MARSHALL: [Now, brother], Johnny, uh, let me see, I am in the office of Mr. John Barfield, Barfield Manufacturing Company on Willow Street. This is Wednesday the 17th of June. John, where were you, uh, where were you born?

BARFIELD: I was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1927.

MARSHALL: Will you, ah, would, would you mind giving me the date, actual date that you were born?

BARFIELD: Yes, I was born February the 8th, 1927.

MICKIE: Oh, I’m sorry! I

BARFIELD: That’s OK, Mickie, come on in.

MICKIE: I couldn’t hear you.

BARFIELD: Oh. What you got?

MICKIE: Oh, I just brought all the stuff.

BARFIELD: Those reports?

MICKIE: Yeah, these are the reports for the meeting, and these are the usual sheets.


MICKIE: And then, I don’t want to interrupt, but if you have any questions, you can—

BARFIELD: Okay. You’re going to be here until noon?

MICKIE: Until noon.

BARFIELD: Okay, Mickie.


MICKIE: Jack’s daughter is coming for a visit so I have to pick her up.

BARFIELD: Oh. Oh, I met her when she was here before.


BARFIELD: Tell her hello for me.

MICKIE: I will.

BARFIELD: Okay dear. Oh. Yeah. Guess you want to get a shot.

MICKIE: If that’s all right, get a couple of you. It won’t take very long, in fact, if you’d like—


MARSHALL: Okay. We were, we were about to get your the, I think, did we get it, the actual date of your birth?

BARFIELD: Yeah. It’s February the 8th, 1927. Go ahead, Portia.

PORTIA: I just wanted to give you this, reminder about the tour tomorrow,


PORTIA: and reservations are made at Haab’s for 5.


PORTIA: That’s for the tour, for [Campbell B. Walk], tomorrow at 10 o’clock.

BARFIELD: Okay, if [Detroit absent, tell me over again]

PORTIA: Detroit’s supposed to be over there at 11.

BARFIELD: Okay, dear.

PORTIA: Okay, so I haven’t made reservations for lunch, so if you’d like me to, just let me know.

BARFIELD: Yeah, why don’t you, Portia.

PORTIA: Okay. For how many?

BARFIELD: I know those two, me and John, possibly, say five.

PORTIA: Five at Haab’s, about 12?

BARFIELD: No, yeah, about 12.

PORTIA: 12:30?

BARFIELD: Between 12 and 12:30.

PORTIA: Okay. I will do that.

BARFIELD: Thanks, Por. It was, uh, February the 8th, 1927, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

MARSHALL: Okey-dokey, Uh, how many were in your family?


BARFIELD: Well, there was my sister Gladys and I, two children

MARSHALL: Two children. Who, uh, Gladys who—is she married?

BARFIELD: Yeah. She’s married now.

MARSHALL: What’s her married name?

BARFIELD: Her, her last name now is Tyree. T-Y-R-E-E.

MARSHALL: Where does she live?

BARFIELD: Ah, she lives on Ainsworth, ah, Street, here in Ypsilanti.

MARSHALL: Ah, give me your parents’ names.

BARFIELD: My father’s name was Edgar Barfield, my mother was Lena.

MARSHALL: Lena. What was her maiden name?


MARSHALL: Lena James. Okay. You came to Ypsilanti what year?

BARFIELD: Well, uh, we came to Ypsilanti when I was, uh, 15 years old. I’m now 54, so that would have been in 1939, when the—.


BARFIELD: 1939. Ah, we came here, uh, because of the bomber pl—you know,


BARFIELD: the war, and uh, my father worked at the bomber plant on the construction of that


BARFIELD: and, uh, that was our reason for moving from Pennsylvania to,



BARFIELD: to Michigan.

MARSHALL: Now is he, he, oh, you came, you came by way of Pennsylvania, here.

BARFIELD: Yeah, see, when I was, uh, when I was, uh, five, when I was nine years old, we moved from Alabama to Washington, Pennsylvania,

MARSHALL: Oh yeah.

