AACHM Oral History: Harold Simons
Sun, 11/08/2020 - 9:25am
When: September 17, 2020
Harold Simons was born in 1946 and he grew up in Ann Arbor. He was inspired by Jones School teacher Harry Mial to become a teacher and coach. A standout basketball player for Ann Arbor High, he went on to play at Eastern Michigan University. He was the freshman basketball coach there before becoming head coach at Huron High for 20 years. Mr. Simons reflects on race relations and generational differences in Ann Arbor. He and his wife Ethel have been married for 53 years.
- [00:00:14] Interviewer: Harold, we are going to get started. First of all, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. The first set of questions will be about demographics and family history. I'm first 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. We can go into more detail later in the interview. Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:55] Harold Simons: Harold, H-A-R-O-L-D. Simons, S-I-M-O-N-S.
- [00:01:04] Interviewer: What is your date of birth including the year?
- [00:01:09] Harold Simons: January 27th, 1946.
- [00:01:16] Interviewer: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:21] Harold Simons: Conglomeration American.
- [00:01:26] Interviewer: Okay. What is your religion if any?
- [00:01:31] Harold Simons: Methodist.
- [00:01:34] Interviewer: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:39] Harold Simons: Master's degree.
- [00:01:43] Interviewer: What is your marital status?
- [00:01:46] Harold Simons: Married.
- [00:01:49] Interviewer: How many children do you have?
- [00:01:52] Harold Simons: Three.
- [00:01:54] Interviewer: What are their names?
- [00:01:57] Harold Simons: Bermecia, Devon, and Duane.
- [00:02:05] Interviewer: So you have a set of twins?
- [00:02:07] Harold Simons: Twins yes. Their birthday is today.
- [00:02:11] Interviewer: Wow.
- [00:02:11] Interviewer: Well, tell them I said happy birthday.
- [00:02:14] Harold Simons: I sure will.
- [00:02:18] Interviewer: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:20] Harold Simons: One brother.
- [00:02:23] Interviewer: What is his name?
- [00:02:25] Harold Simons: Donald. Same last name, Simons.
- [00:02:31] Interviewer: What was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:35] Harold Simons: Educator, teacher/coach.
- [00:02:41] Interviewer: At what age did you retire, or are you retired?
- [00:02:47] Harold Simons: Sixty one. I am retired.
- [00:02:52] Interviewer: Now we're going to go into part 2, memories of childhood and youth. Once again, this part of the interview is about your childhood and youth, even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories for this part of your life. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:03:18] Harold Simons: I would say we were middle class.
- [00:03:24] Interviewer: Say a little bit more about, in terms of your lifestyle as a child.
- [00:03:32] Harold Simons: It was a lifestyle of a community within one block. A lot of children on that block. We had access to automobiles, we traveled, so I would say that it was definitely middle class.
- [00:03:56] Interviewer: What sort of work did your parents do?
- [00:04:00] Harold Simons: My mother was a hospital lab technician at both the University Hospital and the VA hospital. My dad was a wholesale distributor and a truck driver.
- [00:04:17] Interviewer: As a young child, what are some of your earliest memories?
- [00:04:23] Harold Simons: Playing with the neighborhood kids. Our neighborhood was loaded with kids and that's what we did from the day we got up until the time we went back to bed. We just played in the neighborhood.
- [00:04:36] Interviewer: What kind of things did you do when you were playing? Sports or...?
- [00:04:41] Harold Simons: Yeah. Mostly sports. Huron River flowed in front of our house, a couple of us would go fishing frequently, but mostly it had to do with bike riding and with sports.
- [00:05:01] Interviewer: Is that everybody, males and females, or did you just play outside with the boys, or how did that go?
- [00:05:08] Harold Simons: Well, mostly boys, depending upon the activity if it was physical and rough of course no girls would join in on us, but if we were fishing or doing something lighter, then the girls would join in with us.
- [00:05:27] Interviewer: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:05:37] Harold Simons: Friends and family would picnic, we would go to the parks in the Plymouth area, in the Ann Arbor area. Then we had relatives in the state of Ohio, an uncle that we would go to yearly, and we had relatives in Detroit. We would go visit them as far as some type of a childhood tradition that we would go through.
- [00:06:09] Interviewer: When you went to visit your families out of state, did you go for the day, did you spend the night or...?
