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Intergenerational Dialogue on the Great Migration: Delores Washington

When: July 28, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County


  • [00:00:14] ALI CURRY: Well, let me introduce myself again. My name is ALI Curry. I'm a current student at the University of Michigan. We are conducting these interviews to just learn more about the Great Migration and more specifically, health care and health practices during that time period. I want to start by asking you your age, your date of birth, and your birthplace.
  • [00:00:33] DELORES WASHINGTON: I am 93 years old, will be in September. I've already, in my opinion, I'm more 93 than 92. You wanted to know my birthday?
  • [00:00:48] ALI CURRY: Yes. Your birth date and your birthplace.
  • [00:00:50] DELORES WASHINGTON: September 13th, 1929. I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • [00:01:04] ALI CURRY: I'm going to ask you a series of questions. I just want you to share what you know, what you remember or maybe what you've heard from your family members revolving around them. Thank you for wanting to participate in this. The first question I have is, can you tell us about your family's migration from the South into the North?
  • [00:01:23] DELORES WASHINGTON: Well, from what I understand, my folks were born in a little town called Jakin, Georgia. The reason that I was probably born in the North, it's because my grandfather was a share cropper and my grandmother told me that he was turkey hunting, he and the share cropper. As they were firing, not bullets, but I guess some whatever they use that time, not the real bullets. My grandmother told me that as my uncle raised up, he thought that there was a turkey and he shot at him. Instead of it being a turkey, it was the share cropper. He shot him instead. I don't know what part of the body, but it wasn't anything that would have taken his life. He said to me and of course, excused them when my grandfather said he was sorry, "Oh, I thought you were the turkey." He forgave him, but my grandfather accepted that at that moment. But then after that, he made preparations for the rest of the family to move North. We had some relatives that did live in the North because he believed that this gentleman, even though he knew that share cropper, could come back and could maybe lynch him and the whole family. They got as many clothes and things that they needed as soon as possible. I don't know the period of time where there was one day or two days, but as quickly as he could and he got all of the family together, put them on the train, and they came to Pittsburgh. We had relatives in Pittsburgh and the people, my family, that came to Pittsburgh moved in with some cousins who lived in Pittsburgh and their last name was Anderson. How long they had to live like that? I don't know because the next thing I know, we were living in a house on Chauncey Street, 607 Chauncey Street. I remember that number well, and there was my grandmother, my mother, my cousin and myself, that were raised at this address.
  • [00:04:12] ALI CURRY: Wow, that sounds really awful. To reiterate what you said, they didn't leave because of their own freewill, they more left out of fear of what could happen to them in the future?
  • [00:04:20] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes. He was afraid that he would be lynched and also his family. There was nothing that could be done about that, so in order to save the family, they moved as quickly as they possibly could.
  • [00:04:39] ALI CURRY: Wow, that's a difficult decision to make, but to protect your family, you are willing to do it.
  • [00:04:43] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes.
  • [00:04:46] ALI CURRY: Can you share how your older family members were cared for in the South versus how it was different in the North?
  • [00:04:51] DELORES WASHINGTON: You say, what? Could you talk a little louder?
  • [00:04:53] ALI CURRY: Yeah. Could you share how your older family members were cared for in the North versus how they are cared for in the South?
  • [00:04:59] DELORES WASHINGTON: Well, from what I understand, when they moved in together, they shared. If one was working, they would come in and they would share whatever they had with one another, food in one happy, and I understand that after my grandfather did arrive, which I believe was maybe a couple of weeks later, he got a job as a, not brick mason, but he carried bricks on the job for the construction. He was able to get a construction job. They shared whatever finances they had. They were more like a family to me. Well, sometimes today we have these things but they were so close and they looked out for one another. What everyone had the other one shared too. My grandfather worked as a gentleman that worked in construction. Like I said, he carry bricks up and down a ladder on the job.
  • [00:06:10] ALI CURRY: To clarify, we're talking about family and friends as that community, not just your direct family?
  • [00:06:16] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes.
  • [00:06:20] ALI CURRY: Can you talk about how your family receive health care in the South and the North?
