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Intergenerational Dialogue on the Great Migration: Janet Virginia (Newton) Haynes

When: July 30, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County


  • [00:00:14] ISAAC MACK: [MUSIC] I am Isaac Mack here with--
  • [00:00:18] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Janet Haynes.
  • [00:00:19] ISAAC MACK: Haynes.
  • [00:00:19] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Haynes.
  • [00:00:20] ISAAC MACK: Ms. Haynes.
  • [00:00:22] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: With a Y.
  • [00:00:23] ISAAC MACK: With a Y. Spell that for me.
  • [00:00:26] ISAAC MACK: H-A-Y-N-E-S.
  • [00:00:30] ISAAC MACK: I'm Isaac Mack here with Ms. Haynes and we're doing the interview on the Great Migration. We want to get some background on Ms. Haynes' family and how they migrated from the South to the North. Ms. Haynes, if you don't mind me asking, what is your age, date of birth, and birthplace?
  • [00:00:52] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: October 4th, 1943. I'll be 79 this year. I was born in Chicago, Illinois.
  • [00:01:00] ISAAC MACK: Born Chicago, Illinois. If you also don't mind, why are you interested in this project?
  • [00:01:12] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: The movement of our people has always interested me and my husband got me into genealogy.
  • [00:01:21] ISAAC MACK: What is genealogy?
  • [00:01:23] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: It is looking for your ancestors, trying to figure out where your ancestors came from. For African-Americans or Black folks, that is very difficult because we were enslaved people. Any documentation about us is on the slave owners' register along with all of their animals and everything else. They might say a boy and give the boy's age or man and give them man's age. But we were never ever named. It makes it difficult for Black people to actually find their heritage and figure out who their ancestors were. I'm always amazed when I look at finding your roots that those persons that Henry Louis Gates has been able to trace. It's just been fascinating that he's been able to do that for some people, but there are records there. I doubt that he would ever be able to do that for me.
  • [00:02:30] ISAAC MACK: I have a series of questions for you and I would like you to respond to them. I also just want to say, hopefully, this interview can be formulated more as a conversation. I want to get to know Ms. Haynes and her family better [LAUGHTER] and your husband as well. It seems like he was a wonderful person, especially embracing the genealogy. Really it's already gotten me thinking that I should go back and explore mine a little bit more. Before we start, I want to thank you for being a willing participant In this program and this interview. Let's just dive right into it.
  • [00:03:09] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: You are quite welcome.
  • [00:03:12] ISAAC MACK: First, can you tell us what you know about your family's migration from the South to the North?
  • [00:03:20] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: First of all, I was raised with my grandfather and my mom and my stepdad. My grandfather would talk frequently about his mother and father. But oddly enough, he didn't talk about a lot of his father's history. I knew their names, but I didn't know where he came from. As a child, it never occurred to me that my great-grandparents were enslaved people, that just never entered my mind. I was not anything that was talked about in my family. When I married my husband, who is white, he was very much into genealogy and he was able to trace his family back to the early 1600s across the pond. How his family migrated to the Americas and where they went. I was fascinated by that and he encouraged me to try and find my ancestors.
  • [00:04:37] ISAAC MACK: That's amazing.
  • [00:04:39] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I started working on that with his help. I was able to find my great-grandfather. We found his birth date and I was able to verify that because my grandfather also had that information. He had that written down someplace. When my grandfather died, I took a lot of his personal papers and things like that. Listed in there was the name and the birth date of his father and his mother, and where his mother came from and where his father came from. I knew that his father came from Tennessee. I didn't know until later that his father had a brother. When we checked the 1860s census, I found that my great-grandfather was born in, I can't think of all of a sudden. I can't think of the name of it.
  • [00:05:46] ISAAC MACK: That's fine.
  • [00:05:47] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: The city.
  • [00:05:48] ISAAC MACK: That's fine.
  • [00:05:48] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: But it was in Shelby County, Tennessee, I believe it was. It listed him in the 1860s census. He was found in Chicago and he was 12 years old. I have no idea how he got to Chicago at age 12, but he was also living in a household with other people, including two or three white people and he was a worker but it did not say that he was enslaved. The only thing that I can make of that is that these people somehow brought him to Chicago, or possibly at that young age, he somehow figured it out and he escaped himself. My great-grandmother came from Alabama, Calhoun County, I believe. That may be wrong. But anyway, she came from Alabama and she also ended up in Chicago. She and her two sisters and a brother as I remember. How my great-grandparents met I do not know. But they were instrumental in founding a church in Chicago called Providence Baptist Church. When that church had celebrated its 150th anniversary, in the document that they produced, they said that the church was founded by 13 escaped slaves and it named those 13 persons. My great-grandparents were two of those 13 persons.