BARFIELD: which is thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. And the motivation for moving from there, here, my dad was a sharecropper in the South and a sometimes log, uh, worker in the logging fields and, uh, he also worked in the coal mines which was very unhealthy in the South, you know, with no union, or, or, very poor working conditions, and so, my father uh, caught a freight train, in those days, people didn’t, uh, have any money to buy a ticket, and any traveling was done

MARSHALL: Depression.

BARFIELD: on the, uh, during the Depression they, they came on the freight train. So my father came up to Pennsylvania, and we lived with my uncle Ernest 4:00[M/N]ailer, uh in Pennsylvania, who had seven children, and, uh, he still had the, the room in his heart, and his house, and in his heart to invite us into his place


BARFIELD: and we stayed there until my folks could find a job and then my father worked in the coal mines, and in the steel mills of Pennsylvania, probably the most back-breaking of jobs, you know, and later on he became a professional cook with McCann’s Restaurant, and he stayed there in that capacity until we moved to, uh, Ypsilanti in 1939, just at the break of 1940, the motivation there indeed was the Kaiser-Frazer, the war effort, there was employment here, and we came here, uh, when we moved here, we moved to a house down on, on Hawkins Street, immediately south of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, which Reverend S. L. Roberson

MARSHALL: Oh yeah.

BARFIELD: uh, uh, pastors, and we lived there, and my father worked in the aluminum plants and in the, uh, factories and finally retired a few years ago 5:00from [Burl’s]. [Wells]. [Bud Wells]. Ah, but that’s how we came from Alabama, Mississippi to Michigan.

MARSHALL: Now you got here, when you got here, you were 15.

BARFIELD: I was 15 years old when I moved to Michigan.

MARSHALL: Okay. What did you do when you first got here?

BARFIELD: Well, immediately after moving here, I enrolled in Ypsilanti High School, and I don’t know, I just didn’t have any particular craving for school, I, I was in a, in a hurry. I got a job in the aluminum plant, I worked, I went, I attended school till I was 16, then I quit school in the, in the, uh, 10th grade, and when I was 17, I joined the Army, and I went to Germany for a year. And when I came back from Germany, I had no particular skills, and didn’t know any trade, so I took a job as a custodian at the University of Michigan, and I worked there for six years, and that’s where I learned to clean. And I sensed that there was an opportunity in janitor work, because it 6:00was something at that time that nobody was doing.


BARFIELD: So to supplement my income as a janitor at the University of Michigan, I took up residential cleaning. Eventually, we became the largest residential cleaning company this side of Detroit, and in the process, developed a good name for quality work, we really did have a good service, we’d done things that no one else were doing and we were very good, we used to clean fraternity houses and we washed walls and we cleaned residential homes, and sometimes when the professional people in Ann Arbor, the professors and doctors, would go out of the country or something, it would be my responsibility to go in and prepare their homes so that it was fresh and clean when they came back, and we built quite a, quite a service, and were very successful. My wife Betty and I had done this out of the trunk of a car, we’d start this little business, we had one 7:00child when we started the business.


BARFIELD: Mm-hmm. And, uh, then one day Mike [Sinkole] who was then president of the Ypsilanti Savings Bank, and Glen Grosbeck asked me if I would uh, clean the Savings Bank on a contractual basis, and I for a year I decided I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t, I had a little successful business going, and I had left the University of Michigan, so I told them that I would be interested in doing that, finally, and I started doing that, that was the first contract we ever had, was the Ypsilanti Savings Bank, and from that we built a, uh, a business that was just under, oh, 3 quarters of a million dollars a year in sales, but it took us fourteen years to get our sales, for the first five years that we were in business, and I, I was looking through our old manuscripts the other day, for the first five years we were in business, we didn’t have one job that paid us more than a thousand dollars at one time.


