0:00

UNKNOWN: Just interviewing Reverend Garther Roberson, Junior?

ROBERSON: Junior.

UNKNOWN: Junior. We’re in the process of conducting a major, uh, history on the important contributions on the part of blacks in the development of Ypsilanti Township. Before [the] discussion, it brings us to Reverend, Reverend Garther Roberson, who’s going to provide us with a historical overview of the important role his father, the Reverend Roberson, Garther Roberson Senior, played in the development of Ypsilanti Township. Uh, Reverend Gar—[rether], uh, Reverend Roberson, uh, your first name, please?

ROBERSON: Garther Roberson. I have no middle name.

UNKNOWN: Where were you born?

ROBERSON: City of Ypsilanti.

UNKNOWN: What year?

ROBERSON: Year nineteen hundred and twenty-seven.

UNKNOWN: Your parents’ name?

ROBERSON: Garther Roberson and Estella Roberson.

UNKNOWN: When do you think your parents first arrived in Ypsilanti?

ROBERSON: They arrived in Ypsilanti…my father was…nineteen years 1:00old…um…the exact year I do not have. I could find that out, though. It wouldn’t be difficult to find out, but the exact year I do not have; I would, um…

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

ROBERSON: I would say my father arrived in uh, Ypsilanti area in the year of approximately nineteen twenty.

UNKNOWN: What was your father’s occupation?

ROBERSON: When he arrived here, he was noted to be a well-known cook, but later 2:00on he became employed with the Central Specialty, in the City of Ypsilanti, which is a foundry.

UNKNOWN: How long did he remain in his occupation? Do you know?

ROBERSON: He worked for the foundry approximately twenty years.

UNKNOWN: Twenty years? OK. How many brothers and sisters do you have, Reverend Roberson?

ROBERSON: At one time our family consist of eight children; two died at a very early age. Then there were the six of us. My oldest brother, who was the Reverend S. [Samuel] L. Roberson, my sister, Garthonia Roberson, my brother 3:00Walter Roberson, my sister Evelyn Roberson, including myself, Garther Roberson Jr., and my youngest brother Harold Roberson. At this taping, there are three left in the family, my older brother S. L. Roberson, Evelyn Nelson, my sister, and myself, Garther Roberson Junior.

UNKNOWN: Thank you for this brief biographical sketch. What we’re really primarily interested in is, uh, getting a family history of your family because it’s a well-known fact that your father, the Reverend Garther Roberson Senior, made a profound impact on the development of the Ypsilanti community. In your own words, would you please now provide us, in, in chronological order, an 4:00overview of your father’s history and your family background? Thank you.

ROBERSON: I, I would like to state the fact that my father, coming at an early age to the city of Ypsilanti, and realize that he had a poor family, he had to find a job to work to take care of his family. His greatest motivation was his church, and as he joined the Second Baptist Church, and sang in the choir, he also was an ordained deacon, and from being an ordained deacon, he was called in the ministry, became a licensed minister, and from being a licensed minister, eventually he was called to pastor the Second Baptist Church. Through his life, 5:00he worked with many civic organizations throughout the city, and became well-known, as one that could be counted on to aid in the many areas of growth as the city was beginning to grow. He worked very hard to help anyone that was in need. Many people would come to the city, and would ask where they might be able to find a place to stay, or about getting a job in some way. During the 6:00time of Ypsilanti at this time, there were very few jobs offered, and it was important that a family had an opportunity to apply for work. He helped many migrants at that time to obtain employment. From to Ford Motor Company, used to be called the generator plant, to Central Specialty, and many of the other industrial plants in the area. By just presenting or knowing his name, made the difference many times, of whether receiving a job, or being turned down. He spent many hours working with the unfortunate, the, the very poor, to make sure 7:00that they were treated in a like manner of receiving the proper welfare that was predominant at this time, and he continued working and striving to perfect the Second Baptist Church that its membership would be receiving the best of training. As we know, the church, that, as he became pastor, it was a very small humble congregation of maybe 30 or 50 made up the congregation. The church was in debt, the church was striving but through his leadership encouragement, 8:00preaching, and setting examples, the church begin to grow. And as the church begin to grow in the community, so did his, uh, dynamic personality, for people would come from many areas for his advice. He was a personal, uh, spiritual advisor to more than one judge that was on the bar would seek him out for advice. When there were problems in the city he would be sought out to ask for his advice, especially if there were problems in the black community. There are many avenues in which I suppose we could, uh, venture into, but there were some 9:00things that I think that were very outstanding in his life and in his career. He received one of the first, uh, federal-insured type loans for a parsonage, because of his work in the city that the parsonage was able to be build, the…

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

ROBERSON: I’d also like to emphasize a few areas of thought. One of the things I believe that made my father stand out in the community was his 10:00sincerity about truth. He believed in truth. [SOUND OF KNOCKING] He believed in all men.

