University of Michigan-Flint
Frances Willson Thompson Library
Genesee Historical Collections Center
University of Michigan-Flint Labor History Project
INTERVIEW: January 23, 1981
INTERVIEWER: NEIL LEIGHTON
INTERVIEWEE: J. D. DOTSON, 354 Pulaski Street, Flint, Michigan
LEIGHTON: You were talking about starting the union in 1929. Why don't we just start with that? You said there were five people.
DOTSON: Five of us, three black and two white.
LEIGHTON: Who were the fellows?
DOTSON: Well, it was Henry Clark----he's in Houston, Texas----and Prince Combs----he here----and I myself. And one of the white was a big, stout fellow by the name of Smith. He was from out of Missouri. And this other fellow, he was from somewhere around Blytheville, Arkansas, by the name of Jack Crump.
DOTSON: Yeah, Jack Crump. Then they had an undercover organizer, black man off the west coast, by the name of Walter Harding. You remember talking about him?
LEIGHTON: Oh, I've read about him. He, in fact, at one time or other wound up in Detroit.
DOTSON: Yeah. You know what I liked about that man? He could talk for hours and never repeat the same thing over; and he'd take his good time and he'd place his words. You see a big oak tree come from an awful small acorn. What I mean by that, if you could get a thing together and gonna have a meetin', why, he could school 'em and sit down and talk to 'em. And that's the way we did. It begin to grow, see, on up. And next thing we had quite a large...See, when we first started, we started in the A F of L.
LEIGHTON: Now I wanted to ask you...you mentioned...that's a good point...'cause I want to follow that up. In 1929, you said, 1929----the year of the crash...
LEIGHTON: The stock market crash.
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: You said you started the union in 1929.
DOTSON: 1929, yeah.
LEIGHTON: And the five of you...and did Walter Harding come in to Flint here?
DOTSON: He come into Flint, yeah.
LEIGHTON: And he was with the A F of L then.
DOTSON: That's right, he was with the A F of L.
LEIGHTON: Ah-huh. What union in the A F of L was he
Remember? Was it the AWU?
DOTSON: There was no UAW then. There was just a whatcha call it?
LEIGHTON: Federated Vehicle Workers?
DOTSON: The Federation----that's what it was, the Federation, see. The UAW-CIO, that come in later, see. See, so now that's who they were, and we started with five people. Then on Friday we begin to go to houses. We went to different peoples' houses. We figured they wouldn't talk so much. And we'd have coffee, and beer, tea, still.
LEIGHTON: Where were the houses? Do you remember some of places?
DOTSON: Yeah, the houses was on Abbott Street----that's across over on the St. John side. And on Easy Street. Then later on they allowed us to use the basement of Canaan Baptist Church. And, oh, it was so cold. I 'member we be down and we all sit around this small table, just like a card table. We all sit there.
LEIGHTON: That church isn't there now, is it?
DOTSON: Oh yes, it is. It's a big church now. Canaan Baptist Church.
LEIGHTON: I mean is it still in the same location?
DOTSON: Same location. That's one of your oldest churches in town.
LEIGHTON: All right. Was that the same year that they had the big walkout down there at Fisher 1?
DOTSON: No, no, no.
LEIGHTON: No, I don't mean the sit-down, now. I mean when in 1930 when they had a strike at Fisher I.
LEIGHTON: About 5,000 people came out of that plant, on the streets, and the police beat 'em up.
DOTSON: That's right. Let me see. Believe that was in '30, '31, when the people come out. Because I do remember it was about 25 or 30 people in Buick were sympathizers, and they fired all of them. But later on, they got 'em back. You see, now, the first thing got the real ball rollin', a fellow by the name of Jim Boynes----John Boynes----was uneducated. He was Henry Clark's father-in-law. Then he got interested in it. Well, he was from the South, but he didn't have enough to fear nobody. See, and I was his secretary. (laughs) I was his advisor. So we begin to write cards. We'd give people membership cards, with pictures in. We took a dollar. And I'll never forget we had wrote out a card for a boy by the name of Mars Walker (he's dead now). And he take the card in the shop and give it to the superintendent by the name of Jack Wakely. So Jack Wakely, he fired old man Jim Boynes.
LEIGHTON: He fired him.
DOTSON: So then we went down and we got ahold of one of the man (I can't call the man), but, anyhow, he was an A F of L, and he taken Jim Boynes into Washington, D.C. Now that was the good thing about the Taft and Hartley Law. That's the best thing about it. They fired Jim without a cause, so therefore they made Buick pay for every day Jim Boynes was off, his transportation and all and put him back to work. Well now, then while that happened that we begin to increase our people, that we went upwards to 10, 15. We got a couple fellows----one of them was a Puerto Rican----he come in. And then we begin to go get white in. We got a fellow, died here last year, by the name Howard Foster.
LEIGHTON: Yes, that's right.
DOTSON: We got Howard Foster here.
LEIGHTON: Did all of you work at Chevrolet?
DOTSON: No, we all worked at Buick!
LEIGHTON: All worked at Buick.
DOTSON: But Howard Foster worked at the Chevrolet. See, we had another guy, a white fellow by the name of Rev. Horton. He was out of Buick. Then we begin to bring in the people slowly, alone. So finally they let us meet at the Canaan Baptist Church in the basement. It didn't cost us nothing; we didn't have nothin' to pay with! And then afterward, why, Victor Reuther, Walter Reuther's brother, he begin to come in. And then Bob Travis (his name was Robert Travis but ever'body called him "Bob"). So Bob come in.
LEIGHTON: That was in '36?
DOTSON: Yeah. So Bob came in. Then Casper Kenny. Both of them died.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Casper Kenny died just very recently.
DOTSON: I know it. Him and I was same as brothers, him and I and Bob. We was always same as brothers. And Kenny, Casper Kenny, he had his first wife then; she stood right by his side! Then in come a boy by the name of Bee Blassingame. Worked out of AC. His name was Bee Blassingame. He was another one. They throwed him out of the shop, but they got the wind of how strong we was gettin' so they taked him back. But we had a foreman----he had a foreman----which, whenever he would hear talk afore the people was gonna do somethin', he would slip and tell Bee, "You go home, and I'll ring you out and come back tomorrow." That would keep 'em from takin' him to get throwin' him out. See, because those stool pigeon was what was doin' it. See, the mistake Bee made, he taken some literature inside the shop. And when you take literature out of the shop these people take you up and they beat ya. Then these people's afraid, so they all got together and were gonna throw Bee out. So every time that they would get hot, the foreman would come to Bee and let Bee go out the back way. That was good of him doing that. Then we had two other good men----we had three other men----with us. A lot of people know about them. We had these on the Board of Appeal. Stewart Newblatt's. I know you know about him. We had Stewart Newblatt. We had Mort Leitson and Max Dean. And we had a boy----a little bit a turtle----by the name of White. So they begin to help us and they begin to piece a little money out of their poverty to help us to build the organization. So then, during this time, every time the foreman would razz a man in the shop and talking about throwin' him out 'cause there was a black boy at the press waiting to get your job. When we get a chance on the outside we would talk to him and if he didn't have money we would accept him in anyway. See. And so later on I was one of the officers, so what they did they put me a foreman over trucks in Buick...trucks. For the only man that didn't ring the clock was the journey foreman up. But all of the labor foreman----everybody had to go when the lines go. And so I would turn around. And we had a white fellow, he never did join, by the name of Ed. He was the head truck group foreman. So when I would go to a truck driver and ask him about joinin', oh, he'd get hot. So I slipped to Ed and I'd say, "Ed, slow that man's truck down. I don't wanna keep up." And so he had special trouble, but he speeded my truck up. So when he go get on this man then he'd come to me. He'd say, "Dotson, he says, that boy can't keep up; what we gonna do with him?" I'd say, "Well, there's somethin' wrong." I say, "I'll go over and do that job for a while; I'll go over there and that truck will speed up and I'll tell his boss." And if he'd join the union I'd get him off that. That's the way we brought the people. So as soon as this guy would accept the membership then I would tell Ed to speed the truck back up. See. And on down the line when we begin to get in the other people. The black ones was the hardest ones to join, because they was so afraid. See, because you know we were the last one hired and the first one fired. And the rich man brought this on himself, the union on himself, through a mistake. Now here he brought it on himself. A black man couldn't join a union----but the white had one. So now when the white were out on a strike they would come in from Durand and bring 'em in coaches----train coaches. And they put 'em in boxcars and bring 'em over here in the factory. And they had cook kitchens--that's where the cook kitchens began. They had cook kitchens and cots in the shop where the people would sleep on, 'cause they know if they went outside the gate they wouldn't get back where they could get work. So they would stay in there and work for little or nothin' until the white man's money run out. Then when the white people's money run out when they was ready to come back to work then they would turn the dark folk like garbage back on the streets.