BARFIELD: And it took us fourteen years to build the business to that level of 8:00sales it’s interesting because now our sales are approaching ten million dollars [we vend them] over five years [sometimes we better ourself and y’know] but we built the business over that fourteen years to sales near three quarters of a million dollars in 1968 we had five large corporations coming to us asking if we could sell the business to them and come to work for them. Now that was mainly because I had written a book called “The Barfield Method of Building Maintenance,” and the book was a training program that captured the attention of a lot of, not only a lot of corporations but uh, large cleaning companies and in 1968 uh, I was invited as a, as a result of that book to uh, belong to the National Association of Building Service Contractors and I served on that board for five years, and during that time, ah, word of our training 9:00school, which we had developed to train our janitors had gotten out, because we thought if we could train our janitors and make them more efficient, we could pay them more, increase the quality of our work and reduce the turnover in our personnel. And it worked out very well. Even then, in those days, we had people, and that was a long time ago, we had making eight, nine thousand dollars a year doing janitor work. So we built the company to where it was a very fine company with a good national reputation. And in 1968, we had the Consolidated Foods Corporation, we had the Maggi Corporation, we had the Senators Corporation, ah, all of these companies came at us and said, “Mr. Barfield, we’d like to buy you out.” So, we sold the business to ITT in 1969, and I was 40, I was 42 years old at that time, and I worked for them for three years and then I retired.

MARSHALL: [Who spend that]

BARFIELD: And I got [old] retired, [Laughs]

MARSHALL: [Laughs]


BARFIELD: sold some real estate, ah, and took on some consulting work, where I consulted with corporations, General Motors, [Kelsey-Higgins], [Kerr] Manufacturing, uh, Bechtel Corporation, on matters pertaining to cleaning effectiveness and efficiency. And when I had signed an agreement with ITT, if I elected not to continue working with them, I wouldn’t compete with them for five years.


BARFIELD: So, uh, and I observed that covenant, religiously, and in 1975 the covenant had expired and I was free to go back to work, so I started a company called Barfield Manufacturing, the Barfield Cleaning Company, the Barfield Building Maintenance Company, and I was immediately sued by ITT, who said, “Mr. Barfield, you can’t use your name, ah, you sold us your name and your name has become a national trademark, and we bought that trademark, and we reserve the right to keep it,” so they took us to court, and Judge Conlin in Ann Arbor said, “No, Mr. ITT, you didn’t buy, you bought Mr. Barfield’s 11:00services, but you can’t deprive him of his birthright so they told us that we could continue to use our names and we reentered the janitorial business in 1975 as Barfield Building Maintenance Company and that was at 124 W. Michigan Avenue, the building you know, and, so we operated out of there, y’know, out of there, for five years and we sold it last November and we bought this building which [falling now is] the old Fruehof Manufacturing Company and stoneworks this building was at one time the home of the largest industry in Ypsilanti.

MARSHALL: [Oh, it is].

BARFIELD: So we bought this building and we have an option on the other building there’s a, there’s a hundred thousand square feet in this building, there’s a hundred thousand square feet in the other building, it’s all on eight and a half acres of land so we bought this in November, uh, and, uh, this, you know, uh, this is where y’know, where we are now. Uh, in 1976, uh, General 12:00Motors in an effort to uh, develop minority suppliers uh, gave us an opportunity to hire six draftsmen for six months with a promise to appraise the operation uh, at the end of six months and see if they felt that there was a chance of our succeeding. At the end of six months we had grown from the six people to thirty people we moved out of the GM engineering space, they had given us free space there, we moved out of that space in the Michigan Avenue and we modeled our own engineering offices. Today we have 120 people, and we have engineering sales of better than five million dollars a year. So that was kind of a success story, that [explained to] General Motors because they felt that we had had the wherewithal to put together a successful minority program and that uh, gave them the desire to work with us further so they consigned three, three machines, and, 13:00uh, [coal-header] machines that enabled us to make pins for their transmissions and we took the [coal-header] machines and heard about a fa—, a factory down in North Carolina that was going out of business, and was selling a lot of equipment to Taiwan, so we flew down to Taiwan my plant manager and I, and begged the people

MARSHALL: down in North Carolina,

BARFIELD: North Carolina, sorry, and we begged the people to sell us the equipment rather than shipping it across seas, and we convinced them that they should do that, and they sold the equipment to us, and we bought 25 of the same machines, and brought them back, and that also excited General Motors, because they saw that we were trying, and I guess I find that when you’re trying, the people [are] you’re trying they’ll help you. So, uh, we later [on the] consigned another four pieces of equipment and we like, uh, resumed, we assumed responsibility for making clutch apply rings, so every clutch apply ring that is used in every Hydramatic transmission is made in our plant by our


MARSHALL: You said clutch—




MARSHALL: Oh, uh, okay.

