Maxine Jones, June 18th, 2016
[INITIALS OF INTERVIWEE:] MJ
[INTIALS OF INTERVIEWER:] BB
BB: This is Bree Boettner with the Detroit Historical Society Detroit 67 Oral History Project. We’re here at the Detroit Historical Society with Maxine Jones. Thank you so much for sitting down with us today. Can you please tell me where and when you were born?
MJ: March 20, 1941. Detroit, MI.
BB: And where did you live?
MJ: At the time of 67, 4711 Joseph Campau off of Fourth and Joseph Campau. My mother lived at the other end of the block at 4771 Joseph Campau and Hancock, which you find will be significant in this story.
BB: Fantastic. And when you were growing up, before 67, what did your parents do?
MJ: Well, my father worked in a mattress factory. It was called Wolverine Bedding that used to be on Beaubien and Illinois which is a street that does not exist anymore. And my mother, she, at this time, had a community center down on Chene Street off of Farnsworth.
BB: Okay. Did you have any siblings?
MJ: Yes, I have one brother and one sister. I am the middle child.
BB: Would you like to say their names and ages?
MJ: My sister, who is four years younger, is Ingrid Jeter and my brother who is eight years older is Samuel Dorsey.
BB: Fantastic. So in the neighborhood that you grew up in, what schools did you attend?
MJ: Well, basically, I grew up on the - well, I’m an Eastsider. Still an Eastsider. The first I attended was called Balch. It’s over here off of the expressway. It’s now called Golightly. But that was the first school I attended, Balch Elementary School.
BB: And your middle school and high school years?
MJ: My middle school – my favorite – Jefferson Junior High School. It’s still on Fourth and Seven, but they gave it another name. In fact, I know the gentleman, Joe Landy, that purchased the building, and he leases it out, I think as a charter school. I went there from ‘53 to ‘56. Also, another elementary school I went to that does not exist anymore. It was on Willis between Woodward and Cass and it was called Washington Irving School and it was the next thing to a little one room school house.
BB: Wow, that’s fantastic.
MJ: I passed by there and naturally it’s long gone. And for a brief moment when my mother went to the hospital, I went to Trowbridge School that used to be on Forrest over near John R.
BB: So growing up in your area, what was your neighborhood like?
MJ: It was different than it is today saying that the people in the area, they worked together more. If you did something that wasn’t right as a kid, the neighbor told on you, they watched out. It was a poor neighborhood from the Canfield and Beaubien, John R. area I went to, which at that time I went to a St. Leo’s Catholic School on Forrest near Grand River. Everybody watched out for everybody. You didn’t hear about gun violence and even the guys that hung on the corner they had on suits, their hair was done. And my dad had an afterhours place on Erskine and Brush and the rule then was be home before the street lights come on, or at least in front of your house. And even the guys on the corner, they’d see me, they’d call me Little Mac because they called him Mac. And they’d, “Little Mac, you don’t want me to have to take you home now. You get home.” You know, it was much more camaraderie in the neighborhood.
BB: And then bring us up to ‘67. The events leading up to ’67. How were things in the months leading up to that July in the city of Detroit?
MJ: Just normal. At that time, up until about twenty-five years ago, we didn’t lock our doors when we left. Nobody bothered anyone and we had moved a couple of times but primarily – and another school I went to, Northern High School, which is not called Northern anymore. It’s an all girls school on Clairmount or Owens and Woodward. We had a lot of foreign exchange students there, too. It was interesting. Anyway, leading up to it, it was just normal existence. Then I know, too, which is unlike it is now, your corner stores, your businesses, your small grocery stores, your gas stations were all black owned.
BB: Can you state again how old you were and what you were doing working? What kind of job did you have in the city?
MJ: [at the same time] I worked with my mother at her center that she had on Chene and Farnsworth. Just part-time work cause I was raising my kids and at the time I was getting public assistance. Like I said, I was living in the upstairs of a two family flat right there on Joseph Campau. Across the street was Campau Elementary School that does not exist anymore. My mother lived at the other end of the block.
BB: That July, how did you hear about the events when they started?
