Legacies Project Oral History: Marlene Laws
Thu, 01/16/2020 - 9:09am
Marlene Laws grew up in Detroit and graduated from Sidney D. Miller High School in 1958. She served in the military at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas from 1960 to 1962. Upon returning to Michigan, she was a nurse at Pontiac State Hospital for two years. Laws dedicated 43 years of her career to the United States Postal Service as a clerk and then as a Human Resources specialist. She and her former husband Kenneth had one daughter, Dr. Dawn N. Laws. Marlene Laws passed away on February, 4, 2017.
Marlene Laws was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.
- [00:00:08.86] SPEAKER 1: When children your left home and you and/or your spouse retired from work. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades. OK. After you finished high school, where did you live?
- [00:00:27.90] MARLENE LAWS: After I finished high school, I lived on the east side. I lived at 3441 Crane.
- [00:00:38.78] SPEAKER 1: How did you come to live there?
- [00:00:41.60] MARLENE LAWS: Well, we moved from the original area on the east side where I was born. We made a move. Well, we kind of-- we were working, so we moved to a better neighborhood.
- [00:01:03.83] SPEAKER 1: Did you remain there or did you move around through your working adult life?
- [00:01:09.65] MARLENE LAWS: Well, I started work-- well, I was already working when we moved there. And I was single. Matter of fact, my other three siblings, we were all single. They were working. My younger brother, he had just graduated-- he graduated from high school. Two days after he graduated from high school, he started working for the Internal Revenue Service. And my other brother, which is under me, he was in college at the time.
- [00:01:50.29] My older sister, she was working for the city of Detroit. She worked for a traffic court. She started working very early, she was 17 when she started working for the city. Matter of fact, she had to get a working permit because she wasn't 18. You had to have a working permit. You couldn't just go to work right out of high school because of-- she was very smart. She was very smart, so she got this job at traffic court. So we were all either in school or working.
- [00:02:32.17] SPEAKER 1: What was the reason for these moves?
- [00:02:35.19] MARLENE LAWS: Well, like I said, we just moved. We were working so we could move to a better neighborhood. So that was a reason why we moved. But we-- our family did move-- we didn't constantly move. We stayed in certain areas for a length of time, and like I say, we moved-- we made that move because of-- we had more revenue and we could move.
- [00:03:11.47] SPEAKER 1: Have you been married?
- [00:03:12.90] MARLENE LAWS: Yes.
- [00:03:14.24] SPEAKER 1: OK. Do you have any children?
- [00:03:20.18] MARLENE LAWS: Yes, I have one daughter. She's 41 years old now. She's a medical doctor. She has a MD degree and also a MPH. She has a MPH from Harvard University in public health. And she has another degree-- well, it might not be a degree, but a certificate in holistic medicine. She's not married. I don't have any grandchildren. And I only have the one daughter.
- [00:04:04.92] SPEAKER 1: Have you ever been employed?
- [00:04:07.41] MARLENE LAWS: Have I ever been employed? Oh yes, I've been employed, since-- my working career started in 1960-- well, in 1960, actually. I was in the military from 1960 to 1962. Came out of the military, and it was kind of like what it is now, no jobs, everybody was out of work. And it took me a while to get employment.
- [00:04:45.77] And when I finally-- excuse me-- after about six months, I started working for the state of Michigan. I worked in Pontiac. I worked at Pontiac State Hospital. I worked there for about two years, and I thought I needed to switch because I was making that long drive and I wasn't getting any-- my proper rest, and I was going to sleep while driving. So a cousin of mine worked for the US Postal Service. So he said, well why don't you try and get a job there? But at that time, nobody was hiring anywhere.
- [00:05:27.78] And finally, the post office opened up, you could go for an application. And it was 20,000 people downtown at the post office to get an application for that job. And, well, I passed the exam, and because I had been in the military-- well, it still took a while, because at that time, women weren't in the military. It was very-- well, it had been women in the military, but nobody, I guess, that they knew any women.
- [00:06:07.37] And so I would go and ask, well why can't I get a job? There's something called veterans preference. So because I was a veteran, that meant that I would go before anybody else that was not a veteran. And I would go and they would-- I would talk to them and they would say, well OK, we'll call you, and I don't think they ever believed that I had actually been in the military, because I never took any papers with me. And finally I said, well something is wrong. I need to do something different.
- [00:06:45.09] So I finally took papers, and that's when I guess they believed that I'd been in the military. And so probably within two or three months, they called me to work. Well I was working at the hospital at the time, and then I had a medical problem. My tonsils needed to be removed, so I couldn't accept the job. And so I missed I missed that for a while, and after I got well, I thought about it. So I wrote a letter to the postal service and told them my plight, what had happened, and I sent the copy of my paperwork from the hospital. And they called me immediately.
- [00:07:32.42] So at that time, we always did a courtesy to give your employer a two weeks' notice before you-- if you knew you would want to leave. So I say, well, I need to give them a two weeks' notice. I gave a two weeks' notice, and-- because I haven't had a vacation in almost two years, and I took those two weeks and prepared myself to go to-- to work for the postal service.
- [00:08:02.97] And that's how I changed jobs. But it wasn't because I really wanted to, it was necessary, because I wasn't getting any rest. And that began my career with the US Postal Service. And I worked there-- I worked for the US Postal Service for 43 years and a few months. And I'm retired now.
