AACHM Oral History: Joetta Mial
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 3:52pm
When: December 5, 2017
Joetta Mial was born in 1931 in Jackson, Michigan, and later moved to Ann Arbor. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and spent her career as an educator in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. In 1987, Joetta became principal of Huron High School after serving as a teacher, administrator, counselor, and class principal at Huron and Pioneer High Schools.
- [00:00:09.23] INTERVIEWER: So good afternoon.
- [00:00:11.16] JOETTA MIAL: Hi, Joyce.
- [00:00:12.83] INTERVIEWER: I'm so glad that you agreed to be interviewed for phase five. So you're going to be on the other side of the camera today.
- [00:00:20.65] JOETTA MIAL: Right, yeah.
- [00:00:21.56] INTERVIEWER: So how is that feeling?
- [00:00:23.06] JOETTA MIAL: Well, it feels good. I just hope my memory holds out.
- [00:00:27.89] INTERVIEWER: You'll be fine. We're going to start with part one, which is demographics and family history. I'm 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.
- [00:00:50.98] JOETTA MIAL: Joetta Mial, J-O-E-T-T-A M-I-A-L.
- [00:00:56.37] INTERVIEWER: What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:00:59.31] JOETTA MIAL: May 5th, 1931. I'm 86.
- [00:01:03.15] INTERVIEWER: Congratulations. How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:09.75] JOETTA MIAL: I'm African-American.
- [00:01:12.39] INTERVIEWER: And what is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:15.78] JOETTA MIAL: People used to say Protestant. So I'm a Methodist, an African-American Episcopal Methodist.
- [00:01:24.60] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:29.38] JOETTA MIAL: I have a PhD in education.
- [00:01:33.77] INTERVIEWER: Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:01:37.92] JOETTA MIAL: Well--
- [00:01:38.63] INTERVIEWER: A PhD. Very good. What is your marital status?
- [00:01:45.62] JOETTA MIAL: I'm a widow. I was married to Harry Mial for 50 years before he passed February 16th, 2001.
- [00:01:58.10] INTERVIEWER: 50 years.
- [00:01:59.12] JOETTA MIAL: Right, 50 years.
- [00:02:00.51] INTERVIEWER: That's quite an accomplishment.
- [00:02:01.52] JOETTA MIAL: Right.
- [00:02:03.60] INTERVIEWER: How many children do you have?
- [00:02:05.44] JOETTA MIAL: I have three grown sons.
- [00:02:08.34] INTERVIEWER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:10.20] JOETTA MIAL: One sister.
- [00:02:13.37] INTERVIEWER: What was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:16.22] JOETTA MIAL: I'm an educator. I was always an educator. But the basic beginning and ending of my career was education. I was a teacher, assistant principal, and then principal of Huron High School.
- [00:02:41.50] INTERVIEWER: At what age did you retire?
- [00:02:43.75] JOETTA MIAL: I was 63. I can't believe it's been that long.
- [00:02:49.29] INTERVIEWER: It doesn't seem like it, does it?
- [00:02:50.43] JOETTA MIAL: No.
- [00:02:52.01] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to go to part two, which is memories of childhood and youth. This part of the interview is about your childhood and youth. And once again, if these questions jog other memories, please respond with memories for this part of your life.
- [00:03:07.42] JOETTA MIAL: I'll try to.
- [00:03:09.43] INTERVIEWER: What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:03:12.85] JOETTA MIAL: It was good from what I can remember. We were not that well off. We weren't poor. My grandmother on my father's side lived with us. In my early years, I can remember an uncle, my father's brother, living with us. And the first time I can remember when we lived on the north side, I was born in Jackson. So I didn't get very far from home when I moved to Ann Arbor.
- [00:03:47.70] But we had a good life. Eventually, my parents both all worked in a factory, but we'll talk more about that when you ask me about it. But there was lots of family around. I had cousins and friends. And I think I had a happy childhood, and my parents were together all-- they were married 60 some years before my mom passed when she was 80.
- [00:04:26.49] INTERVIEWER: You mentioned something about different relatives living with you. It seems that that was the way that African-Americans family did it. If somebody came from another state or they got a little older by themselves, they would move in with a relative. Is that the case?
- [00:04:42.99] JOETTA MIAL: Actually, my grandmother moved-- she left the South because of what my father-- they lived in Mississippi. And they left there because they thought he was going to get in trouble. He was big for his size and a teenager and hard headed. And so she moved to Chicago, and then they moved to Jackson-- my dad, my uncle, and an aunt.
- [00:05:17.83] And it was so good to have my grandmother living with us because, when my mom and dad were working, my grandmother really took good care of us and taught us how to read and read stories to us. And it was just a really nurturing family setting. So it was good to have them-- to have her there and my uncle-- really close.
- [00:05:48.55] INTERVIEWER: Grandmothers are very special.
- [00:05:50.46] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah, that was very.
- [00:05:52.52] INTERVIEWER: What sort of work did your parents do? You might have said that, but what sort of work?
- [00:05:56.07] JOETTA MIAL: Right, both ended up-- well, my mother started out doing housework, which was very common for African-American women during that time. And I don't know about the rise of the factory. My father was working in a drugstore. I have an old picture of him, and then he got a job in a factory, making really good money for their time and so did my mom. And my grandma actually for a time worked in a factory. So that was really something.
- [00:06:32.23] And so we moved eventually. We lived on the north side for one time, and then we moved to Mason Street. And then we moved to Milwaukee Street, which at that time was all a white neighborhood. And so we integrated the neighborhood into a really nice house and stayed there until I left and got married.
- [00:06:56.06] INTERVIEWER: What are some of your earliest memories growing up?
