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Verna Holley

Retired choral music teacher Verna Dorsey Holley was born on April 29, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan to Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey. Holley attended Dwyer Elementary School in 1948 before graduating from Northern High School in 1952. Holley completed her B.A. degree in music education at Wayne State University in 1956 and went on to earn her M.A. degree in music at Michigan State University.

Holley was hired as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She then continued to give piano lessons in her home. Holley became the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers. Founded in 1963, by Earl Nelson, The Earl Nelson Singers Company is an integrated ensemble of singers from the Lansing, Michigan area. As the company’s musical director, Holley selects the sacred songs of slaves for them to perform. The group’s repertoire included songs reflective of the early “gospel” style. Holley’s work has also been associated with the Okemos String Program.

Holley is a member of the Religious Conference Planning Association, United Conference for Women and the Capital Area Music Teachers Association. She lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband, Melvin Holley. They have three adult children: Mark, Timothy and Millicent.

Holley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 29, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.039

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/29/2008

Last Name

Holley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Northern High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Trowbridge Elementary School

Wayne State University

First Name

Verna

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

HOL10

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

Midwest

Favorite Quote

Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart And Lean Not On Your Own Understanding; In All Your Ways Submit To Him, And He Will Make Your Paths Straight.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

4/29/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Lansing

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

High school music teacher and choral director Verna Holley (1936 - ) served as the fine arts director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan and worked in the Lansing Public School System until she retired. She was also the pianist and music director of the Earl Nelson Singers.

Employment

C.W. Otto Junior High School

J.W. Sexton High School

Dwyer Elementary School

Sampson Elementary School

Balch School

A.L. Holmes Elementary School

Cedar Street School

Oak Park School

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Verna Holley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Verna Holley lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Verna Holley describes her mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Verna Holley talks about her father's activities as a young man

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Verna Holley recalls how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her family's migration to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes her parents' personalities and her likeness to them

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Verna Holley lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Verna Holley describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Verna Holley remembers the neighborhoods of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Verna Holley remembers her early education at Trowbridge School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Verna Holley describes Paradise Valley in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about Black Bottom in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the riots of 1943

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Verna Holley describes herself as an elementary school student

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls attending Bethany Tabernacle church in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers her neighbors in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls attending Northern High School

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Verna Holley remembers notable African American musicians from her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls African American publications from her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Verna Holley recalls attending concerts as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Verna Holley describes her decision to attend Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Verna Holley lists her music teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Verna Holley describes her musical influences

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Verna Holley recalls teaching music at Dwyer Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Verna Holley reflects upon her strict religious upbringing

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Verna Holley remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at William T. Sampson Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes how she met and married her husband

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Verna Holley recalls teaching at A.L. Holmes Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Verna Holley remembers the 1967 Detroit Riots

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Verna Holley recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Verna Holley talks about relocating to Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Verna Holley recalls her early teaching assignments in Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Verna Holley talks about serving as director of fine arts at J.W. Sexton High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Verna Holley recalls guest vocalists for the Earl Nelson Singers

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Verna Holley reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Verna Holley talks about her taste in music

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Verna Holley describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Verna Holley reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Verna Holley describes her family

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Verna Holley talks about her religious faith

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Verna Holley describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Verna Holley narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Verna Holley talks about her childhood activities
Verna Holley describes her involvement in the Earl Nelson Singers
Transcript
What were you like when you were a little girl? What were you interested in?$$Well my folks [Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey] made me take piano. We had this large upright piano that they had purchased for my older brothers and sisters to learn and they refused, so they were determined that my sister [Grace Dorsey] and I would take piano and learn to play the piano so, that was their goal for us.$$Okay.$$And we, that was one of the, one of the things that we had to do. We had to get good grades at school, we had to take piano lessons, we had to go to church [Bethany Tabernacle, Detroit, Michigan], those were the three things that were primary in our lives.$$Um-hm. Now--$$We weren't allowed to, you know, visit with many neighbors, we weren't allowed to, we couldn't even go to the show, (laughter) it was just that, that tight. The only time when we got a chance to go to the show is when we went to visit my aunt who lived in Rochester, Pennsylvania. Well she didn't mind us going to the show, so sometimes we would go and we would stay for, to see the picture two or three times, 'cause we knew we wouldn't get back (laughter), until the next year when we went to visit her in the summertime. But my, my parents were very, very strict. Very, very strict.$You're involved in other activities here in Lansing [Michigan] other--$$Yes (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) than the school?$$Um-hm.$$And so, tell us about some, some of those?$$Okay. When we first moved here we--about two or three years after we had moved here we, we became involved with a group called the Earl Nelson Singers. Earl Nelson had started a choral group and the purpose of this choral group was to keep the heritage of the spirituals alive. And so most of the people in the group at the time when he started it were African Americans, he was also a teacher, a vocal music teacher at Otto Middle School, or Otto Junior High [C.W. Otto Junior High School, Lansing, Michigan] as it was at that time. And so he started this group in 1963, their first concert was given two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy]. They started to cancel the concert, but decided they should do it in, in his honor, in his memory and so, the group was started then and it is still going on now, he later became a state representative and then later a state senator, and then moved to the department of minority education and retired from that job and moved to Punta Gorda, Florida. In 1978, when he was very heavily involved in the political scene, the group wanted to continue singing after he had decided not, that he didn't have time to continue directing the group, so the singers said, well why, asked me, "Why don't you take the group." And so, somewhat reluctantly I did and we are still singing and we do a concert every year plus we sing at various churches and we sing for banquets and several venues like that. There are about--$$Okay so, when you took over in 1968?$$Seventy-eight [1978].$$Seventy-eight [1978]?$$Um-hm.$$Okay.$$Yeah.$$All right.$$And so, we, the group is now of about, has about forty-two, forty, forty-one, forty-two people in it and we still sing the spirituals, we sing the classical arrangements of the spirituals. The (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So this is similar to the Fisk Jubilee Singers?$$Yes. Yes, yes. Now--$$Or John Ward Chorale [ph.]?$$Um-hm. Um-hm.$$Yeah. All right.$$The Brazeal Dennard singers [Brazeal Dennard Chorale] in Detroit [Michigan], we do the classical arrangements like the one, the, the arrangements by William Levi Dawson, Harry Burleigh, Hall Johnson, Moses Hogan, most recently Robert Morris [sic. HistoryMaker Robert A. Harris]. Those men who have classical music training and are using, have used their skills to arrange these spirituals so that a choir such as the Earl Nelson Singers can, can continue to sing them and keep them in the ears of as many, as will listen to them.$$Okay.$$Um-hm.$$Now, so though the group is or--organized in '63 [1963]?$$Um-hm.$$And it continues to this day?$$Yes. And there are two people who are still in the group who were in the charter group (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay.$$The, the original group.$$Okay.$$Um-hm, they are--one is in the, one is in his eighties and the other is late seventies.

