AACHM Oral History: Fred Adams
Thu, 12/01/2016 - 3:01pm
When: November 11, 2016 at Downtown Library
Please take a moment to take our Living Oral History Survey and let us know what you learned.
Fred Adams was born in 1934 and grew up in Ann Arbor. He recalls summers playing in the Huron River, youth activities with the Dunbar Center and Jones School, his work as a paperboy, and some of the black neighborhoods and businesses in the Ann St. area. Mr. Adams worked for Johnson Controls for 41 years and owned his own business as an Industrial Manager.
- [00:00:14.80] INTERVIEWER: OK, we're getting ready to start this living oral history interview. The first part will be demographics and family history. I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions. These questions may jog your memory, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can go into more detail later in the interview. Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:43.36] FRED ADAMS: Fred Adams. F-R-E-D A-D-A-M-S.
- [00:00:48.87] INTERVIEWER: And so before we continue, I just want to say thank you, Fred, for agreeing to be part of this living oral history project. What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:00:59.88] FRED ADAMS: February 16th, 1934.
- [00:01:04.50] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:07.74] FRED ADAMS: African-American.
- [00:01:10.05] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:13.54] FRED ADAMS: None, agnostic.
- [00:01:16.74] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:20.93] FRED ADAMS: Three years of university.
- [00:01:24.66] INTERVIEWER: Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:01:32.25] FRED ADAMS: Various courses at community colleges, Washtenaw in particular.
- [00:01:39.34] INTERVIEWER: What is your marital status?
- [00:01:43.63] FRED ADAMS: Together with a lady.
- [00:01:45.76] INTERVIEWER: OK, how many children do you have?
- [00:01:48.99] FRED ADAMS: Two.
- [00:01:51.04] INTERVIEWER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:01:52.69] FRED ADAMS: None.
- [00:01:54.25] INTERVIEWER: You're an only child?
- [00:01:54.99] FRED ADAMS: Only child.
- [00:01:56.43] INTERVIEWER: Wow, OK. What was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:03.61] FRED ADAMS: Management-- industrial manager.
- [00:02:10.00] INTERVIEWER: At what age did you retire?
- [00:02:19.14] FRED ADAMS: 80-- 70-- Oh, God. I retired 10 years ago. I'm 82-- so 72.
- [00:02:26.64] INTERVIEWER: OK, that's fine. All right, now I'm going to move into part two-- memories of childhood and youth. This part of the interview is about your childhood and youth, and once again, we're going to focus just on that part for right now. So what was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:02:53.34] FRED ADAMS: Together, kept a good eye on me, raised primarily by my mother and my grandmother. My father was around.
- [00:03:03.90] INTERVIEWER: OK, so you were raised here in Ann Arbor?
- [00:03:08.70] FRED ADAMS: Born and raised in Ann Arbor.
- [00:03:09.91] INTERVIEWER: OK, so what sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:03:18.18] FRED ADAMS: My mother was an elevator operator for Ann Arbor Trust, and she did some waitressing additionally. My father worked also as a maintenance handyman for the Ann Arbor Trust Company and additional as a bartender at The Derby Bar.
- [00:03:35.94] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of your mother, I know that was something that people did years ago-- the elevator operator. We interviewed another person that also-- that was her occupation, so what are some of your memories about that? Do you have any?
- [00:03:50.94] FRED ADAMS: Oh, riding up and down with her, actually operating the elevator-- having fun with it.
- [00:03:58.26] INTERVIEWER: And so what store was that?
- [00:04:01.05] FRED ADAMS: The Ann Arbor Trust building on the corner of Main Street and Huron.
- [00:04:10.01] INTERVIEWER: What are some of your earliest childhood memories?
- [00:04:15.61] FRED ADAMS: I have many of those.
- [00:04:17.19] INTERVIEWER: Start sharing some of those.
- [00:04:20.96] FRED ADAMS: Oh, memories of school, and playing, and the people I associated with in school, memories of the Dunbar Center, for example, where I spent a lot of time in the Boy Scouts there, and playing ping pong, playing pool, and associating people. Did a little boxing there. It was a good place to go after work, after school to keep you out of mischief. Did that until I was in high school when I did a lot of participation in athletics after school. So I was in the Boy Scouts until I was probably 16.
- [00:05:02.30] INTERVIEWER: So what was the most-- anything that you did or remember about the Boy Scouts?
- [00:05:08.86] FRED ADAMS: Oh, a trip to Valley Forge when I was probably 14, 15 years old-- train trip to a National Jamboree there.
- [00:05:19.35] INTERVIEWER: Now, talk to me a bit more about the Dunbar Center. I've interviewed several people, and people that grew up here all talked about the Dunbar Center, so what are some thoughts that come to mind?
- [00:05:31.42] FRED ADAMS: Well, it was a place where as a kid, you could go and associate with other kids, and like I say, get off the street, stay out of mischief. They had activities there. They had the Boys Scouts there. They did some musical performances there. They were generally very, very active in the black community. It was a place that was a gathering place for the black community in Ann Arbor.
- [00:06:01.06] INTERVIEWER: And was that one of the few places that you could gather as blacks?
- [00:06:06.14] FRED ADAMS: Other that churches, I guess. I suppose if somebody wanted to rent some place, we could have gathered, but that was essentially the main gathering place.
- [00:06:18.72] INTERVIEWER: And that was located where?
- [00:06:20.65] FRED ADAMS: On the corner of Kingsley and Fourth Ave.
- [00:06:25.41] INTERVIEWER: OK, were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:06:35.49] FRED ADAMS: Well, mostly just the holidays, and the Christmas Thanksgiving were always big days for us. And that was pretty much it. No special events, no family gatherings, or anything along that line.
- [00:06:48.53] INTERVIEWER: So what made the Christmas holidays so special?
- [00:06:52.27] FRED ADAMS: Good food and, of course, presents.
- [00:06:56.83] INTERVIEWER: All right, so what would the table look like for dinner? What would be some of the main dishes?
- [00:07:04.40] FRED ADAMS: Oh, of course turkey-- goes without saying. And my grandmother made handmade rolls that she put on the radiator for the bread to rise and that kind of thing-- sweet potatoes. Pretty much standard fare for food.
- [00:07:23.38] INTERVIEWER: So when you say standard, somebody listening to this might not know what standard is for African-Americans. So you said rolls, you said sweet potatoes, and--
- [00:07:33.04] FRED ADAMS: Not what's standard in African-American-- just standard American. The turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes-- that kind of thing.
- [00:07:39.89] INTERVIEWER: OK, all right. Which holidays-- you just mentioned that your family celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas. Any other ones that you can recall?
- [00:07:53.50] FRED ADAMS: Nothing spectacular, no.
- [00:07:55.39] INTERVIEWER: OK, so the main ones for you were the Christmas and the Thanksgiving?
- [00:08:00.64] FRED ADAMS: Pretty much so.
- [00:08:01.35] INTERVIEWER: All right, and what is one of the most memorable gifts that you can recall as a child that you got at Christmas time?
- [00:08:09.49] FRED ADAMS: You know, I really can't recall any of the gifts I got at Christmas time.
- [00:08:14.04] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:08:14.56] FRED ADAMS: It's been too long ago, and nothing really stands out as being absolutely spectacular. Of course, we got a lot of clothes because that's when you got your clothes for maintaining the school year-- So that you looked halfway decent when you went to school.
- [00:08:35.53] INTERVIEWER: And so in terms of clothes, since that was what you remember, where did you shop to get those clothes? Was there a specific place or multiple places?
- [00:08:49.19] FRED ADAMS: You know, I don't remember a place we shopped. There were a lot of places in Ann Arbor you could shop to get clothes like Fiegel's, Montgomery Ward's, places like that-- even Sears. A lot of these places were downtown where they later moved out.