BARFIELD: are made here, and we made that, all of that emanated from mainly the confidence of General Motors and more specifically the plant manager George Griffith who felt that if given an opportunity we would take full advantage of it. Uh, the plant has grown and everything that we have developed, and I guess now they say we’re the 66th-largest black company in the country, was built in five years, which is distressing because it, it just sort of says that for the last 200 years we haven’t done very much. So we’re gratified, y’know, that we’re recognized, but we’re saddened because we have not as a race done more, but any way, maybe things have changed now.

MARSHALL: Well, for one reason, we, we never stick to anything, they grow one and they drop, and they grow one and they die for some reason or another.

BARFIELD: Well, our, our health and our longevity is not actual responsibility.



BARFIELD: You know, if, if, if I didn’t, if they were to withdraw at this stage, their support we would do that, too.


BARFIELD: All we said to them was, “Look, if you will give us an opportunity, we’ll put together a management team that will, that will handle it,


BARFIELD: but you got to support us,”


BARFIELD: and this is what we’re trying to, to do. And, and really, this is where we are in our development.

MARSHALL: Let’s go back a little bit. I’m interested in going back to the bomber plant. Do you, in, in, in, in, in your recollection, what do you remember about, the, uh, well, the actual employment now, your father worked on the bomber plant.

BARFIELD: Yeah, he worked on the building.

MARSHALL: Okay. After the building was completed, did he remain with them or did he move someplace else?

BARFIELD: No, my father was in the construction business.

MARSHALL: Oh, I see.

BARFIELD: not as a contractor, but as a worker.


BARFIELD: And, when the, the building, uh, when that job was finished, my father then took a job with the aluminum plant.



BARFIELD: On [River] Street.

MARSHALL: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

BARFIELD: And he rose to the foreman of that facility.


BARFIELD: And he gave me a job, which I think was the worst around the plant, called “shaking out,” where you shovel hot sand into a hot—


BARFIELD: And that a—and, and my job was to, to do that,


BARFIELD: and I think my father gave me that kind of job to convince me that I shouldn’t be—

MARSHALL: [Laughs]

BARFIELD: But anyway, I, I [can’t announce], I was 16 years old.

MARSHALL: He was trying to help you.

BARFIELD: He was trying to help me. And I was only 16 years old. And I, uh, I, I’d done it, you know,


BARFIELD: And then, I joined the, the Army, and, uh, I went to, uh,—hey, you tell me if that’s straight.

MARSHALL: No, that’s not straight. Down a little on the left side.

BARFIELD: Down here?

MARSHALL: Down on the left.


MARSHALL: That’s better.

BARFIELD: Is that better?


BARFIELD: Then, uh,

MARSHALL: quite straight, should come up there, ah, there you go.


BARFIELD: Then, I uh, I’ve forgotten where I was, I think.

MARSHALL: Well, one, one thing I wanted, I wanted to find out from you—do you, do you recall the circumstances, since you were here, uh, uh, there were a lot of people coming here to work in the bomber plant, not on, but in the bomber plant,

BARFIELD: in the plant, mm-hmm,

MARSHALL: And, and, I hear that many of them, after they came here, were not getting jobs. But took a lot of blacks.

BARFIELD: Yeah, yeah.

MARSHALL: There were some who got jobs.


MARSHALL: But there were a lot who came here and didn’t get jobs. And I’m wondering, I’m trying to put my finger on why, was it actual discrimination or prejudice or was it tied to the fact that they were perhaps so ill-trained [in aqua]

BARFIELD: No, nobody was trained in those days. I don’t know whether there was a problem, I—remember, I was only

MARSHALL: Yeah. I know.

