AACHM Oral History: James Anderson, Jr.
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 12:59pm
When: May 7, 2015
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James Anderson, Jr., was born on October 23, 1937 and lived on Miner Street where he attended Mack School. James built a career in real estate and recalls the few blocks in the Mack school area where African Americans could live at that time, and how housing has changed over the years, from segregation through today. He remembers the bond drives during WWII and some of the businesses in town. James also worked on behalf of the JCs to establish Washtenaw Community College and was a trustee for 19 years.
- [00:00:17.11] INTERVIEWER: So, good afternoon.
- [00:00:18.09] JAMES ANDERSON: Afternoon.
- [00:00:19.97] INTERVIEWER: First of all, I want to say thank you for agreeing to do this living oral history interview. This is phase three. We've done two other phases prior to this. And for the interview, we have actually-- we had five parts. And we're going to start with demographics and family history.
- [00:00:42.39] JAMES ANDERSON: OK.
- [00:00:43.61] INTERVIEWER: And so these questions may jog your memory, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. And we can go into more detail later in the interview. So please say and spell your name.
- [00:01:00.68] JAMES ANDERSON: James William Anderson Junior. Want me to spell it now, too?
- [00:01:07.25] INTERVIEWER: Yes, please.
- [00:01:09.57] JAMES ANDERSON: J-A-M-E-S W-I-L-L-I-A-M A-N-D-E-R-S-O-N J-R period.
- [00:01:18.99] INTERVIEWER: And what is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:01:22.37] JAMES ANDERSON: 10/23/37.
- [00:01:25.89] INTERVIEWER: And how would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:28.68] JAMES ANDERSON: African American.
- [00:01:31.53] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:35.99] JAMES ANDERSON: Protestant. We belonged to the AME Church, although my mother was raised Presbyterian.
- [00:01:44.56] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:48.61] JAMES ANDERSON: Through two years of college.
- [00:01:52.31] INTERVIEWER: What is your marital status?
- [00:01:54.16] JAMES ANDERSON: I'm 55 years married to the same person.
- [00:01:57.84] INTERVIEWER: We need to stop and clap.
- [00:02:00.48] JAMES ANDERSON: We've already clapped.
- [00:02:03.83] INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful. Congratulations.
- [00:02:04.76] JAMES ANDERSON: Thank you. We just finished that.
- [00:02:06.63] INTERVIEWER: You just finished your anniversary?
- [00:02:08.20] JAMES ANDERSON: It's on the 30th of May-- of April.
- [00:02:09.91] INTERVIEWER: Of April, OK. How many children do you have?
- [00:02:14.61] JAMES ANDERSON: We have three children through our marriage. And then my wife and I agreed to raise my sister's two children who were left through the death of their mother and father. So we raised them.
- [00:02:31.49] INTERVIEWER: So you actually have five.
- [00:02:33.10] JAMES ANDERSON: Yep.
- [00:02:34.40] INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful. How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:38.52] JAMES ANDERSON: There were five of us total. My sister had passed away, and then I have another sister and two brothers.
- [00:02:49.55] INTERVIEWER: Where do you fall in line?
- [00:02:51.30] JAMES ANDERSON: I'm number two.
- [00:02:52.49] INTERVIEWER: Number two. OK. So you're sort of a middle-- sort of a middle child.
- [00:02:56.10] JAMES ANDERSON: Kind of.
- [00:02:56.49] INTERVIEWER: Kind of. So am I. So are you still working full time, semi retired, or retired?
- [00:03:07.25] JAMES ANDERSON: Well, I'm trying to retire. But it's difficult. But I think I'm succeeding at it. Trying to push back a little bit and enjoy what's left of time, and enjoy the grandkids as they grow up. That's my status right now.
- [00:03:30.41] INTERVIEWER: OK. And how many grandchildren do you have?
- [00:03:32.77] JAMES ANDERSON: We have seven.
- [00:03:33.75] INTERVIEWER: Seven, OK. That's wonderful.
- [00:03:37.35] OK, now that completes part one. So we're going to part two, memories of childhood and youth. And so, this part of the interview is about your childhood and you. Even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please respond with memories for this part of your life. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:04:04.72] JAMES ANDERSON: It was probably, I think, pretty normal. At least I deemed it as being normal. Go to work-- my parents went to work, came home. We went to school, came home. There wasn't much exciting in terms of excitement as we know it today. You had to pretty much entertain yourself. We took some occasional vacations. But those were typically a revisitation of the roots of the family in South Carolina, which is where we came from.
- [00:04:42.73] INTERVIEWER: What sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:04:48.38] JAMES ANDERSON: My dad he hauled coal. He worked on the heating systems and so forth for Staebler and Son here in Ann Arbor. He later work for the public schools and maintenance. My mother was one of the best cooks in the city of Ann Arbor and she did a lot of catering. She worked at some of the fraternity and sorority houses. And she did have an interval where she obtained her beauticians license. And so she was a hairdresser and worked in a beauty parlor on the second floor Ann Street with Myrtle Whitten.