- [00:08:48.30] SPEAKER 1: Please describe the popular music of this time.
- [00:08:51.67] MARLENE LAWS: Of this time?
- [00:08:53.69] SPEAKER 1: Well, back when you were a child.
- [00:08:57.58] MARLENE LAWS: Well, because this is Motown and Berry Gordy started his company, so there was always music-- The Temptations, The Dramatics, The Supremes, the-- Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. So a lot of these people, because we were-- we had neighborhoods then, we all knew each other. I knew Martha Reeves lived like four blocks from me. We weren't necessarily friends, but I was a friend with one of her brothers, we were in the same grade.
- [00:09:40.57] The Temptations, well, they were always around. So music-- we heard music all the time. They-- when they really-- before they even became popular, we knew them, and sometime we laugh at some of them because we say, here they are on the corner trying to sing, and then they actually-- well, we know what happened with the The Temptations. So there was always music.
- [00:10:11.62] And everybody could sing. They could actually sing. They didn't have a lot of-- well, they had music behind them, but they actually could sing. Some of the things that's going on now, I think it's-- the music enhances what they do. But we had-- we really singers then. We had Billy Preston. I mean, Billy Preston became popular, but before he was popular, he was singing back at backyard barbecues. So they made money and did those little gigs, as they called them, wherever they could.
- [00:10:54.67] And we would know when The Temptations was out doing that very same thing, and we'd say, well, they're going to-- they're going to come to this-- there was a little small bar. It wasn't a bar, but it was a get-together place. And so after they were finished making their money, they would come by this particular bar and sing for us. We sit right in front and listen to them. And so everybody was neighborly, because we all knew each other.
- [00:11:27.04] So music was just a part of Detroit, period. So that wasn't-- so it was always-- always a fun-- well, not necessarily-- people had problems, but still, we had music. And so it made life pretty good.
- [00:11:54.34] SPEAKER 1: Did music have any particular dances associated with it?
- [00:11:58.51] MARLENE LAWS: Oh yes, they had all kinds of dances. The Joke, the Mashed Potato, and we had-- like they have on the Hustle, well we didn't call it the Hustle then, but we had line dances and that we did, and we had the Graystone Ballroom, and that's where-- right here-- out here Woodward. And some of the best dancers in the city-- in the state would be at the Graystone Ballroom.
- [00:12:39.29] And so we danced-- we danced all the time. Like I said, my family, we were very good dancers. As a matter of fact, I was like a mimic. If anybody could-- if any-- if a new dance came out, I could look at it and I could do it. Just-- I could, like, mimic the person. And so there was a group of us, and if a new dance came out, I would teach my sister-- well, she was a fast learner because we could dance.
- [00:13:12.96] So our girlfriends, we would teach them that particular dance, and I would do it. I could-- and they would-- the Moonwalk has been out when-- what's his name? James Brown would come. James Brown, right? We could do-- I could mimic all of-- anybody I could mimic, and I could do it, and then we would-- we'd teach them the dance, and then everybody would know how to do. So we prided ourselves on being dancers. And let's see, who else was it? Jackie Wilson? James Brown?
- [00:13:57.75] So you saw these people. I remember the first time we saw James Brown, and when he fell on the floor and they put the cape around him, it was at the Graystone Ballroom. And we had two DJs. What was his name? Frankie-- Eddie Durham. He came on the radio, and sometime he would broadcast from the Graystone Ballroom.
- [00:14:26.48] So it was always something going on, and people prided themselves, and if you were a great dancer, then that's what you did. And I know I only danced with certain boys or young men that could dance. They couldn't dance. That was probably too nice, but they had to be able to dance. So we had a lot of fun.
- [00:15:05.49] SPEAKER 1: What were a type of clothing or hairstyles of that time?
- [00:15:10.43] MARLENE LAWS: Well, I think I remember when the-- oh, what did they call those short skirts? Mini-dresses. And I have a picture of myself in this mini-dress, but it wasn't the mini-dress that they wear now. The mini-dress that I had on was just above the knee, you know? So there was a difference in the mini-skirts are now. They're like shorts, so there's a difference.
- [00:15:44.63] Because of the way I was raised, my mother, we couldn't-- matter of fact, I couldn't even wear short shorts. I never owned-- oh, I did own one pair of shorts. They weren't short shorts, but they were shorts. And that was the one time that my mother gave me a whooping because of shorts. And I put them on, and without her knowing, went out the back door. And so then I never-- it never interested me anymore, short shorts. [LAUGHS] Which at that time we're not short shorts, but up to here. But that's the way she was, so I'm-- of course, after I got older, I understood why.
- [00:16:40.36] But the clothing-- like I said, we were always modest. So we wore what was in style, and it's just a little different because there's nothing new. They just changed it a little, but what could be new? Nothing.
- [00:17:07.29] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or styles from this era?
- [00:17:12.90] MARLENE LAWS: Well, I guess they had the-- just the many-- that was really the only thing that they had that was kind of like outrageous in a sense, because it was different, and the mini-skirts. OK, the men, the boys, their clothes mostly was the same. Of course there was nothing sagging or low. They had to wear any low pants, and I remember my brothers, when they were small, they wore knickers what they called them. That was the pants to the knee and long socks, knee socks.
