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Legacies Project Oral History: Mary Frazier

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 9:10am

When: 2020

Mary Frazier was born in 1910 in Marion, Arkansas, where her father owned a 140-acre cotton farm. She describes sharecropping, Black land-ownership, and the devastating effects of the boll weevil infestation on the cotton industry in the early twentieth century. When her father’s farm went under, she moved to Detroit to live with her aunt in the Black Bottom neighborhood. Over the course of her career, Frazier worked as a domestic laborer, hospital worker, and U.S. Postal Service employee. She completed her high school education at age 83.

Mary Frazier was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.


  • [00:00:09.48] SPEAKER 1: I'm first going to add to some simple demographic questions. These questions may jog memories. But please keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can go into more detail later. Please say and spell your name.
  • [00:00:25.51] MARY FRAZIER: My name is Mary Jane Frazier, capital M-A-R-Y, capital J-A-N-E, capital F-R-A-Z a is in zebra I-E-R, F-R-A-Z-I-E-R.
  • [00:00:44.83] SPEAKER 1: OK, what is your birthday?
  • [00:00:47.18] MARY FRAZIER: October 20th, 1910.
  • [00:00:51.26] SPEAKER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:00:54.68] MARY FRAZIER: My ethnic background, I was born in Marion, Arkansas, in a small farming community. My father owned a 140 acre farm. And he had tenants, people working on his farm. And they had to give him a certain percentage of what they made. Are you following me all right?
  • [00:01:36.05] SPEAKER 1: Yes.
  • [00:01:37.29] MARY FRAZIER: And the sharecroppers-- that was what the people was called that was working on his plantation-- they would work five days a week. And they would go into the little town on Saturdays. And my father had a boat. And he would take these share workers into town on Saturdays for a fee.
  • [00:02:17.19] And they would spend all day in town. And of course, they wouldn't have any money to spend until the end of the season, when the crops had been planted and had grown. And then they would get their money. Now, he had to feed them all the year. And when they get their money-- as I said, at Christmas time-- he would deduct what they owed him. And that was their Christmas money, and the money they had to live off of the rest of the year.
  • [00:03:07.05] Of course, mostly, he furnished the money. And after what they call-- when the crops, the cotton-- did you ever hear-- you knew about cotton, don't you? You knew about cotton?
  • [00:03:21.36] SPEAKER 1: Yes.
  • [00:03:22.24] MARY FRAZIER: Mm-hm. Well, when the cotton was ripened-- they call that "laid by"-- then all the money that my father had spent on them during the year, they would pay him. He would deduct that, rather, from what they owed him.
  • [00:03:49.70] SPEAKER 1: What is your religion, if any?
  • [00:03:51.65] MARY FRAZIER: Protestant. I belong to a African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is Protestant.
  • [00:04:01.60] SPEAKER 1: What is the highest level formal education that you have completed?
  • [00:04:06.86] MARY FRAZIER: When I was 17 years old, I dropped out of Northeastern High School here in the city of Detroit. And later on, when I was 83 years, I went to a day school and completed my high school education. But that didn't mean that I wasn't doing anything about my education all that time. I studied all the time. Every day, I studied.
  • [00:04:44.63] I had a dictionary. And I kept it on one side of the bed. And I'm on the other. And whenever I hear a word that I did not understand, I would check my dictionary. But I was what was considered a great speller. Every school that I went to-- that I attended, rather-- I was always the spelling champion.
  • [00:05:25.88] SPEAKER 1: What is your [? marital ?] status?
  • [00:05:28.83] MARY FRAZIER: Pardon me?
  • [00:05:31.40] SPEAKER 1: Married, are you married?
  • [00:05:33.35] MARY FRAZIER: I'm a widow, yes.
  • [00:05:36.32] SPEAKER 1: How many children do you have?
  • [00:05:38.91] MARY FRAZIER: I'm not a biological mother.
  • [00:05:42.35] SPEAKER 1: How many siblings do you have? How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:05:45.66] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, well, I had two brothers that lived to maternity. But they're gone now. They're all gone.
  • [00:05:58.13] SPEAKER 1: How was your primary occupation?
  • [00:06:01.67] MARY FRAZIER: What?
  • [00:06:04.45] SPEAKER 1: Oh, what was your primary occupation.