LEIGHTON: Okay, what they did was they used the black people as strikebreakers.
DOTSON: That's what they was!
LEIGHTON: Okay, well, tell me more about this Durand thing. That's fascinating. Here in Flint they brought...
DOTSON: To Durand. You know that's a junction there. So they'd bring 'em in in coaches.
LEIGHTON: Where did they bring them in from? From the South, or from...?
DOTSON: From the South. They had what you call a "man catcher." You see, they'd go to Cincinnati. They'd send some black fellow to Cincinnati and they'd send some to Memphis, Tennessee. They'd send some to all through the South, Alabama. And they'd tell these people, "Get a motion on. You go North and you can make so much money. We'll pay your fare there and give you something to eat and get you a place to stay. But you'll have to pay this back out of your paycheck, because your paycheck's for your transportation." So when they git 'em into Durand they take 'em out of the coaches and they put 'em in that boxcar. You know the boxcar just like a refrigerator car. You know you can open 'em up, and of course it's plenty of ventilation. And they bring 'em right on into the plant (laughing), just like you would a gang of sheep.
LEIGHTON: So if the white guys went on strike, they just bring blacks in in the boxcars right into the plant, as if they were unloading supplies.
DOTSON: That's right, see. Bring 'em right on in.
LEIGHTON: When did they do this, in the twenties and thirties?
DOTSON: In the twenties, because in the thirties the ball was gettin' goin' rollin', see, and so then they begin to hire the blacks and put them in the foundry. And the black men couldn't go in but two gates. That was Leith Street and Stewart Avenue. If you was goin' in the other gates you was fired.
LEIGHTON: Leith and Stewart only.
DOTSON: Leith and Stewart only. That's the only two gates a black man could go in. Now we had the people in there workin' 'em like dogs. And to go get a drink of water, they didn't know what that was. They used to have them little half-pint bottles of milk so when the milk would get empty, when they drink the milk out of their bottles, they'd let one man take about twenty of them on an old box or somethin' and he'd never wash 'em out, just go right to the fountain and pour it full of water. And those men would drink water with one hand and watchin' for the boss with the other one. And drinkin' that water, just like that, both white and black. If you tell 'em you were sick, they say, "Die and prove it!" If you say you was too hot they say, "Fall down and I'll believe it." That's the way they treated 'em, and if you didn't come to work the next day they send somebody out to see why you didn't work. They would come right to your house, and if you weren't at home, you didn't have no job. And right in the Chevrolet, Buick and AC, if you was on a job paid little more than one I was on and I'd tell the foreman, he'd put you on my job and give me yours. And when payday come I'd give him so much out of my checks. In other words, it was sharin' the job. And there was no discrimination. Only it wasn't all through the plant, but they treated 'em all just the same way, black and white. So Casper Kenny, Bob Travis, and Henry Clark and all of us got together, and Walter Harding had a special meetin' for us in Detroit. It was down on the 6300 block--on Chene--in Detroit. You know where Chene is in Detroit? It was a Nowak Hall, Stanley Nowak. You know Stanley?
LEIGHTON: Oh, yeah. I know Stanley, sure.
DOTSON: Oh, Stanley, yeah, but it was upstairs. Upstairs where we would be. So then we got ahold of John.
LEIGHTON: That wasn't the place in Hamtramck, was it, the place, that restaurant?
DOTSON: No, the restaurant in Hamtramck, they let 'em use that. But when they brought us in there----blacks----they refused to let 'em meet because we were black.
LEIGHTON: In the Polish restaurant?
DOTSON: In the Polish restaurant. Not to change the subject,
the first banquet we was goin' be pullin here we were goin' to use Dom
Polski's Hall, but when they found that I was black they cancelled it,
and we had to go over onto the St. John side to the Hungarian Hall and
use their hall. And they don't serve black in Dom Polski
But they can't get no kinda consideration out of the union.
Now, getting back to Detroit: John L. Lewis (I don't know who the man was), he had a representative to come talk to us, and he talked. Oh, we had a gang of...can't recall quite...in Detroit and they told 'em the only way that they could ever get a union to win (because they knew we were the strikebreakers) and they said, "This is the way we'll help you do it. There will be no discrimination. If you pay a black man twenty-five cents an hour, the best you'll give is a dime more. And if you don't like it, they gonna take that job from you and they gonna give it to the black man." He didn't say black man, he says the "black boy." That's what they called him, the "black boy," see. So then Casper Kenny and them come back and we begin to go to organizin' and get goin'. And when we got farther down the line, we still were with the A F of L. And the CIO begin to come in through John L. Lewis. Well, then we went to meetin' in the Pengelly Buildin'. You know where that is, the old Pengelly Buildin'?
LEIGHTON: Where Skaff's Furniture is.
DOTSON: Yeah, Skaff's Furniture. We begin to meet in there. And we had people from all over the country then, coming in.
LEIGHTON: And Bob was in town then?
DOTSON: Bob was in town. And our first real president was R. J. Thomas. So R. J. Thomas, he lost his job through a mistake, because every time we'd work all day and in the evenin' we'd go to Detroit (just five of us) to tell R. J. Thomas. And he'd say, "You'll have to wait a minute, I'll have to get Walter." So we just said, "Well, we got together now, if we gonna have to get Walter Reuther, we gonna take and choose him for our president." Then we had two boys lived out on the South End. They railroad them out of here. Now they big shots in Detroit. The Baxter boys---Bozie Baxter and Willie Baxter. We got Willie Baxter and Bozie Baxter, from here, then Shirley Foster, she begin to come on out because her husband couldn't. He was mostly just a number, but he couldn't explain hisself like Shirley Foster could. So then...
LEIGHTON: Where were you holding these meetings now? Were these in Detroit or were they on the South side?
