AACHM Oral History: Lydia Belle Morton
Sat, 09/21/2013 - 3:31pm
When: February 28, 2013 at the Downtown Library
Please take a moment to take our Living Oral History Survey and let us know what you learned.
Lydia B. (Cromwell) Morton was born in Ann Arbor in 1916. Her Great-Grandmother came to Ann Arbor with Judge Kenny’s family in 1867. Her grandmother Laura Bell Chester was born in Ann Arbor in 1874 and her mother was born in Ann Arbor in 1894. Mrs. Morton has one brother George Richard Cromwell. From her four children, she has 12 great grand children, 6 great, great, grand children; all but four were born in Ann Arbor. Seven generations have lived here in Ann Arbor.
- [00:00:30.16] INTERVIEWER 1: Could you please say and spell your name?
- [00:00:33.42] LYDIA MORTON: My name is Lydia Morton, L-Y-D-I-A Morton, M-O-R-T-O-N.
- [00:00:43.76] INTERVIEWER 1: And can you tell us what your date of birth is, including the year?
- [00:00:47.58] LYDIA MORTON: I was born September the eighth, 1916.
- [00:00:53.66] INTERVIEWER 1: And how would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:00:57.49] LYDIA MORTON: I'm negro.
- [00:01:00.75] INTERVIEWER 1: OK. And what is your religion?
- [00:01:03.75] LYDIA MORTON: Baptist.
- [00:01:07.01] INTERVIEWER 1: And what's the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:10.78] LYDIA MORTON: High school.
- [00:01:12.95] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:01:18.76] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. I took home nursing, and I had training working with preschool-aged children.
- [00:01:31.58] MALE SPEAKER: Sorry to interrupt. I just want to hand out the waters.
- [00:01:35.30] INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you.
- [00:01:37.51] MALE SPEAKER: There you go.
- [00:01:37.92] LYDIA MORTON: Thank you. And, of course I was a Cub Scout mother.
- [00:01:44.46] INTERVIEWER 1: Were you? If you need any help opening that, too, let us know. Sometimes those things are tricky, those tops, to open.
- [00:01:52.31] Yeah. What is your marital status?
- [00:01:56.59] LYDIA MORTON: I'm a widow.
- [00:01:58.22] INTERVIEWER 1: And when were you widowed?
- [00:02:01.56] LYDIA MORTON: 1997.
- [00:02:04.78] INTERVIEWER 1: And so how long had you been married?
- [00:02:06.57] LYDIA MORTON: 61 years.
- [00:02:10.09] INTERVIEWER 1: And how many children do you have?
- [00:02:13.38] LYDIA MORTON: I had four. There are two living now.
- [00:02:19.78] INTERVIEWER 1: And do you know what year the two that passed?
- [00:02:23.85] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. The youngest one was killed by a car in 1960. And my oldest son died of cancer in 1993.
- [00:02:44.47] INTERVIEWER 1: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:46.72] LYDIA MORTON: I beg your pardon?
- [00:02:47.54] INTERVIEWER 1: How many siblings did you have?
- [00:02:50.29] LYDIA MORTON: I had four.
- [00:02:52.62] INTERVIEWER 1: And are any of them currently living?
- [00:02:54.95] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. My oldest child Cora is married, or was married. Her husband's dead. And then the middle son is living. And he lives in Arizona.
- [00:03:10.85] INTERVIEWER 1: OK. And did you have any brothers and sisters growing up?
- [00:03:17.58] LYDIA MORTON: I had two brothers, one two years older than I, and then a baby brother that didn't live more than two weeks.
- [00:03:29.78] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was your primary occupation?
- [00:03:33.70] LYDIA MORTON: I was manager of the dining room at a private woman's club.
- [00:03:40.95] INTERVIEWER 1: And how long did you do that?
- [00:03:43.51] LYDIA MORTON: 20 years.
- [00:03:45.99] INTERVIEWER 1: And at what age did you retire?
- [00:03:48.12] LYDIA MORTON: 62.
- [00:03:51.13] INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you. Well, we're going to go to the second part, which is memories of childhood and youth. And this part of the interview is about that time in your life. And even if these questions jog memories about other times, try to focus on it being about your childhood and youth, if that's possible.
- [00:04:19.78] MALE SPEAKER: Laurie, can I have you pause for just one more second?
- [00:04:21.59] INTERVIEWER 1: Yes.
- [00:04:21.95] MALE SPEAKER: Sorry about that.
- [00:04:22.32] INTERVIEWER 1: Of course.
- [00:04:23.11] INTERVIEWER 2: Here. You want me to open that for you? Do you want me to open it? [? This. ?] [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:04:43.51] INTERVIEWER 1: Do you want to start with this part?
- [00:04:46.71] INTERVIEWER 2: Sure.
- [00:04:57.29] MALE SPEAKER: All right. Sorry about that. And we're back.
- [00:05:02.38] INTERVIEWER 1: Thank you.
- [00:05:05.27] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, so we want to ask you what was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:05:11.27] LYDIA MORTON: Well, I think I was pretty happy. I lived in a home with a great-grandmother, a grandmother, and my parents. And so I had aunts and one uncle there.
- [00:05:28.94] INTERVIEWER 1: So you had a large extended family?
- [00:05:31.47] LYDIA MORTON: Yes.
- [00:05:34.67] INTERVIEWER 1: And what kind of home did you--
- [00:05:37.98] LYDIA MORTON: Well, let's see. My grandmother worked for the dean of men at the University, my father was a cook, and my mother was a piano player. And she was organist of the church and accompanied many of the students that came here to the school of music. She was taught by the same teachers that taught there.
- [00:06:11.33] INTERVIEWER 1: That's great.
- [00:06:14.05] INTERVIEWER 2: So what is your earliest memory?
- [00:06:16.41] LYDIA MORTON: I beg your pardon?
- [00:06:16.98] INTERVIEWER 2: What is your earliest memory?
- [00:06:19.32] LYDIA MORTON: My earliest memory is, I guess I was about three years old. And I wanted to see my great grandmother, who I simply adored. And I was running away from home to go where she worked. She worked with a family that she came here to Ann Arbor with, and he was a judge.
- [00:06:45.26] I was walking up the street, and one of the neighbors tried to talk to me into going back home. But I wouldn't say anything. I just kept walking. So she told my mother. And mother came and got me. And I have always remembered that every time I'd pass her house.
- [00:07:03.64] INTERVIEWER 1: You were determined.
- [00:07:05.24] LYDIA MORTON: Yes.
- [00:07:07.13] INTERVIEWER 2: So were there any special days or events or family traditions that you remember from your childhood?
- [00:07:14.58] LYDIA MORTON: Yes, quite a few. Every Labor Day weekend, we always went back to Ontario, to the little town of North Buxton. And that was started by free slaves. And they grew to be quite a little city. But every Labor Day weekend, they had homecoming, and that was like a reunion for the whole group.
