Compilation video from Phase Ten of the Living Oral History Project, in collaboration with the Ann Arbor District Library and the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. With Carol Allen, Janie Lee Ross, Sandra Harris, Carl James Johnson, and Alice Brennan-Key.
Carol Allen was born in Alton, Illinois in 1945. Her parents Janie and Thomas Ross moved to Ann Arbor in 1951 and purchased a home on Fifth Avenue. Her father was a cook and her mother was a nurse’s aid and custodian. Carol recalls raising her son Carl Jr. with her husband while living on the second floor of her family’s home. She got her associate’s degree in practical nursing and worked in that field for most of her career. In January 2023 she and her husband Carl celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. They have two sons and several grandchildren.
Janie Lee Ross was born in 1921 in Jackson, Tennessee. Her father was a church deacon, and she remembers attending choir rehearsals. In the 1940s she and her husband Thomas moved to Chicago, and she went to practical nursing school. They moved to Ann Arbor in 1951 and purchased a home on Fifth Avenue. They opened their home to many friends and relatives who needed a place to stay. Ross was a nurse’s aid at St. Joe’s Hospital and a custodian in Ann Arbor Public Schools. She has four children–Charlotte, Thomas, Carol, and Eugene (Bobby)–and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Carl James Johnson was born in 1945 in Willow Run, Michigan. His family moved to Ann Arbor when he was seven years old, after his mother suffered a stroke. He attended Jones School and Tappan Junior High and participated in the French Dukes drill team in the early 1960s. Johnson served in Vietnam in the Navy Seabees unit, where his drill experience spared him from direct action. For most of his career he worked as a caterer at the University of Michigan and Domino Farms. He celebrates his Black and Native American heritage by volunteering on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Alice Brennan-Key was born in Ann Arbor in 1953. Her parents met in Florida after her father immigrated from the Bahamas, and they moved to Ann Arbor in the 1940s. Brennan-Key grew up on Gott Street, next door to her current residence. She has seen the neighborhood change over the years due to gentrification. She went to Michigan State University as an undergraduate and received her master’s in social work from the University of Michigan. She spent most of her career working with developmentally disabled and mentally ill residents of Washtenaw County. She raised her daughter Khyla in Ann Arbor.
Sandra Harris was born in 1952 in West Virginia, where her father was a coal miner. Her family moved to Ann Arbor when she was in second grade. Harris remembers being on the homecoming court at Pioneer High School and participating in student-led marches during the late 1960s. She received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Eastern Michigan University. She was a school administrator in the Ann Arbor Public Schools as well as other districts. In addition to her service as an educator, she was also a longtime caretaker for her nephew and her mother.