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Legacies Project Oral History: Shirley and David Northcross

When: 2020

Shirley and David Northcross have been married for over 50 years. They met in the late 1950s at Michigan State University, where Shirley played field hockey and David played football. They were married in Shirley’s hometown, Dayton, Ohio. After a few years in California while David was in the Marine Corps, they returned to his hometown, Detroit. David was a financial advisor for Merrill Lynch and Shirley taught physical education at Northwestern High School. They had three boys who were active in swimming and baseball. Shirley and David coached Little League for 19 years, and they enjoyed playing golf and tennis.

Shirley and David Northcross were interviewed in partnership with the Museum of African American History of Detroit and Y Arts Detroit in 2010 as part of the Legacies Project.


  • [00:00:09.73] SPEAKER: Yes, both.
  • [00:00:10.09] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Both? Shirley Northcross. S-H-I-R-L-E-Y, Northcross, N-O-R-T-H-C-R-O-S-S.
  • [00:00:24.82] SPEAKER: What is your birthday, including the year?
  • [00:00:28.14] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: 12/23/36.
  • [00:00:31.59] SPEAKER: How old are you?
  • [00:00:33.44] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Hm, 73, I think.
  • [00:00:37.84] SPEAKER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:00:43.83] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Mostly black.
  • [00:00:46.40] SPEAKER: What is your religion, excuse me, if any?
  • [00:00:50.93] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Protestant.
  • [00:00:53.40] SPEAKER: is the highest level of formal education you have completed? Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
  • [00:01:04.14] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I have a BS degree, plus continuing hours in continuing education classes.
  • [00:01:13.99] SPEAKER: What is your marital status? If married, is your spouse still living?
  • [00:01:20.44] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Yes.
  • [00:01:22.87] SPEAKER: How many children do you have?
  • [00:01:25.21] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Three.
  • [00:01:26.77] SPEAKER: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:01:30.61] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I had two brothers and two sisters. I have one brother remaining.
  • [00:01:39.16] SPEAKER: What was your primary occupation?
  • [00:01:41.83] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I was a teacher.
  • [00:01:45.25] SPEAKER: For housewife, were you ever paid for work out of the home? For how long?
  • [00:01:53.38] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: No. As a housewife, was I ever paid?
  • [00:01:56.62] SPEAKER: Yes.
  • [00:01:57.88] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: No. (LAUGHS)
  • [00:02:00.13] SPEAKER: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:02:05.01] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Oh. I retired in 1996. I don't know. Do the math. I can't remember.
  • [00:02:14.90] SPEAKER: Now, Mr. Northcross, these will be the same questions just as well.
  • [00:02:18.92] DAVID NORTHCROSS: OK.
  • [00:02:20.14] SPEAKER: Please say and spell your name.
  • [00:02:22.78] DAVID NORTHCROSS: David Northcross. D-A-V-I-D N-O-R-T-H-C-R-O-S-S.
  • [00:02:33.21] SPEAKER: What is your birthday, including the year?
  • [00:02:36.20] DAVID NORTHCROSS: 9/23 1937.
  • [00:02:42.30] SPEAKER: How old are you?
  • [00:02:44.22] DAVID NORTHCROSS: 72.
  • [00:02:46.20] SPEAKER: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:02:50.57] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Black. Afro-American.
  • [00:02:55.02] SPEAKER: What is your religion, if any?
  • [00:02:57.93] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Christian.
  • [00:03:00.73] SPEAKER: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed? Did you attend any additional school or formal career training beyond that?
  • [00:03:12.17] DAVID NORTHCROSS: No, I did four years of college. And that's the extent of my formal training. I did some work-related training.
  • [00:03:30.37] SPEAKER: What is your marital status?
  • [00:03:32.62] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Married.
  • [00:03:37.35] SPEAKER: How many children do you have?
  • [00:03:40.53] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I have two.
  • [00:03:46.56] SPEAKER: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:03:48.36] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Why do you only have two children?
  • [00:03:49.97] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Three. I have three. I have a brother, a half-sister, and a half-brother, and a full brother.
  • [00:04:05.14] SPEAKER: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:04:08.98] DAVID NORTHCROSS: 62, approximately. I'm not sure. It was around 2000. And it was approximately 10 years ago.