DOTSON: We'd have them on the South side. We'd have them on the South side. We have them in Shirley's house, Howard Foster's house. So then we got Stanley Nowak begin to bring people from Detroit. Now's here one gal----you'd know her well----she's chairman of the council in Detroit----Erma Henderson. She was the secretary, like, over the state of Michigan. She had her Communist card, same as we did. She had her Communist card same as we did. Then we got a boy here that run him out of town, he got scared enough, by the name of Jimmy Coleman. He's back in Detroit...'er he's in New York...he call last week.
LEIGHTON: Jimmy Coleman?
DOTSON: Jimmy Coleman. Then Chackenberg come on the scene... Chackenberg...I think he's Jewish. You haven't heard about him?
DOTSON: He went back to Long Island, New York. Chackenberg. Yeah.
LEIGHTON: What about at that time did you know Will Weinstone?
DOTSON: Sure, I knowed him. And did you...there's another one by the name of Moscow. We had a fellow by the name of Moscow. He was Jewish. They back to New York. And did you know about Mortimer?
LEIGHTON: Oh yes, Wyndham Mortimer, sure.
DOTSON: Elizabeth Gurley?
LEIGHTON: Oh, yes, sure.
DOTSON: She always come in with us when we hide in secret places. We
had our meetin' right here in town.
LEIGHTON: Now, let me ask this question. Were you all members of the party then?
LEIGHTON: I know that they were, but, because the question that I asked in talking with some people was, you know, obviously we knew Curt Howard and Bud Simons and we had talked to Will Weinstone----yes, he's still alive in New York----he's eighty-some years old, but we did not know that there were any black people who had been in the party in Flint. And so this is really all new stuff.
DOTSON: Well, what do you think about me?!!
LEIGHTON: Well, I didn't know that until you told me.
DOTSON: Oh, yeah. Bee Blassingame.
LEIGHTON: Okay. What about the...I have a couple names that someone had mentioned to me... Harrison Johnson and Joe Wickwer?
DOTSON: Oh, Wickfall. They----he----died, both of them.
LEIGHTON: He worked in Chevy.
DOTSON: Yeah, yeah, he passed.
LEIGHTON: And I guess Harrison Johnson, somebody said he probably
belonged to the Socialist Workers' Party.
DOTSON: That's right, he did.
LEIGHTON: He's deceased. Or he doesn't live here anymore?
DOTSON: No, he's gone. Well you see, you take Henry Clark, fellow by the name of by the name of Percy (he was a Puerto Rican; he came from the islands), and all of 'em. We had all kinds. Every one of 'em. You see, if you don't be for the Communist Party and the big, big boy you does a strikebreaker, we woulda have a union 'til today. But with so many black people begin to turn Communist until they had to do something. And Bob Travis and Casper Kenny was two of the real boys that helped to organize it. And Elizabeth Gurley, she would come as far as Detroit, and once in a while at night she would sneak in here, but she'd go back. Now we used to have (I couldn't go back to the place now if I had to)----you know where the Orchard Lake Road 'tween here and Detroit?
DOTSON: We would go down old Telegraph Road (you know where the bridge is) and we would turn right and take that bridge and go 'round Orchard Lake Road. We would go 'round there 'bout two or three mile and there would be two big stone posts sitting there and when we turn in the gate there would be two guards there. They would take this steerin' wheel and ride back in there, oh, I'd say about two or three blocks. There's a big beautiful mansion sits back in there. I don't know whether you know where 'at's at or not?
DOTSON: All right. So now, there's nothin' in there but Communists! So we'd go there, and we had guards. Nobody could come in the gate but us, and everybody comin' had to have the invitation. Anyone was coming in he'd have to pledge not under $25.00 to help to git the thing goin' (this is kinda off the record). Mayor Young, George Crockett, they was with Stanley Nowak. Well, you know he was gonna be here. And Maurice Sugar and all of 'em, and then we had Chackenberg, Shirley Foster, and a fellow now (he don't want his name seen hardly) but it was Edgar Holt.
DOTSON: Edgar Holt. He got active with us after he come to town in the department.
LEIGHTON: Well, first, his wife and sister-in-law were the daughters of Roscoe Van Zandt.
DOTSON: I know it.
LEIGHTON: Who was in the sit-down.
DOTSON: So now, then we got (the boy just got killed here a few weeks ago) Fred Tucker. He came into the fold with us.
LEIGHTON: Course he would have come later.
DOTSON: Oh, he come later 'cause he was young; he came later. But Holt, see, Holt, and Elizabeth Goodwin, she live here. Edgar Holt and Elizabeth Goodwin, Chackenberg and Moscow, they were sent here from New York, by the Communist Party. You know Ben Davis, didn't you?
DOTSON: Well, they're the ones sent. They give them transportation.
LEIGHTON: What about people like--you must have known Bud Simons, then.
LEIGHTON: And Joe Devitt and...
DOTSON: Moore, yeah.
LEIGHTON: Walter Moore.
DOTSON: Yeah, I know 'em all.
LEIGHTON: Jay Devitt?
LEIGHTON: Did they meet in this meeting with you?
DOTSON: Yes, you know we had a convention once on the South End. The hall sets off of South Saginaw, back that way. It's a hall used to be back in there. We had our convention there once. Yeah, we had our convention there. And I reckon we had about twenty or twenty-five lawyers, what not.
LEIGHTON: Did Lorne Herrlich ever meet with you?
LEIGHTON: The druggist.
DOTSON: Yeah. Let me see...O, I think...I should...I had a list of all them names. Sometime if I could find it I could get ahold ya and give it to you.
LEIGHTON: Ah, that would be great.
DOTSON: I let one fellow have it...or I had two copies. I had one mimeographed and I don't know whether he kept it or whether it's somewhere; I never was able to get back hold of it.
LEIGHTON: Well, I'll make you some copies, and that's no problem.
DOTSON: When I'm done with...I want to give you the name of all of these people that I can't recall right now. But you take, we had...there's one fellow (I never did get his name), he would distribute stuff every morning from about five o'clock until the people go to work a mornin' right up and down Industrial. He was big Polish, but I never was able to get his name. He wouldn't give us his name, but he was Polish.
LEIGHTON: It wasn't Charlie Killinger?
DOTSON: No, no, it wasn't Charlie. I know Charlie. I never was able to get his name, see. But you take your leaders...was Henry Clark, Jim Boynes, and this colored fellow with his wife sick.
LEIGHTON: Prince Combs.
DOTSON: Prince Combs, and myself and a Bee Blassingame. He was a darn good one.
LEIGHTON: Now is he dead?
DOTSON: No, he died. They were so hard on us about it they even takin' pictures of the funeral! The city did. Oh, yeah. Takin' pictures of it. I'll bet they got it downtown yet, 'cause once they had us down there and they showed me that picture. They were just that bad on the poor people. But one our greatest aims...you see Bee tried to have 'em all listed and Max Dean bought off the board.
LEIGHTON: Well, of course that came during McCarthy. Wasn't that during McCarthy's time they tried to do that?
DOTSON: No! No! No! Afore 1950.
LEIGHTON: Oh, was it?
DOTSON: Yeah, oh yeah. You see, Max and them...a daddy used to have a bakery right here on Industrial (course that's all torn up now). And we used to even go there and meet in the, you know, Max Dean, I mean, and them, Stewart Newblatt and Mort Leitson--the Leitsons was the one that owned the bakery. See.
LEIGHTON: Oh sure, and his sister is a teacher.
DOTSON: I know it.
LEIGHTON: Shirley Fineberg. Something like that.