- [00:07:53.82] And my father, his father homesteaded his farm in Fletcher, Ontario, which is eight miles from there. And they would go back and forth to Buxton to church. The school in Buxton was pretty good sized. They were so well-equipped that the white farmers in the area, who had a school, closed their school and went to school in North Buxton.
- [00:08:34.66] And several years ago, the AAA magazine featured a picture of that school during February. And it's the school, the class-- because it was a one-room school, it was a large class-- and a teacher. That teacher was my uncle George.
- [00:08:58.82] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you have other relatives that lived in North Buxton as well?
- [00:09:04.51] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. There was-- let's see. There were quite a few. And somehow or other, almost everybody in Buxton was joined up somehow or other.
- [00:09:15.46] INTERVIEWER 1: Related.
- [00:09:18.47] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. I'm always running into a cousin or something that I never knew I had.
- [00:09:25.86] INTERVIEWER 2: So other than Labor Day, which you described, are there any other holidays that your family celebrated?
- [00:09:32.96] LYDIA MORTON: Well, now it is. See, my husband didn't have any mother and father. He was raised by six aunts. And each aunt would have him for a little while, then sent him to the next Aunt. So he never know anything about home life until he met me and we were married. So we always had all of our family, our children, and a lot of times, some of their friends, for all the different holidays. And we still get together on those holidays.
- [00:10:10.43] INTERVIEWER 1: Which holidays?
- [00:10:11.26] LYDIA MORTON: 4th of July, Memorial Day, Easter, Christmas, and my first great-great-grandchild has spent every Christmas with us. She and her father would come, because he's raising her alone. And they would come, and that was the only great-great-grandchild that my husband saw. She was born the same year that he died.
- [00:10:43.84] INTERVIEWER 1: Nice that he got a chance to meet her, and that--
- [00:10:46.99] LYDIA MORTON: Mmm-hmm
- [00:10:51.00] INTERVIEWER 1: How were holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
- [00:10:55.78] LYDIA MORTON: Oh, let's see. Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and these last few years, my birthday.
- [00:11:17.71] INTERVIEWER 1: And how do you celebrate?
- [00:11:20.14] LYDIA MORTON: Oh, we have a cookout sometimes. Sometimes we just-- there's turkey. I cook the turkey, and everybody brings something. We've had as high as 25 or 30.
- [00:11:39.51] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was the highest grade you completed?
- [00:11:43.26] LYDIA MORTON: 12th.
- [00:11:45.44] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was school like?
- [00:11:48.87] LYDIA MORTON: I enjoyed school. I was usually the only one in my class. And I knew the teachers. Back in the days when I was young, most of the teachers here in the schools were hometown people. And my first-grade teacher and second-grade teacher taught all of my children, too. And they had taught my brother and me.
- [00:12:20.54] INTERVIEWER 1: And when you said you were the only one in your class, meaning the only African American?
- [00:12:24.34] FEMALE SPEAKER: Or the only person?
- [00:12:25.27] LYDIA MORTON: No, the only African American. And I had lifelong friends. And some of them are just now dying that are still my friends. And just like when my husband started working at the bank, the first bank president hired him. Then when he retired, and the new president came in, with all the employees that were there besides the board members-- the go away party for the older president was just for the board members. But my husband and I were invited to it.
- [00:13:10.06] And he had known the new president, incoming president. He played basketball against him in school. And I saw his widow just a few months ago. I hadn't seen her since I had retired. And I saw her.
- [00:13:29.23] INTERVIEWER 1: And there she was. Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:13:37.07] LYDIA MORTON: Yes, I did. I was a track runner. I always got the blue ribbon.
- [00:13:45.55] INTERVIEWER 1: What event did you run?
- [00:13:48.35] LYDIA MORTON: I ran the dash [INAUDIBLE], and I was anchorman on the relay. And I played basketball. I played volleyball. And I learned to bat a ball in baseball. The boys' gym teacher knew me from out at the University Fresh Air Camp. He taught me how to bat a ball.
- [00:14:18.96] And then I taught [INAUDIBLE] gymnastics by an ex-football player, Michigan football player. He was the first player on the Michigan team to make a touchdown in the university stadium. And I saw that game, too.
- [00:14:44.33] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. Do you remember what year that--
- [00:14:47.84] LYDIA MORTON: And I knew him from the camp. And then later, when my high school class celebrated their 50th anniversary, three of our teachers were still alive. And he was invited. And he said when he got the invitation and he saw the name Cromwell on there, he said he had to come, because he had known me all those years.
- [00:15:18.57] INTERVIEWER 1: Amazing. It sounds like you were quite an athlete.
- [00:15:21.72] LYDIA MORTON: Oh, everybody said, do you know Lydia Cromwell? She can outrun every boy in Jones School.
- [00:15:30.38] INTERVIEWER 1: So you went to Jones School?
- [00:15:31.64] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. I went to Jones School.
- [00:15:34.36] INTERVIEWER 1: And what was it like at that time?
- [00:15:37.17] LYDIA MORTON: It was nice. I went in there the first year it was opened after they had remodeled it. I went to kindergarten at the one-room school that used to be in that ward. And when Jones School was finished, then I went there in the first grade.
- [00:16:01.72] They showed us the kindergarten room that they had there, which was really nice. You would go in the front door off of Division, turn to your left, and it was right there. They had their own room, their own cloak room, their own bathroom, everything. And we'd missed that out, but I was in the first grade.
- [00:16:26.47] And then when they started the junior high business-- now, I was in the fifth grade. And Virginia [? Donahue ?] and I were chosen to go to summer school and complete our sixth grade in the summer school. So we did that so we could go to junior high, and we could graduate in June when they graduated. Otherwise, we would have been held over to February, because the schools here were on the same schedule as the university. Because almost everybody worked at the University that lived here in Ann Arbor.
- [00:17:14.36] INTERVIEWER 1: So they geared the schedule--
- [00:17:16.60] LYDIA MORTON: Our schedules were the same. When they had a vacation, we had a vacation. So they were really thrown for a loop when they went to three semesters.
- [00:17:29.47] INTERVIEWER 1: And what about your school experience-- you've started talking about this a little-- but what about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
- [00:17:41.10] LYDIA MORTON: Well, as I said, we knew most of the teachers and their families, which you don't know now. Because I hadn't realize that until I was in junior high and I took home economics. And everyone says, oh, she's a hard teacher. Nobody can get an A from her.
- [00:18:06.12] So the first day in class, she said, how many girls know how to set a table? Well, I raised my hand. And she said, oh, Lydia, I know you know how. Your grandmother taught you. And that's the first time I realized that she knew my family. But I got As from her all through. And in sewing, I made one dress. I wasn't going to make any more. But I got an A on it.
- [00:18:37.12] INTERVIEWER 1: But it was a good one. And what did you enjoy learning in school?
- [00:18:44.39] LYDIA MORTON: Let's see. Now, I enjoyed and I belonged to the glee club all through school, glee club, a cappella choir, and then I sang with the double quartet. And that was fun. I enjoyed that.
