AACHM Oral History: Larry Hunter
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 3:38pm
When: May 6, 2018
Larry Hunter was born in 1951 and has lived in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. He’s worked in public service for years, served on Ann Arbor City Council, and earned a Juris Doctor degree in law in 2000. Larry recalls how he became politically active as a young man, organizing walkouts at his high school as a leader in the Black Student Union, as well as his involvement with the Black Panthers.
- [00:00:08.52] INTERVIEWER: So good afternoon, Larry.
- [00:00:10.31] LARRY HUNTER: Good afternoon.
- [00:00:11.90] INTERVIEWER: First of all, I want to say thank you for agreeing to be interviewed and on short notice.
- [00:00:16.66] LARRY HUNTER: Yes, very welcome.
- [00:00:18.07] INTERVIEWER: While you're in town from DC. We're going to start with part one, which is demographics and family history. I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions, and these questions may jog your memories, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can go into more details later in the interview. Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:41.80] LARRY HUNTER: Larry Hunter, L-A-R-R-Y H-U-N-T-E-R.
- [00:00:48.79] INTERVIEWER: What is your date of birth including the year?
- [00:00:52.06] LARRY HUNTER: I am 68 years old-- so 1951.
- [00:01:01.93] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:04.75] LARRY HUNTER: Well, I just had my DNA done, found out that I'm 98% African, 1% Asian, and a little bit of Mediterranean-- but mostly totally African.
- [00:01:20.83] INTERVIEWER: Were you surprised to find that you were part Asian, had some Asian in your blood?
- [00:01:24.88] LARRY HUNTER: Well, that didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was 98% African because African-American tell tales about being blended with Native Americans and all of that stuff. And it turns out, not true.
- [00:01:39.46] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion if any?
- [00:01:41.62] LARRY HUNTER: My family background is Baptist, but I have no religion per se. I'm a spiritual person.
- [00:01:49.26] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of education you have completed?
- [00:01:53.64] LARRY HUNTER: I received a JD in 2000, juris doctorate in law. That's it.
- [00:02:01.39] INTERVIEWER: Well, that's a lot. Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:02:08.73] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, no. It's over.
- [00:02:14.43] INTERVIEWER: If married, is your spouse still living?
- [00:02:18.38] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, those are bad words-- no marriage, no children.
- [00:02:21.49] INTERVIEWER: So we'll keep right on going then. How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:28.07] LARRY HUNTER: I have 13 brothers and sisters.
- [00:02:30.84] INTERVIEWER: Big family.
- [00:02:32.48] LARRY HUNTER: A very big family.
- [00:02:36.72] INTERVIEWER: So what was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:39.78] LARRY HUNTER: Well, I would say in general I've been a helping person all of my life. I worked in social work before I went to law school, done public service, worked in public institutions-- all about the helping.
- [00:02:59.63] INTERVIEWER: OK, so you were in the social science field for a while?
- [00:03:04.88] LARRY HUNTER: Social worker.
- [00:03:05.54] INTERVIEWER: Social worker?
- [00:03:06.56] LARRY HUNTER: Yup.
- [00:03:07.22] INTERVIEWER: And then what prompted you to go to law school?
- [00:03:11.01] LARRY HUNTER: Well, if anybody who knows me, they would say that I've been in the struggle all of my life. And this is just a continuation.
- [00:03:22.23] INTERVIEWER: If you retired, at what age did you retire?
- [00:03:24.71] LARRY HUNTER: 62.
- [00:03:28.72] INTERVIEWER: Now we're going to move on to part two, which is memories of childhood and youth. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:03:38.32] LARRY HUNTER: My family was-- since it was so large and there was a baby every year-- my family was very, very close knit. We all had to take turns raising children. I held my first newborn when I was 12 years old. Our family, both parents were from the South, and they had some southern roots. And they practiced those in the community. But we're a little different because we started off in public housing project.
- [00:04:20.81] INTERVIEWER: OK, so talk a little more about that.
- [00:04:22.69] LARRY HUNTER: Well, the public housing projects are an interesting and unique experience. Number one, there was hundreds and hundreds of children and that was kind of ideal. The downside of it is everybody was on top of each other like flies. You knew all of your neighbors. Privacy was at a premium because you couldn't get any, but it was kind of surreal-- blues music playing every day, church music playing on Sunday, kids doing everything under the sun, partying, fun, fights, you name it.
- [00:05:10.45] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of your family, where do you fall? Are you like in the middle?
- [00:05:14.44] LARRY HUNTER: I'm number seven.
- [00:05:15.62] INTERVIEWER: You're number seven. What sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:05:21.13] LARRY HUNTER: My mother was a domestic worker. She was also a seamstress. She was a midwife, and she was cook. And my father was a maintenance man for the University of Michigan. And to augment his income, he dug graves. Both mother and father were penultimate fisher people and gardeners for survival. That's the short of it.
- [00:05:56.44] INTERVIEWER: So, your mother then in addition she worked in the home, but she also worked outside of the home.
- [00:06:04.88] LARRY HUNTER: 24/7.
- [00:06:05.73] INTERVIEWER: 24/7. Where there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:06:15.30] LARRY HUNTER: Well, most special days and family events were mostly around holidays. And the reason being, since we were so poor, the holidays were when we got to eat. That was pretty special. We'd save our money and have a feast. And my mother was the neighborly kind of person. So any child who didn't have anything to eat, she would feed them on holidays.
- [00:06:48.92] And the only other special thing-- my mother was a little bit of a tomboy. And especially, she would gather us and the neighborhood children and go to a park two miles away with our baseball equipment, play baseball. She could throw and pitch and catch just like any guy.
- [00:07:10.48] INTERVIEWER: Sounds like she was a fun mother.
- [00:07:12.62] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, she was fun-- a little tough, but fun.
- [00:07:17.30] INTERVIEWER: So you talk about a feast. Tell me a little about what are some of the things that would be on menu for that feast.
