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Legacies Project Oral History: Roberta Wright

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 9:17am

When: 2020

Roberta Hughes Wright was born in 1922 and grew up in Detroit. She attended Howard University at age 15 and completed her bachelor's degree at Wayne State University. During the course of her career she was an X-ray technician, teacher, school social worker, and probate attorney. She earned her PhD from the University of Michigan and a JD from Wayne State. After the passing of her first husband Wilbur B. Hughes II, she married Charles H. Wright, founder of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. She wrote several books, including an autobiography titled Reflections of My Life and Lay Down Body: Living History in African American Cemeteries. She passed away on April 2, 2019.

Roberta Hughes Wright was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.

Transcript

  • [00:00:10.12] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Pamela Knight?
  • [00:00:11.52] SPEAKER 1: Nilns. Nilns.
  • [00:00:13.62] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Lyon.
  • [00:00:14.90] SPEAKER 1: Like open that you--
  • [00:00:17.01] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Like who is?
  • [00:00:18.09] [LAUGHS]
  • [00:00:18.75] SPEAKER 1: Nilns.
  • [00:00:20.19] ROBERTA WRIGHT: How you spell it ?
  • [00:00:21.76] SPEAKER 1: N-I-L-N-S.
  • [00:00:22.67] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, OK.
  • [00:00:24.67] SPEAKER 1: This is an interview for the Legacy Project. And this is where students gather oral histories and put them into an archive for future generations
  • [00:00:39.06] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Sounds good.
  • [00:00:42.14] SPEAKER 1: To the best of your ability, just look toward the camera. Your eyes toward the--
  • [00:00:49.95] ROBERTA WRIGHT: To watch you, isn't it?
  • [00:00:51.75] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:00:52.37] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes.
  • [00:00:56.70] SPEAKER 1: If you have any cellphones or any beepers, I can put them on silent, please.
  • [00:01:00.94] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Of course.
  • [00:01:04.74] SPEAKER 1: May you please say and spell your name?
  • [00:01:08.24] ROBERTA WRIGHT: My name is Roberta Hughes Wright. Roberta, R-O-B-E-R-T-A. Hughes, H-U-G-H-E-S. And Wright, W-R-I-G-H-T.
  • [00:01:21.03] SPEAKER 1: When's your birthday?
  • [00:01:23.75] ROBERTA WRIGHT: April 17.
  • [00:01:25.59] SPEAKER 1: Including the year? Including the year?
  • [00:01:29.70] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I'm in my eighth decade.
  • [00:01:34.62] SPEAKER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:01:38.91] ROBERTA WRIGHT: My background? African-American.
  • [00:01:43.00] SPEAKER 1: What is your religion, if any?
  • [00:01:45.48] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Congregational. Plymouth United Church of Christ.
  • [00:01:52.49] SPEAKER 1: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
  • [00:01:58.47] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, they're almost equal. I have a PhD from University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor, a law degree, from Wayne State University.
  • [00:02:09.70] SPEAKER 1: What is your marital status.
  • [00:02:12.08] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I'm a widow-- widowed twice. Lost two husbands.
  • [00:02:17.01] SPEAKER 1: How many children do you have?
  • [00:02:19.78] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Two.
  • [00:02:21.28] SPEAKER 1: Any siblings?
  • [00:02:23.28] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, one, I had a sister, and she's passed away.
  • [00:02:29.90] SPEAKER 1: What was your primary occupation?
  • [00:02:33.03] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, it's hard to say because I was a school teacher, public school teacher, and school social worker. And then after I got my PhD, I taught at Lawrence Tech Institute University for a while. So I guess a teacher. What else did I do? Well, that's the main thing. I've done a lot of things, but you said primary, right?
  • [00:03:06.92] SPEAKER 1: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:03:09.91] ROBERTA WRIGHT: About 10 years ago, I guess. I've been retired because I ended up just practicing law. And so as a lawyer, I got tired about 10 years ago.
  • [00:03:26.07] SPEAKER 1: Did you know any stories about your family?
  • [00:03:29.32] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes. You want to know a little bit of my family? We can start with my mother. She was born in Canada, in Ontario-- Merlin, Ontario. She was one-- she had 12 sisters and brothers.
  • [00:03:54.37] And then my father was in Canada, of course. It was under the queen-- Queen Victoria at the time. And my father was born in British Guiana, which is now Guiana. And that was a British colony at the time or country at the time. And he came to America in 1910. And became a physician. But that's a long story.
  • [00:04:26.94] SPEAKER 1: Are there any naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:04:29.53] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Naming? Yes. Barbara. My grandmother was Barbara. And my mother was a Barbara. My daughter is Barbara. And one of my grandchildren is Christina Barbara.
  • [00:04:51.27] SPEAKER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:04:55.76] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my mother, herself, part of her family came over. They weren't far away, of course. Right in Canada. And they just came over.
  • [00:05:05.64] Got tired of farming, I guess, and closed up their farm. And some of them stayed there. They didn't move over here. Such a big family.
  • [00:05:14.02] And my father, of course, wanted to go to medical school or a bigger college. And they didn't have that in British Guiana, what he wanted educationally.
  • [00:05:26.22] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any stories about how your family first came to the United States?
  • [00:05:31.53] ROBERTA WRIGHT: How?
  • [00:05:32.03] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, how.
  • [00:05:33.48] ROBERTA WRIGHT: My father came by way of a boat that was going back and forth from the United States to South America. And he was a passenger on the boat. Let's see, he got our first in New York at Ellis Island.
  • [00:06:06.65] SPEAKER 1: Where did they first settle?
  • [00:06:09.77] ROBERTA WRIGHT: When what?
  • [00:06:10.85] SPEAKER 1: Where did they first settle?
  • [00:06:13.22] ROBERTA WRIGHT: On the east side of Detroit.
  • [00:06:18.12] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living?
  • [00:06:21.05] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well when my father came, he went straight to a hospital in Battle Creek. And he not only got a job there, but they helped inspire him and tell him where the best places for a medical school to go to.
  • [00:06:46.89] SPEAKER 1: Describe your family migration once they arrived in the United States and how they came to live in this area.
  • [00:06:58.56] ROBERTA WRIGHT: The people where he worked in British Guiana-- he was a teenager, he worked at a newspaper-- and they knew somebody in Battle Creek, Michigan, who they thought would give him a job. So he wrote them a letter.
  • [00:07:16.18] And I have a little booklet that the three of you will get. And I hope you get the Robeson booklet. And that tells a little bit about how he really worked there in Battle Creek, and then came to Detroit to go to what was City College then. It's Wayne State now.
  • [00:07:40.83] And my mother, they came, of course, by car from Canada. And settled in a big house down on Catherine Street, which isn't there anymore, on the East side.
  • [00:07:55.85] SPEAKER 1: What belongings did they bring with them?
  • [00:07:59.09] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my father had a couple of trunks. But he didn't have a lot to bring anyway. But he brought some clothes.
  • [00:08:09.86] And my mother's family, all twelve of them didn't move. I think probably six first and something. So they brought their luggage and came across.
  • [00:08:21.64] They were not citizens until after they got here. Then they applied to be United States citizens. And of course, my father had to apply to be a citizen too. So I'm the result of two people from other countries.
  • [00:08:37.57] SPEAKER 1: Which family members came along and stayed behind?
  • [00:08:43.50] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Who came along and stayed behind? Well, it's not half and half. But there were two families in particular that stayed. They got a little farm of their own and stayed in Canada. Mother sort of kept track of them, but they kind of went White.
  • [00:09:08.95] And one of their sons in fact went to Annapolis, the very exclusive Naval College, like West Point. And they didn't know he was Black. So he was really the first Black person to go to the Naval College. And they would have had a fit. By they, I mean the people-- you know who I mean.
  • [00:09:31.00] And the others came. My mother married a South American, East Indian-- West Indian, I mean. And a couple other sisters married West Indians right here in Detroit. And the others just married. So there was a lot of mixing.
