Mary Hillman / by Michael Falco

Who is Mary Hillman?

Mary Hillman is the mother of three Hillmans interviewed. She grew up in Battle Creek and went to St. Philip Catholic High School. She moved around a bit with her husband and family before settling in Battle Creek again in 1990. Her husband had some trouble finding stable work at factories and Mary worked jobs as a cook and maid, and a host of other jobs while raising the family. Mary has lived in some of the more diverse neighborhoods of Battle Creek. She currently volunteers at her church and watches after several of her grandchildren.

Excerpt from interview with Mary Hillman by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: I think there should be equal opportunity for everybody. And, I guess, I’m wondering in that context, why would there be, why do you think there would be scholarships just for black kids? Why do those exist?

Hillman: [14:21:00] They came about because they needed I really think they needed the help. The same as when people went to work and it was all white, and they would go through and bring in I don’t know what you’d call them. It wasn’t a union break, but it was that type of thing. We had four little boys the time when my husband finally landed a part-time job at Post cereal. And he was like most people that, you know, are high school education. He was working in the mailroom, and it wasn’t too many months later before he got hired in full time at Post, they came and told him, “We have had pressure put on us by the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and other black organizations. We have to hire a black man, and we have to give him your job.” And he screamed, “That’s wrong. You’re being prejudiced against me because I’m white.” And the guy from HR [Human Relations] wouldn’t go anywhere near him for the rest of the time. And he had to train his replacement, and it was hard because the guy had just quit GM [General Motors]. He had gone into GM to do the same thing, to get that job for a black man. And now he was in Battle Creek doing the same thing, getting a white man out of his job and a black man in that job. And it hurt to be the victim of prejudice.

Q: And when was that? What year?

Hillman: [14:22:39] Oh, 1970s, early, ’72s, ’73, right around there.

Q: So, I guess, the question I have then is that, you know, I suppose why do you think that that happens? You know, stories like your husband’s, stories about with your daughter and the scholarships. We all, sort of, agree that we all could sort of agree on the facts of our history. That we have there was slavery, there was the institutional racism, that part of the civil rights here. There was government-sponsored segregation that limited black Americans from having access to a lot of resources that we, as white Americans, have too. Do we have any obligation to right the wrongs of the past, those of us in 2017 or in 1973 with your husband? Do we, as white Americans, who benefit from that system had benefitted from this too, do we have an obligation to right it? Do we owe black Americans something?

Hillman: [14:23:54] I believe I owe every black American respect, and in any way I can help that they would have the same opportunities my kids and grandkids and stuff do. But as far as, I have to amend that just a little bit. You know, thinking about that situation at work, had not those organizations done that and forced school integration, work integration and stuff, maybe it never would have changed. Maybe that’s the price we have to pay to right a wrong because it never should have been that way.

Interview Transcript