- [00:07:23.27] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, everything under the sun. As somebody said, we had so many children, we were cooking in vats. You had to be great piemakers. You made every pie under the sun, string beans with some ham hocks, greens, ribs, turkey, ham, potato salad, coleslaw-- you name it. I mean, when I say a feast, it was really a feast. And she made every single thing from scratch.
- [00:08:00.78] INTERVIEWER: That sounds wonderful. So did you develop any cooking skills?
- [00:08:08.10] LARRY HUNTER: I would be called what one would call a foodie. I know how to cook everything and anything and cook it perfectly.
- [00:08:17.81] INTERVIEWER: Oh really? We'll have to come back to that then.
- [00:08:19.48] LARRY HUNTER: Any time. I am a person who took what my mother trained me to do, and I'm a person who believes in science. So I combine my skills in cooking and figuring out how to cook everything perfectly. And I do smile at some of the old ways that southern people cook. Some of it is good. Some of it will kill you in a heartbeat. But I learned how to improve on that and enhance that.
- [00:08:50.88] INTERVIEWER: So you say you do a lot of dishes. Which one would you say is your favorite dish?
- [00:08:57.27] LARRY HUNTER: Well, speaking of holidays, I just was visiting friends and made several racks of baby back ribs. And instead of doing my family way to burn the things up, you put them in the oven for a couple of hours and-- you season them overnight, put them in the oven for a couple hours. And after they're soft and tender, then you put them on the grill and then put some sauce on it, bake it in, and that's what you call perfect ribs.
- [00:09:32.32] INTERVIEWER: Sounds very good. What were the holidays your family used to celebrate? Most of them or--
- [00:09:40.14] LARRY HUNTER: Most of them. The only holidays that we were forced to go to church was Easter because I was part of the Easter Parade, and I hated it. In my childhood, the old Baptist folks-- it was kind of scary being up in there when you're young. And my mother's father and my father's father were both ministers, and my mother was just astute on the Bible. And she encouraged me to read it-- not just the Bible, but read it as an academic exercise.
- [00:10:26.03] And all black folks know that you get in some Baptist Church and some people get the verses a little wrong and get them a little messed up. And when I was forced to go to church, when they weren't reading it right, it made me very upset. And my mother was also a stickler for diction. And some old black folks go to church and they start mispronouncing stuff.
- [00:10:56.99] I can remember one example-- instead of saying Philippians, they were saying Philippies. And I don't like that. And my mother-- I mean, there were just deep Baptist folks, and she was forced to go to church. So her conclusion was the church is across the street. If you choose to go, so be it. If you don't, so be it.
- [00:11:24.34] INTERVIEWER: And which church was across the street?
- [00:11:25.89] LARRY HUNTER: Well, in those days, it was St. John's Baptist Church, which I just left for a funeral in Ypsilanti.
- [00:11:39.54] INTERVIEWER: Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:11:44.30] LARRY HUNTER: No, other than the feast for the holidays, we did have one tradition. When we all managed to sit at the dinner table, there was always heated discussions about politics and see who could outsmart the other one, see who knew the most information. So dinner time [DINGING SOUND] was the time when people could articulate, argue, and discuss the issues of the world.
- [00:12:16.95] FEMALE SPEAKER: I'm going to interrupt. Can we--
- [00:12:18.43] LARRY HUNTER: I know. I'm going to try to do that.
- [00:12:21.07] FEMALE SPEAKER: That's okay.
- [00:12:21.13] LARRY HUNTER: I don't know who. Who is dinging me?
- [00:12:31.27] INTERVIEWER: I wasn't sure what that was. I thought it was the camera.
- [00:12:33.70] LARRY HUNTER: No.
- [00:12:36.19] FEMALE SPEAKER: You can [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:12:38.32] LARRY HUNTER: Here how about I just put it out here? Because it might start dinging again.
- [00:12:54.74] INTERVIEWER: Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:13:01.60] LARRY HUNTER: Since, as I said earlier, I grew up in a project with thousands of boys, sports were preeminent and very, very competitive. So what I can say is what sport didn't I play. I did every single sport in the world. And besides, it was a way get away from home. So it would be football, basketball, track, badminton, tennis, table tennis, horseshoes, archery, sharp shooting with guns, volleyball-- everything under the world. And the edge for me was that you had to be really good.
- [00:13:46.04] INTERVIEWER: So were you really good?
- [00:13:48.14] LARRY HUNTER: I was very good. I was very good, and best at baseball because I spent hours on that field. I was offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals back in the day. They offered me and my brother, younger brother Kenny, contracts. But I would say that was the beginning of my political awakening.
- [00:14:19.23] It was $5,000 to go to the minor leagues, and you're going to be traveling around in stinky, dirty buses. And you never knew whether or not you were going to make it to the pros. And at that time-- once again I'm a researcher-- at that time, black young men, they had a quota. So no matter how good you were, they were only going to allow a certain amount of black men on the field.
- [00:14:45.40] And so it was my dream. But I looked around and said no, thank you. But my brother did it, and he was in the league down in Atlanta. Within two years, he figured out what I had already told him and said enough.
- [00:15:05.11] INTERVIEWER: That was going to be my next question-- if your brother pursued it or not.
- [00:15:08.41] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah.
- [00:15:12.14] INTERVIEWER: So you had no regrets that you did not pursue that?
- [00:15:14.22] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, no. But I had big fun to play a sport that you've played for years and know that you were on top of your game.
- [00:15:26.47] INTERVIEWER: So you played so many different sports. Were they organized or were they neighborhood--
- [00:15:31.83] LARRY HUNTER: They were organized, neighborhood-- if they weren't organized, I was organizing them. Because we were so poor, any organization or anything that anybody wanted to teach me, I was ready to learn and to learn it well. And so for example, in my later years, I was a part of the amateur table tennis league when they went to China for the Olympics. Because there were some people who taught me how to play the sport, and I wanted to play it good. And I love ribbons and trophies. So I mean, I wanted to play them all really, really well.
