to drive.
- [00:37:41.89] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: He taught me how to drive. And I'd get angry and get out the car, because I wanted to get at the wheel. And I'd be sitting on the side, and I put my foot. He said, Dorothy, there's no need to put your foot there, there's no brake there. And I'd get out the car and stand. He'd go around and come back. He'd say, you ready to get back in? Then I'd get back in. But a lot of things that he taught me-- even taking care of my own personal business, like I still do. So we had a very pleasant life together. Happy life.
- [00:38:12.71] INTERVIEWER: That's really good.
- [00:38:13.57] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Never were separated. And we went back together. We were always together.
- [00:38:18.03] INTERVIEWER: All right. That's really a wonderful--
- [00:38:20.31] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And I was so happy that he was able-- what he wanted, to have his own and have his own business before he passed. He passed in the building that he helped build and had the business.
- [00:38:31.43] INTERVIEWER: All right. Do you still drive?
- [00:38:35.80] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I just gave up driving this year, although my license is good till 2016.
- [00:38:40.44] INTERVIEWER: OK. All right. So you just gave it up, huh?
- [00:38:43.17] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Because my nephews and them kept after me.
- [00:38:44.80] INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS]
- [00:38:45.98] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I'd tell them I'd go around the back road. And they said, yeah, other people do, too, somebody trying to get away from the police or something, I'd run in-- so I finally gave it up. Although, I'm just beginning to miss the car, because I'm so used to-- well, I think I'll do this. Then I say, well, I don't have the car. But I must say I've been blessed, because I have good nephews.
- [00:39:06.00] INTERVIEWER: Yeah. That is a blessing.
- [00:39:08.04] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's my backup over there.
- [00:39:09.22] INTERVIEWER: All right. Mel is your backup.
- [00:39:11.22] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:39:13.46] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: We spent a lot of long conversations together. Sometimes we get on the phone just him and I, and we'll talk almost two hours. And I always enjoy going over to his home. They always have something going on. And his wife is lovely in the summer. I've been blessed. I've been blessed.
- [00:39:31.29] INTERVIEWER: That is really wonderful, because sometimes people get older, and they don't have much family around. Or if they do, they don't have much interaction with them. So that's really great.
- [00:39:37.62] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, see, he has a brother, so I have another nephew. And then I have a great-grandson. And it's so odd. As I kind of slowed up-- because I was very active in the church, in Brown Chapel, too, different auxiliaries.
- [00:39:50.09] As I slowed up in the church, things I was doing, both of them joined Brown Chapel. My two nephews and then my great-great-nephew, he joined. So the two older nephews, Melvin and his brother, they sing in the choir. And my great-great-nephew plays the drum for the choir.
- [00:40:10.85] INTERVIEWER: Oh, wow, so the whole family's right there at Brown Chapel, huh?
- [00:40:14.68] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:40:14.85] INTERVIEWER: Oh, I love that. And Reverend Hatter has been there for quite a while, hasn't he?
- [00:40:17.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes, yes. I used to call the church my second home and Beyer Hospital my third home, because I spent so much time.
- [00:40:31.22] INTERVIEWER: Three homes.
- [00:40:32.59] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah.
- [00:40:33.08] INTERVIEWER: Right. So in terms of Brown Chapel, you've mentioned some things you were involved in. What was one of the primary things you were involved in?
- [00:40:39.19] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I was involved in the Senior Usher Board, the missionaries, and then the [INAUDIBLE] Workers. And then the most thing that I really enjoyed was the program they had there for the early stages of Alzheimer's, sponsored by our University of Michigan and the Turner Geriatric Clinic. And that just closed down about a couple of years ago.
- [00:41:02.77] INTERVIEWER: How long did that go?
- [00:41:04.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I was there with them from the beginning, for about 10 years.
- [00:41:07.34] INTERVIEWER: Long time.
