AACHM Oral History: Gerald Edwards
Sun, 07/21/2019 - 3:32pm
When: June 18, 2019
Gerald Edwards was born in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio. He remembers being discriminated against as one of three African American students at his elementary school in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education. At Heidelberg College, he participated in sit-ins to help found a Black Student Union House. After beginning his career in automotive manufacturing with Ford Motor Company, Mr. Edwards started his own business, Engineered Plastic Products, in 1987. He and his wife Jada also started the Edwards Foundation, which was dedicated to philanthropy in Namibia.
- [00:00:14.26] INTERVIEWER: So, good afternoon, Gerald.
- [00:00:16.15] GERALD EDWARDS: Good afternoon, Joyce, how are you?
- [00:00:17.59] INTERVIEWER: I'm good. First of all, I want to thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for our Living Oral History project. And this interview is going to cover five parts. It's going to be demographics and family history, memories of childhood and youth, adult marriage and family life, work, retirement, and historical events.
- [00:00:42.70] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:00:44.06] INTERVIEWER: The first part, like I said, is going to be demographics and family history. I'm going to ask you some simple demographic questions. These questions may jog your memories, but please keep your answers brief and to the point for now.
- [00:00:58.67] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:00:59.06] INTERVIEWER: And we can go into more detail later in the interview. So please say and spell your name.
- [00:01:05.87] GERALD EDWARDS: My name is Gerald Edwards. It is spelled G-E-R-A-L-D E-D-W-A-R-D-S.
- [00:01:14.44] INTERVIEWER: What is your date of birth, including the year?
- [00:01:17.26] GERALD EDWARDS: July 13th, 1950.
- [00:01:21.86] INTERVIEWER: That's the day after my birthday.
- [00:01:23.66] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:01:24.70] INTERVIEWER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:27.37] GERALD EDWARDS: I'm African-American. Both of my parents are African-American. I do have-- and I've never fully traced the history, but I know my grandmother on my mother's side was Cherokee Indian. So I've got that mixture, but I basically have African-American heritage.
- [00:01:55.13] INTERVIEWER: What is your religion, if any?
- [00:01:57.94] GERALD EDWARDS: It's a non-denominational, I guess you would consider it a Pentecostal religion.
- [00:02:06.30] INTERVIEWER: Have you always been Pentecostal?
- [00:02:08.89] GERALD EDWARDS: No. I grew up in Cleveland in the United Church of Christ. And then for a while, when we came to Michigan, one of the first churches that we attended was United Methodist Church. And then from there, we kind of transitioned toward the Church of God, which is kind of historically kind of a Pentecostal type church. And we've been not necessarily in strictly in the Church of God, but in the Pentecostal realm since then.
- [00:02:46.26] INTERVIEWER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:02:50.00] GERALD EDWARDS: I have a bachelor's degree. I majored in sociology and religion from Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.
- [00:03:00.74] INTERVIEWER: So the major in religion, has that had any impact on your role in the church?
- [00:03:06.29] GERALD EDWARDS: I would say somewhat. I am not a pastor, but I have worked in kind of ministerial areas within the church. And I'd say it has given me some foundation, but the bulk of it has just been just learning, sitting under the teaching of a pastor reading the Bible. And just living life has really been the core principles that has really kind of driven me, I guess.
- [00:03:43.09] INTERVIEWER: What is your marital status?
- [00:03:45.19] GERALD EDWARDS: I am married. This year, we'll be celebrating 47 years. My wife's name is Jada. I met her when I was in college. I was attending Heidelberg, she was attending Tiffin University in the same town. And I ran across her in Tiffin.
- [00:04:06.53] INTERVIEWER: Well, congratulations on 49 years.
- [00:04:08.65] GERALD EDWARDS: Thank you.
- [00:04:09.44] INTERVIEWER: That's great.
- [00:04:10.06] GERALD EDWARDS: Thank you.
- [00:04:11.14] INTERVIEWER: How many children do you have?
- [00:04:12.46] GERALD EDWARDS: I have three children. I had my one daughter, Charlene, by my first marriage. That happened young and in college. And then afterwards is when I met [? Jada ?] and then married her. And we have two children together, a daughter and a son.
- [00:04:35.65] INTERVIEWER: OK. We'll hear more about them in a few minutes.
- [00:04:37.85] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:04:38.71] INTERVIEWER: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:04:41.66] GERALD EDWARDS: I have one that is still living. I had a brother, an older brother. And he was killed in Vietnam in-- that would have been in 1969. And then I have my sister. And this is by my dad's second marriage. Her name is Laura, and she lives in the Belleville area.
- [00:05:11.02] INTERVIEWER: How old was your brother when he went to Vietnam?
- [00:05:14.06] GERALD EDWARDS: He was 18 years old when he went. He turned 19 while he was there, and he was killed when he was 19.
- [00:05:22.29] INTERVIEWER: 19?
- [00:05:23.23] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah.
- [00:05:23.89] INTERVIEWER: So young.
- [00:05:25.03] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes. Such a waste.
- [00:05:27.66] INTERVIEWER: If you're retired, what age did you retire?
- [00:05:30.28] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, I'm kind of semi-retired at the age of-- let's see I would have been 2000-- fifty-- I would have been about 52 when I retired from--
- [00:05:49.34] INTERVIEWER: That's young.
- [00:05:50.26] GERALD EDWARDS: --yes.
- [00:05:50.98] INTERVIEWER: OK. Go ahead. You started to say something.
- [00:05:52.78] GERALD EDWARDS: I was just saying from my plastics business is what I retired from. But then I've continued-- I can't sit still. I've continued doing some other efforts since then.
- [00:06:07.89] INTERVIEWER: Most people would love to be retired at 52. So, OK, we're going to go to part two, memories of childhood and youth.
- [00:06:16.54] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:06:17.19] INTERVIEWER: And once again, I'm going to ask you some questions about your childhood and youth. And it might jog memories, but then we'll come back to those memories if something else comes up.
- [00:06:28.69] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [00:06:30.21] INTERVIEWER: What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:06:34.02] GERALD EDWARDS: We lived in the inner city in Cleveland, both my brother and I and my parents. It was really kind of different because, when I look back and see what my childhood was like, I realized after I left and went to college and went on to adulthood, further into adulthood, I realized that we were poor. But at the time, I didn't really recognize it because everyone around me was poor and we lived a certain way.
- [00:07:07.89] Never went hungry, never went without clothes, never went without a roof over our heads, so we had what I would look back, even in knowing what I know now and seeing what I have seen, I still say I had a great childhood and a great life growing up. But it is one that I take pause and I have the ability now to get clarity in terms of what my childhood was really like from how, I guess, the world kind of classifies it. But I know how I classify it. It was a great life.
- [00:07:43.72] INTERVIEWER: So you said Cleveland. When did you come to the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti area?
- [00:07:47.79] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, after I graduated from college, I went to-- I left Cleveland in 1968 to go to college, to Heidelberg. At the time, it was Heidelberg College. It later became Heidelberg University. But nevertheless, when I graduated from there in 1972, that's when I came to-- I got a job at the Ford Saline Plastics Plant. And so that was when I left Ohio and came to Michigan.
- [00:08:21.81] INTERVIEWER: So you've been here in Michigan about approximately how many years?
- [00:08:25.69] GERALD EDWARDS: You're asking me to do some quick math here.
- [00:08:27.25] INTERVIEWER: Just an estimate.
- [00:08:28.52] GERALD EDWARDS: Since 1972, so we're looking at-- probably looking at about 50 years, I guess.
- [00:08:39.18] INTERVIEWER: So what sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:08:41.95] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, my mother was a housewife for the most part, but then part-time she ran a thrift shop for our church. And my dad was a janitor. And he worked at a couple buildings that he cleaned in the Cleveland area. And so that's basically all that he did and all that she did, other than being tremendously good parents, and gave me and my brother what I believe was a good foundation for life.
- [00:09:20.82] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of your mother, so she worked primarily in the home?