- [00:07:03.53] JOETTA MIAL: I can remember us having fun and sitting on porches at night. And while the adults were talking, the kids in the neighborhood would be playing hide and seek and some of them doing not so nice things. That wasn't me. I was a Miss Goody Two Shoes and having picnics. And my father loved baseball, and he ended up having two girls and no sons. But he used to take us around to all the different ball games.
- [00:07:45.02] He was a Detroit Tigers fan, but we also saw the-- at that time, they called them Negro League. And I can remember Satchel Paige pitching. He would take us to Chicago, to Detroit. And then I can remember a little bit about when we first lived on the north side and my uncle was living with us. And I think he was having a little hard time at that time, and I can remember him letting us get away with stuff that my parents wouldn't let us get away with. And that was before I went to school. So I can remember a little bit about that, on the north side, and then moving to Mason Street in Jackson where I was a little older and started school there.
- [00:08:45.15] INTERVIEWER: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:08:52.83] JOETTA MIAL: Well, we did all the holiday things. We got together a lot. Like I said, we used to sit on porches and we went on picnics. And we were very involved in the church. And even back there in that time-- and like I said, I'm 86-- the Jackson Community AME church there had a gymnasium where we had sports, basketball, and things like that. And we even had dances, and some people frowned at that a long time ago. But that was a long time ago. And we had Friday night dances.
- [00:09:42.71] And we would go roller skating. And at that time, it was segregated. And the black folks had a night or two a week. I think it was one night a week, but we loved roller skating. And my parents, my sister, and I took tap dancing lessons, voice lessons, piano lessons. And to this day, I regret that I stopped taking the piano lessons. But we used to give little-- not us, but the adults supervising us-- would give talent shows. And I can remember singing in one.
- [00:10:31.98] INTERVIEWER: Wow. Do you have a good voice?
- [00:10:34.38] JOETTA MIAL: Fairly good, a choir voice, a choir voice, not a soloist voice-- not now anyway.
- [00:10:43.63] INTERVIEWER: But I see you're in the choir, though.
- [00:10:45.45] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah.
- [00:10:49.39] INTERVIEWER: You might have touched on this, but which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:10:53.22] JOETTA MIAL: Oh, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all the major holidays, 4th of July. There would always be a picnic we would go to-- The Cascades or Ella Sharp Park and all of our relatives would come. And we'd have a great time.
- [00:11:15.89] INTERVIEWER: Cooking on the grill?
- [00:11:17.09] JOETTA MIAL: Cooking on the grill, and my mom was fantastic cook. She was really, really very good in it. Some of it rubbed off on me. Right now I don't like to do know much cooking at all, but I used to. But my sister and I were-- we just didn't pick it up right away till after we got married and then the cooking, yeah.
- [00:11:49.62] INTERVIEWER: Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations? Did they create any of their own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:11:56.49] JOETTA MIAL: Only as family get-togethers, not anything special. Like I said, we were very close to the church and the community. My father was something of a-- I don't want to say celebrity, but he was a big guy. Everybody-- I always felt really protected by my father. They used to call him Joe Louis because he was big and people would mess with him.
- [00:12:27.92] And I can remember-- this is something we would do. The kids would be laying on the floor listening to the boxing matches with Joe Louis and Max Schmeling and clapping when he would win. And people used to call my dad Joe Louis sometimes because of that. And I guess we felt kind of special about that. I don't know why, but it was something in terms of being really proud that Joe Louis was black and he was this champion.
- [00:13:05.29] INTERVIEWER: So you said you were always so protective of your dad. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that?
- [00:13:11.41] JOETTA MIAL: Because he just took care of business all and made sure that-- There was segregation, there was a lot of stuff going on, although we never really lived in, when I was young, a segregated neighborhood. It was, I would say, lower middle class, but there were white people there too. But everybody just respected my dad. And he was very friendly and open, and people just admired him. And my mom would cook and always had-- we always had somebody over to the house.
- [00:13:57.49] And she made some brownies that we have never had any like that. My husband and I tried to copy the recipe because we thought we could-- her name was Etti Phair, E-T-T-I P-H-A-I-R-- and we had this dream of making Etti's, E-T-T-I-apostrophe-S brownies. But we couldn't duplicate them. So she would take them to the prisons. And when we got older and went to school, she would you know send them to school and our roommates.
- [00:14:34.72] INTERVIEWER: So was she like a lot of people probably from that generation-- they didn't really use recipes? Did she use a recipe?
- [00:14:45.54] JOETTA MIAL: I still have that recipe, and I don't know she got it off of a-- because she used to use Hershey chocolates at that time. And I don't know if there was a recipe on there or not. But I've thought about giving to-- there's a young man who makes cookies. I can't think of his name right now, but I think I'm going to share the recipe with him, see if we can't get something going.
- [00:15:20.45] INTERVIEWER: And I ask that because sometimes people from that generation, they'll say just a little bit of this and a little bit of that. They can't tell you specifics. They just do it and taste it.
- [00:15:29.78] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah, she didn't really use a lot of recipes, although when I got married, she sent some of her recipes, her special things that I used.
- [00:15:44.62] INTERVIEWER: So in school, did you play any sports or join in any other activities?
- [00:15:55.09] JOETTA MIAL: When we moved on Milwaukee, there was a playground down the street. And we used to go down there and play mixed boys and girls ball. In high school, for black girls, there weren't-- because I remember-- I think I would have been a good track team member. But they didn't have girls sports then. I was in the library club and a journalism club when I was-- and I was singing in the youth choir at church and the youth programs that we had at church. Those were my outside activities when I was younger.
- [00:16:40.29] INTERVIEWER: What about your school experience was different from school as you know it today?
- [00:16:48.49] JOETTA MIAL: Oh, dear. It's so vastly different. Because of my background and going into education, I didn't have a black teacher until I got to college at the University of Michigan. And it's even different than when I retired since I've retired. All the electronic gadgets make it totally, totally different.