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

ROBERSON: He was one that believed in treating all men right. He knew you could not treat all men to same, the same, but he did believe that all men should be treated right and fairly, regardless of creed, color, or nationality. And he was one that stood very firmly on his convictions. Many young ministers were called under his administration and that had an effect also upon the city that 11:00eventually became pastors themselves. Ministers like the beginning of St. John the Baptist Church, my uncle Reverend Frank Roberson, ministers who began other churches in other cities, the Reverend Brown moved to Indiana, Reverend Welch, St. Paul Baptist Church, my own brother, the Reverend S. L. Roberson the 12:00Metropolitan Baptist Church. He worked with many other ministers throughout the city of Ypsilanti. He was one that did not feel that because you belong to a certain faith or a certain denomination that we could not work together in harmony. And there would be many pastors from all the different faiths throughout the city of Ypsilanti that would fellowship with him. Brown Chapel 13:00was very close. Many pastors from Brown Chapel were always welcome in his pulpit. Shiloh Church of God in Christ, Mount Olive Church of God in Christ. The type of fellowship that was carried on throughout the city of Ypsilanti was very close because many times revivals in the city was carried out as city revivals where the churches would get together and plan and work together.

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

14:00

UNKNOWN: Reverend Roberson, you just shortly a moment ago, uh, mentioned some of the various ministers that were dramatically influenced by your father. Could you, uh, name any additional, uh, names of ministers in Ypsilanti, uh, township? Would the Reverend Hopkins be a part of that group? Reverend Lee be a part of that group? Or…

ROBERSON: These ministers arrived in the city years after my father had passed.

UNKNOWN: Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. It’s apparent to me that your—you—you indicated earlier that your father wielded commun—considerable influence in terms of finding employment for recent migrants that came to Ypsilanti. Could you, uh, elaborate on that a little bit further in terms of, of, of, what was it—did that mean in essence that he wrote them letters of recommendations for employment, or what? Y’know, could 15:00you el—elaborate on that?

ROBERSON: This was a very, um, important factor at that time, to, there were, would be letters given to those that he would recommend, um, for instance, story telled, is told that there would be a group of men which would have to stand in line, and, to be, picked out for jobs,

UNKNOWN: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

ROBERSON: and, uh, personnel person would come out and he would pick so many men that day to be hired. And the men that would have his recommendation or 16:00letter who would be accepted and one white Caucasian person made the statement that “It seems to me that you must have a black face to get a job around here,”

UNKNOWN: Hm.

ROBERSON: but that was do out of the, the appreciation of his word that stood in the community, if he recommended a person it was on his word and his integrity and it was respected. The first black cashier in the city of Ypsilanti 17:00came from his recommendation and she continued to work and before she passed she had became manager of the Kroger store in the city of Ypsilanti.

UNKNOWN: Mm-hmm.

ROBERSON: There were many young people that were recommended for jobs in the city of Ypsilanti for when we were growing up it was an understood, not law, but understood, that a store would not hire black people as far as cashiers, as far 18:00as managers, sales personnel, and through his effort and tireless work many of these barriers were broken.

UNKNOWN: Mm-hmm. Did your father ever get involved in, uh, politics or was the influence that a minister wielded at that time equated to, with, uh, with, uh, political influence and social influence with the community: were they like integrated as one? Because in many instances, like, uh, like I know in the South Reverend Booker T. Washington say he was the maker, and the breaker of men through his letters of recommendation, and I see some similarities in terms of 19:00just the leadership position on the part of ministers back then, in terms of being a part of the leadership class—they set, they set the model, they set the standard for the moral posture, and what would you say in Ypsilanti