MJ: We first heard about it on the radio and TV because it started on the West side and, see, I’m over on the East side. We couldn’t believe it when they were showing the pictures in a day or so of everything burning over there on 12th Street, now called Rosa Parks. I was upset because I had some things in the pawnshop over there because 12th Street was a vibrant business. See, what a lot of people don’t understand, the old Hastings Street, 12th Street, the stores and all were primarily ran by Jews and the Jewish people worked with the black community and hired them and some of them even left their businesses to them. And when we saw this burning, it was just unbelievable. Also at the time, here’s a picture of my niece. She was born the 22 of July five days before the riot. She has since deceased. She was very depressed and took her life in 2013 –
BB: Oh, I’m so sorry.
MJ: – but my sister, who was living with my mother, at 4771 Joseph Campau and Hancock, had just birthed her. And we were going crazy trying to figure out where my sister’s husband was, Al. We couldn’t find him anywhere. Now that’s a whole story if you want me to go into that briefly.
BB: Okay, sure.
MJ: Okay, back in those days, when a woman gave birth, they kept them in the hospital, like seven to ten days. Now they herd them out. So Bridget was born the 22nd of July, so this is the 27th, my sister is getting ready to come home in a couple of days and we could not find her husband anywhere and this was their first child. And for those days I was running to morgues, to the morgue, Wayne County Medical Examiner to look at photographs to see if he was in there. People were getting killed. We were calling the police stations, you could not get through the lines were so busy. All of the police stations, their jails were full plus they even had prisoners in the garages of the precinct. That’s how many people were getting arrested. Well we found him. He got in touch with us about a month later. He was way up in Ionia because they had to ship prisoners up there because they had no room for all of them.
BB: Wow. So he did get caught.
MJ: Well, he made the biggest, stupid mistake in life. The rioting and the looting, I’m sorry, I just didn’t participate in that and then you find a lot of the smaller Mom and Pop stores, hey, those people was spending the night in their stores with guns. I talked to people that were stealing liquor. One guy even told me, “Oh, my little boy loves chocolate chip cookies so I got a case of chocolate chip cookies out of the store.” I remember Federal’s Department Store was on Van Dyke and Harper and we drove by there and people were rolling racks of clothes out of the stores because that Van Dyke and Harper area used to be a real nice business area. In fact, they just recently tore down the East Town Theater that was there where we used to go and see movies and see the concerts and different groups. Everyone from Iggy Pop to everybody, okay. That was quite distressing, well, of course we were so worried because we didn’t know where he was. So I’m at home and my mother’s at home and then they declared, I believe, Marshall Law. It was a curfew; you could not go out. Well, the crazy thing was, and here’s the significance of my mother on Hancock and Joseph Campau. The park is still there, it’s called Perrian Park, well, right there was Northeaster High School and the 82nd Airborne commandeered the whole area. So they were there. We saw tanks rolling down Forest, down Chene and different streets. The funny part about it was since the 82nd Airborne was there all of a sudden, every woman in the neighborhood had to take a walk around the park everyday [laughs]. And my mother’s house was right there on the corner so my mother was giving them cookies and we were making Kool-Aid for them. A couple of the young men in the neighborhood were making money shining their boots for them and guys was out – they were housed in Northeastern High School but they had commandeered the school plus the park and that was real interesting.
BB: That sounds like it would have been a hoot.
MJ: Now if you ask me or want to know why I believe the riots started, I know it was a blind pig or after hours joint, whatever you want to call it on 12th and Claimount. But what a lot of people tend to forget at this time in Detroit, one of our nicest mayors ever was Jerome P. Cavanagh and Girardin I believe was the police chief and he had at the time instituted something called STRESS. STRESS was very stressful to everybody because the police were given carte blanche. They could stop and frisk. They could harass you in any kind of way. Being mixed, I had gentleman friends of mine, we were actually stopped in cars by black and white cops, which there was a few black cops then, and their motivation for stopping us was to ask me what I was.
MJ: They could do what they wanted to back then. Yeah, they had carte blanche. They could see a young man walking down the street and just throw him down for no reason and it was called stop and frisk plus if you ever look up the STRESS in Detroit you’ll see, it was stressful and people were so against this. It went on for a few years, too, cause it was giving a citizen no rights. They could just do what they wanted to.
BB: How do you label the events of July? Cause you mentioned riots so I just want to clarify for me how you perceive the event in general.
