As archivists and historians, we know that certain topics infrequently make it into the long-term historical record, and these gaps are numerous within the Black community. The history of anti-Black racism is one of these topics. Stories of racism are told to family and friends but rarely make it further than that and are lost over time. As documentarians of our community's history, we seek to fill in those gaps to provide a lasting record of this aspect of community life for the researchers of the future. Some of these stories have been collected as part of the African-American Cultural and Historical Museum Living Oral History interviews, but there are many more stories to be collected and preserved.
AADL and the AACHM are putting out a Call for Stories on Anti-Black Racism. We are looking for all stories of times you've experienced anti-Black racism. These could include but are certainly not limited to stories of:
-racism in your personal life, in dating, among family, among friends
-racism at school, at work, or in hiring
-racism in your neighborhood or in looking for housing (including redlining or gentrification)
-racism by police or government (including racial profiling or police brutality)
These stories are oftentimes painful to recall and painful to tell. We offer thanks in advance for those of you able and willing to help us preserve these stories to assist future historians in learning about the time in which we live.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I submit to the Call for Stories?
We want things any way you can get them to us. All of these things will get your submissions to us.
Online Form: https://aadl.org/form/cfs-anti-black-racism
Voicemail: 734-327-4223 (5 minute time limit)
What types of submissions are you looking for?
We want you to tell your story the way you tell it. Written pieces of 20 words or 20,000 words. One photo or 100 photos. Voice recordings or videos of your stories. Whatever you want to document in whatever way you feel most comfortable. Pretty much any kind of file you create with your computer or phone can be uploaded via the online form or attached to an email to us.
How many times can I submit?
As many times as you would like; the more we can collect, the more complete a picture we will be able to paint for future researchers. Multiple submissions are encouraged.
Can I submit anonymously?
Yes. We are looking to collect as much material as we can, and if you would rather not have your name attached, that is fine with us. Obviously the more information we have connected to your submission, the more value it will have for researchers in the future, but anonymous material is always better than no material.
Are you going to publish this anywhere?
This project is not for the public of today, it is for the researchers and historians of the future. While it is important to share these stories today, the best way for you to do that is via your own relationships and social media.
Stories from the AACHM Living Oral History Project
"When I was in grade school at Woodruff School there was a restaurant across the street from the school that would not serve me. It was called the Bomber Restaurant. It's actually a very famous restaurant in Ypsilanti right now…. And I knew this, and actually, my dad had warned me not to go over there. But a couple of my classmates wanted me to go with them to the Bomber Restaurant and grab something. I said, well, I can't go over there. And they talked me into it. So I went over there. I went over there with them, and we were all sitting at the counter waiting to be served. And the waitress came, and she waited on the three of them, the ones that were there. But she would not wait on me. And when they finally figured out that well, they're not going to serve you, they're not going to serve me, they all walked out. So we walked out and went back to school. We didn't get any lunch that day. I felt good that my friends had supported me by leaving there."
Robert W. Fletcher
"One time I went into Kresge's and needed to buy a pencil. The lady would walk away from me every time I would go to approach. And at that time, the manager was up on the top, and he could see the whole store. And I went up and I said, why won't she sell me this pencil? And he said, you go back down there. So I went back down and she'd move over. And he came down after about our third try, and said, you, go home. And I never saw her in the store again after that. He apologized and gave me the pencil. And I said, no, I got three pennies. And he said, no, it's yours to keep because people shouldn't treat you like that. So I never really grew up with segregation, until the bomber plant people moved in. And then you start hearing the n word, which I had never heard. And I went home and I had to ask my mother. What are they talking about? And she said, son, I could tell you something that would make you bitter for the rest of your life, but life's too short to go around being angry at people. She said, they don't know what they're talking about. Just let it go. OK. Fine."
Lydia Belle Morton
"I only had one incident that I really was upset about. My husband, as I said, worked at Ford's. But then he had a part-time job working for the man that had the contract for the city trash business. Well, then the city workers all unionized, paid union dues. And they were having this picnic for all the union members. So they said, bring your children, and come and have a nice time together. So there was another couple that went with us, and we had our children in the car. And we went out, and it was the German park. I knew, I had heard rumors about it. I hadn't bothered about going out there. Didn't need to. So when we got there, a guy came up to the gate, and says, oh, well you can't come in here. I said, what do you mean we can't come in here? He said, well, you people aren't allowed in here…. And he said, I tell you what. We'll give you the sandwiches and the pop, and you can have your picnic at home. And the couple that were with us, they were from the South. Oh, that's a good idea. I said, if you take that, you're going to walk home. And I told them that, I said, don't you ever offer me anything like that again. You keep your pop and your [INAUDIBLE]. We're going home. So we went home, and the closer to home I got, the madder I got. I had never had anything like that happen. So I sat down, and I wrote a letter to the editor. I had never done anything like that before. And boy, it came out in the paper the next day, in the Ann Arbor News. And our phone was ringing off the hook. And quite a few lawyers called, said do you want to sue them? I said, no. I just wanted people to know what was going on."