- [00:09:08.17] INTERVIEWER: OK. So now, in terms of holidays, we talked about celebrating with your family, so what about-- during that time, did you have friends and others that came to participate in that celebration?
- [00:09:23.66] FRED ADAMS: Mostly just family. We had, in the household, my aunt and uncle as well as my mother, and myself, and my grandmother. So we had at least that many people, and I don't remember other people coming in for the holidays.
- [00:09:41.87] INTERVIEWER: So you had several generations that were there for the holidays?
- [00:09:46.24] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:09:47.12] INTERVIEWER: And also, in terms of the household, it was you, your mother, and your grandmother?
- [00:09:52.07] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:09:52.61] INTERVIEWER: So three generations there?
- [00:09:55.17] FRED ADAMS: Mm-hmm.
- [00:09:56.87] INTERVIEWER: What memories come to mind when you think about your grandmother?
- [00:10:02.20] FRED ADAMS: A feisty lady-- as tough as they come. She was a fire-breathing Baptist minister. She held church services every Sunday and Thursday. For a period of time, she had a storefront church in Detroit. So she believed in the Bible and made sure that we believed in the Bible.
- [00:10:27.29] INTERVIEWER: So your mother was a PK-- what is it, a PK kid? Preacher's kid?
- [00:10:34.14] FRED ADAMS: I'm not familiar with PK.
- [00:10:35.45] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, they say that when you have a parent that's a minister, they refer to themselves as a PK.
- [00:10:40.77] FRED ADAMS: Well, a grandparent.
- [00:10:43.05] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, but your mother was the PK kid.
- [00:10:45.41] FRED ADAMS: She would have been a PK kid, yes.
- [00:10:47.49] INTERVIEWER: Right, yeah. And so in terms of that church, you actually went down to Detroit to attend her church?
- [00:10:55.88] FRED ADAMS: I attended sometimes in the summer. We sang at her church and that kind of thing, but not too often. I was too young or too old. I had things to do in Ann Arbor at that point in time.
- [00:11:16.26] INTERVIEWER: You were at that age where you had your own schedule?
- [00:11:19.52] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:11:20.36] INTERVIEWER: OK, now I'm going to go to a question about sports. I was going to come back to that, so we'll go into this question now. What about your school? Now, did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school? You mentioned sports, so talk to me a little bit about that in terms of--
- [00:11:39.59] FRED ADAMS: Well, Jones School had a pretty good sports program. We had a football team starting in the eighth grade. They had basketball teams. They had a mini league, if you want, with Slauson and Tappan junior high schools where we went back and forth and played multiple sports. Mostly football, basketball, and some baseball.
- [00:12:04.07] INTERVIEWER: So which ones did you excel in?
- [00:12:11.24] FRED ADAMS: None, really. I was just fairly decent at most of them.
- [00:12:16.03] INTERVIEWER: Which did you like the best?
- [00:12:17.75] FRED ADAMS: I liked them all.
- [00:12:18.93] INTERVIEWER: You liked them all? OK.
- [00:12:23.06] FRED ADAMS: I was a bookworm until the eighth grade. I spent some time living with my aunt, and she said that, you will get out of the house. You're not going to stay in the house and read books, so I actually went out and participated in every sport that Jones School had available.
- [00:12:41.75] INTERVIEWER: So you were happy that she insisted that you did that?
- [00:12:46.19] FRED ADAMS: Well, yeah. I was still a bookworm. I still read a lot. Reading was a prime joy in life.
- [00:12:54.47] INTERVIEWER: Do you still do a lot of reading?
- [00:12:55.79] FRED ADAMS: I sure do.
- [00:12:56.63] INTERVIEWER: OK, what are you reading right now?
- [00:12:59.93] FRED ADAMS: Some science fiction stuff.
- [00:13:03.29] INTERVIEWER: Does anything come to mind that you read as a child that sticks with you?
- [00:13:09.65] FRED ADAMS: Not really, I read a lot of different kinds of things. I enjoyed Greek mythology and mythology. I ran into science fiction when I got into high school, and I enjoyed it. I went to college as a English lit major, so I've read a lot.
- [00:13:29.28] INTERVIEWER: OK. Now, are you still getting books, or do you have Kindle now?
- [00:13:35.99] FRED ADAMS: I have a Kindle I use OverDrive to take books out of the library, which is very, very nice. Kindle's nice, so I have a Kindle Fire. I buy books. I get a lot of free books, and it's most enjoyable.
- [00:13:52.31] INTERVIEWER: All right, I still need to hold a book in my hand, so I'm not quite there yet.
- [00:13:56.47] FRED ADAMS: I like books. I have a lot of books. They just sit there, and I should find a way to recycle a lot of them. But I like the Kindle because I can-- as I get older, my vision gets worse and worse, and this allows me to get larger print off the Kindle. And it also allows me, when I travel, to carry books with me-- to access books-- that's very nice.
- [00:14:25.30] INTERVIEWER: Now, talk to me about schools. I heard you mention Tappan, so tell me the schools that you attended.
- [00:14:31.96] FRED ADAMS: I only attended Jones School.
- [00:14:34.17] INTERVIEWER: Oh, Jones.
- [00:14:35.21] FRED ADAMS: Jones was a 10-year school-- kindergarten through ninth grade when I attended. And I went from there to Ann Arbor High School-- which was sophomore, junior, senior-- for three years.
- [00:14:51.43] INTERVIEWER: OK, so it was Jones and then it was called Ann Arbor High?
- [00:14:55.46] FRED ADAMS: Ann Arbor High located on the corner of State and Huron before 1954, I think, they built Pioneer High out on Stadium Boulevard and Main Street, but I predate that. This would have been 1948 to 1951.
- [00:15:12.22] INTERVIEWER: OK, and what are some of your memories of attending Jones and then Ann Arbor High School starting with Jones?
- [00:15:23.12] FRED ADAMS: All the neighborhood kids came from Jones. It was, essentially, a black junior high school. We did get some kids from Whitmore Lake and other areas like that that they must have been at that point in time. It was a nice school-- it's a good school. It's now, what, Ann Arbor Community High or something?
- [00:15:49.06] INTERVIEWER: Community High School, right. And that's where Jones was located?
- [00:15:52.64] FRED ADAMS: That's the same building, yes.
- [00:15:54.17] INTERVIEWER: Same building. So now, do you have any photos of that time when you were attending Jones?
- [00:16:05.66] FRED ADAMS: One or two, maybe. I have a photo of a group of young men who were probably in the sixth, seventh, eighth grade. There's no date on it. It was a very old crinkled photo, and I came across it and did some repair on it.
- [00:16:28.35] INTERVIEWER: You did the repairs, or you had someone do the repair?
- [00:16:31.07] FRED ADAMS: I did the repairs.
- [00:16:32.30] INTERVIEWER: OK, so that's a skill that you have?
- [00:16:35.00] FRED ADAMS: Yeah, a small bit of it, yes.
- [00:16:39.68] INTERVIEWER: That's great. Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time of your life during your school years?
- [00:16:53.94] FRED ADAMS: Not really, not any I can remember.
- [00:16:58.54] INTERVIEWER: I would imagine that your grandmother had some special scripture that she referred to.
- [00:17:04.18] FRED ADAMS: I don't remember. I don't remember anything specific that she referred to out of the Bible. She wasn't one to go around quoting the Bible, but if you attended her Sunday services or Thursday services, you got a lot of Bible.
- [00:17:22.16] INTERVIEWER: And that's interesting that she was a female minister at that time. Was that not unusual, or was it common?
- [00:17:29.21] FRED ADAMS: Well, it was relatively unusual. I don't remember any besides her at that point in time.
