Ken and Carol Sopiak, March 19th, 2016
AD: My name is Alexis Draper and I am with Ken and Carol Sopiak and we're gonna be talking about their experiences during the 1967 race riots in Detroit, and whenever you're ready to start talking, you're more than welcome. So what – what were you all doing around July of 1967 when the riots started?
CS: Well, we were planning a Polish wedding.
CS: I wasn't Polish, so it – it – everything was new to me. I didn't know – why, I'd been to Polish weddings, but it was actually my Polish wedding. During – we were married July 29th. We had people from out of town. We had – three days before my wedding they were burning my – garages down in my backyard. My uncle and my dad were watering our garage down so it wouldn't get burned down. I couldn't see my fiancé for a couple days because of the curfew.
AD: What about like – where – was the wedding supposed to be at your house?
KS: No, we had a very large wedding, it was about four hundred people -
AD: Oh -
KS: And the – the hall that we had gotten – was -
CS: Plymouth Local Hall -
KS: Plymouth Local Hall, over on Lynch Road and Mt. Elliot. It was one of the bigger halls around at that time. My parents had a lot of friends. My dad was a very outgoing person, and back then you didn't have the way it is now – you know – you can rent a hall and they do the catering for you and everything – you had to find your own cooks and everything. We had – like she said – we had a Polish cook lined up and they bought the meat fresh, like a couple days before the wedding and they started preparing -
CS: What they call a breakfast -
KS: We had -
CS: We were married at nine o'clock and I think our breakfast was eleven o'clock?
KS: Ten thirty or eleven -
CS: Ten thirty, eleven o'clock -
KS: And usually the way it works, you had a morning reception – breakfast – and then you would leave, and we would go with our group and take pictures, and then we'd come back in the evening, you know, for dinner, but the way it worked out, it was just all day long.
CS: Well -
KS: Nobody wanted to leave the hall because of the riots.
CS: Well start at the beginning, is
CS: I – they – arranged – people would come – the musicians would come to the bride's house and play the music before she entered into the car.
AD: On the day of the wedding?
CS: On the day of the wedding. So I – they came there, and as I – we had people calling for days, “Are you still getting married?” “Is there still a wedding?” “We don't know what to do.” “Should we come?” And I said yes, yes! [laughter]
KS: As far as we knew.
CS: And my husband called me that morning and said “Are you still gonna make it?” I said yes I am!
KS: Well, we had a lot going on – like I said, the expense of everything. You know, you buy the meat and then you can't have it because of the curfews, you know. So the Polish cook – she was just calling our house every hour. And we couldn't see each other for probably about five days before the wedding, 'cause the curfew was so early, you know. So we just kept in touch, and then with the parents, you know, interacting with each other, you know, we just – you had to go with it, you know. And -
CS: So we got – I have pictures – we got married in this church that's no longer there, it's in Detroit – and then we went to the – to the reception – and our families and friends – you always have at the breakfast at a Polish reception, your family and close friends. It was pretty crowded.
KS: Yeah, well mostly everybody showed up.
AD: So of the four hundred people that you were expecting -
KS: Mostly everybody showed up.
KS: They came floating in, a lot of them were coming to the breakfast, you know, and they would come in the evening. So we had the breakfast crowd that we had invited, so it was just a stream of people all day long.
CS: So they stayed there. Nobody left. Once you got into the hall – we had – our wedding reception was probably twelve hours long. And the musicians stayed there, people were paying – paying extra money for them to play. As soon as the breakfast was done, the cooks were in there cooking for the – lunch – was supposed to be evening – and then they were trying to get hors d'oeuvres out – and of course as the day went on and people start floating in and they said “hey, we're not going anywhere” it's finally – we get a chance to celebrate, you know. And we started running out of liquor. And beer. Well, now you take over that story. [laughter]
KS: Well, like I said, my dad had a lot of friends. He was a drinker, so he knew a lot of the bars, and them guys were invited to the wedding, too, you know. So [unintelligible]
CS: And he was a Knights of Columbus member too.
KS: Yeah, he was on the Hamtramck council, he was a member of Knights of Columbus there. And a lot of people from there. But we would get beer from these guys that owned bars, you know, we just had to replace it. And liquor – her dad and my dad went to Chicago about maybe – I think they were coming back into the city – they went to Chicago to buy the liquor – and news wasn't like it is right now, you know – just so quick – back then they were coming into town, all of a sudden they're seeing militia, or whatever you want to call them – you know, all over the road, they didn't even know what was going on, you know, they were coming back into the city with a car full of liquor, you know, and everything. [laughter] It was funny. I remember your dad and my dad – they just couldn't believe what was going on. 'Cause they didn't know nothing about what was happening, you know. But all in all, everything worked out pretty good though, you know. Fortunately for us too, the night of the wedding, I think the curfew was like nine o'clock. But then they lifted it to -
CS: Eleven or twelve?
KS: Eleven o'clock I think it was.
