AACHM Oral History: Sharon Gillespie
Wed, 09/22/2021 - 10:53am
When: August 10, 2021
Sharon Gillespie was born in 1945 and raised by her grandmother in Oklahoma before moving to Ann Arbor with her mother at age nine. She remembers redlining in Ann Arbor and the breakup of the historically Black neighborhood she grew up in. She helped raise two younger sisters while her mother attended ophthalmology school at the University of Michigan. Gillespie excelled in her career as a typesetter at local businesses. After retiring, she has been active in volunteering at homeless shelters and hospice programs. She was married to Raymond Gillespie for 21 years.
Additional comments from Sharon Gillespie:
"We no longer have neighborhoods, how sad that gentrification destroyed our neighborhoods.
We have no meeting place, they took away Ann Street, Riverside Park, Island Park, etc.
We lost the Ann Arbor Community Center and the only thing we have left to call our own is the Elks and that is becoming iffy.
We don't have any substantial black businesses here.
Our youth don't have that family familiarity that we had growing up and don't seem to care.
The old neighborhood picnic is going down hill and young people won't step up to keep it going."
- [00:00:15] JOYCE HUNTER: Good afternoon, Sharon.
- [00:00:17] SHARON GILLESPIE: Good afternoon.
- [00:00:18] JOYCE HUNTER: First of all, I want to say thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for this Living Oral History Project. So excited, so thank you.
- [00:00:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: You're quite welcome. I'm a little nervous.
- [00:00:31] JOYCE HUNTER: You'll be fine.
- [00:00:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay.
- [00:00:34] JOYCE HUNTER: Part 1 is demographics and family history.
- [00:00:37] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay.
- [00:00:38] JOYCE HUNTER: 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.
- [00:00:50] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay.
- [00:00:50] JOYCE HUNTER: We can go into more detail later in the interview.
- [00:00:53] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay.
- [00:00:54] JOYCE HUNTER: Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:57] SHARON GILLESPIE: Sharon, S-H-A-R-O-N. Gillespie, G-I-L-L-E-S-P-I-E.
- [00:01:10] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your date of birth including the year?
- [00:01:12] SHARON GILLESPIE: December 19th, 1945.
- [00:01:18] JOYCE HUNTER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
- [00:01:22] SHARON GILLESPIE: African-American.
- [00:01:25] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your religion?
- [00:01:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: Baptist.
- [00:01:29] JOYCE HUNTER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:01:34] SHARON GILLESPIE: I completed high school, but I also went to trade school, I guess you'd call it. IBM school. Learning how to do typesetting.
- [00:01:49] JOYCE HUNTER: What is your marital status?
- [00:01:51] SHARON GILLESPIE: I am a widow.
- [00:01:54] JOYCE HUNTER: How many children do you have?
- [00:01:57] SHARON GILLESPIE: I had one son but I lost him a few years back to cancer.
- [00:02:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Sorry to hear that. How many siblings do you have?
- [00:02:08] SHARON GILLESPIE: I have two sisters.
- [00:02:13] JOYCE HUNTER: What was your primary occupation?
- [00:02:17] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay. Typesetter, administrative assistant, secretary, all that.
- [00:02:24] SHARON GILLESPIE: At what age did you retire?
- [00:02:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: I retired at 62 although I kept working part-time.
- [00:02:33] JOYCE HUNTER: So you didn't really retire at that time?
- [00:02:35] SHARON GILLESPIE: No.
- [00:02:39] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. We're going to move into part two.
- [00:02:42] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay.
- [00:02:42] JOYCE HUNTER: Which is memories of childhood and youth. What was your family like when you were a child?
- [00:02:52] SHARON GILLESPIE: I was raised by my grandmother in Oklahoma. My mother and father split up right after I was born, so my mother took me to my grandmother because she could not raise me by herself so she took me to her mother who coincidentally had just had a baby herself. So my grandmother raised me and her baby, which is my aunt, as twins. We're the same age. At that time, we lived in Watonga, Oklahoma. When I was seven, we moved to Lawton, Oklahoma. Then when I was nine, my mother came and got me from my grandmother and brought me here to Michigan. But my home life with my grandmother was fantastic. She gave me the spiritual foundation that I needed. She gave me all the love and encouragement that I needed. She built a great foundation for me.
- [00:04:00] JOYCE HUNTER: That's great. I was going to ask you about being raised as twins, how did that work out?
- [00:04:08] SHARON GILLESPIE: It was wonderful. Even though we looked nothing alike, my grandmother always dressed us alike. People thought we were twins because we were the same age and with my grandmother dressing us alike people thought we were twins. Even when I go home now, my aunt down there, people still ask her, "Whatever happened to your twin sister?" [LAUGHTER].
- [00:04:32] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. So that was different to be raised that way. You weren't actually twins but the same age and your mother's and grandmother's child.
- [00:04:43] SHARON GILLESPIE: My mother was the oldest of eight children.
- [00:04:47] JOYCE HUNTER: Oh, wow. You came here at age nine?
- [00:04:51] SHARON GILLESPIE: I came here at age nine. Yes.
- [00:04:54] JOYCE HUNTER: So you've been in Ann Arbor / Ypsi area ever since you were nine?
- [00:04:58] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah, from nine years old to now. I'm 75.
- [00:05:01] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:05:03] SHARON GILLESPIE: But I still call Oklahoma my home, believe it or not. I still say Oklahoma is home. I go back to Oklahoma every year for visiting, family gatherings, and so forth.
- [00:05:16] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. When you leave Oklahoma to come back to Ann Arbor, what do you say?
- [00:05:23] SHARON GILLESPIE: I'm sorry. I don't understand.
- [00:05:24] JOYCE HUNTER: So you said when you go to Oklahoma, you call that going home. Once you leave Oklahoma to return to Ann Arbor what do you say?
- [00:05:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: I guess I'm going home again. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:05:38] JOYCE HUNTER: That was the point I was making.
- [00:05:40] SHARON GILLESPIE: I guess I call both of them home.
- [00:05:42] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Let me go back. What was your family like when you were a child? You have already talked about that in terms of the way your grandmother raised you?
- [00:05:55] SHARON GILLESPIE: Again, I thought I had a great life with my grandmother and my grandfather. I guess just typical family life. We were very poor, of course. We lived on a farm. There are many times when we had questionable time, didn't have food to eat and so forth in the '40s, and it was very rough. My grandmother, who had previously been a school teacher, after she had all those children, she became a housekeeper and my grandfather got whatever job he could, working in the fields. We picked cotton as a family when I was five and six years old. Everybody was expected to do their part so I was out there picking cotton at five and six and seven years old with the rest of the family and we just did our best.
- [00:06:52] JOYCE HUNTER: So tell me a little bit about picking cotton. What was this schedule like in terms of starting your day and going out in the fields or whatever?
