AACHM Oral History: Premail Freeman
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 3:45pm
When: June 11, 2018
Premail Freeman was born in 1947 in Mississippi and later moved to Ypsilanti. He reminisces about his childhood in Ypsilanti and some of the jobs he had growing up. Inspired by friends who ran a successful hair salon, Premail studied cosmetology and eventually opened his own salon where he continues to work to this day. His wife helped him run the business in the early days and together they raised a family of three.
- [00:00:08.68] INTERVIEWER: Premail, first I want to thank you for doing this. You're going to help add to the history of black folks in Washtenaw County and add to our archives for the African American Museum of Washtenaw County and for the Ann Arbor District Library. So thank you first.
- [00:00:33.67] PREMAIL FREEMAN: You're quite welcome.
- [00:00:34.28] INTERVIEWER: And we'll get started. I'm first going to ask you some simple demographic questions. And these questions may jog your memory. But I want you to keep your answers brief and to the point for right now. And we can go in more detail later.
- [00:00:51.27] PREMAIL FREEMAN: OK.
- [00:00:51.68] INTERVIEWER: OK? Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:54.95] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Premail Freeman. Premail, P-R-E-M-A-I-L, Freeman, F-R-E-E-M-A-N.
- [00:01:04.04] INTERVIEWER: And what is your date of birth?
- [00:01:06.12] PREMAIL FREEMAN: 9-7-47.
- [00:01:08.27] INTERVIEWER: And you're how old?
- [00:01:09.56] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I'm 70.
- [00:01:11.12] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:01:14.00] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:21.62] PREMAIL FREEMAN: How would you describe being black?
- [00:01:24.95] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:01:28.97] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I enjoy it. I, you know, don't have no problem with it.
- [00:01:34.20] INTERVIEWER: So you're African-American?
- [00:01:35.82] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yes, ma'am.
- [00:01:37.13] INTERVIEWER: And what is your religion?
- [00:01:39.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Christian.
- [00:01:40.55] INTERVIEWER: Christian.
- [00:01:41.41] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. One reason, it's a non-denominated church. So we don't have-- it's not like a Baptist or sanctified. It's just non-denomination.
- [00:01:59.00] INTERVIEWER: What is your church?
- [00:02:00.59] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Strong Tower Ministry in Ypsilanti.
- [00:02:02.87] INTERVIEWER: In Ypsilanti, OK.
- [00:02:04.37] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Pastor Michael Rosier.
- [00:02:09.01] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:02:14.02] PREMAIL FREEMAN: 12th grade.
- [00:02:15.18] INTERVIEWER: 12th grade. Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
- [00:02:22.75] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Cosmetology.
- [00:02:24.14] INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm.
- [00:02:25.33] PREMAIL FREEMAN: That's about it.
- [00:02:27.10] INTERVIEWER: Where did you do that?
- [00:02:28.60] PREMAIL FREEMAN: In Ypsi-- well, between Ann Arbor an Ypsi was Ann Arbor Beauty School Academy.
- [00:02:36.79] INTERVIEWER: OK. And what is your marital status?
- [00:02:40.20] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Married.
- [00:02:41.00] INTERVIEWER: You're married. And what's your wife's name?
- [00:02:44.11] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Patricia Laura Freeman. She would put that L in there, Laura.
- [00:02:48.84] INTERVIEWER: OK. How many children do you have?
- [00:02:56.21] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I have three.
- [00:02:57.91] INTERVIEWER: OK. And how many siblings do you have?
- [00:03:02.88] PREMAIL FREEMAN: There's six of us left out of 11.
- [00:03:07.86] INTERVIEWER: Oh my, 11--
- [00:03:08.78] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yes.
- [00:03:09.31] INTERVIEWER: And there are six left?
- [00:03:11.20] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Right.
- [00:03:11.53] INTERVIEWER: That includes you.
- [00:03:12.79] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Including me.
- [00:03:14.88] INTERVIEWER: OK. What is your primary occupation?
- [00:03:19.69] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Hairstylist, cosmetologist, anywhere I've been. That's--
- [00:03:28.85] INTERVIEWER: OK. And have you-- you're still working, so have you thought about retirement at all?
- [00:03:37.27] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Not yet. My body will tell me when it's time.
- [00:03:42.46] INTERVIEWER: OK. And your wife too?
- [00:03:45.04] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yes, she's there. And my daughter.
- [00:03:46.93] INTERVIEWER: And your daughter.
- [00:03:47.74] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Right.
- [00:03:48.22] INTERVIEWER: OK. All right. The next section, memories of your childhood and youth. This part of the interview is about your childhood. Even if these questions jog your memories about other times in your life, please only respond to the memories for this section.
- [00:04:06.97] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Thank you.
- [00:04:08.32] INTERVIEWER: What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:04:15.62] PREMAIL FREEMAN: We was close when I was a child. We was close.
- [00:04:20.89] INTERVIEWER: And where were you when you were a child?
- [00:04:23.71] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I was born in Sunflower, Mississippi.
- [00:04:26.56] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:04:27.04] PREMAIL FREEMAN: And we moved here when I was five years old.
- [00:04:31.60] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:04:32.33] PREMAIL FREEMAN: And we lived in Ypsi. Well, we moved to Willow Run first. And then Ypsilanti. And I've been there since first grade.
- [00:04:45.10] INTERVIEWER: OK. So what was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:04:50.11] PREMAIL FREEMAN: It was good. It was good. We struggled. You know there were some rough times back when I was a kid. Jobs-- My stepfather was a construction worker, and my mother did day jobs. But it was tight. It was-- I remember some rough days.