- [00:05:32.31] INTERVIEWER: I've heard quite a bit about Ann Street and that that's where a lot of black businesses were located.
- [00:05:38.03] JAMES ANDERSON: For the most part. And around the corner on Fourth Avenue as well.
- [00:05:42.81] INTERVIEWER: OK. What are some of the ones you recall, some of the businesses?
- [00:05:48.95] JAMES ANDERSON: Sanford McKinney had a cleaners, and he had a little restaurant. A little bar restaurant somebody else had, I am not remembering who owned that. But beauticians, barbers, food places, pool rooms. That type of business for the most part.
- [00:06:13.98] INTERVIEWER: So that was the black business district.
- [00:06:15.80] JAMES ANDERSON: Yes.
- [00:06:18.73] INTERVIEWER: OK, so what is your earliest memory as a child? Some of your earlier memories as a child? Things that you did?
- [00:06:28.61] JAMES ANDERSON: Well, nothing strikes me as being singularly the epicenter or the focal point of my childhood memories. I really can't say. Just interacting with the people in the neighborhood, and going to school, and going home. I really didn't have anything-- going to church was probably one of the things that was consistently there. Sunday school, and the interactions with the teachers there and so forth.
- [00:07:08.89] INTERVIEWER: So for church, for me it was like an all day thing. Was it an all day thing growing up where you go, kind of all day.
- [00:07:15.16] JAMES ANDERSON: After Sunday school was church, and then there was-- we didn't have a BYPU because we were not Baptist, but we went to the BYPU with the Baptist church around the corner. So, yeah, it was pretty much an all day adventure.
- [00:07:31.10] INTERVIEWER: That's what I remember, too. Which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:07:44.35] JAMES ANDERSON: Christmas, Easter. We really didn't celebrate like the 4th of July, the Labor Day, and that type of thing. Occasionally-- don't remember too many picnics, but occasionally we could cook out on the grill and so forth. Basically the traditional holidays were what we celebrated.
- [00:08:11.81] INTERVIEWER: So when you did your-- the Christmas celebration, was there any special traditions you did during that time?
- [00:08:21.28] JAMES ANDERSON: No, nothing really special. It became special I think when we were able to save a little bit of money, and buy presents, and exchange presents. But we were always anticipating what we were going to get, not unlike a lot of the other kids. But that was basically it. Nothing extraordinary.
- [00:08:43.49] INTERVIEWER: Was there any Christmas that you remember something you got that you really wanted?
- [00:08:49.83] JAMES ANDERSON: No, nothing that was-- nothing that comes to mind right now.
- [00:08:53.47] INTERVIEWER: OK. All right. So, did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school? Or in school even?
- [00:09:07.35] JAMES ANDERSON: I played football in high school, and intramural basketball. And I think that's basically-- well, intramural softball and so forth, too, but not at the varsity level. Not at an interscholastic level. Just football.
- [00:09:26.26] INTERVIEWER: OK. And how did you do as a football player?
- [00:09:30.19] JAMES ANDERSON: Well, if you leave it to my memory, I did a really, really good. But in actuality, I think that I was pretty average. And the stories got more-- they got better as I got older.
- [00:09:44.66] INTERVIEWER: As you tell them over again.
- [00:09:45.74] JAMES ANDERSON: As we told them over again, yeah.
- [00:09:50.46] INTERVIEWER: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
- [00:09:55.91] JAMES ANDERSON: Well I'm not sure if I know what school is today because I've been a long way away from it. Kids are certainly experiencing a whole lot more today than they did when we were coming up. We had traditional music, and band and orchestra, choir. We did those types of things. And we had all-school events, so forth, carnivals, and things to entertain ourselves as kids. But nothing extraordinary when I stop to recall.
- [00:10:35.00] INTERVIEWER: And so in terms of your schooling, I know I've heard about Jones School, et cetera. Where did you actually attend?
- [00:10:46.48] JAMES ANDERSON: Our family went to Mack School. And I came to learn that, as I became aware of what's going on in the town, there were only about maybe five, six, seven places in town where an African American family could buy a house. And my mother and dad, I learned in retrospect, actually bought the house we were raised in very early in their married life here in Ann Arbor. And so we owned the house on Miner Street.
- [00:11:21.48] And there're only about two blocks-- one block on Miner Street and a few blocks on Gott Street, where African American families could own. And they went to Mack School. So that's how we happened to be going to Mack School. And there weren't too many of us in Mack School.
- [00:11:44.93] INTERVIEWER: And so, when you talk about buying a home in that area, from what I understand now, that area has really changed in terms of people that are living there and buying property there.
