Paul Rentz


Paul Rentz


Paul Rentz had just graduated from high school and gotten a summer job in 1967. He remembers seeing the National Guardsmen and the destruction of the city.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit MI






Written Story


9 Mile and Gratiot, East Detroit High School


1967 Project
Both of my grandfathers moved to Detroit in 1910, lured by the “Paris of the Midwest” and jobs being created by the rising automotive industry even though this was before plants like the Highland Park Model T Ford Plant began to swell with workers. My mother’s father had worked for Edward Gray, who became Henry Ford’s Chief Engineer in late 1909, in Oil City and soon joined him but stayed as Gray’s personal draftsman, not working for Ford. My dad’s father quickly learned the workings of the automobile and became a chauffeur as the City of Detroit directories point out. As a chauffeur he would maintain the vehicles he drove as well as other trucks and cars in the companies he worked for. Detroit provided great opportunities for those former sons of farmers.
But the sixties weren’t as bright. Strife in the city drove my dad’s family to the suburbs. I graduated from high school in 1967 and would be leaving for college just north of New York City in the fall but my final summer in Detroit found me working in a small print shop in the Russell Industrial complex. My father was working at the old Dodge Main Plant in Hamtramck. Both of us would be passing school grounds now used as National Guard bases and watch military vehicles rolling down the streets of Detroit as we headed to work. Dad started back the Monday after the riots began but he asked me not to go to work until Wednesday. Even then the streets were fairly empty and there was still a military presence in many school yards.
Soon after the riots started a curfew was placed on the area and no one was to be on the streets after a certain time. We lived near 9 Mile and Gratiot and I walked up across from East Detroit High School with my younger brother and stood in the middle of the north lanes of Gratiot, looking towards the city. The smell of smoke was evident. That night three groups of six transport helicopters made a number of flights from the Selfridge Air National Guard Base into Detroit. I remember hearing that in the groups were some choppers with bright searchlights to aid military personnel in finding violators of the curfews including looters and vandals. Between the silence of the highways broken by the roar of the chopper rotors to the smell of smoke, it was not a pleasant seen for a young man who had already decided to leave for college in another state, yet East Detroit was always ‘home’. It’s where my parents, grandparents and brothers continued to live and so many of the holidays I’d make my way back to the Detroit area, until I married and we moved to Oregon but even then we’d try to make at least one trip back every year.
After the passing of my grandparents and parents, the trips have been fewer but my last trip in September of 2015 brightened my hopes for Detroit. I was able to attend a meeting of the Woodward Avenue Association and then visit the Ford Museum and other places my grandparents had worked and lived. It was a reminder of what brought them to Detroit, with hopes of a rebirth of the city that inspired them to come. I’m now settled in Oregon, having lived here since 1979 but visiting Detroit is now much more inspiring as I hope and pray for a brighter future than the city I left in 1967.

Original Format


Submitter's Name

Paul Rentz

Submission Date





“Paul Rentz,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed January 25, 2022,

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