- [00:19:07.43] INTERVIEWER 1: What part did you sing?
- [00:19:09.44] LYDIA MORTON: Alto. And we used to have a children's chorus in the May festival at the university. See, that was a week-long celebration, and artists came from all over the world for that. It was always a big deal for Ann Arbor, because they had all these people come in.
- [00:19:41.27] And the children's chorus would always start learning the cantata in January after the Christmas things was over. Because we could have Christmas in our schools then. We'd have a big Christmas tree and everything.
- [00:20:01.30] Well, I sang in that chorus. You were hand-picked by the music director. They had to be in the fifth or the sixth grade. And I sang fifth, sixth, and seventh grade. And you started rehearsing in January, because you had to learn the whole cantata. And then in March, we'd start practicing at Hill Auditorium.
- [00:20:32.17] And they were very strict on you. You had no nonsense. You had to be on time, and you had to behave yourself, pay a lot of attention.
- [00:20:46.13] And that concert that we had always ended the festival on Saturday afternoon. Now, on Fridays, we'd have a dress rehearsal, and the parents were invited to come to that concert. They didn't have to pay for it or anything. And then Saturday was the concert. We had a soloist from the Metropolitan Opera, and they were accompanied by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
- [00:21:15.69] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. So it sounds like it really was a big--
- [00:21:18.19] LYDIA MORTON: Oh, yes.
- [00:21:19.10] INTERVIEWER 1: --thing, a big deal.
- [00:21:22.59] INTERVIEWER 2: So did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
- [00:21:31.37] LYDIA MORTON: Expressions?
- [00:21:33.27] INTERVIEWER 2: Like maybe catch phrases or things that you would say to one another that you can remember?
- [00:21:40.57] LYDIA MORTON: No, I do think so. Now, you see, my mother organized all the young girls. Our yard was always filled with kids. Always. And still is.
- [00:21:57.19] INTERVIEWER 1: Still is, huh?
- [00:21:59.73] LYDIA MORTON: And she had the girls organized, and my father organized the boys. In fact, he organized the first black scout troop in 1916. And he was commissioner in the Boy Scouts until he died in '59.
- [00:22:24.48] INTERVIEWER 1: And what did your parents-- they organized them to do what kinds of things?
- [00:22:29.19] LYDIA MORTON: Well, she taught the girls everything, their feminine hygiene, everything. And of course, I was always right there with my dolls. So I grew up with the older ones. I knew all the older ones, too.
- [00:22:47.29] And they were the nucleus of the Dunbar Center. Because of the clubs, when Reverend Gilbert came here to Ann Arbor, he realized we had all the meetings, different meetings, the women's clubs and everything, in their homes. There was no other places.
- [00:23:13.92] Now, the building on Fourth Avenue, which they called the welfare business, because when workers would come through Ann Arbor and get help, they would give them a night's rest in that building.
- [00:23:34.19] INTERVIEWER 1: This was an African Americans, right, who had no other place to stay.
- [00:23:39.04] LYDIA MORTON: No other place, uh huh. And so then we had our meetings there. And as I said, mother had the girls. And sometimes we would meet with the white groups. And Mrs. [? Leighty ?] had the charge of her club. And it was campfire girls, and then girl reserves. And we were slow in getting to the Scouts because it was more expensive. And they had it so that anyone could join these clubs. And sometimes, the two clubs would---
- [00:24:21.42] INTERVIEWER 1: So there were economic barriers
- [00:24:22.16] LYDIA MORTON: --meet together--
- [00:24:23.15] INTERVIEWER 1: --to participate in scouting.
- [00:24:27.30] LYDIA MORTON: --in a house that Miss Muehlig, Bertha Muehlig, would have open for us. And we would meet specially on Mother's Day. We would have a tea for our mothers. And I knew Mrs. [? Leighty ?] when I was working at City Club.
- [00:24:49.11] INTERVIEWER 1: I was going to say, all these names that are--
- [00:24:51.44] LYDIA MORTON: And I knew all the family, yeah.
- [00:24:53.41] INTERVIEWER 1: --iconic names in this town, you knew all these people.
- [00:24:56.29] LYDIA MORTON: Mmm-hmm. I knew them. And as I said, I knew the [? Eberboll ?] family.
- [00:25:05.38] INTERVIEWER 1: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
- [00:25:10.82] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. I lost my great grandmother and, of course, my baby brother. And I didn't know my grandfather Cromwell. I can remember him, because I saw him about once or twice, because he died when I was real young. And let's see. The Turner side of the family lived in Ann Arbor. I knew the older ones.
- [00:25:49.25] And my cousin Nelson had 10 children. So I knew the older ones, but I didn't know the younger ones. And I met one of the younger ones when we were getting the family together for a meeting. And then he stuck by us all the time. He was sorry he missed all those years with us.
- [00:26:18.83] INTERVIEWER 1: He wanted to be part of the whole clan.
- [00:26:21.79] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. Because all the Turners lived on the west side of town. They went to Mack School. And then their father, Nelson, organized that Church of God that built that little church out on Packard. And so that separated us a little, because we never saw them. They were busy into their activities there.
- [00:26:54.71] INTERVIEWER 1: And so, when you think back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, if any, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:27:07.86] LYDIA MORTON: That was the deep Depression, big Depression here in Ann Arbor. And I think our graduating class was the poorest class that graduated from Ann Arbor high school. We couldn't afford to rent the caps and gowns, but we had everything else. And so we wore white dresses, and the boys white shirts and dark trousers.
- [00:27:39.15] INTERVIEWER 1: What year did you graduate?
- [00:27:40.96] LYDIA MORTON: '34.
- [00:27:42.63] INTERVIEWER 1: Right in the middle of the Depression, right?
- [00:27:44.84] LYDIA MORTON: Mmm-hmm.
- [00:27:48.19] INTERVIEWER 1: You lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? For instance, was your school segregated? Was the elementary school near your home? Was there a high school for black students?
- [00:28:02.12] LYDIA MORTON: Here in Ann Arbor, you went to the school in your ward. Now, as people migrated to Ann Arbor and it grew, it got pretty tough in some of the schools, something that I had never seen before. And when my children went to school, there was always fighting and going on. We never had that. We had fun at school.
- [00:28:38.85] And we were proud of our schools. As I said, Jones School was just freshly built when I went in there. We were proud. We weren't ready to tear it to pieces. And, you see, they closed down Northside School, and those children came to Jones School. And there were some children from Barton Hills that came to Jones School.
- [00:29:06.21] INTERVIEWER 1: So that happened when you were there? How did you get to school?
- [00:29:14.91] LYDIA MORTON: Walked. We were a walking generation. Now, you ask them to walk a block and they say it's too far.
- [00:29:25.11] INTERVIEWER 1: You're still walking.
- [00:29:26.26] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah.
- [00:29:26.92] INTERVIEWER 1: All that athleticism.