- [00:05:14.29] In the 50s, as they called it, eating beans three times a day. So you know, it was a rough time sometimes.
- [00:05:24.52] INTERVIEWER: But you said your parents were working and that you were struggling. But--
- [00:05:32.32] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, I mean everybody-- once we got older, we found out, shoot, everybody did it. You know, beans and corn bread and whatever, just to make it. But no one starved. It was a good life.
- [00:05:48.68] INTERVIEWER: So what are some of your earliest memories when you were young?
- [00:05:54.11] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, my earliest? I can remember being, when I was a kid, down south before we moved. Normal little snotty nose kid running around having a good time. I remember my grandmother saved me out of a horse trough I had fell off in.
- [00:06:18.25] I remember the incident when we had to leave Mississippi. A guy came. I guess the person that owned the property came to talk to my mother about some chickens or something. And I don't know.
- [00:06:41.64] I don't know what happened that day. But I know she went for no stuff cause she had a gun by the door. And about a week or two later-- or to me it seemed like a week or two. But we was on our way out of there, heading to Michigan.
- [00:06:58.82] INTERVIEWER: Did you have relatives in Michigan?
- [00:07:02.12] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm. Yep. Yep.
- [00:07:03.70] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:07:04.15] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Uncles, cousins, so we was pretty much just about the last family to leave.
- [00:07:12.56] INTERVIEWER: So what about after you got here? You said you were five. In terms of your early--
- [00:07:17.92] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I stayed with my grandparents till my parents got a place for us to live.
- [00:07:23.46] INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm. OK. Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you remember from your childhood?
- [00:07:34.30] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Christmas and Thanksgiving.
- [00:07:36.24] INTERVIEWER: Thanksgiving. What happened on those days?
- [00:07:39.64] PREMAIL FREEMAN: We ate a lot and played a lot.
- [00:07:41.65] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:07:42.91] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:07:47.35] So this question is redundant. Which holidays did your family celebrate. And you said, Christmas and Thanksgiving.
- [00:07:57.01] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.
- [00:07:59.50] INTERVIEWER: How are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
- [00:08:03.70] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Right now-- my family, as of now?
- [00:08:09.22] INTERVIEWER: Well let's start with your family when you were a child first.
- [00:08:14.59] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, traditionally we just thanked God that another day has-- we done made it another day and everyone's healthy, and no one was in jail. It was just a blessed time. It was no great hoopla cause we still was a struggling family.
- [00:08:43.60] INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm. Did your family create any of its own traditions and celebrations? Did you have anything special that you all did other than the regular ones of Christmas?
- [00:09:01.41] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No. Just family gatherings and make sure we knew each other.
- [00:09:08.13] INTERVIEWER: What about friends? Did you have friends? Or was your family large enough to--
- [00:09:14.10] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Large enough? There was 11 in my family, 13 in my cousin's, 1 and 12. When we got together it was because my one uncle, he owned a farm. And we would go out there like on weekends and just--
- [00:09:29.97] INTERVIEWER: This was in Ypsi?
- [00:09:31.62] PREMAIL FREEMAN: This would be in Milan.
- [00:09:34.17] INTERVIEWER: Oh, OK.
- [00:09:34.66] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. That's where they lived. But not in Ypsi.
- [00:09:37.02] INTERVIEWER: OK. Go ahead and tell me.
- [00:09:39.27] PREMAIL FREEMAN: But that's where they are from-- he lived with my cousins, the Burtons. And my uncle was a truck driver. So they was kind of well off. They did well. So we would all go out there and just have a good time. You know, [INAUDIBLE] through the summer. And then on the fall of the year, we'd have, what they call a hog killing.
- [00:10:04.53] INTERVIEWER: Oh. That's something. OK.
- [00:10:09.77] PREMAIL FREEMAN: They usually killed the hogs in the fall. That's where they prepped the meat. And everybody would get a little something-something put in their freezer for the year.
- [00:10:19.80] INTERVIEWER: And eat some, too, at the--
- [00:10:21.39] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, yeah.
- [00:10:23.86] INTERVIEWER: OK. You told me your highest grade, you completed the 12th grade. And did you play any sports or join any other activities?
- [00:10:34.65] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Too busy trying to find a job.
- [00:10:37.23] INTERVIEWER: Too busy trying to find a job?
- [00:10:39.36] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Make sure I had a job. Yeah. I worked. I've been working since I was about 11 years old.
- [00:10:45.32] INTERVIEWER: Doing what?
- [00:10:46.75] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yard work, I would cut grass or whatever. Just to help out and make sure I was-- you know, things that I want, I can-- my mother always said, you can't make it through life stealing. So you have to earn your living.
- [00:11:08.13] INTERVIEWER: So you worked since you were 11 all through while you were going to school?
- [00:11:12.96] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
- [00:11:14.70] INTERVIEWER: The whole time?
- [00:11:15.81] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. We would-- odd jobs for the neighborhood, just different things.
- [00:11:27.49] INTERVIEWER: Did that have anything to do with you wanting to be an entrepreneur?
- [00:11:32.35] PREMAIL FREEMAN: That part didn't hit me until I was working at General Motors. And I just got tired of working in a plant. That was the second factory I had worked in. I just felt there was something else that I can do.
- [00:11:51.58] I've seen other guys just cutting hair in the neighborhood, made a decent living. It's not so much as making a killing. It's just making a comfortable living where you can relax. Understand-- you know, you ain't got no one all, do this, do that, do that, you know? All over the place.
- [00:12:18.21] INTERVIEWER: What about your school experience is different from the schools as you know them today? Where did you go to school?