- [00:09:26.58] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [00:09:28.00] INTERVIEWER: And that's a big job.
- [00:09:29.14] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
- [00:09:31.14] INTERVIEWER: And so your father, did he have his own custodial business, or he was working for someone else?
- [00:09:39.19] GERALD EDWARDS: No, he was just working for-- he was just a direct hire with the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, and also with a place that I guess now would be considered Planned Parenthood, but it was called Maternal Health in Cleveland. So he worked both as janitor, cleaning both of those buildings.
- [00:10:02.20] INTERVIEWER: When growing up, as you think back on it, what are some of your earliest memories as a child?
- [00:10:09.48] GERALD EDWARDS: I think some of the earliest memories would be just going to school, friends, socializing with them. It was just living life. There's nothing that I can look back to that really stood out per se in growing up. It was just living life and I guess becoming who I was to become. But at the time, it was very uneventful. Very uneventful.
- [00:10:43.35] INTERVIEWER: So looking back in terms of first starting at school, do you remember anything about that at all?
- [00:10:50.27] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, yes. Starting in school, that was what I would consider, if you could consider trauma being a traumatic experience, as a kindergartner, where we lived, we were living right at the edge of a district that put us into what was called Little Italy in Cleveland. And so it was on a street called Cornell. We lived in an apartment building on Cornell. And so that meant I would have to go in this district of Murray Hill was part of Little Italy. And I would have to attend Murray Hill Elementary School.
- [00:11:36.05] And in doing that, that would have been in 1955. And so I can remember every day my mother or my father picking me and my brother up, and having parents, children all yelling, surrounding the car, yelling "nigger, get out of here." And so that was really chaotic-- very confusing for me, and never really understanding at that time what was happening. But sometimes they would come up to the car and they would start shaking the car. And I know I could tell now by looking back it was very stressful for my mother to be there. So we were there for about a year in that area before we moved away.
- [00:12:29.36] One thing that really stood out at that school, the class that I was in, they were doing silhouettes of all of us students. And so we sat up against the wall, and they had this light, and they would kind of trace the outline of your face. And then they were hanging it in the window. And so in my class, I was the only black person in the class. And so in the window, there were all white silhouettes from white construction paper, and then one was of black construction paper that was hanging. And that was me, which really, as a child, really kind of made you feel different than everyone else, and you recognized the difference. And it was done in sort of a negative way.
- [00:13:19.04] In that school, there were only three African-Americans, my brother, Charles, another young lady whose name I still remember was Joyce [? Ainsley. ?] So it was just the three of us in the school. And we all kind of went through that for the period of time that we were there, that kind of overt discrimination. But nevertheless, it's part of what has made me who I am.
- [00:13:47.02] INTERVIEWER: And so that kind of thing at age five had to be very traumatic.
- [00:13:51.10] GERALD EDWARDS: It was, very much so. But again, when I look back at things that have occurred in my life, there are very few situations, other than, say, the death of my brother or some other traumatic events, that I look back at and I don't look back at them with great regret and say I'm sorry I had to go through that, I'm sorry that happened to me. I just recognize that it happened. At the time, it was as traumatic as it would and could be for a five-year-old person.
- [00:14:26.87] I'm sure that I was. But I don't have any real deep-seated memories, painful memories of that. I just remember more of events. And it might have had some psychological impact upon me, but I can't look back and recall that and call it up because I don't perceive it as such. But I just know that, at the time, there was a little trauma around us as a result of it.
- [00:14:55.85] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of-- you said you went to school in Little Italy. I often have heard about those different areas in bigger cities.
- [00:15:04.04] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [00:15:04.61] INTERVIEWER: But so Little Italy was comprised of-- who lived in Little Italy?
- [00:15:10.13] GERALD EDWARDS: To my knowledge, if it wasn't 100%, it was 99.9% Italian. And so in that area, there were all Italian restaurants and just all of what came of the ethnic Italian bakeries and things that was strictly connected to the Italian population. And those were the individuals that lived in that.
- [00:15:36.72] And as it was and is in a lot of cities where there are pods of ethnic groups, there tends to be a particular group that that ethnic group kind of looks down on. And so those are the ones that they tend to kind of direct some of their hostilities or dislikes or whatever you want to call it. And that is just kind of how it was for the Italians in that area, as it is with-- or has been with the Irish in some areas or whatever the ethnic group is, the dominant ethnic group. That kind of tends to happen in this country. And so it's one of the sick, sad realities.
- [00:16:25.17] INTERVIEWER: So which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:16:29.38] GERALD EDWARDS: Oh, we celebrated basically all of the-- we celebrated Easter, we celebrated Christmas, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, which in my community, those summer holidays was always kind of a picnic barbecue kind of a thing. And so all of the traditional American holidays we celebrated.
- [00:16:55.67] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of those summer holidays, you said picnic barbecue. Who did the barbecuing?
- [00:17:00.60] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, my dad. He strictly was the one. My mother would be in the house, in the kitchen cooking all the other sides to go with it. But the actual barbecuing, whether he would do ribs, chicken, sometimes he would do lamb or goat, or sometimes a combination thereof, but he always was the one that did the barbecuing.
- [00:17:24.41] INTERVIEWER: Was that pretty much-- that was pretty much his job, then, the barbecuing?
- [00:17:29.99] GERALD EDWARDS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. For sure. And that tradition has carried over into my family when it comes to the barbecuing summer holidays, that's my job. And so I do the barbecuing.
- [00:17:45.66] INTERVIEWER: So are you good at it?
- [00:17:47.23] GERALD EDWARDS: Good, I would not say I'm good, I would say that I'm outstanding at it.
- [00:17:52.98] INTERVIEWER: [LAUGHS] I love it.
- [00:17:53.96] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes. Yes.
- [00:17:55.43] INTERVIEWER: OK. Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
- [00:18:03.59] GERALD EDWARDS: I would say not. Nothing's unique to us. Just kind of, you know, celebrating the holidays as a family, but nothing that we can look back and say, you know, on a particular holiday, this is what we do. It's just the kind of the traditional what the normal American families would do, African-American families would do on a given holiday.
- [00:18:29.19] INTERVIEWER: So going back a little bit about school, did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:18:38.16] GERALD EDWARDS: As a youth, not on any school team. But I did play kind of city league football. There was a particular delicatessen that sponsored, in the neighborhood, sponsored a football league and so I played on that team. But not a school team. But I did, once I got to college, I did. I was pretty swift when I was a youth. I ran track in college. I ran-- at that time, it was not the 400-meter. During those days, it was the 440-yard dash, or 440-yard relay or the 100-yard dash. So I ran those two in college.
- [00:19:33.58] INTERVIEWER: Did you break or set any records?
- [00:19:35.37] GERALD EDWARDS: No. No. Not at all.
- [00:19:38.61] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of football, what position did you play?
- [00:19:41.35] GERALD EDWARDS: At the time, I used to wear clothes that was called huskies. I was kind of a, as I am now, kind of a chunky guy. I lost a bit of weight out of high school into college, but I played tackle in the sandlot or city league team.
- [00:20:03.47] INTERVIEWER: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
- [00:20:08.65] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, are you speaking high school, college, or any?
- [00:20:14.05] INTERVIEWER: Any.
- [00:20:14.86] GERALD EDWARDS: OK. I guess one of the things that I would think back-- and I can do some comparisons to high school and to college-- in high school, there's a big difference in how the youth, number one, express themselves, how they in fact interact with one another, how they interact with authority and with teachers and the administrative body of a school.
- [00:20:44.88] There is such a lack, as I see it today-- and when I say this, I don't want to make it stereotypical that all youth are like this-- but as a whole what kind of gives you what I perceive to be the prevailing action and attitude of the youth today, there's a lot of disrespect and a lot of what I perceive the conscience that used to drive us-- there are certain things that I know that I either wouldn't do or, if I did them, my conscience would whip me to death almost, to the point where I knew it was wrong and I would just have to shift from doing that because it was wrong.
