Mary Thompson, June 27th, 2016
GS: Hello. Today is June 27, 2016, we are in Detroit, Michigan. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti, I’m with the Detroit Historical Society on behalf of the ‘67 Oral History Project. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
MT: Thank you.
GS: Can you first start by telling me your name?
MT: Mary Lucky Thompson.
GS: Alright Mary. And could you tell me where and when you were born?
MT: I was born in Pensacola, Florida, 1946.
GS: Oh wow. So what was your childhood like there?
MT: I didn’t grow up there, I was born there, but I came to Detroit when I was three years old–
MT: –and my mother and father. At the end we ended up having, it was 11 of us. My father worked in Chrysler Corporation. We had a very good background, very good family.
GS: Okay. And now where in Detroit did you move to?
MT: We stayed on several streets. We stayed on Epworth atfirst, then we stayed on Military, and the last address was on Pacific–but by that time I had moved away.
GS: Okay. So growing up, was your community very racially integrated?
MT: When we first moved on Epworth before I went to elementary school was very integrated. After a time, the white people started to move out and it got to be less integrated then.
GS: Okay. And then where did you go to school?
MT: I went to school at Northwestern High School, and the Carnegie Institute. I went to practical nursing school and also went to Hiren (??).
GS: Okay. So kind of moving towards the 60s, the early 60s, did you notice any sort of attitudes growing?
MT: It was more like a Black Power attitude. It seemed like it was racially polarized: it was kind of harder for Black people to get jobs. I live right on the edge of Dearborn, and when I walked down Dearborn, you were kind of like afraid to cross over to the white side because you would get harassed by the police.
GS: Hhmm. Did you yourself have any experiences with the police?
MT: No, no, no. Cuz I was kind of very low key, very low key.
GS: Okay. So then where were you living in July 1967?
MT: I was living Livernois and Julian.
MT: And that was off of Joy Road.
GS: Okay. So what were you doing at that time?
MT: I was driving a taxi cab and I had an 11-month old baby.
GS: Oh, okay.
MT: Checker Cab, yeah.
GS: How long were you working at this cab company?
MT: About two years. No, but wait a minute, it was only about a year because you had to be 21 to get this license.
MT: And so in the summertime I would usually drive the Good Humor truck–the ice cream.
GS: Oh, okay.
GS: That sounds fun [laughter].
MT: Well [laughter], it was fun, except that you get finished with your shift, you would have to crawl in the freezer and count all the loose bars.
MT: It was interesting. I drove far East Side with a little truck.
GS: Oh wow.
GS: So how did you hear about the Riot itself?
MT: I had gotten up to go pick up my cab that morning–it was down on Trumbull and Michigan.
MT: I think the number was 3506. I drove down there and I said, “You know, it’s warm out here so it’s not gonna be a lot of business, and so I’m gonna go to the Dexter-Linwood area, Twelfth area, where there’s a lot of traffic, people walking back and forth and everything.” And so for a while I had drove over to West Chicago and Linwood, and I sat there near the cabstand.
MT: And I said, “I can’t keep sitting here, I won’t make any money.” And so that’s when I drove Dexter toward Twelfth. And at that time I saw people running around, police there, and I said, “What’s going on?” So the policeman said, “You better get off this street, it’s a riot.”
GS: Oh wow.
GS: So you said you had an 11-month-old child.
GS: Was the child with you?
MT: No, no, oh my gracious no.
GS: Okay [laughter].
MT: It was so strange back then. Cab drivers–women–after five o’clock we couldn’t drive, and as far as I know at Checker there was only two, me and another lady.
GS: Oh, okay.
MT: It was mostly like a men’s job. And I wasn’t a very good driver so a lot of guys taught me how to make these funny turns and everything.
GS: Mmhmm. So then where did you go after they told you that there was a riot?
MT: I went to try to get some groceries at the Tomboy Market on Julien and Livernois, and the shelves were mostly empty, so I said, “Let me go home and see about my child.” And so I went home and my girlfriend was babysitting, and I said, “It’s getting bad out here, maybe we should stay in.”
GS: Okay. And where were your parents at the time and your siblings?
MT: She can tell about where the siblings were because we didn’t live in the same place.
JL: Well, she was married–
MT: I was married.
JL: –and had a husband at that time. We were home, we lived on Pacific right off Epworth.
JL: And at that time I was babysitting for a lady up on–you know the Riviera Theater?–sat there on Joy Road–
JL: –and Grand River. And there was an apartment building behind the Theater, and I was babysitting. I was 16, it was summertime, I was out of school. I was babysitting, I’m not quite sure what time it was, but my father, he came up there, and he picked me up. He says, “Look, we gotta get home. They’re rioting out here.” And so he took me home, and I can remember standing there in front of my house on Pacific, I can see all the way to Grand River, just burning.
GS: Oh wow.
JL: Just a big fire everywhere on Grand River. At that time, there was a lot of kids, we had to have had food to last through the Riot. We went to the stores, no food on the shelves, cleaned off.
JL: And then six o’clock, they put us under martial law. After six o’clock, no one was allowed on the streets. It was scary. No one was allowed on the streets. And I remember tanks driving down my street, Pacific, with the National Guard and the troops in it for about a week. You couldn’t go out, you couldn’t do anything. Stay home.
