AACHM Oral History Excerpt: Don Simons
When: September 29, 2020
Donald L. Simons was born in 1943 and he grew up on Fuller Street in Ann Arbor. He attended Jones School, Ann Arbor High, and Eastern Michigan University. He was a starting football halfback and basketball co-captain in high school, and was recognized as athlete of the month. Mr. Simons recalls segregation and several incidents of discrimination in Ann Arbor. He is proud of his family, his work coaching at the Maxey Boys' Training School and Boysville, and co-hosting the annual neighborhood picnic for 25 years.
- [00:00:10] INTERVIEWER: You told me a story about someone you dated in high school?
- [00:00:18] DON SIMONS: Oh, yes. Between my junior and senior year, well, I was going into my senior year, I started dating a white girl. We were in an art class together. She was on the homecoming court, she was very cute, petite, quiet. It didn't intimidate me because I didn't date. I wasn't involved with young girls up until my senior year. Actually, I ran from them in junior high. What happened is I didn't realize the bias, prejudice of this community. By us spending time together, her being on homecoming court, me being a visual, well-known athlete, didn't realize how much havoc was going to be brought down on us, and especially her. I remember one day in particular, she came crying to me in the music room at lunchtime. She walked in there and two or three called her a nigger lover. She came crying to me and I took her by the hand, I said, "Let's go back." "Why?" she said. She was scared. I said, "No." We walked in the room, and people had their head down. There must have 30, 40 students in the room and when they saw me come in, they put their head down and I said, "Okay, I'm here now. You need to leave Didi alone. Her name was Didi Hall, my name was Don Don. I said, "If you have an issue with us, come to me. Don't beat on her, don't bother her. If you-all want to step up right now, I'm here." It got very quiet, and I won't use the term on video. It got so quiet, you could hear a mouse run around the corner. They left her alone for only a little while. But she got phone calls, she got badgered. Her dad came over to visit me, when she was visiting me one day, and he offered me, if I'm going to go up out of state to college, he would help with the finances, if I needed help going out of town. She ended up in having a neurological breakdown. She had issues for a couple of years. Her dad saw me at the shopping center out at Arborland, out near Hughes and Hatchers, and I was about 22, 23 then. He hollered at me and he asked to speak to me. I said, "Oh, wow, what do you want now?" He stood up man to man and said, "I'm so sorry that I interfered with you and my daughter." Barton Hills, the white establishment, his wife had all put him up to splitting me and Didi up, and he said in the last four years he recognized I was the best thing for his daughter that was there, but he realized it too late. So to end that story, she never got married, and she passed away about two years ago.
- [00:03:31] INTERVIEWER: During the time that this was going on at the school, did any of the teachers or administrators intervene to help you?
- [00:03:45] DON SIMONS: No, they actually intervened to damage us. I won't call his name out because it wouldn't serve a purpose, but a lead counselor at Pioneer High, about three months before graduation, he called me out of an academic class to come down and talk to him. I think it was on a Wednesday. I recall it very vividly because teachers' meeting I think was Tuesdays. I said, "Oh, this is going to be something special coming from the lead counselor." He was well-known. He called me into his office and he closed the door, Joetta, and I sat down just feeling like, "Wow, what's coming?" He said, "Don, you have represented the school so well, in your time here at school, you're about to graduate, but you got a few more months. The teachers last night in the teacher meeting asked me to convey to you to stop walking up and down the hallways with Didi Hall." Oh, I didn't mean to mention her name to the complete. I said, "Stop what?" "Oh, don't worry about it, Don, you're a good-looking young man. You're going to have at least seven girlfriends in your lifetime. But if you could do that, it would take a lot of heat off this school." I walked out of there in a fog. Thanks for reminding me to tell that story because it was impacting.It was really bad. Ann Arbor had an awful lot of prejudice and bias back in the '50s and '60s.
- [00:05:20] INTERVIEWER: That was during the civil rights days?
- [00:05:27] DON SIMONS: Yeah.
- [00:05:27] INTERVIEWER: That's important ways that you were impacted by that.
- [00:05:38] DON SIMONS: Yes. It was tough.
September 29, 2020
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Ann Arbor High School - Students
Ann Arbor High School - Faculty & Staff
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Donald L. Simons