  • [00:07:52] ISAAC MACK: The number 13 is very symbolic.
  • [00:07:55] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes, it is.
  • [00:07:55] ISAAC MACK: Look at that.
  • [00:07:57] ISAAC MACK: That's amazing.
  • [00:07:59] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That church is still standing in Chicago. It's still holding services and it's called no longer Providence Baptist Church, but I think it's called First Providence Baptist Church because another Providence Baptist Church was started in Chicago and they wanted to distinguish themselves stating that they were the original. My great-aunt was the organist. Whose middle name I carry. Her first name is my middle name. Her brother was a deacon, there were the four of them that were involved in the founding of the church.
  • [00:08:50] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I don't know very much more about my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother's sister married a man, and the two of them went to Green Bay Wisconsin and that's where they resided and that's where they spent their lives.
  • [00:09:12] ISAAC MACK: Do you find yourself visiting the church that your family helped found?
  • [00:09:18] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes, when I was younger and I lived in Chicago, my mom would take me periodically. We lived on the South Side of Chicago. The church is on the West Side of Chicago and that's where my mom was raised, but once she moved to the South Side with her dad, that was the community in which we lived and so there wasn't a whole lot of occasions for us to go on to the West Side. She still had extended family there and periodically we would go and visit those family members, but I did not know them very well. As far as being in the church I probably was in the church a total of four or five times in my childhood and one of those times on a Women's Day celebration my mom was asked to give the keynote address for that worship service and so my grandfather and my mom and I, and I can't remember if there were other members of our family, went to that worship service and I think that was the last time that I was in the church.
  • [00:10:36] ISAAC MACK: Okay. You talked about how, I believe you said your great-uncle, you said Shelby County, and then somehow got to Chicago?
  • [00:10:46] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yeah from Alabama. My great-grandmother and her family came from Alabama. My great-grandfather and his family came from Tennessee.
  • [00:10:56] ISAAC MACK: Okay. Focusing in on your great-grandfather coming from Tennessee to Chicago, do you know his reasoning for that and his motivations?
  • [00:11:12] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: If he was enslaved and Chicago was in the North and so there was no slavery, I can only surmise that that was what he wanted to do, he wanted to come out of slavery. One other interesting thing that complicates my being able to really dig down deep into his life and his story is that at some point along the way he changed his name and I have no idea what his birth name was and I surmised that his last name was the name of the slave owner.
  • [00:11:56] ISAAC MACK: Slave owner.
  • [00:12:00] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: The reason I surmise that is because his brother remained in Tennessee and eventually, and I don't know when, I don't know if this happened after the Civil War and slaves were made free, that he was able to stay in Tennessee, but he moved closer to Memphis and he had acreage. Somehow he had 160 or 170 acres of land that he farmed.
  • [00:12:34] ISAAC MACK: Wow. Himself, no sharecroppers?
  • [00:12:39] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I don't know. There was no sharecropping, he owned that land. How he got that land? I do not know. I have no idea how that happened.
  • [00:12:47] ISAAC MACK: Seems people in your family are able to just make things happen.
  • [00:12:50] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I don't know. [LAUGHTER] But his name was Richard Watson, I think was his last name. But he was my great-grandfather's brother. My great-grandfather changed his name as I said and he took the name of Lewis Cass and according to my grandfather, he took that name because Lewis Cass was a great statesman in Michigan. We've since learned other things about Lewis Cass, but at that time Lewis Cass was a great statesman in Michigan, and so my grandfather took that name. When I search for him, that's what I search under and that's what I have been able to find.
  • [00:13:38] ISAAC MACK: Find him.
  • [00:13:39] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Find him but I can't find his parents, I cannot find a mother, I cannot find a father.
  • [00:13:46] ISAAC MACK: You also said even your grandfather didn't know much about your great-grandfather?
  • [00:13:51] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: If he did he never shared it. It was never ever talked about. The only reason that it was confirmed for me that my grandfather was an escaped slave was because I read that in the document from the church.