DOTSON: I knowed 'em all. Yeah, and Max Dean's mother, she was quite active. We used to meet at their house. Back out here where Max lived, I just remembered, but we'd meet at his house. We knew that Fowler boy, too. Wait, let's see. He used to be head of this Credit Union here on a...
LEIGHTON: Bill Genske.
DOTSON: Bill Genske. See, we used to meet at his house out on Atherton Road. Did you ever know where he used to live right on Atherton Road?
LEIGHTON: No, I know where he lives now, but I don't know...
DOTSON: We used to meet there in the basement. See, Vic Reuther would come over. Vic would come over to meet with us there, too, you know, see. We got good cooperation out of New York, Chicago, and Detroit and off the West Coast. See, Stanley Novak, he would bring 'em in from Detroit. And then Bee Blassingame, Mort Leitson (I can't help recall him) and Max Dean and 'em came down to Max Dean's mother. She was active in it with us.
LEIGHTON: Let me ask you, now, when you were organizing at that time, at this time that you were having the meetings, is this to organize the Buick Local 599 or is this to organize the union before the sit-down strike?
DOTSON: This would be before we started before the sit-down strike!
LEIGHTON: Okay, okay, that's the key point I wanted to get clear.
DOTSON: Yeah, we were before the sit-down strike, because we begin to see the handwritin' on the wall. Listen, see, 1929...
LEIGHTON: Yes, way before the strike.
DOTSON: Oh, yeah.
LEIGHTON: But of course Bob Travis didn't come to town until 1936.
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: So that was just before the strike. Mortimer came a few months before him. But when the strike comes and you're working with Henry Clark to organize workers in the foundry, right? And Mortimer meets with Henry Clark...met with him in a church, I think, or somewhere at his house. I don't know which.
DOTSON: We used to meet at his house and we'd meet at Canaan Church. We used to meet at Henry Clark's house. At that time Henry lived on Pasadena, in the 800 block----no, on the 900 block on Pasadena.
LEIGHTON: And when the strike starts, what did Bob tell Blackwood? I mean did he have any...because Buick doesn't sit down...and isn't he kind of worried about what might happen to black workers if they get fired? Does he mention any of that to you? Or what's the strategy involved, for Buick?
DOTSON: Bob did this. Bob called a meetin' over (I can't remember the number of the house) on Eldridge Street. That's over on the St. John side. That's where Buick got all that property now. And he told 'em that under the Wagner Act, labor law, that any time a person got fired on that 'count that he would be reinstated back on his job with pay, accordin' to what they was paying at that time. So that give the people more courage. See, so now the Chevrolet was the one boostin' up and we were workin' and when the Chevrolet went on strike the Buick had people come here and put 'em in the shop and had place for 'em to sleep and give ' em meal card, could eat all day and all night and stay there in the shop and not work, just be in there. See, they closed the Buick clean down!
LEIGHTON: Yes, right, you had to close, 'cause they couldn't get the bodies.
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: Because they couldn't get the bodies down to Fisher Body.
DOTSON: They had to close it down. And you had them boys in there, black and white, with bullets, to keep us from comin' in.
LEIGHTON: Ah, okay. So Buick had people who were favorable to Buick inside the plant to keep strikebreakers from taking over.
DOTSON: That's right, that's right, they had 'em in there. 'Cause they'd come by my house and ask me. They says, "No, you tinted around the ears." And they told all to not have nothin' to do with Dotson, 'cause he tinted 'round the ears. And the black people so damn ignorant they didn't know what they meant. You know what they mean when they said "tinted 'round the ears". I was a Red, see, and so they wouldn't even talk to me. And when we went to organize the Buick, a fellow by the name of Eagle, he come up to me one morning and he say, "I heard you was a good salesman." I says, "Well, what kinda salesman?" He say, "I heard you had organized about 75 people to get membership cards." I said, "Yes, I got mine; I got two cards." I said, "I'll show you one, but the other one I won't; you know about it anyway." So then they busted me down from foreman (laughs), put me just as a regular truck driver. See. Caspe Kenny and Bob Travis was a shrewd boy, don't forget it. What he did he made some kinda arrangement with the police downtown that when we were to put on a membership drive he knew that they was gonna call downtown. So when the time come that the shop would be supposed to be operatin' at seven o'clock (that's when the police would come), we be through. See, we start at six and we'd raise heaven 'til 'bout a quarter to seven; and they couldn't get a police. So them black people, some of 'em would jump the fence to go in, 'cause they was afraid they'd lose, and all them didn't, and if a man come through the gate by us, try to come by us, plant protection was afraid to say anything. So I'd kick 'em in the butt with my foot (laughing). Oh, they fired me, too, you know. Oh, yeah, they fired me. They got a foreman, superintendent, by the name of Jack Wakely from Tennessee, and he fired me. So when I goes over to Detroit they had a foreman come the next day and told me to come on back to work and keep my mouth shut. Yeah, they fired me.
LEIGHTON: But they hired you right back.
DOTSON: They hired me right back.
LEIGHTON: When the strike starts, what did you do? Did you have to keep on working at Buick until it closed because of that, or were you active in helping out in the strike?
DOTSON: I was active helping out in the strike. You see, well, when you was standin' for your rights you know what's you're a radical. That's what those big boys call you. So, you take Henry Clark, Jim Boynes, we all would go out there and git in the line. It was many a day before the Buick closed up, 'cause they couldn't get by it. So we got active in the line. That was Jimmy Coleman, Howard Foster and Harding, we all would go out there, and Bee Blassingame. We'd all get in line. See, then, we used to meet at Bee Blassingame's house just to...(the house still stands right here on the corner of North and Dewey, the second house from the south corner). That house still stands; they take many a picture that house. And we'd go there and meet. Then we'd go from there to the South End. And one thing never did come on the scene. I never read it in the paper. We had one of the worst fights ever you seen, right on Wellington. And the police come out there, and we stoned 'em, so they went on back downtown. And it never was in the paper. They tried to break us up.
LEIGHTON: And what were you doing at the time? Picketing or were you a...?
DOTSON: We was goin' to a house to help to organize.
LEIGHTON: Oh, I see, and they just caught you then.
DOTSON: Oh, they caught us to start to stop 'em. And we throwed so many rocks and bricks and things and they went on back downtown. It never was in the paper. And we had one man in our corner that you would be surprised. When the message would come, it would first come into Lansing. And Commissioner Charles was head of the State Police. He would hand the news down to Casper Kenny. Now that's almost unbelievable, but it was true.
LEIGHTON: The head of the State Police was handing stuff...
DOTSON: Commissioner Charles was the head of the State Police, see. And we had one fellow that was quite active and they put to railroad him. His name was Joe Berry. He used to president of Buick local. See, 'cause when the time, this great singer----black boy, singer, Paul...
LEIGHTON: Paul Robeson?
DOTSON: Paul Robeson. See, they wouldn't let him come to Flint. Ever' place we went to have a meetin' they closed it up.
LEIGHTON: No kidding?
DOTSON: Yep. So then we had to go back to Detroit and we met at a----I can't think of the name of the church now----but we met at a church over there in Detroit. And that's where Paul Robeson come. There was about fifteen carloads of us from here, went to Detroit. And don't you kid yourself; the Jews was more active than the Caucasian was. The Caucasian was a friend. The Northern white man was a friend; but the Southern white man had guts! Course you know that's why a lot of heroes come from, of the whites, is from the South, like MacArthur. All of them come from the South. That's why we got them and the Polish people. Stanley Nowak, he played the leadin' role. And Elizabeth Gurley, and they would come down from New York and... See, we even went to New York and we was going from New York out to Long Island, and they chased the bus driver off. We had to get one of our men to drive the bus!
