Oral Histories

These oral history interviews were recorded in the 1980s by A.P. Marshall. Historians Laura Bien and Matt Siegfried are working to digitize, transcribe, and annotate approximately 50 interviews for which the tapes still exist.

The interviews will be uploaded as they are created. The project will be complete by June of 2017.

Benjamin Adell Neely was born November 11, 1900 in Gastonia, North Carolina to Mark Neely and Olivia Benjamin. The Neely family moved to Ypsilanti in 1914 at the beginnings of the Great Migration. Benjamin married Ypsilanti’s Ethel (Thomas) King, the widow of Hazen King Sr., and worked as a dry-cleaner for over thirty years. Mr. Neely […]
Dr. Phillip G. Wells was born May 26, 1915 to Mary Wells outside of Wilmington, North Carolina and educated in local public schools. Phillip would enter the Hampton Institute, received the master’s degree as a Teacher of English. He received his doctorate from University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in Teacher Education. Phillip was recruited to Eastern Michigan […]
Dr. Thomas Bass was born in Paterson, New Jersey September 14, 1910 to Thomas and Mattie (Harrison) Bass. His father was a sailor from Antigua and his mother originally from North Carolina. After graduating Paterson public schools, Dr. Bass attended Tennessee’s historic Meharry Medical College before going to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and then on […]
Edessa Mullins Williams was born June 27, 1911 in Harris County, Georgia to Adam and Marie (O’Neill) Mullins. She came to Ypsilanti in the 1940s where she became a member of Brown Chapel AME and was an active member of the rich community of Black women’s social clubs in the city. Mrs. Mullins died on February 19, […]
Edna (Roderick) Kersey was born May 5, 1897 to David and Cornelia (Emmanuel) Roderick. She married Arden Kersey in May, 1916. Arden’s parents were James and Mary (Emanual) Kersey. Edna and Arden were the parents of Floyd Kersey, also interviewed. Edna Kersey passed away on June 23, 1983. Edna Kersey Interview, December 5, 1980 Ruthe Marshall, […]
Erma Lillian (Scott) Mashatt was born December 22, 1919 to Herman and Evelyn (Zebbs) Scott in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She married Donald Mashatt in 1946. Donald’s family had a long history in Ypsilanti, where Erma moved to from Ann Arbor. Donald was the widower of Gladys Cole. Together Erma and Donald had two children. Donald […]
Charles Eugene Beatty Sr. was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1909. After the death of his parents, Eugene came to Michigan after to live with his sister and graduated from Detroit Northeastern High School. There he became a star track and field athlete. Winning many records and among the fastest men of his generation, Beatty competed in […]
Floyd Kersey was born on November 14, 1915 to Arden and Edna (Roderick) Kersey in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Arden was the son of James H. Kersey, who along with his brother George, settled on First Avenue from Canada in the 1880s. Floyd married Geraldine Richardson and worked for years as a gas station attendant before getting […]
Frederick Arnold Grady was born in Windsor, Ontario to Leason and Bessie (Cook) Grady. Frederick came to Ypsilanti to work at the U.S. Pressed Steel factory; a foundry which employed large numbers of African-American men located where the old Ford Motor plant now is. Frederick married Fern Wright and together they had two children. Frederick Arnold Grady […]
Garther Roberson Jr. was born in Ypsilanti in 1928 to Garther Sr. and Estella (Sears) Roberson. Garther Sr. was a long-time pastor for Ypsilanti’s historic Second Baptist church on South Hamilton Street. Leading the church through the crucial years of the Depression, World War Two and its aftermath, Rev, Roberson became a legendary figure in […]
Genevieve Ward Williams was born November 8th 1890 on Ridge Road in Superior Township. She was the fourth child of Archibald and Rebecca Luvenia Ward, tenant farmers on the McDougal farm off Ford Road. Her father came to Washtenaw County from Indiana and her mother from Canada. Genevieve was a long-time member of Brown Chapel […]
