Carol and Philip Campbell, August 3rd, 2015
LW: Today is August 3rd, 2015. This is the interview of Phil and Carol Campbell by Lily Wilson and Noah Levinson. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society and the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. We are in Detroit, MI.
LW: Carol, can you start telling me your date of birth and place of birth?
CC: I was born on December 3, 1929 in a little bitty town called Winthrup in Minnesota.
LW: And Phil?
PC: I was born on May 10, 1929, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
LW: Okay, and you met in high school in Minnesota?
CC: We did, in Minneapolis, yes.
LW: And tell me about when you moved to Detroit.
CC: Well, first we moved to Grosse Ile, Michigan.
PC: In the spring of 1957, and then we moved into the city of Detroit in 1963; we moved into Lafayette Park, which was a relatively new development near downtown Detroit. We moved to the Shadow Fort co-op.
LW: Which is where you still live today.
CC: That’s correct.
LW: And what brought you to Detroit?
PC: I was hired by a large insurance company and moved from Minnesota after being hired. We had started out on Grosse Ile but we were quite certain we would prefer a bigger city, especially for my wife.
LW: So tell me about just a few years after you moved into Lafayette Park, tell me about what you saw during July of 1967.
PC: Well we had three children at the time, and they all were into swimming, competitive swimming, and we were going to a swim meet on the western edge of Detroit, and we had been there at the swim meet on Saturday and then were going back Sunday morning for the finish of the competition, we did notice some smoke and fire as we were driving out the expressway to this very large swimming pool, and I think some rumors started passing through the crowd about something that was going on, I don’t think we knew exactly.
CC: Well we didn’t know exactly what, but I think the word, “Riot,” it was people against police.
LW: That’s what you heard? While you were at this swim meet?
CC: Mh-hm. Yes.
LW: And where exactly was the swim meet?
CC: Western edge of Detroit.
PC: It’s a large park and I just forgotten the name, but could come up with it later probably.
CC: If you had a map.
PC: Well, so we were turned home to our co-op, and as I understand it, I had forgotten this, that there was a newspaper strike, so we wouldn’t’ve seen the Sunday paper before we went off, and whether it was covered in the paper I don’t know. But we got back sometime during the day, and as I mentioned it is a co-op, and I was on the board—I think I was president of the board at the time—and so the board met and wondered what we might do to safeguard our community of sixty families, and we decided to set up, I don’t want to use the word “guard,” we wanted sentinels. There’s an entrance into our co-op from the park, and another entrance from the adjoining street, and so we had two people at each end, and I can remember sitting outside with a neighbor, into maybe midnight or later, and then somebody else that took our place, and there was nothing that happened. Where we lived, we could see fire and hear some gunshots.
CC: Hear lots of sirens. Well and then, because we didn’t have any idea what was really happening, except what we could smell and hear, our units have great big windows, floor-to-ceiling windows that face very close to a sidewalk which would be not really a public sidewalk but for the members of the co-op and it could be gotten to by somebody from outside of the co-op if they had a mind to. So we had our three children get out of their beds and sleep in the hallway on the floor so they wouldn’t be there by windows if anybody came along going bang bang bang.
PC: Another item I would mention about an action on the part of our board: We decided that perhaps if anybody had a gun, they should put them all in one particular place.
LW: I see.
PC: Not within their unit, but within one unit, and I’m not sure that was the wisest decision although it didn’t really make a difference but we did, and it was amazing how many people did have a rifle or maybe a pistol.
CC: Do you have any memory of how many guns were collected?
PC: I don’t, I don’t remember, I do remember a neighbor who did not stay for very long, who claimed he had shot somebody or shot at somebody, not in our co-op, but he had done this in someplace in Detroit.
LW: During July of ’67?
PC: Yes. Yes.
CC: We don’t know that that was true.
PC: So we kept the weapons—our neighborhood was, you know, a pretty liberal, integrated community, we were doing our best to just be defensive. We weren’t out trying to take on the world, and we didn’t really have any trouble now that the National Guard came in and also a regular army, a paratroop unit.
LW: Into Lafayette?
PC: No, no, into the city.
LW: Right. Into the city.
PC: They came into I believe the city airport and the regular army units were stationed east of Woodward, and the National Guard I think was to the west, and as far as I know there was really no shooting activity or nobody was killed on the East Side.
LW: Okay. I have a question for you about Lafayette Park.
LW: You mentioned that it was a relatively diverse or integrated neighborhood.