- [00:06:17] Harold Simons: No. We we would spend the night. The one in Ohio lived close to the Pennsylvania border, Masury, Ohio. That was roughly a three and a half to four hour trip, so we would definitely spend a couple of nights and we would spend the night at my uncle, that was my dad's brother, and we would spend the night there a couple of nights actually usually. In Detroit, it was usually a daily trip where we would travel down early in the morning and stay all day and come back in the evening.
- [00:06:58] Interviewer: So which holidays did your family celebrate?
- [00:07:03] Harold Simons: All of the major ones. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, 4th of July, Memorial Day, and generally the major ones.
- [00:07:23] Interviewer: Which was your favorite of all those?
- [00:07:26] Harold Simons: Oh, Christmas, definitely. As a child, they had to get me up early in the morning, get me down to see if I've missed any of the wrapped presents from the evening or two before then, so I really enjoyed that one. Of course, the summer ones, when they were--the 4th of July was probably next, and that's because we were generally always with a large family gathering, and then we would usually be out at Wild Goose Lake and enjoying ourselves or at any other lake, enjoying ourselves in the water.
- [00:08:06] Interviewer: Okay. So talk to me a little bit about Wild Goose Lake.
- [00:08:09] Harold Simons: A little bit about Wild Goose Lake. Wild Goose Lake is a lake that was formed by residents, Black residents exclusively. People in that area would call it the Negro Lake because it was extensively Blacks living there. It started in the '40s. Families from Detroit, from Chicago, from the Ann Arbor area would go ahead, and they got property, they built homes there. They established a neighborhood that stayed predominantly Black all the way up until about the year 2000.
- [00:09:11] Interviewer: So in terms of Wild Goose Lake, does your family still have a place there?
- [00:09:17] Harold Simons: Sure do. Yeah. We've had it for 45 years. It's a summer, basically, residence, although it's winterized, we do go out there, three or four weekends during the winter months, and we keep it heated. So we still have a home out there. My wife's family, who's really the family that helped establish the lake back in the '40s and '50s, they have homes out there along with the other cousins.
- [00:09:54] Interviewer: When you say your wife's family helped establish, talk to me about that, established in what way?
- [00:10:01] Harold Simons: Well, they were instrumental in financially backing the project, and very instrumental in dividing the property lines up. Also, instrumental in deciding who was going to go ahead and purchase, and build there at the time.
- [00:10:26] Interviewer: So they was in charge of that project at the beginning?
- [00:10:30] Harold Simons: Yes. His name was Charles Baker, that's my wife's grandfather.
- [00:10:41] Interviewer: Talk to me a little about Mr. Baker.
- [00:10:45] Harold Simons: Mr. Baker was co-founder of the Foundry, over off of Plymouth Road and Maiden Lane area. He employed predominately Black employees, and they built most of the gutters that you see in the Ann Arbor area on the streets where water will drain down into the system, and then flow into our streams, and into the Huron River. He and another gentleman by the name of Cook, were the two that organized and built that establishment.
- [00:11:30] Interviewer: Very impressive.
- [00:11:35] Harold Simons: I tell my wife that frequently, I sure do.
- [00:11:40] Interviewer: Going back to Wild Goose Lake, so you said primarily, initially, it was just Blacks that bought property there?
- [00:11:48] Harold Simons: Yes, that's true. I would say on the average there's 15 homes, maybe at the most, [NOISE] a few additional now. But as Black families ended up moving out, and their offspring did not want the places, of course, they put them up for sale, and they wanted some money as they were moving. So they went with generally, the highest bidder most of the time. So now, we have an influx. I'd say now, actually, it's going over about the last 15 years or so. So now it's pretty close to maybe 50:50, maybe.
- [00:12:39] Interviewer: [OVERLAPPING] Go ahead.
- [00:12:39] Harold Simons: Racially speaking, roughly 50:50.
- [00:12:47] Interviewer: So initially when Blacks bought there, was that because the couldn't buy any place else?
- [00:12:52] Harold Simons: Well, that was generally the area, but I think again, it was when I was a child, I've been told that it was an area where the Blacks could get out of the cities. They could get in an area where they could relate and enjoy each other in a relaxed atmosphere. So they would go there, of course, they could enjoy the water, they could enjoy partying, and that's what I heard that they actually did. So it was actually a way of getting away from the everyday routine. I've talked to my parents about it over the years, I compare it to the Idlewild that most of us know about, it was that type, of course, not as large as Idlewild, but the same type of atmosphere, minus the club or the roller skating rink, but they could go there, and let their hair down if they wanted to.