  • [00:04:41.01] SPEAKER: Context and framing language [INAUDIBLE]. This set of questions cover a very long period of your life from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force or started a family unit, all of your children left home, and you and/or spouse retired from work. So we might be talking about a stretch of [? long ?] time spanning as much as four decades. Mrs. Northcross, after you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:05:19.37] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: After I finished high school, I attended college at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, and lived with my parents in between time.
  • [00:05:33.26] SPEAKER: How did you come to live there?
  • [00:05:36.98] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: How did I come to live at Michigan State? Yes?
  • [00:05:41.23] SPEAKER: Yes, if you want to answer that.
  • [00:05:43.69] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Hm. Well, to tell you truthfully, my father made that decision for me. I had other intentions, but he intended for me to be as far away from Ohio-- I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio. And I was in love with somebody from high school that my father hated. So he said that I had to go as far as his money would send me. And he had enough money to send me to Michigan. So that's where I ended up.
  • [00:06:21.26] SPEAKER: Did you remain there or did you move around your working adult life? And what was the reason for these moves?
  • [00:06:29.47] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I stayed at Michigan State till I completed university, got my teaching certificate. And I came to Detroit, where I got a job. And that lasted about six weeks, because one of my students called me a very bad name. And I didn't quite know how to handle that. It upset me very much. She called me a old freckle-faced B. And nobody had ever prepared me in all my education classes on how to deal with that name-calling and students who did what you weren't expecting them to do. So I wasn't prepared for that.
  • [00:07:18.69] And I called my parents. And I was very upset. And I quit. And I went back to Ohio. And I got a teaching job there in a high school that was-- I felt a little more secure. I took my licks, and I grew up, and I learned how to deal with urban youngsters from a different perspective. So when I came back to Detroit years later, I was prepared.
  • [00:07:48.66] SPEAKER: Mr. Northcross, these same questions are for you. After you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:07:57.94] DAVID NORTHCROSS: After high school, I went almost immediately to college. I graduated from high school in January and went almost immediately to college, which was Michigan State in East Lansing.
  • [00:08:18.93] SPEAKER: How did you come to live there?
  • [00:08:25.95] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I was somewhat of an athlete. And I wanted to play football. And that was one of the better football colleges in the country. So that's partially how I chose. And I chose it myself where I was going to go, although my family helped me pay for it.
  • [00:08:59.82] SPEAKER: Did you remain there or did you move around through your working adult life? And what was the reason for this move?
  • [00:09:11.55] DAVID NORTHCROSS: No, I stayed pretty much there. I went there, and then shortly after I graduated, we got married. So I didn't have a long period of doing something different. I went into the Marine Corps. And I went in almost immediately after I graduated.
  • [00:09:42.88] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: You went to Officers' Candidate School.
  • [00:09:45.16] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, I went to Officers' Candidate School.
  • [00:09:49.48] SPEAKER: I would like you to tell me a little about your married life, family life. First, tell me about your spouse. When and where did you meet, Mrs. Northcross?
  • [00:10:07.84] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: We met at Michigan State. He just mentioned the fact that he played football. And I played hockey. And our fields were adjoining. And I sort of looked across the field and picked him out of the-- not the litter, the group. (LAUGHS) And I like what I saw. And I made plans for meeting him. (LAUGHS) And this was early '50s, late '50s, I don't know.
  • [00:10:43.04] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Mid.
  • [00:10:43.89] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Mid '50s.
  • [00:10:44.74] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, mid to late '50s.
  • [00:10:45.46] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Right.
  • [00:10:45.88] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah.
  • [00:10:46.14] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: And there were just a hand-- maybe 100 of us at Michigan State. So that's how we met, on athletic fields. And both of us were athletes. And that's basically how we met. And that was just about 50 years ago.
  • [00:11:09.47] SPEAKER: What was it like when you were dating?
  • [00:11:12.81] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Oh, it was big fun. Big fun. We had very similar interests. As I said, we're athletic. Many of our dates were around athletic events. We did a lot of double-dating and dating with your roommates and their friends. And David was also very involved in the fraternity. So it was big fun. Good clean, healthy fun, I think.
  • [00:11:53.24] SPEAKER: Tell me about your engagement and wedding.
  • [00:11:59.19] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: You want my version or his?
  • [00:12:00.93] SPEAKER: Either one can answer.