Melvin J. Holley

Genealogist Melvin J. Holley was born on January 27, 1933 in Detroit, Michigan to Ethel Lee Jones Holley and Major Q. Holley and to a family of eight children. Holley attended Higginbotham Elementary School and then transferred to Post Intermediate Academy in 1945 before graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1951. Holley enrolled in Michigan State University and earned his B.A. degree in history in 1996.

In 1953, at the age of twenty, Holley was drafted into the United States Army. He attended the Army Radar School in Texas until 1954 when he was sent to England where he served his first tour of duty. In 1955, Holley returned to the United Sates and worked briefly for the Detroit Department of Street Railways. He joined the Michigan National Guard in October 1956 and served almost four decades as a military technician. Holley retired in 1991 with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4. Holley became interested in genealogy and started pursuing his own family history.

In 2000, administrators at the Lansing Area African American Genealogy Society (LAAAGS) asked Holley to help build their organization into one of national prominence. He urged promotion of the preservation of African American family history and created a forum for sharing data. In addition, Holley hosted seminar discussions such as, “Getting Beyond Myself: An Introduction to African American Genealogy.” He was elected president of the LAAAGS in 2006.

Holley is a member of the Religious Conference Management Association, United Conferences for Men and Greater Lansing Youth for Christ organizations. Holley lives in Lansing, Michigan and is married to Verna Holley. They have three adult children: Mark, Timothy and Millicent.

Melvin Julius Holley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 29, 2008 and October 23, 2012.

Accession Number

A2008.038

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/29/2008 |and| 10/23/2012

Last Name

Holley

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

J.

Schools

Cass Technical High School

Higginbotham Elementary School

Michigan State University

Loren Post Intermediate School

First Name

Melvin

Birth City, State, Country

Detroit

HM ID

HOL09

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

Boule Foundation

State

Michigan

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Thy Word Have I Hid In My Heart That I Might Not Sin Against God.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

1/27/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Lansing

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

City transit worker and genealogist Melvin J. Holley (1933 - ) served as president of the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society.

Employment

Michigan National Guard

Detroit Department of Street Railways

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Lavender

Timing Pairs
0,0:216,4:504,9:792,14:2736,51:8687,91:13553,119:17745,155:18400,161:20918,168:21470,187:24202,229:24574,237:24946,243:27863,262:29445,279:30010,285:30688,293:33626,314:34869,327:37530,340:45825,394:46395,401:47060,410:48105,423:48580,429:48960,434:51620,489:54734,497:59273,544:59718,550:60074,557:60519,563:61231,573:61765,580:62744,595:63278,601:63723,607:65794,627:66164,633:66978,646:71184,692:71716,701:73084,721:76580,777:77264,788:77948,798:81650,806:83234,834:84290,845:86270,865$0,0:354,4:882,11:2554,27:9770,164:19470,279:20500,292:21427,302:28550,350:29025,356:32255,393:33300,409:34060,418:37195,459:47290,583:48240,594:48620,599:52624,616:56985,685:57519,692:65155,763:68095,801:68620,807:69460,817:70300,827:70720,832:74170,841:74728,855:75100,862:75348,867:75658,873:76154,883:78200,893:78692,901:82464,974:85270,989:93232,1162:93841,1170:95146,1191:95494,1196:96451,1208:101665,1223:102710,1239:105940,1292:106320,1297:107650,1309:108125,1315:108505,1320:108885,1325:109455,1331:115610,1356:116233,1365:117390,1379:118369,1396:119615,1417:120149,1424:120505,1429:120861,1434:130055,1486:138772,1572:148628,1732:156296,1819:157268,1830:160890,1847
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Melvin J. Holley's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley recalls his first trip to the South