- [00:11:55.92] JAMES ANDERSON: The whole city has changed. Because my career right now happens to be in real estate. And it's pretty well known that anybody can buy anything that they can afford right now. And have been able to do that for some time.
- [00:12:18.50] INTERVIEWER: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions while you were growing up?
- [00:12:26.57] JAMES ANDERSON: Well there were some, and I'm hard pressed to put my thinking cap on and come up with any of them, but we spent a fair amount of time, as I recall, in South Carolina whenever the family could return there.
- [00:12:40.61] And to this day even, I remember many of the things that my grandmother and grandfather used to say. And I couldn't spit any out right now, but they were quite profound. And it gets the attention of my kids and my grandkids. Wondering, where did you learn that? Well, my grandmother said it, and if she said it must've been true. And if you're amazed at it, it probably is true.
- [00:13:10.33] INTERVIEWER: You can't even think of a part of that what that was?
- [00:13:14.22] JAMES ANDERSON: Well there were so many things. And something had to do with virtually any topic that came up. I'll think of something. But they're really good, wise, no nonsense type sayings.
- [00:13:32.18] INTERVIEWER: I often think about some things my grandfather said. And we thought at the time, oh, Grandpa, that kind of thing. And now we look back on it and he was right on.
- [00:13:42.27] JAMES ANDERSON: He was right on.
- [00:13:42.90] INTERVIEWER: He was right on.
- [00:13:45.14] JAMES ANDERSON: Oh, one thing, as a matter of fact, as it relates to education, it was kind of interesting. I happened to have been able to serve on the board at the local community college for several years. And the trustees had a rotation that they were subject to for talking at our commencements. And I happen to have used a statement that I remember my grandmother saying as the theme of the talk that I made. And it was kind of a challenge to the students.
- [00:14:25.00] She said to us, when we thought we knew everything, she said, there are enough things in this world you don't know to make another world. Which was kind of a challenge to the recipients of the sage advice to keep learning. Keep learning, because there's a whole lot more to learn. So that was one of them.
- [00:14:50.24] And it seems that from time to time when I get into depth with my kids, there's an appropriate saying would come up. And that was one of them that I've never forgotten.
- [00:15:07.65] INTERVIEWER: OK, when thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? How did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:15:21.08] JAMES ANDERSON: Well I don't think they had the-- we were too young during the war to really analyze the effect on us. We knew we used to collect used kitchen fat, we used to collect newspapers. I was a Boy Scouts Cub Scouts, we used a lot of drives and a lot of things that we were asked to do, the country was asked to do. And we participated in those things. But I can't think of anything specific.
- [00:15:55.18] Rationing, I do remember a couple times I had a couple of uncles that were in the service and they were able to come home. And they had an allotment of candy and gum things that they were able to get that we were not able to get. And they would buy as things like that. Trivial things, but that was an effect. Nothing of any real consequence.
- [00:16:20.18] INTERVIEWER: Just the fact that you couldn't get a lot of candy or something during that time, that must have been a real treat when they showed up.
- [00:16:25.89] JAMES ANDERSON: Oh yeah. That was.
- [00:16:31.67] INTERVIEWER: So you lived during the era of segregation, can you speak about that?
- [00:16:38.04] JAMES ANDERSON: I think-- I don't know that I can recall as many things as maybe I could if I set my mind to it. Except that I think parents did everything they could to allow their kids to exist in as normal an environment as they possibly could without being affected by as many things. We didn't go out to eat a lot, so it didn't matter about the restaurants that wouldn't serve you. We didn't go in hotels a lot, because it wouldn't-- so we were not affected by those types of exclusions.
- [00:17:18.75] So I think our parents did everything they could to make our existence as normal an existence and upbringing as possible. And as we got older and start to experience on a first hand basis the things that we were not allowed to do, then we were able to deal with those things and not necessarily our home environment. Occasionally we might get some advice from parents or something, but we started experiencing things as we got to be teenagers and later teens and young adults.
- [00:17:55.13] INTERVIEWER: So what about during that era in terms of elementary school and high schools? You spoke about restaurants, anything there in terms of school that you recall?
- [00:18:07.80] JAMES ANDERSON: Nothing I don't think specific, because I think the environments within our schools were, I think, were pretty good. And one of the things that I enjoy, and some of my contemporaries, some of my friends of that era enjoy, are some of the reunions. And we're having a 60 year class reunion this year.
- [00:18:34.05] And there's interactions, and people recall a lot of things. It was not a sterile environment, per se, but then there were some interactions. But I think that we learn how to deal with it and to co-exist.
- [00:18:52.24] INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little bit more about the reunion in terms of the planning, and when that's going to happen, where that's going to take place.
- [00:18:58.37] JAMES ANDERSON: I'm not involved in it anymore. I think the first one or two we had I was involved in it. All it is, is people getting together and recalling old times and the stories get more and more exaggerated. And things get better than they really were.