  • [00:14:10] ISAAC MACK: Why do you think your grandfather changed his name? [OVERLAPPING]
  • [00:14:17] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: My great-grandfather, I would imagine he did not want to carry his slave master's name.
  • [00:14:24] ISAAC MACK: Story of pride, that's amazing. Did your grandfather ever comment on the difference of the South from the North as you were growing up and you lived with him and your mother?
  • [00:14:44] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes. He talked a great deal about his parents and my mom knew her grandfather, her father's father, and she absolutely adored him. She said he was a very kind and gentle person, he was strict, and he instilled in her herself worth and wanted her to become the best that she could be.
  • [00:15:17] ISAAC MACK: They had a positive father-daughter relationship?
  • [00:15:20] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yeah. Well, let me back up. My grandfather married my mom's mother and my grandmother died when my mother was two years old, so she never had a grandmother and so she really relied on her grandparents and my grandfather's sister who also lived in the same house for guidance and that was the nuclear family and my grandfather's sister had three children, three boys, the oldest of which was 10 years younger than my mother. But they became very, very, very close and throughout my life they were more like brother and sister than they were cousins. As I grew I got to know him, his wife, his daughter, and son, and to this day his daughter and I are very, very close. We were just raised together essentially. But back to your question about my grandfather talking about the South. He knew his uncle which would have been his father's brother and he also knew his uncle's son.
  • [00:16:55] ISAAC MACK: Who would have been his cousin?
  • [00:16:57] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: His cousin, right. His first name was Ulysses. Became a well-established and well-known dentist in Memphis.
  • [00:17:07] ISAAC MACK: Your family is just amazing.
  • [00:17:12] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Well, thank you. [LAUGHTER] The little bit that I know about him is that and that's where I learned about his father having the acreage.
  • [00:17:32] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: In the '20s and '30s, living in the South under Jim Crow was very, very difficult. What would he be? He would be my great-uncle, I guess, if I think about the relationship but that might not be right. But anyway, he tried to get my grandfather to come and visit him in Memphis. He was very anxious for my grandfather to come and my grandfather absolutely refused to ever go South. What I learned was that because of Jim Crow and because of the lynching that was going on and because of other things that were happening to Black males and Black families in the South. The North was not a bed of roses, but it was better than what he was afraid he would experience in the South. My grandfather was a very straightforward and very, I can't think of the words that I want to use.
  • [00:18:58] ISAAC MACK: Stern?
  • [00:18:59] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Well, no, he wasn't stern. I'm thinking about his demeanor. He would not take anything off of anybody regardless of the color of that person's skin. He knew that the first time a white person asked him to move off to the street or step into the street and get off to sidewalk because they were passing by he'd say, "Hell, no," and that would have been the end of him. He determined that the South was not a place that would be welcoming and he did not want to take a chance. It's interesting because he instilled that fear in me. He didn't necessarily say you should be afraid, but in the conversations that he would have about not wanting to go South I really did internalize and it was not until I was in my 40s that I even thought about going South. I don't know if that answered your question or not.
  • [00:20:09] ISAAC MACK: Even more. When we talk about your older family members like your grandparents on your mother's and your father's side, do you have any information on how they were cared for? It seems like from what I've heard so far your family it was a lot of people in a house. It was one of the more traditional families where it was everyone is going to hunker down in this space doesn't matter how many rooms we have we're going to find a way for it to work.
  • [00:20:43] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That was the norm actually of Blacks when they lived in, I guess any other large cities. We were redlined. We were told that there was just a certain area in which you could live. Rent was very high as compared to what rent was like on the North Side of Chicago. The buildings were large enough that there were usually three or four bedrooms in an apartment. Each one of those bedrooms housed a family. You might have mom, father, and a child or two in one room and everybody shared the bathroom and everybody shared the kitchen and everybody shared maybe if there was a living room or a dining room that was all shared. But your living space was in that one room. A lot of Blacks when family members would come up from the South and they had no place to go, they would come and they would be with family. In the instance of my great-grandfather and his family, his daughter lived there, his grandchildren lived there, his son lived there. There were I think my grandmother's brother lived there and I think the sister also lived there. It might have been a three or four bedroom apartment that they lived in but they were all there together. They were there because they couldn't afford to be on their own and redlining had a great deal to do with it. My grandfather became a chauffeur and that was about the only job that he could find, that Blacks could be hired in. He became a chauffeur for a wealthy white family.