- [00:17:25.81] And one time I was, after I retired, asked to go back to Pioneer and substitute for-- they were short on administrative [INAUDIBLE]. And it was totally, totally different. When I retired, they wouldn't even allow people to have cell phones. And administrators, we used to walk around with walkie talkies.
- [00:17:50.80] And now it's you have to have a cell phone, so even though kids get it taken from them when they are doing it in class. But I think it's even more difficult than when I was in the system in terms of working with the kids and the parents and everybody else.
- [00:18:30.96] Now there's been a whole lot of progress made. I have to admit that, but the young people have so much more that impact them that can impede their learning. So it's very different, and it's also a number, though, of opportunities have been opened up that weren't there, particularly for African-American kids. I don't know if our president number 45-- I feel like I'm going to have to go through the struggles that we went through before. I feel them coming back. It's almost like Reconstruction.
- [00:19:22.77] And so I worry about that. I worry about kids because they're so impressionable. And to think of all the negativity and hate that's going on right now-- I don't want that to become normal for them. So I spent a lot of time thinking about it.
- [00:19:48.91] INTERVIEWER: It's a lot to think about.
- [00:19:50.43] JOETTA MIAL: Yes.
- [00:19:53.99] INTERVIEWER: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
- [00:20:04.40] JOETTA MIAL: My mom used to say, if you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything at all and stuff like, you never miss your water until your well runs dry. They had a whole lot of them. I can't remember all of them. But they-- I do remember in behavior-wise-- respond to what was said to me because they all had little moral meanings to them. So yes.
- [00:20:39.02] INTERVIEWER: So when you said you responded to them, what do you mean?
- [00:20:43.07] JOETTA MIAL: I try not to talk about people.
- [00:20:48.00] INTERVIEWER: Very good.
- [00:20:49.25] JOETTA MIAL: Unless I have something good to say because it's-- and then I think about the current situation where we are now. And I thought, oh, god. In fact, when I was principal at Huron and my student council kids and the kids running for class leadership, I would always meet with them and tell them, now, don't talk about your opponent. Tell them what it is you're going to do for the class. And then I look at today's and say, oh my, god.
- [00:21:28.57] INTERVIEWER: Well, at least you planted seeds with that group?
- [00:21:30.86] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah.
- [00:21:35.74] INTERVIEWER: Were there any changes in your family's life during your school years?
- [00:21:42.04] JOETTA MIAL: Well, changes-- we moved about three times in my young life. Let's see-- not anything that impacted. I had an aunt, a really close aunt to die-- my father's sister, Aunt Gladys. But nothing that made a whole bunch of difference in my functioning in life or the family. My parents were good in terms of the good jobs that they had so that they were able to do things.
- [00:22:40.42] INTERVIEWER: You lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? Was your school segregated? Was the elementary school near your home?
- [00:22:53.23] JOETTA MIAL: The elementary school-- our schools were not segregated then. I don't know if there weren't enough of us. I don't know. Jackson had quite a few black there. But the schools I went to were always mixed, and I could walk to my elementary school. I remember the name-- McCulloch Elementary School, I could walk to that school.
- [00:23:27.27] I'm trying to think about the theaters. I believe they were segregated too at that time.
- [00:23:37.48] INTERVIEWER: You mean, like the movie theaters?
- [00:23:39.03] JOETTA MIAL: The movie theaters. The only thing I can remember, and I don't know if it had a huge impact on my life. I remember coming home from the theater when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and it came over the loud speakers that that-- but it didn't seem-- my folks didn't have to go to war. So there was some changes then in terms of rationing food and stuff like that, but this was World War II.
- [00:24:16.44] INTERVIEWER: Now the next questions ask about high school and about who were your teachers. Did you have any black teachers? But you already addressed that, that you didn't have one until you got in college. Were there restaurants or eating places with blacks where you lived?
- [00:24:41.99] JOETTA MIAL: Owned by blacks or--
- [00:24:44.36] INTERVIEWER: Just were there places-- could they go to the traditional places?
- [00:24:49.07] JOETTA MIAL: Yes, there were some places. In fact, there was a little place, when we moved on Milwaukee-- way down Milwaukee, there was a little [? china ?] [? night. ?] It really wasn't a [? night, ?] but you could play games in there. And I've forgotten the name of it, but it was right across the street from the playground and people could go there and hang out and have fun. And there was a jukebox there. I can't really realize I said that-- jukebox.
- [00:25:23.13] But yeah-- and people, when people came into town though, they stayed with relatives and friends. I mean, that was the thing. You didn't stay in the hotels. I can't remember whether the hotels were segregated, but I'm thinking maybe they were because they were in the Washtenaw County area during that time. So people stayed in homes.
- [00:26:01.96] INTERVIEWER: I know other people we've interviewed referenced the fact that, because blacks couldn't stay at the hotels, that black families would take them in when they came in town. You also mentioned there was a restaurant that had a jukebox. But were there restaurants where you could not go into as a black?
- [00:26:29.46] JOETTA MIAL: I think there were, but I can't say for sure because we didn't eat out a lot. I remember, after I was grown or later in my life, I can remember when we went to look at those small museums and we stopped at Win Schuler's. Well, that was a really big deal to go to Win Schuler's and go. So we could go there, and maybe we went there. Really, it had to be really very, very special. We didn't do a lot of restaurant eating.
- [00:27:15.41] INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned your mother was an excellent cook. So might as well eat at home them.
- [00:27:18.96] JOETTA MIAL: She was really good, really good.
- [00:27:22.19] INTERVIEWER: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:27:33.88] JOETTA MIAL: Now have we moved to my family?
