Intergenerational Dialogue on the Great Migration: Roger Doster
Sat, 10/01/2022 - 3:11pm
When: July 30, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
- [00:00:13] ISAAC MACK: [MUSIC] Hi, I'm Isaac Mack here with--
- [00:00:17] ROGER DOSTER: Roger Doster.
- [00:00:20] ISAAC MACK: I'm a student at Skyline High School and I've been selected by Ms. King and the rest of the organization to interview Mr. Doster on his family's migration. We're talking about the time period of the Great Migration and really the purpose of this interview is just to get to know his family and where they came from a little bit better and trace the history of the movement of where 90 percent of African-Americans were at around 1910. Mr. Doster, if you don't mind me asking, what is your age, date of birth, and birthplace?
- [00:01:02] ROGER DOSTER: I was thinking about that. I'm 72. I'll be 73 this year. My date of birth is October 30th, 1950.
- [00:01:11] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
- [00:01:12] ROGER DOSTER: I'm getting old. [LAUGHTER]
- [00:01:17] ISAAC MACK: Why are you interested in this project particularly?
- [00:01:21] ROGER DOSTER: Well, when I was first told about it, I was excited because I've never been asked to talk about how my parents ended up here and how I ended up here, and even going back to my grandparents. It was an opportunity that I jumped at because to me, I just feel I would like to tell someone. It was an interesting thing for me to do.
- [00:01:45] ISAAC MACK: It gives you a chance to verbalize history.
- [00:01:47] ROGER DOSTER: Exactly.
- [00:01:48] ISAAC MACK: That's great. I have a few questions and I was wondering if it's okay, if you would like to respond to them.
- [00:01:55] ROGER DOSTER: Absolutely.
- [00:01:56] ISAAC MACK: Before we start, I also want to thank you for being a willing participant and we appreciate it. First, what exactly do you know about your family's migration from the South to the North?
- [00:02:13] ROGER DOSTER: Well, I think I know in detail pretty much how they got here. It goes back to really, my grandparents because my grandmother's aunt was really the first person in our family that ended up moving to this area in Detroit with her husband who was also in the military. When he got out of the military, he came here. It started with my grandmother's sister so it'll be my great aunt. That started the whole migration here of my family. I don't know if you want me to just go into some detail about that.
- [00:03:05] ISAAC MACK: Yeah.
- [00:03:05] ROGER DOSTER: Okay. They're all originally from what we call South Georgia. It would be about 200 miles from the Florida border in Georgia, in a small little rural city called Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is known for producing cotton. If you think about, our history, you can understand why a lot of Blacks, when they hear the word cotton, they always think of, okay, that's how we made a living. That was true for my family. A lot of them was cotton pickers. In that particular city though, they had one factory, which was an underwear factory. They manufactured underwear, but a lot of Blacks couldn't get jobs there early on, I'm talking about pre-1940, in the '30s, and stuff like that. If they did get jobs, they were the toughest jobs and that was the only type of work that they could really get. Many people actually wanted to improve themselves somehow. One of the ways was certainly, for men, was the military. A lot of them saw that as a way to at least advanced themselves.
- [00:04:24] ISAAC MACK: Whose husband did you say was in the military?
- [00:04:26] ROGER DOSTER: My great aunt, so my grandmother's sister.
- [00:04:30] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
- [00:04:30] ROGER DOSTER: He went into the military and they actually got married right before he went into the military. When he got out, they moved to the Detroit area. Actually, they moved here with the understanding that he was going to look for a job in the automobile industry because that was a real big thing back then. This would have been probably the 1942, '43. When he came here and he was older at that point, he wasn't really a real young person. He didn't get a job in the automobile factory, but he got a job with Greyhound as a mechanic because he had learned those skills when he was in the military. He had a really good job compared to the job that he had when he was in the South when he came here. He was really the first part of my family that came from the South, he and my great aunt. That starting, because they all came from very large families. My grandmother's family they had 11 children.
- [00:05:44] ISAAC MACK: Same thing with my grandmother, she has 12.