- [00:21:26.43] The youth today seem to not have a conscience that drives them, seems to not have a level of morality, a level of respect that really drives them, that they tend to just kind of be in and of themselves and looking out for what makes them happy and certain situations and things that they will not tolerate from people, even when it appears to be for their own good. So I just think that there is a big difference in-- and I think it stems back to how the lack of certain types of moral leadership and those kind of things in the home. I think there's a major breakdown in the home that is now manifesting itself in our youth in the school system.
- [00:22:19.38] In college, if I look back there, the college that I went to, there were 2,000 students there my freshman year. And of those 2,000 students-- and I have, various times in my life, found myself in a kind of a unique minority, and I was a minority there. There were 43 African-Americans my freshman year. And so there was not very much overt discrimination and racism, but a lot of covert, where you knew and you sensed and you felt that there was some major differences being made.
- [00:23:03.60] And so one of the things that we did at the time, it was in the '70s-- I'm sorry, in the '60s-- and very popular for black student unions to be formed. And so on our campus, we formed one. And because of the isolation that we felt, we wanted to have a structure, a meeting place where we could kind of come together to kind of be us, because we were into this melting pot that just was very difficult coming out of the inner city and then being in that kind of a population. And so we staged a student sit-in until the administration did finally agree and gave us this house that was on campus that became where the Black Student Union was.
- [00:23:54.30] And so then we were able to kind of do some more or less team-building group kind of focused type activities that we could kind of not lose our total identity, which is very easy to do when you're just kind of dropped into and everyone around you does things a certain way totally unlike how you do them. So it becomes very difficult to try to maintain your self-identity in situations like that. So I recall that in college.
- [00:24:28.86] INTERVIEWER: So tell me a little bit more about the house. Was there was a name for the house? Could you go there and stay, or it was just during the day? Or how was it set up?
- [00:24:38.85] GERALD EDWARDS: It was just during the day. It was just called the BSU House, the Black Student Union House. And it was just more set up like what you would find in like in the student union, but just a smaller version of the student union, where you would have a lounge area, you would have a room, a couple rooms that we just kind of dedicated to study. And so we could tutor one another or have a tutor come that's going to help some of the students that were struggling in certain areas.
- [00:25:16.45] But mainly, just a place where we could just kind of come there with no real-- you know, when you go into a campus building, you have to kind of act a certain way. Not that we didn't act like human beings in there, but we could just let our hair down. We could just be ourselves, have fun. And I could never remember a time in the three years that was after the time that we got that house there was ever any fighting. We'd have a little quick argument, but we tended to really be a very close-- even as we brought in new students as time went on, tended to be a very close-knit group of people that just kind of saw the need to have such a place that allowed for us to kind of be us, and just to relax and to, you know, as I said, support one another if need be in terms of study or tutoring or those kind of things.
- [00:26:15.20] But it was just a good place when you're in a town that even-- Tiffin, Ohio was a very conservative town. And to go in to the city area, you know, you got just stares and a lot of people would look at you funny, or you'd feel you'd kind of get slighted in the stores a bit. But nevertheless, coming back on campus and having a place such as that, we could kind of share our experiences one with another, and just offer kind of a supportive system there in the BSU House.
- [00:26:52.87] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of the BSU House, was there an adult that was in charge, or the students just ran it all?
- [00:27:00.25] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah, no, we had what we considered an advisor. So at the time, the college only employed about three African-Americans. One was a head resident and one was a professor-- well, I'm sorry, two were professors. So it kind of transitioned. We had each of the two male professors served as our advisor at a different time. And so that would be the individual that would kind of keep order in the house, and just to make sure that we weren't getting too wild in there, that kind of thing.
- [00:27:43.81] INTERVIEWER: So now, you speak about your education, which was in the Ohio area.
- [00:27:49.15] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [00:27:49.64] INTERVIEWER: Your children, they were educated here in the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti area?
- [00:27:53.94] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [00:27:55.03] INTERVIEWER: And so do you want to talk a little bit about their experience, or what's your perspective as a parent?
- [00:28:00.31] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, they both attended school in the Ann Arbor area. As a matter of fact, Joetta Mial was the principal at one of the schools that both of the kids attended. I'm kind of drawing a blank. I believe it was Huron High School.
- [00:28:17.39] INTERVIEWER: Huron High.
- [00:28:18.14] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, Huron High. And she was the principal there. So I had a limited interaction and definitely knowledge of her back during those days. But I think the Ann Arbor school system, in my mind, not without its problems, but I think it was a good school system, and I think it was a good place, comparatively, in the total region, to have your children attend. So I think my children got a good foundation.
- [00:28:52.06] My daughter attended college a bit here and there, and didn't really pursue a degree, but my son did. And I think, again, he got what I believe was a good academic foundation from the Ann Arbor schools. I can't really think of any great negativity that I would highlight from the Ann Arbor school system. There are, as I said, issues that develop in that system, as there are anywhere else. But I think all in all, when you just kind of sit back and just kind of classify or quantify or whatever the experiences, I think I would say it's a good experience, a good system.
- [00:29:38.55] INTERVIEWER: So your children went elementary, middle, and high school in the Ann Arbor school system?
- [00:29:42.67] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [00:29:45.61] INTERVIEWER: Were there any changes in your family during your school years?
- [00:29:53.62] GERALD EDWARDS: When I graduated from just my senior year was when my parents were divorced. And so I did have a change there. And it wasn't one that caused any major uprooting in our home. My dad left the home. And so he was still in the Cleveland area, so we stayed in the house that we were living in. And so that was just probably just about five to six months before I left home to go to college. So it didn't really cause any real major upheaval. But I would say that that was probably the closest thing to any upheaval in our home.
- [00:30:46.68] And I really have to-- you know, when I look back, I can recognize that my parents had some struggles themselves in terms of their relationship. But they chose to stay together until we got through school, until I just-- it was just before I graduated, but realizing that, at that point, they had kind of provided a foundation that was appropriate and necessary for us growing up. And so I have to take my hat off as I-- they're both gone on home, but nevertheless I have to give kudos to both of them and give thanks for who they were and the type of parents that they were, and how they provided and loved and all that they did.
- [00:31:40.54] INTERVIEWER: That's good. So you lived during the era of segregation. Can you speak about-- and you've spoken about this a little already, about your school, the elementary school, high school. In terms of the high school, was there a high school for black students in the same area?
- [00:32:06.19] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah. Well, the high school that I attended, it happened to be in the inner city. And there were several African-American high schools in the inner city in Cleveland. There was John Adams, there was John Hay, there was East High, there was East Technical High School. All of those were 90 plus percentage African-Americans in those schools, and in that portion of the school district.
- [00:32:30.70] And so after leaving-- and again, it was strictly demographically structured. Wherever you lived, there was a particular elementary, junior high, and/or high school that you attended because you were in that particular district. So it wasn't a matter of I could live here and go to school over there. If I lived here, that's where I went to school. And where I lived and where other African-Americans lived was commonly in the same geographic areas. And so those schools were strictly predominantly African-American.
- [00:33:11.53] And so from that vantage point, you didn't recognize any discrimination per se because you weren't living it. You were just living where you resided and you went to those schools. And so you didn't really have the issues of being in a school where the administration may have been white and you're black, and so you're seeing and feeling a lot of discrimination from the teachers or whatever. And we had white teachers, we had African-American teachers.
- [00:33:45.01] But as I recall it, they were all, for the most part, there as I perceived it because-- excuse me-- as I perceived it, they were there because they wanted to. And so they really tried to teach us to the best of their ability. And it wasn't based upon their, you know, forced to teach a particular race of students they didn't want to and so you would really receive and sense that overt discrimination, unlike what I observed from some of the professors when I went to college.
- [00:34:29.39] Some of them, they would more or less determine whether or not you belonged in a certain-- first of all, whether or not you belonged in that school, but then also whether or not you belonged in a certain course of study, that you shouldn't be-- one of the things that I initially wanted to do, I wanted to be a doctor. I started off taking biology. And the professor came to me and said, you know, you're not really cut out for this. And so I didn't fight it, I just kind of-- it wasn't something that-- I guess that desire to be a doctor wasn't deeply, deeply rooted and ingrained, that from a very young child that's what I wanted to do.