  • [00:06:26] DELORES WASHINGTON: Well, I understand at that time the hospitals were segregated. [NOISE] The African American people would assist one another even with the birth of a child. I remember my grandmother saying that she would work in the field until she had birth pains and it was time for the baby to be birthed. She would leave the field, come into the house, and they had what they, want do we call them today? Nurses, they are not really nurses.
  • [00:07:07] ALI CURRY: Midwives.
  • [00:07:08] DELORES WASHINGTON: Pardon?
  • [00:07:09] ALI CURRY: Midwives?
  • [00:07:10] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes.
  • [00:07:12] DELORES WASHINGTON: The midwives would deliver the children. Then my grandmother, said in her case, as soon as that child was delivered, the next day, she was out in the field working again. As a matter of fact, she did tell me that she lost a set of twins at five months. It was rough for them, but the women to me were really tough. You can imagine delivering a baby and then going out the next day to work in the fields. I don't know at what age the babies were, but my grandmother told me that there were times that they would have to tie the children on them as they were working. To me, they had to be some tough women working in the hot sun, that was before she came North.
  • [00:08:15] ALI CURRY: Do you have any stories about the health care in the North once you moved up here?
  • [00:08:19] DELORES WASHINGTON: It wasn't too much better from what I understand, but it was better. I understand that my grandfather, and I don't know how long it was that he was employed here, but he became ill and at that time, they could take him into the hospital. There were phones that were shared in the community. Everybody did not have a phone, and the only way that my grandmother knew that her husband was passed, someone from the hospital called her and told her that he had passed. You can imagine how devastating that would be to someone, and she had no one to assist her. She did not know that he was dying. That's the way that case was handled. Rose, her daughter, she had a second daughter, my mother, and her sister, and I can remember, I think it was about two years old at this time. I remember her being ill but I didn't know what the illness was, and I remember the ambulance coming to take her to the hospital and for some reason I thought that they had taken her to school and I wondered why she never came back. But that was the mind of a two-year-old, and here she had died and I did not know that. There were things that were very secret in the family and of course, a death wasn't because they would put a leaf on the outside of the house. The body in the casket, would be kept in the living room, and then the neighbors would come to do the viewing and that's funny though, I don't remember anything else after that concerning her funeral.
  • [00:10:23] ALI CURRY: When you were talking about the health care in the South, you mentioned Black midwives. Did you know any Black doctors or Black nurses there?
  • [00:10:30] DELORES WASHINGTON: No, I didn't.
  • [00:10:31] ALI CURRY: Once you moved up North, did you know any Black midwives, doctors or nurses?
  • [00:10:36] DELORES WASHINGTON: No.
  • [00:10:39] ALI CURRY: Did your family experience any disappointments once you arrived up North?
  • [00:10:44] DELORES WASHINGTON: Oh, I'm sure they did, but their main objective was to see that the children were taken care of. I remember my grandmother and my mother both doing housekeeping. That was a main job that the women were doing at that time. They would go one day or maybe three days or five days all depending on what the person needs were. I think at that time, can you believe that they made like $7 a day and they would be picked up by the person who needed them to work because very few of them had cars, and women, of course, did not have any transportation. But that was the main job that the women in my family and most of the families had to deal with at that time, housekeeping. They worked hard. They worked from early in the morning until late in the evenings, and that's why I think some of the families that lived on what we call the block were so close because if your neighbor knew that your mother was working and the kids were at home by themselves, which many times that did happen, if they cooked or they saw your kid not obeying, the neighbors, could spank your child as well as the family. As I said, they really considered it a family. I remember my grandmother, there were three uncles. He had the three boys. My uncle James, he was the youngest one. My grandmother knew that when she wasn't at home, he would be roaming around and she didn't want him to do that. At that time, they call the pool halls, places for the elder gentlemen. No women were in there. But she would go to all the pool halls in the area and would tell them to look out for her son. She did not want him in the pool halls and so when he would come to go in the pool halls, they would say, "Hey boy," they talked to the Black that. "You know your mom doesn't like you in here. Get out of here." Also at that time they used to shoot marbles and they would gamble like that. One of the story that I remember that was so funny. My grandmother said that there were certain jobs that the kids were supposed to do and they were supposed to stay in the house until she came home. But my youngest uncle James again, he decided that he wanted to play cards or play a marble with the other boys in the community that they could find. He told me this. He said he was bending over and they were loud and, "Shoot man, shoot man." He said all of a sudden, he felt a hard, painful whack across his rear end. He thought that one of the boys were fooling around and playing with him and he turned around and said, "Gee," and when he turned around, he looked in the face of his mother. He said he never finished the word. He jumped up and ran home and she was running after him. That's what are the stories that he told me. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:14:41] ALI CURRY: That sounds very exciting. [MUSIC] Such a story to tell.