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley remembers his relationship with his grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley describes his mother's upbringing in Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the potential meaning of his father's name

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Melvin J. Holley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the challenges of his family genealogical research

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Melvin J. Holley describes his father's personality

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Melvin J. Holley talks about his father's occupation

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley describes his father's education in Selma, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley recalls how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley talks about his parents' migration to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley remembers his early neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Melvin J. Holley remembers Berean Tabernacle in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Melvin J. Holley describes the strict rules of his household

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Melvin J. Holley remembers his childhood home

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Melvin J. Holley recalls listening to Joe Louis fights

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Melvin J. Holley describes his favorite childhood pastimes

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Melvin J. Holley recalls attending Higginbotham Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley describes Post Intermediate School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley recalls attending Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley remembers graduating from Cass Technical High School

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley recalls meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley remembers joining the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley describes his treatment in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley recalls his U.S. Army service in England

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Melvin J. Holley describes his Michigan Army National Guard service

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Melvin J. Holley remembers the 1967 Detroit riots

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Melvin J. Holley recalls his first impressions of Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Slating of Melvin J. Holley's interview, session 2

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley describes Richard W. Thomas' account of Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the value of oral histories

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley recalls his early experiences with oral histories

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley remembers an oral history from his paternal grandmother

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley describes his history education

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley talks about segregation in World War I

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley describes his history curriculum at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Melvin J. Holley recalls his father's migration to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Melvin J. Holley recalls forming the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the founding members of the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley describes Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society's mission

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the value of state and city records

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley describes the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society's activities

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley talks about his research into Lansing native Andrew Dungey

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley describes the history of Lansing's Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the Dungey family

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Melvin J. Holley describes the necessity of oral history in genealogical research

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the inquisitive nature of genealogical research

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley describes his research concerning the Prince Hall Masons

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley talks about lingering questions from his research

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley describes his research on six prominent Lansing families

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley talks about the plans for the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society's tenth anniversary

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley describes the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society's research priorities

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Melvin J. Holley reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Melvin J. Holley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Melvin J. Holley describes his family

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Melvin J. Holley talks about his spirituality

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Melvin J. Holley describes his siblings

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Melvin J. Holley recalls a family reunion

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Melvin J. Holley remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Melvin J. Holley describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Melvin J. Holley narrates his photographs

DASession

2$2

DATape

4$5

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Melvin J. Holley recalls his early experiences with oral histories
Melvin J. Holley talks about the founding members of the Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society
Transcript
Was this your first experien- experience with oral history?$$No. Within our, our immediate family. I lived during the summers between eight and six up to about twelve with my [paternal] grandmother [Sophia Purdie], who had been born in North Carolina. And for some reason, she would tell me things that my other brothers and sisters just could not recollect or had no interest in. I learned things about my grandmother, which were just unknown to me. My father [Major Holley, Sr.] had come to Detroit [Michigan] in about 1914, 1915, and so there were a great number of things that I did not know, other than in quizzing my older brothers and sisters. So it was, it was helpful to me, to find out where she was born, when she was born, and a, a little bit about conditions within her immediate family, which of course affected my father and subsequently myself.$The others were seeing one another, meeting one another in, you know, other--like, Mrs. Jackson [Carrie Baptiste Jackson], her husband [Maxie C. Jackson] is at the university [Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan]. She's doing genealogical studies out of Louisiana more for her husband's family than her own. And because of Louisiana, there were the baptistery records that are required in the Catholic church and what have you. And she found that she was able to trace back to others, and she, she shared that with the others. Ms. Lipscomb [Mary Agnes Lipscomb] is originally from Alabama, but she knew that the family had moved to Missouri. But she didn't know the family members, just her immediate family. Ms. Henderson [Brenda Henderson], similar in, you know. So they're all doing their own thing and then find out some of these things that we're trying to find out, each of them are having to go the same way. Someone said well, why not have one group and help others to do the same kinds of things.$$Okay, okay, now that's what I'm trying--okay.$$And, and now, Mr. Howard [Wilbur Howard] didn't have the, the, I'll say the necessary writing skills, but he had a very interesting story with his family, part of which came out of slavery at the end of slavery, and what happened to bring them from South Carolina into Michigan. When you look at--many people, they are able to say, yes, my family also came from point A and end up point B. Why? It could be employment; it could be the betterment within a society; it could be the education of their children. And so that what LAAAGS [Lansing Area African American Genealogical Society, Lansing, Michigan] was attempting to do, is to gather people with research and, and provide a forum, you know, to help educate and also to stimulate the writing of family histories.