MT: And it was very scary for me because when the food was gone, I had this little boy–he’s 50 years old in October [laughter]–but anyway I had this little boy I had to take care of, and I looked around, and my husband who worked for the city was nowhere to be found. And so I waited and waited, and finally I got a call that he was in the hospital. And so he said he was alright. So when he came in, his eye was all stitched up. And I said, “Well, what happened to you?” He said, “I was trying to get a radio.”
MT: And so he had knocked his arm through one of these windows and looted a radio. And I said, “Well why’d” and he said, “Well, everybody was getting stuff, so I got one.” And so he cut the radio on, and it was no good.
MT: And I said, “Well what’re we gonna do now?” So it would play a little while, and so what we did, after things cooled down a little bit, we took the radio up on Warren to this pawn shop and got it on, and the music was playing and we walked in, the man gave us $5 for it.
GS: Oh wow.
MT: After that experience, I’ve been paranoid about always having food in the house. And my son says, “Momma, you’re hoarding.” But I just can’t help it. [Laughter.]
GS: Right. So what was the feeling when the National Guard came into Detroit? Was it a sense of relief or did you guys feel more nervous?
MT: I felt relief until the people started getting shot. They kept talking about “This person got shot,” and then a woman got shot in the back.
JL: Yes. They were rioting, and Mayor Cavanagh was the mayor then. And he had word out: “Don’t shoot the rioters.” But after things got so bad, he had to change that, and so they were shooting looters and whatever the case might be. And that went on until they sent the federal troops out of North Carolina.
JL: Out of Fort Bragg. They came up here, after the National Guards couldn’t handle it, they sent federal troops up here. After the federal troops came in and we went under martial law, that’s when the city started, kinda, getting it together. ‘Cause they were just different from the National Guard. Most of the National Guards were white. In fact, I didn’t see any Black National Guards. But the troops, when they came in from North Carolina, they were mostly Black.
GS: Oh, okay.
JL: And they had a differ rapport–
MT: Rapport, yeah.
JL: –with the people than the National Guard troops had.
GS: Oh, okay. Thinking after the riot, what changes–if you saw any–were apparent in the city?
JL: You mean now?
GS: I mean right after the riot.
MT: Well, I guess Twelfth Street was gone, that was the main thing. But other than that–
JL: All the businesses. There was no businesses.
MT: A lot of businesses.
JL: Cuz at that time, a lot of the stores were owned by Jews. After the riot, a lot of their businesses just left, and the Black businesses that were here, they couldn’t rebuild.
JL: So for a while, there was nothing here. A lot of people left. The white people that were here, a lot of them moved out to the suburbs.
GS: Okay. Was there a change in the attitude in the city?
JL: Change in attitude?
MT: I didn’t see any big changes.
JL: I remember H. Rap Brown coming here.
MT: Yeah, I didn’t think it was really like just “I hate white people.” I think it was more like a, “Oh, everything is fell apart, let’s get something.”
JL: I don’t think it was a race riot really. I think it was more like a free-for-all.
MT: Yeah, I don’t think it was a race riot. Free-for-all–free TVs, free!
JL: Yeah, I don’t think it was really like that, a race, race riot, ‘cause I didn’t see any white people getting hurt.
MT: And I didn’t see any whites and Blacks fighting in the street.
MT: It was mostly like a free-for-all. You know?
GS: Right. Did you ever consider moving out of Detroit after that, or no?
MT: No. Not really, no.
JL: I was born here.
MT: Yeah. I’ve lived here since I was a little girl.
JL: I’ve lived here–I was born in 1950.
MT: Where would you go? I love this city.
JL: Maybe move into a different neighborhood, but the city itself, no.
GS: Okay. So how do you see Detroit now, present-day?
MT: I see, I’m gonna be honest–
MT: –I see all this money going toward downtown and around in here. The new administration’s trying to build a center, little private white island, and the rest of the city’s just kinda there.
JL: ‘Cause in my neighborhood, there’s no change. I haven’t seen anything new in my neighborhood, but you come down certain areas, around in here and closer to downtown–they’re building up they’re doing everything. But where I live I don’t see any change.
MT: We got a new grocery store, a new Meijer’s and a dollar store. I live near where old Redford High School used to be. It’s improving out there, streetlights, but most of the money is going I guess for the next generation.
JL: When we’re dead and gone [laughter].
MT: Go watch TV.
MT: And that’s okay, ‘cause I’m grateful to live to be this old, I’m grateful.
JL: The city itself, I can see the city coming back.
MT: And I see among the Millenials, I see more integration. Less of color.
JL: The younger white kids. I see more of that.
MT: Yeah. They don’t seem to worry too much about color and differences and everything. But, see, we were raised at a different time–especially me. My parents, they came from the South, and they saw a lot of stuff, and they passed these attitudes onto me.
JL: Onto your kids, yeah.
MT: I can’t say I really been mistreated by white people–
JL: Me neither.
MT: –I can’t really say that.
GS: Was there anything else that you’d like to add?
MT: No, no.
GS: Alright. Well, thank you for sitting down with me today.
MT: And thank you very much. Thank you for being here.