  • [00:06:07.84] MARY FRAZIER: My-- oh. Well, I did many things during my years. Since I did not have my education, I had to do domestic work. But during all that time, I was still studying and improving myself. And I was able to get a job with the government. And I worked with three government agencies. I worked at the government hospital, several government hospitals. And I finally finished my employment years with the Postal Service
  • [00:07:09.06] SPEAKER 1: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:07:13.11] MARY FRAZIER: I think I was around 65, thereabouts.
  • [00:07:21.62] SPEAKER 1: Now we can begin the first part of our interview, beginning with some of the things you can recall about your family history. We'll start with family name and history. By this, we mean any story about your last or family name or family traditions, including your first and middle names. Do you know any stories about your family name?
  • [00:07:41.36] MARY FRAZIER: About my family name? Well, my father was born in Memphis, Tennessee. And his father was a African. He was a slave. And after he got his freedom, he worked in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm not familiar with whatever type of work that he did. But he did save enough money to give my father, which is his only child, money. And he had saved enough money to give my father, who went down into the state of Arkansas, and bought this farm that I was telling you about.
  • [00:08:41.76] And I guess that's all about that.
  • [00:08:46.45] SPEAKER 1: Um--
  • [00:08:47.31] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, oh, no, no. After this cotton crop failed, there was a bug that was called the boll weevil? Did you ever hear of anything like that?
  • [00:09:04.89] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:09:06.31] MARY FRAZIER: Uh-huh. And it got into the bud of the cotton and destroyed the cotton. And therefore, my father was left poverty stricken. Well, he lost his farm. He lost everything. And then my brother died and left 10 children, my brother, his son.
  • [00:09:42.95] And you've heard of floods, haven't you, floods. Yeah, this water up in Minnesota just overflowing everything right now. Mm-hm and down in Louisiana and all that, where the floods-- you heard of floods, water taken over the land. So that's what happened in our case. And we were left poverty stricken. And as I said-- I believe I said-- I had the two brothers.
  • [00:10:20.65] And my aunt, who lived in Detroit, asked my father if she could take me to Detroit to live with her when I was 13 years old. And that's how I became a resident of Detroit, Michigan.
  • [00:10:46.42] SPEAKER 1: Are there any naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:10:49.43] MARY FRAZIER: Any what?
  • [00:10:49.97] SPEAKER 1: Naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:10:54.12] MARY FRAZIER: I don't believe I'm following you.
  • [00:10:55.97] SPEAKER 1: Oh, are there any naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:11:01.40] MARY FRAZIER: I don't guess I'm understand you clear enough to answer that. Wish I could.
  • [00:11:09.24] SPEAKER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come the United States.
  • [00:11:14.10] MARY FRAZIER: Yes, my grandfather, a slave, he ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. And that was in the days, just as the slaves were being freed. And he left Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. And I don't know what he did to make his livelihood. But he must have done well. Because he had money enough, as I aforesaid, to give my father money to buy this 140 acre farm down in Arkansas.
  • [00:12:05.50] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any stories about how your family first came to the United States?
  • [00:12:10.38] MARY FRAZIER: No, I don't go back that far.
  • [00:12:16.19] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living either in the old country or in in the United States?
  • [00:12:21.96] MARY FRAZIER: Repeat that.
  • [00:12:23.19] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living either in the old country or in the United States?
  • [00:12:27.81] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, well, my grandfather, who was an African, full-blood African, he worked then in Memphis, Tennessee, perhaps, maybe, working in the homes of white people, something like that, maybe shining shoes, that type of thing. Maybe even-- he was black as soot. I'm black. But he was black as soot. And his hair was white as snow, just like my hair.
  • [00:13:09.84] And he was very industrious. He would take hide from the cows called cowhide. And he would make a chair from wood and then take and make seats out of this cowhide. He was very industrious. And I don't know quite what else he did, maybe work in white people's homes, even, perhaps.
  • [00:13:53.23] SPEAKER 1: What belongings did they bring with them, and why?
  • [00:13:57.04] MARY FRAZIER: Well, now, from their own country, I really don't know what he brought. But one thing he brought, he brought knowledge. He brought good common sense. He brought knowledge, that's what I would say he brought.
  • [00:14:21.56] SPEAKER 1: Which family members came along? Which stayed behind?
  • [00:14:26.08] MARY FRAZIER: You mean some came and some didn't come?
