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Washtenaw United: AACHM celebrates Washtenaw County's Black history with 'Family Foundations' exhibit

Joyce Hunter, President/CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.
African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
Joyce Hunter, President/CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County.


As a founding member and now President/CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, Joyce Hunter and the museum board is working to establish a permanent site for the AACHM at 3261 Lohr Rd (Byrd Center) which is now a historical site and was owned by Letitia and David Byrd. She’s involved in development, programming, grant writing, and most recently working with the UM Black Collaborative on the Four Families Exhibit.


African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM)

Family Foundations: Four Stories of Black Washtenaw County Community Building, (1850 to 1950)

  • Duration: Mar 1 - May 31
  • Opening Reception featuring a talk with the descendants! March 1st, 2024, 5:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
  • Hours:
    • Mon - Thu: 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
    • Fri: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    • Sat: 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
    • Sun: Closed
  • Location

AACHM on Facebook

AACHM on X (Twitter)

Black Washtenaw County Collaboratory


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And welcome to our final Black History Month edition of Washtenaw United for 2024. I'm David Fair, and I think it's fair to say, much like the whole of America, you cannot tell the history of Washtenaw County without including the story of the African American community here. What we do know is some of the history has been whitewashed and sanitized for consumption, and some stories are just never widely shared at all. And they're certainly untaught in our educational system. These are the stories we can learn through the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. From March to May, the museum will put forth an interactive exhibit and experience called "Family Foundations: Four Stories of Black Washtenaw County Community Building." Our guest today has always recognized there are untold stories that leaves the telling of our community history incomplete. As such, she became one of the founders of the African American Cultural Historical Museum and now serves as its president and CEO. Joyce Hunter, it is a pleasure to talk with you today.

Joyce Hunter: Thank you, Dave. It's also a pleasure to be here.

David Fair: You were an educator in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. I'm sure it wasn't lost on you that much of the history that was being taught was whitewashed, and some of it wasn't being taught at all. Did that reality help create the notion that something additional was needed to make sure the real and untold stories are shared and taught?

Joyce Hunter: Yes. That's correct. We realized that there was a lot of history here in Washtenaw County, and we wanted to ensure that we helped in getting those stories out. And so, we were excited to start this journey to establish an African American museum here in Washtenaw County.

David Fair: The research-driven projects that are offered up by the museum come directly from the staff. You do the research and the outreach and gather the stories and then put forth the process and plan to share them. How do all of you at the museum go about procuring the stories and the information?

Joyce Hunter: We primarily continue to be a voluntary organization. And so, the way we get our research in our stories by working directly with the people in the community. For instance, we do live in our histories, and we've done that for ten years, and we interview individuals that have lived here all or most of their lives--African American. The exhibit, as of now, we work directly with the descendants, and they provided the history and the documentation that we needed for this exhibit.

David Fair: I'm curious. When you have the opportunity to interact with members of the community today, youngsters in particular, I'm talking about kids in elementary, middle and high school, do you sense there are generational stories of African Americans in Washtenaw County that are truly being shared, understood and applied to our modern-day understanding of where we live and who we are?

Joyce Hunter: I think there's much work to still need to be done. I don't necessarily think it is, and I knew that from being an educator. So, we try to do programs that involve our youth and also to share the stories with our youth. We recently received a grant, and we focus on a young, courageous program. And with that, they got involved in oral history. They got involved in having people come and speak to them. And so, we were really grateful to have that grant from IMLS.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU. Today, we're talking with the president and CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County, Joyce Hunter. Now, Joyce, it's pretty commonly known about the history of the Underground Railroad around here, particularly in Ypsilanti. There's a great deal of pride that this area was important to help those in need escape slavery from the South. We don't talk as much about the ongoing discrimination they faced and how that played out in our community, be it housing segregation and redlining and gentrification to the numerous incidents of overt racism and hatred. How have hearing those kinds of stories directly and from descendant family members impacted you?

Joyce Hunter: It's impacted me and the museum by trying to get that information out. It's hearing those stories. One of the things that, for young people that are listening, redlining, you mentioned, is a practice that African Americans could only purchase or live in certain areas. So, that's one of the things that we want to get out here. And through those live in our history interviews, we've done about 60. You hear about redlining. You hear about gentrification. And we also encourage young people, as well as the larger community, to listen to those interviews. And one of the things in terms of housing that I've been involved with is another project--the museum does a lot of partnering—the Justice InDeed project, which is headed up by Michael Steinberg has to do with racially restrictive covenants. And when people hear this, they often think we're talking about redlining and that we're talking about, indeed, it specifically says that you cannot sell to minorities.