- [00:41:08.11] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I was a volunteer there. Matter of fact, I was probably in my early 90s. Everybody tried to guess how old I was. And I was the one leading the exercise.
- [00:41:17.18] INTERVIEWER: Oh, very good. [LAUGHS]
- [00:41:21.16] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And matter of fact, the Turner Geriatric used to put a little-- I should have bought the newsletter. They had a write-up. They said I was a teacher and those sort of things. You know. So I enjoyed that. You know, because to me, volunteering is like a therapy.
- [00:41:41.27] INTERVIEWER: Right. I agree.
- [00:41:42.51] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Sometimes you go home, you might be tired, but you feel you've helped somebody. You know? Yeah. And I'll talk about that later when you give me a little extra room.
- [00:41:53.66] INTERVIEWER: All right. And so let me ask you this. So you said you led the exercises for that? What were the exercises? What were some of the exercises?
- [00:42:01.04] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: The exercises. We had two rooms at Brown Chapel. We had a room where we met when they'd bring in the families. Some of the families would bring them in. And we had about 10, 15 people all together. And then the church van would pick up some of them at their home, and they'd start at 10 o'clock. And I'd be there from 10 AM to 3 PM, Monday.
- [00:42:20.79] And when they first started, it was only once a week. And then it's expanded. They went to Monday and Wednesdays.
- [00:42:29.75] They'd have their coffee, and we'd have little refreshments for them when they first come in. And then about 10 o'clock, we'd go over into the Fellowship Hall. And that's when you'd do the exercises. We'd have the ball, and I'd do all different kind of exercises.
- [00:42:44.16] INTERVIEWER: Oh. So it was like exercises. Physical.
- [00:42:48.23] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Physical exercises.
- [00:42:49.47] INTERVIEWER: OK, I got you.
- [00:42:50.28] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Memory exercises. Have some of them sing a song if they could, something like that. So that would last about 45 to one hour. Then we'd go into lunch. So that was a wonderful program. I enjoyed it.
- [00:43:03.46] INTERVIEWER: Right. That's quite a long day, from 10 AM to 3 PM.
- [00:43:07.67] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: 10 AM to 3 PM. We'd be going from 10 AM to 3 PM. And then at 10 AM to 3 PM, at 3 o'clock, then we'd start collecting their-- getting their coats and getting them together.
- [00:43:20.36] Then the van, the ones that had to go in the van, the van would come and pick them up. And the ones who had the families pick them up, they'd pick them up. And that was every Monday and Wednesday. It was the one, the early stages of Alzheimer's.
- [00:43:33.39] And we took them on trips. We took them to the Historical Museum one time once. We took them down to the fire station in there in Ypsilanti. We took them to Kerrytown one time on the bus.
- [00:43:52.85] INTERVIEWER: Wonderful field trips to take them on.
- [00:43:54.68] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Field trips. Yes. So I enjoyed working with them.
- [00:43:58.37] INTERVIEWER: Right. And so when you said that some people would go on the bus and some people would be picked up by family--
- [00:44:03.92] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Some of the families would bring them.
- [00:44:06.01] INTERVIEWER: Right. Were you still driving at that time? Was somebody else picking you up at that time?
- [00:44:10.44] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No, I was driving. But we had two men that did the vans. They would have the church van. The church van would go and pick up the ones, some of them that didn't have transportation. And some of them, like some of the women would bring their husbands.
- [00:44:27.38] And then some of the women became volunteers yourself. They got involved. So it's a volunteer with that. But you had to go, come over to the U of M every year and get a physical to be sure that your health and everything was in good condition, that you could work with them.
- [00:44:42.65] INTERVIEWER: Right. That's a wonderful program for seniors.
- [00:44:44.63] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: So I enjoyed that. So that was still a carry-on of working with people in the hospital sort of an atmosphere.
- [00:44:51.34] INTERVIEWER: Right. But through the church and with the University of Michigan.
- [00:44:54.39] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: There's two things that always fascinated me-- was a hospital and a train.