BARFIELD: 15 and I wasn’t aware of that. But, what happened, there was a, 18:00there was a tremendous influx of people from all over the country,


BARFIELD: because suddenly there was work, that’s why we were here,

MARSHALL: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

BARFIELD: there was work, and people came from the South. I remember, years ago, we used to call it “Ypsitucky.”


BARFIELD: But, uh, years ago, they all came up here, there was a tremendous amount of people came up, and they, uh, the, the, uh, the, uh, the fact that there was such a need for workers sort of suggested that they weren’t turning anyone away. But, I, I don’t really know,


BARFIELD: really, about that. I do know, that when I came to Ypsilanti, there was a tremendous amount of prejudice here.


BARFIELD: There was no support at all from the banks. And all of the black people in Ypsilanti in those days built their build houses, built them by blocks, I mean they’d buy


BARFIELD: cement blocks, they’s pile them up on a lot—


MARSHALL: they’d dig a hole in the ground,

BARFIELD: they’re trying to tell me those guys are here, I guess we’ll have to have another session.

MARSHALL: We’ll, we’ll, we’ll get together again.


0:00 - Coming to Ypsilanti

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Partial Transcript: MARSHALL: [Now, brother], Johnny, uh, let me see, I am in the office of Mr. John Barfield, Barfield Manufacturing Company on Willow Street. This is Wednesday the 17th of June. John, where were you, uh, where were you born?

BARFIELD: I was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1927.

MARSHALL: Will you, ah, would, would you mind giving me the date, actual date that you were born?

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Barfield discusses with A.P. Marshall coming to Ypsilanti on the eve of World War Two with his family as his father moved from place to place looking for stable work.

Keywords: A.P. Marshall; Ainsworth St.; Barfield Manufacturing Company; Edgar Barfield; Gladys Barfield Tyree; Hawkins Street; John Barfield; Lena James Barfield; Metropolitan Baptist Church; S.L. Roberson; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Washington, Pennsylvania; Willow Run bomber plant; Ypsilanti High School

Subjects: African Americans--Michigan--Ypsilanti--History. African American families.

6:08 - Going into business

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Partial Transcript: MARSHALL: Mm-hmm.

BARFIELD: So to supplement my income as a janitor at the University of Michigan, I took up residential cleaning. Eventually, we became the largest residential cleaning company this side of Detroit,

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Barfield details to Mr. Marshall how he got into the cleaning business from being a janitor at the University of Michigan. He retells of writing a book about business practice and his entrepreneurial relationship with some of the leading companies in the country.

Keywords: 124 W. Michigan Avenue; “The Barfield Method of Building Maintenance”; Barfield Building Maintenance Company; Barfield Cleaning Company; Barfield Manufacturing; Betty Barfield; Black business leaders; Fruehof Manufacturing Company; General Motors; Glen Grosbeck; John Barfield; National Association of Building Service Contractors; University of Michigan; Ypsilanti Savings Bank

Subjects: African American business enterprises.

Hyperlink: A 2014 video interview with Mr. Barfield from the Ann Arbor District Library.

15:27 - In the shadow of the Bomber Plant

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Partial Transcript: MARSHALL: Let’s go back a little bit. I’m interested in going back to the bomber plant. Do you, in, in, in, in, in your recollection, what do you remember about, the, uh, well, the actual employment now, your father worked on the bomber plant.

BARFIELD: Yeah, he worked on the building.

MARSHALL: Okay. After the building was completed, did he remain with them or did he move someplace else?

BARFIELD: No, my father was in the construction business.

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Marshall asks about his father's journey to Ypsilanti to work on the construction of the Bomber Plant in Willow Run. Mr. Barfield talks about his first jobs in the city. The conversation is cut short by a meeting in Mr. Barfield's office.

Keywords: "Ypsitucky"; Black hiring at Ford; Edgar Barfield; Great Migration; John Barfield; Red-lining in Ypsilanti; River Street; Willow Run Bomber Plant

Subjects: African Americans--Migrations--History--20th century. African Americans--Employment.

Hyperlink: John Barfield's website.
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