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Connecting an Exhibit with a Community

One of the biographies in the museum’s coal mining exhibit focuses on the life of Fred H. Porterfield, Senior. The text in the exhibit notes:

“When Fred H. Porterfield passed away in 1932, his obituary noted that he operated an automobile service station on State Street in Saginaw for over a decade. However, it did not note his role of being one of Saginaw’s first African American miners. Born in Maine in 1867, he brought a group of workers from Jackson, Ohio in 1896, many of whom were African American, to work in the Saginaw Coal Company’s mine. City directories and newspaper accounts record his work as a supervisor in the mines. The directories also record his transition away from mining and the start of his automobile service station. His story was one that was repeated throughout the county, he came to Saginaw for Coal mining, working in the mines until he started a new enterprise.”

The garage and service station operated by the Porterfield family served the people of Saginaw for over half of a century. The building that houses it still stands on State Street at Delaware. City directories indicate that he was living adjacent to the future site of his service station by 1905. About 1916, “the automobile had rolled onto the scene and looked like a good thing,” his son William started when he opened a service station in a barn near his home. Eventually, he would build a new building and his three sons would operate the business.

“It has been my privilege to know Bill, Fred, and Harry as a neighbor and customer. Long before any talk of integration, they were an important and highly respected part of our neighborhood. Their reputation for honesty, thoroughness, and dependability is unexcelled. . . .In leaving the station one had the assurance that the work done could be relied upon.” Harold M. Karls, The Saginaw News, September 19, 1972.


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