  • [00:12:07.74] DAVID NORTHCROSS: We dated in college, as she said, although she said it like-- it was a little different, because she had a boyfriend when I met her--
  • [00:12:24.90] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: You had a girlfriend.
  • [00:12:25.89] DAVID NORTHCROSS: --in Ohio. And I had a girlfriend. But somehow we didn't go in that direction. We went in the direction of each other. And I fell in love. And I suppose she fell in love. And that was it.
  • [00:12:50.33] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I'll tell you about our wedding. It was a big event, because I have four brothers and sisters, and he has-- you heard him say, he's got lots, halves, wholes, and almost brothers and halfway sisters or whatever [INAUDIBLE], mixed families that married and remarried. And then we all had our best friends. So our wedding party was probably about-- it was a small zoo. (LAUGHS) It was lots of people. And I don't know. I probably had 10 or 12 bridesmaids and junior bridesmaids.
  • [00:13:32.39] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And she was in her hometown, where everybody knew her and everybody knew her family.
  • [00:13:42.35] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: And our biggest wedding story was that my husband-to-be was going to Officers' Candidate School for the Marines right after we got married. And he had the misfortune of teaming up with my brothers on the night before our wedding, and he got arrested. And this could have been a tragedy. But my father being somewhat of a mover and shaker was able--
  • [00:14:14.42] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And well-known by everybody in--
  • [00:14:16.08] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: --in Dayton, Ohio--
  • [00:14:17.12] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah.
  • [00:14:17.81] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: --got him out of jail minutes before we were to get married. And he got in jail very innocently from hanging out with my brothers, who were somewhat determined to show him a good time the night before he lost his bachelorhood. And they sort of got picked up by the police for being in the wrong side of town.
  • [00:14:43.73] You see, I'm from Dayton, Ohio, and that's south of here. And back in the '50s, there was a part of town that black people were not expected to be, especially in the evening, and especially maybe drinking. And I'm sure that's what they were doing.
  • [00:15:01.69] DAVID NORTHCROSS: No, the reason we got into big trouble was that we were in the--
  • [00:15:09.02] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: He said we should keep this short.
  • [00:15:13.37] DAVID NORTHCROSS: --the back of the police van. And there was a guy back there. I don't know how he happened to be in there, but he was back there. And he used the N-word. He was white and he used the N-word. And to show his brother was sitting right across from him. And so his brother just let him have it. And there was a cop sitting next to him. And the cop didn't say anything. And the guy said the N-word again. And so his brother just let him have it again. I don't know why. The guy must have been crazy.
  • [00:16:10.31] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: He was drunk.
  • [00:16:11.57] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And because of that, when we got back to the police station, the cop who was sitting there, who had done nothing during this whole event, all of a sudden said, these guys jumped on this guy and beat him up. And that's why we were arrested-- partially why we were arrested.
  • [00:16:42.02] SPEAKER: Tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living in the house.
  • [00:16:54.62] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Well, we have three boys. Our first boy was born while David was in the Marine Corps. And I delivered him in a Marine Corps hospital, which was totally different from my last child that I had in civilian life. David was a Marine. I wasn't, but I was sort of treated like a Marine-- you know, you're tough and you're supposed to do this, that, and the other. And I gave birth. And then we had to walk, like, a half-- not a half a block or a block to go pick your baby up, and bring it back to the room, and feed him, and then take your baby back down the hall. So when I had my next child in civilian life and the nurse brought the babies to me, I thought, oh, my goodness, this is real luxury.
  • [00:17:50.21] And then I remember early-- having a child away from my home and away from my parents sort of forced both of us to grow up quickly. We were in Southern California away from family. So we had to sort of grow up and be responsible.
  • [00:18:15.08] And as I said earlier, we're a very athletic family. We taught our children to swim basically before they walked. The youngest baby was swimming by six months. And we were also very involved with baseball. We coached Little League baseball for about 19 years. And that was three years after our last child quit playing. You said keep it brief, so I can't think of anything else to--
  • [00:18:44.15] SPEAKER: [? If ?] comfortable.
  • [00:18:45.00] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: OK.
  • [00:18:45.28] SPEAKER: [? If ?] comfortable.
  • [00:18:47.30] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I think having reared three boys, and nobody's in jail or doing anything bad, earned me a special place. So I've got stars [? in ?] a special spot in heaven, because that was not an easy chore. And particularly, the times that they grew up was a crazy time with drugs and all that. So it was a challenge, but we managed.