- [00:35:18.22] So I really kind of allowed for him-- and part of doing a little soul searching and looking at where I was academically, I kind of retreated from it. But I'm just using that as an example because I really believed that-- and it happened to some of the other African-American students that they were in, this one young lady had an absolutely beautiful voice. And this one professor-- I even remember his name-- told her, Dr. [? Old ?] told her that, you know, she's not cut out for singing. You know, and it's like, how could you say that? But she was African-American.
- [00:35:55.97] And there's just that racial discrimination that carried itself over into institutional racism in a sense. And so knowing that and seeing that at various aspects of my life, again, it helps you to get a greater understanding of life as a whole.
- [00:36:18.93] One of the reasons why my son went to Heidelberg College was the fact that I said, I told him, so you know, son, you could go to a traditionally African-American black college or university. I said, and that's good. That's good for some people. But in my mind if you're going to college to prepare yourself for life, what better way to get prepared for life than to attend a school that is predominantly white because you're going to get a unique experience. Again, that's not for everybody.
- [00:36:56.19] But I was trying to share with him what was my experience, that you're going to get a unique angle on and an understanding of just how whites in authority, whites in power and how they think and how they act and react, which in my mind is another aspect of college preparation that gives you a different perspective and a different angle on life.
- [00:37:22.65] And I believe it gives you an edge up when it comes time to sit down and negotiate, to sit down and to learn how to interact and to just work through life situations in the workplace. I convinced him as I was convinced to at least give that a shot, in which he did, and it was successful. And he's really now in life has become successful.
- [00:37:52.28] INTERVIEWER: So when I hear you talk as an educator, you often hear and you see the lower expectations for certain groups of students, especially African-Americans. So when you're talking about your desire to be a doctor and what you were told, you still hear some of those stories now.
- [00:38:12.45] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, yes. I agree with that.
- [00:38:18.24] INTERVIEWER: So when you were growing up, you talked about growing up in an inner city or attending school in an inner city. Were there restaurants or eating places for blacks where you lived?
- [00:38:30.99] GERALD EDWARDS: No. I'm going to say no. There were a couple barbecue joints, fried chicken, fish and those kind of places. But in terms of an actual-- there probably was only one restaurant in Cleveland that I can recall growing up that was strictly for African-Americans and where African-Americans would go a sit-down kind of a restaurant.
- [00:38:57.28] It was Phillis Wheatley was there the name of the restaurant, the renowned famous African-American lady. And that was the only restaurant. Otherwise, it was just going to those kind of greasy spoon, carry out type of places for African-Americans in Cleveland.
- [00:39:19.68] INTERVIEWER: So if you decided to go to a different restaurant other than those, were blacks allowed?
- [00:39:27.99] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, in Cleveland you didn't get the same levels of segregation that you may have had in the South. But I mean it surely was there. But I can recall besides going to Phillis Wheatley, now that you mentioned it, which it didn't give me much thought other than now, that we really didn't go to restaurants. I didn't go to any reasonable, somewhat classy type restaurants until after I was out of college and going back to Cleveland to visit.
- [00:40:10.44] And so to answer your question, it wasn't as a result of any act of violence or anything that happened of that nature that would put it in your mind blacks can't go to these particular restaurants. We just didn't go. And so it just wasn't an issue.
- [00:40:33.58] And so because it wasn't an issue, it didn't really surface as it being a major problem until you watch TV, and you saw some of the lunch counter sit-ins and those kind of things happening in some of the other-- mainly in the South. We didn't necessarily have that in Cleveland. Certain places people just didn't go other than to, as I said, the particular black, African-American owned restaurants.
- [00:41:08.08] INTERVIEWER: So in terms of accommodations or hotels and motels, were there places for blacks to stay? Or if they traveled, where did they stay or where did you all stay when you were growing up?
- [00:41:21.79] GERALD EDWARDS: When we grew up, I traveled very, very little. The only traveling that I can recall during-- from the time I was a child of remembrance up to getting out of high school and going away to college, we would go once a year up in Ontario, Canada, fishing. My father loved to fish as I do. And the four of us would go and rent a cabin, and we would spend the week together fishing.
- [00:41:54.16] And so we didn't stay in any hotels, motels. Never had any encounters that I can recall. So it really wasn't an issue. It's something that really wasn't elevated or heightened to a level of remembrance because we never had any occurrences because we never went to those places.
- [00:42:17.76] INTERVIEWER: So I want to talk a little bit about, ask you a little bit about your experiences in terms of the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti area. I know that you're one of the younger people that were interviewed. So what was your experience like in terms of Ann Arbor in terms of restaurants and eating places or accommodations? Ann Arbor, Ypsi area.
- [00:42:40.91] GERALD EDWARDS: I cannot say that I have ever had-- when I say I'm certain to say I've ever had any issues, you're going to get your subtleties anywhere you go at any given time, as you mentioned earlier, even today. But I cannot recall when I came to Ann Arbor, to the Ann Arbor area, that was when I graduated from college in 1972. Every place that I would go to eat or drink or whatever, I never picked up any real major issues of discrimination.
- [00:43:22.83] Again, you get your waitress or someone in a particular restaurant that you can kind of tell doesn't want you there. And again that's even today. But there's nothing that I can look back on it and say that when I was eating at a particular place, this really was a major event or a major issue. And I'm sure the area had its problems and its issues, but I've never really experienced any of those from the time that I came here in 1972.
- [00:43:56.87] INTERVIEWER: OK, we're going to move to part three, which is adulthood, marriage, and family. This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force or started a family until all of your children left home, if they have left home, and you and your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. So after you finished high school, you mentioned you went to college. And so during that period where did you live?
- [00:44:37.87] GERALD EDWARDS: The first two years I lived in the dorm on the Heidelberg campus. Then my junior and senior year I lived off campus in an off-campus house that I shared with two, four, six other guys. So that's kind of how that worked in terms of where I lived.
- [00:45:07.59] INTERVIEWER: So when you finished college is that-- you said earlier I think you already said you moved to this area?
- [00:45:12.51] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, I got a job. As a matter of fact, the young lady that I mentioned to you, Jada, who at the time who I was dating, she was attending Tiffin University. Her sister and her brother-in-law was working for Ford Motor Company. And so she through the two of them, she came to the Ann Arbor area to put in an application. Because what we had really planned is that-- I had been accepted to the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
- [00:45:55.59] So out of college was my intention I was going to go get an MSW with still the mindset I was going to using my religion as the foundation for that to do some social active, social change kind of scenario. Because seeing what was happening in the black community, what was happening in the United States during the late '60s and '70s motivated me to move in that direction.
- [00:46:29.20] So she was needing to come up to Ann Arbor to put in an application. So I drove her up here. And while she was doing her application, I was offered one. I said, yeah, OK. So I just went ahead and filled the application out. And as a matter of fact, I got a phone call to come for an interview even before she did.
- [00:46:51.19] And so I came up here to an interview with Ford Motor Company at the Saline plastics plant. And the offer that was made to me in 1972 was $880 a month. And I thought I had died and gone to heaven with that kind of money.
- [00:47:10.27] So a lot of the graduates from my class that were getting jobs straight out of college it was $600, $500 and some change. And so that $800 dollars plus overtime, I just couldn't turn that down.
- [00:47:31.08] And so I accepted a job as a production supervisor with Ford Motor Company. She ultimately got hired as a secretary. So we ended up working at the same plant until the fall of the next year was when the recession of '73 hit.
- [00:47:55.44] And so she was laid off. I continued to work. But prior to that we got married in November of that same year.
- [00:48:10.81] So that's kind of started our family. We didn't start a family right away, but nevertheless, that's when we were married. And so she went on to work for a couple other companies. Then she got called back to Ford by one of her prior bosses that wanted her to work for him. So she came back.