- [00:44:58.73] INTERVIEWER: All right. The hospital I understand. Tell me a little bit about the train. Why did the train fascinate you?
- [00:45:04.33] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, like I told you. When we were little, when we were living in Mount Vernon, when, I guess, I was 8 and 9 or 10 years old, we were not too far-- and my brothers would take us down where we could see the train. I didn't know where the train was going. But the train would come through at the same time.
- [00:45:29.95] And we'd get down there. And the Pullman porters on the train coming through knew that when they got to a certain area, these little children would be standing there. So the Pullman porters would be out on the platform. And we'd be waving and running and waving. And I used to wonder, I wonder where that train go. I used to just wonder.
- [00:45:49.90] So not too far from there, they had a train depot where they'd keep some of the coaches just on the track. They weren't running. Just the coaches. And my brothers would take us over there to the train. And the coaches were over them. We'd go over there and sit on the seats, and sit and wave just like we were going somewhere.
- [00:46:07.39] INTERVIEWER: Going on a trip.
- [00:46:08.09] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah, like we were going somewhere. So I was always fascinated. So every time I went back-- I went back nearly every year to visit New York except the last few years. I always go by Amtrak.
- [00:46:21.29] INTERVIEWER: Oh, wow.
- [00:46:21.90] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: By train. When I was driving, if I was downtown in Depot Town and it was time for the train, I'd park my car. And I'd wait till that train. It still fascinates me.
- [00:46:35.72] INTERVIEWER: Fascinates you. Yeah.
- [00:46:36.83] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: So everywhere, I've been on trips. I've been on a three-week trip by Amtrak even. Went over to Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, all throughout west. And then another place that fascinated me was Alaska. I remember reading in the geography books. I said, just imagine all that ice and things like that.
- [00:47:00.01] And I had a chance to go to Alaska. Made a trip, went up through the inside passage. Went all the way to the capitol, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka. You know.
- [00:47:11.53] INTERVIEWER: And you went there. About what age were you when you went to Alaska?
- [00:47:16.17] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That was later in life. That's later after my husband passed. And I was living here. I was here then. And so I made these trips. Things that I always had on my mind I had a chance to do.
- [00:47:28.12] INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's a blessing.
- [00:47:28.88] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: But I always wish that my husband was there, because we always said we were going to do--
- [00:47:34.03] INTERVIEWER: Share it together.
- [00:47:34.79] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And then I'd always miss-- he'd go to the barbershop and he'd come back, he'd tell me this happened. He'd tell information about that and that, you know.
- [00:47:44.54] INTERVIEWER: All the talk that was going on at the barbershop, huh?
- [00:47:46.80] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. Then he went into the [INAUDIBLE] of the masonic lodge. And then I followed him into that also. So I'm still active in some of the things at the church.
- [00:48:01.56] INTERVIEWER: OK. Well, that's good. And just speaking of the train, I enjoy the train as well.
- [00:48:06.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I just love-- I just like the idea of sitting in there. Only thing now, the freight trains have the right of way. And when you go to New York now-- I used to go from Ann Arbor into Grand Central Station.
- [00:48:21.06] And so then Grand Central Station changed from taking the long-distance trains. And so now when you go into New York from Ann Arbor, you have to go on the bus to Toledo. And you pick up the Lake Shore Limited, and you go into Penn Station.
- [00:48:39.38] And so Penn Station is now combined with Madison Square Garden and the Pennsylvania Hotel. That's all one. And the short-distance trains coming through Grand Central. Although, Grand Central is one of the oldest historic buildings in New York City.
- [00:48:54.97] INTERVIEWER: I'm so impressed with your memory. You're calling these names and the stops. I'd probably be filling out paper trying to check it all out. This is so impressive. I'm going to continue with some things about your work and retirement.
- [00:49:06.43] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: OK, yes.
- [00:49:07.16] INTERVIEWER: But some stuff you've already told us. But one of the things I want to ask you is, what was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life? You worked at the hospital.