  • [00:19:18.88] Why did you say you only had two children? Who were you ignoring?
  • [00:19:25.66] DAVID NORTHCROSS: It slipped me for a minute momentarily. That's all. I just forgot momentarily.
  • [00:19:34.20] SPEAKER: What was a typical day like during the working years of your adult life?
  • [00:19:41.50] DAVID NORTHCROSS: During the working years--
  • [00:19:43.47] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: [? No. ?]
  • [00:19:44.77] DAVID NORTHCROSS: When we were married, do you mean?
  • [00:19:46.90] SPEAKER: Of the adult life.
  • [00:19:53.53] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I got up at 7 o'clock or 6 o'clock, and got dressed and went to work. I worked every working day, Monday through Friday. And that's what was normal. I went to work, and came home, and then had hopefully some intercourse with the kids and the wife and the family.
  • [00:20:35.86] SPEAKER: How about you, Mrs. Northcross?
  • [00:20:38.23] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: He makes it sound very simplistic. It was not simplistic. Early years, when we had babysitters, that was easier, because Miss Cole would come in and take care of the children, and I could leisurely go to work. Oh, in our early years, we only had one car, too, and that was always a challenge, because most of the time, he would take the bus to work downtown, and I would take the car and go to work, and then we'd pick up whatever kids and take whatever kids where.
  • [00:21:11.95] Early years with the babysitter was fun. But later years when you had to get three kids to three different schools-- and invariably, my middle son, when it was time to go to school, he always had to have a bowel movement. And we were always late going to school, because you can't plan on that at the last minute. Just getting where you had to go on time was always a challenge, especially with one car. Later years when things looked up and we had two cars made it a little easier. But every boy had his schedule of who had scouts here or lessons there or whatever. It was a challenge.
  • [00:21:56.86] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And we were all always busy with the boys and the family. They had to be picked up or dropped off. They were involved in swimming, as she said, and baseball.
  • [00:22:13.78] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: And all of the team events. They swam on various teams. And every Saturday, we were at a swim meeting, yelling, go, David, go, go, Steven, go, swim, Mark, swim. And you swam every race that your child swam. You swam every race. I mean, by the end of the day, I was exhausted, because I had swam three different races, six different times. And on top of that, you tried to maintain your life, so your couples life, and your own private life, too, because we each had our own interests. I was a very avid tennis player and he played golf. So you had to maintain your own life on top of your family life.
  • [00:23:04.13] SPEAKER: What did your family enjoy doing together when your kids were still at home?
  • [00:23:09.71] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: We used to love to travel together. And then we'd fight over who would drive, because if you were the driver, you didn't have to interact with the kids. So we'd always fight over whose turn. That wasn't nice to say. Our kids-- yeah, our kids, four boys, and they were always doing something devilish, or either fighting with each other, or you went through the I dids, you did not, you did, I saw it first, I get it last, or whatever.
  • [00:23:45.07] DAVID NORTHCROSS: She tells the story, one of the things that-- we did some traveling. We didn't have a lot of money in the early years. So you couldn't do everything you wanted, but we did some traveling. And one of our trips was to one of the parks. What was it?
  • [00:24:08.35] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Mount Rushmore.
  • [00:24:09.12] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Mount Rushmore. We had--
  • [00:24:09.95] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Oh, my god. We drove--
  • [00:24:11.04] DAVID NORTHCROSS: --driven and driven--
  • [00:24:11.42] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: --for three days to show the kids Mount Rushmore. You know, the presidents' pictures in the rock? Three days. And we got there and they wouldn't get out of the car. (LAUGHS) I wanted to kill them. You'd say, we could see it from here. (LAUGHS) Things like that, you could laugh about it now, but it certainly wasn't funny at the time. We wanted them to get out and to go on the tours and to see what we had taken them to see. But anyway, they had to make their little challenges happen.
  • [00:24:46.63] DAVID NORTHCROSS: We had little vacations.
  • [00:24:48.48] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Disneyland they loved.
  • [00:24:49.69] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, we went to Disneyland once. And where else?