- [00:17:56.13] But basically, the-- oh, and I-- this was before my time, but my uncles, they wore what they call a zoot suits. They were large, they were men's suits, and they were kind of-- they were tailored, but they were kind of-- they had long jackets, the jackets were long. But they were dressed. And the difference in what we did and what goes on now as far as dressing, they were always dressed. If they went out, they wore pants. Blue jeans were something that you wore occasionally, if you were going on a picnic or something. But men didn't wear blue jeans, they wore-- this was--
- [00:18:48.09] I remember the first time I saw a man on TV with blue jeans on, we were shocked, because that was not something that men wore. And tennis shoes, that was-- if you wore tennis shoes, that was-- they had a tennis shoe that men were called Chuck Taylors. They might still make Chuck Taylors. And all the boys wanted Chuck Taylors. They thought-- I guess I thought that would make them jump.
- [00:19:17.07] But that was the one shoe that most of the young men wore when they played sports, was Chuck Taylors. My brothers had Chuck Taylors. There were just a gym-- a high-top white gym shoe with a white sole around it, and I guess it had Chuck Taylor written on it somewhere. But that was the one shoe-- it wasn't 100 different types of shoe, but that was the shoe-- the gym shoe to have, a Chuck Taylor.
- [00:19:55.40] Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words used that aren't commonly used today?
- [00:20:03.00] MARLENE LAWS: Well, they still say cool, and it's funny, because I hear people saying cool. I said, we said that we'd stop saying cool. And now-- and we used to say, give me five. Five on the black-hand side. And we'll give you-- tap a five. Now they call it-- they changed it to high-five. That's not new. We were already-- we invented slang. So there was always some-- somebody that was talking, as they called it, trash. Talking trash. And they had it.
- [00:20:43.81] As a matter of fact, I can't remember a lot of that talk that the guys would-- they had certain things that they will say to girls if they like you, and they had I think a little speech that they would give you. And I knew the speeches, and I could say the speeches better than they could, because they always said that same speech trying to impress you. [LAUGHS]
- [00:21:14.20] I was always kind of-- I said I could always mimic. So I could do those things. So sometimes if they-- if it was a guy that I really didn't want to be bothered with, if he started giving me his rap, I would give it back to him better than he could. [LAUGHS] Better. And we used-- well, that's because my brother-- we couldn't really do that-- talk a lot of trash at home, but we me knew it, so we would just use it all the time. And-- because it was some of the things we would use.
- [00:21:52.75] And so we would kind of-- like I said, we were kind of-- everything was kind of strict, so that was-- I was almost grown before I even said lie. No we couldn't-- we didn't use lie, or we said, don't you tell them a story, which is-- but we understood what that meant, so we couldn't call anybody a lie. So we were always kind of restricted, but we knew, we knew what was going on.
- [00:22:31.40] SPEAKER 1: I'd like you to tell me a little about married and family life. First tell me about your spouse.
- [00:22:39.89] MARLENE LAWS: Well, my spouse was Kenneth Laws. We met-- it was like a blind date. It wasn't really a blind date, but a friend of mine introduced me to Kenneth. And he was-- he was a decent guy. And we started dating, and we dated for probably, oh, almost two years. And then he called me and he said he wanted to take me someplace.
- [00:23:26.32] So I said, well, OK. So he took me downtown, and we went in-- at that time, it wasn't Macy's, it was Hudson's. And we went into Hudson's, and on the first floor, they had rings and all kind of jewelry. And he took me over and he said, pick out an engagement ring. And I said, engagement ring? Of course I was shocked.
- [00:24:05.98] Of course I was shocked when he asked me. So I said, well, how much can you spend? And he was working, he had a-- as a matter of fact, he worked for Ford. And so I said-- he said, well, just pick out whatever ring you want. I picked out a ring, and I think he put it in layaway. And then he went to my house, he asked my mother if he could marry me, and she said, well-- well, I was very grown. When I got married, I was 27 when I got married-- 26, 27 when I got married. But of course, that was like the proper thing to do.
- [00:25:03.14] And we got married that September. We had a small church wedding, and, well, and then that's how we began our life. We've lived at 15068 Fairfield right at Finkel. We lived upstairs. His mother and father had a large house. It had an upstairs, so we lived upstairs over his family for a while. And that's how we began our married life.
- [00:25:51.46] And he never-- well, he was a good husband. I had almost anything-- anything that I wanted, I almost had. And he was the type of person that if he looked in the magazine and he saw something, an outfit, if they didn't have it anywhere in Detroit, if it was in New York, he would order it from New York.
- [00:26:24.76] So like I said, I really had a really good life with him. And I did everything that a wife would do. I don't know if we do it now. I cooked, cooked every day, and fixed his lunch for work, and, well, I just did what wives used to do. Old-fashioned wives.
- [00:26:57.71] And we got along-- we got along pretty good. And that's-- so I can't-- I can't say anything about-- you can have everything and still not be happy. We start having problems, and they weren't directly ours, but we had them, so that kind of made things kind of unsettling, but as far as just married life itself, I had a really good life while I was married.
- [00:27:42.68] SPEAKER 1: What was it like when you were dating?