- [00:13:56] Interviewer: Sounds like a lot of fun.
- [00:14:01] Harold Simons: My parents said that they enjoyed it as they were younger. Yeah. They were kids mostly at that time and young adults, and they enjoyed it.
- [00:14:11] Interviewer: I'm going to go back to your schooling for a minute. Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
- [00:14:23] Harold Simons: Yes, primarily of sports. Not necessarily any other activities, but I played football, basketball, and golf. Those were my three sports back in high school, and played college basketball.
- [00:14:40] Interviewer: Which was your favorite?
- [00:14:42] Harold Simons: Basketball. It was the one that helped pay for my college education. That was the one that I got all state honors in, so that was my favorite.
- [00:14:55] Interviewer: During those years, your high school years, did your family have any special sayings or expressions during that time?
- [00:15:04] Harold Simons: No. Other than what they harped on us all the time and that was to behave yourself, don't get into any trouble, don't follow someone that's not going to do something good for themselves and for others, they just harped to be a good person.
- [00:15:30] Interviewer: Good advice. Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
- [00:15:38] Harold Simons: No changes in the family life, no, none at all.
- [00:15:43] Interviewer: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:15:58] Harold Simons: Well, at that time of course, there were Dr. Martin Luther King Junior marches. There were the riots that were going on. How did they affect my life personally? Not much, perhaps because I wasn't in the riot areas and I was up North, and also at that time, being in college, I was finishing up my college degree. At that time, I was getting married between my junior and senior year in college, and the year after that, we had our first child, Bermecia. So a lot was going on just personally in our family, not so much historically throughout the nation.
- [00:16:53] Interviewer: So talk to me a little bit about your schooling, your elementary school first, in terms of students, teachers, so forth.
- [00:17:05] Harold Simons: I attended Jones Elementary School, which is now called Community High, I guess. It was a predominantly Black attended school. The students, teachers, to my knowledge, I remember three male teachers, and that was it. All the rest of my teachers were female. I did get introduced for the first time--and it left an everlasting memory, and it gave me the encouragement and made me begin to think a little bit as I look back on it that maybe I could do it also--was my Black teacher at Jones Elementary, and that was Harry Mial.
- [00:17:59] Interviewer: That's wonderful. Tell me a little bit about your high school.
- [00:18:07] Harold Simons: I went to Tappan Middle School and then they opened Slauson at the time because they had built Forsythe. So I went two years to Tappan and then in my 9th grade year was at Slauson. Then went to Ann Arbor High School, Ann Arbor Pioneer and enjoyed that. Of course, more male teachers were around at that time. So I did have some of them, but not many more Black male teachers. I was on a college prep program that prepared me for going on to college. Being an athlete and being in the situation where we were basically successful in most of the athletic endeavors, you have a tendency to draw a little bit more attention, and so there was always something going on for us as athletes to enjoy on and off of the field.
- [00:19:14] Interviewer: I'm going to go back for a minute. So in your elementary school, your only Black teacher was Mr. Harry Mial?
- [00:19:23] Harold Simons: That is correct. He was my 6th grade teacher at Jones School.
- [00:19:28] Interviewer: So no other Black teachers during that time?
- [00:19:31] Harold Simons: No other Black teachers. In 2nd or 3rd grade a white teacher and a gym teacher that also impressed me, he was white, that was Andy Anderson. Those were the only three males that I were in contact with through my first six years of education.
- [00:19:50] Interviewer: But one Black teacher?
- [00:19:52] Harold Simons: One Black, that was it. Yeah.
- [00:19:55] Interviewer: What about during your high school years?
- [00:19:58] Harold Simons: We had a few Black teachers in the school. I in fact did not have any on any of my courses that I had, but there were, I'm guessing, two or three. Not many.
- [00:20:21] Interviewer: So during that time, were there restaurants or eating places for Blacks where you lived?
- [00:20:31] Harold Simons: I would say maybe so, but we did not frequent them. The one that we frequented the most and enjoyed the most was kind of a neighborhood store and that was called the Bar-BQ King and that was on the corner of Summit and Main Street. That's where when we wanted something good and from the soul, that's where we'd go.