- [00:29:29.47] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah, now you have walking groups for the exercise. We didn't have to. We walked and thought nothing-- but we stayed in groups. You didn't see a child walking alone and things like that. We had to go home for lunch and back to school. We had an hour. And we were never late. And now they drive the cars and they're late.
- [00:30:03.82] INTERVIEWER 1: So you talked about that your high school was integrated, yes?
- [00:30:11.78] LYDIA MORTON: Oh, yes. But there weren't many of us. In each group, there were so few. Now, I think that the first time I had another negro girl in my class was in junior high in my economics class.
- [00:30:35.21] INTERVIEWER 1: That was the first time?
- [00:30:37.26] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah, because we were all scattered. And remember, we were scattered over Ann Arbor. It wasn't just Jones School.
- [00:30:44.60] INTERVIEWER 1: And then how was that?
- [00:30:46.03] LYDIA MORTON: There were--
- [00:30:46.52] INTERVIEWER 1: To be the only one?
- [00:30:48.24] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. They went to the school closest to where they lived.
- [00:30:56.48] INTERVIEWER 1: Was that difficult to be the only--
- [00:31:00.01] LYDIA MORTON: No. Not at all. I took part in all the activities that they had. And I made friends. And as I say, I still have those friends.
- [00:31:11.50] INTERVIEWER 1: Were are there any African American teachers as part of your--
- [00:31:15.09] LYDIA MORTON: No. Well, I never had any. And before I got to high school, I had just one man teacher.
- [00:31:26.53] INTERVIEWER 1: And then in high school, you had more men?
- [00:31:29.43] LYDIA MORTON: And I should say Miles and Vic Turner, those groups, that age, they were the first ones to get into the schools here. When my children were in school-- because my aunt graduated from the University of Michigan, and she taught mathematics. But she couldn't get a job here. And there were quite a few of her friends that graduated. They had to go to Indiana or someplace. And she ended up at Prairie View in Texas.
- [00:32:17.00] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. Someone else told us a story of applying to be a teacher, and it was suggested that she go to Inkster.
- [00:32:27.73] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah.
- [00:32:29.38] INTERVIEWER 1: That they weren't interested in considering her to--
- [00:32:35.57] LYDIA MORTON: But then once they got them in here, there was a lot of them. Now, we had quite a few university students in the early days, you see. They had houses that they rented to the students.
- [00:32:55.17] INTERVIEWER 1: I was just going to ask about were there places for African Americans to stay in town?
- [00:32:59.63] LYDIA MORTON: Because there was no such thing as a dorm here then. And they had the sororities and the other houses. But my great aunt was on Glen Avenue. And she had a large house. She rented rooms to students. She had both black and white.
- [00:33:25.64] INTERVIEWER 1: So she had an integrated rooming house.
- [00:33:28.24] LYDIA MORTON: And many of them did.
- [00:33:32.07] INTERVIEWER 1: Interesting. Were there restaurants or eating places for blacks in this town?
- [00:33:37.51] LYDIA MORTON: Well, I really don't know. Ann Arbor wasn't like most towns. The thing was, we were family oriented. We didn't have hotels, and we didn't have a lot of restaurants here. And you didn't go out to a restaurant to eat. You ate in your home.
- [00:34:01.83] INTERVIEWER 1: But if someone were visiting from somewhere else, or if they were a student, then they would be in a rooming house, or--
- [00:34:09.49] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. And we had a lot of student friends that would come to our house. And so we knew all of them.
- [00:34:22.53] INTERVIEWER 1: Your family was sort of a hub for--
- [00:34:24.39] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. Or if they came to church, someone was always inviting them to their home. But there was always somebody extra at our house.
- [00:34:36.23] INTERVIEWER 2: What church did you attend?
- [00:34:37.73] LYDIA MORTON: Second Baptist. And my family was the founder of that. The Zebbs and my grandmother on my mother's side.
- [00:34:50.50] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you continue singing?
- [00:34:52.83] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. See, mother was organist for 50 years. So I was at the church before I was born.
- [00:35:02.29] INTERVIEWER 1: Couldn't get away from that.
- [00:35:04.09] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. Well, I enjoyed it. Because she did all of the music there, and sometimes she'd help them out at the Methodist Church. Because my great grandmother Turner, who was a Methodist, and the churches worked together like that.
- [00:35:22.46] INTERVIEWER 1: That's great.
- [00:35:24.67] Well, I think we're going to move to now talking about adulthood, marriage, and family life. So this set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, and/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. So after you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:35:58.28] LYDIA MORTON: I was still at home. As I say, we were in a Depression then. And I was looking for a job to help out, because neither my brother and I went to college, because-- we had a college fund, each of us, because Dad, he wanted that. But with things so bad, having a home was more important to us than going. So we gave them our money to keep things going, because people were losing their homes and everything. And home meant a lot to us.
- [00:36:35.47] And so one day, a man knocked on our door, and he said, Mrs. Elliott sent me here. She said you had a daughter that maybe could work for me. And it was Mr. Clarkson. And his father was the retired president of one of the banks.
- [00:37:01.81] And he said, my parents are elderly. They need someone just as a companion. Because he was usually home. He was an artist. And he had just been the voted president of the Scarab Club in Detroit.
- [00:37:21.78] INTERVIEWER 1: I was just there on Sunday.
- [00:37:23.25] LYDIA MORTON: And he was pretty busy there. So he said, and they told me your daughter would be just the right person. So they interviewed my parents for me to get the job.
- [00:37:40.01] So he said, now, my mother drives, so she'll come 10 o'clock in the morning to pick her up and then bring her home around 7 o'clock in the evening. So my parents said, OK. And I worked for the Clarkson family for four years. And--
- [00:38:01.39] INTERVIEWER 1: And what did you do?
- [00:38:03.99] LYDIA MORTON: Not much, Oh, she showed me how to-- she had me baking cookies most of the time. And Mr. Clarkson--
- [00:38:14.20] INTERVIEWER 1: Good job.
- [00:38:15.29] LYDIA MORTON: --yeah-- would be just sitting in the chair. I think he must have had a stroke some time or another. And he'd sit there in the chair and sneeze, and his teeth would come out. And I would pick those up for him. And I would go out in the garden with her just to keep busy.
- [00:38:38.82] And the little boy next door, he would come over and talk my arm off. And he knew what day I'd be baking cookies, so he'd come for cookies. And I worked-- it was fun working for them. Their grandson would come. He was here at the University, and he would come over for a meal or something. And he always wore cowboy boots. And I found out they were cousins to one of the big cowboys. [INAUDIBLE] oh, what is his-- I can't remember what his name.
- [00:39:22.31] INTERVIEWER 1: Trying to think, who are the big cowboys?
- [00:39:24.19] LYDIA MORTON: He was a comedian, too. And he wrote a book about horses, riding the Mustang trail. And they gave me a book, autographed it. He would come over. And his sister would come up from California. And she was an aspiring actress. So it was an interesting time there.
- [00:39:54.92] INTERVIEWER 1: An artistic family.