- [00:27:45.83] MARLENE LAWS: Well, we went-- he was-- he took me to the best places and we would go to the Eastern Market and he would buy different wines. We would go to Canada-- he loved Canada. As a matter of fact, that's where we went on our honeymoon. We went to Toronto, Canada on our honeymoon. So we were always in Canada. If we weren't in Canada, we were in Chicago. His father was born in Chicago, so most of his family was in Chicago.
- [00:28:26.06] And so he had cousins and he had-- he had cousins that were our age. And so we would visit-- they had an old family house on the South Side of Chicago right near the railroad tracks. I won't forget it, it was like a three-story house. So whenever we would-- we could go any weekend and we would have the-- go up all those stairs in the house and we would live up on the-- stay up on the third floor.
- [00:28:55.24] And because of-- and he-- it is a large family of laws. As a matter of fact, there-- they tell us that we probably-- well, his family is related to the jazz-- it's a jazz family. Ronnie Laws, Hubert laws. And so those are probably distant cousins, everybody wants to have somebody famous in their family. And because they're from Chicago, they might be related to those people, and they have moved-- well, like I said, they do-- they're jazz musicians.
- [00:29:35.63] And so we traveled a lot. And he didn't like flying, so wherever we would-- wherever we would go, he would drive. He had no problem driving, and I did very little driving at that time, even though I could-- I had my own car, but most of the time he would do all the driving.
- [00:30:03.12] SPEAKER 1: [? Tell ?] [? me ?] about your engagement [? ring. ?]
- [00:30:06.58] MARLENE LAWS: Well, I've always said, we had-- I-- we finally got my ring out, put it on my [INAUDIBLE], and then we picked our wedding band, and I wore it to work. Wore my engagement ring to work. Let everybody see it. [LAUGHS] Beautiful ring, too. Yeah.
- [00:30:36.99] And the wedding was nice. Like I said, it was a small wedding, not very large. A cousin of mine was a minister. Reverend [? Hall, ?] so he married us at his church. And if you're on the Lodge freeway, when you get to-- going west and you get to Davidson, if you look over to your right, because you're driving, you're on the right side, and you look over and you see a church, you can see a church from the expressway. That's the church where I was married.
- [00:31:28.40] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE] [? finish ?] [? this ?] [? section. ?] Thank you.
- [00:31:31.35] MARLENE LAWS: Thank you.
- [00:31:36.02] SPEAKER 1: OK. This set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you entered the labor force or started a family up til the present time. What was your main field of employment?
- [00:31:55.60] MARLENE LAWS: Well, when I worked at Pontiac State Hospital, I was a nurse. What they call a nurse attendant B. And you would work so long and then you could become an RN. That's what I did for, like I said, two years. And when I left there, I went through to the post office, and I was a clerk at the post office for, oh, about 20-- 20 years or longer.
- [00:32:34.90] And then I went into management. I worked in training. I was a human resource specialist, and in my office, we called it the PEDC. And what we did there is any employee that worked for the postal service that-- any job at they worked that required training, they would come to my office. Once they move personnel, the first people that they would see after personnel would be me or somebody in my office. And we would give them orientation. I'd give orientation every two weeks all year. Every two weeks there was an orientation. Every two weeks. Any new employees had to have orientation, so that's what I did every two weeks. Orientation.
- [00:33:36.79] And then if they were going to become a mail carrier, that would mean that they would have to have training to be a mail carrier. You can't just become a mail carrier and deliver mail. How would you do it? So there was a process. So they had to learn the process. So that meant that they were in my office, had to come to my office every day to be trained by what we call training technicians. And each person that was trained had-- they had different training, and they would have a different amount of time to-- in order to complete their training.
- [00:34:30.22] If you completed your training and you qualify, you had to qualify what 95%. Not 94%, not 93%, 95%. If it wasn't 95%, that meant that you did not qualify. So we had unions, so there was always something going on as far as the employees. So we had union so that for fairness' sake, to be fair to everybody. So if they were in unions, that meant that even if they didn't qualify, they could file a grievance. So there was always something going on as far as my job was concerned.
- [00:35:30.31] And let's see, what else went on? So that that's what we did in our office. We trained. If they were going to be-- drive those-- you see those big trucks that they drive, you had to have training to do that. Even though you had a license, you had a regular Michigan license, you still had to be trained at the post office. You had to go under their guidelines.
- [00:36:01.63] So this is, like I said, whatever any job that you perform, if it required training, that training came out of my office. So that's what I did. I was a human resource specialist. That was my title. And when I retired, I retired as a human resource specialist.
- [00:36:24.39] SPEAKER 1: OK. How did you first get started with this job?
- [00:36:29.23] MARLENE LAWS: Well, like I said, I worked as a clerk, and I kind of went up through the ranks. And we had what we called the zip code machines. That's when they started your zip code. If you live in-- if you live on Crane Street near Mack, that's Zone 14. So that would mean that it was 48214. That was your zip code. And then they added four numbers behind that, and that was to make sure the mail would get to exactly where it was supposed to go. I lost my train of thought. What was the question again?