- [00:17:35.15] All right, and she just decided to start her own church? How did that come about?
- [00:17:42.34] FRED ADAMS: As far as I know, all of a sudden, she's bringing people in to have services, and she would preach.
- [00:17:51.92] INTERVIEWER: All right, that's interesting. Did she have quite a few people coming in?
- [00:17:59.54] FRED ADAMS: Oh, I'd say around a dozen-- something like that.
- [00:18:01.96] INTERVIEWER: OK, and about how long did that-- was it several years, or--
- [00:18:06.99] FRED ADAMS: She did last there for several years, yes. I believe, until she passed away.
- [00:18:14.65] INTERVIEWER: And what was the name of the church, do you recall?
- [00:18:17.05] FRED ADAMS: I do not remember. I'm not even sure it had a name.
- [00:18:19.71] INTERVIEWER: OK, they just showed up and worshipped together, huh?
- [00:18:22.04] FRED ADAMS: They showed up and worshiped together.
- [00:18:23.49] INTERVIEWER: OK. Well, that's great.
- [00:18:26.15] FRED ADAMS: Of course, I attended the Bethel AME Church that my parents attended also, so we kind of got a double dose.
- [00:18:36.19] INTERVIEWER: OK, at that time, on Fourth Ave?
- [00:18:38.98] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:18:39.61] INTERVIEWER: OK, that's where I attend now. Were there any changes in your family-life during your school years? Did anything major happen during that time?
- [00:18:56.46] FRED ADAMS: No, my family-life was pretty much stable and pretty much static. Although, I guess my mother and stepfather separated. I forgot to mention him. He was in the household also.
- [00:19:10.50] INTERVIEWER: OK, do you want to say a little bit about him? What did he do? And how-- you know.
- [00:19:16.64] FRED ADAMS: Well, for a period of time, he had a son that he was raising. And for a period of time, I had a stepbrother. Then, the stepbrother discovered his real father and went to live with him in Detroit, so it was an interesting period.
- [00:19:36.99] INTERVIEWER: All right, so in terms of being an only child, did you often do things with others because you're an only child? Or you read, or what did you do to--
- [00:19:52.59] FRED ADAMS: I read. We did a lot of stuff with neighborhood kids. You just kind of went on your own. The summertime we spent swimming in the Huron River. There used to be a beach on Argo Drive, and a canoe livery, and we would swim in that area from the time school let out until the time school started again. It kept us out of mischief.
- [00:20:15.47] INTERVIEWER: During the summer, you mean.
- [00:20:16.77] FRED ADAMS: During the summer. Wintertime school activities-- when you're old enough to-- you know in junior high school, high school-- you had after-school activities like sports and the Dunbar Center to keep you occupied and out of mischief. In the summertime, you just took off in the morning. No matter where you was, when the street lights come on, you better be back home.
- [00:20:40.77] INTERVIEWER: I've heard that said a number of times.
- [00:20:42.48] FRED ADAMS: Oh, yes.
- [00:20:45.66] INTERVIEWER: So everybody knew that, right?
- [00:20:47.16] FRED ADAMS: Oh, yes, but we were allowed to play outside after dark as long as we were in the area.
- [00:20:53.53] INTERVIEWER: Parents didn't worry then about kids being gone all day.
- [00:20:57.30] FRED ADAMS: No, not at all.
- [00:20:58.33] INTERVIEWER: Yeah.
- [00:21:00.09] FRED ADAMS: And overall, we were pretty good kids because were raised, really, by the black community. If you did something across town that you shouldn't have done, you really got a whipping there. I'm going to tell my mother. Say, you won't tell you mother-- I just called her. You're going to get another one when you get home, so you're raised by the community, really, from that standpoint.
- [00:21:27.96] INTERVIEWER: I think that's true in a lot of areas-- that the community did that kind of thing. They raised the kids.
- [00:21:33.36] FRED ADAMS: All the black families across Ann Arbor knew each other. It wasn't a huge community. They knew each other either from church or other things. They knew the kids. Their kids were associated with your kids that the kids went to school with, so everybody personally knew everybody else. So it kind of kept you in line.
- [00:21:55.79] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, which is great. So I need to ask you this, so you said that you did something over here. And they got on you or got you there, and then when you got home, you got another reprimand. So did anything like that ever happen to you?
- [00:22:12.66] FRED ADAMS: Not very often.
- [00:22:14.11] INTERVIEWER: I said, did it ever happen?
- [00:22:15.15] FRED ADAMS: Oh, definitely. It happened but not very often. I didn't like pain.
- [00:22:24.29] INTERVIEWER: All right, but I've heard people say that in different communities that, you know, if Mrs. Jones caught you doing something, she'd reprimand and take care of it, and when you got home, there would be a follow-up as well.
- [00:22:34.03] FRED ADAMS: You better believe it. That's exactly what happened.
- [00:22:38.55] INTERVIEWER: So you mentioned swimming. Was there something in school where you learned to swim, or I should say, were there classes or you just sort of self-taught?
- [00:22:48.03] FRED ADAMS: Well, self-taught. My stepfather-- there was a place called the sandbar in the Huron River where black families used to go swim, and when I was very young-- before I could swim-- he through me in the water and said, you're going to swim or else. And I came out spitting, and sputtering, and annoyed, and I didn't go near the water with the family for a long time until I learned how to swim. So it was pretty much self-taught, and after that, I became a pretty good swimmer.
- [00:23:20.96] INTERVIEWER: Were there opportunities at Ann Arbor High or not?
- [00:23:25.12] FRED ADAMS: Yeah, I actually went out for swimming at Ann Arbor High School, and I decided there was too much water in that pool for me to drink. So I decided this was not where I wanted to be.
- [00:23:38.67] INTERVIEWER: All right, well, it's good that you learned. You can enjoy certain activities because of that.
- [00:23:45.90] FRED ADAMS: I sure can.
- [00:23:46.60] INTERVIEWER: That's great. OK, when thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:24:07.00] FRED ADAMS: Well, my school years would have taken me through the end of World War II, the Korean/Vietnam War. I was too young, of course, for the World War II. And during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, I was married and with family and, therefore, not eligible to go into the service. But those did take place, and all the demonstrations, of course, when the Vietnam War took place. And I definitely do remember those.
- [00:24:44.88] INTERVIEWER: OK, took place in terms of being anti?
- [00:24:50.66] FRED ADAMS: Anti.
- [00:24:51.63] INTERVIEWER: OK, so you lived during the era of segregation. And this is going to be fairly long, so if you need me to repeat anything, I will. Can you speak about that? Was your school segregated? Was the elementary school near your home?
- [00:25:14.81] Was there a high school for black students in the same area? How did you get to school? Who were the teachers? Were there restaurants or eating places for blacks where you lived? How were black visitors accommodated? So you can answer, and I can just repeat.
- [00:25:36.37] FRED ADAMS: Repeat one question at a time. I will answer each question.
- [00:25:38.94] INTERVIEWER: OK, why don't we do that. Was your school segregated?
- [00:25:46.46] FRED ADAMS: No, there were no segregated schools in Ann Arbor.
- [00:25:49.59] INTERVIEWER: OK, so you had both blacks and whites attending?
- [00:25:54.62] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:25:55.43] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:25:56.40] FRED ADAMS: In all three junior high schools in Ann Arbor, they were all black and white. All or most of the Jones School was mostly black simply because it was centered in the black community. Slauson was away from the black community as was Tappan at that point in time, so they had very few black students. But there were some in each school.
- [00:26:28.35] INTERVIEWER: OK, was the elementary school near your home? You sort of answered that because you said Jones School was from--
- [00:26:35.01] FRED ADAMS: Kindergarten through ninth grade.
- [00:26:37.17] INTERVIEWER: And that was in the neighborhood.