- [00:12:30.63] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ypsi High.
- [00:12:32.04] INTERVIEWER: Ypsi High?
- [00:12:33.87] PREMAIL FREEMAN: West Junior High.
- [00:12:35.11] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:12:36.05] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Perry School. Perry Elementary.
- [00:12:43.62] INTERVIEWER: So what do you think is different now that your kids have gone to schools?
- [00:12:50.39] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, to me schools, they're a little bit more-- some teachers-- back then, you-- I don't know how to say this. When I was in elementary, it was an all black school. The teachers made sure that you learn. They would stress the part that you learn.
- [00:13:18.31] INTERVIEWER: This was at Perry?
- [00:13:19.35] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Perry School. Mr. Patton was one of them. Mr. Beatty, Ms. Kersey, Ms. Samson, I can-- you know. You learn. There was Ms. Stevens. If you didn't get it, they would pull you to the side. They would make sure you knew what you was doing.
- [00:13:46.94] When I got to West Junior High, because I was struggling a little bit because they would-- it was tough. You know, you have to struggle.
- [00:14:00.27] Myself, I didn't get it as fast as my brother did. My younger brother, I mean he was pretty good in school. And Ypsi High, it was just, I'll be glad to get out of here. That's all I want, just finish up and get out.
- [00:14:21.45] So I took everything, the lowest of everything. Algebra 1, Algebra 1, Algebra 1. Boy, what a-- math, I wasn't planning on going to college.
- [00:14:37.58] That wasn't my dream. Give me a trade. At one time, I thought I was going to be a mechanic. But no, that didn't work out.
- [00:14:48.19] Didn't know if I was going to be a truck driver. But a friend of mine named Cleveland Frazier, he was a barber. And he started showing me some stuff. And I liked it. So after a few years working in the plant, I kept it on my mind. And one day I said, I'm going to try it. So I did.
- [00:15:17.30] INTERVIEWER: So you said you took the lower classes so you could get out of there.
- [00:15:22.07] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah.
- [00:15:22.39] INTERVIEWER: --as fast as you can. So what about the teachers? And what did you think about the teachers in High School level.
- [00:15:30.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I didn't-- they had theirs, you get yours the best way you can. I'm sure there was teachers there that really helped a lot of students. But it wasn't so much as that. It was just the idea--
- [00:15:53.10] I'm trying hard not to say racist. But it was just, you on one side and they are on the other side. And it was just, you play their rule or you didn't have nothing for yourself to say.
- [00:16:14.04] INTERVIEWER: Were there black teachers at--
- [00:16:15.91] PREMAIL FREEMAN: There was a few that I can remember. I mean, they didn't have an impact on me that I would remember them. Some people I talked to, they had a good time in school.
- [00:16:31.42] INTERVIEWER: Some of your friends?
- [00:16:32.29] PREMAIL FREEMAN: My friends. Yeah. Maybe I was just that one that didn't. I don't know. I can't compare the teachers to-- but I know what I learned coming through Perry School and my early elementary. That was a good foundation right there.
- [00:16:49.69] INTERVIEWER: It had an impact on you. Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during that time that you can remember?
- [00:16:58.69] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No. My mother always said, just work for a living. Don't steal. Don't lie. You know, tell the truth. That's about it. Some good foundation. And there was another little saying. I tell my kids this.
- [00:17:17.65] You only got a few things in your life that people will respect, your word-- and your word is your word, and if you can keep that-- and your credit. My momma always said your credit. Keep your credit straight and your word.
- [00:17:42.46] INTERVIEWER: OK. Keep your credit straight and your word. OK. When thinking back on your school years, what important or historical events were taking place at that time? And did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:18:09.25] PREMAIL FREEMAN: What was going on when I was-- didn't nothing personally affect us. I guess it affected the whole country, Martin Luther King, assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nothing really personal just because once you get a job, if you had a job with a union, it was equally whether they had to-- they had to treat it equally, or you-- you at the job.
- [00:18:40.69] But it really didn't, nothing, affect my family per se. Just every day--
- [00:18:46.35] INTERVIEWER: Did it affect your thinking about things at all?
- [00:18:52.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Getting a education, learning the ropes, know how to deal with people, how to talk to them. You know, you just-- to hear him speak, Martin Luther King, back in the day, you just didn't hear that from a black man back then. We would sit there, yeah! Tell them! Tell them!
- [00:19:21.09] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:19:24.82] But you know, so that made a lot of people, I'm sure, starting to read and study the law. Because if you know the law, you can at least have a word to say. Or know whether you can move on or-- I just think that would probably be the biggest change. I'm sure everybody started reading a little bit more and studying.
- [00:19:47.03] INTERVIEWER: And learning.
- [00:19:47.70] PREMAIL FREEMAN: And then Vietnam, which a lot of my friends left, came back body-bags. So that was a big change.
- [00:20:04.87] INTERVIEWER: You lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about that? Was your school segregated? Was the Elementary School near your home, were there-- I know there wasn't a high school just for blacks, but maybe what was the population of your high school, Ypsi High school when you were there? And how did you get to school?
- [00:20:42.03] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Walked.
- [00:20:43.28] INTERVIEWER: You walked. How long a walk did you have?
- [00:20:46.93] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, I don't know. I guess about half an hour to 45 minutes.
- [00:20:53.94] INTERVIEWER: Now, this was to which school?
- [00:20:55.56] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ypsi High.
- [00:20:56.05] INTERVIEWER: Ypsi High.
- [00:20:57.19] PREMAIL FREEMAN: We walked to all the schools. There was no bus. We didn't have a bus. We would be walking to school and see the bus pick up kids that we would pass, picking those kids up and going to the same school we're going to.