- [00:39:57.81] LYDIA MORTON: But I had to stop work after I was married and when I was carrying my first child. The doctor wanted me to stay home, because he was afraid I'd be lifting things.
- [00:40:11.18] INTERVIEWER 1: So tell us a little bit about how you met your husband, and your courtship.
- [00:40:15.65] LYDIA MORTON: Well, he came to Ann Arbor the summer of '29. And I was out at the lake. I was never in Ann Arbor during the summer. And a friend of mine says, oh, a new boy came to Sunday school, and can he run! And she was telling me about him.
- [00:40:43.30] So when I came home and school started, I knew his cousin. And she says, oh, I'd like you to meet my cousin. And that's how I met him. I didn't like him at first. Didn't like him at all. Because he was raised in Detroit, and I was just a little innocent. I didn't know all--
- [00:41:11.95] INTERVIEWER 1: He was like a big city kid.
- [00:41:13.99] LYDIA MORTON: Big city boy. But he was a tap dancer, taught himself to tap dance. Because he started selling papers when he was real young, because, as I said, he had no parents. And he would go to the theater where all of the black artists would end up in Detroit. And that's how he learned to tap dance.
- [00:41:46.80] And he'd sell his papers to them because he'd get big check-- he was small, and he'd get big tips from the actors. He'd go there, and he'd go to the police station to know all them so he'd have protection, because it was tough in Detroit. The big boys would take their money and everything.
- [00:42:13.26] INTERVIEWER 1: He sounds like he was pretty enterprising.
- [00:42:14.39] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. He was a boy, grew up in the streets. He knew his way around. But I loved to dance. I never learned to tap dance, but we would dance. And we were the dancers of our group.
- [00:42:29.33] INTERVIEWER 1: And where did you dance, and what did you dance to?
- [00:42:32.31] LYDIA MORTON: We did Ballroom dancing. We waltzed, two-step, all of the last things that they learned to do. And kids would make a circle around us while we danced.
- [00:42:51.10] INTERVIEWER 1: Did you have favorite places that you went dancing?
- [00:42:54.85] LYDIA MORTON: Well, the Dunbar Center. The Dunbar was organized in '23, and, as I said, we all organized that. And our first building that we had for things, activities, was on Catherine street. And our group, we were the dancers, and we were the hikers. One time, we hiked from Ann Arbor to Dexter.
- [00:43:33.81] INTERVIEWER 1: That's a long way.
- [00:43:36.17] LYDIA MORTON: And the boys got their merit badges for that. And our girls got merit badges. And in Dexter, mother had a camp session for the girls, two-week camp session. And she got her license from Lansing. And she also said she had one of the best camps run in Michigan.
- [00:44:07.73] And I've got a large picture of one of the sessions with all those campers in there. And our dog, he got right in the picture. He knew everybody, because we raised him on the bottle, and he knew his way around.
- [00:44:29.73] INTERVIEWER 1: And was the camp integrated, or was it just for black kids?
- [00:44:32.90] LYDIA MORTON: Well, it didn't need to be. The white girls go to the Girl Scout camp. So with this, she was able to get the Boy Scout camp the last two weeks in August, because they were closed for the summer. Because my aunt and uncle cooked at their camp. My father was at University Fresh Air Camp. And my aunt was at the Y camp on Halfmoon Lake.
- [00:45:07.90] INTERVIEWER 1: OK.
- [00:45:08.81] LYDIA MORTON: So we knew all around there. And, of course, we knew our way in Pinckney and everything.
- [00:45:17.76] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you feel welcome there?
- [00:45:19.41] LYDIA MORTON: Yes, we were. And at the camp session, those boys were boys off the street. These were boys that were on the edge of being sent for doing all these activities that they had at the University Fresh Air camp the first year.
- [00:45:45.80] And the counselors were mostly athletes who planned to be coaches and things. So this gave them credits, and earning a little money during the summer. And the doctors were interns from the University Hospital. And then, of course, the director was over all.
- [00:46:12.69] Well, they would have programs around the campfire at night. You could build a fire then. And their very first camp was at Halfmoon Lake. And why they cleared the space where they were now. And every cabin had a chance to put a program on for a campfire. And we, the Cromwells, would have our turn too. Because there were boys that were wanting to get in the food service business. They worked in the kitchen. And they were very good.
- [00:47:08.34] INTERVIEWER 1: Camp is a great opportunity to learn a lot of things.
- [00:47:12.03] LYDIA MORTON: And we would have a program just like everybody else had their turn. And we were the only black ones there. Several years went by before they had their first counselor who was black, and that was the minister of the Second Baptist Church, Reverend Gilbert. And that's when he got his idea to set up Dunbar Center.
- [00:47:46.76] INTERVIEWER 1: So I'm going to get back to your husband. So we covered where you met. When did you get married?
- [00:47:59.28] LYDIA MORTON: We got married in April of '36. Now, he was also a Golden Glove boxer. And he met Joe Louis, because he was training at the same place.
- [00:48:18.96] INTERVIEWER 1: Very cool. So how long before you had your first child?
- [00:48:28.36] LYDIA MORTON: It was a year-- not quite a year. She got in a hurry to arrive.
- [00:48:38.53] FEMALE SPEAKER: [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:48:40.79] LYDIA MORTON: Now, I was fortunate. I went to our family doctor. We always had a family doctor. And he had been a classmate of my mother's.
- [00:48:54.91] And when I went to him, he says, the university hospital is just starting trying to get women to have their babies in the hospital instead of at home, because we always had them at home. You only went to the hospital to die. So he says, I'm going to enroll you in this. You don't have to pay anything. You'll be getting the first-class care. And the baby will have a good chance.
- [00:49:33.97] I hadn't realized, but he had a slip from the courts, Judge Payne, who we knew, too. You see, we knew everybody. And on this slip from the court, it said, this child is to have whatever medication or medical care she needs. And if not, you have to answer to the court. And so that was put into her birth certificate.
- [00:50:04.75] And as I said, she decided to come early. She was supposed to come in February. She came December the 31st. And the funny part was the morning of the 30th, I had had my checkup, and the doctor said, I'll see you next week. I said, OK.
- [00:50:30.61] So my husband worked at Ford's, and when he came home, I didn't feel very well. And so he called the doctor, who said, well, bring her in. She might feel better if I can reassure her that everything's going to be all right. So they took me to the hospital, and the doctor said, well, I think she'd better stay.
- [00:50:54.02] And so my parents came up. And of course, he didn't have parents, but his cousin came. They were all there waiting and waiting. And December the 31st, she arrived.
- [00:51:11.01] INTERVIEWER 1: So you got a tax deduction. That's great. And then how and then how long until the next children came along?
- [00:51:21.42] LYDIA MORTON: Well, let's see. Two years. And then my oldest son was born. And he was a Marine. And then when he got out of the Marines, he came home. Then he had cancer.
- [00:51:41.51] And the veterans' hospital was a pain. It was the smallest. Nice, big, beautiful one now. He'd be proud to go there. He didn't want to go. But he had to have medical [INAUDIBLE]. And they were no help at all. So we assumed all of the responsibility. And I'd just got through paying off everything, and my husband died suddenly.