  • [00:09:47.62] The family is strange because they look White, but they have some Black ancestors. And most of them wanted to be Black.
  • [00:09:58.58] SPEAKER 1: To your knowledge, did they try to preserve any traditions or customs from their country?
  • [00:10:06.15] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Not really, because they couldn't farm down on that street. No. Both of them brought bibles and religious-- but not seriously. I mean, they didn't go into the profession-- ministry, or anything. But they've always been spiritual, both of them. And they brought that.
  • [00:10:37.09] SPEAKER 1: Are there traditions that your family have given up or changed?
  • [00:10:47.59] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Not clear traditions. Say it again, please.
  • [00:10:53.38] SPEAKER 1: Are there any traditions that your family have given up?
  • [00:10:58.54] ROBERTA WRIGHT: From when they were young or something? I don't know. They just kind of blended into the new places they came to live. And they didn't give up-- life was different, of course.
  • [00:11:17.54] And my father, of course, even though he was in British Guiana and so forth, he was not segregated. And so he learned a lot when he came here and what it's like to be mistreated. And I guess anybody that comes-- well, he found out how it was to be mistreated. And some of that is in the little pamphlet you'll read.
  • [00:11:47.45] SPEAKER 1: What stories have come down to you about your parents or your grandparents?
  • [00:11:53.31] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my grandparents were true farmers, as I said. And my grandmother spent a lot of time-- I can remember her in her rocking chair. And my grandchildren now and my children, they all kind of tease me because I'm always saying I should be home in my rocking chair. And I've been very busy instead. But I didn't want to be the typical grandmother.
  • [00:12:29.68] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any courtship stories?
  • [00:12:33.89] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Know about myself?
  • [00:12:39.13] SPEAKER 1: How your parents, grandparents, or other relatives come to meet and marry?
  • [00:12:45.53] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, I had one aunt that married four or five times. And when they had family get-togethers, they're always a gang of them.
  • [00:12:59.84] SPEAKER 1: Where did you grow up, and what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:13:05.52] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I grew up on McDougall Street in Detroit and I went to Duffield School. And sadly, I just heard that Duffield needs to have some-- they're one of the lower-rated schools, so I hope we can do something about that. It's still open because so many schools are closing. Duffield is still open.
  • [00:13:26.51] And I can remember only a little bit about kindergarten. I can't remember much about some of the lower grades otherwise. But I remember the teacher hurt my feelings and getting hurt. I'll never forget that.
  • [00:13:42.82] She was trying to choose somebody to come up to her desk to cut some pictures. And so some of us tried out. And she said I couldn't cut. And I'll never forget that. That just shows how you can remember some things you shouldn't remember. I don't know why I never forget that.
  • [00:14:03.53] But anyway, Duffield was a good school. And my name is on the Wall of Distinction in the school. They have some kind of a framed wall of people.
  • [00:14:14.96] SPEAKER 1: So, how did your family come to live there?
  • [00:14:19.47] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Where they live-- you mean after they married, I guess? Well, then they bought a house. And I even have pictures of the three houses they bought as they went up and up.
  • [00:14:34.02] And Dad, of course, finished medical school. And my mother didn't work, but he had a small office at first, and then a bigger office. And so he had quite a good income.
  • [00:14:52.21] And McDougall Street in Detroit was a community of Blacks and Italians and a pretty nice community.
  • [00:15:07.20] SPEAKER 1: What was your house like?
  • [00:15:09.13] ROBERTA WRIGHT: The house was a regular two-story home. And it was well-furnished. And in those days, the doctors-- I don't see how everybody got away with it-- doctors would put on their porch, Robert I. Greenedge, MD. So the people in the neighborhood would know. It sounds not really crazy. You'd never do that these days. But in those days, medical doctors often had their names on their houses.
  • [00:15:51.97] My mother was one of the first Black women. See, there weren't a whole lot of Blacks that time in Detroit. They began coming in. But she was one of the first in the whole group that had her own car.
  • [00:16:04.09] And so some of my friends would come over. And cars had a rumble seat. You've ever heard of rumble seats? It's like a coupe, and in the back you lifted up and there's a seat where you can sit. It's hard to describe, but rumble seat.
  • [00:16:25.57] SPEAKER 1: How many people lived in the house with you when you were growing up. And what was their relationship to you?
  • [00:16:32.96] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my mother and father, myself, and my sister. Four of us lived there.
  • [00:16:39.44] SPEAKER 1: What languages were spoken in or around your household?
  • [00:16:44.21] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Just English.
  • [00:16:48.91] SPEAKER 1: Were different languages spoken in different settings, such as at home, in the neighborhood, or in local stores?
  • [00:16:56.45] ROBERTA WRIGHT: The neighborhood, there was quite a few Italians and some speaking Italian. My father knew some German. I think he studied German in medical school. He had some classes, so he could talk a little German.
  • [00:17:14.89] SPEAKER 1: What was your family like when you were a child?
  • [00:17:18.50] ROBERTA WRIGHT: When what?
  • [00:17:19.41] SPEAKER 1: When you were a child.
  • [00:17:21.26] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, it was different than today's family. My mother and father and sister and I, we sat down to dinner at a table, not at a television, and had dinner. Ours was a little different because we did have help at the time.
  • [00:17:39.75] And we weren't the only ones. Some of the positions and dentists in the area, and the lawyers, were able to afford a maid. And we had a made who came and cleaned up.
  • [00:17:50.88] And I forget-- what else? You said, what was the family? You know, we were a family. And my father ruled it, by the way. And he made some of the laws.
  • [00:18:09.54] He wasn't mean or anything like that. But just coming up from British Guiana, he was used to discipline. Their schools had a lot of discipline in British Guiana. And so he made sure that when we ate that no one jumped up from the table and said, I'm finished. You waited at the table until everybody had finished eating.
  • [00:18:34.59] SPEAKER 1: What sort of work did your father and mother do?
  • [00:18:38.61] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my mother didn't work. And my father was, as I said, a physician. He was a doctor.
  • [00:18:46.34] And in those days, he often took mother. And if he had a night call to make-- they went to your house a lot. And sometimes my mother would go with him. And she would wait in the car. And that wouldn't work now either. But very often she'd sit in the car and wait for him while he went in and delivered the baby or gave them cough medicine or whatever it was.
  • [00:19:16.63] SPEAKER 1: What is your earliest memory?
  • [00:19:21.67] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Of family? Or earliest memory? Earliest memory is that teacher that told me I couldn't cut. I thought I was very good at it.
  • [00:19:33.46] And my earliest memories is happy family life. It was a very happy, strong family. And I didn't have any worries. Today, it seems like there's so many worries. The world just seems so confused. But it seems more peaceful to me I when I look back.
  • [00:19:54.68] SPEAKER 1: What was a typical day like for you in your preschool years?
  • [00:19:59.95] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Preschool, I guess we played all day. We got up and did the traditional things, getting dressed. And only because I have some pictures do I know what I look like.
  • [00:20:14.06] And we just played or go for a ride. That was preschool, you said, oh yeah. So we did a lot of playing, had a lot of toys of course.
  • [00:20:30.61] SPEAKER 1: So what did you do for fun?
  • [00:20:33.20] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Just playing with our friends. We had done dollhouses and bikes-- well, not preschool. I don't know whether we did much biking or not. But we had enough toys and everything to keep us busy. And I guess we sang and played hopscotch a lot. Hopscotch-- you do remember hopscotch?
  • [00:21:01.62] SPEAKER 1: Did you have a favorite toy? Any favorite toy?
  • [00:21:06.28] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No. Probably my dolls. I like the dolls. But I can't remember much else.
  • [00:21:12.64] SPEAKER 1: Do you remember who made the dolls or where they came from?
  • [00:21:16.59] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No. They just were dolls that were purchased in stores. I didn't have any handmade dolls or special dolls.