- [00:21:13.72] INTERVIEWER: Hmm.
- [00:21:15.72] PREMAIL FREEMAN: That's what I said, hmm.
- [00:21:19.44] INTERVIEWER: So was it--
- [00:21:23.01] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. Choked you, didn't it?
- [00:21:25.08] INTERVIEWER: I'm trying to figure out how that was.
- [00:21:27.93] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, it was just the way it was. You know, if your parents-- you know, we was renters. There were some people up there. But no one spoke up at the time. Till Ms. Dorsey came along and spoke up about urban renewal. And then they--
- [00:21:43.20] INTERVIEWER: Now, who is Ms. Dorsey? Was she on the board?
- [00:21:45.10] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No. She was just a black activist in the neighborhood trying to tell people not to sell their homes because of urban renewal. And my thing was urban renewal was to keep all the blacks on one side.
- [00:21:59.91] They tore down homes. And built all them projects over there. I mean, not projects. But those townhouses right there off of Huron Street. Then the townhouses off on Second Avenue.
- [00:22:13.89] So what happened-- to me it was just to keep black folks from crossing Michigan Ave. But they finally they uncrossed it now. But the point was, they built all of them townhouses over there after they done tore-- people done sold out their homes, which had equity in Ypsilanti. Because we had grocery stores. We had restaurants.
- [00:22:37.98] INTERVIEWER: Black owned?
- [00:22:38.70] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Black owned, yeah. Blue Haven Restaurant, you could go in there and get a nice meal. You know, sit, eat. Pool rooms, we had activities for the young people. Well, not young. You had to be at least 18 to play pool.
- [00:22:56.88] But the center on Harriet Street, we used to go up there and dance and have a good time at the community center right there. But after urban renewal came through, they tore down all them homes. People who had them homes, sold them, moved to Inkster. So that's why them townhouses are there. Yeah.
- [00:23:25.33] INTERVIEWER: Still there.
- [00:23:26.19] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Still there.
- [00:23:28.57] INTERVIEWER: So where were you all living, your family?
- [00:23:34.25] PREMAIL FREEMAN: We stayed on Watling Street. You know where Watling is?
- [00:23:36.90] INTERVIEWER: No.
- [00:23:37.58] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Watling is right next to the expressway. You think about the expressway on 94. The street just runs right along side of-- you had to come all the way across Ypsilanti, down past Perry School again, cross the Ainsworth Circle, or Michigan Ave.
- [00:23:59.70] Cross Michigan Ave, go down to get Ypsilanti High. Drive that one day. I think it's about-- what is that? Three or four miles. That's what we did every day.
- [00:24:13.86] INTERVIEWER: Every day, back and forth.
- [00:24:15.41] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.
- [00:24:17.36] INTERVIEWER: And while you were working, you also--
- [00:24:20.36] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. Yeah.
- [00:24:21.11] INTERVIEWER: For your job. OK.
- [00:24:25.78] You talked a little bit about your teachers. And you've already told me that there were restaurants and eating places for blacks. Now, were those places in the same places, on Michigan Avenue?
- [00:24:43.64] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No, no, no, no. That was right down Harriet.
- [00:24:47.00] INTERVIEWER: This was on Harriet.
- [00:24:47.82] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Harriet Street, yes.
- [00:24:49.37] INTERVIEWER: And now they're all gone.
- [00:24:50.52] PREMAIL FREEMAN: They're gone.
- [00:24:51.03] INTERVIEWER: They're all gone.
- [00:24:54.15] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Matter of fact, where they got that Hope Center-- is that what it is?
- [00:24:58.57] INTERVIEWER: The Hope Clinic?
- [00:24:59.23] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Hope Clinic. That's where the restaurant used to sit, in that spot.
- [00:25:10.14] INTERVIEWER: OK. We're going to move into adulthood, marriage, and family life.
- [00:25:14.66] PREMAIL FREEMAN: OK.
- [00:25:16.84] INTERVIEWER: This set of questions covers a fairly long period, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, started a family, until all your children left home-- if they've left home. And you've already said both you and your wife are still working. So we'll be talking about a stretch of time.
- [00:25:45.74] After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:25:48.68] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ypsilanti.
- [00:25:49.70] INTERVIEWER: Ypsilanti. Did you move out from your folks'?
- [00:25:53.78] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. I had my own little place.
- [00:25:55.43] INTERVIEWER: Oh, really?
- [00:25:56.42] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah.
- [00:25:57.67] INTERVIEWER: And you were working, so you could pay the rent and stuff.
- [00:26:00.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Right. I was working before I left high school.
- [00:26:02.99] INTERVIEWER: Right, you told me, since you were 11.
- [00:26:05.24] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, no, since I left high school, I was making the same amount of money as the teachers was. I was working at Ford Motor Company in my 12th grade year. So I was ready to go. I didn't need--
- [00:26:20.15] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:26:24.42] INTERVIEWER: So you've stayed in Ypsi, living in Ypsi, all the time--
- [00:26:32.54] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah.
- [00:26:32.76] INTERVIEWER: --since you graduated from high school. OK.
- [00:26:39.31] All right. I want you to tell me a little bit about your married, family life. First, tell me about your spouse. Where did you all meet?
- [00:26:46.93] PREMAIL FREEMAN: At the plant--
- [00:26:47.93] INTERVIEWER: At the what?
- [00:26:49.06] PREMAIL FREEMAN: At the plant, Fisher Body.
- [00:26:50.70] INTERVIEWER: She was working at the plant, too?