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

ROBERSON: My father felt very strongly as to the importance of the black community and especially the black male. He realized from his early age of experiences that the black male was exploited and was made to humble himself in many ways by being called “boy,” and not, uh, being able to express himself, he had to be, he was told what he had to do without any input of his own, and so 20:00he felt very strongly about the male taking care of his family and being a pride in his community. He worked with other ministers as far as trying to upgrade the community educationally and as far as the job market was concerned. When my father moved into this area, it was just about impossible for a black man to receive a loan to improve his home or to build his home, and they would get together, men, and if one would, require, uh, acquired a certain amount of land, 21:00that they would get together to build a home, uh, when many would come in they would let families live with the different ones in the community until they were able

to find a place to live. He um, worked at improving the conditions between the white area population and the black area of the population and through his many efforts there were what was known as changing pulpits where a black minister 22:00would preach in his white brother’s pulpit. These areas were to bring a closer understanding—

UNKNOWN: That was rather unique—wasn’t that unique? During that time?

ROBERSON: I—I think so, um, Reverend Shaw of the First Baptist Church became very, very close friends. As you know, the First Baptist Church held the mortgage for the Second Baptist Church for many years, due to the fact that they felt that this land that was given to them was very important, and did not want it to be lost, but again, through the efforts and the outstanding work of Pastor Roberson, this was eventually given to the church and signed over to the church 23:00as the land owner themselves.

UNKNOWN: Prior to your father, uh, becoming the pastor of Second Baptist Church, was he the first pastor of Second Baptist Church? The only one, or was there one before him?

ROBERSON: No, uh, there were many pastors before my father. He w—

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

ROBERSON: There were sixteen pastors before my father became pastor Reverend Holt, Reverend Richmond, Reverend J. W. Brown, Reverend Williams, Reverend 24:00Johnston, Reverend Stewart, Reverend Martin, Reverend Cornwell, Reverend [Isabal], Reverend Woods, Reverend Derek, Reverend Williams, Reverend Cooper, Reverend [Coo], Reverend Boyd, Reverend Carr, and then, Reverend Garther Roberson.

UNKNOWN: What do you, what do you think it was about your father and his church that attracted such a large grouping of, of young men that eventually became ministers and splintered off from this church? What do you think about that?

ROBERSON: I think it was his simplicity and honesty and his enthusiasm about life. He had a great enthusiasm about life. Everybody who knew him knew him as the smiling, laughing, good-natured pastor. He loved life, and he loved people. 25:00And people could feel the love and the understanding that he had for them. He never looked down upon anyone, one was never too, uh, small for him to give a helping hand. His philosophy in life was that all men are good and that if given an opportunity they would prove their goodness. He, uh, loved to see young people working and, and striving and, uh, working in the church. He had time for young people. He had time for children. He had time for mothers. He had time for fathers. He was one that would give his time for anyone that was in need, 26:00whether they called him in the early hours of morning or late at night, he was always there to encourage. He wasn’t one that looked down upon if you had a difficulty, if you couldn’t seem to understand your problem, he would encourage you and he would do it in a way that you could see how if you would just accept the Lord in your life or the philosophy of Christ that you would be successful in your endeavors. He loved to sing. He was a hymn singer. He was a choir singer. He loved to pray. He was a outstanding deacon. He loved to preach. 27:00He loved to express God’s word in a way that you could feel it. A minister friend of mine, Reverend Williams, were talking to me just the other day, and while we were in the national congress, and he was telling me how he could bring out a situation that have happened that you could feel it and see it and he had that great ability of, uh, drawing upon your mind through the point that you could really see what he was trying to say.

UNKNOWN: Interesting. Could you, uh, did—did your father work very closely 28:00with his brother? Uh, you mentioned your uncle Reverend Frank Roberson. Did they often do things together as far as, uh, church community life and activities? Uh…

ROBERSON: Yes, the church worked very close together. The, my, late uncle Frank, uh, worked very close with Second Baptist. He organized one of the main choirs that exist in Second Baptist Church today. They were very close friends. He was one who loved to sing also, and he was called to pastor under my father. And they continued to work together. Through his effort and through Reverend Frank effort both churches grew and became very strong pillars in the community.

29:00

UNKNOWN: What do you see as some of your father’s, uh, strongest contributions to the development of Ypsilanti, or the black community of Ypsilanti, in terms of contributions? If someone were to ask you, uh, what important contribution do you think your father left to the people of Ypsilanti? What would you say?