- [00:49:15.23] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I'd work in the hospital.
- [00:49:16.98] INTERVIEWER: And so you would start at what time? And what would you do during the day? And how would the day end?
- [00:49:22.59] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, when I worked on the day shift, I'd be there, at both places, at 7 o'clock. And usually, I was driving then. And then after that, the day would end.
- [00:49:40.66] If I needed something at home, I'd stop at the store and decide what I'm going to have for dinner. I'd stop at the store. At that time, they didn't have too many packaged things. If you're going to buy baloney or cheese, they'd have a loaf. They'd slice the baloney, sell it, half a pound or a pound.
- [00:50:00.02] Then I'd go home. Whatever I had to do at home. And we used to get the New York Times at that time. And then it was the Amsterdam News. That was the New York black paper. The Chicago Defender, a lot of those papers that they don't have today. And you'd read what was going on.
- [00:50:20.91] So my average day-- so I'd work. And I'd go to work, say, about 7 o'clock. I'd get off, say, around 3 PM or 4 PM. If I had to stop and buy anything at the store, they didn't have most supermarkets. Most of them were just general stores. You'd stop at the supermarket, stop at the butcher, or whatever. And then I'd go home. If I had something to do at home, I'd do it at home.
- [00:50:44.21] INTERVIEWER: OK. Very good. And you've probably shared some of this already, but what did you value most about what you did for a living?
- [00:50:54.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: You mean working?
- [00:50:56.36] INTERVIEWER: You working at the hospital, what did you value most about doing that?
- [00:51:01.20] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I valued being around the different people, meeting different people, different cultures, and different people. Talking to people, listening to them. You know. And some people's condition, I'd think about it, what if I was in that condition, you know.
- [00:51:16.61] INTERVIEWER: You'd put yourself in their shoes?
- [00:51:18.08] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And just by the grace of God, you know. Some people were younger than me, some were older. And some would say, you're doing good work. I wish I was able to do that. Just the idea of being around helping somebody, saying something nice to cheer them up or something like that. You know.
- [00:51:35.56] INTERVIEWER: All right. That's great. And like you said, that carried on into the works you did after that as well.
- [00:51:40.13] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Afterwards. So my whole life has been like that. In New York, what I was doing mostly, I was getting paid. Then I would have in Michigan-- I was doing the same thing as a volunteer. But I enjoyed it. And I still enjoyed it. Matter of fact, some things I've enjoyed better doing as a volunteer than I did even when I was working. And I've met so many people, I mean, of all nationalities.
- [00:52:05.24] INTERVIEWER: And that's a blessing.
- [00:52:06.25] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [00:52:06.72] INTERVIEWER: I think that really is. I enjoy that as well. OK. So I'm going to ask you this question under Work and Retirement. Then we're going to move into the next part. 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?
- [00:52:29.62] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, since things were a little different in the areas where I lived, there was not too many things to affect us.
- [00:52:43.07] INTERVIEWER: So what was going on in terms of politics or just that whole race relations?
- [00:52:50.01] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Race relations were-- I don't know. Different parts of the country were more different. And the African-Americans were going through more restrictions in some parts than they were in others. I remember when Adam Clayton Powell, who was the first congressmen that came from Harlem.
- [00:53:10.56] And then at that time, there used to be what they called soapbox orators. On Fridays and Saturday nights, we could go out in Harlem on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 125th Street on Alexandria. And they would have, like, soapboxes with oranges and things that used to come in.
- [00:53:30.98] And the different orators would stand there and talk and tell you about what was going on with the race. There was no riots, no crime or anything. So there were so many things going on. I think times like during Joe Louis's time, when Joe Louis would win a fight, people would stand out and go out in the street just celebrating. Streets would be full of people.
- [00:54:00.72] INTERVIEWER: They were so proud.