  • [00:21:23.43] SPEAKER 1: Did you have any favorite games?
  • [00:21:28.20] ROBERTA WRIGHT: We did a lot of hide and go seek. I remember that.
  • [00:21:34.06] SPEAKER 1: Did you have any favorite books?
  • [00:21:37.45] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes. But of course, you're talking about very young now, right? Yeah, just picture books. I can't remember which ones I liked best.
  • [00:21:48.36] SPEAKER 1: So you don't remember where you got the books from?
  • [00:21:51.64] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, my parents bought books, because they had a wall full of books. They liked books. And my father had a lot of medical books and mother had magazines. And so my sister and I had a lot to read all the time, or look at the pictures if we didn't read.
  • [00:22:08.93] SPEAKER 1: Did you have any other entertainment?
  • [00:22:13.10] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Not early on. You're talking about still preschool or early anytime? Well, in our basement we always had something there. We had a pinball machine, and we had a pool table.
  • [00:22:36.89] And my father believed in keeping my sister and us-- me-- busy. So we always had some games and things. And he liked that people coming over to visit us rather than us going in the street looking for a friend. So we always had friends come over.
  • [00:22:59.49] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from you earlier childhood days?
  • [00:23:06.29] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Mostly Thanksgiving. We always made a big deal over Thanksgiving.
  • [00:23:18.01] SPEAKER 1: So, you did go to preschool, right?
  • [00:23:21.93] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Did I go to preschool? No. No, I didn't go to school until kindergarten.
  • [00:23:28.49] SPEAKER 1: So you did go to kindergarten. Where exactly did you go to?
  • [00:23:34.67] ROBERTA WRIGHT: At Duffield Elementary School.
  • [00:23:38.10] SPEAKER 1: What exactly do you remember?
  • [00:23:40.60] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, I remember the teacher that wouldn't let me cut. And I remember that one of the teachers there was a wife of a funeral director. And she was a good teacher, loud teacher, it seems like.
  • [00:23:56.70] But they had a lot of good teachers at the time. But I can remember her. Her name was Ms. Bristol.
  • [00:24:04.55] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to elementary school.
  • [00:24:09.50] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I stayed at Duffield until we moved way up on North Detroit. After about 10 years or so, we moved. Left the house and bought a little bigger house out north.
  • [00:24:30.14] I don't know why he left the neighborhood. But we were beginning-- by we, Black people-- were beginning to live in the area of Detroit north of West Grand Boulevard, around the Boston Boulevard, Arden Park area. Although at the time we couldn't buy houses on Boston when we first moved.
  • [00:24:53.10] And what else is near there? Anyway, it was North Detroit. At the time, it was North Detroit. Northern High School, in that area, but east of Northern High School, Josephine and Holbrook. And those were really nice neighborhoods.
  • [00:25:17.22] SPEAKER 1: So what exactly do you remember about elementary school?
  • [00:25:22.51] ROBERTA WRIGHT: That I was a good student. I guess we always walked to school. I didn't go to any schools where I had to be-- at that time had to be driven. The schools were fairly close. And good teachers.
  • [00:25:46.44] SPEAKER 1: You went to high school, correct?
  • [00:25:49.37] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yeah, high school. Northern High School.
  • [00:25:50.89] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember high school?
  • [00:25:54.75] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, I remember my Latin teacher. The Latin teacher was very strict. And I remember I was trying to get really good grades. And I learned by watching him what I needed to do.
  • [00:26:13.46] And every day when he started the class he called for somebody to read some Latin and translate it. And I realized that I could come in and raise my hand and speak first, and I wouldn't have to worry about answering questions. I did get an A from him, because every day I looked like I was ready with everything. That I was not-- I was ready for those first lines.
  • [00:26:51.46] And my sister was a very good student. And she was older than I and had a good reputation in Northern when I got there. And so every time I made a mistake, I was criticized.
  • [00:27:13.18] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to school or career training beyond high school?
  • [00:27:20.61] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Other than the college, you mean? First I went to Howard University in Washington. And I was only 15 because I'd been double promoted.
  • [00:27:36.82] And I loved Howard, but I cried every time my family called. And I was really homesick because I was spoiled. There's no doubt.
  • [00:27:46.15] And it's when people say what mistake have you made in life, I would say that was one of my biggest mistakes. I went in January instead of waiting until September when most of the people come in. And then in June I came home and I didn't go back. And I know my parents were disappointed. But I went I went to Wayne State.
  • [00:28:14.44] And I wished I had stayed at Howard University because then afterwards you have the groups get together. I miss so much of that. And the classes, I was getting A's because the work at Northern High School was very, very hard. It was all 100% Jewish almost. And the teachers were very strict.
  • [00:28:37.15] And so I had a good high school education. And so at Howard I did well. And it was a wonderful school. And I just was spoiled. I wanted to be with mother and father. And it was a big, big mistake.
  • [00:28:51.82] But that's OK. I've had a good life, anyway. But I'm hoping that I forget it someday. But anyway.
  • [00:29:05.00] SPEAKER 1: What else do you remember about it?
  • [00:29:09.17] ROBERTA WRIGHT: About high school or what?
  • [00:29:11.68] SPEAKER 1: Beyond high school and college?
  • [00:29:13.75] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Beyond? Well, after that, I stayed at Wayne and I got my bachelor's at Wayne, then I got a masters degree. And that's when I was preparing for school social work.
  • [00:29:31.24] And then I always wanted to be a lawyer. And I'm not sure that wasn't another mistake too. But I graduated from Wayne State Law School and pass the bar.
  • [00:29:44.62] But in the meantime, I did not take the bar at first because I had my children. And I was married to Wilbur Hughes. It's where the Hughes comes in my name. And he was in the Army, World War II.
  • [00:30:07.39] Then I was pregnant, had two children. And then I went back and took the bar, the state bar for law.
  • [00:30:18.97] And my career is all jumbled up with teaching and law. And I did practice law, mostly in Oakland County because we had moved to Southfield. And law wasn't any fun-- I like teaching. And I wished I had changed. I wish I had stayed with teaching.
  • [00:30:42.31] But I went and tried law. And I practiced law about 10, 15 years. But it just wasn't my favorite. For a while, I had criminal law cases.
  • [00:30:52.92] And the social worker in me would come out and I'd be talking to my client who had just killed somebody. And I was saying, you're not going to do that again, are you. Yes, he was. So it wasn't that much of a fun thing.
  • [00:31:07.52] But I like school. I like studying, as you can see. And then I went to University of Michigan to get a PhD. And that let me have college teaching. And college teaching was very interesting.
  • [00:31:24.73] SPEAKER 1: Did you play any sports or join any other activities outside of school?
  • [00:31:30.24] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes, yes, especially in elementary school. I ran track and played baseball.
  • [00:31:38.53] SPEAKER 1: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today?
  • [00:31:44.41] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh dear. We respected our teachers. And we certainly didn't cuss in class. And we learned, and we did our homework. And it was quite different from what I think it is now.
  • [00:32:09.72] SPEAKER 1: Please describe the popular music in your schools?
  • [00:32:16.42] ROBERTA WRIGHT: We had a-- what do you call it, you put your nickel in it-- in our basement. And the machine, the big machine. And I've always liked music, all kinds of music.
  • [00:32:28.24] But people that I name, you wouldn't even know. Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock, Nat King Cole. Everybody knows that because of his daughter, I guess. And I like jazz. And I like to dance, I love to dance. Chubby Checker.
  • [00:32:53.32] And I'm diabetic-- diabetes II, which is not that bad. And so I do my exercising a lot by putting a CD, and go to work by myself. But I do like to dance.
  • [00:33:18.16] SPEAKER 1: Did the music have any special dances associated with it?