  • [00:14:46] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yeah. But isn't it interesting how the families looked out for one another, old, and you had to be respectful. The young person definitely was respectful to the older person. You had to listen to them. If your parents weren't at home, you still had to be careful about what you did and where you went because they would squeal on you or either take you by the color, and drag you out until you know, your mother doesn't want you here. They were really closely knitted together. Each one took out for the other one.
  • [00:15:28] ALI CURRY: I think it really tells them to the statement of it takes a village to raise someone.
  • [00:15:33] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes, true. At that time when they were whipped, I'm thinking of how the law enforcement people are involved so much in raising children or getting involved in families. Now, some of the whipping was too much. I go along with that because I got quite a few lickings that I still don't think I needed all of them. But that's the way to do more work there. They would get a switch. Sometimes they would send you out to get the switch and bring that switch in and you were whipped. My mother would often say, "I'm not going to whip you over these clothes. Pull up your dress so that I can get the real meat." That's the way we were whipped. But I look at the generation now, yeah, some of those things that were done, some of the whippings that were done were excessive. But when you look at us, there are great people that came out of that environment, so I can't say that everything that was done during that time was bad because you look at the kids now, people are running around with guns and kids are shooting one another, and it's as though everything's gone wild. I would rather have lived back at that time with respect than what I see happening now. I think, and a child, you did not dare disagree with your parent. If they said you did something, many times you could not defend yourself. I know in my case. You did not get yourself involved in the adults' affairs. You knew that because if somebody came in and I was in the room, all your parent had to do was to give you that look and you knew, out. You didn't ask that, but that's icing on the cake. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:17:46] ALI CURRY: No. I definitely experienced that with my parents. Both of them Black and stern look is like, they're doing that. You can do that.
  • [00:17:55] DELORES WASHINGTON: Yes, there definitely was respect. You listen to the older person. You would do things for them. I remember if the person needed something from the store, you didn't charge. You would do and ask them what they needed and you would bring it back. I think many of the things that we learned during that period of time are missing today. That's my opinion.
  • [00:18:27] ALI CURRY: Well, bring it back to talking about the Great Migration in the past. That was a great little story that you gave. What were some of the sacrifices that your family members made when they moved from South to North?
  • [00:18:41] DELORES WASHINGTON: Some of the sacrifices, I can't really say that there were a lot of sacrifice. This is me looking back on because when you think of moving from the South where he was no longer working in the fields, in the cotton, things like that. There were improvements year by year. I think things were better as they moved North. I won't say each year, but when you think of families moving together, when they had to, until they were able to get their own places. You no longer have to fear somebody just coming in and beating you up. Those are some of the things that did not occur to my knowledge and my family, that did occur in the North. As I said, my grandfather no longer had to fear some of the things that he had to do when he had to work for this other gentleman in the South. There were improvements in the schools and little by little, there were improvements.
  • [00:20:20] ALI CURRY: You mentioned that some of the benefits were once you moved to the North it alleviated fear in your family from what you saw and there are better schools up North. Were there any other benefits that your family experienced when they moved from South to North?
  • [00:20:36] DELORES WASHINGTON: I think they had more of an opportunity to speak freely among those who lived, as I said in these blocks where down in the South they had to be very careful. You could not walk on the sidewalk with the other population. They didn't have colored places for the colored to go in for the toilets and the drinking water and then some of the stores that were opened up. We had stores on the corner. I can remember one grocery store, Mr. Corn was his name, and we would go and shop there. They didn't have those things there in the South, so to me there were improvements.
  • [00:21:45] ALI CURRY: Can you talk some more about those improvements that you experienced? Well, you talked a little bit about it, but can you go more in depth, if you have any more memories?
  • [00:21:56] DELORES WASHINGTON: As I said, there isn't a lot. When you say more memories about what you mean in particular, me evolving, the kids or the family?