  • [00:22:57] ISAAC MACK: This is in Illinois.
  • [00:22:58] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: This was in Chicago. He did that for probably, I don't know, 5-8 years. Then he got a job during the '40s in Roosevelt's WPA. He got a job as a drafts person, a draftsman with, what was it? National Harvester, I think was the name of the company. I can't remember. I know it was Harvester and it was in the Chicago area. My grandfather was a draftsman, and a very, very good draftsman.
  • [00:23:50] ISAAC MACK: What exactly is a draftsman?
  • [00:23:55] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: He designed products for, I wish I could remember the full name of the harvester company.
  • [00:24:06] MALE SPEAKER: International Harvester?
  • [00:24:06] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Thank you. International Harvester. He designed a couple of, I think motors for the equipment that they were making and they took that and patented under their names and he never got the credit for it. Which was the way stuff happened for Blacks. It was simply the way it happened. International Harvester ran with it and it was a wonderful motor and it did all kinds of wonderful things but my grandfather never ever was recognized for it.
  • [00:24:53] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: When I was saying that his cousin wanted him to come to Memphis, there were reasons and I didn't learn these until later in my life. But there was some issues about the 160 acres and eventually that 160 acres was lost and it was taken over by whites. I know that because I had the occasion to meet and to talk with a descendant of his, I think it was his granddaughter. When Ulysses died, he was wealthy and the lawyers figured out a way to get that wealth. They did and they threatened the family members that they should never speak of it, they should never try to get it back, they should never go to lawyers on their own or bad things would happen to them, and so they lost all of what my uncle was able to amass. I learned some of that when I was a child and I didn't really understand the importance of what I was hearing then. Ulysses' adopted son was a very difficult child and Ulysses felt that if he could get him out of Memphis for a while and have him live in Chicago that my grandfather might be able to do something with him to try and get him on the straight and narrow, I guess. [LAUGHTER] He was 13 years old when he came, 13 or 14 years old and I was 12. He came and he was just abominable and he threatened my grandfather's life and my cousins.
  • [00:27:20] ISAAC MACK: Is that the adopted child?
  • [00:27:21] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: This is the adopted child that came from Memphis. He was a holy terror. He was really bad. When he threatened my grandfather's life, the cousin that grew up with my mother, who was a grown man then, [LAUGHTER] told him he would turn him inside out, [LAUGHTER] but in not-so-nice words. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:27:51] ISAAC MACK: We've established. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:27:56] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: It was shortly after that, that he was sent packing back to Memphis. Didn't want his disruption and how he was and there was nothing that could be done. As it turned out, his life was pretty miserable, it was pretty bad. I learned this stuff from his daughter, which was very interesting.
  • [00:28:23] ISAAC MACK: What about the health care and the difference, if you do know, between the South and then when your family migrated to the North? How did your family operate when it came to visiting the doctor and getting checkups and diet or where did you guys eat? What was the food like? Just things of that sort.
  • [00:28:46] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I really don't know that I can answer that question. That was not anything that I was aware of or was told. I know that my mom had very good health care, but I don't know what health care was like for my great-grandparents.
  • [00:29:14] ISAAC MACK: Then I'm going to shift into a different focus. I want to talk about your family and, for lack of better terms, I'm going to put it as this. You come from a family of go-getters from what I can see. So far I have taken a mental note. I have a successful dentist. Who was that?
  • [00:29:38] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That was Ulysses Walton. That was his name.
  • [00:29:43] ISAAC MACK: Well known, you said, established, successful. Basically, I would classify him as an engineer with the harvester and the patents that he made. Then even though he did eventually lose it, somehow he got a hold of the acres. How many acres did you say it was?
  • [00:30:05] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: It was 160 acres.
  • [00:30:06] ISAAC MACK: A hundred and sixty.
  • [00:30:07] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That Ulysses' father Richard had amassed.
  • [00:30:12] ISAAC MACK: Then we also have your great-uncle miraculously somehow at the age of 12 getting to Chicago.
  • [00:30:21] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That was my great-grandfather.
