Friday, February 18, 2011

Black Ypsilantian Oral Histories

Third in a Friday series of oral histories by black Ypsilantians collected in 1980 and 1981 by former local historian and EMU professor A. P. Marshall (pictured), and reprinted in honor of Black History Month. Taken as a whole, the histories show a different and sometimes unpleasant side of the city, as experienced by some residents.

Black entrepreneur Thelma Goodman, the mother of Ypsilanti's first black mayor George Goodman, discusses the circumstances that led rise to her opening a fashion center for the black community.

Marshall: Your business lasted some twenty years in Ypsilanti. How did it get started?

Goodman: At the beginning of it, many of our women were going to work at the Ford factory. I had never been in a factory, and I didn't have any desire to get a job there. Shortly after the depression, I decided to get into something other than the factory.

"I had a friend, Mrs. Beatrice Butler, who was associated with beauty work and merchandise and she informed me where to go to make contacts for millinery goods. I first started buying hats without my husband's knowledge, and canvassing people like a salesperson in Willow Village. That's where I first started working. It grew fairly rapidly, and finally I had to open up and tell my husband about it.

"Once he found out, there wasn't much he could do since I had already started. Then we set up Goodman's shop in the basement of our home. I hired two or three dressmakers besides myself, two or three beauticians (Mrs. Virginia Smith, manager, Mrs. Fanny Perry, Mrs. Charles Davis), and a corsetier (Mrs. Frankie Nelson). We had a staff headed by Mrs. Daisy Sanders, who knew how to make someone beautiful.

"We did fairly well here in the basement and we were growing. My husband said that we should try to get a shop. Money was scarce, and we didn't know how we were going to get through. I had heard that there was such a thing as borrowing from the bank, so we borrowed some money to start the building at 415 Harriet Street. We were among the first Negroes, as far as we knew, to borrow money from a bank without a great deal of capital. Moses Bass, Sr. and all his boys, including Sam, built the building for us in 1947.

"We had a beautiful opening, receiving flowers and telegrams. We did quite well. For the time, this was the first black merchant's store with new merchandise.

"Negro women were not permitted to try on a dress in Ypsilanti. My object was to have a place where they could try on dresses in Ypsilanti.

"Having worked at Crowley's for 2 and 1/2 years from 1929, I knew clothes. I knew how to aid people so that they could look their very best in whatever they purchased. We were on Harriet Street for twenty years. It is a field that I enjoyed and we think that we did fairly well for black people. Later on, the street down by Hall's barbershop was named Goodman by Amos Washington. We were able to outfit women completely in the store, and we only had a few bad checks slide by.

"At that time, such things as fashion centers were not known in Ypsilanti or even Detroit. We were one of the first when we established Goodman's Fashion Center. We sold everything except shoes, and we even ordered them. Our center consisted of an office, serving room, fitting room, a very large floor space, two large show windows, three side windows, a beauty salon, and a four room apartment."

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