- [00:27:37.67] INTERVIEWER: We're still talking about your parents--
- [00:27:41.53] JOETTA MIAL: My childhood--
- [00:27:41.70] INTERVIEWER: --when you were growing up.
- [00:27:45.12] JOETTA MIAL: Because the civil rights movement wasn't till later, I know that we did more on our own for entertainment, for worship. It didn't seem to have an impact-- I think in jobs, like my father and mother both got jobs in the factory. That wasn't the problem, but you couldn't get jobs downtown in the stores.
- [00:28:26.52] I remember I graduated from high school a semester early and worked as an elevator operator for a semester until I moved on to Cleary College. But we didn't have jobs as clerks in the store. So we just did what we had to do.
- [00:29:00.30] INTERVIEWER: And you didn't have jobs as clerks by the nature of the fact that you were African-American?
- [00:29:06.03] JOETTA MIAL: Yes, right.
- [00:29:10.41] INTERVIEWER: So now we're going to go on to part three, which is adulthood, marriage, and family life. This set of question covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force or started a family, until all of your children left home and you and your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. But I can always repeat.
- [00:29:40.38] After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:29:44.50] JOETTA MIAL: Well, when I first finished high school, a friend and I ended up going to Cleary College for a year. So I was about 18 then. And we stayed in a boarding house in Ypsilanti. So I've been in the Washtenaw area since I was about 18, and we want to Cleary College for a year, and we stayed in a boarding house on Hawkins Street. I remember the wife's name was Winnie. I can't remember her husband's name.
- [00:30:26.32] And I also remember that I was told later that John Barfield lived a block or so over from where we were staying. So I did that, and then I wanted to be-- I wasn't really thinking about a four year college. And so I got a job as a secretary down in Detroit for a black lawyer and no one wanted me to be down there. I can't even remember how-- I stayed with someone down in Detroit.
- [00:31:12.27] And then I moved to Lansing and worked for the Michigan State Library. And at that time, I didn't realize-- and I stayed in another boarding house with a lady who introduced me to Malcolm X's sisters. And about a month ago I went to a book review from Malcolm X's daughter, and his name was the Little at the time. And I met this two of his sisters. One was named Yvonne, that's the one who I really remember.
- [00:31:58.36] And so she has written this book about her father's childhood in Lansing, and I went up afterwards and told her about that. And Yvonne had passed away. But she said I just was with her daughter, which is her niece, just recently. So we had a good conversation in talking about that. But it didn't ring a bell till later on when Malcolm was really out there doing it that I had met his sisters. And actually, I had met him, but I don't remember-- he wasn't a memory. It was the boarding lady wanted me to get to know these two girls.
- [00:32:48.87] INTERVIEWER: So when you talk about a boarding house--
- [00:32:51.92] JOETTA MIAL: Well, people that kept-- and it's not like a big boarding house where there's several rooms, but people kept students and young people and I guess older people too in a room. I had the run of the house, but I had a room. That's where I stayed. So I think she just kept young women.
- [00:33:23.59] INTERVIEWER: The next question asks if you had moved around. And you mentioned you were in Detroit, and then you were in Lansing. So you didn't. I'd like you to tell me a little bit about your married and family life, marriage. First tell me about your spouse. Where did you meet? Tell me what it was like when you were dating, and what were your engagement and wedding like?
- [00:33:49.57] JOETTA MIAL: I met Harry when I was at Cleary, and he was at Eastern. And he was a big football star. And Carlene Cobb, that was my friend-- my mother had given me the name of a young man that she was a friend of the mother. So we went up on Eastern Campus looking for him and I ran into Harry. And this other young man, George Williams, was a friend of Harry's. Anyways, that's how we met and started dating. And he served in World War II for three years. So he was about 6 and 1/2 years older than I am.
- [00:34:47.41] So anyway, we dated for-- I, before that, had been living in Lansing, and he would come up and see me. So we dated-- it was over a year because I was only 20 when we got married. And I got married at Jackson Community AME Church, had a huge wedding. I have a picture of it. I had seven bridesmaids, two flower girls that were relatives, and a ring bearer, who was Harry's nephew.
- [00:35:48.87] And we had the reception at the house. So when you think about now-- but it was really, really a big fairy tale. And Harry was a activist from-- I don't know-- day one when he was born or something. I can remember he said they held sit-ins in Ypsi at a restaurant on Michigan Avenue near the bus stop where they hadn't allowed blacks to eat there, that they held a sit-in there. And he was very active in school and after that.
- [00:36:32.73] And it's just amazing some of the things-- I learned an awful lot from him, and he was head of CORE, the housing unit. He was the first African-American teacher, full time teacher in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. And he filed a civil rights suit against the system because they said there were no blacks qualified to be an administrator.
- [00:37:26.41] He won the suit. The first position they gave was another black man, Bill Mays, and it was some years later-- not a lot years later-- that Harry got appointed principal to Northside School. So he was the second black principal. But he had to file a civil rights suit because they were not hiring then.
- [00:37:59.68] So what all were you asking me?
- [00:38:01.09] INTERVIEWER: Well, that's good. But I was going to back up for a second. Sometimes you'll say something and it'll jog something else I want to ask. Where did Harry grow up?
- [00:38:10.90] JOETTA MIAL: He was born in Detroit, but grew up in Mount Clemens.
- [00:38:15.07] INTERVIEWER: And he came here because of Eastern?
- [00:38:17.50] JOETTA MIAL: Yes, after the service, he went to school on the GI bill. But he also ended up working full time at a Kaiser-Frazer factory in Ypsilanti. And when he did that, they cut off his funds. And it was quite a struggle. But he did that and played football. And even though the team was not good at all, he was very good.
- [00:38:49.06] INTERVIEWER: That was going to be my next question. How was he?