LW: Of the sixty families can you tell me the racial make-up of the families?
PC: Well at that time, I would say it was about ten percent.
CC: Ten percent African American.
PC: Ten percent African American.
PC: It’s about fifty/fifty now.
CC: But we might say that, we were on the eastern boundary of Lafayette Park, then there was a railroad cut, which is famous for other things now—bike riding—and across from that was still the old community which was no longer lived in, and was being torn down. And I don’t think it was totally torn down yet by the time ’67 came along but it was a changing neighborhood. Just a block away it was still the old neighborhood that had been abandoned or people had been chased out of it.
PC: It certainly could’ve been subject to fires, I don’t think it was.
CC: That’s right. That’s right. And I think the fact that area was so close to us made people on our street more aware of what could happen, but nothing did.
LW: You mean the destruction and the sort of decay of that particular part of the neighborhood?
CC: Yes. And the fact that there were no longer any people there or very few and they were being moved out, so they would’ve been unhappy about their neighborhood having been thrown out of it.
LW: I see. So any other details or demographics that you want to share about Lafayette Park in ’67?
CC: All of the children went to the same school.
PC: It was an integrated school.
LW: What school was that?
PC: It’s still a very fine school.
CC: But it made for a center for the community.
LW: I see, okay. So your children played with the other children in the neighborhood I assume?
PC: You mean in those days?
LW: I just mean in general growing up.
CC and PC: Oh yes.
LW: Because you raised your children in that neighborhood so of the maybe ten or so, or six or so African American families, they were also integrated into the neighborhood in terms of social things?
PC: And the school may have been more fifty/fifty percent African American.
LW: I see.
CC: I can remember, I haven’t thought about this in a very long time, our daughter and a friend of hers sitting on the stoop outside the door with just the screen open so I could hear them, and the friend said, “I’m black, what are you?” So yeah it was very much a neighborhood of friends.
LW: Good, okay.
CC: And she didn’t know how to answer.
LW: Oh okay, I was going to ask how she answered. Okay.
PC: Our daughter was maybe a little more darkly complexioned.
CC: Than the one asking yes.
PC: On Monday, I was planning on going to work, and I got in my car, our offices were out in Southfield, and I got down to Jefferson and was heading, I don’t think we had the expressways then, so maybe the Lodge. A police car pulled up alongside me, on my left, there was two officers in the car, and they rolled down the window and asked where I was going, and the officer had a shotgun in his hand, and it wasn’t pointed at me, but it was quite obvious that he was well-armed, and I told him, and he said, “Fine go ahead.” Then when I drove up to Eight Mile, there was a convoy of National Guard vehicles coming down into the city so that was quite impressive to me. My boss wanted to know if my wife and I and our children would like to come and live with him for a few days in Birmingham—I think that’s where he lived—and I said, “No, no, we’re fine, we’ll be alright.” And that was about it. I think things quieted down by then. I’m sure we saw some activity from—I forget which airborne divisions it was—but things started to calm down.
LW: So from your understanding in what you read and saw and your conversations with your neighbors, did you believe this to be a race riot?
CC: I believed it to be racial—and that might lead to the final thing that I had really planned to say, was that sometime after things quieted down, there was a big meeting in now the Erma Henderson Hall at what was then the city county building, the Coleman Young Center, and a lot of people were asked to speak. The President of The Detroit League of Women Voters went away every summer for the whole summer, and I was the first vice president so I represented The League in speaking. I certainly don’t remember everything that was going on, but I do remember saying to the gathering that to me the surprising thing was that African Americans hadn’t rioted long ago.
PC: But I don’t feel that it was a riot against white people as such. Maybe they were unhappy with the store owners—
CC: And what happened to where they lived.
PC: and what happened to them. I don’t think it was a personal riot against people as a populace.
LW: What about the black families that lived in Lafayette Park? Do you remember talking to them about it at all?
CC: I don’t remember sitting down and saying, “Why is this happening?” No.
PC: The home we moved the weapons to was an African American family, but other than that, I don’t know. At that time they were a minority in our community—
CC: In our community. Well they were in the city too.
PC: Yeah. But I don’t remember having any discussions.
LW: You were mainly focusing on just protecting your neighborhood.
PC: Our next-door neighbor was an episcopal priest, and was quite active in working with people in the community, and I’m sure had many tales to tell but I can’t relate any of them.
LW: What else did you want to share with us?
CC: I think from my point of view, that’s about it.
