The Melting Pot Club – 1968

Albion’s designation as an “All-America City” for 1973 began with individuals in the community noticing problems.
The application for the award mentioned several local initiatives and narrowed the field down to three, which earned this distinction for civic engagement. The three projects that were mentioned in the grant include “Earn, Learn, and Play,” Albion Beautification Project, and “The Melting Pot.”

This post primarily focuses on the “Melting Pot.”

The Melting Pot

A first-person description of the spark that lead to the “Melting Pot,” an interracial social group that was recognized nationally, was offered by author Sandra Pimentel, in her memoir “Blind Acceptance.” She describes her 1967 arrival in Albion, Michigan where her husband Paul had gotten a job as an engineer after being discharged from the Navy.

They had two children, and a third on the way and had trouble finding a home to purchase, and finally bought one on Irwin Avenue, with some help from Sandra’s father. They were not used to the older homes that came with some issues with plumbing and even rodents. They were not used to the big storms and tornado warnings. She wrote about the old Indian tale of the forks of the Kalamazoo River that prevented tornadoes from actually coming into the city. She described Albion as being a place where the pace was rural, but the problems were urban. There had been some trouble at the high school after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. They joined a church for the sake of their children and to meet people and had a meeting at their pastor’s church with members of a Black church. There was some discussion on how much better Albion was than from where some of the people formerly lived in the south and some discussion on the “problem” of interracial dating. But not much happened.

One bright spot of her days was shopping at the local A&P grocery store. There was one line that was often much longer than the others, and people didn’t seem to mind waiting to be in that line, and Sandra did not either. The cashier at that particular line was Barbara Gladney who had a kind word and smile. After a few months of shopping there and chatting with Barbara, she was invited to a tea at Barbara’s house, with just the two women. They discussed their husbands, both of whom had served in the military, and their young children. Sandra mentioned that it would be fun to get together with their husbands at a local club and learned that in Albion, at that time, there were no clubs in town that welcomed Black people. They decided to get together again, with their husbands and children, at Sandra’s house next time. At dinner that night, they talked about a plan to create “The Melting Pot.” For this third get-together, they each invited three couples, made it into a potluck dinner and agreed that the host family did not have to cook. They each brought their best dishes to pass. Barbara and Tom brought homemade fried chicken and sweet potato pie. One of the guests was the Assistant Principal of the High School, Dick Powell, a Black man, who shared some of his concerns about the agitation at the school after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There were other teachers, and they were able to comfortably chat about both parenting and their challenges at work.

The name “Melting Pot,” was agreed by consensus, and the group was formed with the purpose to have fun, without any political agenda. Another family agreed to be the host for the following meeting and each couple was asked to bring one more couple. They had a campfire and a big table for the buffet. The food was delicious and from different ethnic backgrounds. Soon the group was too large for anyone’s house. The Mayor, Chief of Police teachers, and administrators from the schools were all members. There were members from Starr Commonwealth and Albion College. There were by-laws established and dues, but the food was always donated, and everyone brought their best. That fall a Halloween Party was planned with two hundred guests expected.
There were some tensions at times when little arguments erupted over sports, and some tension about a beauty pageant to nominate a “Miss Albion.” Each of the issues was solved with new understandings, and the network of people across Albion made a noticeable difference.

Portrait of Barbara Gladney by Jerome Washington

Johnson Day Care Center was established during this time, as was the Festival of the Forks. Not long after this, the author of the book and her family had to leave Albion for Paul’s work, but she remained friends with Barbara Gladney and was one of the first to hear about Albion’s nomination for the All-American City Award.

Their time in Albion also influenced their lives and the book tells more stories about learning to accept each other, and others in new ways.

More information about Albion’s All-America City Award and other related programs coming here soon.

More information about Albion between 1967 –  1970

Albion racial tension in 1967