- [00:54:02.59] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes, yes. And there was no crime. Nobody got hurt, anything. Just celebrating. You know. And then while I was living on Long Island, during the time of when Martin Luther King first came on the scene, what was going on at that time.
- [00:54:26.82] But directly, nothing affected changes politically too much in the areas where I was going at that time. But the most effective time was during the time when Martin Luther King came on the scene.
- [00:54:47.94] INTERVIEWER: All right. OK. Did you ever have a chance to hear him speak?
- [00:54:53.03] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: No. Let me see. Later in life when I was on an Eastern Star convention, and it was at a hotel in New York-- I think it was Hotel Roosevelt. And Joe Louis was staying there. So I had a chance. He was in the lobby. We had a chance to shake his hand.
- [00:55:12.27] And another one that I met later on in Ann Arbor was Shirley Chisholm. Church Women United had her as a key speaker when they had their state assembly here in Ann Arbor at the Red Oak Church--
- [00:55:27.80] INTERVIEWER: Second Baptist Church.
- [00:55:29.01] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I mean Baptist Church on Red Oak. Yes. And she was the speaker. And I shook hands with her. And she was giving out pictures and autographs. And she didn't have any more pictures left, and she took my name and address, and she mailed me.
- [00:55:42.88] So I had a chance-- those two famous people-- to meet them. And I met Adam Clayton Powell before he became a congressman. He used to speak-- orator come out on the street.
- [00:55:55.17] INTERVIEWER: And stand and talk.
- [00:55:56.19] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah, talk. And his father was the pastor of the Methodist Church on 145th Street. And you ever heard of the Schomburg historical library?
- [00:56:09.09] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I have. I get mail from them, asking for donations every now and then.
- [00:56:13.86] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. That's 145th Street. I used to go in there and read and write things about, you know, history of the blacks and things like that.
- [00:56:21.86] INTERVIEWER: Oh, great. Right. Well, we have a lot of similar interests. So that's great.
- [00:56:26.88] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes.
- [00:56:27.62] INTERVIEWER: So I'm going to move into Part Five, which is Historical and Social Events. And then this is going to be sort of our last part. And I'll give you a chance to say any final remarks.
- [00:56:38.53] So we're going to talk a little bit now about living here in Ypsilanti. So tell me how it is for you to live in this community. You've shared some different things. But just being here and living here. Talk a little bit about Ypsilanti.
- [00:56:51.29] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Well, I love Ypsilanti. There's something about it. I just love it. And then by me volunteering, I had an opportunity to meet so many different people, people of different nationalities, and being a volunteer.
- [00:57:08.15] INTERVIEWER: And Brown Chapel.
- [00:57:09.53] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And Brown Chapel. The different organizations I belong in, the people I've met of different places I've had a chance to visit here in Ypsilanti. And been to so many of the churches by being in the Church Women United.
- [00:57:35.26] That's an ecumenical, so you have the Catholic Church, and the Lutheran Church, all the churches that are members of that Brown Chapel. And I don't know if Bethel was, but they had a chapter here in Ann Arbor, too, of--
- [00:57:48.33] INTERVIEWER: Women United. I've heard about that. It sounds really impressive.
- [00:57:51.40] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And that way, you meet people from different churches, different backgrounds, and everything. White and different people. White and black.
- [00:58:00.33] INTERVIEWER: OK. A diverse group.
- [00:58:02.06] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: A diverse group. So I just love living in Ypsilanti. And Ann Arbor. I just told my nephew, I said, Ann Arbor's a place you could just bring somebody, take them on a tour, and point out all these different buildings and structures.
- [00:58:17.57] INTERVIEWER: Right. That's great. All right.
- [00:58:21.40] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And I was going to say-- one more thing I must say.
- [00:58:24.10] INTERVIEWER: That's fine.
- [00:58:25.08] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: At the time I was coming up, the transportation wasn't segregated. In Mount Vernon, even in Harlem, you could ride on a trolley car with $0.05. You could sit anywhere. But I never saw an African-American conductor, but you could ride. You could ride on the train, local trains, and it wasn't discriminated.