  • [00:22:11] ALI CURRY: What evolving you and your family?
  • [00:22:15] DELORES WASHINGTON: Well, I can remember going to grade school, we call them at that time. It was mainly African American, but every now and then, there would be a white child, a caucasian, that would come into the community. Racism was not talked about in the school area so much. I had some very pleasant experiences there. We had a cafeteria that we could eat our lunch. That was something while your parents were working and you were in school, you didn't have to worry about being fed at lunchtime, because these were some of the things that we experienced that I'm sure in the South would not have occurred. I had people, especially a principal I can remember, I started music at the age of seven, I had a private teacher. I studied music all of this time and when I went into the Grade school and the principal of the school discovered that I could read music. He would pay for my lunches for the whole school year. That was that encouragement that I believe that probably would not have happened in the South. I'm not sure, but from what the stories that I've been told from my parents, I don't think this would have been a part of that. We had a white principal and white teachers, as well. As I said to him, giving me tickets instead of my mother would give me money, but I never told her. I don't think I ever told her that I saved my money and the principal gave me tickets and then I did a lot of playing for the school and the high school and senior high school. Each school there were more white kids that we had an opportunity to intermingle with and also in the senior high school, we had a lot of Asian kids and nobody really thought about race to my knowledge. That was something that my parents never talked about. This race they're out to get your things like that. If they did, it was not within my hearing.
  • [00:24:58] ALI CURRY: You mentioned that you went school with white children, that you have white principals, white teachers and that race wasn't a very conscious thought in people's minds. So would you say in the North that segregation was more eased up or people were more accepting than they were in the South?
  • [00:25:12] DELORES WASHINGTON: I think it was more eased up. In some situations, there were some jobs that the African American could not get because of their race. There were some areas where you could not live. I forget what they call it, is it redlining or something like that where they would try to keep, in my opinion, the Black people in certain areas and the white people in other areas, so that definitely was a part. We had one Black bank, very successful bank that the African Americans used that was the Hill District. That was the district that I was raised in. We did have one pharmacy, one Black pharmacy, one Black hotel. I lived on the street where this hotel was, so everybody congregated, all the Black people in that area, out of that area would come, it's called the Harris Hotel. We had a couple of clubs, also in the areas. Little by little there were improvements. In fact, Benny Goodman came into the Hill District, it was known as the Hill District, lot of music and things like that. He came in with his group and we had a YMCA and YWCA so these are some of the improvements. We had movie houses, but nobody said you can go here or you can't go there. We worked in our own areas, especially when it came to the children, you knew where your place was. You didn't go out into the white areas, because they tried to bring those things like the why, the movie houses and we had a lot of restaurants, Black restaurants that were very successful. One was called the Nesbit Restaurant, and they were noted for their pie. We dealt mainly with our own people, with the stores that they had in our communities.
  • [00:27:42] ALI CURRY: One thing that you mentioned, that there was a pharmacy, a Black pharmacy. Would you say the pharmacy had similar medication to say white pharmacy would have or do you think they were lesser quality?
  • [00:27:53] DELORES WASHINGTON: I really don't know, I can't say. I'd rather not say it because I really don't know.
  • [00:28:02] ALI CURRY: One thing that you talked extensively about is in North you have the community there. You had family there, you had your friends there that they act like family and elders in your community. Would you say a community similar to that existed when you were in the South or did you really find that community once you came up North?
  • [00:28:18] DELORES WASHINGTON: I didn't live in the South long enough for me to be able to discriminate between these two.
  • [00:28:26] ALI CURRY: Okay.
  • [00:28:27] DELORES WASHINGTON: I don't know what age I was when I came North.
  • [00:28:33] ALI CURRY: Well, I had a clarifying question to ask. You talked about and I believe your grade school, that you had a white principal, white teachers, but you also talked about how there were separate institutions like Black pharmacy, Black restaurants, so for in the school you were in, was that a Black school that just happened to have white faculty? Or was that more a white school that Black kids were allowed in?
  • [00:28:55] DELORES WASHINGTON: It was more a Black school, now that I think of it. Because most of the kids there, if not all of them, were Black.
  • [00:29:11] ALI CURRY: Okay. Before I close out the interview, I just want to ask you about any advice that you might have for the younger generation based off of your experiences?