MJ: Well, I perceived it as being bad because where they burned was over there on Twelfth Street was a major black business area, the black and the Jewish community had the stores, and fire doesn’t take names like bullets. It gets whatever it can get and a lot of people lost their homes because while the stores and all were burning, the fire licked over and burned a lot of people’s homes. And that was just terrible. One funny thing, which in a way it wasn’t funny, I was walking on Chene Street, I had went to the store and I saw one guy pushing an upright piano up Chene Street. I was told at the time that people that looted and robbed and maybe got money or jewelry or things like that, especially on the east side in that Harper Van Dyke area, that buckets of money and coins and stuff were buried in the ground. Who knows? They might still be there. But I viewed it as yes it was an uprising and it was against the way people were being treated but it was kind of the wrong thing to do because when you burn your own businesses and your own people’s homes that was pretty bad. Because now the places like downtown, that’s how my brother-in-law got arrested. You weren’t going to go down to stores like Hudson’s, Crawley, Kearns and loot. That was the first place they protected and you weren’t going to go St. Clare Shores or Grosse Point and cause any problems so you burned your own.
BB: Good to know. I was going to ask, in your community, cause you mentioned that you were on the east side, where did your family shop? Where were you guys centrally located in where you shopped, where you entertained yourselves?
MJ: Well, we kind went everywhere. We went in that Harper – Van Dyke area, we’d go downtown. Even then, Highland Park was a nice place to go. We were kind of all over the place. Of course, downtown was the main thing and Hudson’s, oh I remember it so well. We had little neighborhood stores, cleaners, places like that that we went to and your supermarkets weren’t really – they were independent like a lot of them are in Detroit now. Spartan stores are independent. Primarily Middle Eastern. We just went grocery shopping wherever, Hamtramck, wherever.
BB: And then the months following July, after the riot, uprising started and after you finally got your brother-in-law back, how did you see the city change?
MJ: A lot of places that were burned out, like I said, the riots to me began the loss of black owned businesses because some where burned out, some just went out of business. It kind of began a downhill swing. Like I said, I feel the last best mayor we had was Jerome P. Cavanagh and he was the mayor during the riots and he was a really nice guy. And after that, it didn’t do so good and it hasn’t done really good for the past forty years.
BB: Why do you think that is?
MJ: Mismanagement. People taking privilege downtown instead of looking out for the people that live in the city. I live on the Northeast side, I’ve been on Let it Rip at least three times and Charlie Langton, who calls me the “Crazy Lady on the East Side,” and I call him the “Crazy Attorney on Channel 2.” Right now where I live, which is a few blocks from Denby High School, I’ve been there for 41 years. My block on both sides has only one, two, three, four people living on it. And the houses across the street from me have been abandoned about ten years. Eight to ten years, maybe give or take a little bit less, and on my side of the street six to eight years. And I live in fear with an abandoned house next door to me. They finally came after the Channel 2 got after them enough and boarded the house up next to me but my car sits in the driveway and I’m in fear of it catching on fire. And of course, like I said, fire doesn’t pick who it gets. Plus it makes our car insurance, our house insurance, and everything just sky-high. And I take care of my property cause I’ve been in my house 41 years and our zip code, the -05 zip code, used to be the nicest zip code in and around because it was the last, should I say, lily white zip code in the city and it was primarily where your Detroit Police and retired ones lived. Unfortunately, we had a gentleman in the area named Donald Lobsinger who was over the John Birch Society which we know is just another arm of the Ku Klux Klan. One family, right before I moved there in ‘72, I believe because I moved there in ‘74, over on Alma Street had their home burned down because they weren’t wanted there. I won’t even go into the story about me and my kids on Seymour because it was rough. And I’ll tell you this, the first three years we lived there, and we’re a mixed family, every Saturday around noon when they would test the sirens, like for tornados or something, there would be three or four cars driving up and down the street with a dummy of Coleman Young hanging from it and banners on the sides of the cars, “Niggers get out.”
BB: Oh my gosh.