- [00:58:51.17] INTERVIEWER: In New York.
- [00:58:52.17] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: The first time I experienced discrimination was my husband did take me to his home to Emporia, Virginia. And we went down on the New York Central. And when you hit some spots-- they call the Mason-Dixon line. Yeah. That's when it changed. You know.
- [00:59:08.26] And he took me across the Chesapeake Bay to show me how it was. And the boat, it was segregated. And then he took me to one place where they had the places where you drink water. And they had colored and white. But the one that was colored looked like a horse trough. It wasn't, you know.
- [00:59:27.65] So he said, Dorothy, you must remember, you're from the north. Be careful. When you say, he say, you might just go into any bathroom, see? And coming back. So that was the experience to let me see really when he would say that you couldn't drink at the same fountains in places like that.
- [00:59:45.79] And then another thing I think you asked, when someone used to come to visit you, like in New York, or blacks or something. Where did you take them? Most the time, if anybody came from out of town where we grew up, you'd have something at home.
- [01:00:01.10] INTERVIEWER: [INAUDIBLE].
- [01:00:03.48] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes.
- [01:00:04.18] INTERVIEWER: All right. So you would entertain them at home and not try to go out.
- [01:00:07.43] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: At home. But as you grew up and got into New York, you could go downtown. They had a restaurant at that time called Horn and Hardart's. They didn't have all the fast food restaurants, you see? And then the stores in Harlem on 125th Street where they had the Apollo-- you've heard of Apollo Theater?
- [01:00:26.76] INTERVIEWER: Yes, definitely.
- [01:00:27.55] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I saw Ella Fitzgerald when she-- Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Blanche Calloway, Cab Calloway's sister. She met there. Louis Armstrong-- not Louis Armstrong. Earl Fatha Hines, Jimmie Lunceford. They were all black musicians at that time. And Chick Webb. They all would come in there and play there. And they had all-black help.
- [01:00:56.12] When Macy's in New York started hiring black-- elevator operators, you had to be very fair-skinned. If you were dark-skinned, they only hired a very fair-skinned person. And you couldn't tell whether they were white. And even in some of the newspapers, they would advertise, Maid, negro maid wanted, fair skin. So those were some of the things I experienced.
- [01:01:23.08] INTERVIEWER: Some of the things.
- [01:01:24.03] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: But I never felt any uncomfortable, really, discrimination. It just happened, you know. But it was happening in other parts of the country.
- [01:01:34.67] INTERVIEWER: OK. So when thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:01:42.72] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I'm most proud of the work I did. I'm most proud of the people I have met of all nationalities. And I'm proud of the opportunity. The only thing I could have went further-- I think if mother-- [INAUDIBLE] went further in education.
- [01:02:02.35] But it was God's will for me to do what I did. And I was glad. And I look back over my life, and I said, well, you had a good life. So far. And to live all these years, 102 years.
- [01:02:19.92] INTERVIEWER: Oh, what a blessing. Yeah.
- [01:02:22.20] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Mm hm. And still be able to know my name when I wake up in the morning.
- [01:02:26.74] INTERVIEWER: And to tell us all the stuff you told us today.
- [01:02:28.97] [LAUGHTER]
- [01:02:31.70] INTERVIEWER: That is a blessing. All right. Let's see.
- [01:02:37.31] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: For the young people of today. And for the young people of the day, the first thing, the doors are open. The opportunity is there. Get your education no matter. Education. We need professionals. We need carpenters, trade. Think about going into your own business.
- [01:03:01.16] And do read your history. Take time away from the games, the computer, and read your history. Find out what your people, the African-Americans went through from slavery. And it will give you an idea. Well, if they could do it with the opposition they had, with all the opportunities you have in the surroundings, take advantage of your opportunity.