- [00:26:51.84] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm. Yep.
- [00:26:54.35] INTERVIEWER: And how long had she been in Ypsi?
- [00:26:57.77] PREMAIL FREEMAN: As long as I have. Once we met, then she moved from Inkster. She lived in Inkster at first.
- [00:27:04.04] INTERVIEWER: Oh, OK.
- [00:27:09.27] Tell me what it was like when you were dating. What was your engagement and wedding like?
- [00:27:16.05] PREMAIL FREEMAN: The engagement was--
- [00:27:20.51] INTERVIEWER: How long did you date?
- [00:27:21.46] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:27:24.80] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Let's see. Me and my son-- he was five. So it was about four years before we decided to get married.
- [00:27:36.67] INTERVIEWER: Oh, really? OK. And so both of you were working, all this time, at the plant?
- [00:27:44.38] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. And then we just made it work. The plant was a life of its own. And we had a year where they shut down the whole plant for a whole year of the afternoon shift. And after that, I decided I was going to try to find me something else to do. Because the writing was on the wall that plant life was about to-- it's not the greatest anymore.
- [00:28:20.57] So I started back to school. Took me about two years going part-time, because I still had to work. Well, back up a little bit, because I did work another job. I was working two jobs.
- [00:28:39.22] I drove a truck and worked at the plant when me and Pat was going together. Then I said, I'm going to do something else different besides driving a truck and working at the plant.
- [00:28:50.48] INTERVIEWER: Who did you drive a truck for?
- [00:28:52.41] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ypsilanti trash-- rubbish. I picked up rubbish and worked at the plant trying to make sure I had a lifestyle, save some money.
- [00:29:13.88] It do bring back a lot of memories, these questions. Jogging them, girl.
- [00:29:17.66] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:29:24.47] Then when I went to school, I just figured, I can do that, because I had been doing eight or nine hours at the plant plus seven hours on the truck. So 15 hours was nothing for me, working the day.
- [00:29:38.41] So I went to school for four and a half and worked at the plant. And when I finished, when I started doing hair, I was able to put 12 and 13 hours in a day. So that's how we did it.
- [00:29:58.74] And then she decided she wanted to come out of the plant, also. So she went to school.
- [00:30:05.00] INTERVIEWER: After you--
- [00:30:05.54] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm.
- [00:30:06.33] INTERVIEWER: --completed yours.
- [00:30:07.01] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Right.
- [00:30:11.17] INTERVIEWER: Wow. OK.
- [00:30:14.83] Tell me about your children. What was it like when they were young, living in the house?
- [00:30:22.11] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, kids.
- [00:30:25.28] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:30:27.25] It was kids.
- [00:30:30.64] INTERVIEWER: What did your family enjoy doing together?
- [00:30:33.52] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, we did a lot of-- when they was kids, I used to take them back to where I was at Perry School hill, slide in the wintertime. And then I would take them ice skating.
- [00:30:48.02] Because when I was growing up, there was roller skating. But I liked outside. So I did more ice skating, sliding down hills. I guess I had the-- oh, how you say this? I had that little white boy stuck in me, because I loved outside.
- [00:31:12.23] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:31:15.52] I hope I didn't offend nobody.
- [00:31:18.08] INTERVIEWER: No.
- [00:31:18.73] PREMAIL FREEMAN: But there were some guys in our neighborhood couldn't ice skate. Matter of fact, we went to Chapel School up in that area. That was-- another little white boy up there played hockey.
- [00:31:32.38] He showed me some tricks. That boy could skate. He can ice skate. He can come at you and lean down. We would play wild horses.
- [00:31:43.52] So I learned. I loved it. I believe I could have really been something if I'd have stayed.
- [00:31:49.19] INTERVIEWER: If you'd stayed with it?
- [00:31:50.45] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. But outside, they learned how to ice skate, roller skate. When they got older, their cousins came up one day to visit and said, what y'all going to do?
- [00:32:07.11] I said, let's go ice skating. Ice skating? I don't know how to-- so I took them all ice skating over there at Soldier Field. Is that Soldier? What do you call this? Soldier Field House?
- [00:32:20.21] INTERVIEWER: In--
- [00:32:20.58] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ann Arbor.
- [00:32:21.25] INTERVIEWER: Oh, in Ann Arbor. It's a field house.
- [00:32:23.05] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Field house. Well, I don't know why I got Soldier in, anyway. And I taught them how to ice skate right there. So I had good times with my kids.
- [00:32:33.71] INTERVIEWER: With the kids. OK.
- [00:32:40.67] This may be a little redundant, too. What personal favorite things to do for fun with the--
- [00:32:47.23] PREMAIL FREEMAN: With what?
- [00:32:48.63] INTERVIEWER: What were the favorite things you did with them?
- [00:32:52.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: My kids? Well, once a year, we would go somewhere, if it's a summer vacation. We done been to Disney World. It just give them a sense of Daddy ain't just working. We'd take a few weeks off and we'd do something with the kids.
- [00:33:14.43] We'd go to Disney World or Florida. They done been shown a few things that I never did when I was a kid. I always wished that my parents was able to do it. And I'm sure they wanted to. But they just didn't have the means. So we put that money away to make sure we have a vacation.
- [00:33:39.41] INTERVIEWER: Did you continue any of your family traditions or start any new ones with your kids?
- [00:33:47.88] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No. Well, we did split up all the holidays. They're not held at my house. So it's a tradition. Like 4th of July, one of my daughters will do that. Another holiday, my son. They would take that.