  • [00:33:22.60] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, that's the jitterbug and all those little dances we had, some of the names. So I knew most of the dances. I know a little of the hustle now. But I can't do all the-- you go to a party and then you've got all the other steps. So I've got to sit down. And of course, we did some waltzing-- jitterbugging and waltzing.
  • [00:33:51.72] SPEAKER 1: What were the popular clothing or hairstyles of this time?
  • [00:33:57.60] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I guess a lot of braids. I wore braids a lot. And there were sometimes bobs. And my friend that had her interview recently, she was saying it took her a while to learn to swim because of her hair. And I did learn. I never was very good.
  • [00:34:26.13] In elementary school, well, we didn't have a pool then. When I went to middle school, they had a pool. And I had not learned. Like my grandchildren now, they all learned to swim early.
  • [00:34:38.97] But I was the only Black at middle school. And one more came later. And that was Hutchins School. Only Black.
  • [00:34:53.57] I was just embarrassed in the pool because I was the only one that didn't know how to swim. And that's real embarrassing with the whole class splashing in and all the Jews that have been swimming. And I'm trying to learn the egg float. But I finally learned to swim. And then Howard, I could do a little swimming.
  • [00:35:17.25] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other styles from this era?
  • [00:35:21.98] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No. The clothes, I guess the women dressed a little more. The girls don't go out now at 11 and 12 years of age and put on these revealing clothes and the short skirts and the ridiculous way they dress.
  • [00:35:41.35] And we certainly wouldn't go to school with everything hanging out. It just wasn't good.
  • [00:35:49.63] SPEAKER 1: Were there any--
  • [00:35:50.90] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Just sounds so loud.
  • [00:35:52.17] SPEAKER 1: Were there any slang term, phrases, or words used then that aren't in common use today?
  • [00:35:59.56] ROBERTA WRIGHT: You bet. I'm sure some of the slang words, but nothing real negative. Calling each other kid or something like that. I can't think of one.
  • [00:36:21.38] SPEAKER 1: What was a typical day like for you in this time period?
  • [00:36:26.55] ROBERTA WRIGHT: What time period are we in? I've been skipping around.
  • [00:36:31.33] SPEAKER 1: You--
  • [00:36:34.04] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Before marriage, anyway, right? A typical day would be, well, get up and dress and everything. And I guess, depending on what year it was, going to school.
  • [00:36:48.50] And enjoying picnics. My family loved picnics. And my dad had-- I think I have a picture of those cars in the booklet.
  • [00:37:06.02] There were several farms around, primarily the Meadows and some of them that aren't there yet now where the bikes went to picnic. And so we used to have really nice picnics all the time. Sometimes Belle Isle, but there were other places around, and Brighton, and so forth, where we went to picnic. And we went on the Boblo Boat a lot, which is no longer there. And so there were a lot of things to do.
  • [00:37:43.76] The YW Museum was good. They a lot of people come in and lecture there. And we had a really good YWCA.
  • [00:37:58.21] SPEAKER 1: So at this time, what did you do for fun as you were growing up, as you got older?
  • [00:38:04.72] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, we had some little clubs. And we had funny names to our clubs. One-- I'm trying to think of the name. And I don't think we did much. Just meeting together, just a group of girls.
  • [00:38:24.60] And I took tap toe and acrobat lessons. And I never ended up tapping very good, or on my toes. I liked acrobat, but I took lessons at the Y.
  • [00:38:40.34] And we went on some trips. We took a trip to South America to where my-- I was about 11-- where my father was born. So we got to see the country.
  • [00:38:54.27] And at that time, they didn't have as many mega-hotels. And they had lots of tropical gardens and small hotels. But now all the islands as you go down-- we went up to Boston and caught a boat in Boston-- and it went down to Bermuda. And then down through a lot of islands, Grenada and Barbados, until they got to South America.
  • [00:39:24.96] And this particular ship stopped at all these islands. And the natives would come out to the boat and want pennies. You'd throw your money overboard. And then go off into the island and walk around to see the beauty and so forth. So we did travel.
  • [00:39:49.13] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from this time as you were growing up?
  • [00:40:00.29] ROBERTA WRIGHT: There's so many times that we got together. I'm trying to think what might have been very different. We always go back to Canada on Labor Day. We still do that every Labor Day.
  • [00:40:17.39] It's not just relatives. It's just groups of people that go that were close, friends. And we go to Canada, like September-- this year, September, the first Monday. We get in the car and we go up to near where mother was born.
  • [00:40:32.60] And they have a parade. And the parade is usually backhoes and fire engines and everything. They come in the hall. I took some friends once and they said, is this a parade. And I said yeah.
  • [00:40:45.50] And to this day, some of those cities over there are kind of country. And we love it. And the food is good, so and so.
  • [00:40:56.36] SPEAKER 1: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions?
  • [00:41:01.57] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, though that's one of them, the trips.
  • [00:41:05.76] SPEAKER 1: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time?
  • [00:41:12.11] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, I'm not sure.
  • [00:41:15.50] SPEAKER 1: Are there any changes in your family life during your school years?
  • [00:41:21.26] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No. My mother and father stayed in the same house for a long time. And they were always together. And so it was a very good family life.
  • [00:41:41.08] SPEAKER 1: During your school years, were there any special days or events?
  • [00:41:48.71] ROBERTA WRIGHT: During the school days? Not related to the schools, necessarily, but our family's always thinking of something. When my father went to a medical meeting in Florida, after the medical, they were annual Black doctors. And it was called the National Doctors Association.
  • [00:42:12.86] And after the meetings, they always went someplace different. And one year they went to Cuba. And so we went to Cuba, which you can't go to now. Just visiting, I guess.
  • [00:42:23.48] And I can remember, Cuba was so beautiful. And I always said, I want to come back here when I grow up and visit. But so much has happened with Cuba. Do you study that in school much about Castro and Cuba? One day it'll come back, I guess, where Americans can go back and forth.
  • [00:42:48.79] SPEAKER 1: Which holidays did your family celebrate?
  • [00:42:54.03] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I had mentioned Thanksgiving, I think. And they celebrate July 4 with picnics. And Christmas, of course, all the time celebrating Christmas.
  • [00:43:10.63] SPEAKER 1: How are holidays traditionally celebrated in your family?
  • [00:43:14.83] ROBERTA WRIGHT: By getting together. We don't make a great big thing out of the holidays. I guess we watch fireworks when they're out and whatever.
  • [00:43:35.83] SPEAKER 1: Has your family created its own tradition of celebration?
  • [00:43:40.13] ROBERTA WRIGHT: In celebrations?
  • [00:43:41.48] SPEAKER 1: You haven't created any--
  • [00:43:43.26] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No.
  • [00:43:43.91] SPEAKER 1: Of your own.
  • [00:43:45.09] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, I don't think so.
  • [00:43:47.53] SPEAKER 2: Keep going, keep going.
  • [00:43:51.81] SPEAKER 1: What special food traditions did your family have?
  • [00:43:56.91] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, it varied because, as I said, my mother's from Canada. She liked vegetables that weren't cooked to hard, too much. And lots of broiled food, I guess.
  • [00:44:10.85] And then my father from South America liked hot peppers and curry and rice. But they somehow blended it together. And we made it. But they had different tastes when they married.
  • [00:44:28.97] SPEAKER 1: Were there any recipes preserved and passed down in your family from generation to generation?
  • [00:44:35.71] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, we weren't big cooks.
  • [00:44:41.17] SPEAKER 1: Are there family stories connected to making special foods?
  • [00:44:45.18] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, not to making any special foods. No, no, except the difference when he wants rice every night and she's used to potatoes.
  • [00:44:58.94] SPEAKER 1: When thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time, and how do they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:45:13.89] ROBERTA WRIGHT: When I graduated from high school, I had a large party. And it was really great, all our friends and everything. And had live music, Gloster Current, who you wouldn't know, played the music. And we did the jitterbug.