- [00:38:51.64] JOETTA MIAL: No, he was good. And some of the things that he had to go through-- when he was in Kentucky, they wouldn't allow him to stay at this hotel. So the whole team left and went someplace else, and the same thing would happen in restaurants. I mean, it seems incredible now.
- [00:39:20.53] INTERVIEWER: So was he the only African-American on the football team?
- [00:39:27.11] JOETTA MIAL: I don't know who else was in there. He was the only prominent one. I watched him a few games because when I met him he was in his senior year. So I just can't remember. In old pictures that I see, I just see him there. I don't know.
- [00:39:59.22] INTERVIEWER: So you dated the big football man on campus, right?
- [00:40:03.46] JOETTA MIAL: Right, yeah. And he was a kicker, too.
- [00:40:07.15] INTERVIEWER: He was a kicker.
- [00:40:08.41] JOETTA MIAL: You very seldom see kickers, black kickers. And I don't know what it has to do with-- which reminds me of something about my sons and football--
- [00:40:24.03] INTERVIEWER: That was going to be our next question, about your children. So that's good. So let me just say it. Tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living in the house.
- [00:40:34.98] JOETTA MIAL: It was interesting. I was either the queen or the maid. But like I said, I was 20 when I got married, had my first child when I was 21, my second when I was 22. Actually, Ricky was a twin, but he died after seven days. And then Scott came along six or seven years later. So for a long time, it was just Harry and Ricky.
- [00:41:06.88] And there was discrimination in the schools at the time. And even when Harry was working in the school-- he had applied for the psychologist's position. He didn't get that, but they made him a teacher at Jones School, which is now Community School because they had-- Emerson Powrie was the principal then. And they were trying to do better by the black kids and wanted some role model there for the black kids.
- [00:42:06.89] I don't think they had any other teacher before. Harry left to actually get the psychologist job. I don't know. But the kids, they made it through the system, and I was going to talk about the football because Rick, my one son, my middle son, played quarterback. But they wouldn't play him, and we had black parents groups meeting at my house because we felt that the coaches were discriminating, and they were.
- [00:42:53.24] And it was just really hard. But they came through. But my older sons were involved in the-- let's see, what do I want to call it? When the black students were demanding, had the black demands, they actually were protesting before the BAM, Black Action Movement, on campus. And that was really, really-- when it first started, I was student teaching at Pioneer, and there were policemen there and the kids were asking for black teachers, integrated black history integrated into the curriculum. There weren't any black cheerleaders and just a whole bunch of things.
- [00:44:09.15] In fact, part of that is in my dissertation that I wrote about the struggle, but yet they came out with good friends and went on to school and things. But it wasn't easy. And not that it's supposed to be easy, but it should be equitable in terms of how students are treated.
- [00:44:43.75] And in my dissertation, I did a 10 year study-- actually, it was 11 years-- of pathways to a higher education, an investigation of 1971 to '72. And it just says high school, but it was Pioneer and Huron that I was looking at that time. And what I was trying to find were the variables that will help black students go on to further education.
- [00:45:18.48] And the single most important one was that students have higher level courses, and that sounds really simple. There are other variables that go into it, but that was the single most one-- that was to get these kids and students to have high expectations for them so that they can go on and be more successful. And those kids who did have-- at the time, we called them lower level qualities or quality courses, which meant the regular courses and accelerated and advanced courses.
- [00:46:03.33] And when you put kids in the lower level classes, that doesn't work in terms of moving them forward so that they can get more education. So at that time, I actually got a sabbatical leave and took my good friend Letitia Byrd with me. We got a sabbatical leave and how we gathered the data was developed a questionnaire that we took to parents. And I'm telling you, the parents had some of the same kind of complaints about the district that they do now.
- [00:46:57.24] It was really an interesting and meaningful time for both of us. And people would talk to us because they knew us. Anyway, I finished in 1988, but there's a whole history of the system in there in terms of equity for black kids.
- [00:47:20.84] INTERVIEWER: So I'm going to go back and ask a couple questions. So when you mention your boys coming through the system-- so even though, Harry was in the system, there still was a struggle for them. And I've heard other parents talk about it.
- [00:47:38.14] JOETTA MIAL: Yes, right.
- [00:47:39.81] INTERVIEWER: Talk about the fact that they were in the system, yet their kids still were being discriminated against.
- [00:47:44.50] JOETTA MIAL: It doesn't seem to matter where you are on the hierarchy of status with black kids, and there's data to back that up. Now I have to go and look at it again. I was really into it at that time. But it didn't, no-- And in fact, it took the people who were in the system-- we formed not only the black parents group, but a black staff group and all kinds of things to help the system improve for black kids.
- [00:48:29.31] INTERVIEWER: So when you mentioned the findings and you talked about the fact that parents had some of the same complaints then as they do now, give us a couple of examples of what those complaints.
- [00:48:41.99] JOETTA MIAL: Not getting into the appropriate courses, not being as nurturing to their students as they are to other, being disciplined disproportionately for similar behaviour, not reaching-- of course, now parents can go on the computer and find out what their students are doing. So I'm assuming some of that is better.
- [00:49:30.53] But from voices that I hear from, some others are not. And I know from the stats now that there-- But gosh, that's been a long time-- I mean, a long, long time. And you still have some of the same complaints now. I like to say, when I was at Huron I had the best black parent group in the district and staff, including you Miss Hunter because there was a lot of support.
- [00:50:06.96] I can remember Fred McCuiston coming and talking to the faculty about integrating the curriculum with African-American studies. And this was for humanities class, and now I know there's an African-American humanities-- at least at Skyline. I don't know if it's at Huron or not and Pioneer. But we wanted it within the curriculum that existed.
- [00:50:38.80] INTERVIEWER: And not separate from it.
- [00:50:39.93] JOETTA MIAL: And not separate.
