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Intergenerational Dialogue on the Great Migration: Johnnie M. Redding

When: July 26, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County


  • [00:00:14] MASHOD EVANS JR: How are you doing today, Mrs. Redding?
  • [00:00:16] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I'm doing very well. Thank you for asking.
  • [00:00:18] MASHOD EVANS JR: Well, my name is Mashod Evans Jr. Today we're going to be having a conversation just to help me and help others understand our history, my history as well. But today we just want to learn more about your story, more about yourself today and I just want to thank you for participating and being here today.
  • [00:00:40] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Thank you.
  • [00:00:42] MASHOD EVANS JR: First off, I want to start by asking you to share your name, your date of birth, and where you were born?
  • [00:00:52] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: My name is Johnnie Redding and my birth date is April 15th, 1936.
  • [00:01:03] MASHOD EVANS JR: Could you also share with us where you were born?
  • [00:01:05] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • [00:01:12] MASHOD EVANS JR: I represent the Bethel AME Church YPD as well as the Ann Arbor chapter of Jack and Jill, so that's what I'm representing today. Like I said, I just want to know more about your story and know more about who you are. This isn't more of an interview, but more of a conversation. Just getting to talk a little bit about certain topics and things that I'd like to know about you.
  • [00:01:42] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Okay. [NOISE]
  • [00:01:44] MASHOD EVANS JR: Also, if I make you feel uncomfortable at anytime just let me know. If you don't feel comfortable answering any questions, just let me know.
  • [00:01:52] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Okay.
  • [00:01:53] MASHOD EVANS JR: Once again, I just want to thank you for being here.
  • [00:01:58] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Thank you for coming too.
  • [00:02:02] MASHOD EVANS JR: First thing I want to talk about is your family's experience or your experience migrating from the South to the North. Like you said, you were born in Atlanta, Georgia. Is your family from Atlanta Georgia? Is your family from Atlanta?
  • [00:02:22] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yes. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, like I said, April 15th, 1936 and I was born to Mr. and Mrs. John McKibbens, [NOISE] only child and both parents are deceased now. So I moved to Ann Arbor [NOISE] in 1961. My husband came to get a job at Ford, so we moved here in 1961. When I came to Ann Arbor, I had three small kids. I had a five-year-old, I had a four year-old and a going to be a two-year-old in September which we moved in August of 1961. So I've been here ever since then. I will say this is almost home more than anything. Now, I do have relatives still in Atlanta, Georgia like cousins. I grew up with two young ladies which they both are deceased as like my sisters. They both are deceased and I am the matriarch of my family now, which my mother was a Chambliss. I am the matriarch of the Chambliss family now, although I am a McKibbens. I was born as a McKibbens. I do have second cousins in Atlanta and that's just about it. Then I have first cousins in Detroit. I do have a lot of first cousins in Detroit. I moved, here like I said in 1961 and my kids were small, I didn't go to work for quite awhile. Then I ended up getting a job. I worked for St. Joe's Hospital in the main ore and I retired there in 2004. After I retired from St. Joe, I decided I needed to do something else. So I ended up working at St. Francis School over on Stadium in the afternoon program. After I was there for seven years, I came back with a blood clot. So I ended up leaving St. Francis. Now I'm at home every day. I don't have a job now. At my age, I don't need a job [LAUGHTER], not now, no.
  • [00:05:15] MASHOD EVANS JR: You'd say the main reason you as well as your family moved to Ann Arbor was because of your husband for work?
  • [00:05:23] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yes.
  • [00:05:24] MASHOD EVANS JR: Can you share maybe what you were feeling when you were moving from Atlanta to your home?
  • [00:05:34] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Well, I tell you when I moved from Atlanta, I knew he needed a job, so I moved. My mother had passed away in 1958 and like I said, I was an only child and I had an uncle and an aunt still there, and a grandfather. It was hard to move here and leave them but I knew we needed to come for the work he needed to have, yeah. That's just about it.
  • [00:06:04] MASHOD EVANS JR: For better opportunities.
  • [00:06:05] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Better opportunity. Yes.
  • [00:06:11] MASHOD EVANS JR: You said you're an only child, but it seems like you've quite a few cousins and quite a few bit of surrounding family. So I'd like to know maybe what that was like, growing up as an only child.