- [00:07:03] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay. When we were in Lawton at that point picking cotton, trucks would come by, up and down the street asking for people, just calling out for people to come. We'd run and jump on a truck and it would be early in the morning because Oklahoma was very, very hot. I remember we would take something like biscuit sandwiches for lunch or a can of pork and beans. I remember that I loved so much. But usually it was just a biscuit, period. A biscuit maybe swiped in some bacon grease. We would be there all day. Now because we were young, me and Kay, that's my aunt, the one that's my age, we would just pick what we could, but the older members of the family were expected to pick a certain amount of pounds each day. You had to get those pounds in. It was very hot, I guess being raised in Oklahoma we were used to heat because we'd be out there in 100-degree temperatures picking cotton all day then come home and get my quarter. I was so excited to get that quarter on Fridays so we'd go to the movies.
- [00:08:23] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. You got a quarter for the whole week?
- [00:08:26] SHARON GILLESPIE: It would depend on how much we had. We had to pick as a family so all the money went to the family. But on Fridays or weekends, we would get a quarter. Then we can catch the bus and go to town to see a movie.
- [00:08:49] JOYCE HUNTER: All of that for a quarter?
- [00:08:51] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, ma'am. That was a lot to me, we thought we had something. We were excited to get that quarter. You could buy a lot for a quarter then, of course.
- [00:09:01] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [00:09:01] SHARON GILLESPIE: [OVERLAPPING] It was segregated so when we'd catch the bus, to the back, of course, and get downtown, we'd go to the movies. And it was down the alley up some back steps because the Blacks would sit upstairs and the whites would be downstairs and there'd be a big glass partition between us upstairs and the white people downstairs. Also the Indians. The Indians would have to sit with us.
- [00:09:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Is that the native Indians or?
- [00:09:31] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, ma'am. Native Indians. Oklahoma was full Indians so the Indians and the Blacks kind of hung together because they were segregated against the white, just like we were.
- [00:09:48] JOYCE HUNTER: As a child, did you give much thought to the fact that you were sitting in a different area when you got to the theater?
- [00:09:58] SHARON GILLESPIE: No, I did not because it was life, it was normal. That was it. We knew nothing about segregation. That was just not life. Schools were totally segregated. We had a school for Blacks, a school for Indians, and a school for whites.
- [00:10:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:10:21] SHARON GILLESPIE: When I came to Michigan, it was a total shock to come from total segregation to, all of a sudden, I'm going to school with white kids and I got white teachers. [NOISE] It was culture shock.
- [00:10:38] JOYCE HUNTER: That was quite an adjustment for you?
- [00:10:40] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, it was.
- [00:10:44] JOYCE HUNTER: I'm going to come back to more about that in a second, but were there any special days or events or family traditions you remember from your childhood?
- [00:10:54] SHARON GILLESPIE: All I remember is church, Ms. Hunter. We went to church [LAUGHTER] all the time. On Sundays we would be in church all day long. Other than that, we didn't do much. Everything was centered around the church. Any kind of parties, Christmas, anything, was always at the church. We went to church for everything.
- [00:11:24] JOYCE HUNTER: Since you were there all day.
- [00:11:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: On Sundays, go to Sunday School at nine o'clock and then church service from 11:00 to 1:00 or 2:00, whatever. We'd go home and eat dinner. Sometimes we'd eat at the church, but most of the time we'd go home and eat dinner, then back to the church for three o'clock afternoon service. Then at five o'clock it was BYPU Baptist Young People's Training Union at 5:00 or 6:00 and then night service from 7:00 to 9:00.
- [00:11:59] JOYCE HUNTER: That was a lot of church, right?
- [00:12:01] SHARON GILLESPIE: A lot of church. [LAUGHTER] I didn't like it then, but I thank God for it now. [LAUGHTER] Thank God for that foundation.
- [00:12:09] JOYCE HUNTER: As a member of the church growing up, were you in the choir or usher board, or what did you do in terms of participation?
- [00:12:19] SHARON GILLESPIE: Everything. My grandmother put us in everything. Every program, we had to be in a speech, we sung in the choir. I did not usher though, but I remember singing in the children's choir. No, we didn't usher I guess choir was the main activity that we had.
- [00:12:38] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:12:39] SHARON GILLESPIE: But Vacation Bible School, I can remember, at seven and eight years old, we had to learn all the books of the Bible. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:12:52] JOYCE HUNTER: Had to memorize them?
- [00:12:53] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:12:59] JOYCE HUNTER: That was a Baptist Church as well, when you were still in Oklahoma?
- [00:13:02] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:13:06] JOYCE HUNTER: Now, you started to talk about your schooling in Oklahoma versus when you got to the Ann Arbor area. Let's talk about that a little bit more. When you were in Oklahoma that was predominantly Black students you were going to school with?
- [00:13:21] SHARON GILLESPIE: All Black. Let me back up. When we were still in Watanga, I went to a one-room schoolhouse. That school went from 1st grade to 8th grade. We didn't know anything about what kindergarten was. [LAUGHTER] It was 1st grade to 8th grade. I believe it was like 25, maybe 30 students in the entire school. The one teacher would teach everybody. He'd call us to the front. I remember doing two [GESTURES]--2nd and 3rd grade in the same year because the teacher being there like that, he just moved us along at our own pace. He just took us along. By the time I moved to Lawton at seven years old, I was in the 4th grade.
- [00:14:10] JOYCE HUNTER: That's Lawton here in Ann Arbor?
- [00:14:12] SHARON GILLESPIE: No. Lawton, Oklahoma.
- [00:14:14] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. I'm thinking about Lawton school here in Ann Arbor.
- [00:14:18] SHARON GILLESPIE: No, that was a town. Lawton, Oklahoma. I was there for 4th and 5th grade. Then by the time I came to Michigan, I was nine years old and in the 6th grade.
- [00:14:30] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Tell me a little bit about that initial experience coming here and going to the 6th grade.
- [00:14:36] SHARON GILLESPIE: First of all, of course, being nine years old, the school system when my mother took me to enroll, they weree very upset that I was nine years old in the 6th grade, so they wanted to put me back in the 4th grade. They said I was too young to be in the 6th grade. Of course, my mother who loves a good fight would not stand for that and she fought the school and the board and everybody else, and said, "As long as she can do the work, you will not put her back." I was pretty much on trial. My mother got me home and said, "Okay, I bragged on you. [LAUGHTER] You better do it." I did, as a matter of fact, I was more advanced. For some reason the schools down South--I don't know if it's true now--were more advanced. When I came here and in 6th grade, it was stuff that I basically already knew.
- [00:15:35] JOYCE HUNTER: Good for your mother.
- [00:15:38] SHARON GILLESPIE: I was a little intimidated because of the white teacher. I was very intimidated because I hadn't been around white people, so I was a little intimidated, but not so much the students, but definitely by the teachers, the grown people. I was very intimidated. But I did the work and I stayed in the 6th grade. My mother wouldn't have had it any other way.
- [00:16:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Good for her. You said you were intimidated by the teachers. Was that because of their interaction with you, or just by the very nature that they were Caucasian?
