Harold Stone, July 25th. 2015
NL: Today is July 25, 2015. This is the interview of J. Harold Stone by Noah Levinson. We are at the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit, Michigan and this interview is for the Detroit historical society and the Detroit 1967 project. Harold, could you first tell me where and when you were born?
HS: I was born December the 24, 1936, Detroit Michigan.
NL: And what neighborhood were you living in when you were first growing up?
HS: Well, close to Conant Gardens in Detroit. The Mitchel Nevada area, Joseph Campau Nevada, that area, North East Detroit.
NL: How long did you live in that neighborhood?
HS: Oh god, until I was in my late twenties.
NL: Can you describe what the neighborhood was like growing up?
HS: Growing up it was a pretty nice neighborhood. We had a couple of doctors living on the street, a judge was on the street, and a state representative lived there. It was pretty nice for that time.
NL: Was it a diverse neighborhood?
HS: Yes it was. Mostly when I was growing up it was mostly Polish, in fact and in fact one of my oldest friends, a guy by the name of Carl [Skinechiney ?], I still see, I’ve known him since I was about four or five years old. Every year we meet down in Florida in fact. And we have dinner and this sort of thing. Yep.
NL: Were there many African American families in the neighborhood?
HS: Yeah, yeah. It was fifty/fifty. There were -- the Polish were there, there were Syrians, Greeks, Yugoslavians, Romanians, and there were a lot of people there after the Second World War that were refugees and they had the tattoos on their arms and that sort of thing.
NL: Where did you move after Conant Gardens? Where did you live?
HS: I moved. It was still in Detroit a place called Ranier Hamilton. It was a cooperative apartment over on Byron and Web.
NL: How did you make the decision to move?
HS: Well I got married and I couldn’t stay at home any longer [Laughter] so I had to get out.
NL: That makes sense [laughter]. Where were you living in Detroit in 1967?
HS: I was living at the Ranier Hamilton on Byron and Webb.
NL: OK. Could you describe the diversity in your building or even in your neighborhood there?
HS: Well the Ranier Hamilton was sort of an experiment and it was a cooperative, one of the few cooperatives built in the city of Detroit, not built, but rehabbed in the city. And it was diverse in that there were both white and black living there and in fact that was one of the problems that we faced during the '67 riots. Because we got word that because it was diverse that we were going to be attacked. Okay, so we had to be on guard.
NL: Because it was integrated?
HS: Because it was integrated and what I ended up doing was a lot people came to my door saying “What should we do? What can we do?” and so I had to form a guard duty and we took turns walking around and guarding the place. It was interesting that few of us had guns because we were protecting ourselves. One of the guys brought a bow and arrow; that was the best he could do. And we ended up on the roof of this building. And we’re up there with guns and bow and arrows and all of the sudden a helicopter flies over and they turn the light on us. That search light is so bright. It’s just unbelievable.
NL: I’m guessing it was low flying?
HS: Very low flying. And so we said the best thing we could do is get the hell out of here (Laughter). And we went back down into the building.
NL: Did you feel safe inside the building?
HS: Well we felt safe except that you could hear the machine gun fire all night long. And it got so bad at one point that my wife and I actually had to take the mattress off the bed and get down behind the bricks because we were afraid of the gun fire.
NL: From your understanding or your personal experience what was the role of the relationship between the police and the community of city of Detroit? Or maybe the fractured relationship in allowing for such civil unrest to take place?
HS: You know I really can’t answer that. I really don’t know. I never had very much interaction with the police. I always felt yes we were oppressed that I believed. I remember one night me and three of my friends were coming home from the show just driving down Davison and the police stopped us, pulled us over made us get out of the car, we’re all standing there with our hands up in the air being searched and this one cop was searching a friend of mine and he felt what he thought was a knife. And he pulled out the knife and he smiled and he said, “I got you”. And the knife didn’t have a blade in it. And the cop said “Damn,” and he let us go. As we’re standing there I look up and I see my mother and father drive by. And so I said “Oh my God, what are they going to say?” So I get home that night and they said “Oh, you’ll never guess what we saw: a bunch of hoodlums being searched up on Davison and Goddard.” [laughter] And I said “Mom that was us. That was me.” So that was that story.