- [00:21:00] Interviewer: So was the owner a Black individual?
- [00:21:04] Harold Simons: Yes. That owner or they were co-owners at the time. There was a Campbell and a Blanchert that were co-owners of that establishment.
- [00:21:19] Interviewer: So was the food good?
- [00:21:22] Harold Simons: I'm sorry.
- [00:21:23] Interviewer: Was the food good?
- [00:21:27] Harold Simons: Oh, yes. We were terribly upset when they ended up selling the place. It was really good, and like I said, my mom and dad would stop down there frequently and bring the barbecue, chicken, ribs, whatever it might be, greens and bring it on home. It was really good, yeah. Then DeLong's up by the marketplace and back of Jones school opened up and they were running kind of simultaneously, and then DeLong's stayed open longer than the Bar-BQ King.
- [00:22:07] Interviewer: Let's talk about Black visitors, in terms of visitors coming to town. How were they accommodated? Were there hotels or places for them to stay?
- [00:22:18] Harold Simons: Well, that's another question that's beyond me because any visitors that we had, friend and/or families, they were always invited to stay with us. Our house could accommodate whatever the number might have been. Generally, it wasn't more than three or four or five people. So we would keep them at our place.
- [00:22:43] Interviewer: You don't know whether or not if they had wanted to stay at a hotel, if that was available for Blacks?
- [00:22:50] Harold Simons: Yeah. I do not know that.
- [00:22:56] Interviewer: So we're going to move onto part three: adulthood, marriage and family life. 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, and you and/or your spouse retired. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:23:32] Harold Simons: When I finished high school, I lived at home. I stayed at home as I commuted back and forth to Ypsilanti to Eastern Michigan University. So I stayed home until summer of my junior year at the university. Then I got married and we lived in student married housing for about a year and a half, and then moved back to Ann Arbor.
- [00:23:59] Interviewer: So when you moved back to Ann Arbor, where did you stay?
- [00:24:04] Harold Simons: We stayed over on the east side of town in some condo apartment, a village that's between Washtenaw and Packard.
- [00:24:25] Interviewer: I'm going to talk a little bit about your married life and family. First, tell me about your spouse. Where did you meet?
- [00:24:36] Harold Simons: Ethel, my wife, and I met back in high school, high school sweethearts. She's from Albion, Michigan. But her extended family is--half of them anyway--are from Ann Arbor. Her cousin and I played sports together since we were children and through high school, so I met my wife through her cousin, Donald Hill.
- [00:25:07] Interviewer: You were high school sweethearts, so you've been together how many years?
- [00:25:13] Harold Simons: Married, 53. Together, probably 55-56.
- [00:25:20] Interviewer: That's wonderful. Congratulations.
- [00:25:22] Harold Simons: Thank you.
- [00:25:25] Interviewer: Tell me what it was like when you were dating?
- [00:25:32] Harold Simons: Dating, for us, I'll speak for myself, I was tied up into, of course, thinking about getting into college; how we were going to pay to get into college, if there was an opportunity for a scholarship to go to college, so I gave an awful lot of attention to my athletic career, at least as much there as my education career in high school. It probably helped, as I look back on it, and I tell people this, that I had a long distance dating relationship. It was an opportunity for us, yes, to talk on the phone some, but still, we were not expected to see each other on a regular basis. Therefore, we could concentrate on our immediate area and what we needed to take care of.
- [00:26:34] Interviewer: Tell me about your engagement and wedding.
- [00:26:36] Harold Simons: Well, engagement, I'm, of course, from the old school, I asked her father for her hand and he said, "Yes, you may. You can." We went to a restaurant and I slipped the ring from under the table when we were eating, and I asked her and she said, "Of course." The wedding was a large one up in the City of Albion, up at their Methodist Church. The pastor at that time was Reverend Woods, who also came in pastored at Bethel AME Church here in Ann Arbor afterwards, but he married us up there in 1967 and it was a large wedding reception, it was in their yard, their home, up in that area.
- [00:27:38] Interviewer: It sounds very nice. Reverend Woods married you?
- [00:27:45] Harold Simons: Yes, he did. He was the pastor up at Albion's Methodist Church, Ethel's home base church and he married us, and then sure enough, some years after that, he came down and he was our pastor at Bethel AME Church.