  • [00:24:56.44] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: We've had many major vacations. Every summer, David always planned a major family vacation that he would always research and make sure everybody was going to have fun. And most of the time, I guess we had fun. You weren't always sure about it, too. I heard the kids in their adult life recycling and repeating some of the things that we thought they weren't paying attention. to. They really did see Mount Rushmore and they really did pay attention. They just faked us out to make us think they weren't.
  • [00:25:34.75] SPEAKER: What were your personal favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:25:41.52] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Personal things that-- well, I-- I mean, this isn't a family thing, but I play golf. And what else did we do?
  • [00:25:56.07] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Play bridge.
  • [00:25:57.84] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yes, I played, yeah, bridge, cards. And we have very good friends that were constantly involved with the family. And we'd be involved with their family and they would be involved with our family.
  • [00:26:22.59] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Family trips. I played tennis. I always said golf was for old people. So he played golf and I played tennis. And we did a lot of things with our kids and my friends and their families.
  • [00:26:43.12] SPEAKER: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practice that's different from your childhood traditions?
  • [00:26:57.94] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I don't think so.
  • [00:26:58.62] DAVID NORTHCROSS: No, I don't think so. Holidays were pretty much the same. And we pretty much participated in a similar fashion.
  • [00:27:15.33] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Birthdays, holidays, Mother's Days, Father's Days, any days, we just celebrate them, celebrate them all.
  • [00:27:24.80] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And vacations.
  • [00:27:26.43] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: And vacations.
  • [00:27:27.00] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah.
  • [00:27:27.90] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Being that I taught school, summer was always fun. But now that you're retired, you only have-- it's Friday, Saturday, Sunday every day. You just go back to Friday. You never have a Monday. Every now and then, I might have a Friday. But I don't do Mondays anymore.
  • [00:27:50.99] SPEAKER: Please describe the popular music of the time.
  • [00:27:59.06] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: We told you that yesterday when we were in the museum listening to Motown, the Motown and The Temptations.
  • [00:28:07.66] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Mm-hm.
  • [00:28:14.87] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I think music was a part of our family, but I don't think it was ever unusually large or big.
  • [00:28:28.51] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Loud.
  • [00:28:29.40] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, it was a part of our family. Our kids enjoyed it. But I don't ever think it was so big that it blocked out anything.
  • [00:28:41.09] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Other things.
  • [00:28:41.96] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah.
  • [00:28:43.24] SPEAKER: Now, can I ask you this question? What is different from the music back then compared to the music now?
  • [00:28:53.23] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Well, I really shouldn't say that, because it's a general statement, that our music made sense to us. Your music today doesn't make much sense to me. I mean, there was a rhythm and a beat. And you could sing it and hum it and dance to it. The music that my grandson listens to and the kids listen to, I just don't get it. But it's my taste, what I'm accustomed to.
  • [00:29:22.42] DAVID NORTHCROSS: She likes to listen to-- she enjoys blues. And it's something that came from her father. I'm sorry. Not her father, but her family. I like blues, but I can take it or leave it. She kind of really likes it, and listens to it now on the radio.
  • [00:29:55.04] DAVID NORTHCROSS: My grandkids hate that music. Tranny, what is that?
  • [00:30:00.86] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah.
  • [00:30:01.28] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: But anyway, I have a hard time saying I appreciate the music today, but there's not much of it that I like. I like the old school.
  • [00:30:12.95] SPEAKER: How about the gospels?
  • [00:30:15.10] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Oh, I love gospel. Love it.
  • [00:30:17.53] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, she does. She does.
  • [00:30:19.58] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Especially Sundays when I could turn on satellite radio, I'd start with gospel, then go to classical, and finish my day with the blues. That's great. That's my idea of well-rounded radio.
  • [00:30:33.71] DAVID NORTHCROSS: That's typical for radio listening--
  • [00:30:37.20] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Yeah. I love gospel.
  • [00:30:38.87] DAVID NORTHCROSS: --on a daily basis.
  • [00:30:41.63] SPEAKER: Did the music have any particular dance associated with it?
  • [00:30:46.37] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Dance?
  • [00:30:47.09] SPEAKER: Yes.
  • [00:30:54.65] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Yeah, you know, the-- what were some of those dances? Hm.
  • [00:31:04.93] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Like what? I don't think there was--
  • [00:31:09.19] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Yeah, we did crazy dances. You have to ask me that again in a minute.