NL: Had you ever felt limited or oppressed in where you could find housing or find work living in Detroit?
HS: I wasn’t really concerned about housing at that time. Work was always a problem I felt, but I was always guy that was seen the first black in a position and that was a lot of pressure on me. In fact, one place I went and I took the test and after the test they checked it and the manager said I’m not going to hire you, because you scored too high on the test. I couldn’t believe that. I went home I told my wife and she said “I can’t believe it”. Two weeks later this manager called me back and he said I need to interview you again. So when I went down to do the interview he said “Home office said I have to hire you” Okay. So I was hired, he said “but I don’t think you’re going to stay.” And he was right, because I stayed there for about three months and I got another job.
NL: Was the fact that the other job was better?
HS: The other job was better. One of the things about this job that I scored high on, they offered me a couple of different territories. It was a sales job and they said, “You can have either Highland Park or Gross Pointe.” I picked Gross Pointe and the manager couldn’t figure out why I would pick Gross Pointe. What I didn’t tell him then was that for five years I was a mail man in Gross Pointe, so I knew the area cold. Alright and so when he asked I said, “Well, tell you what, if you can tell me the difference in ownership between black and white in Highland Park verses Gross Pointe, then I’ll tell you why I picked Gross Pointe.” He couldn’t tell me and I never told him that I had been a mail man in Gross Pointe and I knew the area cold.
NL: Do you have any other specific recollection about that week in July 1967?
HS: Well other than lying in bed listening to machine gun fire, no that’s about it. I had a lot of film also that I took and I looked for it today, but I couldn’t find it. I’ve got about 400 feet of film.
NL: Wow. Can you talk about what the neighborhood was like, in the aftermath, once the fires had been put out and the looting had stopped and things like that?
HS: Well, let me put it this way. We watched an A&P store burn to the ground. Literally watched it burn to the ground. So the next day after we watched this, one of my neighbors who happened to be white suggested we go out and buy some food because the grocery store was gone. So we ended up going out to Taylor Michigan to a Great Scott super market. So we bought the food and my buddy said, “Well, Harold you needed me to get out to Taylor to get the food,” and I said “Yes but you need me to get back into the city.”
NL: Did you feel that the police response and the presence of the armed forces and the National Guard was that necessary and was it effective in keeping the damage contained?
HS: I think it was necessary, but I think it was a bit of overkill, because I could hear -- and I knew -- they were using .50 caliber machine guns in the city of Detroit and there was a house on LaSalle [Street] near the Boulevard that had big pop marks in the brick from the .50 caliber machine gun fire. I think that was definitely overkill and I lived close to Central High School and they had all of the army vehicles parked there, the tanks, the armed personnel carriers, the jeeps, the trucks, everything was there. So I think it was overkill.
NL: What do you think possessed citizens, mostly just ordinary citizens, to do all that looting and arson and such?
HS: Can’t answer that. I don’t know. I really don’t know it’s not something that I would have done. Alright, but people take advantage. Everyone takes advantage of a situation like that you know? And Detroit was the one place that they said was an integrated riot. The looting was integrated. There were white people looting. There were black people looting.
NL: Did you know people who partook in that?
HS: No. Not at all.
NL: Was it happening near your building on Webb?
HS: No. No looting. Just that A&P burning down, that’s all.
NL: Where was the next place that you lived after that building?
HS: Moved out to Roseville, Michigan.
NL: About when?
HS: Moved out there in 1968. And I integrated a housing complex out there. And it was very, very interesting moving in, because as we were moving in, all of the people were looking at us. The curtains were open, the doors were open, and people were standing out there looking at us. Actually looking at us move in. So the last thing that I took in were my guns. And when my guns came off the truck all the windows closed and the doors closed and that was it, but it turned out pretty good and we lived out there for about five years.
NL: You say they were "looking." Could you elaborate?