- [00:28:05] Interviewer: When I joined Bethel, he was the pastor there. I always loved Reverend Woods.
- [00:28:10] Harold Simons: Yeah. They've got the street named after him, of course, and the cemetery. He's one of the favorite pastors that we've enjoyed over the years of the many that they've had at Bethel.
- [00:28:25] Interviewer: It's true. Okay. Tell me about your children, and what life was like when they were young and living in the house?
- [00:28:36] Harold Simons: As I said, our daughter is the oldest, Bermecia, and then twin boys, Devon and Duane. We live in a town house on the Southeast side of Ann Arbor, and we've been here for over 45 years also. It's not a very large place. We do have four bedrooms, so it gave everyone an opportunity--the twins had their individual small room, and Bermecia had hers, and of course Ethel and I had ours. Again, it was a community type atmosphere were we had basketball courts actually on the grounds. We had swing sets and playground equipment on the grounds, and a lot of neighborhood kids who would be going to the same school as our kids would. We didn't have to worry, again, you're going over to whose house, you're going to play where, and we knew it would be in the immediate area and we knew their parents. They grew up in a closely knit neighborhood themselves called Colonial Square.
- [00:30:02] Interviewer: I knew your children from Huron High School.
- [00:30:07] Harold Simons: I'm sorry?
- [00:30:08] Interviewer: I said, I knew your children from Huron High School.
- [00:30:13] Harold Simons: Well, I don't want to put you on the spot, but I hope that they did a good job for you.
- [00:30:20] Interviewer: They did. They certainly did.
- [00:30:23] Harold Simons: Good.
- [00:30:25] Interviewer: What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
- [00:30:32] Harold Simons: We especially enjoyed because I was a teacher, the breaks that teachers got; the Christmas break, the spring break, and then the summer break. Any break that we would have, if I was not coaching at that time, we would try to go somewhere, travel together as a family. We ended up going to Cedar Point, I know for a fact, over 15 times during their childhood years. Of course, as I said, with our property that we have out at Wild Goose Lake, there was always the opportunity to go out there and have one of the neighborhood kids join in with us and/or relative who's out there at the same time, and they had a lot of play time out there.
- [00:31:34] Interviewer: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions, you practice that differ from your childhood traditions?
- [00:31:43] Harold Simons: No. None at all.
- [00:31:47] Interviewer: Let's move in to part 4, work and retirement. This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life from the time you enter the labor force or started a family up until the present time. We already talked about your main field of employment. How did you first get started with this particular skill or job?
- [00:32:17] Harold Simons: Again, my college education, my degree was in physical education and recreation with a teaching certificate. So that led me into the field of course of teaching. As I also mentioned, I played four years of basketball at the university and got interested in the coaching aspect of the game. I ended up after graduating becoming a grad assistant right away, and for a year and a half worked on my Master's and coached freshman basketball at Eastern Michigan in the Physical Education Department. That got me started in both teaching and coaching.
- [00:33:08] Interviewer: Was it your love of sports, or what got you interested in your career?
- [00:33:17] Harold Simons: Interest, very high. Confidence, very high. With those two things, it led me to believe that I could be successful at it, and so I continued on it, and I think I was pretty good at both teaching as an educator and teaching as a coach.
- [00:33:39] Interviewer: What was the typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
- [00:33:49] Harold Simons: Well, teaching, I don't have to say too much to you about what's involved with that, but what we're talking about teaching/coaching, so I'm talking probably 8-10 hours per day during the school year, five days a week, on average, and at least 10 months. Coaches do not get the entire summer off, they work part of the summer with their particular sports. It was a lot of time spent, but well spent.
- [00:34:26] Interviewer: You talk about coaching, are you talking one or two sports? Which sports are you talking about in terms of coaching?
- [00:34:34] Harold Simons: Well, the university, as my grad assistant was given to me, I was also asked to be the freshman basketball coach. That was quite the experience because here I am, 21 or 22, and I've got 18-year-olds that I'm coaching. So getting started there as a grad assistant and then moving from there into the high school scene. So I coached basketball for nine years over at Eastern Michigan University. Also I coached golf there for three years, and so I did the same thing at Huron High School. I ended up coaching both basketball at Huron for 20 years, and golf for 22 years over at Huron High School.