- [00:50:43.96] INTERVIEWER: So outside of school, what kinds of things did you and your family enjoy doing together?
- [00:50:59.24] JOETTA MIAL: We used to go to the movies together. We went to all a lot of-- when you're in school or when kids are in school, there's just all kinds of activities that you go on. And during the Civil Rights Movement, we would go to all kinds of really good lectures and things that were promoting more equitable choices for African-Americans.
- [00:51:41.04] We used to go to football games-- and we're Michigan fans-- and parties. Harry and I used to entertain and have parties in our house. I think there used to be a lot more house parties than there are now. But we had good times.
- [00:52:15.30] INTERVIEWER: So when you talk--
- [00:52:15.69] JOETTA MIAL: We went to church, really involved in all the church activities.
- [00:52:21.37] INTERVIEWER: So when you talk about going to lectures, et cetera, your boys enjoyed doing those things as well?
- [00:52:27.45] JOETTA MIAL: Sometimes, depending on their age and what they're into.
- [00:52:37.29] INTERVIEWER: So with the boys and Harry, et cetera, were there any special days or events that you practiced that was different from your childhood traditions?
- [00:52:49.69] JOETTA MIAL: We started celebrating Kwanzaa for a while there or going to Kwanzaa activities. And at one point, we did a lot with the William Monroe Trotter House. When Niara Sudarkasa was here, we would go to number of activities that they would hold up there, and they would always have a really great Kwanzaa celebration. That was additional.
- [00:53:21.63] And I never had family reunion on my side of the family, but we would always go to Mount Clemens. My husband had 10 brothers and sisters, and a lot of them were in Mount Clemens. And every year they would have a reunion. And now that all of them have passed-- Harry's brother-- him and his brother and sisters have all passed away-- one of the brothers' daughters has kind of revived it, and for the last two years, we've gone down there to her house. She has a huge backyard. And all the boys have come but my son who was in New York, who hasn't been able to get back.
- [00:54:20.91] And when the boys were young, we would travel too. I mean, we went to Montreal to the World's Fair and we went to Washington and went to the White House and things like that. So we would take them on trips that were fun for them.
- [00:54:39.92] INTERVIEWER: So what president was in the White House then? What President was in the White House?
- [00:54:43.94] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah, who was there? It wasn't Obama. God, who was there?
- [00:54:51.82] INTERVIEWER: That's OK.
- [00:54:52.57] JOETTA MIAL: I don't remember.
- [00:54:54.46] INTERVIEWER: That's fine. I thought I'd ask. So I'm going to move now into part four, work and retirement. This set of questions covers fairly long period of your life, from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up until the present time. So what was your main field of employment? How did you get started with this tradition, skill or job? What got you interested?
- [00:55:24.53] JOETTA MIAL: Actually, let me back up a little bit because, when I first started the school and I told you I went to Clearly College and then had those jobs and I was a secretary, and I remember I couldn't get a secretarial job at what is now the University of Michigan's North Campus. It used to be Pfizer, and then it used to be Warner Lambert.
- [00:55:54.20] INTERVIEWER: Several different names.
- [00:55:55.02] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah, several different names. But because I was African-American, I couldn't get a job there. And I was working at the Fisheries Institute on campus. And one of the gals there told me she was leaving and going there and told me to come out and apply there. Well, I went out and didn't get hired and found out later that that was why.
- [00:56:22.77] So I didn't go the traditional route to school. When I got out-- I went back to school when I was married. I took some correspondence courses from University of Michigan. And then Harry said, you need to go back and get a degree. So when my youngest child, Scott, was in school all day, I ended up taking classes gradually and finally finished my bachelor's.
- [00:57:11.50] And he is the one that actually got me interested in the educational field, in teaching. At one point, we had one course together at U of M. Anyway, so I got my degree and got a job at Pioneer teaching journalism, speech communication, and English, and stayed there for three years, started working on my master's, and got the master's, and then got a promotion to Huron as one of the assistant principals and then got another promotion as principal while I was there for 12 years as an assistant and then principal.
- [00:58:12.54] And I just have never regretted, however hard it was for me-- and I loved what I was doing, even the challenges, because I wanted to try and make some kind of impact to make and encourage African-American students to be the best they could be and have the help that they needed to have help for all students. And I figured that-- What's the saying about the least of us? It's something about what's better for some is going to make it better for all of us.
- [00:58:59.86] I didn't think about that when I was young. I wasn't thinking about education at all. I really attribute it to Harry getting me interested in doing it and thinking that I should be doing that. Actually, with him filing that civil rights suit, I then became a beneficiary as being assigned a principle because of things that he had done in the system.
- [00:59:35.79] INTERVIEWER: So now you mentioned your bachelor's and your master's. When did you get your PhD?
- [00:59:45.70] JOETTA MIAL: 1980-- I finished it in '88. I think it was published in '89.
- [00:59:55.72] INTERVIEWER: So were you then in the role of the class principal, assistant principal? Were you in the role of principal when you finished your PhD?
- [01:00:02.32] JOETTA MIAL: I was in the role of principal when I finished it, but Letitia and I got that sabbatical leave when I was one of the assistants. And that was when the district had money. We got that leave.
- [01:00:20.33] INTERVIEWER: Now I'm going to ask you about one of the programs that you put in place when you were-- was that Huron principal-- US. And it came up, as matter of fact, at an event Sunday night. A parent was complimenting you on you doing that. So would you speak to that a little bit?
- [01:00:44.27] JOETTA MIAL: US stands for Understanding and Sharing Diversity, and let me try and get my dates right now. And I think it was '86 one of my teachers used the n word in trying to discipline some students. He didn't call them the n word. He said, I don't want you to grow up to be such and such.
