Documenting Ann Arbor's Black community
Published in January, 2012
"We first thought about a book, and then a friend of mine said, 'Why don't you try a calendar?'" recalls Shirley Beckley. Thus evolved the "History of Ann Arbor's Black Community," now in its third edition.
Beckley, Jean Dixon, and Ophelia Brown work on the calendar all year. It's not available in stores, but last year they covered their costs by selling about 300 copies through their churches and to friends (they can be reached at email@example.com or 971-1680). "It's not like a business," Beckley says. "We want to let people, especially the young people, know there was a black community here. There still is."
But the calendar focuses more on a bygone world. Until the 1960s, housing discrimination and poverty confined most black Ann Arborites to the North Central neighborhood, now the gentrified Kerrytown district. "It was a close-knit community," Beckley recalls. The kids went to Jones School (now Community High), and after class to the Dunbar community center (now Legal Services of South Central Michigan). "We went upstairs first," recalls Beckley. "We had to do reading and arithmetic. Downstairs was a pool table for the boys and a ping-pong table for the girls. And we had dances on Friday night!"
The calendar selection process is casual; the women brainstorm and then hunt down photos. Among the families featured in the 2012 edition are the late Richard Blake, for whom the Blake Transit Center is named, and his wife, Rosemarion, a Democratic activist; and the extended Baker family, who first settled here a century ago and are one of the few black families who still live in the old neighborhood.
"People ask, 'How do I get in it?'" says Beckley. "I say, 'If you grew up here, you can be in it.'" But not everyone is eager to be, in Facebook parlance, poked. "There's a doctor here in Ann Arbor, and she's shy, and she doesn't want to be in it," says Beckley. A ninety-something woman also is holding out, "but I'm working on her!"
[Originally published in January, 2012.]
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