- [00:35:35] Interviewer: Are you still involved in golf? Do you play personally at all?
- [00:35:41] Harold Simons: Well, personally, I still try to play.
- [00:35:44] Interviewer: Okay.
- [00:35:51] Harold Simons: Personally, it's a game that if you don't practice, and stay on top of it, and get involved, and play it a couple times a week--if you were a pretty good golfer, and I did play high school golf on the golf team, and so I have a comparison-- I admire the 50- to 60-year-olds that are going out for the first time and they're as enthusiastic as possible, because it's brand new to them and they're excited. I am still excited every time I play the game of golf. But I know that as far as being competitive with it as I once was, that's not the case. But I still enjoy it. I still play it, yes. As far as any relative and/or a family member that wants to do some golf and/or any basketball, or a neighbor or a neighborhood kid, of course, I got to put my 2 cents in when I see them bouncing the basketball or doing something, I will say something to them.
- [00:36:57] Interviewer: That's good. You probably don't remember it, but you actually gave me lessons at one time, and told me in order to get better I needed to play. So I don't know if you remember that.
- [00:37:05] Harold Simons: [OVERLAPPING] I remember. If I remember right, you might have been close to a driving range at or near that time anyway, and you were going to get involved, but you didn't do it, did you?
- [00:37:30] Interviewer: A little. [LAUGHTER] Not the way I should have.
- [00:37:31] Harold Simons: Right. [LAUGHTER].
- [00:37:35] Interviewer: What is the biggest difference in your field of employment from the time you started until now?
- [00:37:47] Harold Simons: The biggest difference, I believe, is technology. Lesson plans for teaching and for subs, coaching plans that I always hand-wrote out. As I see many of those things now with current teachers and/or especially current coaches, they now have the iPad. They now have things diagrammed. They now have drills and things given out to them, swings, golf swings. So I'd have to say technology is the biggest thing that I've seen, that is different than when I was there. It really started coming in at the time that I retired.
- [00:38:38] Interviewer: What do you value most about what you did for a living?
- [00:38:43] Harold Simons: Working with the youth. It helped me stay young. You got to stay young if you want to work with the young folk, [LAUGHTER] they won't let you hang around plus you won't want to hang around. So working with youth. I always did, all the way from my 10th or 11th grade in high school, I worked with youth through it. I stayed with it and ended up teaching of course elementary level a couple years, and then high school, not to mention college. But also, I appreciate the fact that I stayed in the area. I owe the area my contributions that I'm able or willing to give to them because they were willing, and in most cases, able to give it to me. So I wanted to give back to them, and I was able to do that.
- [00:39:43] Interviewer: How did your life change when you and/or your spouse retired and all the children left home?
- [00:39:53] Harold Simons: The wife and I did more traveling. Again, most of it still not out of the States at all. But we did travel more. Then we didn't have much of a life without kids in our household. At the time that our kids went to the community college and shortly thereafter, we ended up starting with grandkids. So our house has always been loaded with little Simonses running around. As we retired, a large part of our retirement has been helping to care for, and to take care, and to advise, and promote our grandkids.
- [00:40:49] Interviewer: Tell me how many grandchildren you have and a little bit about your grandchildren.
- [00:40:56] Harold Simons: We have five granddaughters, we have two grandsons, and we have two great grandsons. Our great grandsons are age two and six, and our oldest two grandchildren, both are 24 years old. We have a 17-year-old grandson, two 15-year-old granddaughters, and two 12-year-old granddaughters. I could break them down by family and with kids if you want.
- [00:41:43] Interviewer: No, that's good. Thank you. So tell me where they live.
- [00:41:49] Harold Simons: Two of them live in Cincinnati, and those are Bermecia's. That's the 17-year-old grandson and the 15-year-old granddaughter, both of them outstanding students and both of them also outstanding athletes. The other ones live in the Saline area and the Chelsea area, and those are with our twin boys, and that's with two daughters at one, and a son and a daughter at the other place.
- [00:42:30] Interviewer: Now you said the twins, Devon and Duane, they have a birthday today?
- [00:42:36] Harold Simons: Yeah. They turned 46 years old today.
- [00:42:41] Interviewer: What are the plans for birthday today?
- [00:42:44] Harold Simons: I'm sorry, did what?
- [00:42:45] Interviewer: What are the plans for their birthday today?