  • [00:30:22] ISAAC MACK: Great-grandfather. I'm sorry. Great-grandfather getting to Chicago but you don't know how, but we just know he got there. As we can [LAUGHTER] see, seems like the men in your family, as I said earlier, just made it happen. They found a way, they found workarounds, they found solutions, they found answers, and they just made it happen, which is so powerful when it comes to the Great Migration, especially in slavery in the South, like what we've been talking about for these past few minutes. How would you say that that passion and that drive affected you as a kid? You talked about the fear that was instilled in you, and we can get into that later, but how would you say the passion and the drive and I would say the entrepreneurship of your family affected you as a kid and growing up and even today?
  • [00:31:32] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I think that what I learned from my history and from my great-grandparents and from my mother.
  • [00:31:48] ISAAC MACK: Yeah. I wanted to ask about the women too.
  • [00:31:50] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Was compassion, was self-worth, was giving back. Black people didn't have a whole lot, but Black people always gave generously with what they had. There was never a time when I was growing up that there wasn't somebody coming to the house at some point. The house that I was raised in, my grandfather opened the doors for two young men to come and live with us.
  • [00:32:32] ISAAC MACK: Non-family members.
  • [00:32:33] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Non-family members that had just gotten out of the service and didn't have a place for them to be. They lived with us until they were able to get on their feet. My mom has always been involved in her church, and that's how I was raised and my brother was raised in the church. Our faith has what has defined us in a way and also what has gotten us through some of the most difficult situations. My mother believed strongly in volunteering. I can remember going to church on Sunday morning and leaving church and going to visit somebody that didn't come to church or someone that was sick. I can remember her taking food to people that were sick. We always had a lot of food in our house and anybody that walked through the door was encouraged to sit at the table. That was just a norm in our household. I know that she learned that from her grandmother and grandfather. In that that is how they saw themselves and that is the welcoming that they provided to anybody, everybody, strangers, family members, it didn't matter. I think that that has defined me in a way and instilled in me that I should not be comfortable when others are not comfortable, that I should do what I can to help.
  • [00:34:49] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I don't know what else to say. I do want to say something about my reluctance to go South. My husband was white. My husband died a year ago.
  • [00:35:03] ISAAC MACK: I'm sorry for your loss.
  • [00:35:04] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Thank you. When we married, he loved to travel and he wanted to go to Atlanta and some of it had to do a lot of our traveling, our road trips was because he was seeking out information about his own family. [OVERLAPPING]
  • [00:35:27] ISAAC MACK: Genealogy.
  • [00:35:29] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Lord. Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Our children will say, ''Gosh, every time we got in a car dad was taking us to a cemetery." [LAUGHTER] We did cemeteries and we did museums. [LAUGHTER] Lots of museums.
  • [00:35:44] ISAAC MACK: Not the water parks?
  • [00:35:46] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: No, not too often. [LAUGHTER] But our daughters are grateful for that though because that had instilled a sense of pride. But anyway, Paul and I would travel. When he first wanted to go South, I was really reluctant. My husband was born and raised in a small town in Missouri. Nevada, Missouri. The only Black person he ever saw in that town was a guy that went into the local car dealership and cleaned. He was the janitor but he didn't live in the town. His understanding at the time of race was very limited.
  • [00:36:36] ISAAC MACK: Very different from yours because as you talked about earlier, your grandfather, the stories that he told you and how he didn't take racism and his reluctance, why he didn't go to the South, so you and your husband had completely two different perspectives on it.
  • [00:36:51] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes. When he wanted to travel and he wanted to go South, he didn't understand my hesitancy and that was something that I needed to school him on.
  • [00:37:03] ISAAC MACK: School him. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:37:05] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Eventually. He finally understood. He was very respectful of it and he grew a great deal. He would call out folks.
  • [00:37:29] ISAAC MACK: Wow.
  • [00:37:29] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: He would call out his folks. He would do that. But he understood and as I grew more and trusted, I was not quite as reluctant to go South. We did do some traveling but he was very aware that when we would drive to a motel I would say you go in, I'm not going in. The first time I did that he couldn't understand why. Again, we had to have some education.
  • [00:38:10] ISAAC MACK: Some schooling?
  • [00:38:11] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes, some schooling. Then he learned that and even until almost before he passed we still did that. We would go to a motel and even if we had already made the arrangements and everything, he would go in and he would get the key to the hotel or the key to the room and then come out and then the two of us would go in. But I never went in first, ever did I go in first. A couple of times when we went in together, he became acutely aware at how we were treated. He was treated just fine. The moment I walked in, the staff changed. That came home to him when we were taking, this is a second marriage for both of us.