- [00:26:38.70] FRED ADAMS: That was all in one building in the neighborhood.
- [00:26:41.16] INTERVIEWER: OK. Now, that's sort of interesting-- that set up-- in terms of kindergarten through 9th. Talk to me about that a little bit. Were the different grades on different levels and different sections of the building? How was that set up?
- [00:26:57.57] FRED ADAMS: Kindergarten, of course, was in a separate area. The grades were separate rooms for each grade until you got up to the seventh grade. So then eighth and ninth, you had a homeroom, if you like-- if I remember correctly, and you had classes that you went to other than homeroom. Pretty much like high school.
- [00:27:21.48] INTERVIEWER: So basically, prior to seventh grade that you had a room that you were assigned to, and you stayed in that room all day?
- [00:27:30.67] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:27:31.06] INTERVIEWER: OK, so you didn't travel?
- [00:27:32.89] FRED ADAMS: No.
- [00:27:38.12] INTERVIEWER: And you already talked about the high school. It was segregated.
- [00:27:41.15] FRED ADAMS: The high school was not segregated.
- [00:27:46.61] INTERVIEWER: It was integrated.
- [00:27:48.21] FRED ADAMS: Yeah.
- [00:27:49.10] INTERVIEWER: OK, all right. How did you get to school?
- [00:27:52.97] FRED ADAMS: Walked or rode my bicycle.
- [00:27:56.14] INTERVIEWER: All right, talk to me a little bit about the distance-- how long or how far.
- [00:28:04.19] FRED ADAMS: Oh, from Kingsley and Ashley to State and Huron-- I'd say about a mile. It's not really that far.
- [00:28:13.58] INTERVIEWER: OK, and you talked about riding your bike. There was a place there once you got there to store your bikes, or how did that work?
- [00:28:27.31] FRED ADAMS: Bicycle rack outside, yes.
- [00:28:29.05] INTERVIEWER: OK, talk to me a little bit about your teachers in elementary at Jones and then also at Ann Arbor High.
- [00:28:40.89] FRED ADAMS: There's not a heck of a lot I can say about them. None of them really stand out in my mind. It's been-- you're talking 60 years since I had any contact with them or even spent much time thinking about them. So I remember the principal, Mrs. Gibbons, as being a very strict lady and keeping things in order, and the shop teacher because he was the-- I know a word for him-- enforcer, if you like. He took care of unruly young men.
- [00:29:21.85] INTERVIEWER: He was a disciplinarian, huh?
- [00:29:23.46] FRED ADAMS: Yeah pretty much so. That's pretty much it. I can't remember any of my homeroom teachers.
- [00:29:32.97] INTERVIEWER: What about in terms of-- did you have both black and white teachers?
- [00:29:36.24] FRED ADAMS: No, they were all white.
- [00:29:39.27] INTERVIEWER: Not one black teacher?
- [00:29:40.59] FRED ADAMS: Not one black teacher that I can remember. I'm 99% certain of that. All through Jones School and all through high school, I do not remember a single black teacher.
- [00:29:52.80] INTERVIEWER: But Jones was predominantly black, is that right?
- [00:29:55.74] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:29:56.31] INTERVIEWER: OK. Now, were there restaurants or eating places for blacks where you lived?
- [00:30:04.20] FRED ADAMS: Ann Arbor had an area-- Ann Street area-- that was a black business area there, black owned restaurants there. They were small, but-- black-owned bars that also served food. So that was really about it. I don't remember eating in restaurants in Ann Arbor. I don't know if blacks were not allowed in restaurants or just discouraged from going to the white-owned restaurants in Ann Arbor.
- [00:30:36.84] I can't remember. I thought about that a lot in the past. There was a restaurant called The Sugar Bowl. I kind of remember eating there, but I was a bit older when I did that. As a kid coming up, of course, we didn't go to restaurants. We didn't have money.
- [00:30:55.26] INTERVIEWER: I've heard several people that we've interviewed talk about that area as being the black business district and having different businesses owned by blacks.
- [00:31:05.65] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:31:06.26] INTERVIEWER: You mentioned restaurants, you mentioned stores, do you recall any other businesses that were in that area?
- [00:31:14.13] FRED ADAMS: One small restaurant-- there were two bars, the Derby and a place owned by David Keaton. There were two pool rooms there. There was a leather shop on the corner, but that was white-owned. One or two barber shops there-- a barber shop around the corner. A black-owned gas station repair station. That was pretty much the black businesses at that time in Ann Arbor.
- [00:31:50.91] INTERVIEWER: I always find it interesting to hear about that because, like myself, a lot of people didn't know that was at one point a black business district. And so when I try to visualize that in terms of Ann Street, did you say? Ann?
- [00:32:07.23] FRED ADAMS: Ann between Main Street and Fourth Ave. That block on the-- would have been across from the courthouse-- that block was black businesses. Although, the Derby was white-owned by a Greek gentleman. The pool rooms were black-owned. There was a small restaurant that was black-owned.
- [00:32:34.34] The gas station was black-owned. Around the corner on Fourth Ave there was another barber shop that was black-owned. Some little apartment building that was black-owned there also. That was pretty much it in Ann Arbor.
- [00:32:55.82] INTERVIEWER: But just knowing that there was an area--
- [00:32:57.77] FRED ADAMS: There was an area.
- [00:32:58.53] INTERVIEWER: Right, and I know also having interviewed a couple other people, they talk about that some of the homes that are back in that area is where blacks lived. I know Beakes Street was-- one of the people we interviewed lived on Beakes, and so I've heard people reference it.
- [00:33:16.23] FRED ADAMS: And I can guess who that is.
- [00:33:20.42] INTERVIEWER: Who do you think it was?
- [00:33:22.11] FRED ADAMS: Audrey Lucas.
- [00:33:23.68] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, Audrey and Mrs. Seeley, I think, was on Beakes-- Johnnie Mae Seeley. Did you know Mrs. Seeley?
- [00:33:30.54] FRED ADAMS: I don't think so.
- [00:33:31.25] INTERVIEWER: OK, she lives in that area. She just died about a year ago.
- [00:33:34.84] FRED ADAMS: Which is kind of surprising. I was a paper boy as a kid coming up, and I had, as customers, most of the black families in Ann Arbor. You had black families living on Beakes Street between Main and the bridge. Summit Street from Beakes up to Hiscock and a little bit beyond had black families.
- [00:34:04.41] On Wall Street you had black families. On Glen Ave and Catherine. So black families were scattered around Ann Arbor. I'd say I knew most of them simply because I was a paperboy, and I grew up in Ann Arbor. And it was an interesting experience.
- [00:34:30.22] INTERVIEWER: And so when you say interesting, do you want to say more about that, or is that as much as you had to say about that?
- [00:34:38.61] FRED ADAMS: No, I started out with a few papers, and black families discovered they had a black paperboy. And they made sure that I brought their paper to them. And I, like I say, I started on Kingsley and Ashley, and I'd go all the way down Catherine to Glen, Glen over to Wall Street, down Fuller, come back across the bridge up Summit to Hiscock. So I covered a lot of areas pulling my little wagon as a paper boy.
- [00:35:16.92] INTERVIEWER: Did anybody ever get a picture of you pulling that wagon?
- [00:35:19.35] FRED ADAMS: No. They were nice families. I had a family up on Summit about at the end of my route-- they'd have breakfast for me.
- [00:35:27.72] INTERVIEWER: Aw, that was special.
- [00:35:29.29] FRED ADAMS: I thought that was rather nice.
- [00:35:30.66] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, do you remember the name of that family?
- [00:35:33.21] FRED ADAMS: No I do not. When the weather was really bad, my mother would help me out. When snow was deep, she would drive me to my furthest stops. That would be Wall Street and Glen Ave-- in that area.