- [00:16:12] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes. That's it. I was afraid of white people. Growing up, being taught how to act around white people. We weren't really around that many. But for our life's sake and whatever you're taught from a young age, how we're supposed to act around white people to make sure that we stay alive and stay healthy. "Yes, sir, no, sir, " and keep your head down. Don't look them in the face, that kind of thing. That was how I was raised. When I came here, I didn't have to do that, but I would still do it. I couldn't look them in the face. It was a long time before I could feel any comfort back and forth with the white teachers.
- [00:16:56] JOYCE HUNTER: I understand that. Now, how was the interaction with the students?
- [00:17:02] SHARON GILLESPIE: The interaction with the students, actually, it was very easy once I got in there and got used to it. They were just kids. [NOISE] I had no problem with the students.
- [00:17:15] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:17:15] SHARON GILLESPIE: Even in the neighborhood, even though I was on the Old West Side and it was predominantly Black, there were some white kids over there. I just learned to get along with them and I had no problem whatsoever with the students.
- [00:17:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Now, let's talk a little bit about the neighborhood. You said you grew up on the Old West Side?
- [00:17:41] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, ma'am.
- [00:17:43] JOYCE HUNTER: Name some of the streets.
- [00:17:45] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay. When I first came here to live with my mother and stepfather, I lived on Summit Street. To me, Summit Street was home, is home, always will be home. [LAUGHTER] That's another home. [LAUGHTER] From Main Street to Gott Street was our side of town. Although there were a few whites, it was still predominantly Black. It was Main Street, Summit Street, Gott Street, there were a lot of Blacks on Gott street. Gott, Miner, Fountain, Spring, all up and down there. But my main concentration was Summit Street. I came here, there was a lot of kids on Summit Street that I grew up with and just still friends with; 60, 70 years later we're still best of friends.
- [00:18:41] JOYCE HUNTER: That's awesome.
- [00:18:45] SHARON GILLESPIE: It seems like no matter where I went when I moved either as a child or as a grown person, I would always end up back on Summit Street. I've lived on Summit Street about six or seven times [LAUGHTER] at different times in my life. When I drive down Summit Street, I just get a feeling of comfort and home. It's just like [GESTURES], that's home to me always.
- [00:19:10] JOYCE HUNTER: Like you said, that's a third home, right?
- [00:19:12] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah. I know I've got a lot of homes. [LAUGHTER].
- [00:19:14] JOYCE HUNTER: I want to go to the Ann Arbor Observer article for a minute and then I'll come back to our questions. But in it you make a statement. The federal government caught up several years later. Over the decades most Black residents moved away or passed. You talked about, the irony of it is that the end of segregation freed the neighborhood and killed it. "You gain something and you lose something." Say more about that.
- [00:19:58] SHARON GILLESPIE: This is just my point of view. Now, I don't know if this is what really happened. But because of the redlining in Ann Arbor all the Black people had pockets. Different pockets all over the town where Black people could live. Now, on that side of town, the Fourth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Summit Street--when, I want to say, the Black people start moving on up, they wanted to move out to the suburbs where we used to couldn't live. So they started moving out and then the white people start buying up the area over there. We moved out to what we thought we were moving on up and white people came in and just took over our neighborhood. It's not our neighborhood anymore. Most of the Blacks have gone from there. It's hardly any Black people on that side of town anymore.
- [00:20:56] JOYCE HUNTER: Some people don't realize that that was predominantly Black at one time. Some people don't think it was but, in fact, it was.
- [00:21:05] SHARON GILLESPIE: It was. There's the white people that live there gave them the name of Water Hill. Every time I hear that someone just goes through me. [LAUGHTER] I know that's a personal thing, but I can't stand to hear that Water Hill. It is Old West Side and it always will be for me. But they came in and they started building houses and big, tall houses and it didn't even look like a neighborhood anymore.
- [00:21:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Say a little bit more. I know you don't like to hear the word, but say a little bit more about the name Water Hill.
- [00:21:34] SHARON GILLESPIE: I understand that some man came up with that and I understand that it was named Water Hill because of the hills over there and the streets like Spring Street, Fountain Street, Brooks Street, somehow that had something to do with it. I also heard that there was some little brook or something that ran underneath the streets years ago. This is just what I heard, the reason it was named that. I have no idea if that's really true or not, but this is what I read.
- [00:22:13] JOYCE HUNTER: In the Ann Arbor Observer article, you referenced Water Hill as well. I'm glad to hear you, as we talked about the neighborhood, that you started to name the streets that were in that area that were predominantly Black. That will be good to have that recorded.
- [00:22:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: Right. We had little pockets like I said, Fourth Ave, Fifth Ave, Beakes, and then of course the Summit area I mentioned, and then there was across the bridge, Wall Street. There was Fuller and Glen. There was the Woodlawn area, just little pockets all over. Greene and Davis area. Everybody knew all the Black neighborhoods, the little pockets.
- [00:23:03] JOYCE HUNTER: One of the ones that we focused on is that neighborhood around Kerrytown and you really have information about those areas that were predominately Black.
- [00:23:16] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah. Fourth Ave and Fifth Ave, right in that area.
- [00:23:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah.
- [00:23:21] SHARON GILLESPIE: I lived there. When I'm naming these places as I said we moved around a lot, so I lived in all these little areas just about done growing up.
- [00:23:35] JOYCE HUNTER: This might have been before your time, but some of the interviews we've done talk about the Black business district that Fourth and Ann had a lot of Black businesses and maybe that was prior to your time.
- [00:23:46] SHARON GILLESPIE: Some of it was before my time. But the Ann Street area wasn't because I would hang out down there at the bars in later years. But yes, when I first came here, that was still a predominantly Black area down there, that little L-shape: Fourth Avenue, Ann Street, all Black businesses.
- [00:24:07] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:24:08] SHARON GILLESPIE: Barbershops, beauty shops, that was all I was allowed to go to, of course, at that time. [LAUGHTER] There was a restaurant there, a shoe repair shop.
- [00:24:23] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. That moves me right into another set of questions in terms of restaurants and hotels where Blacks could or could not go. How was that handled by your family?
- [00:24:40] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, we didn't really try to go too many places, but we just knew where we were welcome and where we weren't welcome. Even though maybe by law they said we could go, but we knew we weren't welcome, so we didn't go.
- [00:24:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:24:57] SHARON GILLESPIE: I can remember a few years back a class reunion they wanted to have out at the Ann Arbor Country Club on Packard. I said, "Oh no, we can't have it there because Blacks don't go there." Of course, my white classmate was like, "Well, we're not segregated anymore." I said, "I know it, but we're not welcome there, so no, I will not go to the club out there." We knew where we were--the women's club, and just different places around town that we knew we weren't welcome. We didn't try to force it at that time.
- [00:25:39] JOYCE HUNTER: I have someone who told me that years ago. We were having an event there and she said the same thing that she would not come there because when she was growing up she wasn't welcome. I couldn't get her to buy a ticket.