  • [00:14:30.36] SPEAKER 1: It says, "which family members came along? Which stayed behind?"
  • [00:14:34.30] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, well, I don't know if I can answer that clearly. I don't quite remember.
  • [00:14:41.52] SPEAKER 1: To your knowledge, did they try to preserve any traditions or customs from their country of origin?
  • [00:14:47.39] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, I understand that. I don't really believe so. I don't think so.
  • [00:14:57.69] SPEAKER 1: Are there traditions that your family has given up changed? And why?
  • [00:15:02.14] MARY FRAZIER: Well, yes, when I came here to live with my aunt, she was an uneducated woman. And she tried to give up the things, the way of living that she was doing, and better herself by-- well, at first, she was just working for white people. And then she would make-- she was a entrepreneur-like. She would sell barbecue and that type of thing, like a little restaurant on the streets in front of her home. But she would always know that she had to get provisions from Board of Health, uh-huh.
  • [00:16:08.33] SPEAKER 1: What stories have come down to you about your parents, grandparents, or more distant ancestors?
  • [00:16:15.97] MARY FRAZIER: Well, they say at my age, everyone is just about gone. They're just about-- my generation is all gone. But their generation, after them, some of them, distant relatives are still here.
  • [00:16:46.14] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any courtship stories? How did your parents, grandparents, and other relatives come to meet and marry?
  • [00:16:58.54] MARY FRAZIER: Come to?
  • [00:17:00.49] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any courtship stories? How did your parents, grandparents, and relatives came to meet and marry?
  • [00:17:10.15] MARY FRAZIER: Came to be what?
  • [00:17:11.98] SPEAKER 1: Came to meet and marry?
  • [00:17:13.45] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, to meet and marry. Well, when my father left Memphis to come to Arkansas to buy this farm that I spoke about-- well, I don't know how he met my mother. I think she was living in Mississippi. And she was living in Mississippi. And they moved-- I think they was having problems over there in Mississippi by some means. And she moved with her family members to Arkansas.
  • [00:18:02.48] And that's where my father met and married my mother. And they were the parents of-- they actually were the parents of seven siblings. And my mother died at a early age. She died-- I believe she was 34 years of age. And I with a three-year-old child at that time. And she died. And my father remarried another woman.
  • [00:18:45.34] And I stayed with them until my aunt came from Detroit and brought me to-- [COUGH] excuse me-- and brought me to Detroit. But now, I had another aunt that lived down there on the farm and cooked for the white people. And every summer, they would take her with them up north here. I believe they said she would go to Kalamazoo and those summer places where the wealthy people had their summer homes.
  • [00:19:39.61] And then she eventually left her husband because he didn't want to go. And she moved to St. Louis. Did you ever hear of the World's Fair in St. Louis? Well, she lived there for quite a while. And then some of the other relatives that were still in Arkansas, they became inhabitants of St. Louis.
  • [00:20:15.38] SPEAKER 1: That completes this section of [INAUDIBLE] family activity. This part of the interview is about your childhood up until you began attending school. Even if these question jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories from the earliest part of your life.
  • [00:20:39.16] Where did you grow up? And what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:20:43.36] MARY FRAZIER: I grew up partially-- until at the age of 13-- I grew up on my father's farm. And my mother died, as I said, when I was three years of age. And I think I said before, my father remarried. And then I didn't have a happy childhood with my stepmother.
  • [00:21:17.52] And then my father allowed me to go and live with my aunt in Detroit, Michigan.
  • [00:21:27.60] SPEAKER 1: How did your family come to live here?
  • [00:21:30.91] MARY FRAZIER: How did?
  • [00:21:31.33] SPEAKER 1: How did your family come to live there?
  • [00:21:33.81] MARY FRAZIER: To live?
  • [00:21:37.20] SPEAKER 1: To live there at your house?
  • [00:21:39.95] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, well, they were farmers. And he owned a farm from where his father him-- he was a 17-year-old boy when my grandfather entrusted him with the amount of money that he did to go and buy this farm. He was a 17-year-old boy. But he did that. And he managed the farm quite well. And he was a very successful person.
  • [00:22:20.26] He had three children, my two brothers and myself. One of the brothers that is the age of 36 and left a wife, a widow, and let me see, 10 children. He was 36 years of age. And that was in the flood country. And he got caught out some of the cattle-- cattle, that's cows. You know that, I guess. So some of them got caught in the flood waters. And he went out to try to retrieve them.