- [00:35:54.99] INTERVIEWER: That was a good mother.
- [00:35:56.12] FRED ADAMS: Oh, I thought so. I really appreciated it.
- [00:36:01.55] INTERVIEWER: Now, I want to talk a little bit about-- I think I asked you this, but were there restaurants or eating places for blacks? And you talked about that. How were black visitors accommodated? So if they were traveling and they came to visit here in the Ann Arbor area, where did they stay? How were they accommodated?
- [00:36:23.76] FRED ADAMS: At my point in time and as far as I know, they stayed with friends and families in Ann Arbor. Whether or not hotels were available to them, I didn't know people who would be staying in hotels-- you know, business people, that kind of thing. For the most part, they stayed with family and friends. Now, I don't know if hotels were available to them or not. A high degree of probability they were somewhat available.
- [00:36:53.01] Ann Arbor has been a pretty broad-minded town. Primarily, the university and the number of different cultures that have come into Ann Arbor and the level of intelligence in Ann Arbor from the teachers and the university personnel. People come into the University of Michigan Hospital. People come in to teach and speak at the University of Michigan. So it was pretty wide open from that standpoint.
- [00:37:24.35] As far as segregation in Ann Arbor, buying houses-- there are areas that you couldn't buy in. I was brought up on the corner of Kingsley and Ashley, and it was kind of a mixed area because there were two white families across the street from us and a black family next to them. And there were three poor white families on Kingsley, but if you go around from Kingsley over to Ashley Street, you couldn't buy a house.
- [00:37:56.25] My stepfather had wanted to buy a house there. And we were back to back-- our backyard faced the side of this house. We couldn't buy it because we were black.
- [00:38:09.41] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me a little bit more about that. So in terms of when he was trying to buy it, he was just told outright he couldn't buy it, or you figured out by the treatment that you weren't going to be able to buy it?
- [00:38:22.59] FRED ADAMS: I was very young, and if memory serves me correctly, we were simply told outright that blacks were not allowed in that area.
- [00:38:28.79] INTERVIEWER: All right, so in terms of accommodations, I know that some of the other interviews and just what I've read is that blacks really had other blacks stay with them when they traveled because they couldn't stay at some of the hotels or motels that were in certain areas. So that was also part of how they got accommodated in terms of staying with other blacks in the area.
- [00:39:06.85] OK, I'm going to move into adulthood, marriage, and family-life. OK, 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/or your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:39:45.64] FRED ADAMS: I got married shortly after I got out of high school, and I lived on Main Street-- corner of Depot and Main.
- [00:39:59.76] INTERVIEWER: Was that in an apartment? Was that a house?
- [00:40:02.34] FRED ADAMS: It was really a room in a house with some friends of my family.
- [00:40:06.91] INTERVIEWER: All right, did you remain there, or did you move around through your adult life?
- [00:40:18.51] FRED ADAMS: I lived there for a while. My first wife and I, we separated. We had philosophical differences. I think more than anything else, we were married too young. She had different goals than I had, and they just were not compatible. But I stayed there on Main Street for an extended period of time, and I worked at the University of Michigan Hospital as an orderly.
- [00:40:53.72] And I met a lady there and we married, had my second child, and we bought a house on Gott Street where we stayed for a good number of years until we could no longer agree. There were problems.
- [00:41:12.31] INTERVIEWER: OK. Now, talk to me a little bit about the Gott Street area because that is starting to change, I think-- that area-- in terms of who's buying into that area. Are you familiar with that?
- [00:41:27.14] FRED ADAMS: I think it's one of the areas I forgot to mention because Miller, Gott Street, Hiscock, they were black areas also. I think, now, they're seeing an influx of Caucasians into the area. My uncle lived on Gott Street for a good number of years in an old house, and I'd say I owned a house, and people like the Whitmans had lived on Gott Street for as far back as I could remember. And a few other families. I'd say it was rather--
- [00:42:05.15] INTERVIEWER: Primarily black?
- [00:42:06.20] FRED ADAMS: Area of-- primarily black, yes.
- [00:42:09.71] INTERVIEWER: So when you were there, did you purchase your home? Were you renting?
- [00:42:13.64] FRED ADAMS: I purchased, yes.
- [00:42:15.04] INTERVIEWER: OK. So when you left Gott Street, you moved. What were some of the moves that you made within the area?
- [00:42:35.78] FRED ADAMS: Let's see, I actually lived on-- God, forgotten the name of the street. That's bad.
- [00:42:47.99] INTERVIEWER: That's OK.
- [00:42:48.46] FRED ADAMS: Don't get old. It's on South University. Spent a year there with a roommate-- a friend of mine who had gone through a divorce, and we'd bought the other place to stay so we'd jointly rent the place for about a year before he got married. Left there, bought a house in Willow Run where I spent a good number of years. Went from there-- lived in an apartment off of Eastern Michigan's campus.
- [00:43:35.05] INTERVIEWER: So you moved around a little bit?
- [00:43:36.67] FRED ADAMS: I moved around a bit, yeah, but you're covering a lot of years.
- [00:43:39.47] INTERVIEWER: I know, I know.
- [00:43:40.89] FRED ADAMS: I got an apartment for a good number of years on Packard and went from there to the lady I am currently with now. We rented the house on Duane Court, which is in the Maple/Miller area. We rented it in 1979, bought it in 1981, stayed there until 2006 where we purchased the house that we're currently living in.
- [00:44:20.22] INTERVIEWER: And I discovered that we're practically neighbors.
- [00:44:22.09] FRED ADAMS: Yes, we are. We're very close.
- [00:44:25.39] INTERVIEWER: And never met you before so-- so you talked about getting married, being married, but tell me a little bit about how it was in terms of dating when you were growing up.
- [00:44:44.53] FRED ADAMS: Well, I essentially dated the lady I married in high school. We were part of the community. I met my second wife while working at work. Another lady I met on a double date. We spent a good number of years together. Then, there's this lady who I spent the last 38 years with.
- [00:45:07.68] INTERVIEWER: How many?
- [00:45:08.67] FRED ADAMS: 38.
- [00:45:09.44] INTERVIEWER: Oh, very good. Congratulations.
- [00:45:12.72] FRED ADAMS: Thank you.
- [00:45:13.98] INTERVIEWER: Now, when I asked about dating, I think I was thinking more about those early years-- those high school years. It seems like at certain periods of time, there were a lot of restrictions on young ladies dating and going out. Did you run into any of that when you were dating in high school?
- [00:45:31.89] FRED ADAMS: Not really.
- [00:45:32.82] INTERVIEWER: Not really?
- [00:45:35.73] FRED ADAMS: What kind of restrictions?
- [00:45:38.55] INTERVIEWER: You know, it was more that you had to have somebody going along with you, you had to--
- [00:45:41.30] FRED ADAMS: No, none of that.
- [00:45:42.76] INTERVIEWER: None of that?
- [00:45:43.85] FRED ADAMS: No.
- [00:45:44.25] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:45:46.49] FRED ADAMS: In high school, we dated. We went to movies. We went to dances, went other affairs with no supervision.
- [00:45:56.32] INTERVIEWER: So were you driving? How did you get around?
- [00:45:59.76] FRED ADAMS: Walk.
- [00:46:02.40] INTERVIEWER: All right, when you're young, that doesn't matter. You just want to get to where you want to go-- just walk there.
- [00:46:09.33] FRED ADAMS: Yeah, couldn't afford a car.
- [00:46:18.45] INTERVIEWER: OK now, let's talk a little bit about your children. Tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living in the house.
- [00:46:33.57] FRED ADAMS: Well, unfortunately, my son-- we didn't spend a lot of time together living in the same household as a youngster. We've always been in touch since he lives in Ann Arbor. Really, he's never left Ann Arbor. My daughter-- after her mother passed, we spent a good several years in the same household and things happened.