"Oh, I can tell you a little story about something that happened to me when I was in 7th grade. What happened, our teacher, she was a good teacher. She was white. We had no problems though. So she was a good teacher. Anyway, she told us that there was going to be this contest. You write a paper or something. And if you won, you'd get to go on a trip with the principal to Lansing. Big deal, but it was exciting to us. But anyway, not many kids wrote anything. But I did write something. And I won…. And they announced it over the PA. Janice Wilson won the essay writing contest…. But anyway, the next day I went to school. And the teacher was late. Well she wasn't late. She had been-- But when she came in, you could tell that something was wrong with her. Because it looked like-- and she probably did cry. Because when I think about her, the type of person she was, she probably did cry. But she told me she wanted to talk to me. And I went out with her in the hall. And she said, I can't remember how she said it now, but the gist of the thing was I didn't win the contest. That it was a mistake. And so I wouldn't be going anywhere with the president. I mean with the principal. So it didn't bother me. Well I guess as a kid, I might've been a little upset. I can't remember how I felt…. But nobody ever said anything else to me about it. But we figured it out. They didn't want no little black girl going up in Lansing with the principal. So they changed the thing."
"As a kindergartner, where we lived, we were living right at the edge of a district that put us into what was called Little Italy in Cleveland. And so it was on a street called Cornell. We lived in an apartment building on Cornell. And so that meant I would have to go in this district of Murray Hill was part of Little Italy. And I would have to attend Murray Hill Elementary School. And in doing that, that would have been in 1955. And so I can remember every day my mother or my father picking me and my brother up, and having parents, children all yelling, surrounding the car, yelling "nigger, get out of here." And so that was really chaotic-- very confusing for me, and never really understanding at that time what was happening. But sometimes they would come up to the car and they would start shaking the car. And I know I could tell now by looking back it was very stressful for my mother to be there. So we were there for about a year in that area before we moved away."
"When I worked for Dr. Potts in the '70s. In fact it was 1971, there was a disturbance by some white students. And they came into the school to do harm. And they came-- They marched in with rifles…. At Pioneer….And the ombudsman's office was to try we worked at the secondary level schools to make sure that there wasn't any racism to try and put a cap on the racism. But there-- I don't know why these young, white students were angry. But they were and they came into the building, and started a fight. But they came in with weapons. They had nun-chucks, and they had rifles on their shoulders. And they-- And my job was to keep the black students in the cafeteria. But when the white students came in, they were chanting using the "n" word and saying that their blood was going to run in the halls. So the closer they got to the cafeteria, then the black kids came out. So I couldn't keep them in the cafeteria. And so there was a fight. The white students attacked the black students. The black students didn't have weapons, but the police ended up arresting seven students and myself. And took us down to City Hall. But we went before the judge and the charges were dropped. As a result of that I lost my job."
"I was appointed by a mayor-- I think it was Creal-- to the Human Relations Commission. And we were concerned about open occupancy. And we would send someone-- let's say you were renting a home. We would send an African American there. And the person who would own the house would say, "I'm sorry. The room is no longer available." And then, we would send a Caucasian-- a white person-- there. And she would say, "Oh, yes, the room is available. Come right in." So this went on. And we documented. And gradually, we have changed the pattern here in Ann Arbor. That took some time. That took some time."
"Fountain Street was-- if you look at Ann Arbor, it was where my family bought their house. We bought our house on a land contract because that's how white folks were doing it there. And by that, I mean they get you in on what they call the land lease contracts, and you buy them. But if you miss one payment, they can cancel out all your payments and take the house back. So that's how they ran the rodeo. So on Gott Street and Fountain Street, it was what I call redlining. What they did to the white folks-- one black person moved in. They said, uh, oh, you'd better get out of here. Property value is going down. So the white folks started moving out, and black folks started moving in. But there was one dilemma that they did. They moved out and sold very high. So in Fountain and Miner and those streets, those black families who bought their homes just got their whole life savings into buying those homes. And the housing stock-- I wouldn't say the worst. But the quality of the housing is almost the worst in Ann Arbor, but they sold high until the line just kept going. One black person moves in, another white person moves out. One black person moves in, another white person moves out…. Around the Gott Street area and Fountain and Miner-- that's how black folks got there. And some of them were moving up from Fifth Avenue. Some of them were newcomers, but some of them were upgrading their homes. And that's when the white folks ran so fast Mack School became the most segregated elementary school in Ann Arbor-- quick, quick."
"I was quite young. But my daddy used to-- whenever the Ku Kluxers come around through town in Muskogee, now-- That's when he would-- we would hear the truck coming, you know. He would gather us up and put us in the house. We'd know they'd come by every evening, those Ku Klux Klan people. That's what they used to do. We were not on the streets. But we couldn't get along with them, period. They didn't like us, because they'd just as soon get out of the truck and whip you. They'd see a colored boy or man on the street, they'd get out and just whip you. It was just mean…. I was quite young. I don't know too much about it. I know my daddy used to gather us up, take us in the house. But I was young, then, and I don't remember too much about the Ku Klux Klan. Only that they come riding through the city in the evening. They'd come in the evening, and we'd all get off the street. You know."
"That's when I joined the army, when I was in New York…. I was in the-- I wanted to be a medic. And I wanted to go to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where you go for medical training. And they put me down there. And I thought, at the time the war in Korea was going on, I thought probably I'll be trained for that. They take people of color and put them where they want them to go. You don't get what you want. So therefore, I had to settle for driving a Jeep in Korea. I didn't-- even though I went to Texas for medical training, I didn't get nothing there, because they preferred me to do colored work. So that's what I had to do…. I was told that I was fighting for my country. And I was told this land is your land and all this stuff that they hand you. And by me being in the army three years, and then being in Korea, and seeing death all over the place. And while we were going there, they was telling us what we were fighting for, to encourage us to do our best…. Truman, President Truman integrated the armed forces at the time. And it was very interesting, because at the time, there was white GIs saying they ain't going to be in no foxhole with no black person. And so they had to integrate. So when the bullets started flying, they were calling you brother, because we're in there together. You know, you don't think about color. They call it staying alive."