  • [00:23:11.19] And he caught pneumonia from that. They didn't have pneumonia shots like they do today. At just had one yesterday. So anyway, that was how he died.
  • [00:23:32.03] SPEAKER 1: What was your house like?
  • [00:23:34.14] MARY FRAZIER: Well, our house was a wood house. And it was propped up on high stilts so that, when the water arose, it could not get into the house, cause it was up on high stilts.
  • [00:23:55.88] And they'd [INAUDIBLE] the holes with cotton and whatever. And it was comfortable. It was comfortable. We had our livestock, which was our cows, and our other livestock, horses, and mules, and chicken, in the barn. We had a large barn, mm-hm.
  • [00:24:30.89] And sometimes, the hens would lay the eggs. And the snakes would get in there and suck the eggs. So we had to be very careful of that.
  • [00:24:52.37] SPEAKER 1: How many people lived in your house with you when you were growing up? What was their relationship to you?
  • [00:25:00.19] MARY FRAZIER: Well, there was my two brothers, and myself, and my stepmother. And there was another lady that had three sons. She lived on my father's farm, as well. And she being a single mother, she couldn't have as much success with her sons. So she asked my father if her sons, of which she had four, could stay at his house in order to have more male supervision over them.
  • [00:25:45.96] SPEAKER 1: What language was spoken in or around your household?
  • [00:25:50.04] MARY FRAZIER: Well, the English language. Might have been considered broken English. But it was--
  • [00:25:58.58] SPEAKER 1: What different language was spoken in different settings, such as home, in the neighborhood, or in other stores?
  • [00:26:04.18] MARY FRAZIER: Now, I didn't hear that.
  • [00:26:07.21] SPEAKER 1: Were there different languages spoken in different settings, such as home, in the neighborhood, or in local stores?
  • [00:26:15.17] MARY FRAZIER: Well, they more or less all spoke just about the same language. See, there were whites that owned these large farms. And everyone spoke the English language. But in many cases, in our cases, it was broken English. Let see, now. In your day, I believe it was called, what, Black English, or something like that? Did you hear that?
  • [00:26:50.07] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:26:51.28] MARY FRAZIER: Huh?
  • [00:26:51.68] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:26:52.94] MARY FRAZIER: Yeah, well, in some places, some areas, they was trying to speak like they thought the people would be speaking in Africa. And so did you ever hear Mayor Young? He was the mayor of the city of Detroit. You never heard of him? Neither of you young men? Mayor Coleman Young. He did.
  • [00:27:33.63] SPEAKER 1: What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:27:36.43] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, I loved my father very dearly. And he would send me away from the farm into the little city to go to school there.
  • [00:27:51.77] SPEAKER 1: What sort of work did your father and mother do?
  • [00:27:55.75] MARY FRAZIER: Well, they were just farmers. They was a farmer. It was regular farm life, working on the farms. And then at noon, they would come home to have their dinner. And they-- I mean to have one that was-- they'd eat a snack after this dinner, that they would have a large dinner. And very good, wholesome food. It would be black-eyed peas. You know about black-eyed peas, don't you? Know about black-eyed peas?
  • [00:28:34.96] And they would eat corn bread. And they would would eat-- then they would have biscuits. And then they would have desserts that they'd just love. They'd have pie and cake. And they would have a little something sweet at every dinner meal. And on Sundays, well, they would get themselves dressed, and go to church, then come home and have a nice dinner on Sundays.
  • [00:29:13.22] SPEAKER 1: What is your earliest memory? What is your earliest memory?
  • [00:29:20.88] MARY FRAZIER: Well, my earliest memory is when-- I remember my mother. I was three years old. And that's the earliest memory I have. When I was three years old, I remember that my mother got after me to whip me. And my father-- I ran under the horse to get to my father. I could have been kicked. Yeah.
  • [00:29:59.28] SPEAKER 1: What your typical day like when you were preschool years?
  • [00:30:03.73] MARY FRAZIER: Preschool years, well, I'll tell you-- in preschool, I can't say too much about preschool. But I can say this. After I got in school, I didn't do too well. Because I was extremely, extremely poor in, at that time, we called it arithmetic. Now, it's mathematics. And I didn't do well at all.