- [00:52:11.72] INTERVIEWER 1: It sounds like a--
- [00:52:12.53] LYDIA MORTON: There's always a way.
- [00:52:14.83] INTERVIEWER 1: --difficult time.
- [00:52:18.67] LYDIA MORTON: And then I was fortunate, now as my daughter was telling you earlier, that my father had myasthenia gravis. Well, when he started getting better, his doctor said, well, I know you're used to doing something. He said, you come clean our apartment. Just do the floors. Because we had hardwood floors. Well, he was an expert at that.
- [00:52:52.19] And he says, come every Wednesday and do that. So he did that. And then she knew that he was a cook. She had him help with her big Christmas Eve party, because her husband was one of the foremost neurosurgeons, and she was a neurologist. And between the two of them, they had to entertain their different staffs. And so he helped them with that.
- [00:53:29.66] And so she said to him, do you know of anyone who would like a part-time job just cooking our dinner? They had a woman, but she wasn't a very good cook. And he says, well, my daughter. And she said, you sure she could do it? And, oh yeah. So she says, well, have her come, and we'll talk. And I went up there, and she thought I was a little girl.
- [00:54:00.03] INTERVIEWER 1: And is this when you were already married with--
- [00:54:03.07] LYDIA MORTON: So the doctor says, well, we'll try it out and see how you go. So the first week, every time I got to work, I'd have to call his office to see what kind he wanted. And he'd tell me anything else that he needed, because the store that they traded with and had an account with was just a block from the apartment. And I'd walk down there and get the things. They'd come in, and dinner would be ready. And then, "That was good."
- [00:54:40.08] And he had told me earlier, don't bother with desserts, because I guess the woman they had, that's all she did was try to make desserts, and they were no good. So after the first week, he said, well, I guess you know what you're doing, so you go ahead.
- [00:54:57.87] And so I planned the meals. I bought the food, prepared it, and served it. And, oh, that was good. So they said they didn't like desserts, so I said I'm going to try an apple pie for them. So I made this apple pie, and she ate, "Oh, that was good! What company makes the pie crust that you use?" I said, Lydia's. Because I made my own.
- [00:55:26.67] INTERVIEWER 1: How did you learn to cook?
- [00:55:29.19] LYDIA MORTON: I beg your pardon?
- [00:55:30.28] INTERVIEWER 1: How did you learn to cook?
- [00:55:31.37] LYDIA MORTON: Well, I grew up in a kitchen, and I was always underfoot. And sometimes I had aunts that worked in the fraternities. And when they needed a little help, I'd always go, and that's the way I'd get my little change.
- [00:55:50.09] INTERVIEWER 1: The school of experience.
- [00:55:51.41] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. And Miss [INAUDIBLE] had taught me a lot of things of how to do, because she taught me how to plan a meal. And they called me teacher's pet then. But I didn't care. I was good. You had to learn how to plan a meal, and how to buy the food and cook it, and how to serve it.
- [00:56:21.86] My mother was always there for a meal, because when you cooked, had a meal and your meal was chosen, you could invite your mother to the [INAUDIBLE], and so many teachers. And she always chose my menu, because I knew how to make a balanced meal. Because I would be in the kitchen, and other kids would be out playing. And I'd just watch and learn.
- [00:56:52.33] INTERVIEWER 1: And did you do this job with the two doctors after you were married?
- [00:57:00.70] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah.
- [00:57:01.00] INTERVIEWER 1: So that was your start in--
- [00:57:04.51] LYDIA MORTON: Yeah. And I worked for them for 14 years. And I was very fortunate, as I said. I worked for my father's doctor, and then my second son was hit by a car. He was riding on a scooter. It was a two-seater, he and his little buddy. And he was on the back seat. And the car came to stop sign and hit them. He leaned over and his head hit the curb. And some lady saw it, and she called me.
- [00:57:49.57] And I got to the hospital right after the ambulance did with him. And they said, oh, I don't know [INAUDIBLE] badly the head injury. And the doctor that I worked for, his office was just above ER. And I called him, and they said, is Dr. [? Bessage ?] your doctor? I said, he sure is. He came down there and checked him, I'll take care of it. And he took care of it.
- [00:58:24.20] INTERVIEWER 1: So at least you felt like you had somebody who cared about--
- [00:58:26.86] LYDIA MORTON: And he was unconscious for two weeks. And they operated three times. But the doctor gave me the book he had for his students to teach them about this and gave me the chapter to read, so I'd know what he was doing, and I knew all the procedure and I could tell the other family what was happening.
- [00:58:50.45] But when he finally came to, I was standing in the room there with him at the hospital. And one of the doctor's wives was there with me. And he opened his eyes and says, Mama? And she ran down to the nurses and said, he's awake! He's awake! And they came and said, yeah. And they tested him, and they had him be quiet.
- [00:59:20.44] And that night, he had a grand mal seizure in the middle of the night. And the doctor had to go into the hospital. Well, I usually came in the doctors' entrance when I came to the hospital, because I could just walk right on in to his room. They put him in a private room. They didn't have all private rooms, you know, back then. They had wards. Well, he was in a private.
- [00:59:50.89] And I came by the doctor's office, and his secretary says to me, have you see the doctor yet this morning? I said, no. She said, well, you sit here a minute. He's almost through with his rounds. He wants to see you. And that's when he told me he had a grand mal seizure. But he was quieted down. And he was gradually getting better.
- [01:00:19.40] But for two years, every week I had to go in for them to test his brain. And he was on medication, which they said would be for the rest of his life. Well there was-- about six months after that, he'd never had a seizure. He had no trouble. And now he's in his '60s, and he's never had a seizure since.
- [01:00:47.34] But I guess he was just the one to be sick. He worked for MichCon for 35 years. And then when he retired, he and his wife moved to Arizona. And he was there about a week, and he had a massive heart attack. They said, come right away. He won't last through the night. You need to get a chance to see him. Well, he's walking around doing fine now.
- [01:01:19.71] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. It's like one of those--
- [01:01:21.95] LYDIA MORTON: The doctor says, well, I don't know what you do. And that was seven years ago.
- [01:01:27.34] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow.
- [01:01:29.97] LYDIA MORTON: And when we were there, we just kept praying for him, praying for him. And all of the churches prayed for him. So one night, I was walking down hall, and the doctor from emergency said, well, are you still here? And I said, yeah.
- [01:01:50.77] He said, well, is your son-- how is he? I said, oh, he's fine. He's sitting up there now eating his dinner. And he said, are you kidding? And so he said, would you mind if I went in to see him? I said, oh, no. Go ahead. And that's a miracle, because he had died in twice in the emergency room, and they had revived him.
- [01:02:14.21] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. That is amazing.
- [01:02:16.81] LYDIA MORTON: And he's doing fine now. In fact, I talked to him just the other day.