  • [00:06:27] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I had the type of mother. She believed in the right thing and so she was raising actually, my cousins, it was two girls. They was old than I am. One was five years older than I am and the other one was four years older. She raised us like we were sisters. After my one cousin passed away, which they were sisters and they belonged to my mother brother. After her sister passed away in Atlanta, Arlene was her name, she passed away. Dorothy ended up with a bypass. My kids and I moved Dorothy here to be with us so she wouldn't be alone. She didn't have any children at all. She stayed here until she passed away in 2019.
  • [00:07:41] MASHOD EVANS JR: Sorry for the loss.
  • [00:07:42] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Thank you.
  • [00:07:48] MASHOD EVANS JR: Well, [NOISE] you said it was hard leaving Atlanta.
  • [00:07:55] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: [NOISE] Excuse me. Yeah. It was very hard because I had a very good grandfather. He was from the old school and you did what he wants you to do. You had to follow his rules so I grew up with that.
  • [00:08:15] MASHOD EVANS JR: Were you maybe excited when you were moving to Michigan or you still felt that pull in you?
  • [00:08:20] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Not really. I was lonely for home but I had to go back and think about my husband had a job and I didn't know anyone here. He had an uncle and aunt here, my husband. Those are the only two people that I knew. Now, I had been to Michigan before as a kid. Two of my uncles lived in Detroit, so I would come up in the summertime and visit but I never thought I would come and live. I always felt like, why am I here? I came out of Georgia with no snow, there is having a little bit of snow and every now and then you might get ice. But, and it's cold here, why am I here? I still ask myself that sometime, especially when I was working and I had to be at work at six o'clock in the morning. I was saying John, why are you still living here? My husband passed away so that left my four children. I have four children. I have three girls and one boy. They are here in Michigan too. I have two grandchildren. They live in Louisiana and I have three great-grandchildren. That's why I always wonder, maybe I should go to Louisiana, where my children are. But they are not think about, well, I have my home here and I've gotten older, so I better stay here.
  • [00:10:12] MASHOD EVANS JR: Okay. Also, you mentioned something about your grandfather. How you would do what he would like for you to do or what he asked of you. Can you go into that and explain how your older family members were cared for while they were in the South.
  • [00:10:31] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: When I was a girl, family lived together. I grew up in my granddad's house. I don't remember my grandmother on my mother's side, her name was Johnnie Camilla. She passed away when I was a little girl. My grandfather was the head of the house. We lived in the house with him, my mother, my father, and my two cousins and myself. We lived in the house with him. After my grandmother passed away and my mother took care of the house. That was just it, we just live together, enjoyed every minute of it. My grandfather was from my old school. His name was Cicero Chambliss, and he didn't believe in ladies swearing, he didn't believe in ladies smoking, doing the wrong thing, so I grew up that way. I had to act as a lady.
  • [00:11:45] MASHOD EVANS JR: Okay. Another topic I'd like to talk about is, can you share with us how you all receive health care. How the health care system was in the South?
  • [00:12:00] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: How what?
  • [00:12:01] MASHOD EVANS JR: How the health care system was in the South? Was it?
  • [00:12:04] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Was there healthcare in the South?
  • [00:12:06] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yes. How you all may have received health care, if you may have saw doctors because I've heard that it's not very common for African-American or Black doctors during that time.
  • [00:12:24] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yeah. You didn't find a lot of problems because that was one area. It was like a public hospital, Grady Hospital. You could go there and stay all day and never get waited on. So that was really hard. I had three of my children there. But my daughter Robin, she was born in Hughes Spalding, that was more like a private hospital. I had no problems there and believe it or not my son was the second child. We didn't make it to the hospital. He was born at home, which he's been fine being born at home. Really, he's sixty-five now and just a healthy man. Yeah. Just have a little bit of problems with his eyes because the day he was born, he was born on February 14th, 1957 and the sun was in the room and the blinds, didn't get drawn. He's still have a little problem with his eyes, but otherwise he is fine. Then my third child was born in Atlanta and she was born premature. All the two pounds and four ounces. Yeah and she is got to be 63 in September, and she's well, she works over at Ypsi High School.
  • [00:14:13] MASHOD EVANS JR: You seem to not have any problems with the health care because I know there was some discrimination and racism going on at the time. I know some people may not have trusted the health care system or felt some kind of way about it.