- [00:19:18.76] But everybody just enjoys the recollection. Because there were some good friendships across racial lines. Because we did not have an abundance of African-American kids in our class. But everybody got together, and will get together, and did get together at our reunions and enjoy themselves.
- [00:19:45.00] INTERVIEWER: And you spoke earlier about Mack School and the fact that there's only a few African Americans because there's only a few living in that neighborhood. It was the case? That was the case?
- [00:19:55.06] JAMES ANDERSON: Uh huh.
- [00:19:55.69] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:19:59.45] JAMES ANDERSON: The reunions I'm talking about the high school though.
- [00:20:02.18] INTERVIEWER: Oh, the high school reunions?
- [00:20:03.03] JAMES ANDERSON: Yeah, those are high school reunions that I'm talking about.
- [00:20:08.22] INTERVIEWER: The last section here talks about accommodation for African-Americans, or blacks they refer here, during the era of segregation. So people came in town to visit, where did they stay?
- [00:20:25.27] JAMES ANDERSON: The interactions that we had, as I recall with our family, were just house to house. And there were not a lot of overnight accommodations. They would stay with the relatives if they were coming to visit for a while.
- [00:20:39.21] And there was always room. We always found room. If somebody's coming to visit you, we always found room. And when we went someplace else to visit, which was not that many places, we always were accommodated.
- [00:20:53.21] INTERVIEWER: Because there really weren't hotels for blacks during that time.
- [00:20:56.19] JAMES ANDERSON: Correct.
- [00:20:58.87] INTERVIEWER: OK, now we're going to move into part three, which is adulthood, marriage, and family life. This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life. From the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family, until all of your children left home, and you and your spouse retired. But you're not retired yet. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning several decades.
- [00:21:29.00] So after you finished high school, where did you live? And did you remain there? Or did you move around during your adult life?
- [00:21:39.40] JAMES ANDERSON: I guess I moved around. I tried to accommodate the education I was attempting to get. But I lived at home for probably one or two years total after I graduated from high school. The rest of it I was seeking independence and was finding it as best I could. And I was pretty much on my own. Pretty much. And I think it was probably more comfortable leaving and going back to visit.
- [00:22:18.96] And my mother had remarried, and my mother and dad had separated, so-- But we managed OK.
- [00:22:28.33] INTERVIEWER: Now do you find that children stay home longer now than they did then? Do they stay for more years after they finish high school?
- [00:22:38.14] JAMES ANDERSON: They stay home and return home now, as I know this is a consequence of the business that I'm in. Because people are looking for homes that can accommodate a growing-- the grown family and a still growing family, or one that will return. So they're coming back and having a hard time finding their independence.
- [00:23:05.78] INTERVIEWER: That's what I hear people say. I don't have children, but I hear people say they leave but they come back.
- [00:23:11.57] JAMES ANDERSON: My kids, I think they probably got the cue, we never told them-- we never told them to leave, but they wanted to leave. They wanted to assert themselves and become independent. And we encouraged it. And helped them wherever we could.
- [00:23:33.24] INTERVIEWER: Is there anything you'd like to share with us about married life and family life? We talked a little bit about your children just now, but anything you want to share about that at all?
- [00:23:45.35] JAMES ANDERSON: I'm not sure what there is to share. You don't become an expert. I don't know if you ever become an expert at it. But accommodation. I think women are probably holding their ground as much or more now than they were then. And our family life, both parties are participating in the governance so to speak. And you learn to accommodate.
- [00:24:16.35] And the kids, we watched the kids and we learned from them, they learned from us, and it's been a good sharing experience.
- [00:24:26.23] INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned earlier that it's been 55 years for you and your wife, Delores.
- [00:24:32.82] JAMES ANDERSON: Correct. Delores, yeah.
- [00:24:35.17] INTERVIEWER: That's great. Anything else you want to share in that section at all?
- [00:24:40.64] JAMES ANDERSON: No. It's been good. It's been a learning experience and we're not through learning. But it's been a good experience.
- [00:24:54.76] INTERVIEWER: So you said you think I missed something right here. What did you and your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still home? We talked earlier about when you were a child, and what you do with your parents. But what are some things that you did together with your kids while they were still at home. And what were your personal favorite things to do for fun?
- [00:25:21.99] JAMES ANDERSON: Oh wow. I did a lot of work. I don't know that it was fun, but I enjoyed the work that I was doing. Doing things with the kids, everybody seemed they were focused on some things that they needed to accomplish and things they needed to do. Just supporting them and what they were doing. They were involved in music, and sports, and so forth. Mostly in music and the like and supporting them, going and encouraging them. I enjoyed doing that.
- [00:25:52.20] We'd take some occasional vacations, but not the elaborate-- I'm trying to remember where we visited my grandparents, the same parents-- grandparents that my folks had taken us to see. Visited them a little bit.