- [00:48:35.25] I, in turn, continued to work at the same plastics plant, Saline plastics plant for 14 years. And I felt like as we talked about you hit some little pockets of discrimination. And so I felt that basically I was being discriminated against because I ended up training people in certain aspects that I was working as an acting superintendent in a particular department but never given the promotion.
- [00:49:10.44] An individual that they're wanting to fast-track-- I'm training that individual in terms of what my job responsibilities are. And then they get the actual promotion they move on, and I'm still in this acting superintendent position.
- [00:49:24.31] So I felt like that I could do a couple of things. I could just stay there and be miserable as I saw a lot of other African-American and not African-Americans just stayed in that corporate atmosphere, miserable because their careers weren't going anywhere, or I could do something about it. And so I chose to leave the company.
- [00:49:48.97] And so I ended up getting my resume out. And I was offered a job with a company called Detroit Plastic Molding, which was at that time was the world's largest privately held plastics company. I was hired as an assistant plant manager. The role that I had there was far more greater responsibility than what I had at Ford Motor Company.
- [00:50:19.77] And the system was telling you this is the best you can do. We don't need you to do anything else. You just do that shut up and this. So that's how I felt. So this was really a breath of fresh air for me to be able to step out and take some of the experience that I had garnered over those 14 years and then to be able then to actually be a real contributor to a company.
- [00:50:47.13] I can remember working there that, again, as I have found myself in isolated situations, there were only two within this company of well over-- because they were in Canada and Germany-- well over 400 to 500 people, and there only two African-Americans in leadership in that whole company. And I can remember getting this subtle racism, discrimination scenarios.
- [00:51:28.23] And after four months of being an assistant plant manager, I was promoted to plant manager. So I was managing this one particular plant. And one of the things that the owner wanted to do he wanted to try to, as every owner would want to do, is minimize labor.
- [00:51:47.97] And so remembering how we worked at Ford when we had a summer shutdown, I structured a shutdown for the plant that I was managing. And they had an executive dining room where they would come together, and that's where a lot of subtleties happened, a lot of conversation would happen.
- [00:52:12.76] And so there was this discussion about who's this guy over here? I was running the 10 Mile Plant. Who's this guy in the 10 Mile Plant talking about shutting the plant down. We can't do that and some of the other people around the owner were saying, yeah, we can't do that. We can't afford to shut down a plant. What if someone needs parts and we don't have it? Blah, blah, blah, they kept going on.
- [00:52:32.85] So be it as it was, there was this one particular individual that came out of Ford Motor Company himself who was working as the executive in charge of operations, and so he ultimately was my boss. And so he came over and, we sat down, and we talked about what we're going to do. He said, look, I understand what you're doing. He came out of Ford, so he knew about the shutdowns. So he said, you go ahead and you run it how you think it ought to be run, plan it up, and keep me posted.
- [00:53:04.25] So the long and the short of it, we ended up doing a two-week shutdown that was successful. There were other companies that we supplied to-- Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford. Our biggest customer at that time was Ford so we patterned our shutdown to shut down when they had their two-week shutdown.
- [00:53:24.59] Everyone else we went into a build ahead and had product available to continue to ship to those other plants but without having the plant open. So after we were successful that first year, in the executive dining room there's this one individual Paul [? Dettloff, ?] who kind of was my mentor, who kept me informed of what the political atmosphere was like. He would sit there in the meeting he would demand, hey, why can that guy over at 10 Mile Road shut the plant down successfully and you guys can't?
- [00:53:54.41] And so from there, that became my ticket within that company. And as time went on the owner of that company was being approached by General Motors about wanting to do something to increase its minority content. And so the discussions were that because this was one of the largest plastics suppliers and the world's largest plastic supplier, they pressed them saying, we want you to work with an existing minority company, work with a minority on a startup company. But we want to increase our minority content, and we want you to be kind of a catalyst to do that.
- [00:54:41.69] So based upon some of the successes that I had within that company, I was approached and, again, it was through my mentor that I was approached about would I have an interest in working with-- and then the funny part about it, the owner of this company was kind of a known racist. He spoke negatively about black people, but nevertheless, he was very motivated by green. And so where the money was, he was willing to compromise some of his so-called principles or standards.
- [00:55:26.52] And so we entered into a conversation and discussion about forming a minority company, spinning off the plant that I was managing. And so what I ended up doing I got a bank loan, got a second mortgage to purchase what became a controlling interest of this new enterprise. Named it Engineered Plastic Products.
- [00:55:50.94] And so then we launched this new business. Having a very strong belief in God and a faith in the fact that things happen in my life for a reason and realize that I'm not out there on my own and separate from Him, separated from Him in terms of things happening, I ended up with that business when we launched it.
- [00:56:21.89] And again, I look back and say, I was just dumb enough to be dangerous or smart enough to be dangerous. I look back at that business. If I would have understood, known then what I know today about just looking and analyzing a business, there's no way I would have got a second mortgage to do anything with that particular plant to launch it as a business, as a new entity. Because some of the margins on the jobs that we had, they were atrocious. And at the time that we were moving toward restructuring this, he dumped some of his excess labor, but the ones that had very, very gross negative margins-- give it all to the black company. And so that that's what happened.
- [00:57:16.07] But as God would have it, the business-- which was the Dodge Dakota truck interior trim components. As God would have it, that book of business from that vehicle became the solid core business that sustained my plant and my business for well over 10 years. Because we were able to what's called work the margins. As you get engineering changes and facelifts on the business, then you can work the margins and bring them up. That became our most profitable job that we ended up with. And it was all based upon someone trying to just give you what they thought was junk at the time.
- [00:58:07.62] INTERVIEWER: A stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.
- [00:58:09.42] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, exactly, exactly. Yup, yup. What the Bible says what the enemy meant for evil, God turned it to your good, turned it for your good. That's exactly what happened here.
- [00:58:21.54] INTERVIEWER: So let me ask a couple of questions. So basically then you worked in Saline for about 14 years. And then when you moved, you were in the Detroit area? Where were you working?
- [00:58:34.73] GERALD EDWARDS: At the time, the plant that I was working was in Roseville, Michigan, but it was the name of the company was Detroit Plastic Molding. And they had offices in Roseville, they had them in Sterling Heights. And so they had plants around the Detroit area.
- [00:58:54.06] INTERVIEWER: And so once you opened your own business that was located where?
- [00:58:58.40] GERALD EDWARDS: When I first launched the business was at a plant in Roseville, but taking that plant that I was managing and I purchased a controlling interest and we structured and developed a new company. I launched the business there. We launched that business in 1987. And so then in 1999 was when I built the plant on James L Hart Parkway off of Whittaker Road and moved my business from Roseville to Ypsilanti or Ypsilanti township.
- [00:59:50.90] INTERVIEWER: So then the bulk of your working adult years have been in Michigan, in this area?
- [00:59:58.09] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes, I want to say 100% out of college.
- [01:00:02.84] INTERVIEWER: 100% has been here?
- [01:00:04.19] GERALD EDWARDS: 100% has been here.
- [01:00:05.73] INTERVIEWER: OK. Now as you were talking about it, so during this time what's happening with your wife? Did she come to the company or where was she employed?
- [01:00:16.13] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, as I mentioned earlier, she had been rehired back with the Ford Motor Company. And so she continued to work at Ford for a number of years, during the formative years of my business. And then once we got to a point-- I got to come close on the year because sometimes things just kind of run together. But she left Ford and then just fully retired. I'll get the year but right now I'm just--
- [01:00:55.17] INTERVIEWER: That's OK. I'm just curious because I just wanted to find out about what was happening with her.
- [01:01:01.08] GERALD EDWARDS: Right, she never actually worked for the company. But then during that time, as we became successful, there were some other entrepreneurial efforts that we launched. And we also-- and this is where she spent most of her time working with-- we launched a foundation.
- [01:01:25.37] At one point when we attended or visited Namibia, Africa, we kind of saw the plight of some of the people living in the squatters camps in Namibia. And these were individuals-- just absolutely, if you took a picture and took a snapshot of the squatters camps in Namibia and looked at the township of Soweto in South Africa, you could not tell the difference.