- [00:37:30.26] SPEAKER 1: How did get-- how did--
- [00:37:32.64] MARLENE LAWS: Oh, OK. OK, I'm back. I'm back. [LAUGHS] Let me see, am I'm back? I was talking about your zip code. Oh. I worked on this particular machine. When they brought-- because I'd been there for so-- at the post office for so long, a lot of the new technologies that they brought in, I was there when it started. So when they started it with the zip code machines where you would key-- you had to learn how to key on the machine, kind of like a-- it was kind of like a computer. It was a computer. You had to key on it.
- [00:38:23.16] And so I was like one of the first people to start on this particular job. And so we kind of got all the kinks out and everything when I started on this machine. And so I did that, and then they-- as a matter of fact, what happened is that this particular job was supposed to be a level 5. This is your money. We're talking about money when we say level, these different levels. And they-- somebody made a mistake, and they-- instead of putting a 5, they put a 6. So a 6 could mean that you would make maybe $5,000 or $6,000 more a year. So that was their mistake.
- [00:39:25.34] So because we were the first and I was getting level 6 pay, this was happening all over the country. But they couldn't change it. We saw to them not changing. It wasn't our mistake, it was their mistake.
- [00:39:45.45] SPEAKER 2: What was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
- [00:39:49.65] MARLENE LAWS: Typical day like? Well, I'd get up, get in the early morning traffic, arrive at work, and usually my starting time was 9 o'clock. So when I would get to work, everybody else would already have started to work. Some people started at 7:00, some at 7:30. And it's according to what had to be done. Some would even be there at 6:00. Most of the drivers. They had to be at work at 6:00 AM. So I was the last one to come in.
- [00:40:33.33] So I'd go in. Anything exciting happen before I got there, they would let me know. I was the day supervisor, so I would be the person that they would inform if anything out of the ordinary had happened. And I'd go to my desk and turn on my computer, and I'd begin my day.
- [00:41:03.65] SPEAKER 2: What specific training or skills were needed for your job? What tools are involved and how and when are they used?
- [00:41:12.22] MARLENE LAWS: Well, I had to go for training. I went to several different states for training. When you're dealing with people, and that's what I did daily. And most of them were young, people so I had to have conflict resolutions. I had to know the union management agreement to make sure I was in compliance with how I treated employees that were my subordinates.
- [00:41:50.86] And my particular job was to-- I kind of oversaw what happened with other supervisors in our area. If they needed training, I had to make sure they had their training in. Every year you would have to have 20 hours of training, some type of training. We had an upper management person, he was a stickler for education. So he implemented a program where all supervisors had to have 20 hours of training every year. So I kind of oversaw that everybody receive their 20 hours of training before the end of July.
- [00:42:47.44] And even-- we even had a program where you could go to college. And if you took college courses, if you maintained a B average, you would-- you could be reimbursed for your-- for whatever your classes cost. So that was kind of what I did as-- and I also supervised-- I had my subordinates under me, and I made sure that everything was going OK with them, and I took care of their time as far as pay. I made sure they had to hit a clock every day so I had to make sure their pay was correct. And so I just did various-- a lot of different things in my job description.
- [00:43:41.11] SPEAKER 2: What tools are involved?
- [00:43:43.39] MARLENE LAWS: Tools? Memory. [LAUGHS] Computer skills.
- [00:43:54.22] SPEAKER 2: What technology changes occurred during your work years?
- [00:43:57.75] MARLENE LAWS: Oh, a lot of changes were made at the postal service. We went from throwing mail by hand, and in 1975, they brought in machines they called zip code machines. And so you were on a computer. So that was-- that was a-- so that meant that the mail, instead of doing it by hand and you would have to do so many pieces of mail by hand, by machine, that was-- that kind of update-- that was a big update for the postal service.
- [00:44:45.59] And then they even-- I can't think of the name of the machine that they have now, but it doesn't require as many people to man it as it did when I was-- when they brought in the first machine. So this machine-- a lot of times, technology, it's good in a sense. And then in another sense, it's not, because when you bring in technology, instead of using 20 people, you only use four. So what's going to happen to that group of people?
- [00:45:33.50] So like I said, technology is fine in some cases, but it's never-- it never-- in my opinion, it's like-- it causes some conflict, I think, when technology comes in.
- [00:45:55.77] SPEAKER 2: What is the biggest difference in your main field of employment from the time you started until now?
- [00:46:03.26] MARLENE LAWS: Well, the biggest difference what's the pay. When I started working at the postal service, I made $2 and I think $0.85 an hour. That was in 1960-- that was in the '60s. And so of course, $2 at that time, that was a lot of money, but-- and then now, you can make $35, $40 an hour.
- [00:46:44.18] SPEAKER 2: How do you judge excellence with your field?
- [00:46:48.48] MARLENE LAWS: Excellence? Well, that's kind of-- I'm not sure how I would answer that as far as excellence. Because my excellent might not be yours.
- [00:47:04.71] SPEAKER 2: What makes someone respected in that field?
- [00:47:08.49] MARLENE LAWS: Well, if you do your job. If you do your job and-- even if it's not excellent, if it's consistent, because everybody is not going to perform at the same level. So if you do your job and do it well to the best of your ability, that's about as much as you can do.
- [00:47:36.49] SPEAKER 2: What do you value most about what you did for a living?
- [00:47:42.17] MARLENE LAWS: Well, what did I value? Well, my work ethics. And just my-- this ethical behavior.