ROBERSON: I would say pride in oneself. I would say a certain dignity and regardless of the job or the vocation that you had a certain dignity and pride. I would say that through his leadership role businesses realized the importance 30:00of utilizing the black minority as an important factor in the city. And through his tireless effort there was many changes in the customs as far as hiring, firing, uh, promotional work, my own brother was one of the first black salaried workers in the Ford Motor Company, and—

UNKNOWN: Did you father have anything to do with that? His becoming a—

31:00

ROBERSON: Definitely, because of his great influence in the city. And Brother Washington over the housing commission in the city was one of the great factors.

UNKNOWN: What was Brother Washington’s first name?

[TAPE STOPPED, RESTARTED]

UNKNOWN: Sorry, uh, Rev, Ro-Roberson. What was uh, the full name of, uh, Mr. Washington that you just mentioned?

ROBERSON: His name was Mr. Amos Washington.

UNKNOWN: Yeah, yeah.

ROBERSON: He was very helpful in the church obtaining a loan from the federal 32:00insurance loan company to build the parsonage that now stands at Second Baptist Church. This was the first of its kind in the nation.

UNKNOWN: Reverend Roberson, uh, in what way do you feel that your father had a influence upon your developing, uh, philosophy? How did he—how did your father’s philosophy or way of life contribute and influence your life? What I’m asking in essence is, uh, your being a minister today, is that a direct result of your father having been a minis—minister and having influenced you in your life? I’d like some comment on that.

ROBERSON: I believe our parents have greater influence on our behavior and our 33:00growth than many of us realize. When I was very young, I used to admire the way that he always stood for what he believed in. He always taught us truth was the best policy. He taught us how important it was to have a word in the community that people could believe in. I didn’t understand many of these attributes at the time of my father. But as I have grown older I can feel his influence all 34:00around me, his way of life, his loving of people, his desire to help people, his willingness to accept a man as a man and if he needs help to help him, to let people know that you have nothing to fear if you have a desire to help yourself. I would say yes, his influence in the community and his life had a great bearing on my being in the ministry today. He taught the great truth of religion. He taught that if you believe in your heart and accept that Jesus is the Son of 35:00God, you shall be saved. And if you understood that God loved you, and that he called you, and if you answer to his call he will use you as one to be an ambassador, to be an, a disciple to bring to the world the, the good news, and he loved to talk about the good news referencing to Jesus Christ coming into the world, and that men might be able to overcome themselves. He made it very clear 36:00that life was more to it than being born, and living, and dying. That life was excitement. That life had a, a real purpose and when you find the true purpose of life, you always find salvation.

UNKNOWN: Thank you. Thank you, Brother Garth—Garther Robeson, for taking this time out to allow me to conduct an interview on the history of your family, with particular emphasis on your father, the Reverend Garther Robeson Senior. As I’ve already indicated earlier, once this tape has been transcribed and typed out, I will return it and allow you the opportunity to read it to preview it to make deletions or additions, and I thank you.

37:00

[TAPE STOPPED]

0:00 - Family names and history

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: UNKNOWN: Just interviewing Reverend Garther Roberson, Junior?

ROBERSON: Junior.

UNKNOWN: Junior. We’re in the process of conducting a major, uh, history on the important contributions on the part of blacks in the development of Ypsilanti Township. Before [the] discussion, it brings us to Reverend, Reverend Garther Roberson, who’s going to provide us with a historical overview of the important role his father, the Reverend Roberson, Garther Roberson Senior, played in the development of Ypsilanti Township. Uh, Reverend Gar—[rether], uh, Reverend Roberson, uh, your first name, please?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Garther Roberson Jr. gives a short history of his family, including the names of his parents and siblings.

Keywords: Central Specialty foundry; Estella Roberson; Evelyn Roberson Nelson; Garthonia Roberson; Harold Roberson; Rev. Garther Roberson Jr.; Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.; Rev. S.L. Roberson; Walter Roberson; Ypsilanti

Subjects: African American families.


Hyperlink: A photo from Second Baptist's history of the 1924 Choir, including a young Garther Roberson Sr.

3:39 - The life and works of Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: UNKNOWN: Thank you for this brief biographical sketch. What we’re really primarily interested in is, uh, getting a family history of your family because it’s a well-known fact that your father, the Reverend Garther Roberson Senior, made a profound impact on the development of the Ypsilanti community. In your own words, would you please now provide us, in, in chronological order, an overview of your father’s history and your family background? Thank you.