- [00:26:09.14] INTERVIEWER: Was that South Carolina?
- [00:26:10.14] JAMES ANDERSON: In South Carolina. Everybody seemed-- and then, as they grew, I think they got jobs and they worked summers, and they were learning independence. And never discouraged that.
- [00:26:26.58] INTERVIEWER: So when you say music, was it singing? Or was it playing instruments?
- [00:26:33.72] JAMES ANDERSON: It was piano, and violin in one case, and it was instrumental music for the most part, I think. They did a little of both.
- [00:26:52.62] INTERVIEWER: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practiced that differed from your childhood traditions?
- [00:27:01.77] JAMES ANDERSON: Boy, I'd have to give that some time. I think that you end up doing the things that you're accustomed to doing. And I'm not a great experimenter in going in different directions.
- [00:27:19.78] But we have, as the kids have grown, my wife and I have taken-- we've travelled a little bit. Not enough to suit her, but we've traveled a little bit and done things. And we've just enjoyed watching them grow and become parents. And spending a little time with the grandkids.
- [00:27:43.93] INTERVIEWER: And so-- now tell me again, you have how many grandchildren?
- [00:27:47.24] JAMES ANDERSON: Seven.
- [00:27:47.89] INTERVIEWER: Seven? As parents-- as grandparents, do you do a lot in terms of keeping them?
- [00:27:58.24] JAMES ANDERSON: No. We've had some good interactions. As they get older, they become a little more independent. And we acknowledge that they have parents. That's their first line, and whatever can be done to accommodate the wishes of their parents. And then we can participate with them, go see them, have them come see us or spend time with us. But, for the most part, no.
- [00:28:33.19] INTERVIEWER: OK, so that concludes part three, now we are going to go to part four. And that has to do work and retirement. And so you haven't really retired, so we'll take a closer look at--
- [00:28:42.86] JAMES ANDERSON: I'm trying. I'm trying. But I have a reasonable amount of experience at what I'm doing and developed a customer client base that is asking me from time to time to do things, and I try to accommodate. But it's becoming easier to retire now. And I'm learning, I think I'm learning how to do it.
- [00:29:08.85] INTERVIEWER: So that leads us right into what was your main, or what is your main field of employment? How did you get-- how did you first get started with this job? And what got you interested? So you could really elaborate on the business.
- [00:29:23.34] JAMES ANDERSON: I was initially in retailing. And I worked in, for several years, in retail, photographic equipment and supplies and the like. And then I was-- the company was sold that I was working with. And then a person in the real estate brokerage recruited me. And it was compatible with me and how I wanted to operate. A lot of independence. And I did, and developed a good following.
- [00:29:57.82] And later on, when the major company was dissolved-- and it was probably dissolution, some of it was dissolution, but the other one was he wanted to become independent of me and I want to become independent of him. I started my own company. So I did that. And the evolutions were good, and natural, and comfortable.
- [00:30:25.45] INTERVIEWER: Do you want to share the name of your company?
- [00:30:27.40] JAMES ANDERSON: The Anderson Associates? That company? But it's no longer-- I'm in the process of dissolving that, per se. The name will be there, but I don't have any plans of growing it again.
- [00:30:42.86] INTERVIEWER: And so you've been doing that for approximately how many years?
- [00:30:47.32] JAMES ANDERSON: I've been in the real estate business for 37 years. And I've had-- I used to supervise a company that had over 100 agents. And then when I went out on my own, we grew it to about 35. Before it started to go the direction we're going in right now. So it's been a learning experience, satisfying, challenging. And I think we've done OK.
- [00:31:22.41] INTERVIEWER: So what was a typical day like? What is a typical day like at your company for you?
- [00:31:31.48] JAMES ANDERSON: There was nothing typical. Everything was different. It's challenging because people who wanted to succeed, and your agents wanted to succeed, they needed to succeed, needed guidance and direction. And they always needed something a little different. So you accommodate their needs and their challenges, and their situations, because every transaction was different. And so they needed help, they got help. And your broker was the resource.
- [00:32:10.23] INTERVIEWER: And the market certainly has turned around this past year or so.
- [00:32:13.97] JAMES ANDERSON: It's one of the many cycles that it's been through. We've seen this before.
- [00:32:23.99] INTERVIEWER: So what is the biggest difference in your field of employment from the time you started until now? What are some of the differences?
- [00:32:32.14] JAMES ANDERSON: Well, I think the denomination, the prices of the product, is certainly different. People are cautious about it. I think there are more government regulations, and restrictions, and requirements for buying and selling real estate. So you have to comply with all of those things. You have to be very cautious about things. So, not that people were sloppy about it before, but to a greater degree now.