- [01:02:22.38] INTERVIEWER 1: That's really wonderful. Well, I think we're going to jump to your work and retirement. And I'll ask what was your main field of employment?
- [01:02:39.36] LYDIA MORTON: Well, I started at the City Club. I was the only employee. And they were still building the part where the dining room and kitchen was. And when I left, I knew everybody there. I had worked for-- I knew all of the presidents, from the first up to where they were then. And I had, I guess, convinced quite a few ladies to join the club. I hadn't realize I'd talked to that many.
- [01:03:23.00] I not only took care of the dining room, I oversaw all of the big wedding receptions and things. And I would fill in at the office when everybody had to be out of it. So I used to answer the phone. And they had me do that because I knew everybody.
- [01:03:43.23] And they gave me my retirement party. There were about 300 women there for the party. The whole membership, even those out of town I heard from. And I've got a book with all of their names in it.
- [01:04:04.72] And the florist fixed a special design for the food table for me, because when he was starting out in business, I had his cards. And when I was planning wedding receptions, I'd give them a card. And that helped him, because he had just started his business out of his home.
- [01:04:29.33] INTERVIEWER 1: And how did your life change when you and/or your spouse retired?
- [01:04:35.61] LYDIA MORTON: Well, it gave us a chance to get reacquainted. Because a lot of times, I would work a double shift, and I'd, say, get home in the afternoons after the lunch hour for about an hour, and then have to go back for the dinner. And I'd be driving south on Pontiac Trail, my husband would be driving north on Pontiac Trail. And so I said to him, well, now, if we both retire at the same time, we'll get reacquainted.
- [01:05:18.48] And that's what we did. And I'm glad I did. So many of our friends, they'd retire, one of them would die as soon as that. And that happened to a real close friend who was vice president of the university. And he retired, and he and his wife were going to travel around the world. And he says, now, we'll send cards from every country. They got as far as Mexico, and she died suddenly.
- [01:05:55.29] And so I said, well, that tells us something. Well, we had fun after we retired. See, and we'd just built our home, and it gave us a chance to be in our house other than just to go to bed and sleep.
- [01:06:11.96] INTERVIEWER 1: Right. And what kinds of things did you do?
- [01:06:15.65] LYDIA MORTON: Well, each year we took a trip. We didn't have much money, but we managed to-- I tell you, I taught him how to-- when I first started out at the City Club, the manager's husband and my husband were my busboys when I needed help.
- [01:06:36.78] INTERVIEWER 1: Oh, great. Keep it in the family.
- [01:06:40.97] LYDIA MORTON: And I taught him how to do that. And the only way I knew the liquor bottles is by the picture on it. That's the only thing I knew about liquor. And here I had charge of the liquors.
- [01:06:58.93] So what I did, now, there were many men that were bartenders with the different dietitians and things. I had lists of their names, and I knew them all. And I had their telephone numbers. So I would schedule them when we needed, instead of having a bartender there on the premises all the time, when we didn't use them because the women weren't drinkers. And there we'd be paying money out for nothing. So I would schedule them like I did my waitresses for these big parties.
- [01:07:40.75] And so I said to my husband, you know, you can make some money, because he had started helping with the caterers on these private parties. And so I said, you learn how to-- I got him a book.
- [01:07:55.53] INTERVIEWER 1: You said, learn how to do this.
- [01:07:56.69] LYDIA MORTON: Learn how to mix all these drinks, you know. And so he did that extra. And that extra money went into a pot for our trips.
- [01:08:06.44] INTERVIEWER 1: Your travel fund. Did you have any favorite place that you went?
- [01:08:10.84] LYDIA MORTON: Well, we went to Washington. We went to Niagara Falls. We went to, oh, all the different places. And then, in the last few years, we went to California, where my aunt lived, because she was in her 90s, so we'd go there for her birthday.
- [01:08:39.81] And it got to be a special thing, the family together there. Because she was born here in Ann Arbor. And her one wish was to come back to Ann Arbor for her 100th birthday. But she died at the age of 99. But we would go there and, of course, we'd see the different sights there.
- [01:09:10.33] Oh, when I retired, part of my gifts from them was a trip to Hawaii. So my husband and I had this trip to Hawaii. We go on the plane here, and they'd come and take drink orders, you know. And they said, well, you all have glasses of champagne. You don't have to pay for it. Oh, boy.
- [01:09:43.04] Then, when we got to Hawaii-- back to California, because we went to California and changed planes-- and then when we got to the big island in Hawaii, we went directly there, they brought us the bottle of champagne. This is your gift. Oh, great. And, see, they had planned all this. And we were with the group called the VIPs. So we got around.
- [01:10:20.29] And another thing, that first manager, and I said I used her husband to help me in the dining room, they were living in Hawaii then. And we had kept in touch and written to her, told her what our schedule was. And she had already called the hotel when we got there.
- [01:10:38.01] INTERVIEWER 1: That's great.
- [01:10:39.27] LYDIA MORTON: Well, then we were going to all four islands. And, oh, the boy that was our guide for all of the side trips and that, he said, do you all know anybody here? And I said, just this couple, but I won't see them until we get to Oahu, because that's where they live.
- [01:11:07.20] So we went to an island, and the hotel veranda was out over the water, and you could see all these beautiful fish down in there, all kinds of fish. And there were a couple of groups. There was one group of four people, real elderly people, and they saw us. They were all looking too.
- [01:11:32.39] They said, have you ever been here before? We said, no. They said, well, now, we were here when we were young. And we went to this, and we did this. Now, you've got to do this. You just must do that. And I said, well, fine.
- [01:11:48.91] And when we'd made all our rounds, got back to Oahu, as soon as we walked into the hotel, here was these four people. Oh, here you are! Oh, my. And our guide says, well, I thought you said you didn't know anybody. I said, we didn't. We just met them.
- [01:12:07.82] INTERVIEWER 1: It's like everybody we know is here. That's great. That's great.
- [01:12:12.79] LYDIA MORTON: And then when we got together with the manager, Ted and Lucille, and they were going to take us to their house for dinner one night. And we usually went with different groups to dinners, because they all wanted us to go. So Ted was going to come pick us up.
- [01:12:34.59] So the group says, you going to have dinner with us tonight? I said, no, our friends are going to pick us up. We'll be with them. So they all were wandering around there trying to see who was going to come pick us up. And here he drove up in this big limousine, you know-- It was the governor's car-- and picked us up. And they all stood there.
- [01:12:59.98] INTERVIEWER 1: Wow. That sounds like quite a trip. Amazing. Well, I'm going to jump once more, and this is about historical and social events. And so I wanted you to sum up for us, how has it been for you to live in this community? I know that's a very broad question, but--
- [01:13:26.05] LYDIA MORTON: It's been fine. I only had one incident that I really was upset about. My husband, as I said, work at Ford's. But then he had a part-time job working for the man that had the contract for the city trash business.
- [01:13:52.40] Well, then the city workers all unionized, paid union dues. And they were having this picnic for all the union members. So they said, bring your children, and come and have a nice time together. So there was another couple that went with us, and we had our children in the car.