- [00:16:21.68] And I was blessed with older brothers to be able to-- one of the best things, in my opinion, that a parent can teach a young man is good hand-eye coordination. And that I could do. I could bat with my left hand, swing with my left hand, knew how to-- just hand eye coordination, which is a very fundamental thing.
- [00:16:48.92] INTERVIEWER: So as you continued to mature, did you continue to do any sports at all?
- [00:16:55.20] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, I did what they call old fart sports, like play softball, which I don't like. But it was a reminder of my days. Shooting on the pool table, which I learned how to shoot at three years old. I did that for a long time. But when you get older, your eyesight kind of goes a little bit. And then I get angry because, if I can't do it good, I don't want to do it.
- [00:17:20.82] INTERVIEWER: Now you mentioned your neighborhood or where you grew up. Tell me in terms of streets and locations.
- [00:17:28.42] LARRY HUNTER: Well, today it's torn down. It's Armstrong Drive. But we moved to Ann Arbor when I was in junior high school. But it's called Armstrong Drive. It's a public housing project. It was built after the war in the 40s. It was totally segregated, and that's where they housed all the African-Americans and from all stripes of life and all from the South. And it was wild.
- [00:17:57.19] INTERVIEWER: And so give me some streets.
- [00:18:00.26] LARRY HUNTER: Well, it's just Armstrong Drive and First Court. Anybody who knows where the projects is will tell you that's where it is.
- [00:18:09.79] INTERVIEWER: So one of the things that's come up when we've interviewed others is about the Ann Street area and Kerrytown and those streets over in there. Can you talk a little about that?
- [00:18:20.30] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, sure. My cousins, which is the Jones family-- around there is their house. And by the way, we had 14 and they had 12 kids. So we had a whole army when we got together. We visited that area even when I was living in Ypsilanti because my cousins lived there. The Ann Street area is a very interesting area because it happens that my mother actually lived on Ann Street because she first came to Ann Arbor before she moved to Ypsilanti and got married.
- [00:18:59.68] So she would give me folklore about everything good, bad, and the ugly that was going on there. And what a joyous time it was at some times and other times not so much. But she knew all the players, all the businessmen, and all of that stuff because apparently she was kind of fast back in those days. So she knew everybody.
- [00:19:24.25] So I moved to Ann Arbor, and I run into all of these characters, and I'd come home and say, I met so and so. She said, let me tell you who he is and let me tell you who his family is. Let me tell you who his cousin is. And so she just knew it all. And then lo and behold, as a young man, I started hanging out there.
- [00:19:49.19] And I hung out on Ann Street for a reason-- shooting pool, as I said before, allowed me to earn money for my first year and a half of college tuition because I was good, made money. And they had a handle on me. They called me "college boy" because I was taking all the old men's money because I would beat them. And then I was just curious. There was a big Blind Pig in the basement-- gambling. I was about the youngest one down there, and I made money doing that because I'm a mathematical person. I would go in with $200. I know the odds of winning or losing. If I lost $200, I left. If I won a $1,000, I left. I never would overstay.
- [00:20:48.52] And most people know that gambling can be addictive, but I never played that way. I played the percentages and played to win, never was going to stay at the table. But the times in the Blind Pig with these African-American men-- and some of them were a lot older than me-- the things that I learned from them-- they had their public persona when they're walking down the street on Ann Street. But when they are in the Blind Pig, they had a whole different persona. So I learned the good and the bad and the ugly from these old guys, and somehow they permitted me to hang out with them. I guess because I was pretty good at winning money.
- [00:21:35.96] So the joy, I mean, of the clubs, to setting Clint's Club on the weekends-- I was in there before I was allowed to be in there and to see people with their freedom on Friday getting paid, hanging out, dancing, and just having a ball, and dressing up too. So I have fond memories of Ann Street. I have not so many fond memories of Kerrytown because that place began with a place that was left over for the black folks. There were old grain factories, industrial energy stuff. And it felt back in the day like it was a ghost town. Only black folks were there.
- [00:22:41.80] INTERVIEWER: In the Kerrytown area.
- [00:22:43.01] LARRY HUNTER: In the Kerrytown area. And they had one supermarket, which is now Zingerman's, which was Diroff's. And if you had enough money, you could go in there and get what I call double dead meat-- dead once and dead twice because they kept it so long. They had a few other corner stores, but they were all, what I say, taking advantage of poor people.
- [00:23:17.20] And once again, just like I grew up in the project, they had them all shoved in three or four blocks. And that always felt very bad to me. And unlike when I grew up in Ypsilanti, there just wasn't enough for black folks. There were just not enough. And I saw some of the communities a little bit divided because there wasn't enough kids to keep a lot of the cohesion together.
- [00:23:49.86] The only thing that kept the cohesion together around that community was Second Baptist Church. You had Bethel AME church, the old one-- that's when people would come together. But that was a time of sadness for me because I saw-- that was the beginning of when I saw black people get separated and divided depending on what church you went to-- "I go to Bethel," "No, I go to Second Baptist"-- and where parents worked.
- [00:24:19.56] And Ann Arbor had the other black diaspora. They had a problem because-- hard to say-- but people were dividing themselves over color and education, and that was very sad because I grew up with my neck in there, and proud. But I saw it hurt a lot of particularly African-American young males.
- [00:24:50.67] INTERVIEWER: And so you continue to hear about this division of color.
- [00:24:55.64] LARRY HUNTER: Yes.
- [00:24:55.95] INTERVIEWER: You're talking about the color of one's skin.
- [00:24:57.60] LARRY HUNTER: You betcha, just like white folks. Nope. And it was hard because people would not admit it. I mean, it was just underwritten, almost like apartheid rules. And to this day, I don't believe there's still any reconciliation of that.
- [00:25:21.62] INTERVIEWER: You still hear about it?
- [00:25:23.48] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, yeah. It's still around. It's still around.
- [00:25:27.23] INTERVIEWER: So you talked about the Kerrytown area. But also in other interviews, people talked about there was a hair salon, barbershops up and down that area. Can you speak to that a little bit?