HS: Trying to intimidate. Because like I said we were integrating that particular place. Back in 1967, '65, '64 there was a company here called the FCH services, the Foundation for Cooperative Housing. And they were building co-ops, developing co-ops and building them. In the suburbs they were developing a lot of them. None of them were integrated. Not a one. They built some rehabs in the city of Detroit, but none of them were new construction except for downtown Detroit. You had Nicolet, Joliet, LaSalle. These were all co-ops. God, there’s about eight of them down there. Let’s see. Martin Luther King is one. These were all developed in Section 213 and Section 221 D3 of the National Housing Act of 1968. In the suburbs, like I said, none of them were integrated and the one we integrated was New England Townhouses which was located in Roseville, Michigan.
NL: What crossroads did you say?
HS: That would be Frazho and Gratiot.
NL: Could you describe your motivation for doing that -- or in other words was integrating that housing, was that a purposeful move on your part or was the reasons for moving there separate?
HS: the reason for moving was that I wanted a better place to live. That’s all.
NL: Was it closer to work or anything?
HS: No. It wasn’t closer to work. The company I had worked for managed the place and it was a place that I knew some other people who lived there, so that where I picked to move into.
NL: Did you encounter a lot of racism and intimidation from your neighbors?
HS: No intimidation. No one spoke to us at first, but I had a couple of neighbors who came over and actually introduced themselves and they were very nice and very supportive for the period of time we lived there, which was five years. I ended up playing on their baseball team and I was the only black person in the whole Roseville league playing baseball. And it was fun, it was fun after I got there and did some things.
NL: Were other neighborhoods in Roseville integrated at that time?
HS: here was one area in Roseville that was integrated and I think it was a small black section of about two blocks that had been there I guess since about the 1940s.
NL: You said you moved out there in ‘68. How much of a factor was the riots of ‘67 in choosing to move?
HS: Everything yes.
NL: Was that a conclusion that you reached by the end of the summer of ‘67 do you think?
HS: Well there was two problems the one is that we lived through the riots and we had to go through all the things that were involved in the riots. Secondarily the unit I was living in, there was some damage to that unit. Not from the riot or anything, but just construction problems. And we moved out because we couldn’t get it fixed.
NL: So there was actually a physical force?
HS: A physical force. We needed to move. And I picked New England Townhouses.
NL: Roseville just seemed like a nice community to live in?
NL: And it proved to be ultimately?
NL: Where did you live after that?
HS: After that we bought a home in the Golf club Subdivision in Detroit.
NL: Where is that exactly?
HS: Seven Mile and Livernois area.
NL: I see. U of D [University of Detroit]?
HS: U of D. That’s it.
NL: Could you tell me about living in that neighborhood?
HS: I picked that are because it was integrated and there were people of all races moving into that area at that time. So that’s why I picked it. I felt that Detroit was going to come back and that was one of the reason why I picked that area. I also sat on a committee for New Detroit. And that was another reason why I picked that area. Because I thought it would be interesting.
NL: I see. Can you talk a little bit more about your involvement with New Detroit?
HS: I really don’t remember that much about it except that we helped develop a program for Wayne County Community College dealing with apartment maintenance.
NL: Could you share with me your thoughts on Detroit Public Schools over the years? Did you go to Detroit Public Schools?
HS: Yes I did.
NL: I’m curious especially to hear about your experience as a student there, but then also if you were a parent. I don’t know exactly when your kids were growing up if they would have been in Roseville or Detroit. But could you talk about the school system in your experience?
HS: My experience in the Detroit Public School system was good. I went to Courville Elementary School and I went to Pershing. And when I went to Pershing it was mostly white. My mother also graduated from Pershing High School back in the thirties. I thought it was good. When we moved back to Detroit, my son was five years old just getting ready to start school and my daughter was two, I think it was okay. So they both went to Hampton Elementary School and my son went to Mumford. From there I moved to Novi, Michigan.
NL: So your kids spent some time in Detroit Schools and some in Novi?
HS: My daughter spent time in Novi.
NL: Okay and refresh, what years are we talking about now when they were I guess in high school or I guess in middle school?