- [00:47:03.83] And she lived with her mother for a while, and when her mother passed, she came to live with me. And then she went back. She came to live with me before her mother passed. Then, she went back to live with her mother when she was 12, 13, 14 years old and spent the rest of her years there. But I spent a lot of time with her-- always in her life, and she's still one of my favorite people.
- [00:47:40.73] INTERVIEWER: That's good. Do you have any grandchildren?
- [00:47:44.19] FRED ADAMS: I have two.
- [00:47:45.32] INTERVIEWER: All right, and boys? Girls?
- [00:47:49.46] FRED ADAMS: Two boys-- one is 39. The other is 36.
- [00:47:55.63] INTERVIEWER: So are they in this area?
- [00:47:57.44] FRED ADAMS: No, their mother, my daughter, moved to Orlando. And she's been there for the past 21 years, and they've been with her too.
- [00:48:12.70] INTERVIEWER: So do you get to see them often?
- [00:48:15.88] FRED ADAMS: Only when I go to Orlando once or twice a year.
- [00:48:19.71] INTERVIEWER: Oh, that's pretty good. What are some of your personal favorite things to do for fun?
- [00:48:29.48] FRED ADAMS: Play golf.
- [00:48:32.06] INTERVIEWER: Are you a good golfer?
- [00:48:34.55] FRED ADAMS: No, nobody's a good golfer.
- [00:48:39.03] INTERVIEWER: Some people think they are.
- [00:48:41.70] FRED ADAMS: Nope, golf is a very humbling but fun game as long as you don't take it serious. Golf, reading, theater-- that kind of thing are sensing my amusements. Some traveling.
- [00:49:04.60] INTERVIEWER: So where are some of the places you travel to?
- [00:49:09.34] FRED ADAMS: For recreation or for business?
- [00:49:12.34] INTERVIEWER: Both.
- [00:49:15.11] FRED ADAMS: Well, let's see, I've been to England, Scotland, Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Taiwan, China, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada.
- [00:49:37.70] INTERVIEWER: Oh, you've done a lot of traveling. So out of those, are there favorites?
- [00:49:48.05] FRED ADAMS: Not really. I enjoy Canada because I have been there more often than any place else-- places like Toronto over back and forth to Windsor every once in a while. Toronto's one of my favorite cities. Montreal is one of the places I have not been that remains on my bucket list. Places like
- [00:50:10.79] New Orleans, San Francisco, are favorite cities of mine because I am something of a gambler from time to time. I like Las Vegas. We hit there once or twice a year. It's a fun thing to do.
- [00:50:24.65] INTERVIEWER: So that might be one of your favorite places then.
- [00:50:26.51] FRED ADAMS: It's one of my favorite places. I haven't been there since this October.
- [00:50:31.88] INTERVIEWER: OK, all right. And you mentioned theater. So what kind of theater is it? Anything in particular? Do you like opera? Do you like just plays or what?
- [00:50:45.38] FRED ADAMS: Plays primarily. Dance, for example, I do like-- God, I just forgot the name of the dance group. It's a famous dance group-- black dance group.
- [00:50:59.06] INTERVIEWER: Alvin Ailey?
- [00:51:00.63] FRED ADAMS: Alvin Ailey. I've seen them in Ann Arbor, went down to Detroit to see them. They're one of my favorites. So dance-- all kinds of music, jazz, popular music, opera, musical theater, theater. I guess it's in part my background as an English major.
- [00:51:24.04] INTERVIEWER: OK, very cultured, huh?
- [00:51:27.32] FRED ADAMS: I wouldn't call myself cultured. I've been called a lot of things but cultured is not one of them.
- [00:51:33.26] INTERVIEWER: OK, have you seen Hamilton by any chance?
- [00:51:37.34] FRED ADAMS: No, I have not.
- [00:51:38.83] INTERVIEWER: OK, I understand it's in Chicago now. Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practice with your children and that was different from your childhood traditions?
- [00:51:56.95] FRED ADAMS: No, most of the major holidays. Birthdays, of course, are special events.
- [00:52:04.21] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:52:06.95] FRED ADAMS: Right now, Sundays are our big day or a reasonable day. The family that is in the area, my better half's family in particular, we get together for Sunday dinner.
- [00:52:20.78] INTERVIEWER: Is that every Sunday?
- [00:52:22.70] FRED ADAMS: Every Sunday they want to show up. They have their two kids, 7 and 9, grandnephews. As they get older, they do their thing more and more and it-- they have other things they want to do other than come spend time with their Aunt Ana for Sunday dinner. Sister, sister's friend, Sharon, whom you know-- they frequently show up for dinner.
- [00:52:58.99] INTERVIEWER: So I'm just curious about that dinner, do you all do all the preparing or is it sort of a potluck?
- [00:53:06.58] FRED ADAMS: My better half normally does most of the preparation.
- [00:53:10.90] INTERVIEWER: That's very nice.
- [00:53:12.28] FRED ADAMS: Yeah, I guess.
- [00:53:14.59] INTERVIEWER: I think so. OK, so people show up for dinner. You just sit around and talk. You watch TV, so what's part of the afternoon on Sunday?
- [00:53:25.55] FRED ADAMS: We talk, we'll have sports on. If it's football season, we'll watch the Lions play and just generally chat and talk about business-- what they're doing, what's going on with them. In their case, one of them has his own roofing business, the other is a karate instructor and has his own Dojo. My stepson flips houses along with his mother, so there's a lot to talk about from a business standpoint.
- [00:54:00.05] INTERVIEWER: OK, very good. All right, so we're going to move into part four, which is work and retirement. Once again, this is going to cover a long period of your life from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up to the present time. So I know we talked about this a little earlier, but I'll ask you again and maybe you can elaborate a little bit more. What was your main field of employment?
- [00:54:27.82] FRED ADAMS: My main?
- [00:54:28.69] INTERVIEWER: Field of employment.
- [00:54:32.50] FRED ADAMS: Over the years, it's been in the automotive industry. I worked for a company called Johnson Controls who do automotive seating, and the area I worked in was automotive seating and urethane formulation and manufacture. I worked with Johnson Controls for a few years, like 41 years 2 months and 28 days.
- [00:55:00.72] INTERVIEWER: I love that part. Right down to the days.
- [00:55:04.47] FRED ADAMS: I retired from there in 1999. I retired for a whole three days-- a weekend. Did a joint venture with some people in another company I knew and became majority owner in a company that supplied liquid vinyl for application in the automotive industry primarily. Did that for roughly six years. Retired totally in 2006, and I've been retired for 10 years. And I finally found something I do extremely well.
- [00:55:40.34] INTERVIEWER: Retirement.
- [00:55:41.05] FRED ADAMS: Nothing and I love it.
- [00:55:43.99] INTERVIEWER: OK, so Johnson Control, 41 years. That was a lot of years, and you only retired from there for about three days. You just felt you still need to do-- there was more you wanted to do.
- [00:55:58.12] FRED ADAMS: I had an offer, and the offer looked interesting. And give me a chance to own my own business, run my own business, and I thought it was something I wanted to do. I wanted to give it a try. So I was reaching the stage where I wanted to retire. The company was getting, for me, too big. I was spending too much time not doing my job but protecting myself from career [INAUDIBLE], to make a simple statement. And work was no fun any longer, it was time to go.
- [00:56:35.38] INTERVIEWER: That was at 41 year?
- [00:56:36.90] FRED ADAMS: That was the end of 41 years, yes.
- [00:56:39.28] INTERVIEWER: At the end of 41 years. So when you became your own boss or owned your own company, how was that for you?
- [00:56:47.08] FRED ADAMS: It was fun. It was challenging.