- [00:42:48] Harold Simons: Well, as soon as we're done with the interview, the wife and I are going to give them a call. We know one of them is not working on his birthday. That was a game plan of his, so we got to check [LAUGHTER] and see what he's going to be doing on that. The other one recently ruptured his achilles, working, and so is limping around a little bit so he'll be less active. So we got to see what he's going to be able to do.
- [00:43:29] Interviewer: Great. When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, and how did they personally affect you and your family? [NOISE]
- [00:43:50] Harold Simons: Well, again, probably, it's related to events, unfortunately, are sad, and a couple of them, that would be the passing of my dad in '85, the passing of my father-in-law in 2012. Both of them extremely instrumental, in not only Ethel's and my life, but also the lives of our three children and our grandchildren. You add to them Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. You add to that the Kennedys being shot, both of them. Those were social historical events that had an impact on me, simply because these were people that could have made our country a much better country, if they could have lived longer.
- [00:45:01] Interviewer: Talk to me a little bit, give me your thoughts about what's happening around Black Lives Matter now.
- [00:45:14] Harold Simons: If I can give my personal thoughts, I will, as long as I don't have to include our commander-in-chief in [OVERLAPPING] the way that he feels about Black Lives Matter, so I'll just stay with, it's a movement, it's a protest that everyone can get involved in. It's a right as an American to be able to protest. It's a right to be able to feel that people are being treated unjustly, and I believe that that's the case. I do not necessarily believe that they should defund police departments. However, I really believe that they need to restructure and go over what they have for policies and make sure that they do that with police departments, so that we don't continue along the line that we've been going.
- [00:46:28] Interviewer: You have two sons. Do you have any stories or things to share about when they were growing up?
- [00:46:37] Harold Simons: Two sons. No, I only remember--not my sons. I do remember my brother.
- [00:46:48] Interviewer: Okay.
- [00:46:48] Harold Simons: A couple years older than me, living between State and Glen Ave on Fuller where our homestead is located. Just out in the front yard playing around, and all of a sudden a police car drives up real quick. My brother owned a black leather jacket, and he was out on the sidewalk with another neighborhood kid and had just walked down from the neighborhood's house, and they pulled up and go over and ask him to please come over [LAUGHTER] to the police car. We're standing there with our mouths wide open. We're trying to figure out what in the world is going on. For some reason, I don't know if they thought or pretended, but here's a Black that had a black leather jacket on, and they had to go, they didn't arrest him. But of course, they pulled over, and maybe who knows, if that was what was going on at that time.
- [00:47:56] Interviewer: Okay.
- [00:47:56] Harold Simons: Nothing with the twins, though. Twins avoided things, I'm knocking on wood right now, as they're moving throughout their life. It's a statement that I have made before. It's an observation that I have had all my life. I think, part of that is the fact that we are light complected Blacks, and being light complected Blacks, believe it or not, and I don't have to tell some, that there is the advantage from the standpoint of racism because of the color of the skin. Maybe more so back then than now because of Latinos and what have you that we have. Now, there's a lot of brown skin versus what you would call black. Our family, other than being good people, our family, other than staying out of trouble, had no need for the police to pull us over, unless we were speeding. Maybe, we've had a few speeding tickets. Other than that, they left our household basically alone, as I knock on wood.
- [00:49:34] Interviewer: And certainly that's been a conversation in the Black communities about the color of your skin, whether you're light complected or dark complected. Sometimes, in terms of the treatment, it can certainly be different.
- [00:49:51] Harold Simons: I agree with you. My mother was light complected, passed for white. My dad was Indian looking and Black. You could tell the difference in treatment with them as they were together. The heads would turn. We would go to a lake and y'all are not welcome. As far as applying for positions, applying for jobs back years ago, it was the same situation there. The light complected Black, if I can use the word, had the advantage from the standpoint of perhaps, being shown a little bit more respect than the black Blacks. But at the same time, it's tough on light complected Blacks. I say that because there are also black Blacks that do not like the fact that the light complected Black seems to be shown favoritism. It seems like it, and it is, in a lot of instances. We can get some discrimination on both sides, from the white side of the community and from the black Black side of the community if you are somewhere in the middle. There's a little animosity from that standpoint. But hey, that's life, and we've learned to live with it.