- [00:25:39.27] LARRY HUNTER: There was a hair salon, two barber shops. There was a guy who did leather work, who worked on shoes. He had his business. Yeah, it was like barbershops, everything. Besides, you had the traveling stores where somebody get a truck and just open up the door and start selling stuff.
- [00:26:06.52] INTERVIEWER: On the spot.
- [00:26:07.60] LARRY HUNTER: That's right. Somebody went to Chicago or Detroit and got some clothing and said, oh, my folks want this. They just opened up the back of they trunk and start selling it. I don't know if they were cold or hot goods, but they were selling it.
- [00:26:24.38] INTERVIEWER: I think that probably still happens [INAUDIBLE].
- [00:26:26.21] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah.
- [00:26:29.26] INTERVIEWER: And so when you talk about the division going on in terms of churches-- now you've got a Baptist, you've AME, and you were just saying there's this division because of the denomination because of where the person went to church. That was your sense.
- [00:26:43.19] LARRY HUNTER: That was my sense. I don't know. I was about maybe in eighth grade, and I was just curious. I'm going to start researching this stuff. And it turned out to be all silly to me. When I found out that-- what is the name? Rance Allen got his charter as an AME minister because they wouldn't let black folks become AME. And then I researched out how they took a little AME diaspora and mixed a little Baptist in it and say, OK, we're an AME church.
- [00:27:31.89] And then the Baptist folks-- then I started researching them. And then I realized-- once again because my mother's father and my father's father were ministers-- I realized that they had taught black ministers how to excerpt stuff out of the Bible. This is-- you don't say that. But you only say this in church.
- [00:27:56.44] And that goes back to why I go, this is kind of crazy. So when I'm hearing these battles, I mean, old Reverend John Woods in AME church could outpreach any Baptist minister, and he was a minister for a long time. The only difference between the Baptist church is that-- hard for me to say-- but there was an order in the AME church. When you went to the church, there was an order.
- [00:28:28.93] A black Baptist Church organized chaos. So that I always appreciated. And then it's about the time. AME churches usually tend to start on time and then get out mostly on time. In a Baptist church, if somebody is feeling the spirit, you might be up in there for three or four hours or so.
- [00:29:01.70] And then the Baptist churches, the church always required just more time. Go to church on Sunday, and you show up at maybe 3 o'clock on Sunday. Then you show up at 8:00 o'clock. And I used to say-- I said to my mother. That's a little bit too much praying for me. I can't do that. So that's my distinction. And there was class stuff with AME.
- [00:29:32.33] Half of my brothers and sisters, some of them went to Baptist church. Some of them went to Bethel. But John Woods was my guy. So if I was going to church, I'd go to Bethel. And John Woods was the first proprietor of saying, ain't going to be none of that stuff up in here. Everybody's welcome, and this is how we're going to do it. And he did it that way.
- [00:29:58.58] INTERVIEWER: I joined under John Woods. I loved him. Reverend Woods, I should say.
- [00:30:03.69] LARRY HUNTER: The crying preacher. That's what I called him.
- [00:30:07.64] INTERVIEWER: One last thing about that. And I joined with the new church, the one that's now on John A. Woods Drive. But I understand that the-- I know now that the old church is now condominiums. Do you know much about that at all?
- [00:30:25.23] LARRY HUNTER: I was on city council then, and I was absolutely angry.
- [00:30:29.97] INTERVIEWER: OK. Talk to us about that a little bit.
- [00:30:31.95] LARRY HUNTER: Well, I understood why the church had to leave. But to me, it was the beginning of what I thought was going to be a breaking apart of the community and gentrification. I understood that the church didn't have parking and the church was old. But if anybody had been to an old fashioned, good ol' church, it made you feel good in the bones. It just make you shake inside to see the walls, the wood.
- [00:31:10.89] And since I'm not a church goer, I had nothing to do with the decision. But everybody wanted something new. Second Baptist got something new. So they were trying to keep up with each other. Everybody wanted something new. And I don't think they could fit enough members in there to keep a church sustainable. But still, in some way, I just thought, maybe buy some land around there and get some more parking because it was the anchor of the community.
- [00:31:43.96] And I think the church is OK now because I don't know, but the community lost something, lost something very dearly. And speaking of John Woods, after my man died, that's why it's John A. Woods Drive-- because of me.
- [00:32:08.05] INTERVIEWER: So talk about that. Because you were on city council at the time?
- [00:32:10.61] LARRY HUNTER: That's right.
- [00:32:11.24] INTERVIEWER: So walk us through that a little bit.
- [00:32:13.25] LARRY HUNTER: Well, Reverend John, he had recently died. And I just said, this man was a pillar of this community, and it has to happen. So I produced a resolution. And I got pushback from some people. We don't want to do this, and we don't want to do it. And I basically said, I'm going to throw down. If you don't do it-- and I will bring all his folks up here-- and we're going to get it done. And they said never mind, OK.
- [00:32:54.03] Same thing happened with Wheeler park. They didn't want me to do it. And I did that for Al Wheeler before he died. I said, a man who contributed this much to the community-- at least he deserves that.
- [00:33:13.28] INTERVIEWER: That's true. When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:33:32.59] LARRY HUNTER: Well, right before we moved to Ypsilanti, the most important event was the lynching of Emmett Till. I have roots in Chicago. My mother lived there for a while. First of all, it scared the death out of me. And second of all, it made me just gut-wrenching angry. The next was the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King.
- [00:34:12.83] Next was when I decided in my life that I was not going to follow my dream to be an electrical engineer but that I was going to fight. And then, when we got to high school, formed the Black Student Union. I was the vice president. We did a series of walk outs in the school. We protested against not having black teachers, not having black history read in the schools.
- [00:34:54.66] During that time, I was threatened. And the most shameful thing is there were some black parents in the community that told us that we were too uppity and we should stop doing that. And since this is history, I'm not going to name names, but they know-- a lot of them are gone. But that was hard to have your black elders tell you to get in your place.
