Wow! What a journey!
A Lansing man discovers the 70-year-old love letter that prompted his mother to migrate from the south to Michigan, Fox 47 news reports.
Kenny Turner is a Lansing native. Recently, he found a love letter that dates back more than 70 years. That letter, wrapped in lamination to protect it from damage, was written by his father, William Turner to his mother, Vellmerie Turner, giving her step-by-step instructions on how to leave her small hometown in Alabama and meet him in Lansing, Michigan.
Turner sat on the steps that were once Lansing’s downtown train station and read the letter aloud.
“Dearest Darling, I received your sweet letter today and was more than thrilled to hear from you. I’m doing fine, and hope you all are likewise.”
Turner noted the address and date on the letter as well as his Dad’s cursive handwriting, something not even taught in schools anymore.
“He was living at the time at 910 William St. in Lansing, and this was April 11, 1951. Yeah, you can see it. My dad had excellent penmanship,” said Turner.
“I want you now, I didn’t want to leave you. Those two nights and days with you taught me more than the whole three years I spent courting you. Had I known married life would be that sweet, you would have been my wife before even that,” Turner’s father wrote.
Turner said the letter showed a softer side of his father, one children don’t often see. The letter then proceeded to leave detailed instructions.
“Its name is The Georgian. Catch it. It leaves about 10 minutes after The Hummingbird gets there. It will bring you to Chicago, then you catch the Grand Trunk Western, get a Red Cap to carry your bags, and tell them which train you want to catch. That train will bring you to Lansing,” William Turner wrote.
It was this letter that prompted Vellmerie’s migration North, leaving her family behind for love and a chance at a new life.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I never knew that letter existed. My mom never said anything about it, and I really wish I had a chance to sit down with them to discuss that whole migration,” said Turner.
The Great Migration was a time period in the early to mid 1900s where many Black families migrated North in search of a better life. The love letter is historic and a snapshot into what that journey might have looked like.
“That was something that happened all over the United States in the big cities, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, as part of the Great Migration, which occurred from about 1913 till about 1970, and that was the influx of Southern African Americans coming to the North for good jobs and actually to escape Jim Crow,” explained Bill Castanier, president of the Historical Society of Greater Lansing.
According to the U.S. Census, in 1950 there were reportedly just over 3,200 Black residents in Lansing. By 1970, there were more than 12,000.
“We got so many families here. The Culpeppers, Byers, Looneys, Wills and Davis. I mean, all those families moved up here,” said Turner.
As Turner walked the same train tracks where his mother arrived seven decades ago, he believed he could feel her presence.
The Turner family letter will be enlarged and used as part of a display about the Great Migration exhibited at The Knapp’s Center in Lansing beginning September 24th.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Fakult/Fox 47 News; Love Letters from Lansing, Courtesy of Sarah Grimmer/Fox 47 News