LEIGHTON: Who chased him off? The police?
DOTSON: No, the people when they followed the bus, the chartered bus, and they said there was nothin' on there but the Communist Party. Yeah. The bus driver got off and jumped out and left the door open and left. And one of our men drove the bus and drove it back. But don't you worry; the Communists was ones that put us on our feet! You know that. And I went out in----you don't remember the time----in the winter of '36, I believe it was, '36 or '37. I just remember when they was evicted, evacuatin' all them people out of the house 'cause they couldn't pay their... Well, I went out there. And just as fast as they had the sheriff department would set 'em outside, the Communist Party would say, "You sign this card." They would sign that card, they would put the stuff right back in the house, and then next thing there come a truckload of groceries. Well, we was all burnin' coal; then next thing here come a ton or maybe two tons of coal. So when they've driven big business into...'cause they figured we was always goin' to join Communism. And I would say one-third of the black people worked in the Buick was Communist. They were carryin' a Communist card anyway, 'cause I wrote 'em out.
LEIGHTON: (Laughs) Well, who was your organizer up here? Weinstone? Was he the organizer in town?
DOTSON: Yeah, yeah.
LEIGHTON: In the strike, were there any other plants, as best you know...in the plants that went down, Little Fisher, and Fisher I and Chevrolet 4, were there any other black workers who were sit-downers, who sat in the plants other than Roscoe Van Zandt?
DOTSON: No, that's the only...but these plants had to close down.
LEIGHTON: Yes, I know that; but I meant the ones that the guys sat in and closed it down.
DOTSON: That's right, that's right.
LEIGHTON: Roscoe was the only one.
LEIGHTON: Do you remember a fellow named Oscar Gamble?
DOTSON: Sure, I knowed him.
LEIGHTON: Was he come up from Detroit?
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: Did he do anything here in Flint? I mean...
DOTSON: He was quite a talker. He helped to push us forward. He would sit back and give us a boost. Henry Clark and I and Percy (this Puerto Rican boy), and that was his job. And Walter Harding, he would come here and pull...pushin'...and Smith from St. Louis and Jack Crump. He lived here. Jack Crump lived here. He's from Arkansas and he went back after he retired.
LEIGHTON: Is he still there? Or is he...
DOTSON: Oh yeah, he's still livin'. He'll come up here, I think in March, April, when they have that big picnic down to the IMA for the retirees, for Buick retirees, General Motor retirees. He always comes up. There was quite a few of our old-timers who have passed off to see me now.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, right. Well, of course you went out to the picnic last year and that has grown every year, now. But it's only about five years old.
LEIGHTON: Henry Clark came the year before.
DOTSON: I know it, but he couldn't git here this last time. Bob wanted to come but he wasn't able.
LEIGHTON: No, I know. I talked to Bob. I went out to California two years ago, two years ago this past Christmastime, and so I had a chance to interview him, just like we are, for four days. Boy, everything you said is so true. Oh, he's a remarkable man.
DOTSON: You know, he used to live over right off Dort Highway on a road down here called Webster Road. You know where that road is?
DOTSON: And when he got ready to go to California he sold that house to a black family, Batiska. That don't seem to be a black people's name, but it is. Batiska. And he wrote the contract up: "so long as you're working and when you ain't workin' your payments will stop until you go back to work." That's the way he wrote up the contract. He couldn't have wrote 'em a better one than that.
LEIGHTON: No. You mentioned meeting in some places over on St. Johns. Do you remember the Evanoffs?
LEIGHTON: Mrs. Evanoff, and the old man?
DOTSON: Yeah, I remember.
LEIGHTON: Was it their house that you met in with Bob one time over there?
DOTSON: Yeah, we met at her house. Then we met in a Puerto Rican's house----I can't think of his last name, but his name was Percy. We met at his house. He was on Eldridge Street.
LEIGHTON: After the strike, after the sit-down was started, you still had to organize the plant and to create Local 599.
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: Now as I understand it, a lot of that work of organizing 599 which was done by you and Prince Combs and so on, a lot of it was carried out in Prince Combs's basement.
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: When did you finally get that local started?
DOTSON: We got the local started... You see the first thing we had to try to keep 'em from... You got a carpenters' union in the plant. And the meantime we all was meetin'. Let me see; I guess I don't know whether it was Second Street or east of Saginaw. The big, two-story, two- or three-story, the big, big buildin'. And we would meet there, upstairs. Then when they found us there, we come back and we went to meet in Pengelly Building. So now they asked me was I afraid to be a captain. They wanted us to organize a flyin' squadron. So then they made me captain of the flyin' squadron.
LEIGHTON: What was your job, as the captain of the flying squadron?
DOTSON: My captain with the flyin' squadron. Any time anything come up, they would call me and I would get a group of men together and we would go and bomb out of them plants. We'd go in somewhere with force, anywhere in the state, all over. In Owosso. That's the worst place we met was in Owosso!
LEIGHTON: (Laughs) What was the name of that plant over there?
LEIGHTON: Redmond, that's right.
DOTSON: Yeah, some people give us the worst time anywhere's we had, the Redmond plant. See, they hadn't got people here. See, Redmond left here. They was on Stewart Avenue, and moved over to Owosso. So when they heard we was comin' over there they had them black football players and boxers and things with blackjacks and what not from Detroit, all over there to help them people to fight us. And they didn't want black over there overnight, 'cause at that time they wouldn't give a black man a drink of water in Owosso. So I had a Indian boy by the name of Joe Cannon. Joe Cannon. He was my lieutenant. And Joe Cannon, and Chackenberg, he was another one. He was a lieutenant. And Moscow. They went back to Long Island. Then I had Jimmy Coleman. It was only for a long time there's only ten blacks. Ten blacks. And the rest of 'em was white.
LEIGHTON: Was one of them Johnson Buchanan? Was it Johnson...?
DOTSON: Well, Johnson come in later. You see when Johnson came in, Johnson was quite a good talker. See, when Johnson came in, it was the time that we went to Detroit to organize boards. See, but we had had the ball a-rollin' a long time. But when Johnson found out that was what was happenin', when we told him what we was gonna do and anybody we caught goin' in the shop and say what we was gonna to do 'em, Johnson signed up. He signed it right in Prince Combs's house, right in the basement of Prince Combs's house, see. Then when we got ready to go to Detroit, Johnson said he would be our mouthpiece in Detroit. And he stood out in that zero weather; that's what killed him, that zero weather. He take the pneumonia over there; he never did get over it.
LEIGHTON: Who were some of the other original ten? There was you, and a...
DOTSON: There was myself.
LEIGHTON: And Combs.
DOTSON: Prince Combs.
LEIGHTON: Henry Clark.
DOTSON: Henry Clark.
DOTSON: Jim Boynes, Blassingame and fellow by the name of Percy----he was a Puerto Rican. That was six of us. Then another guy by the name Bozie Baxter. They lived on the South Side. They had them on the American committee, Bozie Baxter and Willie Baxter. We had them. Then we had a guy by the name of Mack Allen. He's dead now. Mack Allen.
LEIGHTON: Mack Allen.