HS: Well, we moved back to Detroit in 1973 we were there until about 1985. From there we went to Bellville and my daughter went to Bellville High School. And then from there we went to Novi.
NK: What were your opinions as the parents in the seventies and eighties on the style of schooling and the quality of education at that point?
HS: Where we were at Hampton, it was still very good. Had a lot of community involvement. The parents were involved, so it was good.
NL: So the neighborhood in general was a pretty close knit?
HS: Exactly. Exactly.
NK: But other parts of the city, other school districts within the city had already started to fall into [unintelligible] education at that point?
HS: I think so. Yes.
NL: Or it's what the state of the schools are like today. Do you still live in Novi?
HS: No we live in Canton now. I’m in Canton.
NL: That’s right. You guys have moved around a lot.
HS: [Laughter] No. Not really.
HS: Well there’s one thing I didn’t mention. There was a divorce involved in there, so that’s one of the reasons.
NL: Okay. Sure. I’m going to back track a little bit first. Do you have any recollections; you would have been pretty young, but of the 1943 Riots in the city?
HS: I really don’t have any recollection, but I do remember that one day, when I was going to Courville, the riots were going on and I went to school and there were only three people in my class who showed up to my class that showed up to school that day.
HS: Three. Now that’s my only recollection of the riots.
NL: The teachers were there? But you just had nearly empty classrooms?
HS: The teachers were there, but the students weren’t. Right.
NL: Do you remember anything that you parents or friends and relatives were talking about what was going on at that point?
HS: Yeah, but I don’t have any clear memories of it. None.
NL: Got you. What is your recollection of Downtown Detroit as you were growing up and through the fiftie and sixties?
HS: Oh it was great. Great. J.L Hudson’s, the tweflth story at Christmas time. All the toys and everything. It was great. Fantastic. I loved it.
NL: And do you today here in the last couple decades. Do you spend much time downtown in the city?
HS: No. Not that much.
NL: Okay. How would you characterize that this time on your more recent visits to the city?
HS: I think it’s coming back you can see a lot of activity in downtown Detroit, a lot of activity, especially Greektown. It’s full and I have to say it; mostly white folk are down there.
HS: (Laughter) And it’s interesting seeing it coming back. And I enjoy that.
NL: I do too. It’s nice to be a part of that. Hopefully to be a part of that.
HS: There is one thing I would like to add.
HS: When we lived in Novi, my daughter and I. She came home after about two days in school. She came home and said, “Dad I can’t take it,” because there was only eight black kids maybe four in the whole school. Okay. Only four in the whole school and she was having a real hard time with that. And I said “Well, Dayna, you got to do it. You got to do it, because this is part of my job.” So she went through it, but she caught a lot of hell at Novi for a long, long time, but she also developed some lifelong friends while she was there, and some that she still deals with today. And she graduated in 1990.
NL: So the Novi community was overwhelmingly white then?
HS: Oh yeah. When I went to vote everyone sort of stopped. Like the clock stopped, time stopped, and they watched me as I walked through.
NL: Was that the same in Bellville and Canton as well?
HS: Not so much in Bellville, and not really in Canton, because Canton really is diverse, really diverse. Not like Novi was in 1987.
NL: Have you ever with the different areas that you have lived in, have you ever considered moving back into the city from the suburbs?
HS: No. No, because I’ve done that. I was born in Detroit. I moved to the suburbs, I’ve lived in a couple of the suburbs, I’ve moved back to Detroit and I’m in Canton.
NL: Do you think that the events of July 1967, can those effects be seen in the city still today? Not just the city, but the surroundings; the Metro.
HS: I don’t see it.
HS: No. I really don’t except for white flight, okay but you also have black flight, because so many black people moved out of the city also.
NL: Right. Was that happening at the same time do you think, or was that later?
HS: That was later. I mean I was one of the more likely some of the first people to move out in 1968. Okay, so that when I think it started.
NL: Do you have any other memories of 1967 that you want to share with us today.
HS: No not really.
NL: Okay. Well thank you so much for coming in today and sharing your stories with us.
HS: No problem. You’re welcome. Take care.**