  • [00:45:35.81] And then later on, I was a member of the Cotillion where my husband was a member of the Cotillion Club. And certain people were honored or something. And so we had a lot of different things happening.
  • [00:45:59.42] Is there a lot more about the family, because I didn't explain about the husbands? My husband Wilbur Hughes passed away in 1985. And we had been married a long time. And my children are his children.
  • [00:46:17.12] And then in 1989 I met Dr. Wright. And Dr. Wright had begun his museum of course by then. And it was in the basement of his office, his medical office. So he owned a house on West Grand Boulevard, big house, terrace-like.
  • [00:46:43.31] And when he started the museum, of course there were just some pictures and stuff. And artists helped fund it. He put some of his money into it. And then pretty soon he bought the building. He and the city and Coleman Young bought the building across the way.
  • [00:47:00.05] You see the building with the red? That was our building. And so it got too small. And so then they built this building. And he died in 2002.
  • [00:47:16.73] So like I said, I lost two husbands. But my memories are good because they were both very good men, very respected. I was just blessed. They were blessed too-- they had me. So that's the way that is.
  • [00:47:34.13] And my children, they had such a good relationship with their real father, biological father, that when he died they didn't have any bad feelings about just calling doctor Wright dad. They didn't go around saying stepdad or anything. And he was dad. And so it worked out.
  • [00:47:53.67] SPEAKER 1: Thank you.
  • [00:47:58.90] SPEAKER 3: Family. And so all of 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.
  • [00:48:09.98] First question, after you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:48:13.69] ROBERTA WRIGHT: After I finished high school, I lived on Josephine Street, 555 Josephine in Detroit. How did you come to live there? My father purchased the house when we left McDougall. And got a larger house in a very nice neighborhood.
  • [00:48:33.86] SPEAKER 3: Did you remain there, or did you move around?
  • [00:48:36.96] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, we might remained there for a long time.
  • [00:48:42.07] SPEAKER 3: I'd like you to tell me a little bit about your married life? Could you please tell me about your spouse?
  • [00:48:48.49] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes. My spouse was Wilbur B. Hughes II. And he was a wonderful person. He finished Wayne State University and Detroit Tech, then going university. And he was in the Army.
  • [00:49:11.67] And one day, we had been going around for quite a while. And one day when he came back from furlough, we decided to get married. And we got married. We didn't have a big wedding, but we had a nice wedding. And then went off on a small honeymoon.
  • [00:49:31.30] And do you know Damen Keith? Have you heard of Damen Keith the attorney?
  • [00:49:35.75] SPEAKER 3: I don't.
  • [00:49:36.52] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Don't know who he is. He was our best man.
  • [00:49:39.33] And the boat from Detroit to Buffalo used to come down the river. Doesn't come down the river anymore. And we took that.
  • [00:49:48.09] And then he had to go back to Tuskegee. He was an airman. And they still talk about the Tuskegee Airmen. And so he was stationed in Tuskegee, Alabama.
  • [00:50:01.80] SPEAKER 3: Where and when did you meet?
  • [00:50:04.06] ROBERTA WRIGHT: We met at Wayne State. After I came back from that one session in Howard, I went to Wayne State. And we met in the hall. And every day we'd start talking. And it grew from there.
  • [00:50:22.65] SPEAKER 3: Can you tell me about your second husband?
  • [00:50:25.32] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, my second husband was in 1989. And we met at a party where they were toasting him. He was retiring from his medicals, all those years of delivering babies, which they say almost up to 7,000. And he was retiring.
  • [00:50:47.69] And so we were both older. But I met him because he wanted to talk about my father. And he knew my father.
  • [00:50:58.40] And so then he was a lot more serious. Both men were just wonderful. I was blessed to have two husbands. But they were quite different.
  • [00:51:08.92] My first husband and I, we traveled a lot. We went to Mexico and we partied.
  • [00:51:15.31] And Dr. Wright was much more serious. He'd come over to see me. He always had a New York Times or something. And we'd talk serious stuff.
  • [00:51:25.15] And his wife had just died too. And he had two children and I had two children.
  • [00:51:32.65] And so then we started going around. And we got married, like I say. And he was just opening the other museum across the street before this one was here.
  • [00:51:50.68] SPEAKER 3: Tell me about your children and what it was like when they were young and still living in the house?
  • [00:51:55.87] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh. Well, they were good children. My daughter, Barbara, she now is Barbara K. Hughes-Smith. And my son is Wilbur Hughes III.
  • [00:52:12.07] And they grew up. They went to school at a time in Detroit, public school, when you could walk to school. And there wasn't so much crime at all. And so they never had any problems.
  • [00:52:30.16] And they had lots of friends. And their friends used to come after school, study together, or whatever it was. So it was a good experience. Both of them grew up and graduated from high school and went to college, and are now working.
  • [00:52:49.72] SPEAKER 3: And tell me about your working years?
  • [00:52:52.43] ROBERTA WRIGHT: My working years?
  • [00:52:53.72] SPEAKER 3: Yes.
  • [00:52:54.05] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, it's so complicated. I started out, I guess, being an X-ray technician. My father was a physician, and he wanted me to learn to be an X-ray technician because I didn't want to go into medicine. And I did that for a little while. And I became certified as an X-ray technician.
  • [00:53:17.69] And worked at receiving hospital for a little while. And then I decided I want to go back to school and be a lawyer. And so I did go back and got my law degree at Wayne State University. And I practiced law a little while.
  • [00:53:41.22] And then I had the two babies. And that took my time. And then after the babies, I went back to law.
  • [00:53:53.36] And I also got my PhD, as I mentioned before. I stopped to get that, and did some college teaching.
  • [00:54:02.72] SPEAKER 3: And what was your typical day like during your working years as an adult?
  • [00:54:07.80] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Busy, busy, busy, rushing. Ad trying to keep up schedule. And keeping the house, doing the housekeeping.
  • [00:54:17.50] And I guess I belonged to a few clubs. And I enjoyed life. We did some traveling.
  • [00:54:27.05] SPEAKER 3: What does your family enjoy doing together when the kids were still around?
  • [00:54:31.43] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, as I didn't mention yesterday, we spent a lot of cemetery time. And my father in 1925 and a group of other businessmen decided they didn't like the treatment they were getting when they were burying-- the funeral directors-- when they were trying to bury Black people because they just had the white cemeteries. And they decided to buy some land and build a cemetery.
  • [00:55:03.53] And I have a book with me-- you may want to take a picture of it-- that talks about the beginning of Detroit Memorial Park. And so we still gather there all the time on Memorial Day. And I love the cemetery.
  • [00:55:21.75] And it's beautiful. We have three others now. And much of my life, I've been writing also another book about death care and cemeteries.
  • [00:55:35.91] So I've always been busy. I'm a sorority person-- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. And belong to the Detroit Links, the Great Lakes chapter. So I stay busy.
  • [00:55:47.61] SPEAKER 3: What were some of your favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:55:50.86] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I like to play golf a little bit. I never was real good. We started a golf club called Par Gals. And so we went once a week in the summer in good weather to the various golf courses and played golf.
  • [00:56:13.26] And I was always like to bicycle. Younger, I like to ice skate also.
  • [00:56:21.68] SPEAKER 3: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you practices that differed from your childhood traditions?
  • [00:56:29.28] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Not so much. I did do some skiing. And I never was really good, but I enjoyed skiing. And so we still liked to picnic a lot. So I stayed with the same things.
  • [00:56:49.29] SPEAKER 3: Please describe some popular music of this time.
  • [00:56:53.91] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, let's see, Prysock. I enjoyed a lot of different music, jazz.
  • [00:57:12.60] SPEAKER 2: Hold, please. Sorry to interrupt. We've got our--
  • [00:57:17.06] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, Pamela's back?
  • [00:57:19.14] SPEAKER 2: We've got our marching back?
  • [00:57:20.87] SPEAKER 3: Did the music have any particular dances associated with it?