KS: It was lifted to eleven o'clock So I - I had called the police the day before, and they said “Well yeah, go with the wedding, but make sure you have somebody by the doors, so you don't get people just coming in off the streets,” you know. So we did that, you know, we had people there watching, you know, to see – make sure nothing was gonna happen, you know. But nothing did ever happen, you know. It was good, you know. But then just everybody just stayed and stayed and stayed, you know. It was a long night for us.
CS: We partied all morning, all afternoon, and all evening.
AD: The longest party you've ever been to.
CS: The longest. My brother-in-law, since then, became a priest, and he sometimes at his services would say “I attended the longest reception in history – known to man.”
AD: So what was that like, like maybe, you know, a couple days before your wedding, and you hear about the riots and everything.
CS: Well, seeing the other garages in our neighborhood being burned down, and my dad and my uncle – my uncle was from Pennsylvania – came in from Pennsylvania – trying to wet our garage down – it was scary. It was very scary because we would see people shoot through the buildings, you know, our houses, and – it was just very frightening, because we didn't – you know – nobody knew what to do – and -
KS: No. Where I lived, it was a little calmer there. I lived on Davison and Joseph Campau area, just – not too far from Hamtramck. Couple – well, about maybe four blocks from Hamtramck. So it was quieter there, but still -
CS: I had more -
KS: Couldn't move around. Just couldn't – couldn't go anywhere.
AD: So at any point was it maybe an option to like maybe we should just cancel it, or was it just you had too many people coming in?
CS: Yes, it was a problem, but we did have people coming in from up north, his family came -
KS: It was very stressful.
CS: Very stressful.
KS: For two young kids getting married, you know, really stressful -
CS: You know, we're thinking, you know, maybe we should call this off, you know, and I think we talked to the pastor, and we just, you know, everybody said well let's just see how it goes. And we – we had some friends on the police force at the time -
CS: And they kind of guided us to the fact that - “Go ahead with your wedding.”
KS: Well we were sort of lucky – I can't remember the date – when the riots started – but we were sort of like on the tail end of it, because I said the curfew was
AD: It wasn't like, in the thick of it.
CS: No, not in the thick.
KS: We were right at the tail end of it, but still, it was all out there, you know.
CS: Oh yeah, we could hear shooting, and rioting, and – but once we closed those doors – as I said, I don't – I didn't think that many people would ever come to our wedding, and a lot of them said they came unexpectedly. They just wanted to get away.
AD: Just to have something other to do, than to be at home -
KS: Yeah -
CS: To sit there and worry about.
AD: That's – I mean, that's like, kind of awesome that you got to provide that space for people, you know, for the people to be able to – in the midst of all of that, you know – turmoil and distress – to be able to, you know, provide this spot of happy for people, so that's – that's – twelve hours, you know for twelve hours, they were able to – you know -
AD: Not have to worry about it.
CS: Right. They were. And they were surprised – and actually a lot of them came up to us and said “We had a real good time. This was the best wedding we ever been to.”
KS: It worked out.
CS: It worked out good. We were really surprised. As I said, we had a lot of people saying “oh, I'm not leaving my house.” We understood. You know. I have pictures if you want to see.
AD: I would love to see the pictures, and maybe even if – I don't know how we can get some, like, some to put on the website, just to see the pictures.
CS: [showing pictures] Well, you can see the dress, how -
KS: We didn't have too many pictures actually in the hall.
KS: You know back then you didn't have -
CS: That's the girl that came and did my hair and she was frightened because she had to leave her home. That was my mom and dad. And this was my girls. And this was me getting in the car. And that's my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, and the priest. That's my brother-in-law who is now a priest.
AD: Oh, this is who – who did the -
CS: This is the old-fashioned church, how they used to have the – we used to have to kneel at the altar to get married, and you could see the – this – you know, the old marble. I mean – it was – and it's now, I think, torn down, or -
AD: Now was the wedding, and like, and the reception at the same space, or you had to like travel?
KS: No, no.
CS: We had to travel.
KS: This was closer to where I lived.
KS: Our Lady Help of Christians.
CS: That's where I – I turned Catholic, too, for my husband. And I went there. This is the grounds that was out there. I mean, everything looked peaceful. It was very nice – but that was during the day, of course, and everything was kind of quieted down. And -
AD: Right, like, I mean the pictures just look like a regular – you know, the regular, every – you know, wedding that happened all the time. It doesn't even, you know -
CS: No. But there was a lot of things going on. [laughter]
AD: I'm sure.
CS: But we made the best of it. The cake got there on time – everything seemed to get there -
AD: All of the – all of the pieces got there.
CS: All of the pieces got there on time, and – and that was my little cousin, who first time in Michigan, and she's never been back since.
AD: She's never been back? Wow.
CS: She was my junior bridesmaid -
KS: She was terrified.
CS: She was terrified. Yep. She – she was just terrified, and that was our grandmother's -
AD: So not even like, not even to Detroit, she just hasn't been to the whole state since the wedding?
AD: Those are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
CS: But anyway, that - as I said, it didn't show too much of the riot, because I guess you didn't want to focus on that too much. You wanted to focus on a happy event. And that's what we tried to do, well, you know, and as you said, I think we did make people happy, and comfortable, and they were so glad that they could get out and have fun at activity.