- [00:34:03.43] And my main thing is Thanksgiving. I like the family together on Thanksgiving. Christmas, I think everybody should have their own tradition, get their own traditional thing started with their family. Because you've got little kids, and little kids want to-- they want to have some memories at their own home.
- [00:34:29.67] INTERVIEWER: Your main field of employment has been your hair salon. How did you first get started with this? And what got you interested in-- I know you talked about working at the plant, and you wanted to do something. And you knew someone that was cutting hair. Could you expand on that a little bit?
- [00:34:58.75] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, what got me started was just watching a friend of mine named Cleveland Frazier. Him and a guy named Sam Warren, out of Inkster, they used to have a salon right there on Harriet.
- [00:35:18.48] They had people coming from Inkster, Detroit. They would be there all day long, doing hair-- just doing hair. After a while, their money got enough, they opened up their first black hair salon in Ypsilanti called New Breed Hair Salon.
- [00:35:39.24] INTERVIEWER: Where was that?
- [00:35:40.62] PREMAIL FREEMAN: It was right there on Washington Street, I think. I think that's Washington. Or Hamilton. I think it's maybe Hamilton. Anyway, it was just, far as I was concerned, I was at awe with it. Because here's two brothers, two black brothers, done opened up a hair salon, doing good, making money, well known in the community. And for, I don't know, one reason or another, it just didn't pan out a long time.
- [00:36:16.80] Then, years later, when I decided to get into it, I said, why, that was-- I can do this. And I can see the faults that most people make when they go into business. You need an accountant. You need to-- oh, excuse me. You need to know something about the business. You just can't just go into it. And you need help.
- [00:36:45.27] Well, my wife was my help. And accountant-- I done went through two of them. My first three years, I worked, but I didn't make no money. I mean, God had blessed me to keep ahead of the game, but it was always, I got that bill from the IRS-- "you owe this, you owe that."
- [00:37:10.29] But working with other salons, I saw mistakes that you can make. And I worked at Magnetic One, which was a black-owned salon. I worked at Snips, which was a white salon.
- [00:37:26.11] INTERVIEWER: Now, those were in Ypsi or Ann Arbor?
- [00:37:28.15] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Ann Arbor. I never-- only Ypsilanti salon I have now is the one I'm at now, on Hewitt. But then I worked at Penthouse Hair Design. When we first opened up, that was upstairs. I thought I had arrived. But the bills started coming.
- [00:37:46.20] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:37:48.66] So that's why I was used to working 8:00 to 8:00 or 8:00 to 9:00 and stuff like that.
- [00:37:56.19] INTERVIEWER: How did you feel about the climate in Ypsi versus Ann Arbor, in terms of your working?
- [00:38:02.82] PREMAIL FREEMAN: The climate is-- I didn't have no problem with that. I had a problem with what a few people said about going to Ypsi and doing hair. I couldn't see no difference. And I'm not trying to knock some of my Ann Arbor people, but they felt like they was-- some of them was too good to come to Ypsilanti.
- [00:38:26.67] And we all black folks. And I couldn't understand the dislike in Ypsi and Ann Arbor. I know, when I was coming up, we'd call Ann Arbor A square, And they'd call Ypsilanti Ypsi-tucky-- country. And I don't know why that all, but that was-- I never noticed that. It was just, we had-- I just never noticed it.
- [00:38:56.79] INTERVIEWER: What was a typical day like in your workday? What's a typical day for you in working?
- [00:39:08.34] PREMAIL FREEMAN: A typical day is first getting there, getting my coffee, check--
- [00:39:15.49] INTERVIEWER: About what time do you--
- [00:39:17.59] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, now it's 10:00. I used to--
- [00:39:19.75] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:39:20.69] INTERVIEWER: It used to be what?
- [00:39:22.10] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Used to be 8 o'clock. No, those days are over with. So I'm more like a semi-retirement, I guess you want to call it. 10:00 to 6:00, or-- yeah. But a good day would make sure we get there. Make sure everything's working properly.
- [00:39:42.06] You never know. You get there and you fire up everything. You get there late and you fire up, something ain't working.
- [00:39:49.29] Now, if you ain't got an extra, or borrow something, you're jumping from one area to the other 'cause you done ran out of this or that. So I usually make sure I got everything I need that Friday before I leave, if the supply person has come. I'm always one or two things ahead what I need.
- [00:40:18.62] INTERVIEWER: What do you value most about what you do for a living?
- [00:40:26.21] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I value that it's honest. It's mine. God gave it to me. I value the learning that I learn from my customers. People say education-- I learned a lot just listening to my customers talk. You, for instance, 40 years, Joyce Hunter-- although she don't come to me no more, but you're still my girl.
- [00:40:59.93] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:41:03.37] But I've had people that I done gleaned off of, as you want to say, business wise. I have had people come in there-- like this salon I'm in now. We were in a process within-- we had about a year and a half to two years, man, we was looking for a place we going to have to move, because they was going up on the rent where we were at.
- [00:41:33.94] INTERVIEWER: This was back in Ann Arbor.
- [00:41:35.13] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Mm-hmm. On Broadway.
- [00:41:36.56] INTERVIEWER: On Broadway. So when was it that you came to Ypsi?
- [00:41:41.63] PREMAIL FREEMAN: That was in '97. Yeah, '97. I think was about 20 years.
- [00:41:50.90] Anyway, I was at the shop one day, cleaning, in Ann Arbor. And I saw the guy-- because Mr. Nielsen had passed. Lovely man. He just took the heart to me, and things worked really good. Mr. Nielsen, the only black-- I mean, only white person that was a member of the Elks in Ann Arbor.
- [00:42:11.45] INTERVIEWER: Oh.