- [00:05:48] ROGER DOSTER: That's amazing. You hear a lot about that with older families, how large they were and not that because it was the farm. They work the farm or in some cases, sharecropping is what I called it because of when they didn't really own the farm. But anyway, they came here after the military, he had a job, like I said, at Greyhound. They were the first family members to really move up here in Detroit area. Interesting enough, every family member that ended up coming to the Detroit area ended up living with them to start out. It was something that was not exceptional, it was expected. In other words, they knew they had a place to stay if they were coming here, and they was always encouraged to leave the South to come to the North so that they could find work. That's really what happened with my parents. Unfortunately, many of the individuals didn't when educated in terms of having opportunities to go to college. In my case, my mom and my dad only made it to 9th grade for my dad and 10th grade for my mom. Neither one of them had really any formal education. Now, it's interesting when I say that because when I look back at their report cards, which I still have one from my mom, she was an excellent student. I used to always say, wow, she was such a good student.
- [00:07:30] ISAAC MACK: She didn't continue at all?
- [00:07:31] ROGER DOSTER: Yeah. But it just the opportunities weren't there in the South. It seemed she was being held back, so to speak, with no opportunity. The first chance they got when they got married, they came here. My dad got a job in the automobile industry with Chrysler Corporation. That time, the war was still going on, he had been in the military, got out of the military. The war hadn't ended when he came and he actually was working with Chrysler, but he was actually painting Army tanks when he first came here. His job was in the paint department for the Army tanks that they were building. They were doing this in the north side of Detroit where they were actually building these tanks. Actually all around the Detroit metropolitan area at that time, there was a lot of automobile companies that had converted a lot of their plans to do things for the military so it wasn't really unusual for that to happen. That was his first opportunity job-wise. I don't know the salary that he was making when he first got here, but he wasn't knocking down a lot of doors with whatever it was.
- [00:08:51] ISAAC MACK: I understand he worked really high.
- [00:08:54] ROGER DOSTER: But it really provided our family, were really good opportunity because we started out in Detroit living and we moved to a city called Inkster which is outside of Detroit. What was very interesting to me about that is, even though he was working near the Detroit area, he wanted to live closer to his job which would have been in Dearborn. But at that time they weren't allowing Blacks to live in Dearborn.
- [00:09:20] ISAAC MACK: Wow, and I was born in Dearborn.
- [00:09:23] Things have changed. What happened is they started a lending program that allowed people to buy homes that had been in the military and they didn't have to have a down payment. It was Citizens Mortgage was the company. It was actually backed by Ford Motor Company because they didn't want to have people trying to move into Dearborn creating a lot of what they thought would be issues racially. Inkster became a Black city. At that time new homes that Blacks could come from the South and buy a brand new brick home.
- [00:10:01] ISAAC MACK: You have a date on this?
- [00:10:03] ROGER DOSTER: The home was built in 1949. I was actually born in 1950, so I moved into a new house. Now the house only had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and there was five of us. I had two brothers. Sometimes I wonder how we got by with one bathroom and two bedrooms, but it all worked out.
- [00:10:24] ROGER DOSTER: [LAUGHTER] Anyway, we had a basically a new house. My dad eventually built a garage on the back of the house with a driveway and everything. I actually thought it was beautiful. I didn't really know we weren't doing that well. I just thought it was great and the community was really close. That made everything really nice growing up there too.
- [00:10:48] ISAAC MACK: Okay. You touched on it a little bit earlier. Your family went from, what's that you just said, you said it was Georgia?
- [00:10:55] ROGER DOSTER: Georgia, yeah. They were in a city called Fitzgerald, Georgia.
- [00:10:59] ISAAC MACK: Fitzgerald, Georgia. You said that your uncle?
- [00:11:07] ROGER DOSTER: My great-aunt.
- [00:11:08] ISAAC MACK: Yes. Her husband, that would be your great-uncle-in-law?
- [00:11:12] ROGER DOSTER: Right, yeah.
- [00:11:13] ISAAC MACK: Okay. Your your great-uncle-in-law started off, you said he was doing jobs in the South, but were they sharecropping jobs?
- [00:11:23] ROGER DOSTER: They were basically sharecropping job, picking cotton. That's how they actually made money back then. Believe it or not, they would weigh the cotton. Then I always wonder, God, you're going to pick cotton and you're going to weigh it. That's how you get paid by how much it weighs. You had to pick a lot of cotton if it were to weigh. Because you can imagine if you had a bag of cotton, it probably doesn't even weigh 30 or 40 pounds. The pay wasn't that great. I think that was really the impetus for them trying to get away from that situation, because there was no other jobs.
