As Thanksgiving arrives, Albion will be marking its 100 year anniversary with its role in the Great Migration. The Great Migration was the mass movement of about five million southern blacks to the north and west between 1915 and 1960.
Albion’s Malleable Iron Factory saw this movement as an opportunity to recruit men to come to the city of Albion and work. In 1916, the factory sent a recruiter to Pensacola, Florida, who came back on the train with 64 African-American men who could work in the factory.
In 1917, the 64 men sent for their families, who moved into homes near the factory on the west side of town. Once their families arrived, schooling for the children became a concern. Jim Crow laws meant that schools were segregated, so the African American children began their education at a church school.
In 1918 Downripple, a school built for white children only, was established. This allowed the black children to move into the old West Ward School.
Albion is known for its diverse community, which began to grow in 1916 when the first factory workers were recruited.
As Albion started to become more diverse throughout the Great Migration, parents wanted their children’s educators to reflect that diversity. The director of curriculum for the Albion Public School system knew the education chair at Grambling State University, a historically black school, in Grambling, Louisiana. Two times a year, a recruiter from the Albion Public School went down to Grambling State to recruit educators to come to Albion to teach.
Mae Ola Dunklin, Albion Educator and resident, was in the third group of educators to be recruited from Grambling State to come teach in Albion. She was awarded a job offer, accepted it and moved across the country.
“It has been a great experience,” said Dunklin “It is amazing to me because I am sometimes in certain situations where I am either working and giving service and I am the minority, so I try to say that I came here because they needed a minority population because that is what the parents wanted to see.”
Dunklin was assigned to Harrington, which was known as the “country club” school at the time because many Albion College professors’ children attended it.
When Dunklin arrived, she was assigned to teach first grade but was approved to switch grade assignments with the second grade teacher at the time. Dunklin taught second grade for 15 years, third grade for eight years, was a Title I reading lab director for over one year and principal for seven years.
“I interviewed for a place that I had never been to,” said Dunkin “[I] didn’t even think about seeing what the weather was like, talk about being caught off guard. Coming to Albion, basically being recruited when I started at Harrington [Elementary School], there were only two other Afro-American teachers there, and they had also been recruited from the same school that I came from.”
The 100 year anniversary of The Great Migration is a reminder in our community for the individuals who migrated to Albion, were recruited and now call Albion home. With their move from the south to north they brought different traditions and cultures that we see in our community today.
Nowadays, Albion’s rich ethnic and cultural history can be seen as people walk downtown to go to Blues at the Bohm. A once segregated theater, which now celebrates the music culture that was brought to the north through this migration.
Places of worship like the Lewis Chapel AME Church, were created in response to the Great Migration specifically,to ensure everyone, regardless of denomination, had a place to worship.
The diversity and culture of our city is linked directly to those first 64 men who were recruited to work in the factory, and all the individuals who followed.
Photo by Morgan Garmo