David Fair: And that exists a great deal in the West Willow neighborhood.

Joyce Hunter: Right. And throughout Washtenaw County. So, there is a group headed by, like I said, Michael Steinberg that's working on it. And I was on that committee, and I also chaired the education committee. And we got this information out to all the high schools in Ann Arbor as well as Saline, and we're working on getting that information out to Ypsilanti schools when you talk about the youth learning about these things.

David Fair: I want to point out there are amazing stories to tell as well, from the Black business districts that were instrumental in the development of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to the amazing African American leaders that all too often go under-recognized on a large scale. Do you find there's often a good deal of surprise among those that visit the museum or attend one of your events that this is part of the community?

Joyce Hunter: A big surprise. Oftentimes, people don't realize that that Kerrytown area used to be predominantly Black. And there's also areas in Ypsilanti. The same is the case that there were business districts in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. And so, when you tell those stories, people are not aware that oftentimes. That's why it's so important for us to continue this work and continue getting those stories out to the community.

David Fair: In your years of doing this work, interacting and hearing the stories, is there one in particular that had the most impact on you or surprised you the most?

Joyce Hunter: Oh, the stories are wonderful! And they are! I learned a great deal from these stories, and I see them as a blessing, for me, a gift, to be able to interview these individuals to learn a lot. I don't know if I could pick just one, but there were several. We did 60 and I know Mr. Barfield--John Barfield's story--was really a great story to hear. We also had those like Russ Calvert. We did the Simon Brothers--Don and Harold Simon. So, there's a lot of interviews. There's so many. I don't know if I could just pick one.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU. And we're talking with Joyce Hunter. She is president and CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. We as a community have an opportunity to increase knowledge and understanding of local African American history. What is the "Family Foundations: Four Stories of Black Washtenaw County Community Building" that is going to run through May?

Joyce Hunter: We actually have an exhibit that's up, and we highlighted four families. They're not the only ones, but some of the early families that came here in the 1850s and 1950s, and those families include the Jewett and Asher-Aray families from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti--well, Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township--and the Kersey and Bass families in Ypsilanti. We worked directly with the descendants and gathered the stories and the artists that put in this exhibit. And so, we've actually had it on display at the museum, and it comes down this weekend. And then, it's going to travel to Washtenaw Community College, and it'll be there from March 1st through May 31st. And the opening reception will be on March 1st, 2024, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. And the descendants will be there, and you will hear them talk about their families and their lives.

African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County

David Fair: In gaining a historical perspective of these families and how foundations in the community are built, what might we learn about how to take next steps and continue progress towards actual racial equity and equality?

Joyce Hunter: One of the things is to continue to--well, this is just four stories, and I think a next step would be to add stories to this exhibit and to get the word out, so people can come and hear these stories. I know one of the things that we're going to do as part of the exhibit at WCC near the end is we're going to show the film that was developed by the Ann Arbor District Library that's entitled "There Went the Neighborhood." And that's being shown throughout the county. But we also will be showing this as part of the exhibit at Washtenaw Community College.

David Fair: What do you say to those who might be sitting on the fence about attending and experiencing this exhibit or don't plan on going at all? What's the best argument for changing their mind?

Joyce Hunter: I think just to come out and learn more about the community that they're not aware of. Every time I learn something new, it just excites me, and it makes me want to learn more. I would encourage you to come out, not only the adults, but bring your children as well.

David Fair: I can't thank you enough for making time to talk with me today and for sharing your part of your story with us today, Joyce. I appreciate it.

Joyce Hunter: Thank you, Dave, for having me on.

David Fair: That is Joyce Hunter. She is president and CEO of the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. And the interactive exhibit and experience is called "Family Foundations: Four Stories of Black Washtenaw County Community Building" It runs through May. For more information on the museum and the exhibit, please visit our website at WEMU.org. We'll get you connected everywhere you want to go. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with United Way for Southeastern Michigan. You hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


This Black History Month, United Way is exploring topics, achievements, and individuals in our community that contribute to the rich history of Washtenaw County.

The Family Foundations exhibit is an interactive exhibition that features the origin stories of four historic Black families from the area, the Jewett and Asher-Aray families from Ann Arbor and Pittsfield Township, and the Kersey and Bass families from Ypsilanti.

The project was generously supported by a grant from the University of Michigan Humanities Collaboratory and is a collaboration between AACHM (African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County), Ann Arbor District Library, The Bentley Historical Library, and Washtenaw Community College.

Local African American history can be traced through the AACHM Living Oral History Project and the Ypsilanti Oral History Projects.

To learn more the intersecting histories of African American community building and racial segregation in Washtenaw County, visit www.BlackWashtenawCounty.org.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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