- [00:35:33.67] And the final big event was the Vietnam War. That changed my life because, once again, I did my research, finding all of my friends, and figuring out from Time magazine, [INAUDIBLE], and some other research that all they were doing was sending young black men in the front line. And I thought it was just wrong, just absolutely wrong. Seeing my friends come back, I said this is crazy.
- [00:36:11.77] And so, from then on, I decided I'm a conscientious objector. I spent four years of my life fighting the federal government because they were trying to send me to jail. And I had people who lied to me, told me to lie. They told me to, go to this church and go to this church and tell them you have strongly religious held beliefs and you can get out of the war.
- [00:36:44.27] I said, so you want me to lie. You people of the cloth, I'm not lying. I'm just telling me I don't believe in the war, and I think it's unjust until-- the federal government was on my back for four years. It changed my life. And during that time, I became a Black Panther. And that started on Ann Street too.
- [00:37:09.12] INTERVIEWER: So let me ask you this. I'm going to come back to Black Panther. But you said you decided not to become an engineer. You decided to fight, and you did do that through what means? How did you?
- [00:37:22.72] LARRY HUNTER: Well, through the Black Student Union, which was in high school-- I belonged to several organizations outside of high school. I was out there marching before my age, MLK stuff. I was out there marching. They were housing marching in Ann Arbor because housing was discriminated, was segregated-- anti-police rallies.
- [00:38:10.83] Anywhere there was a note-- I went to a lot of churches, and some of my churches to try to organize people. Anywhere there was a possibility of organizing people to fight for justice, I just did it. And it cost me a lot of time, but I did it.
- [00:38:29.73] INTERVIEWER: It's interesting because, when you think about the civil rights movement, you see a lot of young people in the lead. And now, this whole thing about shootings and the young people once again in the lead. So you were doing that role years ago.
- [00:38:43.29] LARRY HUNTER: Years ago. But then I had my biggest split with the civil rights movement, and I think it was in my viscera. And it goes back to Emmett Till. I am not a believer in nonviolence. I'm a believer in self-defense, which is the reason why I was a Black Panther. I don't agree with violence against anyone. But Martin Luther King's nonviolence philosophy-- when I saw those dogs-- and my mother was still alive-- I said H-no, ain't doing that.
- [00:39:27.69] My mother had those deep Southern roots and said-- and I guess she persuaded me-- no, I'm not taking a beating, and I'm not going to have dogs beat me.
- [00:39:42.81] INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little bit more about your years and your roles in the Black Panthers.
- [00:39:48.48] LARRY HUNTER: Well, this is after I was doing my thing with the Vietnam War. Right during that time, I saw them-- I went to a speech. Well, first it started for me reading Malcolm X, and my consciousness was arisen. But then I saw these folks from Oakland, California, and I started reading about what they believed in. And I said, oh, these are my kind of folks.
- [00:40:22.73] And besides, they look kind of sharp with their berets on and leather. I said, mm, I believe in what they're doing, and it's kind of sharp. But little did I know about what the real insiders were doing in the Black Panther Party, which is doing a lot of political research and a lot of reading. Other than in high school, which they forced me to read every great book in the world, Black Panther Party, I read more books in that time than most anybody I knew-- about economics, about the African diaspora. I was just a library rat. Everything I could get my hands on, I read.
- [00:41:13.41] And so the Black Panther Party had an interesting technique. First of all, it was what I call the first black man's book club because you were assigned books every week and you had to read them and you had to come to discuss them every week. And this was outside of the classroom, and they were hard books. I mean, they were books about economics and the whole nine yards. So that really attracted me.
- [00:41:39.45] And going back to Black Lives Matter, when you see people who stand up to the police, not fighting them, but says we're here-- and let me give you an example of that, how it happened in this community. Wiley Brownless, who later was the principal at Community High-- the white folks in the Ypsilanti township, they tarred and feathered him because they said he was trying to integrate schools-- big incident.
- [00:42:19.11] My Panther brothers and I drove down there in Ypsilanti township with our cars and said we are protecting his family. And if any of you all want to come up here and do something, we got something for you. Those are the kinds of things that excited me, and we were not afraid to go to the police and say, sure enough, we are armed. We're not going to hurt anybody, but you're not going to hurt us.
- [00:42:51.40] INTERVIEWER: And you mentioned school, and there's a whole series of questions here about school. But talk to me about your elementary-- you said you came in this area when you were in--
- [00:43:00.51] LARRY HUNTER: Seventh grade.
- [00:43:01.08] INTERVIEWER: Seventh grade. So tell me about where you went to school because I know you--
- [00:43:04.71] LARRY HUNTER: I went to L. C. Perry School, a totally segregated all black school. Teachers taught in the old school with paddles and rote memory and the whole nine yards. I would say I got my fundamentals there. And good thing to do. So then my first school here, it was Forsythe Junior High School, which was kind of difficult because I made a transition.
- [00:43:41.65] And then it was disturbing to me what I saw.
- [00:43:47.79] INTERVIEWER: Tell me about that.
- [00:43:51.03] LARRY HUNTER: I had black young men, some of my buddies-- somehow they had talked them into not wanting to excel in school. It disturbed me. They had this class called home economics, and some of my buddies said, man, we go in here because we can cook. And we don't have to do any work, and I went, get away from me.
- [00:44:19.38] And there was a little bit of shunning. You think you're too good? Be like us. I saw kids pin-up in special ed, people who couldn't read. I used to tell my mother, how do they allow this to happen. And so I just told them, never mind, I'm going to get my learn on. Do whatever you want to do. And I see some of those same individuals today, and I know they got ripped off. And their education, their jobs-- you can see it. You can see it.
- [00:45:11.63] But it was horrific. Ah, yeah, man, I'll just do some phys ed or-- and it was complicit with the white people. But they would basically say, oh, you take this easy math class. And they said, oh, yeah. And I was in class in fights several times. Hunter, man, I know you did your homework. So let me look at your paper. But it was horrific, and it continued through high school.
- [00:45:53.43] INTERVIEWER: So when you talk about they were encouraged-- so basically, we often hear this thing about lower expectation for African-American students.