- [01:03:26.91] And don't look down on anyone, because just by the grace of God, if somebody has a misfortune, for the grace of God, it could be you.
- [01:03:34.36] INTERVIEWER: That's correct. Right.
- [01:03:35.58] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And don't say anything to anyone or do anything harmful toward-- you wouldn't want done. I always try to put myself in the place of the person I'm talking to.
- [01:03:46.51] INTERVIEWER: Right. So what you did was you answered the next question I was going to ask you. So you were ready. What advice would you give to the younger generations? So you just shared that, which is great. And so what I'm going to do now is move into this next question. And just give your thoughts and reflections about the first African-American president.
- [01:04:09.35] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I never thought-- matter of fact, my wildest dreams, I never thought that I would ever see-- I never thought about living this long. But I never thought that I would see an African-American family in the White House which the slaves helped to build. I never thought.
- [01:04:28.85] And then someone was trying to tell me recently that that little statute that's up on the top of the White House, that that's a slave statue. I'm not sure. I'll have to find that out.
- [01:04:41.90] INTERVIEWER: You'll have to do a little research on that, huh?
- [01:04:43.92] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yeah. But I think. And to receive-- at my 100th birthday, I received a picture and a congratulations from the first African-American president. I have his picture hanging in my living room. My nephew came up and put it up.
- [01:05:01.80] And where I live, they gave me 100th birthday party. And they sent my name in. And I received a beautiful letter from the first African-American president. So to live that long and to receive it.
- [01:05:13.23] INTERVIEWER: Oh, my god, what a wonderful--
- [01:05:14.33] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And I've received so many awards. I've received an award from the state of Michigan. It was presented by Ronnie Peterson, who was the commissioner of [INAUDIBLE]. I mean, by David Rutledge, who's a representative for the state. Then I received one from the Ypsi township. And I just received one not too long ago from the Red Hat Society.
- [01:05:37.71] INTERVIEWER: All right. That's wonderful. So you should have brought that picture from President Obama with you today. The letter and picture, you should have brought it. [LAUGHS]
- [01:05:46.22] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Oh.
- [01:05:46.99] INTERVIEWER: We'll get a picture of that another time.
- [01:05:48.68] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes, yes.
- [01:05:49.90] INTERVIEWER: And maybe before. OK. So any other thoughts about being able to see the first African-American president get, you know, elected?
- [01:05:59.21] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I just hope I'll be able to go to Washington DC. And just the idea to maybe be able to meet-- but just the idea of seeing that the family, the whole family of African-American, you know, it's something so much to be proud. And it should give the young people an idea of what you can be.
- [01:06:22.58] INTERVIEWER: Something to aspire to.
- [01:06:24.31] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. And when President Obama came along, the door wasn't as open as much as it is now, you know. He didn't come from a wealthy background, you know. And so it's just a wonderful thing. And we should be very proud and continue to move ahead. We kind of slowed up after the Civil Rights Movement. We should have kind of kept--
- [01:06:50.02] INTERVIEWER: Kept moving.
- [01:06:51.01] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Going. Yes. A nonviolent way.
- [01:06:53.58] INTERVIEWER: Right. Correct.
- [01:06:54.72] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: And I think we realized that we kind of slowed up. Another thing I must say, it's a wonderful thing to have President Obama, but we still have to do our part. He's one person. He's made it. He's set the example of what you can do.
- [01:07:12.52] And times have changed, you know. Because if we don't be careful, we'll have people from the other countries, from India, people coming in will fill these openings and jobs. They said now, there's jobs out there, but there's so many people that are not qualified. So the young people should work toward that. And those who are still young should go back to school and try to trade. Although, President Obama said he can't do everything as one person. But it should give us the incentive to do more.
- [01:07:46.20] And then I think, with integration, it's good. It's been good to a certain extent. But in a way, some of it's been harmful. Because things we used to do for ourselves-- like when the African-Americans had relatives in the South and a lot of them would like to go to visit, they couldn't stay at Howard Johnsons, they couldn't stay at a Holiday Inn. But if there was a little African-American hotel or rooming house, they could stay there.
