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Rosemarion (Alexander) Blake (1923-2015)


Rosemarion Alexander Blake
Rosemarion Blake, 1967

Rosemarion (Alexander) Blake was born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 19, 1923 to Jewel Alexander Price and Jacob Price. As an infant she lived primarily with her grandparents, Ernest and Margaret Gillespie, in Sedalia, Missouri where her grandfather ran the Gillespie Funeral Home. She was adopted by her great aunt Hattie (Gillespie) Alexander (1889-1949) and great uncle Robert Alexander (c.1875-1938) and raised in Ann Arbor. The Alexander family lived at 113 E. Summit Street in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Rosemarion remembers her mother’s public advocacy for the neighborhood and her generosity to those who were homeless or hungry. Her father, Robert, ran a successful business collecting ashes, rubbish, and tin cans in Ann Arbor. After his death when Rosemarion was 14, she and her mother took over the business for several years. 

Rosemarion attended Jones School from kindergarten through ninth grade, and she graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1941. Among the jobs she held after her graduation, she remembers running the elevator at the First National Building at 201 S. Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. In 1945, Rosemarion became the first African American to work in Ann Arbor’s city hall in a non-custodial position. Hired by city treasurer Bill Vernor, Rosemarion was a clerk in his office.

In 1949, she married her high school sweetheart, Richard Dumas Blake. Her mother Hattie passed away that same year. Richard’s father, Bishop David A. Blake, officiated the service at Bethel AME Church. Rosemarion and Richard gave birth to their oldest son, Richard Alexander, on December 2, 1951. Over the next four years they had two more sons, Raymond and Robert. As their own parents had done, the boys attended Jones School. Rosemarion and Richard served as co-presidents of the Jones School Parent Teacher Organization in 1958. The young family enjoyed taking camping trips to Clear Lake and Muskegon.

While her children were growing up, Rosemarion worked for seventeen years at Bob Marshall’s Book Shop. She remembers bonding with Bob over watching their children’s baseball games. She managed the bookstore for the last year before it closed in 1970. Bob Marshall’s Book Shop was an unofficial headquarters for the Ann Arbor Democratic Party in the 1950s, and Rosemarion became more and more involved with local politics. In 1958, she served on a 28-member committee on urban renewal. She was one of 22 citizen participants who advised City Council regarding a proposed urban renewal program in a 75-acre north-central area of the city. Most African American residents of that area criticized the proposal, and it was vetoed the following year by Mayor Cecil Creal.

Rosemarion’s foray into politics was just beginning. In 1961, she served as coordinator of campaign activities for the campaign of Lynn W. Eley, candidate for City Council, First Ward. Within a few years, she had become the secretary of Washtenaw County Democratic Party. She was a delegate to the Michigan Democratic Party Convention for multiple years in the late 1960s, and an area representative for the state democratic women’s day in East Lansing. She also participated as a poll worker in local elections. 

On May 25, 1967, she was elected chairman of Ann Arbor’s City Democratic Party, defeating incumbent Alan H. Jones. This was a pivotal year for the party because of the ongoing controversy over the war in Vietnam, the upcoming 1968 presidential election, and waves of civil unrest sweeping across the country. Most notable among her actions as party chairman was her swift response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 10, 1968, she sent a telegram to President Lyndon B. Johnson asking him to support jobs, homes, education, safety, and dignity for “America’s poor for whom the Reverend King lived and died.”

During the latter half of Rosemarion’s career, she worked in publication sales at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. She retired in 1987. She remained active in local politics, including the League of Women Voters. She was particularly passionate about historical preservation. In 1985 she was elected chair of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission, and in 1991 she became president of the Ann Arbor Historical Foundation. She also served on the board of the Washtenaw County Historical Society and as chairwoman of the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA).

She and her husband, Richard D. Blake, were active members of Bethel AME Church. They both served as Sunday School teachers and superintendents. Before Richard’s death in 1989, they co-chaired the church’s mortgage burning committee, raising over $53,000. Rosemarion passed away on February 23, 2015.

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