- [00:33:05.60] INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned earlier about people, because of the business you're in, people are buying all over the area. And I know when we talked to other individuals, like I said, at one period, during a certain period, African Americans only stayed in that Ann Street, that area, over by Zingerman's.
- [00:33:27.65] JAMES ANDERSON: There were a few I found out, kind of by accident, where people were directed, or African Americans were directed. Right after Delores and I were married I recall, and I've told this story many, many times, that there was a house that we saw-- because we were renting-- there was a house that we saw that we thought we wanted to buy and were denied the opportunity to buy it.
- [00:33:57.52] I could have made-- I could have fought it more and more, but I chose to just do a run on it and found something else, and found something else. And now I'm glad that was the case. And things worked out all right.
- [00:34:17.60] INTERVIEWER: And now, just to follow up on that, that area that's by Treasure Mart, there's some-- I call them brownstones-- right down in there. And that was an area also for African Americans down from Treasure Mart?
- [00:34:31.13] JAMES ANDERSON: Uh huh, my dad lived over there on Fifth Avenue. Yeah, he lived in there. And right now, that area is probably some of the most expensive real estate in the city of Ann Arbor right now. All of that North Central area, all around the farmer's market, and where they've made condominiums or apartments out of our old Bethel Church.
- [00:34:55.24] INTERVIEWER: Somebody else talked about that. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that? Did they go in and just do X amount of units? Because I've not been in there to see it.
- [00:35:01.84] JAMES ANDERSON: I haven't been in it either. I watched it as they were doing some things. And people just desire living in the inner city right now. The word inner city in Ann Arbor doesn't mean the same-- doesn't have the same connotation that it had inner city 20, 30 years ago.
- [00:35:23.46] But people enjoy downtown. They enjoy walking. They just enjoy the interactions of a downtown. And Ann Arbor has done a particularly good job, I think, in developing its downtown. I think they've gone to the extreme in some instances, but that's the difference there.
- [00:35:52.18] And the land value is there, and the renovation value. Some people will tear them down and build them up, and others will just renovate. People like-- everything old is not bad. Thank goodness.
- [00:36:10.01] INTERVIEWER: I agree. Now I know that we interviewed Mrs. Seeley, but she still lives in that area.
- [00:36:16.45] JAMES ANDERSON: Right on the corner of Beakes and Fourth Avenue. Johnnie Mae Seeley.
- [00:36:21.14] INTERVIEWER: Right, right. So I'm just curious, you might not know in terms of if people are interested in where she's located?
- [00:36:30.14] JAMES ANDERSON: I would guess that they were and I don't know. I've speculated that somebody probably has their eye on it already, and maybe even have a transact-- they might even have the transaction already written. It's hard to know a future value, and future transaction, or something like that. But it's very, very desirable. And people have done a wonderful job of redeveloping the area.
- [00:37:01.93] INTERVIEWER: Well, she was part of phase one moving into that first phase one of these interviews.
- [00:37:06.90] JAMES ANDERSON: My uncle used to live in her house, one of my uncles.
- [00:37:13.49] INTERVIEWER: She's always been such a community person, and welcomed people in when they come in town. In meals or whatever, she and Mr. Seeley. That's great.
- [00:37:24.63] What do you value most about what you are doing for a living and why?
- [00:37:30.31] JAMES ANDERSON: What do I value most?
- [00:37:32.32] INTERVIEWER: Yes.
- [00:37:34.97] JAMES ANDERSON: I've never categorized it. Independence, abilities to move and to do, and making my own decisions is pretty valuable.
- [00:37:50.92] INTERVIEWER: I have a nephew that's gone into his own business, and that's what he loves about it. How did things change when all your children left home? Did anything change?
- [00:38:09.46] JAMES ANDERSON: I think we looked for meaningful ways to fill the time and space without smothering the kids. But finding ways to help them in the system. We've always tried to do that. So I really haven't quantified those things in terms of how they've changed. We try to stay out of their way, try to watch them grow, help them, advise them. Sometimes whether they want it or not. But they do a pretty fair job. They do a great job, as a matter of fact.
- [00:38:44.49] INTERVIEWER: And I see them and I think so, too.
- [00:38:46.41] JAMES ANDERSON: I think they're some neat kids.
- [00:38:52.66] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I would agree. OK, so during your working life, which is now, what important historical events were taking place? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:39:11.77] JAMES ANDERSON: The whole integration, segregation, busting out, that's taken place. And then the other phases of it. To watch the country grow, and watch things grow and expand. I happen to have been-- I took my son and grandson to Washington, DC for the groundbreaking of the Martin Luther King memorial.
- [00:39:40.56] And I wanted to do that, because I knew that was on the epicenter-- that was a pivotal point and it signified some things that-- a monument that will be there forever hopefully. And I said this is the beginning of a new phase, it's symbolic of it. And we had a good time just the three of us. And I watch what's going on now, and I'm watching how things are developing there. That's one thing that's kind of symbolic, and changes taking place everywhere.