AD: Just to be able to get out, just be away from it. I can – I can see how that would be like, you know what, I – I could see, you know, both sides – people wanting to not go and then it's like you know what, why not. Let's just go.
CS: Right. Well, we had a lot of – some people call, and then all of a sudden we saw them at the reception, they said “well we decided to come, because so-and-so said they were going, we took a chance and we wanted to go.”
AD: So you probably had just about as many people as you had planned for.
KS: Probably. I don't think everybody showed up, but we had that hall packed.
CS: Yeah, but a majority.
AD: And there was enough food for people to eat for twelve hours?
CS: My – being married into this Polish family, there's always enough food.
KS: There's always enough.
CS: Always enough food.
AD: Always enough food.
KS: Always enough. And drink.
CS: And drink.
AD: I can't imagine, you know, for twelve hours, and it's like, when you run out, you gotta make some decisions.
CS: We even had to find pop for the kids.
CS: We had to find everything.
KS: A lot of the guys that were in the wedding, they were helping out too, you know, with, like, the pop situation, this and that -
AD: Pop for the kids.
KS: Yeah, you know -
CS: Well, his father, who knew a lot of bartenders – the famous bars around there were Hub Bar, and -
KS: Shields -
CS: Shields Bar – they – those were the people who all came to our wedding, and of course the bars were closed up, but we snuck in to get the beer and snuck it out again. But we replaced it. But it – it was exciting – yeah -
KS: It was – it worked out good.
CS: And – well - Now do you want to tell her your famous story about where we stayed at? We stayed -
KS: Okay -
CS: Overnight on Eight Mile -
KS: This is a funny story -
CS: Right on Eight Mile and Woodward -
KS: Okay, a friend of ours – he's a Detroit policeman, he worked downtown – precinct – and they lived like at Eight Mile, right around by State Fair. Well, when this happened, and they couldn't come to the wedding. And his wife didn't come without him, you know. She -
CS: Well, she just had a baby.
KS: Or – okay. Anyway. I forgot that.
KS: Anyway. So they were talking, and they said “well maybe after the wedding get a motel right around here and then we can come and visit you when he gets out of work. So we stayed at a place right on – I think it was called Bel Air, right at Eight Mile and Woodward, okay. And we got in there, and then Carol called Sharon up
CS: Yep -
KS: And, you know, they talked, said “Well, we're here, whenever Jim comes off work, you know, come on down, we'll have a drink,” or whatever, you know. So in the interim, you know, they hung up and they said “okay, we'll be there.” So she said “I'm thirsty,” you know, “Can you go down and get me a pop?” I says okay, I can do that. So I went downstairs; I told her to lock up. You know, I went downstairs to get the pop – [laughter] – I go back upstairs, she can't open the door. Got me locked out.
CS: I couldn't open the door!
KS: So I had to go downstairs, talk to the guy – running the motel – he starts laughing, he says, “boy, you ain't getting too far, first day married and you're locked out of the room already!”
CS: [laughing] I could not open the door.
KS: You know, so he got us in -
CS: Yeah. It was hard!
KS: That's funny.
CS: The door jammed and I couldn't -
AD: You couldn't get it open.
CS: Nope. So I tried locking him out the first night. [laughter]
KS: And then another story, too, is – Polish – after -
CS: Yeah -
KS: The day after the wedding, they have what they call a poprawiny. And that is usually – my parents, the groom's parents – they have a party at the house, and it's to take care of all the leftover food and drinks, and people would come – mostly all relatives – you know, they would come back to the house, you know, and we'd be there, you know, and we did go back and we had a house full there too.
CS: We had a poprawiny.
AD: So you got your traditional Polish wedding.
CS: We had our traditional -
AD: Of all of the things that were happening.
AD: That's amazing.
KS: And everything worked out good. There was no – no, you know, horror stories, two days later, you know what happened to us, blah blah blah. You know, like complaining, or whatever, you know. Everybody was satisfied, everybody was safe.
CS: It was just before we were worried.
KS: Everything worked out.
AD: So everybody got back home safe and everything.
CS: Yep. It was just before, we were all worried, that's all. Are we going to get married? Are we not going to get married? Should we call it off?
KS: 'Cause we had my uncle – he's a very good guy – I think we had the wedding set 'til, like, eight o'clock – and then they extended the hours, and then he right away talked to the band, and he paid them to stay another hour. You know.
CS: Hour by hour.
KS: You know. And then he paid, and then a lot of the people started throwing in extra money, just to have the band there 'til I think about ten thirty or so, you know, so, it all worked out good, you know.
CS: And they happened to be friends of ours – the daughter happened to be friends of ours, so she was there. Her father was the band.
AD: So it's one big old family affair.
CS: Well – I learned – well – not being Polish, or Catholic, you know, before – I learned a lot. So, I consider myself Polish right now.
AD: You're almost fifty years in! So you've gotta be Polish. You've been more Polish than if you'd lived life if you hadn't.
AD: Well, I appreciate you for coming in and sharing your story.
CS: I hope it was interesting -
AD: It was interesting! A lot of – you don't get – we've been getting a lot of different stories and things, and so –