- [00:46:02.69] LARRY HUNTER: And it was complicit. But basically, they just called it the tracking system. You just get down there on the road, but it was complicit because, with peer behavior, especially with young men, the strongest men who-- what I called it, the dummies class-- they encouraged other people to join them. And my mother taught me, stand on your own. You don't need to be a part of a group.
- [00:46:32.70] But the social pressure was very high.
- [00:46:36.10] INTERVIEWER: Peer pressure.
- [00:46:37.05] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah, very high. But I still to this day think it was a crime.
- [00:46:45.04] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me about high school. Was it Ann Arbor High?
- [00:46:47.75] LARRY HUNTER: Pioneer. That was it by then. It was the only thing.
- [00:46:51.97] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me about your experience there. I know you say you were--
- [00:46:54.56] LARRY HUNTER: I was in the Black Student Union and all that, but my biggest experience is-- once again with this educational principle, I saw what they were doing. They were tracking black students. And I said, oh, no, I'm going to get in college prep, and I'm going to get in the accelerated classes. They had a humanities curriculum at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School-- was good as two years in college. It was recitation and seminars.
- [00:47:31.37] I and a few other black folks were lucky enough to get in there, and we got teased by other black folks, got teased by white folks-- what are you doing up in here? And then there were seeing people that had fallen so far behind, they were dropping out, and disciplinary problems and stuff. But in the curriculum I was in in Ann Arbor High School, I am very proud. I got a genuine first class education. I mean, I'm talking about genuine. But if you didn't know, you wouldn't even know it existed.
- [00:48:17.69] INTERVIEWER: So when you said that people were dropping out, were you referring to the humanities class or the school?
- [00:48:23.11] LARRY HUNTER: Dropping out of the school.
- [00:48:24.25] INTERVIEWER: The school, OK.
- [00:48:25.15] LARRY HUNTER: Yep, and in those days, if you had any trouble in school-- they had a few tutoring things. So they'd send you to the dumb folks class and something like that. And they had, I called them, corrals full of special ed kids. And they gave some of them diplomas, which shouldn't have happened in my opinion.
- [00:48:57.40] So it was that complicity. Peer pressure with black folks and the white folks saying, yeah, this is the way we want it. And part of the protest that I was involved in is to try to break that system down, to try to say that, one set of kids-- I'm talking about even the books that we had in our curriculum were better than the books other folks had-- to try to make it equal.
- [00:49:31.12] But then I realized there was only so much I can do because the peer pressure for some kids was just too great. It was just too great to overcome.
- [00:49:39.87] INTERVIEWER: So in that humanities class, were there other African-American students besides yourself?
- [00:49:45.16] LARRY HUNTER: There were about five of us, and we had a big school. And oh, about maybe 10, but you have to separate them, too. But the same stuff that goes on in the black community. There were black kids who were in humanities-- their fathers and mothers were University of Michigan affiliated professor types.
- [00:50:11.38] And most of the peer group called them Uncle Toms. So they were considered didn't matter. But I was the one that did matter in my little five of us because I lived in the community and I could talk as much trash as all the rest of them. But I just chose to take that pathway. But it was hard because, I mean, why are you doing this, Larry? That was my peer said. Come on and be with us.
- [00:50:43.40] INTERVIEWER: I think there's still a lot of that peer pressure.
- [00:50:44.80] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, man. It's terrible. I just thank God for my mother.
- [00:50:50.75] INTERVIEWER: So after you finished high school, you left high school. Where did you live?
- [00:50:56.80] LARRY HUNTER: I guess the better question is where didn't I live. But anyway, I lived in Ann Arbor. I have lived in, from Arrowwood, to Fountain Street, to Beakes Street, to Fifth Avenue. Actually, I forgot to say-- when my mother died, I moved out of the house, or else I was going to do something bad to my father. And so I spent my high school years either staying with a family member or living in single room occupancy houses with old, drunk men and paid my own way, working two or three jobs just to survive and often close to being homeless.
- [00:51:49.71] INTERVIEWER: So when you said you did two or three different jobs, what are some of the jobs that you did?
- [00:51:54.71] LARRY HUNTER: Well, that would be another one. What haven't I done? But I've done landscaping. I've done janitorial work. I was a receptionist of all things at a Fortune 500 company because of my voice. I worked in school cafeterias. Let's just say, I've held many different jobs, and I'm not afraid to work.
- [00:52:32.42] I guess I was in ninth grade-- that's when I started my first business. I started my own lawn business and taught me a lot of things about life and business.
- [00:52:46.90] INTERVIEWER: What are a couple of things it taught you?
- [00:52:50.17] LARRY HUNTER: Well, my buddies were slinging hamburgers at McDonald's and getting grease burns. I could work my weekend lawn service, get paid by check-- no taxes. And that meant I could have after school activities, which was another thing about somewhat in my peer group. I want to work and make that money. Well, can't get your homework done if you do that.
- [00:53:16.50] So anyway, my weekend lawn business-- I cut me 10 lawns, and I would make more than they did working all week. And I said, mm, there is something to this. But it was hard. I had to take the bus. I had no transportation. I had my lawnmowers on site. But somebody would write me a check, and sometime put a tip on top. And I was fat and happy.
- [00:53:43.11] INTERVIEWER: How'd you go about getting your clients?
- [00:53:44.68] LARRY HUNTER: Getting my clients? Well, as I said earlier, my mother was a domestic worker. And all rich white folks need people to do stuff. So once the word gets out this young man will cut your grass, call him up-- so no advertising necessary, it just happened.
- [00:54:07.99] INTERVIEWER: Now you also mentioned--
- [00:54:08.14] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, and by the way, some of those rich folks were high-wheeling academics from the University of Michigan.
- [00:54:19.83] One of those families gave me a set of 1923 Encyclopedia Britannica. And since I like studying and facts, I took the whole set. And some of those folks taught me a few things. One was a nuclear physicist and helped me out with some of my math problems. That was all good. It was a great business.