ROBERSON: I, I would like to state the fact that my father, coming at an early age to the city of Ypsilanti, and realize that he had a poor family, he had to find a job to work to take care of his family. His greatest motivation was his church, and as he joined the Second Baptist Church, and sang in the choir, he also was an ordained deacon, and from being an ordained deacon, he was called in the ministry, became a licensed minister, and from being a licensed minister, eventually he was called to pastor the Second Baptist Church.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Roberson Jr. discusses the life and work of his father, pastor of Ypsilanti's Second Baptist Church, Reverend Garther Roberson Sr. Roberson Sr. led the church from 1934-1955, a tumultuous and transformative time in the city.

Keywords: Black baptist churches; Black employment through churches; Booker T. Washington; Brown Chapel AME; Ford Generator plant; Great Migration; Great Migration in Ypsilanti; Metropolitan Baptist Church; Mt. Olive Church of God in Christ; racial discrimination in employment; Rev. Brown; Rev. Frank Roberson; Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.; Rev. Welch; Reverend Hopkins; Reverend Lee; S.L. Roberson; Second Baptist Church; Second Baptist Church choir; Shiloh Church of God in Christ; St. Johns Baptist Church, Ypsilanti; St. Paul Baptist Church; Ypsilanti

Subjects: African American families. African American churches. African Americans--Michigan--Ypsilanti--History. Race relations--Michigan--Ypsilanti--History.


Hyperlink: A photo of Rev. Garther Roberson Sr. from a history of Second Baptist.

19:16 - The outreach and uplift of Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: ROBERSON: My father felt very strongly as to the importance of the black community and especially the black male. He realized from his early age of experiences that the black male was exploited and was made to humble himself in many ways by being called “boy,” and not, uh, being able to express himself, he had to be, he was told what he had to do without any input of his own, and so he felt very strongly about the male taking care of his family and being a pride in his community. He worked with other ministers as far as trying to upgrade the community educationally and as far as the job market was concerned. When my father moved into this area, it was just about impossible for a black man to receive a loan to improve his home or to build his home, and they would get together, men, and if one would, require, uh, acquired a certain amount of land, that they would get together to build a home, uh, when many would come in they would let families live with the different ones in the community until they were able.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Roberson discusses his father's moral outlook and character and how he interacted with parishioners and the community. Rev. Roberson also tells of his father's relationship with his brother, Rev. Frank Roberson.

Keywords: "Changing Pulpits"; Black men in America; Black ministers in the Great Migration; First Baptist Church; Frank Roberson; Rev. Shaw; Reverend Boyd; Reverend Carr; Reverend Coo; Reverend Cooper; Reverend Cornwell; Reverend Derek; Reverend Garther Roberson; Reverend Holt; Reverend Isabal; Reverend J. W. Brown; Reverend Johnston; Reverend Martin; Reverend Richmond; Reverend Stewart; Reverend Williams; Reverend Woods

Subjects:


Hyperlink: A photo of Ypsilanti's Second Baptist Church as it looked when Rev. Roberson Sr. was pastor.

29:03 - The enduring legacy of Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.

Play segment Segment link

Partial Transcript: UNKNOWN: What do you, what do you think it was about your father and his church that attracted such a large grouping of, of young men that eventually became ministers and splintered off from this church? What do you think about that?

ROBERSON: I think it was his simplicity and honesty and his enthusiasm about life. He had a great enthusiasm about life. Everybody who knew him knew him as the smiling, laughing, good-natured pastor. He loved life, and he loved people. And people could feel the love and the understanding that he had for them. He never looked down upon anyone, one was never too, uh, small for him to give a helping hand. His philosophy in life was that all men are good and that if given an opportunity they would prove their goodness.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Roberson discusses his view of the legacy of his father in building Second Baptist and changing racial relations in the city of Ypsilanti. Rev. Roberson also tells of his parents personal impact on his life and ministry.

Keywords: Amos Washington; Ford Motor Company; Rev. Garther Roberson Sr.; Ypsilanti Housing Commission; Ypsilanti, Michigan

Subjects: African American churches. African American families. Race relations--Michigan--Ypsilanti--History.


Hyperlink: The December 6, 1955 obituary of Garther Roberson Sr. from the Ann Arbor News.
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