LW: Okay, Noah, do you have questions?
NL: Yeah. You said that you found it surprising that such a riot hadn’t happened long ago. Could you explain that a little bit more why you felt that way?
CC: Because black people were so discriminated against, deprived of so many rights that the rest of us took for granted.
NL: And that discrimination, is that something you witnessed firsthand in the city?
NL: Do any examples that you saw or read about jump to your memory?
CC: Where they lived and what kinds of jobs they had. This won’t be riot time but in response to your question, I worked downtown when I began to see African American men in suits carrying—
CC: Briefcases, thank you, I said to myself, “Aha, we’re making some progress.” If those men have jobs that enable them to dress that way and carrying briefcases, we’re making some progress.
PC: Housing was a problem for black people. An area like Lafayette Park had been much like it had been on the other side of the Dequindre Cut—
CC: Urban renewal.
PC: Ramshackle had been torn down—I’m told that Eleanor Roosevelt dug the first spade of earth in this area, but it took a long time for it to come to pass—
CC: For the second spade.
PC: So many people had been moved and new people moved in, most of whom were white, but also the black people who moved in—they were middle class, teachers, professors at Wayne and lawyers. But it was a different level of different class—
CC: And the people who had been moved out could not afford to move back in.
PC: So that type of thing I’m sure made it difficult, made people unhappy—
CC: And made it obvious.
PC: And the politicians, the elected officials, there were probably no African Americans—well that’s probably too strong a word—but there were very limited in the city at that time.
CC: Well, I don’t think there were any city council members at that time.
PC: Mayor Cavanagh was the mayor.
NL: Who or what do you think was ultimately responsible for that housing and employment discrimination?
CC: The United States of America.
NL: That’s a fair answer.
CC: I mean that’s just the way society was—
PC: Well and the expressways contributed. A lot of people were uprooted by the expressways.
CC: And the expressways were paid for with federal dollars and the people, particularly veterans who wanted to buy houses in the suburbs, were given subsidies to do that. But they were not given subsidies to buy a house in Detroit.
NL: Federal subsidies.
PC: Yeah, federal.
NL: And do you think or did you notice that the communities and the houses that were uprooted to build the expressways was predominantly African American neighborhoods opposed to white?
CC: Yes. Yes. Although that hadn’t happened—at least I-75 was pretty well-built before we moved here, but we knew what had happened to make that expressway.
NL: I was also wondering could you talk about what your neighborhood is like in Lafayette Park today as compared to when you were first living there.
PC: We’ve aged in place. We had sixty units and we had sixty children.
CC: We did have.
PC: Yeah we did in 1963, ‘67 area. Some people, there were no children in the unit, but others had seven or eight, a couple. So now, we’ve aged in place. We did just have a new baby born nearby, and we are getting some younger couples moving in now so it’s beginning to change a little bit back. It is about fifty/fifty although I think there is slightly more white than black but it’s close, percentage wise.
CC: But it’s very much open to who wants to live there. I mean, if somebody affords to and buys the unit, there is a process for getting approved by the co-op. But it’s more economic than—
PC: The only real limitation is can they afford to live there.
LW: I see.
PC: And that they don’t have a criminal record or something like that. But it has nothing to do with race, creed, or color.
NL: Have you ever considered moving out of that neighborhood since you started living there?
PC: Well, we’d lived there over fifty years, you know, there’s always a possibility at this age making a move but would have nothing to do—
CC: Well, but did I just raise a couple of days ago?
PC: Well, we might like to move to a place that provides you an evening dinner and so on, but Carol would prefer it to be in the city of Detroit. We don’t know if there is such a place but we’ll check on that.
NL: But you had never thought about moving even to other neighborhoods in the city or elsewhere within the last fifty years?
PC: I don’t know why we would want to do that.
CC: No. No. You’re getting more than this tape needs, but we go to symphony concerts very, very often. We have the biggest set of symphony tickets, and we go east on Mack, and all those cars are backed up to turn North, and we go, “zip!” And we’re home in ten minutes and we say “Aw, those poor folks who aren’t gonna be home in forty, fifty minutes, and we’re here already.”
LW: So you like the convenience of being so close to town.
CC: Very much so. That’s certainly one of the things we like and it happens that the co-op we live in is very much a neighborhood. We know each other, we look out for each other; it’s a neighborhood.
LW: Thank you so much for sharing this with us.
CC: You’re very welcome. We won’t have another 1967.
LW: Let’s hope not. Thank you.
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