  • [00:30:41.14] But as I said about the spelling and reading, I don't think there was anyone any better. I did extremely well on those subjects.
  • [00:30:57.55] SPEAKER 1: What did you do for fun?
  • [00:31:00.02] MARY FRAZIER: Well, just played around in the yard with the other children. Mm-hmm.
  • [00:31:06.53] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite toy?
  • [00:31:08.99] MARY FRAZIER: Yes. Even back in those days, I had a black doll. And she was a nurse. And she was black.
  • [00:31:24.27] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite game?
  • [00:31:26.60] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I tell you. I don't know. I was kind of backwards. I never danced. I never learn to dance. And let's see, never learned today. But otherwise, I was just like a normal child, mm-hmm.
  • [00:31:51.20] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite book?
  • [00:31:54.12] MARY FRAZIER: Favorite book? Well, let me see, what was my favorite book? Well, what's the favorite book. I was a great reader. So I suppose I there was many, many books that read. I would say I was a excellent reader, and speller, and English. But math, arithmetic as we called it in that day, I was no good in.
  • [00:32:27.78] Because, you see, I was afraid of it, of arithmetic. Because they did not start off teaching me. And I became afraid of arithmetic. And I never learned it until I went back at age 83 and get my high school diploma.
  • [00:32:59.71] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your early childhood [INAUDIBLE]?
  • [00:33:06.02] MARY FRAZIER: Yes, I remember some. Now, I mentioned to you that my father had a small farm, a 140 acre farm. But now, the white man-- we were on this side of the road, that was the dividing line, the road. We were on this side of the road. And the white man that made a 1,000 acre farm was on the other side of the road.
  • [00:33:33.23] And once a year, he would give a picnic for all of the black farmers, not only his. And there was about maybe six black people that had their farms. He would let everybody, everybody come to his picnics. And they'd have hogs. And they would dig a hole and roast those hogs in this hole, in this pit.
  • [00:34:18.15] And then he'd have tubs and tubs, wash tubs-- you ever seen a tub? Huh? Well, he would have those tubs just filled with pop. They called it soda pop, pop. And I I remember one of the flavors, one particular pop, it was cold cream pop. And of course, I don't eat sweets of any kind today. But I loved cream pop. Those were some of my-- [COUGH] excuse me-- good childhood memories, mm-hm, yeah.
  • [00:35:11.73] SPEAKER 1: That concludes this section of questions about your early childhood. Part three. In this part of the interview, we're going to talk about your time as a young person, from about the age that kids usually start school in United States up until you begin your professional career or work life. Did you go to preschool.
  • [00:35:39.73] MARY FRAZIER: Well-- preschool-- I think, maybe, I went to pre-- it wasn't considered pre-- well, I suppose it was preschool. I was about four-- not four, about five years of age. And I remember going to these schools. And I thought this was a great achievement.
  • [00:36:09.13] Because when I was around five years old, I could spell the state of Mississippi. And I thought that was a great achievement.
  • [00:36:21.64] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to kindergarten?
  • [00:36:24.15] MARY FRAZIER: Well, it wasn't called kindergarten in that day, at that time that I was speaking about, I suppose. But looked that would be beyond kindergarten. Because, as I said, I was around five years old. And I was spelling words like "Mississippi."
  • [00:36:46.44] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to elementary school?
  • [00:36:48.16] MARY FRAZIER: Yes, mm-hm.
  • [00:36:49.61] SPEAKER 1: Where?
  • [00:36:52.03] MARY FRAZIER: Down in Arkansas.
  • [00:36:54.54] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember about it?
  • [00:36:56.92] MARY FRAZIER: Well, it was fair. But it wasn't too much. Because I was afraid to ask the teachers questions. I was afraid to question them. And they didn't seem-- and as you know, the teacher cannot learn you. She can teach you. But you have to learn yourself. You realize that, don't you? The teacher cannot learn you. You have to do the learning yourself.
  • [00:37:39.74] Do you agree with that, you young men? Do you agree with that, what I just said? She cannot learn you. She can only teach you. But you have to be able to learn yourself. And I could never learn the arithmetic until I was 83 three years old attending adult day school.
  • [00:38:12.29] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to high school?
  • [00:38:14.27] MARY FRAZIER: I went to-- I dropped out in the seventh grade-- I mean, when I was 17. And I picked it up again when I was 83.
