Child of the South saw civil rights gains transform lives

Samearl Johnson
Samearl Johnson

Finding good jobs made the difference, says still-working retiree

Samearl Johnson, at 74, can bear witness before and after the fact as to whether honoring Black History Month has actually made a difference for African Americans or is simply celebrating a gesture. “It has made a big difference,” she attests, “in all of our lives.”

She recalls, “Ever since I’d grown up in the South — we were kids there and my father, he was a field worker — civil rights made a difference in our whole way of life because he was always traveling around to places. And my mother was a housewife while he had to travel around from job to job so he could help finish raising us, [providing] a place for us to stay.”

Since the man couldn’t pick his family up and put them on his back or pack them in a suitcase, life was considerably less than what they wanted it to be. But, back in those days, if that was your worst hardship being Southern and Black, you counted yourself lucky.

“When he got work in Michigan, it was for General Motors. [It was] because [the Civil Rights Movement] had started opening up jobs and opportunities for all us Black people.”

Johnson sums up, “He was then able to work with us having a home in the same place and be at home to raise us. Put us on a different path [that] brought us up from the South to live in Michigan.

“I left Arkansas when I was 15 years old, and it gave me a great opportunity for the rest of my life — and to raise my children and give them a good life. So they, in turn, were able to take care of themselves and give their children good lives. Jobs and money made a big difference.”

Johnson came to the Twin Cities from New York, where she took early retirement after working for years, as it turns out, at General Motors, where she was an inspector looking after the quality of parts that went into constructing cars. Her children had relocated to Minneapolis, her husband had passed, on and she figured there was little point staying in New York, sitting around by herself.

“So, I moved to Minneapolis, too. Everyone’s been doing well. I’m the proud mother of six children [one of whom is Pamela Weems of Love Promotions renown], 13 grandkids, seven great-grands and [when the MSR spoke with her in early 2014] expecting a great-great. There’ll be a fourth generation sometime this summer.”

These days, she considers herself still retired and works as an usher for the Hennepin Theater Trust group of historic theaters in downtown Minneapolis simply to have something to do when she’s got time on her hands. “I’m by myself and it gives [me] a reason to get out of the house.”

She also enjoys the job. “I have met so many nice people, working with them. Or even the people coming to the shows, the patrons. It gives me another lease on life, because I’m a people person. Also, I like seeing the shows and wouldn’t be able to buy tickets [otherwise].”

She’d been working for Syms Security. Once they no longer had the contract to provide personnel, after a gap of a couple years (during which time one of her daughters presented her with a grandchild to help raise), Johnson simply answered an ad and segued into ushering. “I’ve been doing this kind of work close to 18 years, which is better than sitting home doing nothing.”

She does have a life outside of ushering and holding down the furniture at home. She’s been a member of the Elks for 32 years and is a member of Macedonia Baptist Church. Reflecting back further in the past than coming up from the South, she’s pleased to point out that her ancestors “came from the Gold Coast of Africa.”

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls, 55403.

 

One Comment on “Child of the South saw civil rights gains transform lives”

  1. Great article…. Beautiful woman inside and out!! My children (we are in New York) couldn’t ask for a better grandmother…. even far away she NEVER forgets them or leaves them out. ❤️❤️❤️❤️ My son still has a piece of cotton in his baby book from her when she was young and down south. Her stories are amazing and educational. She is black history!!! Much love from NY!!! Xoxo

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