- [00:42:12.33] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:42:14.10] PREMAIL FREEMAN: He owned Nielsen's--
- [00:42:15.64] INTERVIEWER: Flowers?
- [00:42:16.10] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah. But anyway, he took a liking to me. And he was a good man. And we both hunted and, you know. But after he had passed, his kids or whoever took over.
- [00:42:31.07] And I was listening one day. And I did one of them things to the door, the window. [GESTURES] Next door, you can hear everything. And they was going up on the rent, I think, about $1,500 to $1,700 a month.
- [00:42:50.69] INTERVIEWER: More?
- [00:42:52.17] PREMAIL FREEMAN: No. I was paying, I think, $950. But if they'd have went-- that's $500-some more than I was-- almost $600 when my lease would have been up. I told my wife, I said, babe, we're going to have to get out of here soon.
- [00:43:16.24] And just like I said, you all-- it slipped my mind just that quick. Come on, now, Premail. Don't go blanking on me.
- [00:43:33.59] INTERVIEWER: Who are you trying to think about?
- [00:43:35.57] PREMAIL FREEMAN: My realtor. It'll come to me in a minute.
- [00:43:42.43] INTERVIEWER: Anyway, your realtor did what?
- [00:43:45.29] PREMAIL FREEMAN: She came in the shop. And Pat was saying, it's funny, we've been looking for a place. We're going to have to find us a place. And she had the shop I'm in now in mind. And it took me a year to get that.
- [00:44:11.59] Dang, I can't-- OK.
- [00:44:15.12] INTERVIEWER: Anyway, the realtor had one for you.
- [00:44:19.52] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yeah.
- [00:44:19.92] INTERVIEWER: So you came here.
- [00:44:21.53] PREMAIL FREEMAN: So she helped me get that.
- [00:44:25.78] INTERVIEWER: Well, looking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time while you've been working? And did it personally affect you and your family at all? Any historical, social events?
- [00:44:50.93] PREMAIL FREEMAN: That personally affected us?
- [00:44:52.43] INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm. Or affect your thinking, or--
- [00:44:57.75] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, the only-- the latest was President Obama. That just made everybody feel like you can do something. Every white person ain't the devil.
- [00:45:14.21] Every black person ain't ready to go to jail. Life is about love, understanding people, and the way to communicate. And if you can't communicate, then you've got a problem there right from the start.
- [00:45:31.64] I just feel like that was the ultimate-- I mean, anytime you see Jesse Jackson on TV crying like a rat eating onions--
- [00:45:40.69] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:45:48.20] INTERVIEWER: So, President Obama.
- [00:45:49.38] PREMAIL FREEMAN: LaTanya Keith. That's her name. Thank you, Lord.
- [00:45:52.56] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:45:53.49] INTERVIEWER: The realtor, LaTanya Keith.
- [00:45:54.41] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Yes.
- [00:45:55.33] INTERVIEWER: OK.
- [00:45:57.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I don't know why I couldn't think of her name.
- [00:45:59.15] INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what company she was working for?
- [00:46:01.85] PREMAIL FREEMAN: She has her own--
- [00:46:02.72] INTERVIEWER: Oh, her own company.
- [00:46:03.91] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Well, she's-- you know who--
- [00:46:06.06] INTERVIEWER: No.
- [00:46:07.36] PREMAIL FREEMAN: I forgot. I don't know the realtor.
- [00:46:11.14] INTERVIEWER: It doesn't matter.
- [00:46:15.95] Well, I think President Obama impacted--
- [00:46:18.90] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, yeah.
- [00:46:19.73] INTERVIEWER: --a lot of our lives.
- [00:46:21.56] PREMAIL FREEMAN: But that was funny. We'd just look at him. But we have a lot of Obamas ready. And just, they're doing it. You look at what Steve Harvey and his group is doing.
- [00:46:39.11] You look at Denzel Washington-- hidden stuff, blacks that are doing stuff. Just look at what you all doing with this museum that you all have been working tirelessly on. It's a lot of us out here. We just didn't get that top recognition like the Obam-- because he ran for president. But there's a lot of black folks out here doing it. They just don't get that recognition.
- [00:47:14.91] INTERVIEWER: Recognition.
- [00:47:16.49] PREMAIL FREEMAN: So I don't-- that was beautiful, but like I said, there's a bunch of us out here that's doing it. Maybe not at that scale. But we're doing it.
- [00:47:28.62] INTERVIEWER: We're going to look at historical and social events. This is the last section. Tell me how it's been for you to live in this community. Because you're kind of between Ypsi and Ann Arbor.
- [00:47:47.06] PREMAIL FREEMAN: It's been good. It's been good for me. I try to meet everybody with a smile and a hello and a handshake or a hug. You've got your naysayers, but there's very few that I ran into. And I don't have that problem. I never have. I've always been able to talk to people or whatever.
- [00:48:29.05] INTERVIEWER: When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [00:48:37.62] PREMAIL FREEMAN: My family. My family. My wife, my kids-- I can be at church on a Sunday and I can sit up in the choir stand-- I mean, sit in my chair-- and I've got one, two, three, four, five. And my daughter's directing. My wife is singing, and my grandkids. I look in the back, and my kids, they're praising the Lord. They're just my family. That's one of the main things.
- [00:49:21.10] And over the years, I've had to ask the Lord to-- a lot of things I've done, I'm not-- some things that I've done could be questionable. But I just ask him to forgive me. Some things I've said. Everybody learn. You learn from your mistakes.