  • [00:39:10] ISAAC MACK: What's the timeline on this?
  • [00:39:14] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: In the mid '80s.
  • [00:39:15] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
  • [00:39:16] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Mid '80s I would say. We were taking his daughters. His first wife moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The girls would come and spend the summers with us, spring break with us, and one of the holidays, either Thanksgiving or Christmas. In the summer, we would return them and we would always do it as a road trip and we would drive them back to Winnipeg and we would take various routes. This one particular time we took the Northern route and we went through Canada. We had driven all night and we had stopped at a McDonald's and he and the girls got out and I was still doing some stuff in the car. He and the girls got out and they went into McDonald's and they were in there maybe two or three minutes before I walked in. They were being waited on and folks were sitting off to the side having their food. I walked in and all the heads turned and looked at me. When I walked up to them, it was as if I had committed a cardinal sin.
  • [00:40:30] ISAAC MACK: Where was this?
  • [00:40:32] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I think it was outside of Duluth, Minnesota. No, it couldn't have been because we were in Canada. It was in Thunder Bay, that's where it was. It was in Thunder Bay. He was taken aback by it but he commented and he said, "My wife would like, please take her order." They took it. You could tell that it was not something that they were comfortable in doing but they took it. He was determined that we were going to sit as a family in that restaurant in McDonald's and have our meal and then we would leave. That's exactly what we did. I had not seen him do that. He was daring. He was daring anybody to say anything to us.
  • [00:41:34] ISAAC MACK: Like your own grandfather?
  • [00:41:36] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I really appreciated and I just saw my husband in a different way. I had not seen that. It was very comforting and it was also, I just felt very proud of him.
  • [00:41:54] ISAAC MACK: I love that McDonald's story by the way. You have your own stories about dealing with racism. What about your family and your grandparents? Are you aware of any stories that they have dealing with racism in the South before they moved to Illinois?
  • [00:42:11] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Not before they moved because there's nothing written, there is nothing that was shared. I had the sense that my family members as most Blacks in those days, they just didn't want to talk about it. That was what happened and I'm done with that. I don't want to think about those things because it's very painful to think about. I think in that vein and also I remember an aunt saying to me, I was asking some questions about someone in the family and she said, "That's private, you don't need to know that."
  • [00:42:52] ISAAC MACK: Wow.
  • [00:42:55] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: We simply didn't talk about stuff.
  • [00:42:59] ISAAC MACK: Even when you guys got to Illinois, did they share any stories about? Wow. Not about anything that happened in Illinois either even when you were?
  • [00:43:11] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: My mom told me some things and it was more like things being taken from them. My great-grandfather, I can't remember this story completely, but put some things in storage. There was a lawyer involved. Somehow the items that were in storage were taken from him. I don't know if it was because the storage fee wasn't paid or the storage fee was paid to the lawyer, the lawyer didn't pay the storage fee. I just can't remember but it was some very special belongings of the family.
  • [00:44:09] ISAAC MACK: Wow.
  • [00:44:10] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That were taken. I honestly cannot remember the full story of that.
  • [00:44:20] ISAAC MACK: Just like the land that was taken, just like the credit that was taken, the harvest thing.
  • [00:44:28] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yeah. It follows a pattern.
  • [00:44:35] ISAAC MACK: How would you elaborate upon how you've combated the hardship and everything that had been taken from your family and from its history and things that the credit, the land. How would you say you've personally combated it and worked towards rebuilding that legacy?
  • [00:44:59] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: My mother instilled in me when we were growing up, we lived, as I said, in a two-story building that had a basement and there were four families. We were on the second floor, my grandfather, my stepfather, my mother, my brother and myself. On the first floor were two sisters and their family, and there was a total of eight children that lived on that first floor and three adults. In the basement, there was a woman and she had six children. In that building there were what, six, eight that's 14, 15, 16 children, 16 children, and seven adults. In that building, my mom was determined that she was going to buy her own house. She was very determined that it was very important for her to own land and to own property. Eventually she made that happen. She bought a three flat building and I often wondered, why didn't you just buy a house? But she bought a three flat building on Chicago's South Side, about five blocks from where I grew up and she bought it because she didn't think that on her wages and my stepfather's wages they would be able to have a house and so they needed the income. So there were families living on the second floor and a family living on the third floor, and a young man living in the basement. She had the income that she was receiving for the building, paid the mortgage, essentially.