George D. Goodman was born on September 13, 1940 in Saginaw, Michigan to George V. and Thelma Goodman. The Goodman family has a long history in Ypsilanti and they returned to the City the 1940s, where George grew up and attended Roosevelt High School. His mother Thelma owned and operated an important beauty and clothes store on Harriet Street […]
Hazen A, King Jr. was born November 23, 1918 to Hazen and Ethel (Thomas) King on Ypsilanti’s South Adams Street. The King’s came to Ypsilanti from Canada. After an early first marriage, Hazen wed Geraldine Kennedy and together they had one daughter. Hazen’s mother married Ben Neely after his father’s early death and lived nearly his […]
James Donald Hall was born March 4, 1918 in Louisiana to Wesley and Alma (Newt) Hall in Louisiana and raised in nearby Arkansas. One of eleven children, Mr. Hall came to Michigan in 1946 to attend school. He quickly became a barber and opened two shops; one in Ypsilanti and one in Ann Arbor. Mr. Hall’s […]
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 […]
John William Barfield was born on February 8, 1927 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Lena (James) and Edgar Barfield. Mr. Barfield’s family came to Ypsilanti during World War Two. Barfield After serving in the United States Army, Mr. Barfield found work as a custodian at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and married Betty Williams. Mr. Barfield began […]
Sibling Kenneth Albert Mashatt II, born September 25, 1939 and Helen Jane (Mashatt) Palmer, born in 1925, were the children of Kenneth Albert Mashatt Sr. and Helen A. (Mashatt) Woodward. Kenneth was a pastor and served as Chaplain during the Vietnam War. He graduated from Ypsilanti High School in 1958 and was the founder Youth on the Move in 1967 and organized […]
  Leo Crawford Clark was born July 28, 1930 in Newport, Arkansas to Dr. Samuel F. and Hattie C. Clark. The Clark family came to Ypsilanti in 1938 and here his father practiced medicine from their Hawkins Street home. Graduating from the Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) and the University of Michigan, […]
Emroy Lois (Woods) Cook was born July 25, 1929 to Sam and Ethel Woods in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her family joined the Great Migration and came to the Ypsilanti area in the 1940s. Settling in Willow Village, she witnessed the struggle to end school and housing segregation there. Active in many children-related clubs, she married Joseph […]
Louise (Lane) Bass was born on October 14, 1919 to Frank and Emma (Cook) Lane in Malvern, Arkansas. Louise married Dr. Thomas Bass of New Jersey in 1944. Together they moved to Ypsilanti, where they raised three children, daughters Ann and Leah and son, the National Football League star cornerback, Mick Bass. Along with being […]
Marguerite (Davis) Eaglin was born June 8, 1920, in Waxahatchie, Texas to Orville and Leona Davis. She moved to Michigan in 1940, hitchhiking on a whim with her husband, Simon Eaglin, eventually moving to Ypsilanti. Graduating from what is now Eastern Michigan University in 1953, she became a teacher at Harriet Street Elementary. Marguerite was chosen by […]
Martha (Starks) Neely was born January 15, 1895 in Windsor, Ontario to Vincent and Sarah (Brooke) Starks. The her father joined his brother, Charles Starks, in Ypsilanti around 1904. Martha attended a number of Ypsilanti schools and was one of the few Black women of her day to graduate from Ypsilanti High, in 1916. She married […]
Maude Odum Forbes was born January 24, 1936 in Alabama to Albert and Ervene (Roberson) Odum. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, Maude became teacher at Perry School on Ypsilanti’s Harriet Street and had a family with husband Lance Forbes. Deeply involved in local education, Mrs. Forbes was the first Black woman principal in Ypsilanti when she led Fletcher School in […]
Moses Bass was born on July 1, 1877 to Samuel and Margaret (McGinnis) Bass in Chatham, Ontario. Mr. Bass’s mother was born in Scotland. The oldest person in our archive, Moses came to Ypsilanti with his family in the 1880s and worked in the building trades. Moses and his children built many of the homes and […]
Nina Kersey Williams was born May 20, 1898 to James Henry and Mary Ann (Emmanuel) Kersey in Ypsilanti. The Kersey family came to Ypsilanti from Canada, where they joined relatives who had been here since the Civil War. Nina grew up in the home on First Avenue built by her father. Mr. Kersey and his brother George […]