- [01:01:57.34] It's just this poorest of the poor, cardboard, tin roofs, just very deplorable living conditions. And so we visited because one of our members of the church that we were attending was working for an organization called Africare. He worked in various different countries, but at that time he was stationed in Namibia.
- [01:02:24.84] And so he put together a trade mission, if you will, of some prominent local business people, one of which was Don Bardon, who-- he ultimately had a plant in Namibia. That was a [? Bardon ?] Motors that he would convert GM vehicles from the left-hand drive to right-hand because they drove, as I call it, on the wrong side of the road.
- [01:02:56.25] INTERVIEWER: That's what we say.
- [01:02:59.28] GERALD EDWARDS: And so in the end with that trade mission then and looking at what happened there and seeing how the people were actually living, that motivated us to launch our foundation. And in that foundation we did two main scenarios, well three main scenarios.
- [01:03:19.08] There was a particular congregation. Since it was one of our church members that put together this mission, our pastor went. And so we were there representing the church and looking at business opportunities.
- [01:03:34.68] One congregation was within and they had been having all night prayer sessions during the week prior to us coming there. The building that they were in, worshipping in, the owners of that building they had been struggling to pay their rent, was going to evict them. They wanted to convert that church building into office buildings.
- [01:04:02.37] And so not knowing at that time, didn't really know what they were going through, but just hearing that they needed a building and just on the surface, my wife and I felt led to purchase this building that they were in. And ultimately, it became a private elementary school also. So they really took that seed and really grew it into something that was really meaningful for the Africans in that area.
- [01:04:32.40] And then another congregation that we were interacting with, they were actually from the squatter camp area. And so we wanted to build something that would provide a worship center, a training facility that they could use for training some of the people coming out of these squatters camps.
- [01:04:54.73] And a part of the building was for the feeding program. Because it was one of the efforts that the Edwards Foundation did was to feed the children twice a day in the squatters camps. There was not a time that I went there that I didn't leave there with dry eyes.
- [01:05:15.51] There were children that would come. And we would watch this one child the days that we were there, he would come with this little plastic bowl. They would cook and we would sometimes help cook some type of a stew or whatever with meat and vegetables and whatever.
- [01:05:33.98] And this little child would get his bowl filled up put a lid on it he would just be sitting off to the side while the other kids would be getting theirs. They would be eating what they got. So we started asking him why he never eats. He just sits there and holds his bowl.
- [01:05:49.71] So he's got, at that time, he had four or five other siblings. Both of his parents-- this is the sad part of that area-- there are situations where the oldest child in the home would be 12 years old because both of the parents were dead from AIDS. And so this child was the oldest.
- [01:06:08.94] He would come there and get the stew, and then he would just sit there until the program that was going on with the feeding was over. Then he would go right back to where he lived, and that was the food that he shared. And so just to see that and to know at least you're providing sustenance for those kids a couple times a day it was really, really uplifting to do that.
- [01:06:38.61] INTERVIEWER: I would imagine so. You said you formed a foundation, the Edwards Foundation?
- [01:06:44.40] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [01:06:45.19] INTERVIEWER: And so you're saying your wife-- tell me her name again.
- [01:06:47.61] GERALD EDWARDS: Jada.
- [01:06:48.24] INTERVIEWER: Jada was heading all that up?
- [01:06:50.15] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes. And also with that the Foundation also collaborated with Habitat for Humanity, and we built several homes in Mozambique.
- [01:07:04.20] INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful.
- [01:07:04.59] GERALD EDWARDS: And that's where they were working at the time so we did that. And as a result, this was pretty close to being post-apartheid. Namibia went through the same apartheid system because they were ruled for a number, upteen years, by the South African government. As a matter of fact, they were annexed by South Africa. They were called South West Africa versus South Africa. They were under that same system.
- [01:07:39.41] And so the people that lived there they had this clear distinct classifications of people. They had colored and they had blacks. And the way that the system was structured blacks were the lowest of the group. The coloreds, you were you were not as good as whites, but you were better than blacks. And they kept that separate but equalness, that divide and conquer system, even to the point in South Africa when we visited Robben Island where Mandela was, they even had and they showed what the amount part of what was required every day. They had to crush so much stone by hand. And the blacks had this large amount. Coloreds had a little less, and the whites in prison there had even less than that.
- [01:08:44.51] The food rations was done based upon race. Blacks got the least amount, colored got a little bit more, whites got the most. And so that whole system was like that. And so one of the things that we did we touched three different ministries. One was it was a white pastor. One was the congregation we bought the building for. That was a colored congregation. And then the black congregation where the feeding was.
- [01:09:15.09] At the time we weren't focused on we're going to touch all three, but we ultimately did that. And so it's just really been uplifting to have done that. And then the fact that we did it, there was no real quid pro quo in doing it.
- [01:09:30.86] But the fact that the time the Namibian government was looking to get control of its natural resources. De Beers would come in, mine the diamonds and take them to Israel or Amsterdam and take them off the continent. The Namibian government said they wanted to try to develop some value added with their own resources. So they issued four diamond cutting and polishing license to try to do the value added.
- [01:10:04.43] Because of the things that we had done, we had purchased dialysis machines for this one post-apartheid hospital that was in the black area that was very, very, very under facilitized. We purchased hospital beds, modern hospital beds for them also. And so the things that we had done I partnered with President Nujoma who is the first post-apartheid president to build a maternity and AIDS hospital for women in northern Namibia where there was there was no hospitals at all.
- [01:10:41.40] And so the things that I did, again without any quid pro quo, he recognized that he said, we're looking to get-- and at the time I had a partnership. I had a small jewelry store out near Briarwood that I was operating.
- [01:10:56.54] INTERVIEWER: What was the name of that?
- [01:10:58.09] GERALD EDWARDS: We called it The Diamond Mine was the name of it. The president, Sam Nujoma, said you know what? Anyone who would come here and do some of the things that you have done, that's a person that we feel and believe that we can trust. Would you like-- because knew about the diamond jewelry store-- would you like to have one of the licenses? I said, absolutely.
- [01:11:23.30] Because the guy I partnered with had a better understanding of diamonds than I did. So we went through the application process, and we were awarded one of those licenses. A lot of the white De Beers people that was on the ground, they were saying you can't train the Africans to cut diamonds. We have to bring our people that we have cutting from Israel. They don't have that.
- [01:11:48.35] And we were determined. We brought people in from Amsterdam and from South Africa that we paid to train the Africans. And one time we had over a dozen cutters cutting diamonds. And our biggest downfall that once we were able to prove that they could be trained, was we ended up ultimately shutting the business down because De Beers-- who we realize they had a total lock on that industry, even when the government was saying they had what was called Clause 93 in their constitution.
- [01:12:25.37] Clause 93 said that any natural resource that country has on this land, they had the right to direct where those resources go even though they had a contract with De Beers to mine diamonds. So we were led to believe that we could in fact, once we got operational, we could get our raw materials right through the Namibian government.
- [01:12:54.74] Little did we know that De Beers had such a tight-fisted hold on that industry that we we're just going to starve and cut off from any diamonds. We ended up getting the diamonds that we got-- some of them could have very well come right out of the ground in Namibia. We had to go to Amsterdam, and we had to actually purchase diamonds off of the diamond market there, bringing them back into Namibia.
- [01:13:26.27] Those were the diamonds that we end up cutting and training our people while De Beers still continued to mine. And some of the world's-- not some of-- the world's best quality diamonds come right out of Namibia. We're sitting right on the best diamonds, and they're still continue to in droves take it out and send it to Israel or to Europe.
- [01:13:52.52] So but nevertheless, that was a major experience and to be able to as far to my knowledge-- haven't spent a lot of time really researching this-- that we were the first African-American owned company that was actually cutting and polishing diamonds on the African continent. But it holds no real--
- [01:14:23.21] INTERVIEWER: That was wonderful to hear about that because the experience that you had over there. It's just wonderful, this experience.