- [00:56:48.34] INTERVIEWER: Challenging?
- [00:56:49.24] FRED ADAMS: It was a seven day a week job, that's for sure.
- [00:56:55.21] INTERVIEWER: That's what I hear when you own your own business.
- [00:56:57.30] FRED ADAMS: You are never off work. You're always on call, if you like, but I had the same thing like with Johnson Controls, I was plant manager at their Whitmore Lake facility, and it was a seven day a week job. I went on from there to become group director of home processing, and responsibility for manufacture of home and office facilities with Johnson Controls in the United States, Mexico, and with some assistance overseas in England, Germany, and some in China also. So that was a twenty four hour a day job plus seven days a week.
- [00:57:40.40] INTERVIEWER: Now, that sounds really interesting, is that where you got some of your traveling in as part that position?
- [00:57:44.27] FRED ADAMS: That's where I got a lot of my international travel in.
- [00:57:50.31] INTERVIEWER: And so when you would travel, you would go to check on facilities there, or you'd go to pick up new knowledge, or what was happening?
- [00:57:59.73] FRED ADAMS: A combination of things. As Johnson Controls spread, we would go help set up, help them become more efficient to try and help then become more efficient, really, install new materials, manufacturers' procedures, processes and that kind of thing. We did also go to look at some companies and see what they had that was new that we could assimilate into our group.
- [00:58:46.83] We set up a program that helped plants do everything the same way so that they become more assistant. The best practices is what it becomes, and we monitored those programs mostly in states but some overseas also. We did troubleshooting. I had a group of five, six people who were experienced in manufacturing of urethane foam and equipment, and we would troubleshoot the various plants and lend assistance.
- [00:59:28.20] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of when you would go overseas then, it was a combination. Sometimes, you were going to set up things for them, and sometimes, you were gathering information to bring back to the states?
- [00:59:40.23] FRED ADAMS: Yes.
- [00:59:41.46] INTERVIEWER: And so in terms of you being in the leadership role, were there other blacks in those roles, or were you primarily the main one in terms of your position?
- [00:59:52.62] FRED ADAMS: To my knowledge, I was the only black in that particular role.
- [00:59:56.91] INTERVIEWER: OK, and was that challenging, or how was it for you?
- [01:00:07.77] FRED ADAMS: It was a challenging job. I didn't run into a lot of resistance. I generally overall worked with very good people. My group, unlike some other groups from corporate, we're there to assist, we're there to help, and that's really not what they're there for. We were actually there to help, to assist them to get better at what they did to make sure that they were doing what they should do the way they should do it with what they should do it.
- [01:00:45.84] So from my standpoint, it worked out well, it was a very compatible group that I had working for me, and the people I worked with in the plant scattered across the United States were good people to work with. Had no problem from a bigotry standpoint, even though some of these plants were like in Tennessee, or Kentucky, Mississippi, that kind of thing. No problem from that standpoint, or at least there was no problem that they wanted to face me with.
- [01:01:20.10] INTERVIEWER: OK, so in terms of getting that position, did you work your way up through the ranks, and then you applied or they recruited you for the position?
- [01:01:29.79] FRED ADAMS: I started, with Johnson Controls, a company called Stutman Screen. It was bought out by Johnson Controls, but I started with them as a production worker. I worked in production for a couple of years while I was going to school, and I got to know the people in the lab. And the director of the lab made me an offer, do you want to come work in a lab?
- [01:01:58.89] Where I can learn both urethane systems, and foams, and that kind of thing, and I took the job. I went from the lab to a line position which monitored the process and systems on the line. It was really for manufacturing. I went from there to the chief line technician. From there, I became a process engineer. Generally, it requires an engineering degree, which I didn't have. But I had a ton of experience. I also took classes in chemistry. I went to sessions. I'm losing a word.
- [01:02:44.03] INTERVIEWER: That's OK, workshops?
- [01:02:46.15] FRED ADAMS: Workshops and that kind of thing. I work with suppliers and learn their techniques, and learn from them what they're doing, how they did it, with what their materials were, how they worked with what we're doing, what we should do with them. And from there, the plant manager moved on. And I became the temporary plant manager. And we talked about it for a while and I said, if I'm going to do the job, I want the title, and I want the pay because until you find a plant manager, I'm going to have to do the job anyway and just give me the money.
- [01:03:33.40] Give me the title. The title didn't matter. I'm money oriented, which is the reason I stayed in the industry and didn't teach. I couldn't afford to teach any longer, which is what my original plan in life was. I planned to teach English. I wanted to teach high school to begin with then move on into teaching at a University someplace. Never got there, couldn't afford it.
- [01:03:56.60] INTERVIEWER: Well apparently, you did well with Johnson.
- [01:03:58.93] FRED ADAMS: I did fairly well at Johnson.
- [01:04:00.31] INTERVIEWER: Yeah, I think so. You just worked your way right on up.
- [01:04:02.95] FRED ADAMS: Worked my way up from the bare bottom, really.
- [01:04:05.89] INTERVIEWER: Right, that's wonderful. It's really wonderful. So you sort of talked about it, but the question here says, what do you value most about what you did for your living and why?
- [01:04:24.58] FRED ADAMS: What I value most is the challenge. For the most part, there is always something new, something different, something that I can learn. Everything was a learning process and a learning procedure. A lot of times, I would reach a level and stay there for a while, and about the time that I was getting ready to move on because I had job offers from recruiters and that kind of thing. And something else would come up that was more in keeping to what I wanted to do and presented a new challenge for me. Something new to learn, something--
- [01:05:06.41] INTERVIEWER: To stretch your mind?
- [01:05:08.61] FRED ADAMS: Yes, yes, yes.
- [01:05:10.37] INTERVIEWER: That's great. 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?
- [01:05:26.80] FRED ADAMS: Well, I suppose a big social event that took place were the riots back in the 60s. Direct effect, initially, not a lot. Overall, back in the 40s and 50s as a black, you didn't have bad teeth. You didn't have bad hair. You didn't need deodorant because you didn't, certainly didn't show up on commercials on television.
- [01:05:58.18] There were no black people in those commercials on television. If nothing else, the riots in the 60s brought forth a-- not an understanding because it's still not understood, but an awareness that there were people out there who were pissed and wanted to stand up and be counted, and there was a lot in government, programs in government that came about during that period of time.
- [01:06:27.82] Personally, I think it's a direct result of the riots in the 60s. They were not good and the people who were hurt most in the riots were black people and destruction of property, but overall, it did heighten the awareness. It got the government off their butts and to install programs and to give the black community help where help was needed.
- [01:06:51.58] It opened up a lot of areas that were not open before. It allowed you to live in a place like Ann Arbor or the place you wanted to live if you got the money. Green became the color of the day. It still is.
- [01:07:09.43] INTERVIEWER: Right, so you mentioned television, and so what is your first memory of seeing a person of color or black person on TV? You said they weren't in commercials, were there any in any of the programs?
- [01:07:28.18] FRED ADAMS: Certainly not commercials. Don't mind me, I'm thinking.
- [01:07:35.50] INTERVIEWER: That's fine.
- [01:07:39.13] FRED ADAMS: Probably someone like Eddie Rochester. I can't remember who was-- He was a butler in a family. That would go back into the 50s. I think he was my first. Other than that, the only blacks you saw were the maid, the bartender, and slaves in movies of that kind. And that was pretty much it. You saw no blacks in lead roles until the movie-- oh, it's tough to get old.
- [01:08:20.21] INTERVIEWER: You're fine.
- [01:08:23.59] FRED ADAMS: Old Man River, Show Boat? It wasn't Show Boat, but the other movie like Carmen, came about there were no black movies that there were serious films with serious black leads.