  • [00:57:24.44] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes, we used to jitterbug or do the foxtrot or whatever. We enjoyed dancing.
  • [00:57:32.01] SPEAKER 3: What were the popular clothing or hairstyles of this time?
  • [00:57:37.33] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Bobs, braids.
  • [00:57:43.48] SPEAKER 3: Can you describe any other fads or styles from his era?
  • [00:57:50.12] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, they called the shoes the black and white shoes, saddle shoes. And nothing in particular.
  • [00:57:58.33] SPEAKER 3: Were very slang terms, phrases, or words that aren't commonly used in--
  • [00:58:02.83] ROBERTA WRIGHT: We did that yesterday. You're just repeating it? Because I remember I bet there were. I can't think of the phrases.
  • [00:58:14.85] SPEAKER 3: Thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:58:24.95] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, I remember I just started working for Mayor Cavanagh when President Kennedy was killed. And of course everybody was upset when he was shot, President John Kennedy.
  • [00:58:44.65] And then later on Martin Luther King gets killed. Those were all very sad times. But there were good times too.
  • [00:58:56.70] And when we had President Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt his wife was a lot of fun. A lot of reading, we did a lot of reading. We read a lot of books.
  • [00:59:11.04] SPEAKER 3: This set of questions covers a fairly long period of time in your life, this time that you entered the labor force or started a family up until present time.
  • [00:59:24.28] What was your main field of employment? And how did you get started with this tradition?
  • [00:59:30.57] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I guess, the two main fields, one was education in public school as a school social worker. And that was interesting because I enjoyed working with single students rather than the whole class. And school social worker always had one student they pulled out of class and take him and talk to him and try to help him. Usually students who are causing problems or having problems. And so I enjoyed that part of my career.
  • [01:00:02.71] Then when I was working with college students, it was a little easier and interesting too. And I can remember the disappointment when they had a lot of Iraqi and Arab students--
  • [01:00:21.51] [SIDE CONVERSATIONS]
  • [01:00:30.64] SPEAKER 3: What was your main field of employment, and how did you get started with this tradition?
  • [01:00:37.30] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I had two main fields, I guess. The education and the law. And I enjoy teaching. I was a school social worker working with single disturbed children, primarily.
  • [01:00:52.98] And then when I taught in the college after I got my PhD, I enjoyed college teaching very much. And I had some students from Iraq, I remember. I guess they came here on scholarships or something from Iraq. This was before the war with them.
  • [01:01:13.35] And they insisted on getting all A's because it had something to do with them staying in the United States. And so after each class they would line up in my office door and see how they were doing. And I always wish some of the brothers would do that, really get into it like they were. But that was good.
  • [01:01:36.85] And then as a lawyer, it was interesting. I practiced law mostly in Oakland County. And I did everything at first. And it got too hard, divorces, and, like I mentioned yesterday, about the criminal law.
  • [01:01:58.56] And I ended up my career doing probate law. And that was much easier because that was doing conservatorships or guardians for people who needed help, and understanding wills and trusts, for people who wrote wills, make sure they did that right. So probate court was more interesting.
  • [01:02:23.64] And then I retired seven years ago.
  • [01:02:28.18] SPEAKER 3: What technology changes occurred during your work years?
  • [01:02:31.92] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh, so many. We finally had television during my working years. And that was the little televisions that were first. We enjoyed that. And then of course I wasn't that old-- we had telephones already and other things.
  • [01:02:56.73] But the email. So many of my friends started out, what's your fax number. And I said, well, I don't have a fax. Because pretty soon you had to have a fax. It was really popular, and we had a fax.
  • [01:03:08.43] And now I email all my-- and we haven't talked about my children much-- my grandchildren. And I have two great grandchildren. But my grandchildren, they love to text. And it's just very disturbing because you don't get into what's going on around you because you're pressing and talking to your friends, I guess.
  • [01:03:28.80] And I don't want to text. I haven't got time to text. I want to look at people and talk to people. And then I do use my cell an awful lot, though.
  • [01:03:40.02] SPEAKER 3: What is the biggest difference in your main field of employment from the you started until now?
  • [01:03:46.38] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, as far as practicing law, it's just about the same practice. And there are all kinds of cases. Everybody is suing everybody for something.
  • [01:04:03.75] People know much more what's happening because of the television. Like yesterday, the lady-- well, that wasn't a very good case. Well, OK, a few days ago when the 90-year-old lady was raped, you get all the details now. And you didn't get so many details. And it seems like there's so much more crime.
  • [01:04:29.79] But it's possible that there was that much crime years and years, all the time. But you just get all the details. And CNN, of course, I listen to a lot. And you get to know what's going on everywhere. So it's different.
  • [01:04:48.75] SPEAKER 3: How do you judge excellence within your field? What makes someone respected in that field?
  • [01:04:54.19] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, probably in keeping up with everything. When I was doing probate law, the law would change, the Michigan State law would change. And so we would have to make some changes in how we wrote up our papers or did our work. But gradually, there's usually change in the different professions.
  • [01:05:16.19] SPEAKER 3: What do you value most about what you did for a living?
  • [01:05:21.58] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, it kept me alert. I enjoyed both teaching and the law. But I enjoyed teaching more and wished I had stayed in that so much.
  • [01:05:35.48] And then I got interested in the cemetery. And we're stockholders, my family, part owners of three cemeteries. And people think it's not a lot of work, but it's a lot of work.
  • [01:05:51.10] You own a cemetery, you have to be sure and service all the funeral directors that call and say they're bringing the body out. And they give you the date and time when they're bringing the deceased. And you have to be careful at how you handle the loved ones because it's a time when they're very upset.
  • [01:06:12.94] And we have a lot of grounds people who actually dig the holes or get the mausoleum ready. And so it's a big job.
  • [01:06:23.38] And we who are on the board meet once a month. And among the budget committee, I meet every Thursday also with the cemetery and make sure that we're doing everything possible to make the experience good for the family.
  • [01:06:45.82] And we have to work very closely with the various funeral homes. Like I don't know if you know James Cole Funeral Home. And we do a lot of their work. And the people go to the funeral home first, and then they have to come to us to see where that person is going to be buried.
  • [01:07:09.32] And we try to let people know that pre-need is very important. Pre-need is that you go now when you're maybe 50, 60 or something, and prepare yourself so that, when you die, your kids don't get all upset and don't know where to put you and all this.
  • [01:07:30.70] At-need is when you wait till somebody dies, your loved one dies, and then you go rushing out to the cemetery. And you probably spend more money than you should getting a casket and everything.
  • [01:07:41.26] So it's a big occupation. People don't say, oh, I'm going to be a funeral director or own a cemetery as much as they say I'm going to be an engineer or a journalist. But it's something that I've grown up with.
  • [01:07:58.01] SPEAKER 3: Tell me about moves you made during your work years and retirement before your decision to move to your current residence?
  • [01:08:06.69] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, just keeping busy and everything. Dr. Wright and I got interested in a place called Penn Center in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. You know South Carolina? And have you lived there at all or visited? It's wonderful. I love the South.
  • [01:08:33.67] I was born in Detroit, but I love the South. And we heard about Penn Center in South Carolina. And we began to take trips down there because it was a school that at first taught the enslaved at the time of the Civil War when you had the White slave owners.
  • [01:09:03.52] And President Lincoln decided that he wanted to come and start shooting as part of the war in South Carolina because South Carolina was threatening to get out of the United States, to get out of the Union. And so President Lincoln sent some boats down.
  • [01:09:22.96] And they start shooting around Hilton Head and St. Helena Island and scared the White people off the island. And the Whites who owned the slaves tried to get the slaves to go with them. And they wouldn't go. They hid in the cornfields and everything.
  • [01:09:41.14] And you had about 10,000 slaves left on the island who had been picking the cotton. And whatever they do with the rice, they were growing rice. And after all the owners left, they hadn't been able to read or write, they weren't allowed to learn to read or write.