- [00:51:38] Interviewer: I would agree for your statement about that. You get caught in the middle. Certainly, I'm aware of that as well. We're going to move into part 5, which is the last part: historical social events. Tell me how it has been for you to live in this community.
- [00:52:01] Harold Simons: Great. A large part of that, again, is because we have a lot of family and a lot of familiar faces and friends. Being here all our lives and my parents being here all their lives, we're known in the community, particularly the older community. It's always nice to go--well we're not doing it with pandemic--but it's always nice to go somewhere and you don't get very far. I think the field of teaching, and maybe you would agree, it helps too. There's generally and always somebody is saying, ''Hi" to you, and ''How are you,'' and ''How's your day going'' and that type of thing. It's been great living in this community.
- [00:52:54] Interviewer: I would agree with that. Even wearing a mask people recognize me, and say, ''Hi.'' [LAUGHTER] When thinking back on your entire life, what important sociohistorical events had the greatest impact. You might have answered that already, but if not, you can add to it.
- [00:53:15] Harold Simons: I answered that with the passing of my dad was first, and then my father-in-law and the Kennedys, and Martin Luther King Junior. Important people, important figure heads to me, and those were the people.
- [00:53:34] Interviewer: When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [00:53:45] Harold Simons: Well, being a good father, a good husband, a good son, and a good brother to my one brother, a good teacher/coach, a good athlete. Overall, generally speaking, I would say that I think I'm a good person.
- [00:54:11] Interviewer: Great answer. What would you say has changed the most from the time you were a young person to now?
- [00:54:25] Harold Simons: Well, definitely the expansion of the University of Michigan. With the land grants and the property that they hold down and the size of their university. Downtown housing boom. Now we're talking about high rises down in Ann Arbor, which is very unique as I move throughout the city to see that type of thing. And we've mentioned, and it continues on, of course, is technology. It has certainly changed and it continues to change. Also, right now, it reminds me a little bit about, although I didn't experience a great deal of it back in the late '60s, but you brought it up with Black Lives Matter and not having equality, but the recent hostility of our nation, period. Just the way that--I'm looking at too much news, I guess, just to see how people are treating each other. No respect and actually a hostile environment. Of course, something that's also new is our pandemic.
- [00:56:06] Interviewer: In terms of the younger generation, what advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [00:56:18] Harold Simons: Well, I'd like to see them and maybe they're doing a better job than we did back in the day. But I'd like to see them cross racial barriers. I'd like for them to try to learn something and find out something about somebody, someone else other than their particular race. If they would just go ahead and make an effort to do that, I think they'd find out that we do, in fact, really have a lot in common. We are all in this thing, whatever this thing is, together. We might as well get the act together and try to get it there. Another thing I think I'd love to see, and I'm talking about my grandkids too, is to cut back on youngsters' technology time allotment. I have a difficult time calling my kids who will not answer the phone because they're getting texts from their mother. This text thing that's going on and the iPad that's going on, I know that it's needed, I know that it will be the thing in the future and still is right now. But I really sense that there's a loss in communication. When I say, cross racial barriers, I mean communicating. I'm talking about eye to eye contact. I'm not talking about pressing some buttons and trying to get something over text. I really would like to see kids get back outdoors. If some of the old neighborhood stuff could come out, and I know there are still little kids living next door to each other and down the street from each other, and they've got to be safer than perhaps we did back in our day because the way life is. But I really would like to see them get away from sitting in the house and looking at a screen. I do, in fact, tell my grandkids that and sometimes I get a positive reaction and sometimes I don't. I would tell the younger generation, as I tell everybody try to treat others as you want to be treated. Just treat somebody the way you want to be treated. Now, maybe that's different today than it was back in the day, but that's still something I want the youngsters to do. And, don't forget, I don't know what you mean by youngsters, but let's vote so I would want them to vote too. [NOISE]
- [00:59:01] Interviewer: I would agree. That's great advice, Harold. That was the last question. I want to give you an opportunity for any final thoughts that you might like to say or share.
- [00:59:14] Harold Simons: No. Just that I want to thank the AACHM, and of course to you Joyce, and of course to Joetta if she is still around. I appreciate the fact that you're considering the Simons' household and gave me a call.
- [00:59:35] Interviewer: Well, thank you, Harold. I really enjoyed interviewing you today. Thank you very much.
September 17, 2020
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