- [00:11:59] ISAAC MACK: If you could summarize your reasons, I'm going to say, let's get three reasons as to why--is it the Doster family?--
- [00:12:10] ROGER DOSTER: Yes.
- [00:12:10] ISAAC MACK: Would have migrated from Georgia to Detroit. What would you say? Obviously, number one would be economically. What other two things do you think they were hoping for a difference in the migration?
- [00:12:22] ROGER DOSTER: I think they were hoping not only for economic change, but also they were hoping for to be treated more fairly. I think they didn't feel like the South was really giving them opportunity to be treated equally. Unless they arrived, I think they could still see there was some segregation and there was issues, but they felt like at least if you could change the economics of your situation, you could make things better. I think their hope was for us, their children, they really realized that the way to break out of that whole screen was education, because I think both my mom and my dad felt like they could have continued their education, they could have figured out ways to economically do better in life and also do better for their family in essence. So they really pushed us to move through and get education.
- [00:13:24] ISAAC MACK: Okay. Right now it's funny, I have three Es. [LAUGHTER] I have economics, I have equality, and then I also have education.
- [00:13:34] ROGER DOSTER: Sure.
- [00:13:35] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
- [00:13:35] ROGER DOSTER: Yeah.
- [00:13:36] ISAAC MACK: All right, there we go. I'm going to move on to the next question.
- [00:13:41] ROGER DOSTER: Okay. I'm sorry I'm jumping around a little bit.
- [00:13:43] ISAAC MACK: No, this is great. Thank you for opening up. This is important that you give us all the details and really paint that picture for us. Next, if you do know, how were your family members cared for in the South, we're talking medical, and how did that change? Was it the same or was it different when they moved to the North?
- [00:14:13] ROGER DOSTER: Oh, there's a big difference. First of all, they took care of one another. I don't know if I can summarize that. I don't think they went to the doctor as [LAUGHTER] often as they should have, but a lot of things were taken care of at home, either home remedies. People were just more family orientated I think when they were in the South. I think they said, okay, I have a relative that's ill, they wouldn't think about sending them away, they would always be taken care of by another family member. Even as the family members grew older, we didn't think about sending them to a nursing home and things like that. All of my relatives, especially in the South, it seems like they took care of one another. So as an individual got older, they just stayed there. It actually went the same way with us. Even though we moved here, my grandmother ended up living with us for a long time. We took care of her for a lot of years and we had even other relatives come and live with us, as they migrated from the South.
- [00:15:33] ISAAC MACK: In the one bathroom house?
- [00:15:34] ROGER DOSTER: Yes, right. That's right. Sometimes we would have an additional three people living there.
- [00:15:40] ISAAC MACK: Wow.
- [00:15:40] ROGER DOSTER: Oh, yeah. Even though it sounds like a lot, it really didn't seem too crowded. Now, it probably would be crowded today given our living situations that we have today. But we didn't think about it like that. Actually we thought it was cool, because having access to them and being able to talk to them, especially when my aunt, my mother's sister, ended up moving to Detroit area and then moving in with us, my brothers and I, we thought it was great because my mother used to do day work when she first came. She was cleaning houses and she had to leave out of the house before we went to school, and when my aunt was here, she was able to make us hot breakfasts and everything. [LAUGHTER] It was really a cool thing for us. We thought that was so good. Plus listening to her and talking to her and getting to know her. Same with my grandmother. We didn't look at it as we got these extra people in the house, it was really a cool thing to have them there.
- [00:16:38] ISAAC MACK: Allows you to establish more connections with your family?
- [00:16:40] ROGER DOSTER: It really was. When I think about how I got to know my grandmother, I think it was really cool that she was living with us, because when you live with someone and you can talk to them every day, you learn a little bit about them, a little bit more every day, every time you talk to them, things they went through, and you really come to appreciate what they've been through when you can talk to them on a regular basis.
- [00:17:08] ISAAC MACK: What about specializing in the medical area, do you know anything?