  • [00:14:31] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Well, I didn't have any problem and to be honest, like I have told my children, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia and I went to an all-Black school. I wasn't raised around Whites.
  • [00:14:49] MASHOD EVANS JR: Right.
  • [00:14:49] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I went to elementary. I grew up in a little area, they called Dixie Hills. Everybody knew everybody, and I went to elementary there until I was 7th grade. I only had women teachers and they couldn't be married. They couldn't be married, not at that time. I only saw a man teacher once I went to high school. That's the first time I had ever seen a man teacher. I didn't even know anything about a man teacher until I went to high school.
  • [00:15:27] MASHOD EVANS JR: You were mainly around Black people and you didn't really have any issues with that?
  • [00:15:33] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I mean, I went downtown Atlanta and I would see them. It was that as they use the word color, drink from this mountain, go to this bathroom. That didn't bother me, not at all.
  • [00:15:58] MASHOD EVANS JR: Although I know you moved to Michigan for better opportunities, do you think that you might have still been comfortable around your family in Atlanta and around you?
  • [00:16:09] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: In Atlanta?
  • [00:16:09] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yes.
  • [00:16:13] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I might.
  • [00:16:16] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Because we was taught too, you could be somebody. Make sure you always kept yourself up and you'd never let nobody pull you down so I could have stayed in Atlanta and been okay.
  • [00:16:40] MASHOD EVANS JR: Good. Let's transition here. I just want to get to know if maybe you had any maybe disappointments or something that was unexpected when you were moving or transitioning from the South to the North?
  • [00:16:58] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Not really.
  • [00:16:59] MASHOD EVANS JR: No.
  • [00:17:01] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: No. Just like I said, I didn't know anybody here. I had my three little kids so I was busy with that. Very busy.
  • [00:17:13] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yeah. So nothing unexpected, nothing you were really disappointed by when you were coming here?
  • [00:17:20] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: No more than I had to find [NOISE] living area. That wasn't too hard, not than moving to Ann Arbor.
  • [00:17:34] MASHOD EVANS JR: Well, if you feel comfortable sharing, I just wanted to ask if you experienced any, or could you share maybe a story or one of your experiences with encountering racism or discrimination while you were in Atlanta or while you were in.
  • [00:17:50] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: While I was in Atlanta?
  • [00:17:51] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yes.
  • [00:17:53] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: I did have one experience when I ended up getting a job in Atlanta, downtown Atlanta, private-owned restaurant, family-owned I should use that word, family-owned. There was a young lady, she had came from further South of Atlanta and she was a white kid. I had trained her and taught her how to use the register and at that time they didn't have the registers like they have now. [LAUGHTER] You had to punch this and punch that and then one day I guess she thought, well, now this person has showed me I'm going to show her what I can do and I'm not a person. Black people don't like folks to pick their leg up like they want to kick them. You don't kick me, you don't spit on me, and you don't slap my face. She decided one day she was going to kick me and I made sure she did not do it and I told her, don't ever try this because we will be fighting in this restaurant. No, don't ever try and she didn't do it anymore. She wanted to play and I didn't have time to play so she didn't do it anymore.
  • [00:19:33] MASHOD EVANS JR: Thank you for sharing that. I said thank you for sharing that, I appreciate it. Another thing I'd like to know, were there any sacrifices that you or your family had to make when coming from the South to the North? Maybe you had to give something up or something that you had to sacrifice in order to be where you are today [OVERLAPPING].
  • [00:19:57] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Like I said, I had to sacrifice leaving my family. Yeah. I was young and that was hard, to leave. Like I said, my mother had passed away and I had to leave my grandfather and I left my cousins, those that I was raised with, and uncles, and aunts, I had to leave them and that was hard. But I kept in contact with everybody by phone. I tried to go home least once a year. Most of the time was at Christmas time for awhile. Then it became that I could go home in the summer times with the kids. My kids and I we would drive in the day.