  • [00:31:17.56] SPEAKER: OK. What were the popular clothing or hairstyle of this time?
  • [00:31:33.03] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I worked as a job were being dressed was normal in a suit and a tie. And so that was normal for me. Otherwise, when I'm at home, I'd wear Levi's and shorts and casual clothes. But no, I couldn't do that during the week. And she-- you want to talk about your clothes?
  • [00:32:03.45] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: I remember that teachers were not allowed in the early part of my career to come to school in pants. You had to wear a dress or skirts. Pants were not a part of our life in the '60s. You were expected to dress in dresses and gloves and that to go to church. You were expected to dress like a lady to go to school. And gym shoes and things like the way we look around here in this room today, that wouldn't be considered an appropriate work attire.
  • [00:32:44.64] And then hair, I remember in school, your hair was always a challenge. I didn't know how to swim when I went to Michigan State. And I learned to swim there. And I remember one of my professors saying something to me ridiculous, like, I would never swim, because the center of gravity in my body was somewhere different than hers. It was different in the-- you know, because I was Negro is what she said. (LAUGHS) And I just sort of chuckled under my breath, because this was a professor telling me this. And it wasn't at my center of gravity that kept me from swimming, it was my hair, because I knew if my hair got wet, I could only go to Lansing twice a month to go get my hair done. Consequently, it's hard to swim and keep your head out of the water.
  • [00:33:40.20] But once she presented that equation to me that my body was different, I had to prove her wrong. So I let my hair be gone. And I just got wet and I learned to swim. And I was determined that I was going to swim, because what she said, didn't make any sense. So that's when I developed an Afro. And you let your hair go and it was all out to here.
  • [00:34:06.84] And so when I went home, my dad-- it was the first vacation I went home with my Afro that I was so proud of, because it had taken me so long to get it out there. And people would compare me to Angela Davis, which I thought was the biggest compliment in my life. But my family, especially my father, when I came home, he said a very four-letter word and said, what in the world is wrong with your hair? (LAUGHS) So and I said something like, I'm black and I'm proud and this is my Afro. He told me to go to your room and fix your hair immediately.
  • [00:34:49.36] So we had to go back to that pressing and curling again, which did not set well with my swim classes. So I remained an Afro when I was away from my family's home at Michigan State, so I could take the swimming classes. But anyway, back in those days, African-American women's hair was a challenge, a real challenge.
  • [00:35:20.02] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And I had a pretty much conventional hairstyle, because like I said, I worked in a conventional business.
  • [00:35:34.78] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: But also, going to a school that was predominantly white, we had to go a ways to get our hair-- you know, things like the barber shop and the beauty shop, there weren't any in East Lansing at that time. So that had to be planned into your budget. Where do you go to take care of your Negro needs, or whatever they called us back then?
  • [00:36:05.62] SPEAKER: Can you describe any other fads or styles from this era?
  • [00:36:20.52] DAVID NORTHCROSS: I don't know. You kind of have to pass me. But like she said before, maybe if we thought about it, you could come back, unless she can think about it.
  • [00:36:30.78] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Well, I remember that it was important-- I always wore skirts with matching sweaters. You had your cardigan sweater and your sweater you wore it. And they were cashmere. And I could afford them. I mean, a cashmere sweater today is like unbelievably. But I had a cashmere sweater in every color. And was by far, I wasn't wealthy. But cashmere sweaters today, I could barely afford one, or would I choose to afford one.
  • [00:37:09.68] DAVID NORTHCROSS: But that was because she came from an unusual background. When she went to school, to college, there was probably 50 people who wanted to give her gifts, maybe even more than that, so that she would-- you know.
  • [00:37:32.22] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Because I was so special?
  • [00:37:33.62] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Yeah, because they-- no, well, not special, but because they knew you, and you were their friend, and your family was-- and they were proud that you were going to college.
  • [00:37:46.71] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: May I clarify that a little bit?
  • [00:37:48.60] SPEAKER: Yes.
  • [00:37:49.21] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: So I don't sound like somebody pet animal. I grew up on a golf course, where my father was the manager of a golf course in southern Ohio. And I was probably the first in my family that went to college and in many of the families that played at the golf course where I lived. I lived on a golf course. And these golfers-- there was the Golferettes were the women who played golf at the Miami View Golf Course south of Dayton, Ohio. And all of these women just wanted to make sure that I was well-dressed and well taken care of. So I just had so many clothes that my roommates to this day said when I arrived, there was no room to put things, because I just said so many things, nice things. And I was just so fortunate to have so many wonderful women who made sure that when I went to school, I was well-prepared with material things.