- [00:17:16] ROGER DOSTER: Well, like I said, unfortunately, I don't know if a lot of my relatives really got the medical care they should have been getting, because a lot of the men on my mom and dad's side of the family didn't live too long, many of them died in their mid 60s, which was early. I think part of that was because they didn't get regular medical care, a lot of things were done at home. A lot of them may have died of maybe issues that could have been solved if they were seeing a doctor on a regular basis. I think going to the doctor or dentist wasn't a regular thing, I think people took care of things at home. Somehow it's economical because they just didn't have any money to be taking people to the doctor. Unless it was a serious situation where they had to go to the hospital, they pretty much took care of it at home.
- [00:18:18] ISAAC MACK: Okay. I'm going to backtrack you a little bit. You said that for a period of time, your great-aunt came to live with you guys?
- [00:18:30] ROGER DOSTER: No. My great-aunt and her husband moved here first.
- [00:18:33] ISAAC MACK: Her husband moved. Your grandmother?
- [00:18:36] ROGER DOSTER: My grandmother's sister, they moved here first. They were actually living in Detroit. Actually every relative after that ended up living with her to start out because they didn't have a job, no money. That was like the first stop for everyone. It was pretty good size house in Detroit.
- [00:18:55] ISAAC MACK: Who came to live with you? Who was making you the hot breakfast?
- [00:18:59] ROGER DOSTER: That was my mother's sister.
- [00:19:01] ISAAC MACK: Your mother's sister?
- [00:19:02] ROGER DOSTER: My grandmother.
- [00:19:03] ISAAC MACK: Okay. Your grandmother.
- [00:19:04] ROGER DOSTER: Actually, I had two of my mother's sisters living with us at one time.
- [00:19:10] ISAAC MACK: Okay, so not your great-aunt, but just your aunt?
- [00:19:12] ROGER DOSTER: My aunt, yes.
- [00:19:12] ISAAC MACK: Okay.
- [00:19:13] ROGER DOSTER: They lived with us and it was all for the same reasons though, all of them were coming to the North looking for work. Because they didn't have jobs when they came, they had to have someone to stay with, they would end up staying with a relative, which in our case was us or my great-aunt who lived in Detroit.
- [00:19:35] ROGER DOSTER: That was just a common thing. It wasn't looked as unusual either, it was looked at as, well, you just come and you stay with us until you find something.
- [00:19:45] ISAAC MACK: Reflecting on, like we said earlier, how you were able to establish those connections with them while your mother was out doing day work, are there any funny stories or interesting stories that they had living in the South that you can recall that you may have asked them about when you were younger?
- [00:20:02] ROGER DOSTER: I don't know if they were funny stories. [LAUGHTER] I think they had a lot of stories. Not necessarily that I can recall that were funny.
- [00:20:12] ISAAC MACK: I understand it.
- [00:20:14] ROGER DOSTER: I think they seen their life as being happy because they had family, but I don't know if they necessarily seen it as we have a great life in the South. I don't think they saw their lives as being that great.
- [00:20:31] ISAAC MACK: Is it okay if I flip the question?
- [00:20:32] ROGER DOSTER: Sure.
- [00:20:33] ISAAC MACK: What about any stories that are the opposite of that or something that they lived through and they told you about life lessons and things to watch out for? Like you said how one of the reasons that they move was for the equality purposes, the 3Es that we went over earlier. Are there any stories that they have about how that equality that they were hoping for didn't pan out the way that they thought it would when they moved to Detroit?
- [00:21:04] ROGER DOSTER: I don t think so. I think they really felt like it worked out for the best. I think they were thinking ahead. I think they were thinking about the children. They were thinking, I want my children to have a better opportunity than I had. I think their thinking was if I could come here and I could at least start out economically on a better playing field and provide my children with an opportunity to get educated, they would have an opportunity to do more for themselves and then for their families. I think they think they did the right thing. I think they didn't feel like staying in the South would work out for them. When I try to think of funny stories, I don't know if I can think of any funny stories reflecting on their experience in the South. Most of them would seem like just stories about how they took care of themselves, how they made sure they didn't get in trouble with the law or with white people for doing certain things they shouldn't be doing. Like, for instance, my grandparents, when they grew up, they had to make sure that a man wouldn't look at a white person in the eye. I always wondered about that. When they would talk to someone, they would be looking down. I would be thinking they grew up trying to learn to do that. Whereas today, we teach everyone in your family, you teach them to look them in the face, look them in the eye when you talk to them. I always thought that was a very cruel thing. They were taught to look down when they were talking to especially a white person. I don't know, for some reason, that just resonated with me.