- [01:14:32.82] GERALD EDWARDS: I just enjoy the fact that God allowed me to experience it. And in all of that, the part that really, really does mean the most to me is the fact that I have been able to impact along the way a lot of lives. No matter what happens to me from this point forward, I can look back at the things that I have really done to touch other people's lives to help them to make their lives that much better. It just really does my heart and my soul good. It really does.
- [01:15:06.20] INTERVIEWER: That's wonderful. Part four was work and retirement. So we basically covered that but not really retirement. So you said you're sort of semi?
- [01:15:17.47] GERALD EDWARDS: Yes.
- [01:15:17.81] INTERVIEWER: So talk to me about-- how did your life change when you and/or your spouse retired?
- [01:15:31.24] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, it was kind of bittersweet because part of my retirement was based upon an economic collision that occurred with-- Hurricane Katrina caused my raw materials and my plastics business to shoot sky high. I tried approaching my customers at that time, my main customer was General Motors-- to get some financial relief on pricing, which they would not as they did the steel industry when things happened there negatively to the steel manufacturers. And so I ended up at the time I had the surge in the prices of my raw materials.
- [01:16:21.38] I also was launching a new plant down in Lima, Ohio. And with that new plant it came some real major inefficiencies with that launch. The collision of those two events of the raw material pricing and my inefficient launch, I ended up having to file a bankruptcy in 2006.
- [01:16:48.94] Because I felt so comfortable and confident about my business, I signed a lot of personal guarantees on my business for my loans. So once things collapsed, the creditors showed up knocking on my door. Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa. You're not so done yet. We want our money.
- [01:17:10.80] And so that was another whole situation that we had to deal with. But nevertheless, God, being faithful saw us through that time frame. I partnered with an individual, as I think I mentioned somewhere early on in the interview, that had a cleaning company going. I partnered with him.
- [01:17:33.31] And so now I'm 50, 49% owner of this cleaning business it's called Detail Detroit. And we have five office complexes in Northville, in Livonia, and Farmington that we clean. And so that's kind of the piece that kind of keeps me in the entrepreneurial piece of things.
- [01:17:57.10] But it's something that I enjoy. It gets my adrenaline going. I enjoy doing that. I enjoy business, I enjoy people. And so it's something that I probably until I get to the point where I physically can't do anything like that at all going forward, I will always have some kind of a business connection.
- [01:18:20.03] INTERVIEWER: Something going on.
- [01:18:20.49] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah, yeah. I have to. I'm a restless person. In my mind, I want to just travel and fish and just-- but I can't. I can't just not do certain things. And business is one of those things that is in my blood.
- [01:18:39.37] INTERVIEWER: So you can do a little traveling, a little fishing, but then you got to have something else.
- [01:18:43.11] GERALD EDWARDS: Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah.
- [01:18:45.13] INTERVIEWER: So speaking of traveling, have you gone back since you have built an elementary school, built homes in Africa? Have you been back at all?
- [01:18:55.14] GERALD EDWARDS: Oh, yeah, multiple times. And it's good to see the ministries and the programs that were started under the Edwards Foundation still going on. And so it wasn't a flash in the pan. Because again, I really truly believe God was really deeply rooted in those situations and has sustained them. So yes.
- [01:19:23.91] INTERVIEWER: Wonderful stories and sharing. That's been great.
- [01:19:28.17] GERALD EDWARDS: Thank you.
- [01:19:28.81] INTERVIEWER: I'm going to go to part five, which is historical social events. Tell me how it is for you to live in this community. You talked about it from your business side, but anything else you want to say about living in the Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor area?
- [01:19:44.08] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, I think to a degree it's a closed community. Mainly Ann Arbor is more of a closed community. Doesn't matter necessarily who you are. It's really who you know.
- [01:20:07.54] And so you can have certain connections in certain pockets of people, but there's not necessarily the openness that people can just ebb and flow into certain groups or whatever. And that just might be just a normal group dynamic, but nevertheless, I look at it because the question is about this region and this area. It tends to be you're either in or you're not. And if you're not, pretty good chance you're not going to come in.
- [01:20:42.65] So I've seen it. And it doesn't always lend itself to racial. It's a bit racial and a bit socioeconomic that people tend to like, you're not one of us. You're not well heeled from a particular school, or you don't make the moneys that we make, and so you're not really part of this group.
- [01:21:09.62] So but I think there are a lot of good people even in those little closed groups, pockets. There's a lot of really good people, but nevertheless, that is kind of what I have seen in this area. And we have run across a lot of open, friendly, good people. But yet they still are a part of this what I consider a closed society to a degree.
- [01:21:38.92] INTERVIEWER: I was going to ask you this say more about that. But I think I get what you're saying. OK.
- [01:21:46.08] GERALD EDWARDS: And it's sometimes this is church related, too. Sometimes it's a certain church. And that's probably more in the Ypsilanti area where you find people that are from a particular church tend to be more clannish based upon that. Not that they're not wanting anybody else in. It's just like, you just don't fit. You don't go where we go and do the things that we do. And so therefore, you just go over there and do it where you are anyway.
- [01:22:17.26] INTERVIEWER: I understand. When thinking back on your entire life, what important social historical events had the greatest impact? You talked about at one point about when you're in college you did sit-ins and stuff like that.
- [01:22:34.79] GERALD EDWARDS: I would definitely have to say that I think that during my lifetime that made the greatest impact and greatest change would be during the era that Dr. Martin Luther King was doing the things that he was doing and having the people around him supportive of what he was doing.
- [01:23:00.07] I had the opportunity several years before she died to meet Rosa Parks because we sponsored some of the youth every summer. Her group, the-- I forget her husband's name-- but had a foundation. Raymond, I think it was. Raymond and Rosa Parks Foundation I think it was. Would take children to various states and locations to learn the history.
- [01:23:31.64] At one point they traveled-- I was a member of a local group called the Washtenaw County Buffalo Soldiers. We used to ride in parades and that kind of thing. So she took a group of youth out West to kind of travel and track the route in the areas that the Buffalo Soldiers impacted.
- [01:23:53.97] And so I sponsored those youth that year to go. And so I had the opportunity to meet her and went to her apartment, the Riverfront place, and got some photographs with her, whatever. But just to be able to touch that little piece of history through her, but I would say that and the greatest impact was Dr. King and those that walked with him, marched with him, and sat in and did all that they did. That I think has impacted my life more than any other thing historically that has happened.
- [01:24:31.83] INTERVIEWER: So when you say you sponsor that trip was that through the foundation or how was that?
- [01:24:38.45] GERALD EDWARDS: No, Jada and I just did that out of our own income. That wasn't one of the areas that the Foundation operated. They decided to be a little careful in how it--
- [01:24:51.19] INTERVIEWER: Some other people should hear that.
- [01:24:54.11] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah, I can imagine one individual for sure. It isn't for your own portraits, and we'll leave it at that.
- [01:25:04.32] INTERVIEWER: Well, thinking back over your entire life-- and you probably have already shared this-- what are you most proud of?
- [01:25:10.64] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, I guess I'm most proud of two things. One, I'm most proud of my kids because one of the things that I can look back and I can say not one time have I ever had to go to school because they'd been suspended or any issues of that nature. Never had to go to court for them. Only one time with my daughter because she had some traffic tickets that she didn't pay.
- [01:25:43.40] I just believe the foundation that through God we lead for them has helped to make them. And a lot of times people look to their kids and the success is measured by titles and dollars. I just look at the quality of their lives and the quality of the individuals and see that they in fact, in my mind and my heart are successful. So I would call that probably my greatest achievement.
- [01:26:13.39] INTERVIEWER: Let me ask you their names. And you probably mentioned them. Tell us their names.
- [01:26:17.80] GERALD EDWARDS: Charlene is my oldest daughter. My middle daughter is Candace and then my son Gerald II. So those are the three.
- [01:26:30.56] INTERVIEWER: I think I might know Candance.