  • [00:38:57.56] SPEAKER: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words used then that aren't in common use today?
  • [00:39:09.71] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: You know what? We need to do our homework, because I'm going to think about that. And I'm going to think about those dances that are here, they're just not coming to surface.
  • [00:39:20.98] I remember-- oh, I know, saddle shoes. Remember? We wore saddle shoes. That was-- and penny loafers. Your loafers were really great if you could put a penny in them. And your saddle shoes were black and white saddle shoes. Sometimes brown and white. And Levi's. Levi's we're a very important part of your wardrobe. And you were really cool beans if you had Levi's with a matching Levi jacket. I mean, that was really super cool. And slang words, I'll do that for homework.
  • [00:40:12.19] SPEAKER: When 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?
  • [00:40:29.36] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Could you repeat that?
  • [00:40:30.38] SPEAKER: Yes, I can. When 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?
  • [00:40:48.70] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Well, one thing was things like World War II. Well, that wasn't adult, because we were kids of World War II. But we started to get close to being adults during the Korean War. And then when I was in the Marine Corps, I didn't have to go to the Vietnamese War, because I got out just before it started. I was just lucky or fortunate, I guess.
  • [00:41:37.94] Then there were things like Martin Luther King getting killed, or getting shot, and then Kennedy getting shot, and Kennedy's brother getting-- there were all these kind of things. I don't know that we paid a lot of attention at that time. We do now. But yeah, I don't know if we paid a lot of attention toward political things like Democrats and Republican stuff. To some extent, we did.
  • [00:42:11.83] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Yes, we did.
  • [00:42:12.64] DAVID NORTHCROSS: Well, we did. But I don't know that it was really big in our life in the early years.
  • [00:42:20.53] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: The most, I think-- and I'm sure this will refresh your memory. We grew up in the edge of the civil rights movement. I mentioned the fact that I was from southern Ohio. And I was the first black to graduate from my particular high school. And being black and white were labels that we just didn't use, that I wasn't comfortable using them then.
  • [00:42:50.57] And David was an officer in the Marine Corps. And we traveled across the country in the early '60s, leaving our sheltered homes. And I can remember one night having to sleep in our car, because they would not accommodate blacks, or Negroes as they called us at that time. And just growing up in those civil rights early years was a challenge that we--
  • [00:43:26.87] DAVID NORTHCROSS: She tells a story of us riding out West and stopping by a Marine Corps installation.
  • [00:43:40.11] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: Oh, yeah.
  • [00:43:40.81] DAVID NORTHCROSS: And when we jumped in the water, everybody got out, got out of the pool.
  • [00:43:49.34] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: We went to an officers' club. And in those days, remember, I told you I learned to swim? And I could do a bad Esther Williams. And I mean, I was-- Esther Williams was an early movie star who looked great in swimsuits. So I always thought I was a black Esther Williams. And I really learned to swim. We're just stroking across the pool. And we look up, everybody had gotten out of the whole pool, the whole facility. And frequently when we would go in, they'd say, you people, you people are in the wrong place, meaning that they were not accustomed to seeing people of color in the officers' facilities.
  • [00:44:33.02] Another time I remember, as we were driving to California, we went-- and David always picked out the fanciest places to stop, because you wanted to make sure you were safe. And this man came running up to me and said, [GASPS], we don't serve you people in here. And we were thinking, what? And the whole place was full of Indians, but they wouldn't serve us. And then that evening, we had to sleep in our car, because nobody would rent us a room. So those were a challenge. Being here in Detroit during the riots was a challenge, and to be able to explain to your children what all this is about, and to explain to our grandchildren today what we have gone through in order to make civil rights happen.
  • [00:45:25.63] SPEAKER: OK. Thank you. We would like to continue this tomorrow--
  • [00:45:30.06] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: OK.
  • [00:45:30.47] SPEAKER: --Mr. and Mrs. Northcross.
  • [00:45:32.96] SHIRLEY NORTHCROSS: All right. We'll try to do our homework and remember tomorrow what we couldn't.
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