- [01:08:41.86] INTERVIEWER: So when that did happen, was there a lot of excitement in the black neighborhoods when somebody was starring in or when they finally could see somebody in a--
- [01:08:51.70] FRED ADAMS: They were certainly proud.
- [01:08:53.04] INTERVIEWER: Proud.
- [01:08:53.94] FRED ADAMS: Pride was there. Right like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, and people of that ilk in the movies they starred in. There was definitely pride. Just as there is pride with Joe Louis as a boxer when he was champion.
- [01:09:11.39] INTERVIEWER: Right, Yeah.
- [01:09:14.38] FRED ADAMS: Remember listening to the fights on the radio? You remember radio?
- [01:09:18.22] INTERVIEWER: I do remember radio. I certainly do. So anything else you want to add in terms to that Joe Louis, or just the fact that you listened, or people were very proud?
- [01:09:34.90] FRED ADAMS: It was a proud time for the black community with Joe Louis as a fighter in the late 30s early 40s. Then of course, as you get older, people like Jackie Robinson breaking the line in baseball and black athletes becoming major in a lot of sports that they weren't allowed into. I know golf was probably the last one that you saw a major black figure.
- [01:10:08.65] INTERVIEWER: I know in baseball, you often talk about the Negro league, you know, and so that's where a lot of the blacks played-- within the Negro league.
- [01:10:15.94] FRED ADAMS: There were a lot of very good black ball players that never got a chance to play in the majors because of segregation. Same with basketball, you know, the Harlem Globetrotters back then, when they were put together in the early 40s I believe it was, they took all the best of the black players that came out of high school and college because there is no place for the black players in the NBA. For a period of time, the Harlem Globetrotters played against the NBA champions and beat them. And after that was about the time that blacks began to be integrated into the NBA and into basketball.
- [01:11:00.11] INTERVIEWER: The thought of now NBA and no blacks is just-- you can't even--
- [01:11:05.35] FRED ADAMS: You can't conceive of it now.
- [01:11:06.78] INTERVIEWER: No, you can't.
- [01:11:07.87] FRED ADAMS: Yeah, so you cannot conceive of it.
- [01:11:09.18] INTERVIEWER: Right, this is great. OK, we're moving into the last part. Part five is historical and social events. Tell me how it is for you to live in this community-- to live in Ann Arbor.
- [01:11:30.63] FRED ADAMS: I've lived in Ann Arbor all my life. Ann Arbor has always been a good place for me to live. I think I cover part of it due to the university and the diverse cultures defining Ann Arbor. For the most part, I think Ann Arbor has been very open, especially after the 50s and 60s. It's become more and more open. I like Ann Arbor. I doubt there's any place else I really want to live. Ann Arbor's strategically located for me. If I want to go to Detroit to see the plays and that kind of thing, it's available from Ann Arbor. I just like Ann Arbor. I like the seasons. Overall, people are pretty good. I don't have any major concerns with people. I've been here all my life and probably the place I will die. I don't plan on going place.
- [01:12:42.83] INTERVIEWER: Well, you're the kind of people we wanted to interview, people that have been here all their lives, so this is great. When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:12:57.96] FRED ADAMS: That's a good question. I don't have a good answer. I'm so sorry.
- [01:13:04.96] INTERVIEWER: You can think about it, and we'll come back to it. So give it a little thought there. What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [01:13:17.26] FRED ADAMS: In Ann Arbor, historically? We've covered a lot historically.
- [01:13:22.43] INTERVIEWER: I know. Let's say in Ann Arbor.
- [01:13:28.81] FRED ADAMS: Well primarily, Ann Arbor's gotten a heck of a lot bigger than it was when I was a kid coming up. Every place you look, there are houses and houses and people. Ann Arbor itself is not much bigger at probably 113,000, but the surrounding area of Ann Arbor is just huge now. Places like Saline, Manchester, Chelsea, Dexter were just small hamlets that nobody lived.
- [01:13:53.98] Now, they're expensive places to live like Ann Arbor's always been expensive. So, yeah.
- [01:14:03.61] INTERVIEWER: Just the growth, huh?
- [01:14:04.77] FRED ADAMS: Just the growth.
- [01:14:09.21] INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:14:16.82] FRED ADAMS: Figure out what you want to do and do it. Get an education. Education doesn't have to be university, or a college, or a formal education. Learn a skill, there's nothing wrong with being a plumber, or a carpenter, or a bricklayer. We need people like that. Getting a skill from a technical standpoint is an excellent way to go because we are getting more and more technical and more and more things are involved with computers.
- [01:14:48.68] My kids are much smarter than I am. They're more computer literate than I am. I came from an era where computers were not to begin with. I remember the slide rule as a kid coming up, and then I remember the little calculators that would only do addition, multiplication and that kind of thing, but they were like $40, $50. Now, they give them away as toys. I guess, if anything else, become computer literate. You absolutely have to be computer literate and get education in something. Get a skill.
- [01:15:31.96] INTERVIEWER: Good advice. All right, so this is the final question. How do you personally feel about doing this interview and its impact on you or others?
- [01:15:48.28] FRED ADAMS: The interview made me nervous.
- [01:15:50.78] INTERVIEWER: But you're more relaxed now.
- [01:15:53.20] FRED ADAMS: Oh, I'm still nervous.
- [01:15:54.01] INTERVIEWER: Are you? You've done fine.
- [01:15:59.71] FRED ADAMS: What was the full question again?
- [01:16:00.98] INTERVIEWER: It's okay, I was going to ask you. How do you personally feel about doing this interview and its impact on you or others?
- [01:16:10.15] FRED ADAMS: It will be interesting to see what the impact on others is. The impact on me-- just something I did, I do. Over the years, I talked to a lot of people and an interview this particular way is of interest. There's a lot of stuff I'd like to pass on, and I think I did pass on some of it. I don't know what the effect on me is.
- [01:16:47.97] INTERVIEWER: OK, that's fine. Just to share with you, we are going to have students really be taking a look at some of these interviews, so we'll find out from them as well.
- [01:16:59.65] FRED ADAMS: I have no problem with that. What I would like to see is some feedback if that's possible and what they think. I was interested in what would occur with this, and if I could get some feedback online even, I would be very appreciative of it. To see what their thoughts are.
- [01:17:20.38] INTERVIEWER: All right.
- [01:17:21.25] FRED ADAMS: Maybe even involve a dialog.
- [01:17:23.03] INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm. Well, we are working on that now to get when people go online to actually do a little, short survey, and so we'll be getting feedback from others as well as students. So it's just great that you're able to share your story, and some of the things that you talked about a lot of people won't know about. Adults won't and students certainly won't know about a lot of it, so it's a learning process, an education for them. So I feel that's really, really important. So once again, I want to say thank you for doing the interview, and we really appreciate it. So thank you.
- [01:18:02.95] FRED ADAMS: You're more than welcome.
- [01:18:03.82] INTERVIEWER: All right.
- [01:18:04.75] FRED ADAMS: It's been my pleasure.
- [01:18:06.90] INTERVIEWER: Mine as well.
- [01:18:07.81] FRED ADAMS: And an interesting one.
- [01:18:08.83] INTERVIEWER: OK, very good.
November 11, 2016 at Downtown Library
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Jane Winifred Gibbons Mote
Johnnie Mae (Jackson) Seeley
Ann Arbor Trust Co.
Ann Arbor Trust Building
Dunbar Community Center
Fiegel's Clothing Store
Montgomery Ward & Co.
Jones Elementary School
Ann Arbor High School
Bethel AME Church
Preketes' Sugar Bowl Restaurant
Black American Businesses
University of Michigan Hospital
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
1967 Detroit Riots
Black American Actors
Black American Athletes
Sears Roebuck & Co.
Ann Street Black Business District
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History