- [01:01:13.14] And I was not there that day. I was off or something. And one of my assistants called me, Dan Spriggs called me, and told me what had happened. Anyway, I had before that planned on having a multicultural specialist come in to train the staff in some multiculturalism and equity and all that good stuff. And so, I called him and chatted with him and told him what had happened.
- [01:01:56.20] And again, the district had money. We brought him in. He trained the staff. He trained parents. He trained students. I'm proud of the staff and all, but I'm most proud of the students because what we ended up doing-- we were trying to change the climate at Huron and trying to get kids to mix more. And years before, there were some pretty racial things that were happening at Huron. I left Pioneer with their problems and came to Huron kind of on the tail end of theirs-- I mean, actually fights and things like that.
- [01:02:49.93] So that quite wasn't happening, but there was still-- the black kids got in one group and the Asian kids here and there. So we were trying to bring people together and have a better climate in the school. So his name was Dr. Shuter, and he came from University of Marquette in Wisconsin. And Nora Martin had had him over at Eastern and said he was really good. So we brought him in.
- [01:03:15.84] And it was just so revealing to have all these different groups-- faculty, staff, parents. The parents were so involved, because there was so much going on during the day, that they met at 6:30 in the morning-- it started out twice a week, twice a month, I mean-- so that they could get heavily involved. And the core of it was this group of students who were representative of all the groups coming together with training, working with their peers to try to understand their differences and look at their similarities.
- [01:04:04.65] And I mean, this was 30 plus years ago. And so people are doing some of these things now. I don't know to what extent. And it lasted for a couple of years after I retired that these students-- we started out twice a month having these students meet. And teachers could come and visit. There were four faculty members-- Lori Wojtowicz and Rich Ballard became the main two. And then there was Pat Manley and Bob Brown, and they would oversee these kids have these conversations. And so the kids felt safe in saying-- and it was confidential-- things so that they could try to work things out.
- [01:05:04.32] And we did some research with a university researcher for a while to see how things had-- and it did change up some. But as I had told people, this was just the beginning, making folks aware. And that was 30 some years ago that we did that. So we were kind of above the-- we were a little ahead of ourselves at that time. And those kids went around to different districts. It became a model. I was just really, really very, very proud of them. They were so good and so wanting to do good.
- [01:05:49.82] And I would get letters and stuff from kids saying how, when they went off to college, they would try to start some groups. And Ken Fisher tells us about what his son had done.
- [01:06:03.03] INTERVIEWER: He seems to feel that it's carried over into his son's entire life, plus in his job. That was what he was referencing the other night. So that's why I wanted you to share that. What do you value most about what you did for a living and why?
- [01:06:25.72] JOETTA MIAL: Well, I value of having the opportunity.
- [01:06:31.47] INTERVIEWER: Whatever way you want to express it.
- [01:06:34.17] JOETTA MIAL: And being able to do it for as long as I could do it. It was a passion of mine. I used to tell my teachers, if you don't really have a passion for this, you need to find something else to do because you want to show the kids that you are really in there wanting to do this. And my parents always told me that I could do anything that-- they said, Joetta, you can do-- be what you want to be. They always encouraged me and supported me in whatever it was that I wanted to do, plus my husband.
- [01:07:36.59] And so I loved what I was doing and would do it again, but I'm old and don't have the energy. Along that-- I didn't mention-- some years ago, a friend of mine and I, we had a radio show called Black Vibrations. That was one of the community things that I was involved in. We'd go up to WAAM radio, and we had people come in for a forum and talk. We had entertainment.
- [01:08:29.81] Morris Lawrence was really helpful to us. And then we moved it to a cable show. And my husband took over the Black Vibrations radio show, but that was really good. And our kids weren't really involved in that, but they really liked us doing that.
- [01:08:54.75] INTERVIEWER: That's good. So how did your life change when you and/or your spouse retired and all the children left home?
- [01:09:06.01] JOETTA MIAL: Well, they keep coming back.
- [01:09:08.66] INTERVIEWER: That's what I hear.
- [01:09:14.78] JOETTA MIAL: But let's see. Harry retired first because he had had some difficulty with some heart issues, and so he retired first. And when I was a runner up for citizen of the year, the headline was something that Harry told me that I wasn't principal of the world and that I needed to find something to do when I came home because he had been there for-- let's see how many it was. I forget how many years. But he had been there quite a while before I retired.
- [01:09:59.13] And so he had things like he wanted them. And then here I come. So I'm not saying that's why I found all these things to do, but I got involved, because he was so involved in the community. Even up until a couple of weeks before he passed, he was out protesting for Judge Wheeler Francis because they were trying to eliminate her position, and he was out there picketing. And that was just about two weeks before he died.
- [01:10:43.08] So it changed in-- not too much. I'm still in the same house. And like I said, various sons have been back and forth.
- [01:10:57.25] INTERVIEWER: Other parents say that, too.
- [01:10:59.30] JOETTA MIAL: Right, back and forth. So it gives you more time to be involved. And for me, I like to sleep late and stay up late. And I've done some traveling-- not a whole, whole lot, but some. So we traveled some, but we had traveled when we were working. So it just allowed us more time to do the things that we wanted to do, and the boys have not always been that far-- they've all been reachable.
- [01:11:51.33] And so people ask me about, do I want to go someplace where it's warm. And I said, not really, I can barely keep up the house that I'm in. So I don't want another place. And even though I like the weather changes, I don't like the real cold, cold for long.
- [01:12:21.63] INTERVIEWER: Just a little bit of it.
- [01:12:22.70] JOETTA MIAL: Right, just a little bit of it. But I have a circle of friends here, and two of my sons are here. And actually, my grandkids were-- two of them were really close.
- [01:12:39.93] INTERVIEWER: Paige and Blake.
- [01:12:41.52] JOETTA MIAL: So that's been those few changes.