DOTSON: Yeah, he was another one. Then we had a Bob Liddell. He's livin'.
LEIGHTON: Oh, is he?
DOTSON: Oh, yeah, but Mack Allen, he's dead, but Bob Liddell, he's still livin'. He's retired out of the shop now.
LEIGHTON: Is he still living here in town?
DOTSON: Yeah, he live here in town; he lives on Allison.
LEIGHTON: On Addison?
DOTSON: On Allison Street.
LEIGHTON: How do you spell his last name, do you know?
DOTSON: Lidell. His name was Robert but we all called him Bob.
LEIGHTON: There was somebody by the name of Malcolm. Does that ring a bell?
DOTSON: Yeah, Malcolm, but I'm talkin' about the one that's really from the beginnin'. Then we had a white boy by the name Herb; he was with us. You know, now look. Boy, this is comical. You know Herb was a stool pigeon for the people downtown, for the police department, what were fightin' us, you know, with the city government. So he'd turn all of us in. So when we was called into court, the judge asked him---his name was Herb----he said, "Well, Herb, why, how come, you join, how come you turn these people in?" He said, "Well, how do you know?" He said, "Well, I was a member." He says, "Well, how you join this organization?" He said, "Well, because I didn't like the way they was treatin' the black folks." The judge say, "Well, you're disqualified." (Laughs heartily) He wouldn't let him talk no more; his name was Herb. But that was comical, you know. He said, "I didn't like the way..." So the judge disqualified him. He couldn't talk. So that's the only man that we had to kick us in, a fellow by the name of Herb, white fellow. And he kicked us in, but when he told it like it was, why, they just disqualified him. He couldn't talk no more.
LEIGHTON: What about Johnny McGill?
DOTSON: Johnny McGill. He was undercover for a long time; but Johnny McGill was sort of like this: Johnny McGill was so conscientious until he would stand up and tell... See, Johnny McGill was so conscientious 'til he'd just stand up and cry. But, you know, John was so awful thin and he didn't do much fightin', but he'd give us all the support he could give us. John McGill was a fine fellow.
LEIGHTON: He's still around.
DOTSON: I know it, yeah.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, he lives over here on Dartmouth somewhere.
DOTSON: Yeah, I'll tell you another fellow. His name is----when we have this picnic, see I'll introduce you, 'cause I'll have him. His name is Tony Newman. Tony Newman. He's white. He's quite active with us. He helped us quite a bit. And Fred Shaw, he's off to sea. He's dead now.
LEIGHTON: Was this fellow Geiger, was he involved?
DOTSON: Ed Geiger?
LEIGHTON: Yeah, was he involved with the Buick effort or was he...?
DOTSON: Well, Ed Geiger. Now listen. There was Ed Geiger, Fred Clayton, and this other guy----I can't think of him----but it was five of us went to the Buick. We served on a committee to bring John L. Lewis to town. Ed Geiger, he got quite active. That's Ed Geiger, Tony Newman, Fred Clayton, and Jack Crump and there's another one I can't recall in spite of me, but he died. His name was Porter. He worked in tool crib in the Buick. He was another one, and I can't think of the boy's name now. But, you know, we can't leave Casper Kenny out of it, because he was in it. But we were the one that went to the Buick the time we went to bring John L. Lewis to town. And Fred Clayton went up to talk to the president of Buick, and they drove him out. And then in go Jack Crump and they told him to get out. But when they went out to set in the lobby, so they all just run 'em out. So they say, "Well, send the eight ball in." That was me! So I went in and he say, "Well, what you come here for, boy?" I said, "You know John L. Lewis is comin' to town." He say, "Well, what do you want me to do about it? That's an organizer for the union." I say, "I know it." He says, "Well, what do you want about it?" I says, "You know he's gonna come to town. We would like to get them your cars to drive." He says "You mean to tell me that you got guts enough to ask for a car to bring a labor leader to town?!" I said, "Now wait!" (I lied. There was no harm to tell a white lie) I said, "Well, Ford have granted us all the cars we need." He said, "I'll be damned if that's so." He said, "How many cars do you want?" I said, "Well, you don't have nothin', 'cause we can get five Lincolns out of Detroit to bring John L. Lewis to town." He said, "No you won't." He say, "We'll give you as many cars as you want, but we got to use our drivers." He say, "Because you got to be bonded." Then they changed me, J. D. Dotson, to the black Jew! So this boy named Paul and I brought John L. Lewis into Flint.
LEIGHTON: This was after the strike was over?
DOTSON: That's after the strike's over. That's when John L. Lewis come in to organize.
DOTSON: That's the time we take over the IMA Auditorium. See, and on that list there...I don't know whether I give you...there was two more black...I don't know whether they're in there attemptin' to organize. There was Jimmy Coleman...you got him down there...and a fellow from Jamaica by the name of Pete Jacquette. He used to cook out to the Fisher.
LEIGHTON: Out to Fisher?
DOTSON: Yeah, Pete Jacquette.
LEIGHTON: Is he still alive?
DOTSON: No, he died a few years ago.
LEIGHTON: So of all these people, other than you and Prince Combs, only Bob Liddell is still alive.
DOTSON: He's not died yet.
LEIGHTON: Jimmy Coleman's not alive...
DOTSON: No, Jimmy's livin', but he's in New York.
LEIGHTON: Oh, in New York.
DOTSON: Yeah, he calls every day from New York and say he be down sometime.
LEIGHTON: Is he related to Ellen Coleman?
DOTSON: No. His wife, she got so scared when the police got on our, when the big guys be out on our trip, she left and went back to New York. And so she divorced him on that account. She got scared and divorced him. So then he stayed with Bee Blassingame and I and, oh, let me see, Moscow and them. They used to live on Fairfax, across Selby. They lived back there. And then one of 'em, then Chackenberg, he lived up on the hill----no, Moscow, they lived up on the hill, just before you get to the viaduct, on Stewart Avenue, up on the hill; them houses torn down now...for the A F of L. So at that time the police office was right here on the corner Carpenter Road. That's where the police headquarters were then, the State Police. They were right there then, see. I remember they trailed us so close when they put me in the trunk of a car, Mort Leitson and them did. And when they ducked the corner they threw me out of the trunk, and they went around and they walked back and I went on in. And we met at Moscow's house, see. That's when we was meetin' from house to house. Mort Leitson, he would be there. I don't know how he would get in, but he would be right there with us. Mort's brother wouldn't have nothin' to do with us, but his daddy stuck with us. His daddy, he said, "Regardless of what my son do, he's my son and I think he's right and I'll be with him." Old man Leitson. And I'd go in there and get four or five dozen donuts. He wouldn't charge nothin' for 'em. We'd have them and coffee, what not.
LEIGHTON: I wanted to ask you when did the FBI start to really bear down on the bunch of you? Was that while you were organizing the Buick local or did that come later?
DOTSON: No, that was when we were organizin' the Buick local.
LEIGHTON: So the FBI was in on that.
DOTSON: Yeah, oh yes, they was bearin' down on us.
LEIGHTON: Did the local police begin to let up on you after the sit-down strike somewhat?
DOTSON: Not directly, but indirectly they worked with us.
DOTSON: You remember me. If you recall, I'd say when we want to put on a membership drive that when the big boys would call downtown before they send the police out, there wasn't nobody. The police never get there until seven o'clock, and we'd all wait and got inside the factory that time, see.