- [00:40:19.10] And fortunately we-- unfortunately, we're not able to see them all take place. But this was one that was specifically close watching that happen.
- [00:40:34.31] INTERVIEWER: And so that was really three generations of you that went?
- [00:40:38.11] JAMES ANDERSON: Yep. And things that have taken place since then, as a matter of fact, I just got a solicitous letter to donate some more money to the memorial, for the Martin Luther King memorial. And it won't be much, but it'll be something. Because that has to be sustained.
- [00:41:00.14] And I have two granddaughters that live on the east coast, and they spent time in DC and watch things. We talk to them about that from time to time, too. But they're busy doing other things now.
- [00:41:14.65] INTERVIEWER: Right. So since that visit, have you been back?
- [00:41:20.32] JAMES ANDERSON: No, I've not been back. Oh, yes, I have been back. I've seen where it is, but it was-- they were at the beginning. They were at one of the phases of development of the memorial. And it's come a long ways. It's basically complete, almost completed now.
- [00:41:40.93] INTERVIEWER: Doctor Lonnie Bunch was here and he's heading up the whole process to get an African American museum there.
- [00:41:52.66] JAMES ANDERSON: In Smithsonian. It's a part of the Smithsonian. I'm on their mailing list.
- [00:41:59.58] INTERVIEWER: Mailing list as well.
- [00:42:01.27] JAMES ANDERSON: Yeah. And hopefully there'll be some success, because there's a rich history that's existing that people need to know about.
- [00:42:12.35] INTERVIEWER: And they're going to be a national African American museum. When he came and he spoke, and I had a chance to go and hear him. And then to share-- those of us that were there had a chance to share what we're doing around history in our own area, including there's people there from Charles H Wright, myself, and people from the University. So it was very good. Very good.
- [00:42:37.92] OK. So we're going to move into part five, which is the last part, and it's historical and social events. And so tell me how it has been for you to live in this community? Because you've been here all or most of your life?
- [00:42:52.25] JAMES ANDERSON: All.
- [00:42:52.90] INTERVIEWER: All your life. OK.
- [00:42:58.43] JAMES ANDERSON: My parents came here in 1930-- late '36, early '37. And we've been here-- I've been here ever since. The family's been here. Although my brothers and sisters have moved in different directions. It's comfortable. And I don't think I make too many demands on it. And if I do, it ought to give them up, because I've paid my dues. So it's comfortable.
- [00:43:37.49] INTERVIEWER: So that's one of the things that we've been looking for, is people that have been-- to do this living oral history project, is people who have been here all or most of their lives. So you certainly--
- [00:43:47.68] JAMES ANDERSON: Are qualified.
- [00:43:48.39] INTERVIEWER: You are qualified, certainly. When thinking back on your entire life, what important social historical events had the greatest impact?
- [00:44:04.78] JAMES ANDERSON: I'd have to give it some thought. I really don't know. I don't know if any one has a greatest impact. I think there are a lot of things when you look at them in combination and they've all combined to have significant-- give significance to your life and the life that you're going to-- that you bring your children up in to.
- [00:44:37.82] I really don't know what is more significant than others. I can't put a number one, or number two, or number three to categorize them.
- [00:44:50.53] INTERVIEWER: Well if you think about it for me in the interview and we can come back to that. When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [00:45:06.41] JAMES ANDERSON: Funny you should ask that, because not long ago I just played a game with myself and just kind of rated some things that I've accomplished and I've done. Probably my family is number one. Because my wife used to live here before she moved away and came back and we were married and lived and stayed here. Her stepfather had been the minister at our church.
- [00:45:37.50] INTERVIEWER: What church was that?
- [00:45:38.46] JAMES ANDERSON: Bethel.
- [00:45:40.32] INTERVIEWER: And what was his name?
- [00:45:41.38] JAMES ANDERSON: Reverend Wright. And so that was one thing. And then I had the opportunity during Reverend Woods' tenure as minister to be the chair of the building committee. So I actually interacted with the church and the builder and chaired the building committee for Bethel Church. And that was significant.
- [00:46:11.55] When I was a JC I did some work on behalf of the JCs to establish the community college.
- [00:46:23.49] INTERVIEWER: Washtenaw Community College?
- [00:46:24.64] JAMES ANDERSON: Washtenaw Community College. And later on I spent 19 years as a trustee.
- [00:46:31.78] INTERVIEWER: At WCC?
- [00:46:32.53] JAMES ANDERSON: At WCC, and actually chaired the board for a couple of years while I was there, too. That was significant.
- [00:46:41.17] INTERVIEWER: I would agree.
- [00:46:42.89] JAMES ANDERSON: That was significant. And so there have been a few things that are comfortable and provide good reflection.