- [01:12:48.82] INTERVIEWER: Now we're heading into the last part here. And part five is historical and social events. And you probably have hit on this little bit already, but how has it been for you to live in this community?
- [01:13:04.77] JOETTA MIAL: It's been pretty good with a fight. [LAUGHTER] I think we're better off than a lot of communities. There is still work to do. I was talking to a young man at the affair at the museum, our great fundraiser, Sunday, who was an administrator here in the school system and has now gone someplace else. And I was asking how it was. And he said, it's good. But he said, in Ann Arbor, the racism is more sophisticated. And where I am it's just out there blatantly. And some of that has to do, he thinks, with our 45th president.
- [01:14:10.16] In answer to your question, it's been good. There are a lot of opportunities, a lot of cultural things that you can do here. But you have to keep your eyes on the ball in terms of helping Ann Arbor to be the best it can be. I don't think it's reached its potential. I think they can be better-- just this whole world would be better if everybody had the same chance, the same opportunity-- that you weren't always putting somebody down here below. They were just all woven into this fabric equally.
- [01:15:12.37] INTERVIEWER: When thinking back on your entire life, what important social, historical events have the greatest impact?
- [01:15:21.14] JOETTA MIAL: Oh, the civil rights movement, the civil rights movement definitely-- all facets of it in the school, in the activities I've been involved in, the organizations. It's the civil rights movement.
- [01:15:39.24] INTERVIEWER: Did you ever meet Dr. King?
- [01:15:41.67] JOETTA MIAL: Did I?
- [01:15:42.33] INTERVIEWER: Ever meet Dr. King?
- [01:15:43.83] JOETTA MIAL: Yes, I did. At Hill Auditorium.
- [01:15:48.27] INTERVIEWER: Oh my goodness.
- [01:15:50.22] JOETTA MIAL: Letitia Byrd and I went. Well, I can remember walking. I can remember talking about our discussion about Malcolm X, and I'm glad you brought that up because I went to see John Lewis last week.
- [01:16:06.24] INTERVIEWER: I missed that. I'm sorry I did.
- [01:16:07.12] JOETTA MIAL: Oh, it was tremendous, and there were three of them-- his press secretary, who is a Muslim, and they now call them graphic novelists because his books are graphic-- I want to say cartoons-- with a trilogy of books about the March there in cartoon.
- [01:16:31.87] INTERVIEWER: Oh, wow.
- [01:16:32.62] JOETTA MIAL: And so he was there, and it was a white guy. And they were fantastic. Hill Auditorium was full. And so he said, I'm happy to be on this stage where 55 years ago Martin Luther King-- and I remembered Letitia and I going up. He was standing-- afterwards was standing around the round there. And so people could go up and shake his hand. So I didn't get to really talk to him.
- [01:17:05.30] INTERVIEWER: Did you shake his hand?
- [01:17:06.04] JOETTA MIAL: Yeah, I shook his hand.
- [01:17:09.23] INTERVIEWER: You and Letitia have done a lot of things together.
- [01:17:11.92] JOETTA MIAL: Yes we have.
- [01:17:13.66] INTERVIEWER: Good friends. When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:17:26.61] JOETTA MIAL: My family and my work.
- [01:17:32.01] INTERVIEWER: What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [01:17:38.99] JOETTA MIAL: Oh, goodness gracious. We don't have the time.
- [01:17:43.18] INTERVIEWER: Give us a couple.
- [01:17:47.42] JOETTA MIAL: How we communicate, more opportunities. But it looks like we're going to have to go into battle again and that bothers me. I didn't think my grandchildren would have to-- and they're used to something else. So I'm hoping all these young people say, hey, this isn't how it should be.
- [01:18:25.16] INTERVIEWER: Well, that's sort of what happened with the civil rights movement-- really the young people stepped up.
- [01:18:30.19] JOETTA MIAL: Right. That's why I like working with young people because they can change. They're not stuck in their ways.
- [01:18:41.81] INTERVIEWER: What advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:18:46.58] JOETTA MIAL: I would tell them to really be comfortable with themselves, who they are, and to bring their A-game when they're doing something-- really do that-- and don't let anybody define you. Believe what you can achieve and do it. And work with your relationship with your God because, when all else fails, you can always depend on him to listen to and listen to-- I used to tell my son, listen to your gut. You really can tell when something's not right to do that. So that's what I'd tell them.
- [01:19:50.05] INTERVIEWER: Good advice. Any final thoughts or sayings?
- [01:19:57.19] JOETTA MIAL: No, I appreciate the time of being-- I think we usually ask what this interview means to you or something.
- [01:20:05.31] INTERVIEWER: So you're on the other side for too long, but go ahead and answer.
- [01:20:12.52] JOETTA MIAL: That I appreciate being able to tell some of me and my husband's story. And I just appreciate being a part of the organization. And I like doing the interviews for the oral and the other work. And I'm excited about-- it looks like we're going to really be opening the doors of the museum.
- [01:20:45.40] INTERVIEWER: So thank you. I've enjoyed interviewing you, and I appreciate you taking the time to do that today.
- [01:20:52.25] JOETTA MIAL: Well, thank you.
December 5, 2017
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Huron High School
Pioneer High School
Community AME Church
Ella Sharp Park
Black American Athletes
Michigan State Library
Eastern Michigan University
Civil Rights Movement
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Northside Elementary School
Jones Elementary School
Community High School
Black Action Movement (BAM)
William Monroe Trotter House
Warner Lambert Company
University of Michigan Institute of Fisheries Research
Huron High School - Understanding and Sharing Diversity Program
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
John W. Barfield
William Mays Jr.
Emerson F. Powrie
Fred McCuiston Jr
Robert M. Shuter
Morris J. Lawrence Jr.
Nancy Cornelia Wheeler