- [00:25:54] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, I go there now. Of course, it's open. A few years back, no. Even though it was open to us, I didn't want to go there.
- [00:26:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:26:03] SHARON GILLESPIE: You don't want to go anywhere where you feel uncomfortable. I wasn't the fighting kind. I so much admire all the people that sat at counters and all that, but I just let it go. If I'm not welcome, I'm not going.
- [00:26:19] JOYCE HUNTER: Talk to me a little bit about school. You talked about Oklahoma. You started talking about here. Let's talk about who your teachers were here. You said they were predominantly white. Did you have any Black teachers?
- [00:26:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: I did not have any Black teachers until I got to high school, Ann Arbor High. I think we only had three Black teachers in the whole school if I remember correctly. But I had a history teacher, Mr. Wilson, I remember. But that's the only Black teacher I ever had when I was in school.
- [00:26:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Did you ever give that any thought at all or it was just the way it was?
- [00:27:00] SHARON GILLESPIE: Just the way it was. Just never really thought about it. As I said, we went to school, we intermingled with the white kids at school or whatever we had to do with classes and gym and all. Then at the end of the day, you go back to your side of town and they go back to theirs. Just the way it was. I just never really gave it a lot of thought.
- [00:27:23] JOYCE HUNTER: After school, I know you said you spent a lot of time in church, but what did you do socially after school and where did you do it?
- [00:27:31] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, unfortunately, I wasn't able to do much of anything after school because my mother and stepfather had separated and I had two younger sisters. Paulette was 10 years younger. When I came up here at nine, Paulette was born when I was 10 and Jeanette was born when I was 12. At that time my mother and stepfather went their separate ways, so I was left to take care of the children. After school, I had to rush, take care of the kids because my mother worked nights. She had to work nights and be home with the kids during the day. After school, the kids were my responsibility. At the age of 12, I was pretty much running the household. I did the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning because shortly after that my mother went back to school, she went to nursing school. She would go to school during the day and work at night. I had to take the responsibility of taking care of the house. So after school, I couldn't do anything but get home and take care of the kids.
- [00:28:41] JOYCE HUNTER: Let me ask you about your mother's employment. She sounds like she was quite the woman, so she was working and going to school?
- [00:28:52] SHARON GILLESPIE: She did. Of course, at that time being young and selfish, I didn't realize how hard it was for her being a single parent trying to raise three children and trying to go to school and work at the same time. There were many mornings I got up to go to school and she'd still be sitting at the kitchen table having studied all night long. She was an amazing woman.
- [00:29:15] JOYCE HUNTER: I was going to say amazing.
- [00:29:20] SHARON GILLESPIE: As I was graduating from high school, she was graduating from nursing school.
- [00:29:24] JOYCE HUNTER: That's wonderful. What a story. I was going to ask you, what was the field that she went into.
- [00:29:29] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah, nursing.
- [00:29:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Where did she actually get employed at after she got her nursing?
- [00:29:36] SHARON GILLESPIE: At the university. She was working at the university anyway as a nurse's aide. After schooling, of course, she went right back to the university, worked there for many years. She worked at the University of Michigan.
- [00:29:51] JOYCE HUNTER: Wow. Isn't that something? Really something. Let me go back to you running the house at 12.
- [00:29:59] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, ma'am.
- [00:30:00] JOYCE HUNTER: So you grocery shopped and you cooked?
- [00:30:02] SHARON GILLESPIE: I did it all. [OVERLAPPING] It just felt natural.
- [00:30:08] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:30:09] SHARON GILLESPIE: When I look right now, I say I can't imagine a 12-year-old kid nowadays taking care of two babies and running a household.
- [00:30:17] JOYCE HUNTER: I was just thinking that. [LAUGHTER] I'm curious what kind of stuff did you cook, do you remember?
- [00:30:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, the basic stuff, that was how I learned how to cook. My mother would, what I didn't know, she would leave a note: "Okay, make some tuna casserole tonight. Do this, this, and this. Or fry--" I knew how to fry food and that stuff. Usually she would leave a note of what she wanted me to cook and how to cook it until I learned how to do it all.
- [00:30:49] JOYCE HUNTER: Are you an excellent cook now?
- [00:30:52] SHARON GILLESPIE: I hate cooking. [LAUGHTER] Both of my younger sisters love cooking. One of my sisters does catering. I stay out of the kitchen, and now that I don't have a husband anymore, I don't have a reason to go into the kitchen. [LAUGHTER].
- [00:31:12] JOYCE HUNTER: I love it. We're going to move into part three now, adulthood, marriage and family life.
- [00:31:21] SHARON GILLESPIE: Wait, let me mention something about school. When I was in Oklahoma, teachers were allowed to spank you.
- [00:31:27] JOYCE HUNTER: Tell us about that.
- [00:31:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, and I think that's another reason why we knew so much because if you failed the test, if you didn't get something right, you would get spanked by the teacher, a ruler or a strap or if you were really bad at something, you get sent to the principal's office and the principal would whip you. We learned to get our lessons because we knew if we didn't, we'd get a whipping at school and another one when we got home for getting one at school. We learned how to do our work, we learned how to study, and that brought me a long way, actually learning that. I think that's one of the reasons why I was a little bit more advanced than the six graders here because the stuff we learned down there, they were just learning up here.
- [00:32:23] JOYCE HUNTER: One of our questions was, and you just answered this, what about your school experience is different from school as you know it today, so you just answered that question. [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:32:37] SHARON GILLESPIE: And also down there, Oklahoma is the Bible Belt, so everything was Christian-related. We would go to school, we'd have devotion, we'd have to sing and pray and do all that before, and then pledge allegiance, then we'd do class. But we had to sing a hymn first, then we'd say a prayer, then we'd do the pledge of allegiance. That was every morning, we had to do that, and the teachers that we had at school were the same teachers we had at church, so my teacher at school might be my Sunday school teacher at church. I remember that the principal at our school, Douglass Elementary, he was also the superintendent to the Sunday school at my church. Everybody knew everybody, everything was a family. And as you well know, everybody was allowed to whip you if you got out of line.
- [00:33:33] JOYCE HUNTER: That's true.
- [00:33:34] SHARON GILLESPIE: I also had that kind of family feeling when I came to Michigan on Summit Street. The friends that we had, every parent up and down that street, although they didn't whip us, but they could tell us what to do and we'd better do it, and if they saw us out of line, they had no problem correcting us and we'd better do what they say or else.
- [00:34:01] JOYCE HUNTER: I've heard a number of people we interviewed said that the neighbors could actually tell you what to do and if it didn't happen, they would call your parents and let them know what was going on.