  • [00:21:07] MASHOD EVANS JR: Another thing I'd like to get to know is would you say or so you grew up in Atlanta and [LAUGHTER] I've lived in Birmingham for quite some time and I've been around that area of Birmingham, Atlanta. I just want to get to understand what the Civil Rights Movement was like during the time we got to know Atlanta, Birmingham. Those are two cities where I know that was very prominent and I know there was a lot of stuff going on in those cities definitely. Could you maybe share your experience with the Civil Rights Movement, were you a part of it or?
  • [00:22:01] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: King then started, he was at Alabama more than he was in Atlanta. He did live in Atlanta.
  • [00:22:07] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yeah.
  • [00:22:08] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yeah. I only saw him one time and that was in a bowling alley and that was from a distance. I didn't speak to him or anything. But it was one Sunday evening and he was in this bowling alley where I was bowling, but otherwise he did most of his work in Alabama.
  • [00:22:34] MASHOD EVANS JR: You wouldn't say that you participated or involved maybe in any marches that were going on?
  • [00:22:40] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: But I had marched.
  • [00:22:41] MASHOD EVANS JR: Or participated in any--
  • [00:22:43] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: In the marching?
  • [00:22:46] MASHOD EVANS JR: Not necessarily the marching but I guess being active supporter of the movement.
  • [00:22:57] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yeah, I think I would have did some marching if it had came to do but it never came forward for me to do it, so I didn't do it.
  • [00:23:06] MASHOD EVANS JR: I see. That's good to know. Another thing I'd like to get to know a little bit more about your family. You said that when you were transitioning you had to leave behind a lot of family but did your cousins end up ever coming to Michigan or, they did?
  • [00:23:34] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yes, they did. Yeah. Even my grandfather. He was an older gentleman but he came on the train. Yeah.
  • [00:23:47] MASHOD EVANS JR: When would you say they came around? How long after you moved did they come on over to Michigan?
  • [00:23:57] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Well, the last time my one cousin, Arlene, she was here, her dad was sick in Detroit and that was back in the '70s. She did come there and then that was the last time she came. But like I said, my cousin Dorothy in moving here because of health reasons and to be closer, we got to take care of. Like I said, I have cousins in Detroit so we get together frequently.
  • [00:24:33] MASHOD EVANS JR: Yeah.
  • [00:24:33] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yeah.
  • [00:24:35] MASHOD EVANS JR: You're saying your cousin came to be closer to you so you guys could take care of her or was it maybe because of not the lack, never mind. I'm sorry. I'm just trying to understand.
  • [00:24:53] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Why she came here? She had had a bypass and she had been in Atlanta and she was living in like a basement apartment.
  • [00:25:05] MASHOD EVANS JR: By herself.
  • [00:25:07] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: The water wasn't hot enough for her to be there to do what she needed to do. Once I went to Atlanta and found out this was happening, I stayed two weeks taking care of her. Then I decided well, she's going to have to come to Ann Arbor, so that's what happened she did come and like I said, she stayed here until she passed away.
  • [00:25:42] MASHOD EVANS JR: I thank you for sharing your story. Really curious as well to know, so you enjoyed Atlanta you would say, right?
  • [00:25:52] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Atlanta? Yeah. That's what I knew. [LAUGHTER] I grew up there. I did and believe it or not I lost a girlfriend in Atlanta for years. We grew up together and as I moved here we lost each other. But she decided she wanted to know where I was, I had tried to find out where she was and she was trying to find out where I was and we knew people that knew me. We ended up getting back together and she passed away this February.
  • [00:26:34] MASHOD EVANS JR: I'm sorry.
  • [00:26:35] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: Yeah. But we kept up with each other until then after that. We went to elementary school together.
  • [00:26:45] MASHOD EVANS JR: Well, I don't have any more questions for you but I thank you for your time, and thank you for being here, and thank you for sharing.
  • [00:26:54] JOHNNIE M. REDDING: You're quite welcome.
Graphic for audio posts


July 26, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

Length: 00:27:01

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

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


Turner African American Services Council
Great Migration
Black History
Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital
Racial Segregation
Civil Rights Movement
Oral Histories
Race & Ethnicity
Johnnie M. Redding
Mashod A. Evans Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Atlanta Georgia