- [00:46:56.99] INTERVIEWER: Now I want to go back for a minute to the building committee for Bethel. And so was that to build the location where we're at-- where they're located now? Or what was that?
- [00:47:08.57] JAMES ANDERSON: The trustees and the folk at Bethel had already purchased that block.
- [00:47:16.80] INTERVIEWER: The whole block?
- [00:47:17.91] JAMES ANDERSON: That whole block. That was already part of the acquisitions. It was in the inventory. So yeah. That was already existing. And we have a groundbreaking picture that my son and Sylvia Bynum, and Reverend Woods, and others, and myself, and the church members were there. And that's pretty nostalgic.
- [00:47:40.74] INTERVIEWER: Right. We might want to use that at some point, or get a copy of it and use it.
- [00:47:46.11] JAMES ANDERSON: It's there. I think it's somewhere in our church annals and church archives, too. Should be there. And Reverend Parks had started the design with an architectural firm called Cuthbert and Cuthbert. And I ended up working with Mr. Cuthbert's son. Because he'd actually grown, and we developed and refined the plans and changed them and it was done.
- [00:48:15.78] INTERVIEWER: So you mentioned a whole block. So they eventually sold off part of the block?
- [00:48:22.01] JAMES ANDERSON: No. From one corner to the next, from Traver to Peach Street or I think Pear. That's a whole block.
- [00:48:30.70] INTERVIEWER: That's the whole block.
- [00:48:31.49] JAMES ANDERSON: Yeah. They had purchased that block and it was sitting there. And it was put to good use.
- [00:48:43.43] INTERVIEWER: Right. As I do these interviews I'm learning a lot of stuff. So that's really great. And speaking of Reverent Woods, it was then that I became a member. Reverend Woods was the pastor at that time.
- [00:48:58.08] JAMES ANDERSON: He was my favorite.
- [00:48:59.47] INTERVIEWER: He has been my favorite, too. You can just feel that he was a spiritual, very spiritual person.
- [00:49:07.64] JAMES ANDERSON: Very down to earth. Very realistic.
- [00:49:15.62] INTERVIEWER: OK. What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now.
- [00:49:24.53] JAMES ANDERSON: I don't know that I can name any one thing that's changed the most. I think there's a little more comfort, social comfort, academic comfort. Some things have probably gone a cycle and started changing back, taking steps backwards. But I think that-- I can't think of anything that's more so. A lot of things have improved significantly. More opportunities.
- [00:49:58.72] INTERVIEWER: I was going to say, what has improved? More opportunities?
- [00:50:01.24] JAMES ANDERSON: Opportunities, education, access to good education.
- [00:50:05.80] INTERVIEWER: OK. What advice would you give the younger generation?
- [00:50:12.43] JAMES ANDERSON: They don't want my advice.
- [00:50:15.39] INTERVIEWER: If you could give it to them anyway.
- [00:50:17.78] JAMES ANDERSON: Well, let's put it this way. They're going to get it. My generat-- my kids they get it. And they are accommodating, and they patronize me a little bit. And they listen, but I don't know that I have a lot of-- I'd have to go back to my grandmother's. Some of her sayings is they're things you don't know still-- you think you know-- to make another world because that's the world that they're growing up in.
- [00:50:53.24] INTERVIEWER: And so just your thoughts of anything on-- first of all, did you think you'd ever live to see an African American president in the White House?
- [00:51:03.93] JAMES ANDERSON: I never thought-- I guess I never thought about that. I'm happy that I did live to see it, that we've lived to see it. I think that people, when they deal with it, have realized that it's not so bad. That there's intelligence all around us everywhere. And people have abilities that can be put to work and kind of positively affect a universe and the world.
- [00:51:38.01] INTERVIEWER: So that was the last question. And I'm going to give you an opportunity to have any final thoughts, comments, or some quote or saying you'd like to end with.
- [00:51:54.05] JAMES ANDERSON: I don't know that I have anything that's so profound that hasn't been woven through here already. I can't think of-- I can't think of anything that I need to-- we have to keep on keeping on. Keep on keeping on. Because we're just the beginning. There's still a whole lot more to accomplish, and to learn, and to do, and people to inspire, and education to be gained. That's it.
- [00:52:27.57] INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much for taking the time out of your schedule to do this living oral history project. We certainly appreciate it. So on behalf of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum, I would like to say, thank you.
- [00:52:40.08] JAMES ANDERSON: You're welcome.
May 7, 2015
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Staebler & Sons
Christian Mack School
Ann Arbor Housing
Real Estate Brokers
Washtenaw Community College
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
Cuthbert and Cuthbert
Ann Street Black Business District
Spear & Associates
Black American Workers
Black American Businesses
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
James William Anderson Jr
Johnnie Mae (Jackson) Seeley
Lonnie G. Bunch III
Rev. John W. Wright
John A. Woods
Sylvia Blake Bynum
Lyman S. Parks