- [00:34:14] SHARON GILLESPIE: That's true, takes a village. I didn't know that expression then, but it sure did. And we had one lady, and I mentioned it in the article, Mrs. Arnold. She would make all of us kids come to Bible study. She'd grab us and pull us in her house and we'd do Bible study. And we would be like, "We don't want to," but we knew we had to. She took care of us, she trained, I mean, in that way. Bible class once a week, all the kids in the neighborhood. We got grown and moved away. Many years back, she decided to have a reunion, and all of us kids if we're from Summit Street, came to her house and we had a fantastic reunion. And from that point on we met every year and we still meet once a year, all of us Summit Street kids.
- [00:35:05] JOYCE HUNTER: Who's organizing that now?
- [00:35:06] SHARON GILLESPIE: Right now, after Mrs. Arnold died, we were discussing and decided to keep going with it. We have a young person, well, I'm calling him young because he's [INAUDIBLE]. His name is Charles Larkin. We call him Butch, but he's Charles Larkin, and he lived there on Summit Street and he's the one that organizes us every year to meet for luncheon. Last year we couldn't because of the pandemic; this year we're hedging as to whether we're going to really come together or not because of the rise in the numbers.
- [00:35:41] JOYCE HUNTER: When you met over the years, did you meet in somebody's backyard, did you meet at a restaurant? [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:35:47] SHARON GILLESPIE: As long as Mrs. Arnold was alive, we'd meet at her house, everybody would bring a dish and we'd just have fun. Now we meet at a restaurant every year.
- [00:35:57] JOYCE HUNTER: I hope you're taking photos when you meet.
- [00:36:00] SHARON GILLESPIE: We have a photo for every year. Yes, ma'am.
- [00:36:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay, very good. At some point it would be nice to share those.
- [00:36:08] SHARON GILLESPIE: And one year, Ann Arbor News heard about us and they came and did an article on us. They came and took pictures of us at Mrs. Arnold's house, yes.
- [00:36:18] JOYCE HUNTER: We'll have to search the archives. I'll have the district library search their archives for that picture.
- [00:36:25] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay, I have copy of it somewhere too, so I'll try to see if I can get it and get the dates off of it at least.
- [00:36:31] JOYCE HUNTER: That will be great because we've connected the interviews to our digital collection, which means there's pictures and things that go along with the interview.
- [00:36:40] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:36:40] JOYCE HUNTER: Thank you for [OVERLAPPING].
- [00:36:42] SHARON GILLESPIE: We've lost several throughout the years, I lost many friends.
- [00:36:48] JOYCE HUNTER: You also mentioned early on that when you came here and you were attending Sunday school that you had Mr. Mial as your Sunday school teacher. [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:37:03] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah, it seems like he was maybe even a Sunday school superintendent, I'm not sure, but I know he was there.
- [00:37:09] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:37:11] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:37:11] JOYCE HUNTER: Well, his wife has joined us so she's listening now. [OVERLAPPING]
- [00:37:16] SHARON GILLESPIE: [OVERLAPPING] Hi, Mrs. Mial.
- [00:37:17] JOYCE HUNTER: I wanted to share that you brought that up.
- [00:37:20] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, I remember him very well.
- [00:37:22] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Several people-- [OVERLAPPING].
- [00:37:24] SHARON GILLESPIE: I didn't go to Jones School so I never had him as a teacher, but I certainly had him at church.
- [00:37:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay, very good. Now we're going to move into part three, adulthood, marriage and family life.
- [00:37:38] SHARON GILLESPIE: Oh, Lordy.
- [00:37:38] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:37:45] SHARON GILLESPIE: Listen. When I graduated high school, I was 16 years old. I got pregnant and got married, so by the time I was 17, I had a husband and a son. We lived on Ashley Street for a year. That marriage didn't last. [LAUGHTER] Well, when I was married to him, I lived on Ashley Street almost right downtown. Right up away from downtown, South Ashley. When I first got married, there's this place on, it was on Detroit Street, I can't think of her name right now, who was the landlord. But every young person ended up living in that house at one time or another. Big brick building right there on the corner of Detroit and Kingsley. It'll come to me. Anyway, yeah, we lived in various places after that, Ashley, Liberty, all over actually, and went through a couple of really bad marriages. That's about it. I didn't have a very good married life. I'll say that. I made bad choices for husbands. But I stayed with that one son, I never had any more children, thank God. If I had a child for every husband, I'd have a house full of kids. My husband, the one that died, the one I was with for 21 years, he was my fourth husband. Young. By the time I was 25, I was on my third marriage.
- [00:39:55] JOYCE HUNTER: If it didn't work, you just decided to move on?
- [00:39:59] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes. I didn't stay to see what might happen later because they were abusive.
- [00:40:06] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:40:07] SHARON GILLESPIE: No, I didn't stay for that. I stayed single a long time, and then Raymond Gillespie, when I married him, we were together for 21 years before he passed.
- [00:40:20] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. That one did last then.
- [00:40:23] SHARON GILLESPIE: That one lasted. That was the real one. That one God gave to me, the other ones I chose for myself. But I let God choose that one.
- [00:40:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:40:36] SHARON GILLESPIE: But you know what? Again, part of the thing is when I was younger, [NOISE] it seems like you're supposed to have a husband. So [LAUGHTER] I kept getting them. [LAUGHTER] I would divorce and then go with somebody else. It just seemed like society or my friends or somebody was saying, this the way it's supposed to go. You're supposed to have a husband. So I would get married, and it didn't work and so I'd leave that one alone and get with somebody else. You know that expression, they have now, "Just say no?" I didn't know how to say no, [LAUGHTER] so when they said, "You want to get married?" I said, "Okay, I'll get married." But again, I was young.
- [00:41:21] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [00:41:22] SHARON GILLESPIE: When you're 25 years old and on your third marriage, something's wrong. [OVERLAPPING] I did not get married again till I was 40 years old. When I married Raymond, I was 40.
- [00:41:37] JOYCE HUNTER: That was a good age for it.
- [00:41:39] SHARON GILLESPIE: It was. I had learned a lot. He had learned a lot. We were perfect for each other. It was a perfect marriage.
- [00:41:48] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. That's wonderful. Well you can certainly say you had that one [OVERLAPPING].
- [00:41:52] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:41:53] JOYCE HUNTER: Now, during that time when you were married, did you still stay pretty much in the same area? Or did you--
- [00:42:06] SHARON GILLESPIE: I stayed in Ann Arbor but, well, I did live in Ypsi one time for a while. But basically different areas in Ann Arbor.
- [00:42:15] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. In Ypsi, you lived there for what? A year or two? Do you recall?
- [00:42:22] SHARON GILLESPIE: I think maybe two years we lived over there.
- [00:42:26] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. In terms of your husband that passed, had he been ill or was that something sudden?
- [00:42:39] SHARON GILLESPIE: Sudden heart attack.
- [00:42:41] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [00:42:43] SHARON GILLESPIE: Just left him that morning going to work. We met at lunchtime. We'd come home for lunch and see you later. [NOISE] An hour after I got back to work, a policeman was on my job telling me my husband is dead. I argued at police up and down, you're not talking about my Raymond I know because I just left him. It was awful. [OVERLAPPING] It took me, oh God.