- [01:08:16.40] INTERVIEWER: Correct.
- [01:08:17.34] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: But as times change and the African-Americans begin to get more finances and the doors begin to open more, like, they could go into the restaurants, they could sit wherever they want, they could do this. Then we kind of stopped doing for ourselves.
- [01:08:34.70] INTERVIEWER: Stop supporting the community.
- [01:08:36.30] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yes. We stopped kind of doing that. It's just like, if you're used to doing things for yourself and somebody else comes in and starts doing it for you, then you just sit back and say--
- [01:08:46.00] INTERVIEWER: And let them do it.
- [01:08:47.22] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Then you just end up being a consumer. You end up what they're doing. You know, I think sometimes you take-- I said I was going to say. You take Washtenaw. In the beginning, from Ypsilanti, Washtenaw Avenue, to Ann Arbor.
- [01:09:02.79] And you go along, and you look at all the restaurants and the business. And then you look at and see, is there anything there that represents me? Is anybody in there representing the Mexicans, the Chinese, the Italian restaurants, the Mexican restaurant? And who's sitting in there eating? We.
- [01:09:20.35] INTERVIEWER: African-American?
- [01:09:21.32] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: Yeah. So those are the things we should look at, you know. Keep progressing. And so now the doors are open. There's all kind of opportunities. But you've got to get the education, you know.
- [01:09:32.73] INTERVIEWER: Right. Education is key.
- [01:09:33.93] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I think the drugs has held back a lot, too, caused the things. Caused a lot of harm to us, too.
- [01:09:42.00] INTERVIEWER: OK. So what I'm going to do is, that was--
- [01:09:45.27] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: I guess I don't talk too much.
- [01:09:46.58] INTERVIEWER: No, you've done wonderfully well. What I'm going to do is I'm going to give you an opportunity for any closing thoughts or any special saying or special scripture you'd like to share with us as we wrap up the interview.
- [01:10:00.13] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: That's the scripture.
- [01:10:01.14] INTERVIEWER: Saying or scripture or last remarks. Closing remarks.
- [01:10:05.23] DOROTHY MAY WILSON: My last remarks is we must remember to treat others the way we wish to be treated. Remember that God helps them who helps themselves. God can't do it all. You make a step, he'll help you make the other step. I think there are great things out there for us, but we have to get out there to find them.
- [01:10:43.43] And when you help someone, don't always look for something in return, because some time in the future, you'll get a return that you don't even know why you get it. Something will come to you, and you'll say, well, I wonder why I got this. What did I do to receive this? But it's something that maybe you did for someone, see?
- [01:11:05.22] And don't look down on the people. You don't know what caused that person to be in that condition. So I always say one thing. Where God is willing, always try to help somebody. Never look down on anybody-- how they are dressed or what, because just for the grace of God, you could be in that condition.
- [01:11:29.43] Just change over. Like you were talking to them, they could have been talking to you. So I must say with God, all things are possible.
- [01:11:41.35] INTERVIEWER: OK. Thank you, Mrs. Wilson. And I wanted to tell you, once again, say thank you for doing it, and how much I have thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this. So thank you.
April 1, 2014
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Volunteers & Volunteering
New York State Department of Civil Service
Brooklyn State Hospital
Immigrants & Immigration
Central Islip State Hospital
Village Green Apartments
Church Women United of Ypsilanti
Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Beyer Hospital Auxilliary
Ypsilanti Historical Society
Ypsilanti Historical Museum
Turner Geriatric Clinic
Lake Shore Limited
New York Times
Order of the Eastern Star
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Horn & Hardart Automat
Red Hat Society
Second Baptist Church of Ann Arbor
Wilson Lumber Co
Abyssinian Baptist Church
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Dorothy May Wilson
Adam Clayton Powell
Martin Luther King Jr.