  • [00:38:25.52] SPEAKER 1: Where?
  • [00:38:28.40] MARY FRAZIER: At the Detroit Day School here in the city of Detroit.
  • [00:38:33.36] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember about your high school?
  • [00:38:36.22] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I remember that I was enjoying it very much. And I learned a lot from the adult day school out at the age of 83.
  • [00:38:56.14] SPEAKER 1: 2 Did you go to school or career training beyond high school?
  • [00:38:59.22] MARY FRAZIER: Did I do what?
  • [00:39:00.18] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to school or career training beyond high school?
  • [00:39:06.79] MARY FRAZIER: I had to go to work then. I had to go to work. My aunt was very poor. She wasn't able to help me as much as she would have liked. Because she was very poor herself.
  • [00:39:27.81] SPEAKER 1: Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
  • [00:39:32.98] MARY FRAZIER: No, I was always afraid of the person. I remember once, I tried to play ball. And I let the ball get away. And the team lost. And the girl said she was going to beat me up when we got out of school. And I was so afraid.
  • [00:40:00.05] But there was another, larger girl. And she said, no, she's not going to beat you up. She said, you just go home as usual. She said, but she's not going to beat you. But I was so happy about that. Because I was so frightened. But I was no good at sports.
  • [00:40:22.73] SPEAKER 1: What about your school experience? Was it different from school as you know it today?
  • [00:40:29.38] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I don't know what's going on too much today. But now, when my aunt brought me here from Arkansas, I was registered at Duffield School. That was own Clinton and Shane. Do you know anything about the lower Detroit? Huh? It used to be-- did you ever hear people call it Black Bottom?
  • [00:41:06.65] Well, when I first came here in 1923, black people could not live north of-- do you know where the Eastern Market is in the city of Detroit, on Grasher? Do you young men know where the Eastern Market is? You don't know where is the Eastern Market is. Well, what part of the city do you live?
  • [00:41:40.34] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:41:42.10] MARY FRAZIER: Where do you live?
  • [00:41:46.33] SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
  • [00:41:46.78] MARY FRAZIER: Huh?
  • [00:41:49.13] SPEAKER 1: White Cliff Village.
  • [00:41:52.88] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, I don't know where that is. Is it out near Southfield? You know where West Bloomfield is? Yeah, well, my relatives were living in West Bloomfield. But I didn't know too much about the other schools. I can't say too much about them, mm-hm.
  • [00:42:26.26] SPEAKER 1: Please describe popular music during your school years.
  • [00:42:30.44] MARY FRAZIER: Huh?
  • [00:42:30.94] SPEAKER 1: Please describe popular music during your school years.
  • [00:42:34.72] MARY FRAZIER: Well, they had that the piano music. And some children knew how to play the violin. I even wanted to play the violin. But they said that's one of the hottest instruments to play unless you came up as a youngster studying it. So I didn't get anywhere with that.
  • [00:43:00.89] SPEAKER 1: Did the music have any special dances associated with it?
  • [00:43:05.25] MARY FRAZIER: Well, my aunt's faith didn't permit me to do any dancing, her church faith. So I didn't know anything about doing any dancing because of my aunt's church faith.
  • [00:43:27.78] SPEAKER 1: What were the popular clothing or hairstyles of this time?
  • [00:43:32.26] MARY FRAZIER: Well, the young ladies, they children, they had their hair pressed just like they're doing today, uh-huh, just what they're doing today. And some people were even wearing wigs then. My aunt wore wigs. She had very little hair. So she wore a wig.
  • [00:43:58.06] But it wasn't a lot of people who wore wigs in those days, mm-hmm.
  • [00:44:03.99] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or styles from this era?
  • [00:44:08.67] MARY FRAZIER: Some what--
  • [00:44:09.33] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or styles from this era?
  • [00:44:15.91] MARY FRAZIER: Yeah. Well, it wasn't-- now, my grandmother-- well, that's not from this era. But they wore those real long dresses, real long dresses. And they wore corsets. Have you ever heard of corsets? The heavy ladies laced themselves down to make themselves smaller wearing corsets. Of course, I would never need a corset. Because I only weighed 97 pounds.