- [01:14:22.14] And we went out, and it was the German park. I knew, I had heard rumors about it. I hadn't bothered about going out there. Didn't need to. So when we got there, a guy came up to the gate, and says, oh, well you can't come in here. I said, what do you mean we can't come in here? He said, well, you people aren't allowed in here. I said, but this is the picnic place, isn't it? They said, yeah, they're in there having fun.
- [01:14:56.73] INTERVIEWER 1: But you people aren't welcome.
- [01:14:57.28] LYDIA MORTON: But you can't come in. And I kept quiet as long as I could, because I'd never had this happen to me. I said, who's the chairman of this? I said, you call him over there. He said, oh, I'm sorry this happened, but there's nothing we can do about it. You can't come in here.
- [01:15:21.33] And he said, I tell you what. We'll give you the sandwiches and the pop, and you can have your picnic at home. And the couple that were with us, they were from the South. Oh, that's a good idea. I said, if you take that, you're going to walk home. And I told them that, I said, don't you ever offer me anything like that again.
- [01:15:49.00] INTERVIEWER 1: Good for you.
- [01:15:50.45] LYDIA MORTON: You keep your pop and your [INAUDIBLE]. We're going home. So we went home, and the closer to home I got, the madder I got. I had never had anything like that happen. So I sat down, and I wrote a letter to the editor. I had never done anything like that before.
- [01:16:07.99] And boy, it came out in the paper the next day, in the Ann Arbor News. And our phone was ringing off the hook. And quite a few lawyers called, said do you want to sue them? I said, no. I just wanted people to know what was going on.
- [01:16:30.12] And they just wanted me to do something. No. Suing them wasn't the answer. I wanted them never do that again. Because the lawyers checked to see if my husband had paid his dues. He's paid up and everything.
- [01:16:49.72] INTERVIEWER 1: What year was that?
- [01:16:51.34] LYDIA MORTON: And the guy with his little badge claiming he was the deputy sheriff, he was fired.
- [01:16:59.14] INTERVIEWER 1: And what year was that?
- [01:17:02.15] LYDIA MORTON: Golly, it must have been-- mm. I don't know. It wasn't--
- [01:17:12.11] INTERVIEWER 1: It was after you retired.
- [01:17:15.20] LYDIA MORTON: No. I hadn't retired. Before I retired, because the children were small.
- [01:17:21.36] INTERVIEWER 1: So this was--
- [01:17:22.07] LYDIA MORTON: And that-- Now, I'd heard people talk about things like that, but--
- [01:17:26.19] INTERVIEWER 1: But you hadn't had a direct experience.
- [01:17:29.52] LYDIA MORTON: I'd never had to go around to the back door to go into the store. And I knew the store owners and that. And mm-mm, never had. And Neil Staebler, who was the national president of the Democratic Party, he was one of my father's Scouts. And he and his wife used to come by and take him to the meetings. I said, uh-uh.
- [01:18:01.56] INTERVIEWER 1: So the fact that you hadn't been conditioned to have that kind of treatment--
- [01:18:07.97] LYDIA MORTON: I'd heard people talking about it, but I'd never run into anything like that.
- [01:18:15.18] INTERVIEWER 1: So when thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:18:21.41] LYDIA MORTON: I'm proud that I've been able to live this long and seen these many, many changes, and that I was able to raise my family in an atmosphere where they could make friends with anyone they wanted to. And to prove that point, when my father was in the hospital, my two boys, their friends were always at our house.
- [01:18:48.48] So I was at work, and the Doctor, when he came home, he says, guess what? Your father had company today. Well, at that time, children weren't allowed in the patient's bedroom And I said, well, how did they get in? He said, well, the head nurse decided that they could go in.
- [01:19:12.51] They went to her and said, now, grandpa's been in the hospital a long time, and we want to see him. It was my two boys, a little Mexican boy, a little white boy. And all those little boys into the hospital in his room to see him. And they just thought that was wonderful.
- [01:19:44.40] And they went and said, we've got to see grandpa. And when I went to the hospital, I said, well, Dad, did she let them all in there? He said, yes, and she came and asked me, were they my grandchildren, and I said, yes.
- [01:20:01.69] INTERVIEWER 1: All four of them, right? Great. What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person until now?
- [01:20:14.52] LYDIA MORTON: Ann Arbor isn't what I would say a nice town like it was. I guess because I had known everybody, I felt at ease with them. And most of my contemporaries are gone now. There's no one that I can turn around and say, do you remember when?
- [01:20:41.99] INTERVIEWER 1: That's the downside.
- [01:20:43.36] LYDIA MORTON: But I'm am glad I'm here. It's so wonderful the different changes I've seen here. It isn't the little village anymore. And I think I'd need a map to get through Ann Arbor. I used to know Ann Arbor like the palm of my hand. But it's so different. I have to you read the street signs to know where I am now. But I'm glad I'm here to see it.
- [01:21:13.97] INTERVIEWER 1: Any advice that you would give to the younger generations coming up from this vantage point of this very long and interesting life?
- [01:21:26.71] LYDIA MORTON: They seem to fight so. Always fighting. And they don't know how to have fun. And I think it's because all their life, there's been war. And look how they're shooting each other now. We didn't have all those worries. I'm not saying Ann Arbor was perfect. They had its problems, but not like they have now.
- [01:22:08.93] INTERVIEWER 1: And any words of encouragement or anything that you would give to the younger generations?
- [01:22:16.17] LYDIA MORTON: Well, I think, for one thing, there's no family life. Everyone's for himself now. We had families. And we had some order of things. Now, my children, they grew up knowing-- they had a schedule. They ate their breakfasts. They went to school. They had lunch. They didn't live off of sandwiches. And then they sat down at the table and ate. They had dinners. One little boy says to me. I like to eat at your house. You have Sunday dinners every day. And it's not that way anymore. Everybody is on his own schedule. So you don't have a family life.
- [01:23:16.85] INTERVIEWER 1: So you would recommend that people create a family.
- [01:23:19.77] LYDIA MORTON: Yes. You need that. Now, my children knew that they were brothers and sisters. And they stuck together. They didn't spend their time fighting.
- [01:23:34.80] INTERVIEWER 1: So anything else that you want to tell us that we haven't asked you? I'm sure we could go on for hours, obviously, but--
- [01:23:45.10] LYDIA MORTON: I don't know. We did so many different things. I liked Ann Arbor. I wouldn't want to live any place else.
February 28, 2013 at the Downtown Library
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Jones Elementary School
Ann Arbor May Festival
University of Michigan - Fresh Air Camp
Camp Fire Girls of America
YWCA Girl Reserves
Ann Arbor YM-YWCA
Dunbar Community Center
Second Baptist Church of Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor News
Ann Arbor Women's City Club
Colored Welfare League
Christian Mack School
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Lydia Belle Morton
Jay H. Payne
Ralph M. Gilbert
Ethel Louise Turner Cromwell
George R. Cromwell