  • [01:10:07.55] And so that's when they started coming down. And President Lincoln sent some people down from Pennsylvania to teach the enslaved because they're no longer enslaved. The Civil War settled that. And this was before Juneteenth when in 1963 there was an Emancipation Proclamation, and then again in 1965.
  • [01:10:34.82] But it's a long story. And I've written a lot about it. And I have some pictures about it. And we just loved going to South Carolina and helping out.
  • [01:10:44.80] And so Penn Center was a big part of our lives for a while. We had a Michigan support group down there. And we made some of the people from here, a lot of our friends, go down. And we helped them hire a budget person, somebody who could help get money for Penn Center.
  • [01:11:09.57] SPEAKER 3: How did you come to live in your current residence?
  • [01:11:13.35] ROBERTA WRIGHT: My current residence-- I like the water. And I just have an apartment downtown on the river. And it just gives me peace to be able to look out on the river and watch the freighters. And I just chose it.
  • [01:11:35.08] SPEAKER 3: These set of questions covers your retirement years to present. How did your family change for you when you and your spouse retired and all your children left home?
  • [01:11:46.11] ROBERTA WRIGHT: And the children?
  • [01:11:47.44] SPEAKER 3: Left home.
  • [01:11:48.99] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, they left home-- they were both married before my husband died, so my first husband Wilbur Hughes. And then after that, life was fine and we stayed busy and everything.
  • [01:12:07.93] And then the empty nest when the children went off to college, of course, it already happened. I didn't cry. I said goodbye to them. But then you always miss them and had the empty nest and everything. But everything was good.
  • [01:12:33.41] SPEAKER 3: How was your life changed since your spouse passed away?
  • [01:12:37.85] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh my, I just miss both of them. And I have so many friends now at our age, they've lost their husbands. And I lost two husbands.
  • [01:12:47.32] And the only thing that helps me is the good memories and everything, and having the son and daughter who are very loyal to calling me and going with me to places, and so forth. So that has helped. But it's certainly different without a husband.
  • [01:13:09.01] SPEAKER 3: What is your typical day in your life currently like?
  • [01:13:13.52] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, a day like today I got up and went to the cemetery. And we have a boardroom. And the committee is only four people. And my son is the general manager of all the cemeteries. And we talked about buying some property at one of the other extra property, and talked about so many things-- hiring people to cut the grass and are they doing a good job, and so forth.
  • [01:13:42.22] And I left there, and I went to a seafood place on Harmony Park and to my book club. And some 10 women, we read a book a month. And we discussed the book. And I did not finished my book. Supposed to finish the book before the club meeting, but I will finish it.
  • [01:14:04.51] And then I came here to see Delano and Pamela and Albert.
  • [01:14:12.25] And then I have to go upstairs to a friend's meeting. And the friends committee upstairs which I am part of is planning a biannual legacy dinner in honor of my husband. So every other year they have a dinner and they give out awards. And it's on the day of his birthday, or right around his birthday, that they still honor him. And of course that's Dr. Charles Wright.
  • [01:14:39.65] SPEAKER 3: What does your family enjoy doing together now?
  • [01:14:45.60] ROBERTA WRIGHT: The family doesn't get together as much except on holidays, and primarily Thanksgiving because the grandchildren, my granddaughter, is working for Dow Chemical Company, and she's a physician. And the children will come, and one of my granddaughters and one of my grandsons.
  • [01:15:10.33] My grandson is an attorney, he's in New York. And he always comes on Thanksgiving. They may come other times. But mainly on Thanksgiving we all try to get together.
  • [01:15:21.34] And there's another granddaughter who's in Louisiana. And she just recently got married. And my son has two children, who are my grandchildren, who live in Bloomfield Hills, and on and on.
  • [01:15:42.53] So I enjoy all my grandchildren very much. But none of them live with me. So I have to go find them and bring them over because they're very busy, after school activities, and so forth.
  • [01:15:57.55] SPEAKER 3: Thinking back on your entire life, what important social historical event had the greatest impact?
  • [01:16:04.60] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Social and historical or social historical?
  • [01:16:08.11] SPEAKER 3: Yes.
  • [01:16:11.26] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, we had some parties down at Penn Center when we started celebrating what we had done down there. And actually the Emancipation Proclamation, there were three women who were very, very active with coming down-- sent by President Lincoln-- to help teach the slaves. And two of them had died down there in the Brick Church Cemetery.
  • [01:16:47.09] They had great big monuments. Even though they were sent back to Pennsylvania to a cemetery there, Penn Center had a brick church-- they call it the Brick Church-- where they had started teaching. And they had no recognition of the one Black teacher that came down there, Charlotte Forten.
  • [01:17:14.90] And so I worked very hard in trying to find out where Charlotte Forten had gone when the Emancipation Proclamation was sent down by the president. So--
  • [01:17:29.36] [SIDE CONVERSATIONS]
  • [01:17:48.17] The mark in Penn Center to show that Lincoln emancipated the enslaved. And so Dr. Wright, he wanted you to write things down and he wanted to Black people to have recognition and everything. And we actually got a granite stone and Charlotte Forten's name on it and the years that she lived.
  • [01:18:17.50] And we took it back down there when we went down. We usually drove down. Sometimes we flew down. And we put it by the church so as they recognize her.
  • [01:18:29.05] And then I was mentioning about the Emancipation Proclamation. Where is it? Where did they really sign it when the people from the North came down with the paper, saying you are now emancipated? And had certain states on it they were emancipated that Lincoln had selected. And there was nothing there.
  • [01:18:52.79] And so I took it upon myself to try to find out where it was. Some people said under a palm tree. Well, there are beautiful palm trees all around the island-- oak trees, I mean. So we finally, by going to the library and doing some research, I found out Port Royal, just where it was read.
  • [01:19:11.59] And I wrote the State of South Carolina. And they did an investigation and they said that's right. And why don't we call the federal government and have them also come in on this Emancipation Proclamation so we could have something mentioning the federal government.
  • [01:19:30.94] And it was a wonderful exciting time. The United States Surgeon General came down to the island on a helicopter and landed right near us. And we had quite a ceremony.
  • [01:19:44.46] And right now when you go down to South Carolina, you'll see the plaque standing there with the Michigan support group I had made to recognize where the Emancipation Proclamation was actually read.
  • [01:20:00.82] SPEAKER 3: What family heirloom or keepsakes do you possess? And what are their stories? And why are they valuable to you?
  • [01:20:12.02] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, starting back with my mother and father, I have some of his papers, some of his memories. And you can see that he left a lot of pictures. Because even though he was a physician, He liked photography very much and was almost a photographer.
  • [01:20:35.35] So when you look at my father, you'll see pictures of his cars and pictures of the home that we lived in when I was a little girl.
  • [01:20:48.87] And then my mother left me a little bit of jewelry that she had. I have some things from my first husband, Wilbur, some of his fraternity. He was an Alpha Phi Alpha. So it was an attorney thing.
  • [01:21:05.23] And then Dr. Wright, the things that he left, most of them I bring over here so they could have a show. They could have an exhibit actually with all the things I have brought, his books and his jewelry. And he was an Omega Psi Phi.
  • [01:21:23.41] SPEAKER 1: Changed most from the time you were my age to now?
  • [01:21:30.61] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Just about everything. The world has changed. There's so much electronics and so forth. And I have been doing different things than I was at your age. Enjoyed being your age, though.
  • [01:21:45.12] But now there seems to be a lot more weight worrying about everything that you don't worry so much when you're young. And things you don't need to worry about or things that you can't do anything about.
  • [01:21:58.98] I mean, say for instance the president. I'm very fond of President Obama. And it's just ridiculous where everybody makes fun of some of the things because they don't want to see him as president, some people. And he works so hard and he does so many things. And they don't give him a chance.
  • [01:22:22.17] So a lot of things have changed. But it's so good to have a Black president of the United States.