  • [00:45:00.52] So anyway-- but they dressed well. They dressed nice, [INAUDIBLE] my aunt, even though she was poor. And then-- [COUGH] excuse me-- another thing, uneducated people would work for white people doing day work. And they would-- particularly the Jewish people-- they would give you their children's clothes. And the Jews were always rich and had money. And so you were considered well-dressed getting the hand-me-downs from the Jews, mm-hm.
  • [00:45:51.00] SPEAKER 1: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words used that aren't commonly used today?
  • [00:45:57.83] MARY FRAZIER: Yeah, I guess so. I suppose so. But now, this is what people did a lot of. And it's coming back today, eating in the streets, going up and down the street eating. Now, I lived out on Dequindre for my playground. And this just sinful. They'd throw their paper all over the streets.
  • [00:46:33.14] They even have containers for them. And they won't use the containers. So a lot of us are really filthy people.
  • [00:46:48.93] SPEAKER 1: What was your typical day like for you in this time period?
  • [00:46:55.79] MARY FRAZIER: In the what?
  • [00:46:56.27] SPEAKER 1: What was your typical day like for you in this time period?
  • [00:46:59.92] MARY FRAZIER: In this time period?
  • [00:47:02.06] SPEAKER 1: In your time period.
  • [00:47:03.87] MARY FRAZIER: In my time-- what's a typical day? Well, when I was working, of I get up and go to work, and come home, and maybe one night through the week, we would go to church. And then, actually, on Sunday, we would go to church, every Sunday, uh-huh. And then we would leave church. And there were a few cars. There were a few black people that hate cars, huh-huh.
  • [00:47:36.72] SPEAKER 1: What did you do for fun?
  • [00:47:40.42] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I didn't do too much for fun. Because I was fraidy cat. I couldn't play sports. So I was left out most of what the children were doing. Because I couldn't do anything.
  • [00:48:01.43] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from your time.
  • [00:48:08.70] MARY FRAZIER: Yeah, but I tell you, what I remembered is when I was down south. And this big farmers had this town on my farm, when he would give his picnics for all the people. That was my very fond days.
  • [00:48:28.88] SPEAKER 1: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
  • [00:48:34.99] MARY FRAZIER: Let me see. I suppose they did. On Saturday nights, they would go to places called- did you ever-- I'm ashamed to even ask you this-- did you ever hear of honky-tonks? Did you ever-- well, that's a place kind of like a juke house where people would go on Saturday nights and have fun, but not the children, the older people, the grown ups, I would say, mm-hm.
  • [00:49:17.14] SPEAKER 1: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
  • [00:49:22.27] MARY FRAZIER: Well, let me see now, any changes during my school years. Well, I'd say my aunt was a very religious woman. And she mostly did her little work, as I told you, selling barbecue and that kind of stuff. And we were so poor that there weren't many changes. If that is answering to your satisfaction.
  • [00:49:56.98] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions from this time?
  • [00:50:04.27] MARY FRAZIER: Yes, you always remember Saturdays. You know I always remember Saturdays. There were always hooplas going on Saturdays. And here in Detroit, you go to-- you know where Bell Isle is? Bell Isle? The big park over there, near Canada. Well, anyways, we would always go to places like that, and hang out on the river, and give picnics over there and like that-- mm-hm.
  • [00:50:46.61] SPEAKER 1: Which holidays did your family celebrate?
  • [00:50:50.02] MARY FRAZIER: Well, we celebrated the usual holidays, Christmas, and New Year, and I'm trying to say Thanksgiving, where we always had plenty to eat, southern cooking, mostly.
  • [00:51:10.18] SPEAKER 1: How were holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
  • [00:51:12.89] MARY FRAZIER: Huh?
  • [00:51:14.09] SPEAKER 1: How were holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
  • [00:51:18.30] MARY FRAZIER: Nothing but giving picnics and, having plenty of good food to eat, and taking a tub, and filling it full of ice and water keep the pop, and fried chicken, we'd have fried chicken to eat, and like that. And that's about all. Because we always had plenty to eat.
  • [00:51:49.68] SPEAKER 1: Has your family created its own traditions and celebrations?
  • [00:51:53.17] MARY FRAZIER: Huh?
  • [00:51:53.91] SPEAKER 1: Has your team created its own tradition and celebrations?