- [01:26:32.09] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah, OK. Probably do.
- [01:26:34.68] INTERVIEWER: So you said that was your children. And what else were you going to say?
- [01:26:38.16] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, I would say my business venture, all of the ventures that having never majored in business but just having a lot of what I gained and learned has been hands-on, has been people. And that's one of the areas that I've always said in any business I've had, you show me a person smarter than me, and I'll hire them.
- [01:27:01.63] Because I don't have to be the smartest person in the room, know that I'm not, don't have an ego that says if I'm not the smartest guy, I've got to pretend that I am. If I don't know, I want you to know. I'm not going to hire you if you don't know what I don't know. But if you know what I don't know, then I need you and I needed you through my career.
- [01:27:22.08] And so to be able to have owned and operated and successfully operated the number of businesses-- diverse different business from a limo company to a jewelry store to a diamond cutting and polishing factory to a plastic injection molding manufacturing company that employed over 400 employees with three locations and never have attended a business school and to have gained the knowledge as I said because of knowing people and what God has imparted in me.
- [01:27:57.43] I can remember just one quick example of my injection molding business. When I first launched that business, I knew that there were a lot of people, I would use the term, wanted to eat my lunch. A lot of within the customer base that really didn't want me to be successful.
- [01:28:16.27] So I would be in my office having a meeting on some of the product that we were launching, and I would be trying to understand what is going to go on. I would have people-- there's one time one individual for sure that sticks in my mind came into my office unsolicited he said, oh by the way, Mr. Edwards, I understand you have a meeting today on-- and it was a Ford steering column cover. We have a meeting with on the Ford steering column cover. Let me tell you what I think they're going to want to know. They're going to want to know-- he proceeded to run down the things that I needed to be able to convey in this meeting.
- [01:28:57.55] Wouldn't you know it? There was not another question that was asked of me other than what this gentleman came in my office and told me.
- [01:29:06.19] So that was one of the things that let me know without a shadow of a doubt God's hand was on my business, and that He was orchestrating what was going on. It wasn't me. And that's another thing that helped me to really understand the value in who I really am. And I'm not all this and all that. I am just an individual who happened to be blessed by Him and be in a situation.
- [01:29:30.16] And I realized that that blessing and those blessings that I had it wasn't just because he thought, Gerald, you are such a great guy. Let me dump all of this in your lap. I expect that what you receive, you're going to be a conduit.
- [01:29:44.51] INTERVIEWER: That's right.
- [01:29:45.31] GERALD EDWARDS: And that I really believe that I have done through my life is to have been a conduit and pass it on to various people at various times as much as I could.
- [01:29:56.81] And sometimes if you look back at it sometimes too much. But never regretting that I ever did it and wishing that I didn't but realizing that my role was to have it come through me not to come to me.
- [01:30:11.86] INTERVIEWER: I have a friend that always says things are divinely ordered.
- [01:30:15.58] GERALD EDWARDS: For sure.
- [01:30:16.60] INTERVIEWER: So I was going to ask you but I think I sort of got it when you said people want to eat your lunch. I was going to ask you to explain that a little bit for these young people that are listening.
- [01:30:26.38] GERALD EDWARDS: You're right. This is from a term I want to eat your lunch. I want to see you fail. I want to take from you what is rightfully yours in a sense. It's just a slang term. I want to eat your lunch, want take it away from you.
- [01:30:46.16] INTERVIEWER: All right, so we're wrapping up here. And so what advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:30:53.12] GERALD EDWARDS: The younger generation, I would say number one, don't let the trappings of the media throw you off track. Odds are you're not going to be the next great rap artist. Get the best education that your money can afford.
- [01:31:18.09] Number two, do not allow for people that once you have within your heart what it is that God has destined you to do, don't let anybody tell you that you can't do that. Don't take no for an answer from that perspective, that you are able and capable to do anything that God says you can do. And if He plants that seed within your heart, He's going to give you the provisions to make that happen.
- [01:31:48.93] So don't give up. Don't let people who can't see your vision-- they don't have your eyes. They don't have your lenses. It's like taking someone else's bifocals and putting them on and expecting to see. I can't see that. Well you're not supposed to see it because those are not your glasses.
- [01:32:04.55] So your vision that God is giving you is your vision, and don't let anybody take you away from that, get you off track. Don't let the trappings of the world and the confusing things that happen around you cause you to get off base and off track. Stay focused and keep moving forward.
- [01:32:23.00] One last thing I would say, whatever it is that you are choosing to do in life, work on a bit, a piece of. It's like eating an elephant. You can't do it in one sitting. It's one bite at a time. Every day do something.
- [01:32:37.43] And that's how it was when I was forming my business. Every day I committed to do something. If it wasn't making a phone call or going to the library and doing some research. At the time didn't have the internet access to do a lot of things. But at least do something every day.
- [01:32:54.32] Keep that before you because if you do, then you're not going to allow for your mind to get confused and let a lot of unimportant, unnecessary distractions enter in because your mind's going to be focused on what God's given you to do. And so stay focused and do something every day to bring that to fruition.
- [01:33:15.81] INTERVIEWER: That's great advice. So I'm going to ask a question that hasn't been listed on the list of questions but your thoughts and reflections on having our first African-American president.
- [01:33:31.07] GERALD EDWARDS: It was beautiful. It was absolutely beautiful. It was so encouraging, uplifting. It isn't about the policies and did he do all that he could have and should have done in terms of policy. Because he had a lot of people in his way already committed that he's going to be a one-term president and wanted to see him fail.
- [01:33:53.77] INTERVIEWER: A lot of people wanted to eat his lunch.
- [01:33:55.02] GERALD EDWARDS: Yeah, right. They wanted to eat his lunch. That's exactly it. But the fact that he made it to that office, I mean has really opened up a panacea of opportunity for us as African-Americans to know that if we can achieve and ascribe to and become the highest individual in the land, in the world, that if one can do it, then two, three, and four, and more can do it. I believe that that's one of the things that scares a lot of detractors that really that don't want to see that happen again.
- [01:34:35.12] The biggest issue is not to see him fail as it was to see the opportunity and the potential for more to come to fail. That's what they were really after in my mind. But nevertheless, that was still such an uplifting time. And it still continues to be uplifting because it has happened. It's not something that we hope happens and wish could happen. It has happened. It's become a reality. So it kind of solidifies some beliefs within me and hopefully other people.
- [01:35:10.71] INTERVIEWER: Thank you. So I want to give you a chance if you have a final thought or saying that you want to share and that will wrap up the interview.
- [01:35:25.37] GERALD EDWARDS: Well, there is a little saying that I have followed and believe. And I just kind of believe that God will give us and gives me an uncommon advantage coupled with unprecedented opportunities will yield unheard of results. And that has been a true reality in my life. And again, God is not a [? respective ?] person. I'm not, as I have said before, I'm not all that and a bag of chips. And so if he'll create situations for me that's uncommon and unheard of that He'll do it for other people.
- [01:36:11.14] So that's something that I really believe. And I'm can't say I'm in a process of writing a book, but I know that I have one book within me. And so I really before I check out of here, I truly believe that I have to write it because I believe there are some things that God has given to me and shared with me and to me that I need to offer that as encouragement and examples to other people.
- [01:36:46.43] INTERVIEWER: Well, I look forward to reading that book.
- [01:36:48.45] GERALD EDWARDS: OK.
- [01:36:49.18] INTERVIEWER: And thank you very much for doing the interview.
June 18, 2019
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Heidelberg College - Black Student Union
Ford Motor Company
Ford Saline Plastics Plant
Education - Desegregation
Murray Hill Elementary School [Cleveland OH]
Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Huron High School
Phillis Wheatley Association
Civil Rights Movement
Detroit Plastic Molding
Engineered Plastic Products Inc
Black American Businesses
Habitat for Humanity
The Diamond Mine
Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development
Washtenaw County Buffalo Soldiers
Race & Ethnicity
AACHM Living Oral History
Gerald D. Edwards
Martin Luther King Jr.
Gerald Edwards II