Jessie Pryor Campbell was born in 1930 to Porter and Beulah Pryor of Montgomery, Alabama who had come to Michigan during the Great Migration. Her father was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute but could not get work as a veterinarian in Ypsilanti and had to work at the Ford plant. Her mother was a graduate of the Alabama Normal College, but also could not get work here as a teacher, but found work with the University of Michigan. Jessie herself would graduate from Shaw College in Detroit and Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan.

Jessie Pryor Campbell Interview, c. 1981.
Ruthe Marshall, Interviewer.

(Note: The original tape of this oral history interview is missing. This transcript is a copy of A. P. Marshall’s transcript of the interview. Thus, we cannot verify the accuracy of these transcriptions. Our historians have divided it into annotated segments.)

“Family History”

Segment Synopsis: Jessie Pryor Campbell gives some of the history of her family, their education and work lives, as they moved from Alabama to Michigan during the Great Migration.

Keywords: Jessie Pryor Campbell; Porter Pryor; Beulah Pryor; Portia Pryor; Josephine Pryor; Iola Pryor; Montgomery, Alabama; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Great Migration; Ypsilanti, Michigan; First Avenue; Short Street; African-American veterinarians; Troy, Alabama; Tuskegee Institute; Alabama State Normal College; African-American graduates of University of Michigan; Martha Washington Theater; Shaw College; African-American Elks in Washtenaw;

Subjects: African American families.  African Americans–Migrations–History–20th century. African Americans–Education–History.

MARSHALL: What was your father’s name?

CAMPBELL: I can’t remember at the moment. It was Porter Pryor.

MARSHALL: What was your mother’s name?

CAMPBELL: It was Beulah Pryor. Do you want my sisters too?


CAMPBELL: My oldest sister was Portia Pryor, born May 8, 1915. Then there was Iola Pryor, born September 16, 1917. Another sister who is here in Ann Arbor is Josephine, born March 21, 1922. I was born on March 23, 1930.

MARSHALL: Where did your parents come from?

CAMPBELL: They were from Montgomery, Alabama.

MARSHALL: Where did they live in Ypsilanti?

CAMPBELL: They lived on Short Street, just behind my grandfather’s house on First Avenue.

MARSHALL: Do you know the date of your parent’s marriage?

CAMPBELL: My mother was born in 1888. They married on June 27, 1915.

MARSHALL: What kind of work did your father do?

CAMPBELL: Do you want to know his work or his profession?

MARSHALL: His profession.

CAMPBELL: He was a veterinarian, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute. The date is on this certificate.

MARSHALL: Did he practice here?

CAMPBELL: No, he had practiced in Troy, Alabama, but you know how it was in those days. My mother graduated from Alabama State Normal. She was a teacher. She was also an artist. She worked at the University of Michigan at the museum making patterns for miniature period furniture.

MARSHALL: After your parents moved here and he was unable to continue in his profession, what kind of work did he do?

CAMPBELL: He worked for Ford Generator. That was when Ford first started and they cleaned out that swamp to build a factory to build generators. He also worked as a furnace man at the Martha Washington Theater.

MARSHALL: Where did you go to school?

CAMPBELL: At first I was in special education. I was in a wheelchair for two years. That was at the Normal College. Then I went to Central. As for my college work, I went to Shaw College in Detroit, and also to the University of Michigan. I have a B.A. in psychology from Shaw, and a teacher’s certificate in the social sciences from the University of Michigan.

MARSHALL: How about the dates?

CAMPBELL: Just lately. I graduated in 1978.

MARSHALL: When you were young, what did you and your family do? I notice that you do a number of things now.

CAMPBELL: I’m a painter and I do many other things.

MARSHALL: Tell us about the Elks. We are concerned about the importance of the lodges.

CAMPBELL: Well, Annerjy Parker, for which the Temple is named, was born in Ypsilanti. She was in the Elks for about 60 years. The organization was in Ypsilanti before I was born, or at least when I was very small. That one was discontinued. I can get information and can show you information about it before it folded. The one in Ann Arbor is near 55 years old.

MARSHALL: That’s nice, but we are interested in the one in Ypsilanti.