  • [00:51:57.97] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I supposed to-- well, most everybody was doing the same thing. On holidays, they would go out and celebrate, you know, go to this park that you don't remember, Bell Isle. It's on the Detroit River down there, mm-hmm. And then we would have always good food. That was the key of any celebration, is food. It would be nothing without food.
  • [00:52:39.52] SPEAKER 1: What special food traditions did your family have?
  • [00:52:43.81] MARY FRAZIER: Oh, sweet potato pie, and fried chicken. And then, sometimes, they would even take greens and cornbread along with them.
  • [00:52:58.80] SPEAKER 1: Were any recipes preserved and passed down in your family from generation to generation?
  • [00:53:03.94] MARY FRAZIER: Yeah, yeah. We had a special cake that we made. It was called a chocolate pound cake. And people, they would cry for that. Yeah, and then one of my family members made cherry pie and lemon pie. Those were the traditional desserts that we had.
  • [00:53:38.65] SPEAKER 1: Are your family's stories connected to making special foods?
  • [00:53:42.77] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I tell you what, everybody-- I'm just about the only woman left in my family line. They're all gone. And I'm just about the only woman. Mm-hm.
  • [00:53:58.44] SPEAKER 1: Thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:54:09.81] MARY FRAZIER: Well, we would just keep up with everything as best we could. We never had a lot of money. But we would celebrate. The clothes that had been given to us, we would use those. And then they'd go to Salvation Army-- we were very poor, as I said-- and get close from there. And we always say plenty food, always had plenty food. Even though we were poor, we always had plenty of food.
  • [00:54:45.74] SPEAKER 1: That completes on questions about your school years. Thank you. Part four, this set of questions covers a fairly long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family, until all your children left home, and you and your spouse retired from work. So we might be talking about a stretch of time spanning as much as four decades.
  • [00:55:18.66] MARY FRAZIER: Four decades, mm-hm. Well, my husband expired close to four decades ago. And my working years came to a close about that time. And we were able to live comfortable. After my husband passed, I was able to live comfortable. Cause I got a good job close to the end of my working years. I worked for the government, for the Postal Service. And I was able to be to be comfortable.
  • [00:56:02.63] And I did-- I was considered a world traveler. I've covered the world. I've been to all the continents. I might have mentioned that to you yesterday, didn't I? I think I did. Yeah, I've covered the world. Yeah, cause I remember I was telling you that I went down where the Atlantic and the Pacific met and had lunch out there on the road, uh-huh.
  • [00:56:38.29] SPEAKER 1: After you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:56:41.33] MARY FRAZIER: Well, when I dropped out of high school, as I mentioned, at 17, had no education. So I worked in people's private homes. But I never stopped studying. I studied all my life. Because I remember, when I got my job at the post office, I was the oldest person taking this particular test. I was the oldest person.
  • [00:57:31.26] And I was the only one that had not graduated from high school. And yet, I had the highest score
  • [00:57:46.88] SPEAKER 1: How did you come to live here?
  • [00:57:49.38] MARY FRAZIER: Well, my aunt, my father let her bring me here to live with her. Because I wasn't having-- I was having a rough time where I was living. My father remarried. And the woman that he married was not very kind to me. And so he let me go to live with my aunt in Detroit, mm-hm.
  • [00:58:16.81] SPEAKER 1: Did you remain there, or did you move around through your working adult life? And what was the reason for these moves?
  • [00:58:22.44] MARY FRAZIER: Well, I lived in St. Louis for a while. And then we moved-- my aunt brought me on here to Detroit. And we did the domestic type of work. That means cleaning people's homes, and like that, until I got to the place where I could pass these tests and get better jobs. And that's what I did.
  • [00:58:58.42] And I spent my last 30, or 35, close to 40 years on much, much better job. As I said, I was able to take these tests and get in better jobs. I began working for the government, mm-hm.
  • [00:59:33.22] SPEAKER 1: All right, that is it. We will continue on tomorrow.
  • [00:59:38.08] MARY FRAZIER: All right.
  • [00:59:39.08] SPEAKER 1: Thank you for having this interview with us.
  • [00:59:42.77] MARY FRAZIER: Thank you--
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Length: 00:59:46

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Domestic Work
U.S. Postal Service
Black American Businesses
Black Bottom [Detroit]
LOH Entrepreneurship
Oral Histories
Legacies Project
Mary Frazier
Coleman A. Young
Marion AR
Memphis TN
Dequindre Cut Detroit