- [00:43:05] JOYCE HUNTER: It had to be hard.
- [00:43:08] SHARON GILLESPIE: Then two years after that I lost my own son, so those were some hard years for me. He died of cancer, and that was sudden too. Cancer may sound drawn out, but my son was diagnosed with cancer on July the 3rd, July the 17th he was gone.
- [00:43:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Oh, my goodness. He was young.
- [00:43:33] SHARON GILLESPIE: Didn't have time to even get it in my head that he had cancer and he was gone.
- [00:43:39] JOYCE HUNTER: Before he was gone. Cancer has affected so many families.
- [00:43:44] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, in my family, yes. My mother died of cancer. My father, who was still in Oklahoma, died of cancer. They both had cancer at the same time so I'm up here, trying to take care of my mother with cancer and flying to Oklahoma City every chance I could get to see about my dad. They both died of cancer, my son died of cancer. Mother, father, and son, all died of cancer.
- [00:44:14] JOYCE HUNTER: It's a lot to deal with. Your father was still in Oklahoma, you said, and your mother was here?
- [00:44:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes.
- [00:44:29] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. All right.
- [00:44:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: I didn't really have a relationship with my father until I was in my 30s.
- [00:44:37] JOYCE HUNTER: All right. As I recall, you said he left when you were very young?
- [00:44:42] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes. He and my mother separated right after I was born.
- [00:44:45] JOYCE HUNTER: That's what I thought she said. Well, at least you had an opportunity later in life to have a relationship with him.
- [00:44:54] SHARON GILLESPIE: I saw him a couple of times, but we didn't really have a relationship. One day, I can remember it was Father's Day and I'm here in Ann Arbor like, "I wonder where my daddy is. I'm going to see if I can call him." So I called Information and they had a number for him, and I called him. Of course, he was excited to hear from me and I was excited to talk to him, and from that point on we kept a close relationship.
- [00:45:21] JOYCE HUNTER: Very good. Now, did you have any others? Did he have another family where you had other siblings or not?
- [00:45:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah. He was married so I had a brother down there with him. Me and my brother became very close, whenever I go back and forth to Oklahoma. He did come up here and live with me a while and then he went back to Oklahoma. Now he passed last year, so I lost him too.
- [00:45:47] JOYCE HUNTER: He was in Oklahoma when he passed?
- [00:45:50] SHARON GILLESPIE: Well, actually he was in Gary, Indiana. He had married a girl and moved up there.
- [00:45:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Did he have children?
- [00:45:58] SHARON GILLESPIE: No, he did not.
- [00:45:59] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. I was going to ask if you had a connection with his children, so?
- [00:46:02] SHARON GILLESPIE: No, he didn't.
- [00:46:04] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. All right. Well, those were some difficult losses and so thank you for sharing. I'm going to move into work retirement. I think you mentioned it before, we can go over it again. What was your main field of employment?
- [00:46:22] SHARON GILLESPIE: Again, typesetting. I worked as a stenographer. Back in the days of the big stenographer pool, everybody sitting and typing in the big pool. I've worked as secretary, administrative assistant. It was always clerical work, office work. [OVERLAPPING].
- [00:46:48] JOYCE HUNTER: Go ahead.
- [00:46:48] SHARON GILLESPIE: I'm sorry. Well, that was all I ever did really. No, I'll take that back. My very first job when me and my first husband broke up, I was 18. I got a job at National Bank & Trust and it was working in the employee cafeteria, washing dishes, so forth and so forth. A good friend of mine said to me, "Why are you down there washing dishes? You've got an education. Why don't you do something with it?" It was like, "Dang, how come I never thought of that?"
- [00:47:18] JOYCE HUNTER: The light came on.
- [00:47:20] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah, right. Because I was doing everybody's tax return, formal stuff like this. He mentioned it, "Girl, how you washing people's dishes and you know how to do all this stuff?" I'm like, "Yeah, I wonder why?" Because at that time, Black people wasn't getting a lot of jobs. It was very hard for Black people to get a job. [NOISE] And that was like in 1963 and '64 and '65. It was hard.
- [00:47:50] JOYCE HUNTER: [BACKGROUND] So how did you get started? Your friend said you can find yourself a different job. Is that how you got started?
- [00:47:59] SHARON GILLESPIE: [OVERLAPPING] I started looking in the paper for jobs and at that time it was a big push for equal opportunity jobs. Every job, they had that little thing. I answered an ad and went in for an interview at a place called CPHA, downtown Ann Arbor. I was hired. First in the print shop and doing things and typing and doing little things around there. Then they decided, you're good typist. We're going to send you to school so that you can learn typesetting. There was this new equipment out now, so they sent me to school for that. When I finished school, I got sent to the secretarial department, I'll say. There's when I was, as I said, working in the pool, the big stenography pool and all that. In that, again, I was a good typist, good enough. They sent me to school again to learn even more computerized stuff. So after that, then I went mainly into typesetting. That was my main job after that is typesetting.
- [00:49:23] JOYCE HUNTER: So when you first got hired, Were there other Blacks there or were you the first?
- [00:49:29] SHARON GILLESPIE: I was the first. In all my years of working from the time I was 18 years old till I retired at 62. Most of the time, I was the only Black person in the office where every job I was at, I was the only Black.
- [00:49:44] JOYCE HUNTER: How did you maneuver or manage that?
- [00:49:48] SHARON GILLESPIE: I had gotten so used to it. It was just, no big thing. I was used to it. My mother always told me [LAUGHTER] when you go to work, you are not there to make friends [LAUGHTER], you are there to do your job. So do your job. But I made friends. I got friends now from way back in my first job that we still keep in contact with each other.
- [00:50:15] JOYCE HUNTER: That speaks volumes for you [OVERLAPPING].
- [00:50:17] SHARON GILLESPIE: All white friends. They still keep in touch with me. We still meet for lunch occasionally. Matter of fact that I just had lunch with some before I came here.
- [00:50:27] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay. Well you'll have to invite them to the premier, when we do the premier of this interview.
- [00:50:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: I will have to do that, yes, because so many people saw the article in the Observer. I was shocked. I was getting so many calls and e-mails and Facebook hit ups and stuff. It was like, "Girl I saw you. " [LAUGHTER] I was like, "Wow, I didn't know that many people read the Observer." And by the way, I worked at the Observer for two summers.
- [00:50:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Oh, wow.
- [00:50:57] SHARON GILLESPIE: This is last couple of years, again, working part-time. They needed somebody to help them over the summer because somebody was on a maternity leave. One of the girls told me about it and suggested me, and I went down there and talked to them. They hired me so I worked for them for two summers straight.
- [00:51:21] JOYCE HUNTER: That's nice. Tell me what you enjoyed most about the job that you did, your typesetting, etc. What do you enjoy most about that?