LEIGHTON: Why did they have the change of heart, the police? Was it because you managed to change city hall and throw Barringer and Wills and all those fellows out, or?
DOTSON: This come through Bob Travis and Casper Kenny and Commissioner Charles out of Lansing. Now what kind of heart did Commissioner Charles have? But he would work with us!
LEIGHTON: But I meant...locally, here in Flint. The local police, you know, the Mayor, what was his name? Oh...there was Barringer that was city manager...
DOTSON: Barringer, yeah.
LEIGHTON: And Wills was the police chief.
DOTSON: Wills was the police.
LEIGHTON: And I want to say Babcock, but that wasn't it.
DOTSON: No, I can't think of who it was.
LEIGHTON: Anyway, these people were pretty rough on him! I mean, they're in a sit-down strike.
DOTSON: Yes, but here's the thing. Once they knew we was gonna pull those things, the news would come from Washington to Commissioner Charles and then Commissioner Charles would hand it down into town. So then Commissioner Charles would get ahold of Casper Kenny. And Bob Travis...so then me thinks that the connection that they had with the chief of police---no, I don't think it was Barringer----might have been Barringer...
LEIGHTON: No, Wills was chief...
DOTSON: Wills, might have been Wills...
LEIGHTON: But he was gone. They kind of tossed him out after the strike. Those guys lost their job because of the strike.
DOTSON: I know it. Well, I can't recall which one it was, but anyway...and there's Stanley Nowak. See, he would come over and they had enough pull downtown that the police, when we'd bear down with these people, they wouldn't show up. Now here's something else happened. When they agreed to let us have our election in the shop to choose----there was two unions here, you know----the A F of L and the CIO, which one. Well, the reason we choose the CIO was because there was no upgradin' for blacks in the A F of L. They didn't want no mechanics and machinists or nothin' in the A F of L. They still don't want 'em now.
LEIGHTON: That's right. That was Homer Martin's group, right?
DOTSON: That's Homer. Homer Martin, he's with the CIO.
LEIGHTON: Well, originally he was. Then he broke, didn't he, and become part of, wasn't he the head of the UAW-CIO?
DOTSON: That's right.
LEIGHTON: And then when R. J. Thomas came in, didn't they throw Martin out and it became the two unions?
DOTSON: You see, we throwed Homer Martin out because he was stealin' from us and doin' away with us. He was stealin' from us and we throwed him out; then that's when the... See, Homer Martin was a minister.
LEIGHTON: Right, right.
DOTSON: See, we throwed him out. Then that's when R. J. Thomas come in. But R. J. Thomas come in, but R. J. Thomas was so lazy. I don't know what was wrong with him. But he wasn't worth a damn! Excuse me for the expression, but he wasn't worth a damn to us. So then that's why Walter Reuther come in and pitch in, see, him and Vic. See, Vic was quite a boy; in other words, I put Vic ahead of Walter.
LEIGHTON: What about Roy Reuther? Where was he in all this?
DOTSON: Roy was good. Roy and Vic. Both of them was better than Walter. You know in 1945, in November, Johnson Buchanan, Mack Allen, myself, we was called into Detroit, and they had a meetin'. Walter Reuther wanted to grant a banquet for the white soldiers only. So now, we all was leaders organizin' here in Flint. And when we got on the floor and fought it down, the white went along with us. See, it was no pussy-footin' around. They went 'long with us because we was all just one brother then.
DOTSON: So when we come back to Flint our job was eliminated! Walter did that.
LEIGHTON: Yes. In a couple of years he managed to do that to almost all the progressive leaders, didn't he?
DOTSON: He did.
LEIGHTON: Didn't Jack Palmer lose his presidency over 659?
DOTSON: That's right. You see that's why Castro said he was "big business boy". I don't know whether you knew it or not. He said Walter was just a big boy for big business. You know Walter wanted to go over there into Cuba to talk with him and he refused to let him come over there. Well, that was the 'count because Walter turned on us.
LEIGHTON: Yes, a lot of people say that.
DOTSON: He did. You see, Walter Reuther had us to go back to work. That nationwide strike we had for forty-five days without a contract. I don't know whether you knew it. When we had that nationwide strike, Nixon was the president of the United States and he had them go in and call all the people back to work. And we thought we had a contract; we didn't have it. Now Reuther did this. That's why Castro called him "big business playboy". See now, one FBI----I wouldn't know his name 'cause he never would----but he met me and Jimmy Coleman, Bee Blassingame, on the corner of Addison and North. There used to be a building called the Pioneer Hall. We bought that building, you know. And he told us "don't go in droves...single out". Casper Kenny was in the meetin'; Casper walked out to cross the street, and the car did that and Casper jumped back up on the curb. That car was to kill Casper Kenny. The FBI had no more than got goin' before that come to Casper. Casper Kenny had more pull than people thought he had, see. You know Casper, you know him and Stewart Newblatt, they went to Russia; I don't know whether you knew it or not.
DOTSON: Oh, yes, they went to Russia. Yeah.
LEIGHTON: I'll be darned. That must have been what, after the war?
DOTSON: That was after the war, but we still organizin', see. We still organizin' the Communist Party. Now, I'm gonna tell you somethin' else. Out of the rich district in Detroit----I can't think of the name of the street now----Detroit, about five blocks from Hudson's Department Store, it was a house there was owned by the Communist Party. We met there. The house had three fireplaces all together, adjacent together, three fireplaces. That's where they beared down on us. They made us, they wouldn't accept nothin' under fifty dollars apiece. And we had to pay it. Course we didn't kick on it, 'cause we couldn't have lived no worse than what we were doin', so it was well accepted. And I couldn't go back to the house if I had to, but I...let me see. Then the next meetin' we had it was only three of us left town. Shirley Foster, Mort Leitson and I. We met over the north end of Woodward and----I can't think of the name of the buildin'----it was a big brick buildin' there. It was a YMCA or YWCA, comin' out of Detroit. You ought to know where it's at.
LEIGHTON: Yeah, I think I know where that is, yeah.
DOTSON: Yeah, we met there; there were Armour Hanson, Dorothy Moscow, and, oh, I can't name 'em all out of Detroit. 'Cause that meetin' I was the only black in it.
LEIGHTON: Did you break with the party later on? Did the people here in Flint? You know, some people did because, while one was the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939, some broke after the war when...
DOTSON: Well, let's put it this way. The FBI, the law enforcement got so strict until from then on we had to have our meetin' in Detroit. And from here it would be Elizabeth Goodwin. She live here.
LEIGHTON: Is she still here?
DOTSON: Yeah, she worked at AC.
LEIGHTON: Elizabeth Goodrich?
DOTSON: She came here. They sent her here from New York.
LEIGHTON: And she's still alive, working at AC?
DOTSON: Oh yes, she's sixty-one years old. Ben Davis and them sent her and Chackenberg and Moscow and them here from New York to help to organize. But Elizabeth, she would play it, she was active but she never could talk; she couldn't express herself. And so we had our picnics out on the Wicks Park out on Longbelt Road in Detroit----Middlebelt Road----you know where the Middlebelt----did you ever go to any picnics out there? Well, we used to have 'em out on Middlebelt Road, and we had 'em at the Wicks Park. And the FBI... We had to come right off the Telegraph Road and turn left and go about two blocks, turn right to go back in there to the Arcadia Park, off the Wicks Road. And the FBI with all of 'em would sit kind of up on the hill. There some houses there, and they'd set up there all day and take pictures of us as we'd go in.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Well, you mentioned that it got so bad that you couldn't meet here in Flint because, what was that, because the FBI and the...