- [00:47:56.74] SPEAKER 2: What is the biggest difference in your main field of employment from the time you started until now?
- [00:48:03.38] MARLENE LAWS: The biggest difference? Well, the people are different now. When I started to work for the postal service, the people had pride in what they did. And there's a difference now. They-- some people don't care. They go-- they go to work for a paycheck, and it has nothing to do with how they perform. So there's a big difference. I noticed that before I retired, that people were different than what they were when I started working.
- [00:48:50.21] SPEAKER 2: Tell me about any moves you made during your working years and retirement before your decision to move to your current residence.
- [00:49:00.26] MARLENE LAWS: Repeat that?
- [00:49:02.12] SPEAKER 2: Tell me about any moves you made during your working years and retirement before your decision to move to your current residence.
- [00:49:12.27] MARLENE LAWS: Any moves that I made? Like moving from-- well, I-- I kind of lived in the same places for a long time. And just before I retired, I did move. When I retired, I wasn't well. And my daughter-- I only have one child, and she lived in New Jersey. And she came-- when she came to visit me, she thought where I was living wasn't safe. So she kind of implemented my move. And-- because when I moved, I went straight to bed. They put up my bed and that's what I did. So that was the last move that I made, and that was in '07. And I've been where I am and I don't intend to move unless something drastic happens.
- [00:50:18.76] SPEAKER 2: How did you come to live in your current residence?
- [00:50:22.09] MARLENE LAWS: That's-- like I just said, my daughter wanted me to move.
- [00:50:28.82] SPEAKER 2: How do you feel about your current living situation?
- [00:50:32.02] MARLENE LAWS: Oh, it's fine. Mm-hmm.
- [00:50:37.68] SPEAKER 2: How did family life change for you when you and/or your spouse retired and all the children left home?
- [00:50:45.50] MARLENE LAWS: Well, how did it change? Well, my daughter-- like I said, I only have one child, so she's been gone. She was-- it seems like she was in college for most of her adult life up until now. She lived in New Jersey. She lived in Toronto, Canada for a while, and so that was kind of-- I was already divorced. So I'm just living and doing what I always do. I do a lot of volunteer work, so I'm always busy. And so after I retired, it's even better now. I don't have to get up in the morning unless I want to.
- [00:51:44.54] SPEAKER 2: What is typical in your life currently?
- [00:51:47.90] MARLENE LAWS: Currently? Well, I get up, listen to-- listen to the radio. I like listening to news to know what's going on in the world. And I volunteer. I go to the gym. I go out with the other seniors. I'm in a group called the Red Hatters, so I go to those meetings, and we meet different places and have fun. So I do a lot of things. Go to the movies. Just whatever.
- [00:52:40.87] Oh, and I have another group. It's a group of retired postal women. We meet the last Tuesday in the month for breakfast. And we do-- and I do a lot of things. Go to plays, go to lectures. So I'm not a stay-at-home person.
- [00:53:07.32] SPEAKER 2: What does your family enjoy doing together now?
- [00:53:10.62] MARLENE LAWS: Well, it's just really me. Like I said, my daughter is here-- after I was sick, she's been here. So we go to plays, we travel. We travel a lot. And-- matter of fact, I just-- we just-- it's been, what, two weeks? We just came back from Australia. So we do a lot of traveling.
- [00:53:39.14] SPEAKER 2: What are you personal favorite things to do for fun?
- [00:53:42.39] MARLENE LAWS: For fun? Going to the gym, going to my Zumba class, meeting different people. Talking. Just interacting with people in general.
- [00:54:02.36] SPEAKER 2: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you especially enjoy at this time of your life?
- [00:54:08.94] MARLENE LAWS: No.
- [00:54:11.94] SPEAKER 2: When thinking of your life after retirement or your kids left home up to the present, what important social or historical events were taking place and how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:54:26.39] MARLENE LAWS: Well, nothing really historical has happened that I know of. Nothing really.
- [00:54:38.08] SPEAKER 2: When thinking back on your entire life, what important social historical event had the greatest impact?
- [00:54:45.98] MARLENE LAWS: Well, when Martin Luther King came here and we had a walk down Woodward. I am not sure how old I was, but I was young, so that was historical to be in a march with Martin Luther-- Dr. King.
- [00:55:12.99] SPEAKER 2: What family heirlooms or keepsakes do you possess?
- [00:55:19.75] MARLENE LAWS: Not many, but I have a few pieces of jewelry that my grandmother gave me. So I cherished-- cherish those.
- [00:55:37.17] SPEAKER 2: Do you have any stories and why are they valuable to you?
- [00:55:42.01] MARLENE LAWS: Well, the only stories I have are the stories that my grandmother gave me, told to me. And of course I value them. That's-- we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. And if you don't know anything about your past, then it's not too good. You need to know who came before you, the sacrifices that they made, and it's probably the reason why you're here.
- [00:56:20.25] SPEAKER 2: Thinking back over your entire life, what are you most proud of?
- [00:56:30.56] MARLENE LAWS: Most proud of? Well, I guess there's a lot of things, but I'm proud that I could-- that I had the means to send my daughter through school, and that was my one thing that I said that when I leave here, because I only had the one child, that she would be able to take care of herself and not depend on anybody. And I think I achieved that.