  • [00:47:06] ISAAC MACK: She owned the entire building?
  • [00:47:07] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: The entire building.
  • [00:47:08] ISAAC MACK: Well, I know earlier I said the men in your family made it happen, but I guess it's just everybody. [LAUGHTER]. Wow. How would you say that personally inspired you?
  • [00:47:26] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: It said to me that the color of my skin nor the sex did not determine what I could or could not do.
  • [00:47:42] ISAAC MACK: I know you said your family didn't enjoy opening up to you much they're private and none of your business. But you also talked about the faith in your family, how it got you guys through tough times. Was there ever any elaboration from them when it came to church? Did you ever see something powerful from them? Maybe the service was ever able to get them to open up, you said was that your mother who delivered a keynote?
  • [00:48:18] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yeah. I never knew my great-grandparents. They both died in the early '20s.
  • [00:48:23] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
  • [00:48:24] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I knew my grandfather because I lived with him. My grandfather was a very religious man, but he did not subscribe to or, and I just had the word in my head, organized religion. Whereas he believed in God and he read his Bible, he would not go to church because he had some issues with the ministers. He saw ministers as trying to line their own pockets rather than doing something positive for--
  • [00:49:01] ISAAC MACK: The community?
  • [00:49:02] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: The community. That was just something that he carried and I don't know what that came out of. He never talked to me about that. But my youth minister and he became very, very close and every week, my youth minister would come over on a Wednesday evening and have dinner with us and he came primarily to have conversation with my grandfather. They would have some pretty heated conversations about religion and about the ministry. This young minister also came over and would cut my grandfather's hair and they just had a really good time together and as that ministered, talked to me later in life, he said that my grandfather really made him think about how he lived his life, and how he ministered to the people in the church. It was a very positive experience, but my grandfather never went to church. Never went to church. My mom, on the other hand, did. Being in church was very important to her. It was spiritual as well as it was the fellowship. The other thing about Black people and church that was the one place where we could be who we were without having to put on a smile or try to live in the white world, or try to be accepted by whites. We could be who we wanted to be, who we were. It was a time when we could dress up and do whatever. Black folks did that well, [LAUGHTER] we would have our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes is what we called it, the ladies would be in their hats and gloves and we had pride in ourselves. It was a place where we had pride and it was a place where we could extend to each other grace and love and live out the teachings of Christ and I carry that. I live that and I've been part of that to my children.
  • [00:51:51] ISAAC MACK: Are you aware of any disappointments your family experienced? I know they didn't talk about their history when it came to the South. But did they ever talk about what they were expecting when they got to the North? We discussed earlier how I think you used the term rose bed. Is that what you said how it wasn't?
  • [00:52:15] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Oh, yeah. It wasn't a bed of roses.
  • [00:52:17] ISAAC MACK: It wasn't a bed of roses in the North?
  • [00:52:22] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: No. One of the things that was said, I do remember this being said often is that in the South, Black people knew exactly where they stood and how to be. In the North it was a guessing game because people would smile at you, but you really didn't know their deep feelings. Yeah, it was a guessing game.
  • [00:52:50] ISAAC MACK: There is a sense of confusion and less security when it came from their migration from the South into the North would you say?
  • [00:53:03] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I think there was false security.
  • [00:53:05] ISAAC MACK: False security.
  • [00:53:06] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: In the North, yeah.
  • [00:53:09] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
  • [00:53:10] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: One of the things that my mother did, I was 12 years old when Emmett Till was murdered. Emmett Till was a child of Chicago. He was born and raised in Chicago. When his mother determined that the world should see what white racism did to Emmett Till. She had his funeral and she had his casket open so he could be seen. My mother took me and I stood in line.
  • [00:53:57] ISAAC MACK: You saw?
  • [00:53:58] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yes, I did.
  • [00:53:59] ISAAC MACK: Wow.
  • [00:54:01] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: But it was at the reason that Black mothers and fathers, grandparents stood in line down the street, around the corner, up the street to go and view his body and took us kids with so that we fully understood what hatred and racism did. That has lived with me all of my life. To this day, I cannot look at the picture of Emmett Till in his casket. I can not do that because it brings back all of that hatred, that racism, that fear, all of that stuff.