  • [00:29:22] DELORES WASHINGTON: Well, the main thing that I would say to the young person now is, and this is from my experience. I forgot our churches. The Black church was very prominent at this time. You had to go to church, whether you wanted to or not. I think this was the stronghold in the Black family, very definitely. Everything that was brought up political and otherwise, that I can remember was they talked about it at church. We had so many kids in church. We had church on Sundays and I think church during the mid week. We had Sunday school and then we had something for the teens. As I said, if you didn't want to go to church, you certainly didn't have the nerve to tell your parents that you didn't want to go because every child, or just about every child, had to go to church. Sunday was set aside. The one day that you didn't go to movies or play, you got dressed up and we had church in the morning and then you go back to church in the evening. This was a day that was dedicated definitely to the Lord. Of course, the rest of the week, you were supposed to behave as they felt children should. I would say that today, the church, the main thing is your faith and belief in God. I'm not ashamed to say that. I'm very proud to say that, as a Christian, I have been taught to treat my neighbor as I would like to be treated. To love them and not to think on the negative side of things because there have been improvements. I see the split that has occurred at this particular time, which I think is very unfortunate because the African American has really excelled. I think in ways, many of the people thought that that would not be possible. But when I think of all the great things that our people have done, my advice again would be, first of all, believe in God and live the life for him. Do as the word of God says, to treat others the way that you would want to be treated and to keep pressing on. Not looking back at the things that have occurred. I think we need to know about these things, but not to stress about these things, but to keep trying to do better. That's what I would say.
  • [00:32:47] ALI CURRY: Well, thank you for your time again, and for agreeing to this interview with me. It was great talking to you.
  • [00:32:52] DELORES WASHINGTON: I hope the little bit that I had to say that you did get something out of it. I'm glad to be an American. I'm glad to live here in America. I always like to say this because, one time a year, I do a very beautiful rendition of America is Beautiful at the church and I get an opportunity to say why I'm glad to be an American. If we're American then we're tearing our country down by racial--we have all these different races. Why are there so many people that are trying to get in to this country? There must be something good here. We live here and I think we should build up our country. Of course, everything isn't perfect. There are many mistakes that are made. But we're not perfect either. I'm a work in progress, as all of us are. As I said, I'm glad to live in America, to be in America. I wouldn't want to be any other place.
  • [00:34:07] ALI CURRY: Well, that's actually I have another follow-up question based on what you just shared.
  • [00:34:11] DELORES WASHINGTON: Pardon me?
  • [00:34:11] ALI CURRY: I've another follow-up question based on what you shared. You just gave that information of why you're grateful and you're happy being American. But can you explain why you'd be grateful and happy to be a Black American?
  • [00:34:22] DELORES WASHINGTON: Because being a Black American gives us the opportunity to show the talents that we do have. Things that we can do things, look at these feelings and the great Black music that came out of Motown. There are so many talents that we have in the Black community. If we keep pressing on as we are, I think there will be great things that will come out of our people. I think we could do more by looking forward than looking backwards. Because, my daughter has a PhD. She's working here in the area. My granddaughter has a PhD. She's also working in the area. She's a graduate of Eastern, or is it MSU? Her husband--Daniella, I understand if you know Kenyatta Tucker, I understand he's on the board here. And I call him my grandson, but he's married to my daughter. I see these things that are happening in my family. My granddaughter and excuse me for talking about them, but you asked. My great granddaughter, the one who is studying guitar, she is 12 years old and she has just been admitted into the choir that they have in Detroit. For these people that come through with programs. She's one of the singers. She has just been admitted there. The other one is playing the violin. She's nine, and she's doing very well with the violin. I'm also teaching them piano. There are many things that the Black person can do. I expect to see them on TV or something. As they continue to progress, then they will be an encouragement to other Black kids in the community.
  • [00:36:39] ALI CURRY: That was very motivational. Thank you for that and thank you for your time.
  • [00:36:42] DELORES WASHINGTON: You're welcome.
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July 28, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Length: 00:36:51

Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


Turner African American Services Council
Great Migration
Black History
Health Care
Racial Segregation
Oral Histories
Race & Ethnicity
Delores Washington
Allie Curry
Kenyatta Tucker
Jakin GA
Pittsburgh PA