- [00:57:06.35] SPEAKER 2: What would you say has changed most from the time that you were my age until now?
- [00:57:12.10] MARLENE LAWS: Well everything has changed. Well, just in general, I just think the world has changed. Not just everyday things. There's so many different things that's happening in the world. So I just feel kind of like the world is in chaos. Every day, if you read the paper, there's something happening somewhere in the world, not just in your immediate surroundings. Some things you might not be aware of, but they're going-- they're happening.
- [00:58:02.14] And most of the things that I hear now, they're not positive, they're negative. Things if you-- like I said, I was in Australia two weeks ago, and they were-- there was a manhunt for three-year-old girl that a man had snatched. The politicians are corrupt. They're talking about corruption-- they're talking about the same things there that they're talking about here, and that's on the other side of the world. So there's things going on everywhere, and it's almost the same picture. So what you see, if you don't know that it's going on, you think that it's only happening here, it's happening everywhere.
- [00:58:59.24] SPEAKER 2: What advice would you give to my generation?
- [00:59:03.66] MARLENE LAWS: Well, you really need an education. And you need-- really-- you need to be the best that you can be. Now it's competition. Jobs are not as plentiful as they used to be. So whatever you do, you are going to have to be excellent.
- [00:59:35.58] SPEAKER 2: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven't asked about?
- [00:59:42.30] MARLENE LAWS: Well-- well, I thought about years ago, we had-- well, I guess they're still in existence, but they had the Shriners and they had the Masons, and they had parades every year. There was a parade down Woodward, and it was-- it was just a beautiful sight to see all of these men and women in white with their-- I can't think of the name of their hat that they wore with the tassel on it, and these were things that happened all the time.
- [01:00:24.76] And it reminded me of things were so different then, and it was a sense of being neighborly and everybody knew each other and everybody treated each other better than they do now. And I just happen to think about the Shriners and the big parade that we-- and you look forward to that parade. And everybody in the-- everybody in the parade looked like me, and that was the one good thing.
- [01:01:02.90] SPEAKER 2: And that concludes the last section of questions. Thank you.
- [01:01:05.93] MARLENE LAWS: You're welcome.
- [01:01:12.10] OK, this first picture is-- well, it's very, very old. It'd have to be old because it's me. I think I was about one years old. So it looks just like me. When I saw this picture, I said, oh, that is me. And this-- well, I'll go here, the picture here. That's my graduation picture, when I graduated from high school. I didn't like the picture. You don't necessarily have to take your picture with your cap and gown on. So because I didn't like the way my hair was, so it's kind of curly, and we talked about that picture because it wasn't really the way I always looked, I didn't think, but that's my graduation picture. I graduated in 1958.
- [01:02:06.71] This picture here, I was in high school. I went to Miller high. And it was a barbershop we would pass by. So one of the barbers took a picture of us. This is my friend Shirley and myself, and they wanted me to have this picture to see how I was standing on my shoes. If you can see my white bucks, that's when white bucks came in. And then they had the black and white, the brown and white that you see the golfers wear, well that's when they first came out with those shoes, and we called them white bucks.
- [01:02:44.93] And I was glad they were lace-ups, and I was glad to wear white bucks because I always had, as they said, flat feet. So I never wore-- like the shoes you have on, I couldn't wear those, I always had to wear lace-ups. And I think I was about eight when I stopped wearing high-top lace-up shoes. So when they came out with white bucks, I was glad to wear something that wasn't a high-top and those ugly brown shoes that I had to wear all the time. [LAUGHS] And as you can see, we have books. We never came home from school without books. And we studied. [LAUGHS]
- [01:03:31.55] OK, let me see. And this picture here is my going away party. My cousin gave me a going away party, I was going into the military. The girl sitting next to me, which is Betty, we went into the military together. The girl that's standing here, she chickened out, so she wouldn't go. But later on she did go into the Navy, and she's a retired teacher now. And that's my that's my sister there, Yvonne.
- [01:04:11.87] Let's see. OK. This picture here, this is me, and-- I can't think of the young man's name, but that was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. We were outside our barracks. And he was some type of computer person. This was in 1960-- in 1960. So computers weren't even-- nobody really had computers. But they were-- they went to school for some kind of computer science. It was only a small group of young men that were in the military that were in this particular field, because at Fort Sam, they only sent, they said, the top of the line. So it was only a handful of these soldiers that were in this particular field.
- [01:05:24.64] And we were at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, but we were like attached. If anything happened militarily, we would be airlifted out because we had supposedly special skills. So-- and then right next door to us was the MPs, the MP section. So we were all on base-- on the post, rather. A base is different than a post. We're on post, and we were on one end of the post in like a special area. And we were like the only ones that-- our building, we were right next to men.
- [01:06:10.51] At that time, women, they kind of had you separate. They wouldn't have men and women in the same area. But because we were attached, we were next door to the men. And if we left the window up, the guys with-- and our bathrooms was like the same-- when we come in, we could look-- and of course, they would sometimes be naked. Hopefully we would come to the window. We had to keep the window down so they wouldn't-- so they wouldn't-- so it was-- it was in fun, but they would laugh if they happened to catch one of us.