- [00:23:00] ISAAC MACK: Does it rub you the wrong way?
- [00:23:02] ROGER DOSTER: It does. It really does because we teach just the opposite. I taught my children to always look a person in the eye when you're talking to them. I always wondered about my grandfather, all those years he lived, he was taught not to look a person in the eye if they were white.
- [00:23:21] ISAAC MACK: It's odd because most families and I assume you as well, they look at the grandfather as the respectable--
- [00:23:30] ROGER DOSTER: Sure.
- [00:23:31] ISAAC MACK: One of the heads of the family, so I'm sure it must have been very alarming for you to hear stories about how your grandfather, when he came to his white counterparts, didn't even look them in the eye.
- [00:23:44] ROGER DOSTER: Exactly. That stuck with me when I think about that.
- [00:23:49] ISAAC MACK: How would you say situations and customs like that have affected how you operated and how your life decisions and what you aspire to be coming up in Detroit?
- [00:24:03] ROGER DOSTER: I think it's big. I think for me, I know that a lot of the things that I've taught my children in terms of education, in terms of communication, just in terms of respect, I think a lot of that came from what I knew my grandparents went through and what my parents went through. I wanted to make sure that my children had a very solid footing that they could start out and they knew that they would have a good chance to do whatever they wanted to do in life. I really made them understand that, first of all, education was the big thing.
- [00:24:48] ISAAC MACK: One of our 3Es.
- [00:24:51] ROGER DOSTER: That led to economical opportunities and other things. It just worked out that way. I think because of what I learned from my parents and what I've learned from my grandparents, I certainly instilled into my children how important it is to be educated.
- [00:25:09] ISAAC MACK: That's amazing. What about certain sacrifices that your family had to make during the Great Migration? Are you aware of any? Maybe leaving behind certain family members?
- [00:25:25] ROGER DOSTER: Well, everyone wasn't ready to come, I should say. Many of my mother's siblings didn't migrate here or migrate to the North and you can actually see the difference.
- [00:25:44] ISAAC MACK: Today?
- [00:25:45] ROGER DOSTER: Yeah. When you take a look at where they ended up in life and some of it was just opportunity. They just didn't get the opportunity that they would have gotten if they had moved North. I certainly think that when I think about the sacrifices that were made, certainly my parents, I really respect and appreciate the sacrifices they made. When they came here, as I mentioned, my mom had to do day work. She did that for several years for at least 15 years of my growing-up life. My dad, he was in the factory for just about most of his entire life. He eventually left the factory and then he ended up working for a car dealership as a janitor maintenance man, but I can see that the sacrifices they made, not only economically, but just juggling their lives to make sure that their children were taken care of, you really appreciate it now when you reflect back on it. You just appreciate them more than you did when you were growing up.
- [00:26:59] ISAAC MACK: Would you say it inspired you to make similar sacrifices when it comes to your children?
- [00:27:04] ROGER DOSTER: Absolutely. You actually want to make sure they have every opportunity that could possibly exist. When it comes to being educated, you start thinking about, well, are you sure you want to take this class, or do you want to take a more advanced level of class? Do you want to challenge yourself a little more? You really make sure you talk to them and make sure they understand where they're headed and why you want them to do certain things. It all, like I say, focuses on, you want them to be economically okay, so you realize that education is the first step to do that.
- [00:27:43] ISAAC MACK: Well, as we're getting ready to wrap up this interview, I wanted to ask you one last question. If we were to summarize these past few questions and minutes of your time, again, thank you, what would you want people to know about the Great Migration?
- [00:28:02] ROGER DOSTER: Well, I guess it really is a big thing in my life because I can see-- When I was reading in the history books about Blacks moving from the South to the North, I felt like I was reading about my own family. I really could see it. I said, my parents could help write this story because they lived it. When I think about my parents coming here, it's almost exactly the way a lot of people read it in the history books, and so when I look at that, I say, I'm really a product of history that has been recorded. I'm here only because of the sacrifices they made to come here. I guess that's how I would summarize it.
- [00:28:55] ISAAC MACK: Thank you for your time, Mr. Doster.
- [00:28:56] ROGER DOSTER: Well, thank you. This has been great. Thank you very much.
July 30, 2022 at African American Cultural & Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library
Turner African American Services Council
Race & Ethnicity