  • [00:54:50] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
  • [00:55:01] ISAAC MACK: That was heavy. Are you aware of any sacrifices your family made moving from the South to the North when it came to leaving behind other family members. I know even the adopted child got sent out from was it Memphis, Tennessee, to Illinois with you guys and you can see how that didn't work out.
  • [00:55:25] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I can only surmise that my great-grandfather and his brother had a close relationship, and that relationship was severed because one chose to remain in the South, and the other chose to come North. Again, not sharing with me as I was growing up and not hearing any of the stories, I don't know what that relationship was since they were apart. But I have to believe that there still was some connection because my grandfather and his cousin, my grandfather from his father, his cousin from his father, had a relationship and had a strong relationship. There had been some bond there, but I have no idea.
  • [00:56:29] ISAAC MACK: Well, as we're wrapping things up from this interview, when I think of Ms. Haynes' family, the words that come to me are pride. I also hear a lot of stories of loss. But more importantly, I think the overarching word would be legacy.
  • [00:56:55] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Faith.
  • [00:56:59] ISAAC MACK: Faith.
  • [00:57:00] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Faith is very important.
  • [00:57:05] ISAAC MACK: Closing out this interview, is there anything you want people to know about the Great Migration?
  • [00:57:22] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: I don't know. I don't think enough has been written about it. I don't think there's enough understanding of what it was. Until Isabel Wilkerson wrote her book on The Warmth of Other Suns, there was not enough known about the Great Migration, why it happened, what the effects were. There was another book that the author of whom my husband and I had the opportunity to hear called The Color of Law.
  • [00:58:14] ISAAC MACK: I think my mother has that book.
  • [00:58:16] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: That speaks to redlining and what redlining did to all of our large cities. I lived through that on the South Side of Chicago when the highway, the Dan Ryan was put through and some of us called it the Damn Ryan. But the Dan Ryan was put through and it's separated. It took out a major portion of the Black community. It destroyed the homes just like 75 did in Detroit. The same things and just like many of the highways that run through Manhattan and into the Bronx and Brooklyn and all that. How it took away the Black community and literally destroyed the community and displaced people, that had community there. Also on the South Side of Chicago, I remember when I was in my early teens, preteens, that the church that I went through to, which is still standing, was in a neighborhood and the city council determined that that neighborhood, the houses were old and falling apart and dilapidated and all. They had all excuses and things rather than helping providing [OVERLAPPING] funds to Black people to fix up their homes. That was very difficult for people to obtain the funds if they needed. That neighborhood between 51st Street and 55th Street on State Street, State and Dearborn, was totally razed. In its place, went up the Robert Taylor Homes. These high-rises of 13, 14, 16 stories high, that had apartments in it, housed all these people and consequently, crime just exploded. You took away single-family dwellings where it was a neighborhood of people that had their grocery stores, and cleaners and the school, I mean it was a complete neighborhood and you wipe that out and you put up these projects. You put people in these projects where eventually to get to the 13th floor, you had to walk upstairs because the elevator didn't work or any number of things would happen. Then you get gangs there and then crime. Then you point to it and say, see that's how the Black people do. But you never say, this is what white folks did.
  • [01:01:38] ISAAC MACK: To induce it.
  • [01:01:39] JANET VIRGINIA (NEWTON) HAYNES: Yeah. I was actually aware of that and I didn't understand that in my young age, what was happening other than my friends had to find someplace else to live because their house was being torn down. But now, when I look at Ann Arbor right now and all you see are these big, beautiful places going up all over the freaking town. But you don't see any affordable housing. When you do see affordable housing, you see it in a place where there's no grocery store, there's no drugstore, there's hardly transportation. But you're going to put people in these places and then say, oh, we have given them someplace to live. But you haven't given them what they needed. I didn't mean to get off on that soapbox, but [LAUGHTER].
  • [01:02:42] ISAAC MACK: Well, Ms. Haynes has been a pleasure meeting you and talking to you about your Great Migration.
Graphic for audio posts


July 30, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Length: 01:02:55

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

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


Turner African American Services Council
Great Migration
Black History
American Slavery
Fugitive Slaves
Multigenerational Households
International Harvester
Urban Renewal
Tenement Housing
Oral Histories
Race & Ethnicity
Social Issues
Janet Virginia Newton Haynes
Isaac Mack
Emmett Till
Chicago IL
Memphis TN
Calhoun County AL
Nevada MO