- [01:06:52.12] This is myself and my daughter. I think we were downtown somewhere in front of the federal building. At that time we just called it the federal building on Fort Street. Well, this is a picture of my daughter when she was-- this is her first birthday party. Birthday, she didn't have a party, but she was one-year-old. That's Dawn. This is her graduation picture. And I think that's my mother and Dawn. I think this was a birthday my mother's.
- [01:07:29.83] And then this picture here is my main group. This is John, and Yvonne, which is my sister, Robert, and myself. See, I was real jazzy there. [LAUGHS] And we were very, very good friends. John, he passed away, oh, a long-- I think my daughter was getting ready to go to college. And we were going to use his truck that weekend to take her to school. His wife and I, we were-- she's not in this picture, but-- and somebody crossed the line when he was driving and killed him. And he was a very excellent dancer. He could dance-- I mean, just a really outstanding-- outstanding guy. Both of them-- Robert is still alive, he's retired-- he's retired now. And like I said, my sister is not alive now.
- [01:08:40.69] And this is my grandmother. This is Mamie. This is the lady that taught me everything. Gave me a history on our family, and she knew any holidays, she could tell you what the holiday was, why. So she knew everything about any kind of holiday or what was going on. And she always talked history. So any history that I know, it's from listening, hearing her, because she always talked it. And you see, she's sitting here with Dawn. She knew songs-- I still know songs that she sung to me when I was little. And she-- all babies loved her. And she would sing. She-- well I couldn't even sing the songs she used to sing, but she was very good at that.
- [01:09:39.97] And she was a wonderful cook. And like I said, at our house she was there, we could eat off the floor, you could eat off of the-- anything, because everything was always spotless. And she never got up in the morning without singing. Sometimes she would start singing and we said, oh, she's saying. She had a nice voice, but she would sing and do everything singing.
- [01:10:06.71] Oh, this is the day of my baby shower. That's my sister, this is my sister-in-law and myself. So we were in the backyard and they took a picture the day-- they gave me a baby shower. And this picture here is-- this is also at Fort Sam Houston. These are friends of mine. I can't recall her name now, but she was from Arkansas, and then Isabel was from Silver Springs, Maryland, and we were you know very good friends.
- [01:10:53.23] And at Fort Sam, they never-- it was 150 women at Fort Sam. They were in the military, but they never sent over five or six black girls. So we were very close. We-- well, when we were in the military, they had just integrated. So they had different-- they still had a different rule set. So it was just-- it was only about six of us-- well, I guess they counted up, there was about seven of us. But there was only seven black girls stationed there with me at this particular time.
- [01:11:29.95] We had another girl, she's not on here, her name was Perry. She was from Macon, Georgia. And she was the oldest of all of us. She was 32 years old. And the only reason why she came in the military, she was jilted. And she had a big wedding plan, and the guy jilted her. And so to get away, she came into the military. And she was a schoolteacher. And she was kind of like our mother, because she was so much older than we were.
- [01:12:02.23] And her mother sent us a-- well, she sent us a cake every month, we would get a cake in the mail for all of us. It was like a four-layer cake. I can't think of the name on the cake. And so we would go to her room and we'd go in and she would give us our big slice out of the cake that her mother sent us every month.
- [01:12:25.76] And this picture here, this was in 1967. And I remember the-- I remember it was in '67 because we were in-- this group of us, we were in Ohio. We had gone to-- we went to some kind of large picnic that they had in Ohio. But it was in '67 because we were on our way back, we thought to take this picture, and then people were calling home that's telling us, meet us, we'll be there. And the operator was on the line telling us that we could not enter Michigan because of the '67 riot. So that's why I remember this so well, because it was a riot and the rebellion-- that's what I would call it, the '67 Rebellion. And so we had to stay in Ohio until they told us that we could come into Michigan.
- [01:13:32.00] And that's just a picture-- we're at my girlfriend's house, and this is Shirley. I knew her most of my life. We went to school-- oh, matter of fact, this is Shirley, and that's also Shirley right here. So we were very good friends and-- this is just a picture that my husband-- he thought he was a photographer. He used to develop his own pictures and everything, and so he took this picture of-- this was our happy times when we were married. [LAUGHS]
- [01:14:15.82] Oh, and that's about-- and this is the picture he took-- he did a lot of black and white, he didn't really do a lot of color. And that's just one picture of me on my wedding day here. And I guess that's about everything that's-- like I said, my sister, she did this for myself and my two brothers. And she put all of-- different pictures on it that you would like, and something for you to remember. So my brother-- both my brothers, they have the same type of setup and that I have.
- [01:15:09.17] People that I work with. Some I worked with for, oh, 15-- 15 years or longer. Some of the men standing in the back, those are-- they were-- they did like conflict resolutions for mail carriers. And two of the other men, they were driver instructors. And the other ladies, I think one is a supervisor that's sitting there, and the other ones are training technicians.
- [01:15:57.12] This is my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my daughter. That's me. Let's see, it says, Marlene on her 18th birthday just before going into the US Army, 1960.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Sidney D. Miller High School [Detroit]
Black American Singers
Black American Veterans
Graystone Ballroom [Detroit]
Pontiac State Hospital
U.S. Postal Service
Red Hat Society
1967 Detroit Riots
LOH Employment - Health Ed Public
LOH Employment - Military
Dawn N. Laws
Martin Luther King Jr.