- [00:54:48.95] INTERVIEWER: You were networking way back then.
- [00:54:50.79] LARRY HUNTER: Absolutely.
- [00:54:52.73] INTERVIEWER: Now you also mentioned moving around as you said on Fountain Street and Beakes Street. Tell me a little bit about that area. Was that predominately black at the time?
- [00:55:00.72] LARRY HUNTER: Well, Beakes Street was. That's where my cousins lived. But Fountain Street was-- if you look at Ann Arbor, it was where my family bought their house. We bought our house on a land contract because that's how white folks were doing it there. And by that, I mean they get you in on what they call the land lease contracts, and you buy them. But if you miss one payment, they can cancel out all your payments and take the house back. So that's how they ran the rodeo.
- [00:55:33.01] So on Gott Street and Fountain Street, it was what I call redlining. What they did to the white folks-- one black person moved in. They said, uh, oh, you'd better get out of here. Property value is going down. So the white folks started moving out, and black folks started moving in. But there was one dilemma that they did. They moved out and sold very high.
- [00:56:02.70] So in Fountain and Miner and those streets, those black families who bought their homes just got their whole life savings into buying those homes. And the housing stock-- I wouldn't say the worst. But the quality of the housing is almost the worst in Ann Arbor, but they sold high until the line just kept going. One black person moves in, another white person moves out. One black person moves in, another white person moves out.
- [00:56:36.26] And so that's how they got populated. But there were pockets of where there was little lines-- the way white folks say, I ain't going nowhere. But finally, they either got too old or got too scared and they moved out until that became the second tier of the black community. And there are other black communities like the people that I know who lived on Brown Street-- you know about that-- near the Como Club. But anyway, there are little pockets of people.
- [00:57:10.13] But around the Gott Street area and Fountain and Miner-- that's how black folks got there. And some of them were moving up from Fifth Avenue. Some of them were newcomers, but some of them were upgrading their homes. And that's when the white folks ran so fast Mack School became the most segregated elementary school in Ann Arbor-- quick, quick.
- [00:57:44.97] And then I worked on a campaign to desegregate it because it was just impacted. And the white folks that were there, they started putting their kids in Catholic schools and in private schools. Mack School used to be a premier elementary school. As soon as it got segregated, it went to almost nothing.
- [00:58:07.75] INTERVIEWER: Now you made some reference to Brown, the Brown area--
- [00:58:13.53] LARRY HUNTER: Brown Street.
- [00:58:15.52] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me a little bit about that.
- [00:58:19.72] LARRY HUNTER: First of all, it was so far from where I lived, I was surprised that black folks lived over there. And right close to it was a [INAUDIBLE] manufacturing, a lot of industrial stuff. It was a quiet, little next to industrial stuff. And there was-- I don't know-- from what I remember about four or five families because I used to go over there and play music in a garage band over there.
- [00:58:50.03] And then there was another clump of folks on White Street, Woodlawn, Sheehan-- these are streets near Burns Park. Like I said, it used to be. Now they're all gone. But there were just clumps, and there were clumps of black folks on Glen Street, near old St. Joe's Hospital. There were black folks on Fuller Avenue and on Broadway.
- [00:59:16.82] So there were clumps of black folks. But in terms of large clumps of black folks, it was mostly the Beakes Street, Fourth Ave, Fifth Ave, and then we go to the other west side-- Fountain and Miner and Brooks and Hiscock, and those places.
- [00:59:37.27] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to move into work. So what was your main field of employment.
- [00:59:44.80] LARRY HUNTER: I would say social work. I mean, being a lawyer just fit right into that. But that really is where I am.
- [00:59:56.92] INTERVIEWER: So how did you get started in social work?
- [01:00:00.78] LARRY HUNTER: Back in high school when I decided I wanted to make the world a better place. And also I thought, given my background and how poor we were, I thought maybe I could help uplift people.
- [01:00:18.94] INTERVIEWER: So was getting on the city council-- part of your way of trying to make a difference?
- [01:00:26.94] LARRY HUNTER: No, I was making a difference long before that. That was just a continuation.
- [01:00:30.65] INTERVIEWER: Well, talk to me about that.
- [01:00:34.29] LARRY HUNTER: My first job-- one big job out of high school-- I was the city's emergency housing coordinator. And part of that job was to relocate people who were either homeless or who didn't have a place to stay or houses were being condemned. So across the street from City Hall, for example-- used to be called the Townhouse Motel. It was an SRO, Single Room Occupancy place, that had about 80 people living in it. They're all African-Americans.
- [01:01:13.42] The owner decided he was going to sell the place. So it was my job to go in there, interview all those people, and find them a place to live.
- [01:01:24.94] INTERVIEWER: About 80 people.
- [01:01:25.53] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah, and I had my last holdout-- old, black woman who lived there almost all of her life. And it took me five weeks to convince her that she would be safe, that we could move. And then I was also the person who found housing for-- public housing was new in Ann Arbor then. I was the person that had to interview the families and get them situated and deal with their kids and all of that stuff.
- [01:02:09.65] So that was the job. That was the beginning. And then I worked for Model Cities, and I ran an organization called the Model Cities Youth Development League. And we started a-- based on my experience in high school, we started a tutoring program, a recreation program for kids. Most of them were public housing kids, and this is why I know that education is hard because we spent hours with those kids. And sometimes it worked.
- [01:02:53.50] INTERVIEWER: But sometimes it didn't.
- [01:02:55.30] LARRY HUNTER: And especially when you have to interview all these kids in their home life. And I thought that I grew up hard, but it also taught me a thing or two to see kids who basically didn't have a chance.
- [01:03:15.42] INTERVIEWER: So now in terms of Model Cities, talk about that, because some people hearing that terminology might not know what that means.
- [01:03:22.60] LARRY HUNTER: Well, Model Cities was a program funded by HUD. It was a program to improve blighted and poor areas, and it was a grant program. And so it did like youth development. It also did medical stuff because I was on the board of the Summit Street Medical Center because it was funded by their clinic for poor folks. And it also set up a dental clinic, which is I think still a Model Cities dental clinic. So there was a myriad of social programs, and each one had a different function. And so I was the youth person there.