  • [01:22:26.70] SPEAKER 1: How did that make you feel when you found out that there was an African-American as president?
  • [01:22:33.40] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I felt great. I thought it was just very, very good. I watched him as he went around the United States making speeches. And he did such a good job.
  • [01:22:43.39] And there's so many things for a president to be involved with, not only in the United States. Even though he's president of the United States, overseas he's got all these wars and problems. And then the banks causing all the problems. But I was excited to see him.
  • [01:23:01.75] SPEAKER 1: When you were my age, would you ever see an African-American president?
  • [01:23:06.14] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh no, I never dreamed we'd have one.
  • [01:23:11.74] SPEAKER 1: What advice to my generation?
  • [01:23:15.78] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Well, certainly to be educated and to have a good character. It's just almost a scary thing to read about what some of the young people do, some of the ways they dress, so forth.
  • [01:23:32.04] But just education is extremely important because the jobs aren't like they used to be either. You could finish high school and go someplace and work. Or take a year of vocational or something. But nowadays, you really have to work hard and get your passion. Get what you like, your passion, and stick to it and really try to be the best in whatever you're doing.
  • [01:24:01.28] SPEAKER 1: So is there anything you would like to add that I haven't asked you?
  • [01:24:06.62] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yeah, probably a little more on the cemeteries because in 1925 my father, who was a physician, but who was greatly involved with businesses in Detroit, since he'd come from British Guiana. And he was one of the five men who decided they were going to open their own cemetery. And that was a big thing in 1925.
  • [01:24:31.82] And they bought land in Warren, Michigan. It wasn't Warren, Michigan then-- it was way out in the country, Warren township. And they actually started the cemetery in 1925.
  • [01:24:45.05] And it has 100% African-American ownership, Detroit Memorial Park. And now there's Detroit Memorial Park East, Detroit Memorial Park West, and Gracelawn and Flint. And they're beautiful cemeteries.
  • [01:25:00.11] And people laugh when I say I'm going out to the cemetery all the time. But it's quite a business. And it's the oldest African-American corporation in Michigan. And so that's one of my favorites.
  • [01:25:16.23] And then Penn Center, I haven't said much about Penn Center, have I? In South Carolina. Dr. Wright and I went down to South Carolina. Actually, I was looking for some cemeteries to put in my cemetery book. Did he leave the book, the big black book? I got to find it.
  • [01:25:42.59] And so we're going to have the cemetery. We were getting ready to write that book. And so what we did was go down to South Carolina looking for-- thank you. We went down to South Carolina looking for some cemeteries because we wanted to write the history of some of the little cemeteries that people had years ago.
  • [01:26:11.80] And we bumped into somebody who asked us had we been to St. Helena Island. And we hadn't been there. And when we got there, we just loved it. And that's where the Gullah language. And St. Helena Island, they don't have any stoplights. The street is still a low country.
  • [01:26:35.57] But it's a beautiful island. It has such a history. So I have some pictures. And I think I've mentioned about putting up the plaque yesterday.
  • [01:26:47.32] But this book, The Death Care Industry, is 400 pages. And it talks about a lot of the cemeteries all over the United States. And some of the small cemeteries like you see in Georgia or South Carolina or somewhere else, the people take care of them and see that they look good.
  • [01:27:10.48] And some of the bigger ones-- I have a few of the bigger ones. But I was more interested in some of the small cemeteries, the church cemeteries, and so forth. And it has a lot of information about genealogy in the book and about Canadian cemeteries.
  • [01:27:28.90] So that has been one of my favorite things, the cemetery and Penn Center. And writing books. And I have about 14 books and pamphlets. And I love to write. So those are my passions.
  • [01:27:47.47] SPEAKER 1: Do you like reading too?
  • [01:27:49.87] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes. I like reading. I joined this club, though, Catching Sense, a literary club. And they read fiction books. And I'm not really a reader of fiction books. I like nonfiction, biographies, or histories, and so forth.
  • [01:28:06.29] So I helped start the club. So I can't just turn it around because most of the other members like fiction. And so I've been reading some wild fiction books. But every once in a while, they pick up a good nonfiction.
  • [01:28:20.88] SPEAKER 1: Now also I like to ask about the jewelry. Is the jewelry different from back when you were younger than it is now. Has anything changed?
  • [01:28:30.61] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes, probably, more people are making their own jewelry, beads and things. And the jewelry is expensive. Always has been.
  • [01:28:40.78] But there'd be a lot of pearls that people would wear. And now there's just so much jewelry. So I still like it. And I wear the same thing sometimes.
  • [01:28:58.39] This is an Ethiopian cross. And my son's wife is Ethiopian. And they brought this back for me. And kind of a favorite of mine.
  • [01:29:13.05] SPEAKER 1: Do you have any old pieces of jewelry that brings back any memories from your past?
  • [01:29:18.86] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Yes, particularly from my mother. Because her ears were pierced, and she left me some pierced ears. My weren't, so I had them pierced. And a few of the other lockets and things, I have.
  • [01:29:36.73] We did look on. OK. This is a book that I wrote some years ago. It's called Reflections of My Life. And my picture when I was 16.
  • [01:29:54.90] And in it, I started off because my father was very, very interested in photography. And of course, he was an X-ray specialist, a physician. And maybe that was connected some way. But he loved photography and took pictures all the time.
  • [01:30:13.53] And so there are pictures that I really cherish when I was very young. And then there's pictures of my grandparents after they came from Canada and before they came to Canada. I don't know if they can be seen very good. I'm just so blessed to have pictures of my grandmother and grandfather.
  • [01:30:41.79] And that's the house when they came from Canada, one of the first houses they met. And this is my mother's family. And they all lived in Canada. And some of them, as I mentioned, have come over to the States at the same time.
  • [01:31:01.76] And my father came on the ship from British Guiana in Ellis Island. You study Ellis Island at all? No? Ellis Island is where they stopped-- the immigration spot.
  • [01:31:21.06] And my daughter was able to find this on the internet from 1910. Isn't that something? The internet is spectacular. And this is my father way, way back. And got him again. And my sister and myself.
  • [01:31:40.81] And then it goes on and on. But some more houses and some more relatives.
  • [01:31:48.31] And then I mentioned my first husband, Wilbur Hughes, and pictures of him. Here he is when he graduated from college. And he was in the Army.
  • [01:32:01.75] So it's really nice to have a collection of old pictures. A lot of people have them in boxes or equipment and everything. And I tried to get them together and make this booklet so when I lose the boxes of mail, I have at least have the book.
  • [01:32:18.85] But it needs to be updated. And it's heavy.
  • [01:32:25.07] SPEAKER 1: Is there anything else you wanted to say?
  • [01:32:29.41] ROBERTA WRIGHT: No, I don't think so.
  • [01:32:31.76] SPEAKER 1: I would like to add, how do you feel about the internet because I know you didn't have that back then?
  • [01:32:37.49] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Oh no. No, we didn't.
  • [01:32:38.93] SPEAKER 1: How do you feel about that?
  • [01:32:40.01] ROBERTA WRIGHT: I feel good about it because I don't sit there a lot like some people do. But it's helped me in searching the web or whatever you call it. And the other day I was looking for-- somebody asked me about a cemetery. And somebody from another state called me looking for something. And I just googled it. I put it up there, and there it is. So it's kind of fascinating.
  • [01:33:05.54] SPEAKER 1: So you do appreciate the internet, you don't have to go through the books anymore. You can just go through.
  • [01:33:11.48] ROBERTA WRIGHT: But I notice that I'm going through books.
  • [01:33:13.48] SPEAKER 1: Like?
  • [01:33:13.97] ROBERTA WRIGHT: Even sometimes I forget and I'm looking because I have a lot of books at home, my shelves. And I'll be looking for something and I say, oh, let me try the internet. And there it is. So it's really-- so that's good.