- [00:51:31] SHARON GILLESPIE: Creating. I was doing books and advertisements. When I'd drive down the street and see one of my jobs up on the billboard [LAUGHTER] or something like that. I loved seeing things like that. I always was blessed to work with friendly people.
- [00:51:52] JOYCE HUNTER: That's great because that isn't always the case. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:51:55] SHARON GILLESPIE: It is not. Again, even though I was grown up, I was still a little intimidated when surrounded by all these white people. But it always worked out fine. I never had any problem, we always became good friends and we'd be together after work, we'd do things on the weekends together. So yeah, I have been blessed with some very good friends and very good workmates.
- [00:52:21] JOYCE HUNTER: What you know they say, in order to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Obviously, you've been a friend to people.
- [00:52:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: Oh, well, thank you. I guess so. [LAUGHTER] One little private company I worked for, Typographic Insight. The father owned it, the wife worked there, the children worked there and I worked there, so, it was like I was part of the family. I would be with them on weekends. We'd do things together. Again, I always had wonderful people to work with.
- [00:53:00] JOYCE HUNTER: [OVERLAPPING] That's 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?
- [00:53:17] SHARON GILLESPIE: Let me think a minute. During the 60s and the riots and all of that, affected me a lot. I can remember, when Martin Luther King got assassinated. I went to work that day and I'm looking at all the white people out of the corner of my eyes. Because seriously, I was mad at all white people at that point. I took my radio to work so I could listen. It's right there on my desk, and I got it on and I'm looking around daring anybody to say anything. [LAUGHTER] Like "Turn the radio off," you know, that kind of thing? With my mom, we went through things like when Kennedy got killed, I remember when I heard it on the news, I called my mother immediately and went to her house and we watched TV and cried and all that together. I can't say--staying with friends or partners or husbands at that time. I don't remember anything directly with them. But with my family, yes. I would go to my family when things like that would happen and interact with them over these kind of things.
- [00:54:44] JOYCE HUNTER: Well in doing the interviews, people have often mentioned the riots and MLK.
- [00:54:52] SHARON GILLESPIE: Those were terrible times. I can remember the heartbreak of that because it felt so personal to me. I felt when he got killed it was like it was like a member of my family got killed. It really affected me terribly, even when Kennedy got killed. [OVERLAPPING] Yeah.
- [00:55:15] JOYCE HUNTER: Those were difficult times.
- [00:55:17] SHARON GILLESPIE: Very. And I took them all very personally.
- [00:55:24] JOYCE HUNTER: What was your reaction when we got our first Black president?
- [00:55:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: [LAUGHTER] The first thing I said was, "I wish my mother could be here to see this." My mother was a fighter. [LAUGHTER] She was always [inaudible 00:55:41] just as good as anybody else, and better than most. That was her attitude. She didn't take any crap from those kind of things. She stood up, she sued the University of Michigan one time. She just did not back down on anything.
- [00:55:57] JOYCE HUNTER: [OVERLAPPING] She's an amazing woman.
- [00:56:01] SHARON GILLESPIE: Amazing. I was happy and jumping up and down. Of course I was wishing my husband was still alive to see this too because he and I would always go together to vote. He and I both were Clinton fans and I thought, "Oh God, I wish my mother was here," and then "I wish my husband was here to see this." It was a very exciting time for me. I watched and cried the whole time I watched [LAUGHTER] all the things, the speeches, the parties at night, the tears were just flowing the whole time watching him.
- [00:56:41] JOYCE HUNTER: It's just joyful and felt so personal.
- [00:56:46] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes. And the tears. I felt like one of my family members--you know how it feels when your family member does something you're so proud of, and that's the way I felt. I was so proud.
- [00:57:07] JOYCE HUNTER: You and a lot of other people as well.
- [00:57:09] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yeah.
- [00:57:11] JOYCE HUNTER: Yeah. Let me move into part five, which is our last part. Tell me how it was for you to live in this community.
- [00:57:26] SHARON GILLESPIE: I never really had any problems. I like Ann Arbor, I still like Ann Arbor. No real problems. You run into a few prejudiced people [LAUGHTER] here and there because again, back in the day, the housing was one thing where we knew we couldn't live in certain areas. But on the whole, Ann Arbor has been good to me. I really have no complaints. As I said, I've lived in so many different parts of Ann Arbor. Stayed here from the time my mother and step-father separated, and we were moving from one little dinky--one place after another. And then even with my husbands. I like Ann Arbor.
- [00:58:26] JOYCE HUNTER: Pretty good.
- [00:58:27] SHARON GILLESPIE: I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, to tell you the truth . My sister in California is trying to talk me into moving out there, I'm like "No way." My aunt in Oklahoma wants me to move back down and am like, "No way. I'm staying right here, this is my home now." I love those places. You know what they say, it's nice to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:58:50] JOYCE HUNTER: [LAUGHTER] Well, I liked your mother. I'm going to go back to your mother for a minute. Sued the University of Michigan. Do you know anything about why or what that was about?
- [00:58:58] SHARON GILLESPIE: [LAUGHTER] Okay, well listen. After my mother went to nursing school, she never remarried. I think it did her in. So I'll call her a professional student because she kept going to school. When she was working at the university, they would move them around, so she was in the clinic, ophthalmology. She decided she wanted to learn that. She applied at the university and they turned her down. The program that she was trying to get in had never had a woman, and they had never had a Black person. They turned her down. She applied several times, and so she took them to court. She won.
- [00:59:48] JOYCE HUNTER: Oh, my goodness.
- [00:59:49] SHARON GILLESPIE: She went to ophthalmology school at the University of Michigan. Yes.
- [00:59:54] JOYCE HUNTER: Tell me your mother's name.
- [00:59:55] SHARON GILLESPIE: Her name was Geraldine Russel.
- [00:59:58] JOYCE HUNTER: Geraldine Russel. Okay. Go ahead.
- [01:00:01] SHARON GILLESPIE: Then another time after she got her license, she decided she wanted to move back home to Oklahoma. She went back down there, she's opening up her shop. It was called Gerry's Eyewear. The name was Geraldine; everybody called her Gerry. I called her Gerry, never did call her mom by the way. Oklahoma was still segregated. The place where she wanted to open her shop there weren't any Blacks there and they didn't want to let her in. She loved a good fight. So there she goes again fighting. [LAUGHTER] She got a place there that she wanted in this little shopping mall. But it didn't work. The white people--oh, they would come by and urinate on the windows and at night they would put all kinds of crap on the windows, they'd write all kinds of stuff. She stuck it out for a long time, but it just didn't work, so she finally had to give it up.
- [01:01:01] JOYCE HUNTER: She was also an entrepreneur. She went to school, got her license, then she opened up her own shop.
- [01:01:09] SHARON GILLESPIE: Yes, she did.
- [01:01:10] JOYCE HUNTER: She was ahead of her times.
- [01:01:12] SHARON GILLESPIE: Very much so.
- [01:01:13] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:01:15] SHARON GILLESPIE: All you had to do was tell her, "You can't do that."