- [01:04:06.53] And then after that, I worked for the county. It was called CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Program. And so I was out developing programs and getting jobs. So that's why the city council was a cinch because, I mean, I had been doing all of these things for all this time. I was developing jobs for adults, and I also ran the summer jobs program for low income children. I ran that for several years. And I used to volunteer at the community center. I mean, that's why I say, as an adult, I'm tired.
- [01:05:04.77] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me a little bit about-- so what did you do once you got your law degree. Did you use that for anything?
- [01:05:12.12] LARRY HUNTER: Oh, yeah-- basically, making trouble. I have been involved in supporting some lawsuits for fair housing, some lawsuits against some insurance companies who are ripping people off in terms of their billing. And I've also advised some of my friends who work at the World Economic Bank with issues about land titling and stuff like that, which allowed me to travel almost all around the world.
- [01:06:01.13] INTERVIEWER: And you did that based out of DC?
- [01:06:03.29] LARRY HUNTER: DC, Yes
- [01:06:06.49] INTERVIEWER: So are you still involved with that at all?
- [01:06:08.59] LARRY HUNTER: No, I am so retired. I'm not volunteering I don't work. I do my research. I have a good time. I don't want to go to any meetings. I'm tired and done.
- [01:06:21.30] INTERVIEWER: Well, you've done a lot.
- [01:06:22.38] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah.
- [01:06:25.79] INTERVIEWER: What do you value most about what you did for a living and why?
- [01:06:31.13] LARRY HUNTER: Well, I value most about trying to do what I can to try to lift people up, and I've done a lot of that. And the thing I value most is just being a fighter.
- [01:06:51.65] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to move to the last part of the interview, which is historical and social events. Tell me how it was for you to live in this community.
- [01:07:00.64] LARRY HUNTER: To live in this community? As I said earlier, I am very thankful for the education. Living in the community was mixed for me because of my perception of particularly black folks being divided by color and education. I love what this community has to offer, and it has to offer a lot. But you've got to keep your wits about you if you're in this community.
- [01:07:41.30] Oh, wait. I should say-- I mean, before my father died, he just got a kick out of me getting elected to city council, even though he didn't have anything to do with it. But anyway, he got a kick out of it.
- [01:07:57.36] INTERVIEWER: You're his son.
- [01:07:58.34] LARRY HUNTER: Yeah, but I did things to make a difference. For example, there is a nonprofit housing corporation called Avalon, and it's doing more housing in Ann Arbor than anything else. Well, I and my buddies set that up. We just set up so many city programs to just empower people.
- [01:08:34.10] For example, the Power Center, they have performances all the time. I persuaded the University of Michigan. I said, wait a minute. You're going to have some leftover tickets. If you've got those leftover tickets, you need to distribute them back here in the community because we give you our services and you go back and do this.
- [01:09:02.99] I believe in setting up sustainable programs because that's what I do best. I mean, there are just so many things on the city council-- well, let me give an example. I got there. There was almost no black firefighters, no women. I go, oh, no. That's going to change. There were almost no African-Americans on the police department. That's going to change. I also go on the inside and change how they do their job interviewing for jobs.
- [01:09:42.57] By and large, I'm just a sustainable change person. I just get in there, and I just try to do policies to help. So I guess city council, for better or for worse, was probably a great highlight.
- [01:10:01.37] INTERVIEWER: So you probably have already touched on this, but when thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:10:11.50] LARRY HUNTER: Well, I have to say first I'm most proud of being alive, but the other thing is to make it against all odds, just to know how hard it is to struggle. And when I say, we had 14 children, I mean, there were some times that we didn't have enough to eat-- so just to make it against all odds. And that would probably be the biggest highlight.
- [01:10:59.18] INTERVIEWER: That's a big one. What advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:11:04.69] LARRY HUNTER: Oh my. Back to the peer pressure thing-- to encourage young people to be themselves. You can't do without the crowd, but you might have to let the crowd control you and to know that life is a mathematical equation, that's what I call it-- if you got some education, if you miss two steps, you can't get to four-- and how connected it is. Because working with kids and young people, if you miss your opportunity, there's no going back. You can't do the bell again.
- [01:12:02.39] And it's made me sad as an adult because, to sit now with a young person that's 11th grade level and reads at fifth grade, I just know basically it's over. And so I would tell them to stay at it and never to fall behind. But my most important thing is be yourself and learn how to stand up and fight. And if you get knocked down, you get back up and you keep fighting.
- [01:12:36.65] INTERVIEWER: Well, thank you. That was your final question. But I'm going to give you a chance to make any final thoughts that you'd like to share that you haven't shared.
- [01:12:45.49] LARRY HUNTER: I would just say that Ann Arbor is a very, very unique community with quirks and all. I'm afraid of its future in terms of African-Americans. I still think it's a great city to raise children and to work. And finally, I would say that big behemoth on the block, the University of Michigan, it's got its paws in everything that Ann Arbor does-- but to tell people that, without the University of Michigan, we'd be in buggy whips and riding down roads because it is the engine that runs this community. That would be it.
- [01:13:34.04] INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much.
- [01:13:35.15] LARRY HUNTER: Thank you.
- [01:13:36.06] INTERVIEWER: That was great.
May 6, 2018
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
St. John's Baptist Church
Kansas City Royals
Parkridge Housing Project
Second Baptist Church of Ann Arbor
Bethel AME Church
Ann Arbor City Council
Black Lives Matter
Lawrence C. Perry School (Ypsilanti)
Forsythe Junior High School
Pioneer High School
Pioneer High School - Black Student Union
Christian Mack School
Model Cities Youth Development Team
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Comprehensive Employment and Training Act
Town House Hotel
Summit Street Medical Center
Ann Street Black Business District
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
John A. Woods
Albert H. Wheeler
John F. Kennedy
Martin Luther King Jr.
R. Wiley Brownlee