Archive ID: MC-8-3

Mitchell Spears Jr. oral history interview

Date Created: 2002-07-25

Donor: Southeast Chicago Historical Society

Media Type: Oral History

Language: English


Mitchell Spears, Jr. is a former teacher at Washington High School located on the East Side. Born in 1936, he grew up in Tennessee. His father managed to achieve an 11th grade education – no small feat at the time – and wanted education for his children. However, because of Jim Crow segregation in the South, the school they could attend as “colored” was located eight miles away. Consequently, his father left his job as a construction worker in Memphis, and his parents moved to rural Tennessee and worked as sharecroppers to be closer to a school for their six children. Spears got married in 1964 and moved to Chicago, where his wife had family. After arriving in Chicago in a car, Spears stopped to make a phone call to his relatives and recalled that he was immediately surrounded by threatening white men who wanted to know why he had stopped. Only later would he realize he had stopped on the East Side – then a highly segregated all white ethnic neighborhood – and the neighborhood in which the school where he would teach in the future was located. Spears would later live in other parts of the South Side with larger black populations while he taught at Washington. The oral history with Spears ruminates widely on racism and race relations in Chicago. Spears commented in 2002, “I think there’s still discrimination, and I always try to handle it by being me. You know, I won’t kneel, and I won’t bow…And I don’t hate.”

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Community Life   Other   1980 - Present (Deindustrialization)   African-American   Oral History