- [01:01:20] JOYCE HUNTER: That was it?
- [01:01:21] SHARON GILLESPIE: That was it [LAUGHTER].
- [01:01:30] JOYCE HUNTER: Like I said we have our archives for these interviews. We have the digital collection. So if you have pictures and stuff of her, it would be nice for us to include that as well.
- [01:01:41] SHARON GILLESPIE: Okay. I sure do. I have pictures of her. My mother was a beautiful woman. She was six feet tall.
- [01:01:48] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:01:49] SHARON GILLESPIE: Pretty, beautiful. The reason I never called her mom is because she didn't raise me, I didn't know her.
- [01:01:55] JOYCE HUNTER: Oh, right.
- [01:01:56] SHARON GILLESPIE: A couple of times, believe it or not, I only remember seeing her come to visit me twice during all those years I was with my grandmother.
- [01:02:05] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:02:06] SHARON GILLESPIE: I was always very shy, like, "Who is that?" "That's your mother." "No." That kind of thing [LAUGHTER].
- [01:02:13] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [01:02:15] SHARON GILLESPIE: I remember thinking she was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen in my life. I thought she had pretty red lips, and oh, this woman is beautiful, but I didn't know her.
- [01:02:25] JOYCE HUNTER: All right.
- [01:02:26] SHARON GILLESPIE: When my grandmother told me, your mom is getting married and she wants you back, she wants you to come and live with her. That was a fight.
- [01:02:38] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:02:38] SHARON GILLESPIE: I did not want to go. I always say this and she would get mad when I'd say it. We'd be talking and I'd say, "So my mother came to Oklahoma and kidnapped me. " [LAUGHTER] I would always say that just to get a rise at her. My mother kidnapped me and brought me to Michigan. But no, I hated it, I did. And then to be away from Kay, my twin [GESTURES].
- [01:03:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Right.
- [01:03:04] SHARON GILLESPIE: And to sleep in bed by my self, oh my God, I was used to Kay being beside me all the time and everything. It was a long time before I became adjusted to living here with my mom. But she was Gerry to me and I never called her anything but Gerry.
- [01:03:20] JOYCE HUNTER: I was going to ask you that when you said I called her Gerry, but before I could ask you why, you told me so that takes care of that.
- [01:03:28] SHARON GILLESPIE: Because she was more like a sister. Because my aunts and uncles that I was raised with were my brothers and sisters. They weren't like aunts and uncles. I still consider them my sisters and brothers. [OVERLAPPING] So my mom and I never really had that good mother-daughter relationship [OVERLAPPING], we didn't have that bond because that was already--
- [01:03:54] JOYCE HUNTER: Grandmother?
- [01:03:55] SHARON GILLESPIE: It was always my grandmother, she was mama.
- [01:03:59] JOYCE HUNTER: What was her name?
- [01:04:00] SHARON GILLESPIE: Her name was Annie Parker.
- [01:04:02] JOYCE HUNTER: Annie Parker.
- [01:04:03] SHARON GILLESPIE: I would get back to Oklahoma every chance I could get. Sometimes I would just go for the weekend. And once I got grown it was driving, and after 18 I would drive, let me tell you. But I would leave--[OVERLAPPING]
- [01:04:14] JOYCE HUNTER: That's a long drive.
- [01:04:16] SHARON GILLESPIE: Leave here on Friday night, drive down there get there Saturday afternoon and spend the night with my mom and then leave on Sunday come back to be back on time to go to work Monday morning.
- [01:04:28] JOYCE HUNTER: Did you drive it by yourself?
- [01:04:30] SHARON GILLESPIE: No.
- [01:04:31] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay.
- [01:04:32] SHARON GILLESPIE: Whatever boyfriend I had at the time. [LAUGHTER]. Boyfriend or husband, whatever [LAUGHTER].
- [01:04:38] JOYCE HUNTER: I love it. [LAUGHTER] Okay. When thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [01:04:48] SHARON GILLESPIE: Oh my goodness. That's a hard question. What am I most proud of? I'm going to say, these last few years with my husband and my son, I guess my son knows probably. I had that one son. I was proud of the work that I did, I was a good worker. Because I would be on my job and people from other companies be calling my job asking me to come work for them. I was good at what I did, so I was proud of that. And [NOISE] proud of the fact that I had a wonderful husband and after three bad marriages, I finally did it right and had a wonderful life with that husband. Also right before then, because I was out there--in 1983, I rededicated my life to the Lord and was back at church, and have been living a Christian life and living a life hopefully as the Lord would have me live for the last few years. And helping people. I did a lot of volunteer work. That's one of the things I'm proud of. Volunteer work, I love volunteer work. I volunteered at the homeless shelter. Many homes around here, nursing homes. But the one I felt best about was one I volunteered at hospice. Right after I retired my husband had died but I remember that when my mother was dying of cancer, hospice was so good and they helped me so much and I decided to do some volunteer work at hospice. During that time, they had a program called No One Dies Alone, and that was the program I was led to work with because the thought of someone dying by themselves was too much for me because my husband died by himself and I never got past that. So that's what I did. If a person was actively dying and they didn't have family or no one around, I would go and sit with that person and hold their hand. Whatever was needed or sing to them or whatever was needed so they wouldn't be by themselves when they died. I believe that's the thing I'm most proud of.
- [01:07:36] JOYCE HUNTER: All the things you listed were things to be proud of, but certainly that is, working with somebody or working at hospice. Thank you so much for sharing that. The final question is, what advice would you give to the younger generation?
- [01:07:57] SHARON GILLESPIE: It's funny, I was just talking to the girls at work. One of my first advice I'd give to the younger generation is do not start smoking. I started smoking when I was 14 years old and I didn't stop until I was 65. Meanwhile, now I've been diagnosed with COPD, I have a blockage in the artery in my leg, and they said all that comes from smoking. I'm like, "I quit smoking 10,11 years ago. Why is all this happening now?" But it all started there. That would be my first thing to tell young kids, that think they're so cute, so cool, like I did back in the day. It's not. And it will affect you years later if it doesn't get you now. My second thing would be get an education. That's the most important thing, get an education, because it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, I'm telling you and even people with education are having a hard time getting a job. Then I would tell them, I don't know what order I'd tell them but if they don't know the Lord, that would be my first thing, get to know the Lord. Let the Lord lead and guide you as you go through your life. You'll be amazed at the peace you will find when you're serving the Lord.
- [01:09:29] JOYCE HUNTER: That's so true. So, Sharon, that was the last question. I've absolutely enjoyed interviewing you. Do you have any final thoughts or things you want to say?
- [01:09:43] SHARON GILLESPIE: I can't think of anything. Thank you for thinking that I even had anything worth saying, to interview. And I appreciate the confidence you have in interviewing me. That's about it, I don't have anything.
- [01:10:03] JOYCE HUNTER: Okay--
- [01:10:04] SHARON GILLESPIE: I love my life. My life is great.
August 10, 2021
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