Norman Eugene Kennedy was born to Earnest and Holly (Harris) Kennedy in Chicago, Illinois on June 15, 1929. After arriving in Ypsilanti, Mr. Kennedy became involved in the building trades and was active in the union, and the Democratic Party. He served on Ypsilanti City Council in the early 1970s and various area boards and commissions, including […]
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Ometha Maxine (Washington) Smith was born in Bristow, Oklahoma to Amos and Tammie (Yarborough) Washington on July 17, 1926. The family moved to Northern Michigan for her father’s work with the Civilian Conservation Corps before settling in Ypsilanti in the early 1940s. Here, Mr. Washington opened a diner and grocery store and was elected to […]
Ralph W. Grimes was born in Adrian, Michigan on August 13, 1936 to Paul and Agatha (Byrd) Grimes. He married Gale Zebbs in 1959 and together they raised two daughters, Dawn and Robyn. Mr. Grimes came to Ypsilanti in the 1960s where he worked for the Ypsilanti Public Schools, first as a West Junior High School math […]
Reverend Harvey Earl Leggett was born May 14, 1935 Rev. and Ethel (McGree) Leggett of Marion, Mississippi. Moving to Colorado, Harvey Leggett graduated from Colorado Spring’s El Paso High School. After several years in the service he attended Denver University and then Jackson State in Jackson, Mississippi as well as the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Gulfport, Mississippi […]
Reverend S.L. Roberson was born on March 14, 1920 in Moundville, Alabama, one of six children of the Rev. Garther and Estella (Sears) Roberson, Sr. After serving with the Marines in World War Two, S.L. began working at Ford Motor Company and learning under his father at Ypsilanti’s Second Baptist Church. Reverend Roberson became pastor of Metropolitan […]
Samuel Asa Richardson was born February 17, 1900 to Joseph Henry and Hattie (Bass) Richardson. The Richardson family, like so many Black families of that period, came from Canada. Here, they settled on a farm south of Ypsilanti in the Township before moving to the city. Samuel became a mortician and opened the first Black-owned […]
Thelma Goodman was born October 1, 1904 in Georgia. She came to Ypsilanti as part of the Great Migration. Here, she married George Goodman and eventually opened a number of businesses, the most important being Goodman’s Fashion Center at 415 Harriet St. Mrs. Goodman was also very involved in the community, including with the Girl Scouts. […]
Vanzetti Morris Hamilton was born August 19, 1927 in Detroit to George and Sarah (Shuford) Hamilton. The Hamilton’s moved to Ypsilanti and Vanzetti went on to attend the Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) and taught at Willow Run Schools. He married Barbra Fullerton of Battle Creek and together they had four children. Mr. […]
Versa May (Hamilton) Roach was born April 15, 1916 in Dresden, Tennessee to Robert and Callie (King) Hamilton. Versa married Louis Roach in Tennessee and moved to Washtenaw County, where her husband found work at the University of Michigan Hospital, with her family in 1955. Versa and Louis had five children together before divorcing. Versa […]
Viola Starks Carter was born May 6, 1893 in Walkerville, Ontario to Vincent Nathaniel and Sarah (Brooks) Starks. The Starks family had long moved back and forth between Ypsilanti and Ontario where the Starks had roots in the Dresden and Chatham areas. Violas family settled for good in Ypsilanti in 1904 and they lived on Forest […]
Walter Ron Easley was born August 23, 1920 in Rives, Tennessee to William and Lorene (Sisco) Easley. Mr. Easley came to Ypsilanti in 1940 following a sister who had arrived earlier. Like so many others in what is now known as the Great Migration, Walter found work in the auto plants of Michigan, working at Ford […]
William Paul Clay Sr. (also known as Paul Clay Jr.) was born in December 12th, 1916 in Ypsilanti to songwriter, civil rights activist and leading Mason Paul Ison Clay of Indiana and Virginia Scott of Canada. William married Abbie (Petties) Brown, originally from Alabama, in 1940. They are the parents of former Ypsilanti City Council member William Paul […]