- [00:49:47.77] But he has blessed me so with my family and friends. I always pray, when I pray, I pray for my family and my extended family, which is my friends. I grew up in a family of 11. And there was so much chaos there that friends and my family kept me straight. So yeah, it would be my family.
- [00:50:18.14] INTERVIEWER: Be your family. OK.
- [00:50:21.85] What would you say that has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [00:50:42.35] PREMAIL FREEMAN: The freedom of education, I would say. And I try to tell my kids and grandkids, get all you can, because with a closed mind, you can't go nowhere. An open mind and an education, you can move mountains. Get all you can. Learn. Just keep learning.
- [00:51:08.83] And even my wife, when my grandkids were small, she would buy books and turn the TV off. And everybody would be reading a book. The ones that can't read a book, we'd read with them until they was able. And they all read real well.
- [00:51:31.84] Except I was disappointed one day. We was at church, and my grandkids came. They could read, but they had a sheet.
- [00:51:39.83] I said, what's with the sheet? Y'all are supposed to memorize them, little poems in church. And they didn't. But it won't happen again, because I know my son is on it.
- [00:51:51.14] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:51:56.56] It's just, yeah, education.
- [00:52:01.76] INTERVIEWER: Well, the next question was going to be, what advice would you give to the younger generation? Now, you've said part of it, I think. I don't know if you want to add anything to that. You said learn and--
- [00:52:16.58] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Listen. Learn. One thing one of my brother-in-laws told me one time, he was saying, it's like eating a steak. Eat the meat. Throw the bone away. Eat all you can. Throw the rest away that you don't need.
- [00:52:34.60] INTERVIEWER: That you don't need.
- [00:52:38.02] OK. The final question. How do you personally feel about doing this interview and its impact on you?
- [00:52:49.67] PREMAIL FREEMAN: You know how I feel.
- [00:52:51.08] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:52:57.59] It's good. It was good. You brought back this-- when I was reading my pamphlet, it brought back a lot of memories. I have to keep reading it twice to make sure that-- because it's like, you start digging in the dirt, and you find old bones.
- [00:53:18.41] And there's more bones, and then there's-- and things can get kind of hairy. But I think I told you the meat of it, of my life. Some stuff that-- like everybody, you don't have to tell the preacher everything. You take that to God and let that be the end of it.
- [00:53:50.25] But I think the best way is your education. I preach that all the time, whether it's learn how to be a brick layer or a concrete worker, truck driver, garbage route pick up-- just do it. Learn how to do it. As we was talking, I was sitting there thinking about all the-- I'm thinking about just these few jobs. I started out in Michigan Union.
- [00:54:21.74] First paycheck I had was at Michigan U. It was $0.26. I never will forget that, because you can sign for your food. And you work. And you can sign. And when I got that check that week, it was $0.26.
- [00:54:39.35] My buddy's was $0.38. And it was something like, well, the reason, we ate up our check. Because we would get the big milkshakes and stuff like that.
- [00:54:52.97] So what we started doing, we got a litle clever. We just walk through the kitchen with a rag, and we grab a piece of chicken and some bread and get us some milk, go downstairs in the locker room. But I'm just saying, those was the first job, Michigan Union.
- [00:55:07.39] I worked at-- right-- I worked cutting grass. Then I started-- hired at the plant. I worked at Ford's. Then I quit and went to a foundry, and then left there and went to General Motors. And did two jobs that time. I was driving trucks and the garbage truck.
- [00:55:40.92] But I knew all of these jobs. And I think about all the jobs in between-- working construction. We used to get $0.02 to clean a brick. They didn't throw our bricks away back then.
- [00:55:55.44] This guy named Preacher Harris, he would have these old bricks that they tear down houses. But you clean them up, get $0.02 a brick, or a penny. And he would re-stack them. And he would build his house with them old bricks.
- [00:56:15.66] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:56:17.65] So you made a couple of dollars just cleaning bricks. You ain't doing nothing else. It's just like picking up pop bottles. We walked the roads because they had a lot of dirt roads. People throw their bottles away. We'd pick up bottles-- $0.02 a bottle. It's $0.10 now, but it was $0.02. And it's just hustling, making that--
- [00:56:43.99] INTERVIEWER: Making that money. So get your education.
- [00:56:46.89] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Get your education.
- [00:56:49.66] INTERVIEWER: I want to thank you so much.
- [00:56:51.94] PREMAIL FREEMAN: You are quite welcome so much. You're quite welcome. And you too, Joyce.
- [00:56:57.44] [LAUGHTER]
- [00:57:02.02] INTERVIEWER: Don't look at her.
- [00:57:03.51] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Don't look.
- [00:57:07.81] INTERVIEWER: Thank you. That was very interesting.
- [00:57:10.60] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Good.
- [00:57:11.05] INTERVIEWER: Michelle?
- [00:57:11.49] FEMALE SPEAKER: I'm not supposed to talk.
- [00:57:13.27] PREMAIL FREEMAN: Oh, you're not--
- [00:57:13.99] [LAUGHTER]
June 11, 2018
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Strong Tower Ministry
Black American Businesses
Ypsilanti High School
West Junior High School
Lawrence C. Perry School (Ypsilanti)
Blue Haven Restaurant (Ypsilanti)
Parkridge Community Center
Ford Motor Co.
Willow Run Assembly Plant
General Motors Corp.
New Breed Hair Salon
Penthouse Hair Designs
Nielsen's Flowers & Greenhouse
Elks Pratt Lodge 322
Perry Elementary School (Ypsilanti)
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Patricia Laura Freeman
Charles Eugene Beatty
Martin Luther King Jr.
John F. Kennedy
Bent F. Nielsen