Part 1: That’s Who I Am

“She actually made a bassinet out of a drawer for me.”

Part 1 of an oral history story from an interview with Mayor Jerome Prince, Gary, Indiana. You can find Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

Transcript for That’s Who I Am

My mom was born in 1946. She was actually born in St. Louis and, shortly thereafter, her mother moved back to Chicago. In 1956, they arrived in Gary and were some of the first residents on what’s now known as Martin Luther King Drive. It was originally Indiana Street. And at that time, there were probably ten houses on the street and they were a family of—I think there were…eleven of her siblings were born at that point. The last one, number twelve, was born about ten months before me, in 1963.

To take it a step further back, it was my great-grandmother who first decided to move to Gary, largely because of the economic opportunities that existed, but they also wanted to provide a more rural atmosphere, if you will, for those twelve children. And so, my great-grandmother being slightly industrious came to Gary and found a location on Indiana Street, and my grandmother had recently remarried, and as the story goes, my great-grandmother purchased the home and she shortly thereafter transferred it into my grandparents’ name. And so, if you can imagine eleven children, a great-grandmother, a mother, and a father all living in a one-story flat, that only had three bedrooms. I believe it was probably a little bit more than seven hundred square feet, but they managed to make it and raise all of the children right there in that home.

My biological father’s name was Lloyd Williams, and as the story goes, my mother met him on a trip to visit her grandmother, the same great-grandmother who came over to buy the house in—or, in Indiana. Once she purchased the home and turned it over to my grandparents, she migrated back to Chicago and my mother would visit her on the weekends. And that’s where she met my biological dad. She was a young girl going back to visit her grandmother, and my biological father worked somewhere off of Roosevelt Street, and the two met, and shortly thereafter, established a relationship and I was born out of wedlock.

I was born in the original portion of Methodist Hospital and my mother was a teenage mom. She was eighteen. And at that point, she brought me home and if her stories are accurate, she actually made a bassinet of type out of a drawer for me and so, yeah.

1969, my mother married my father, whose last name was Prince, and for all practical purposes, I consider him to be my dad. He was the only dad that I really knew and had an interaction with. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and went off to Vietnam. And it was shortly thereafter, after he returned that the two reunited and they were married very shortly thereafter. And that’s when my name was officially changed. And so back to the name Jerome Abner Prince. The “Abner” is a significant portion because that was my great-grandfather’s name and I also had an uncle named—on my mother’s side, that is—had an uncle named Abner. I never liked the name, right? And so, if you can imagine 1969, there’s the remnants of Li’l Abner, if you will. And I don’t know if you know a bunch about that, but Li’l Abner was a cartoon character or comic strip character. In addition to that, there was the only other Abner I knew which was the Abner from the television show Bewitched. And I was teased about the name. It just—I mean, they called me everything but “Abner” and I very specifically remembering to ask my mother to change my name before I enrolled in school. And so, she acquiesced, and she basically inverted my name. I was born Abner Jerome Marshall which was my mother’s maiden name and shortly thereafter, she inverted the first and the middle name so I became “Jerome Abner Prince.” And that’s who I am today.

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