MJ: And we’d wake up, well my house that my lived in on Warren off of Chene, 2256 E. Warren, it caught on fire because those houses down there, and if you notice in Hamtramck all down on that East side part of town, the houses are so close together that the roofs overlap and this was an empty house next door and I was in fear of it and one night while I was in the house with my kids and a friend of mine was helping me fix it up, my one daughter, she kept – we were tiling the floor in the living room. It was a shotgun house. You could stand in front and see straight to the back but it had eleven rooms on one floor. The bedrooms were all on that side next to the house that was empty and I had a real bad feeling about that and my daughter Gabrielle, she kept saying, we had kind of hooked them into their bedrooms so they wouldn’t come out and walk on the glue we were putting the tile down. She kept saying, “Momma, Momma, let me out. There’s something wrong with the house next door.” And I’m like, “Be quiet, you just want to come out.” And she said, “No, Momma, no. Something is wrong.” And I opened the door to fuss at her and I could see the flames roaring at her bedroom window and I went to the next bedroom and opened the door and my two boys, thank God their bunk bed was on this side of the room, ‘cause their window side, their chest of drawers was already burning. And I had to get my kids. That was a horrible situation there. That’s when I moved in the house I am in. I said I will never live in a house again that doesn’t at least have a driveway in between but now I’m put in a situation with an abandoned house next door to me that could catch on fire and that doesn’t mean that someone could deliberately set it, there’s electrical. We’re always getting power – we just had one last week – power outages in that area. Oh yeah, I had to have a whole house beside individual surge protectors because it could just catch on – cause you know a few years ago, over in the Van Dyke and Seven Mile area they had that big fire storm and those houses are old and once they catch, it’s just a tinderbox.
BB: We talked about your views of what happened. Can you explain a little but about how the unrest in July affected your family in the broader picture? You mentioned that Bridget was born then—
MJ: It was scary but we were on the East side so we were not that worried. There was not the abundance of fires on the East side and then we were further out east. It was scary. It affected me because my mother and I both had things in the pawn shop on 12th because we had lived over there previously on – I just had the name in my mind a few minutes ago. It really kind almost doesn’t exist anymore, that street. But 12th Street was a nice place. You could walk up and down, I remember my mother and I would get corned beef sandwiches and a bottle of Stroh’s you know and you could buy anything you wanted and whatnot and nobody bothered anybody. There was bars, there were all kind of little stores and everything and it was just sad to see it go like that.
BB: Next question would be what message would you like to leave for future generations about your memoires of Detroit before, after, and during?
MJ: Well, my message would be to these younger people, wake up. Stop killing each other, murdering really. Murdering children. There is no camaraderie whatsoever. True, the riot was bad but it still expressed a form of camaraderie because of the way the police would treat people and all. It was extreme but it was a form of camaraderie. But now I find the apathy in Detroit is bad. It’s like, well as long as it doesn’t happen to me, I don’t care because I’ve been a community activist and leader on the Northeast side now since ‘93. In the organization I’m over, out of 286 blocks, I can’t get three people that want to help. I can’t get two but everybody wants everything but nobody wants to do nothing. It’s like the old Bella and the Cat Story, do you know about it?
MJ: Aesop’s Fables, do you know about that?
MJ: Well, those are old, ancient fables and one of them was called Bella and the Cat. Real quick. There was these mice and they were always getting eaten by the cat and they said, “We’ve got to get a solution to know when this cat is coming so we won’t get ate.” Okay? One of them said, “I’ve got it, we’ll put a bell around his neck and when he comes, we’ll hear the bell and we’ll be able to get away.” But then the situation of who’s going to put the bell around his neck? So it’s the point of it’s good to have ideas but if you’re not acting upon them, it’s wasted and I find that parts of Detroit, like Southwest Detroit, the Hispanic community, yes they work together. And some pockets of the city but no, it’s the apathy and, “Oh I want mine,” or, “I’m going to do my own thing,” and that’s what’s bad.
BB: Well, I don’t have any further questions. Do you have anything you’d like to add to your interview today?
MJ: Well, I thank you for the opportunity.
BB: Oh, thank you. [Laughter]
MJ: I am writing a book on the perspective of being a female and black growing up in the city of Detroit because no one has wrote that. Being 75 years old and remembering all the way back to the age of 4 in detail, I’m doing it. I purchased a new version of Dragon because I hate typing. But yeah, when it comes to the riots, it was scary and it really didn’t solve anything.
BB: There’s still issues.
MJ: Yeah, oh please. Everything started on the downward slide, yeah.
BB: Well, if you think of anything after, please don’t hesitate to contact us. I will give you our contact information after that and if you don’t have anything to add, we will stop this. Thank you so much.
MJ: And thank you.
[TAPE ENDS 00:29:15]
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