LEIGHTON: Mainly...or was it the State Police, too?
DOTSON: State Police, no...FBI, they're the ones. And everywhere we meet, why, they'd be. So then we went to meetin' over on Chene, in that Nowak Hall, on Chene. I think it was the 6300 block. But other places out there they wouldn't let us there. They was afraid of us, to let us meet. So we used to stand in Nowak Hall. That's where we'd always meet. That secretary, what was her name? Elizabeth Gurley?
LEIGHTON: Elizabeth Gurley, yeah.
DOTSON: Elizabeth Gurley and all of them. We'd all meet there. And let me see. Then we met on the thirteenth floor of the Tower Buildin' in Detroit on Woodward. Right on the corner there's a thirteen-story buildin'. We met there. We had about sixty-five Communists comin' here direct from Russia, and we met on the thirteenth floor. That corner, I don't forget that. And the Tower Buildin' sets right there on the corner. We'd meet there. We'd go up on the third floor. We'd have the whole floor taken over.
LEIGHTON: Yeah. Do you remember Kit Clardy, the congressman from Lansing, holding the hearings here in Flint?
DOTSON: Sure, I know him.
LEIGHTON: That so many people had to testify in front of?
DOTSON: Yeah. I know everybody was active, 'cause I didn't miss a meetin'. I was so darn active my wife told me one of us had to go, but I went right on. She didn't quit, but I went right on, 'cause I figured this one thing. I wasn't that bad myself. I was raisin' a family and someday we wanted better recognition than what we had at that time. I was raised right here 'mong the white, and I didn't give a care what happened. So, Max Dean, Mort Leitson, Casper Kenny, and Bob Travis, they helped me under the arm, just like a hen would a chick. Jimmy Coleman, Henry Clark, and all of us, we was all right there together. And we had quite a gang over in Detroit. We had all kind of white ones.
LEIGHTON: I wanted to ask you. There was a couple things. One is when did you come to Flint, or were you born here?
DOTSON: No, I was raised here. I was raised here.
LEIGHTON: So your folks came into Flint.
DOTSON: My people come to Flint when I was three years old.
LEIGHTON: Where did they come from, what state?
DOTSON: My...come from New Orleans. See, I don't know. I always call myself "the Heinz 57 varieties". My father's mother was Indian and my father's father was full-blood Irish. And my mother's mother was white. But I never did see my mother's father, so you know. That Seminole Indian down in the Everglades in Florida, that's where my father's mother was one of them Indians. You know what they...quite dark... They had two sets Indian in Louisiana at that time. There was the Creole and the Creek----I mean the Creek and the----that wasn't the Creole 'cause the Creole was closed, but it was the Creek and the Choctaw came out of Oklahoma. See, the Choctaw, they were real light, but the Creek Indian was real dark. That's where I come in, so I don't know what I am. All I know I'm a human being.
LEIGHTON: You were raised in Flint, so you went to school here?
DOTSON: I went to school here for a while; then my dad, by being a cook, he worked for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Toledo. And I went to a Catholic school there in Toledo that's on Cherry Street. I went to a Catholic school, practically all Polish. There wasn't more than about three or four black that went to the school. And when I came here to stay I was eighteen years old.
LEIGHTON: Oh, so you were finished with school.
DOTSON: Oh, I finished school, yeah.
LEIGHTON: So when did you start to work; what point did you go in to, and what year?
DOTSON: I started to work here in '25 in Buick.
LEIGHTON: When you started work at Buick, did they still have (and I've only read this, so I don't know)...In the old days apparently they had a big fence around it. They had a lot more land then. They had a big fence and a lot of people (and I guess they were mostly or all black) lived on this compound inside this fence. Do you remember anything about that or was that all gone? Wasn't that the case?
DOTSON: On Stewart Avenue they had that fenced in and they had that mostly for Mexicans. So now, most of your black lived on the South End. They migrated in from Canada and they come in through from Cincinnati and they go down there and bring 'em up here as strikebreakers and things, bring 'em up here and that was in 1916, '17 and '18 and '19. When they brought the Mexican in they had a line of shanties between Industrial and old St. John. You know where them two streets is. And on that right-hand side where that factory 10, that was all shanties there for Mexican. And if the white fellows (there wasn't nothin' but no Caucasian, I remembered them, Hungarian, Polish, all Slavish and what not) lived upstairs, the black lived down. And if the black lived down, the white lived up. It wasn't a black family, but one black family, across North Street. And all back this way was nothin' but your Hungarian, Germans and all what-not. There was no black. And most all of your black was close on the St. John Street side, across on the other side of the Buick.
LEIGHTON: Or they lived on the south end of town.
DOTSON: And others lived in the South End.
LEIGHTON: Okay. You started in 1925.
LEIGHTON: And then you stayed at Buick the whole time?
DOTSON: I worked at Buick such as, see, when a man makes three hundred dollars in one year that was big money, for a whole year! So when there wouldn't be no work here, I'm a cook for trade and I would go out of town and cook. And when the shop would call back I'd go back and work them three months or four months, whichever it was, and then go right back out on the road. There was no work. But what few black was here they put them in the foundry, pourin' iron, runnin' hot metal cranes up there on one single reel. The thing, sometime it fall and people be scattered ever' which way. And I see many man would get so hot up there he'd fall down, and they'd have to carry him out on a stretcher...black. There was nothin' up there. See, there was a Mexican, Italian, Polish and Hungarian. That's what they had up there, and the black.
LEIGHTON: Were there many Mexicans?
DOTSON: Oh, yes, yes. Lots, lots of Mexicans, and Italian, yeah, and Mexican pourin' iron, and Hungarians pourin' iron, and the black. When a person used to sit there on Leith Street (course they moved it now), but right there where before you go across on that viaduct, that used to be the foundry. It was two story high. They poured metal upstairs and they do the cleanin' what not downstairs on the first floor. But see, no black never did live in that place where it was fenced in. That was cross side where used to be Redmond's, cross over on that side. Over there, anyway, there used to be a brass foundry over there. Now they got the new chrome platin' over there now in some of them there new buildings. But cross the street there was nothin' but Mexicans over there.
LEIGHTON: That's something I didn't realize. Okay. Let me just ask you a couple things and then I'll call it quits. You met your wife here in Flint?
LEIGHTON: And raised a family.
LEIGHTON: When were you born?
DOTSON: Where was I born?
DOTSON: When was I born? In 1901, December the third. I was 79 years old this past December.
LEIGHTON: Okay. Well, you have been very helpful. Have I left anything out, or do you feel you have left anything out?
DOTSON: No, but I will tell you what I want to do. If you feel I...
LEIGHTON: Do you mind if... What we do with the tapes is...And I forgot to bring the slip that explains what to do and you could sign it if you want to. But these are for a project...
DOTSON: I know that.
LEIGHTON: And we don't sell them or use them on radio or television or anything like that. They're primarily used for students, for classes, and of course to write a book that we feel is very important that this younger generation know what happened, because they have not found out so far.
DOTSON: And they needs to know!
LEIGHTON: They need to know; they really need to know. And if you don't have any objections to that, that's...
DOTSON: You can use it. I figured you'd do it. I figured you would.
LEIGHTON: Okay, and I'll get a sheet and get it out to you one of
days to sign it.