David Gross, July 6th, 2016
WW: Hello, my name is William Winkel. Today is July 6, 2016. We are in Oak Park, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit 67 Project put on by the Detroit Historical Society. And I am sitting down with Mr. David Gross. Thank you for sitting down for me today.
DG: You’re welcome.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when you were born?
DG: Born in Detroit Michigan. March 7, 1950
WW: Did you grow up in the city?
DG: Yes, I did.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
DG: The Northwest area on Greenfield around 7 and 8 [Mile].
WW: Growing up, was your neighborhood integrated?
DG: Not until probably the late—right around the riot because I remember we were playing baseball and there was one neighbor that was black, ‘cause I remember we played baseball with him and it was just started to get. When I went to high school at Henry Ford, it’s still there, couple of my good friends played football and there were a couple of blacks on the team, but it was just starting to get integrated.
WW: What was the neighborhood like growing up?
DG: It was a nice neighborhood you know? It was not like nowadays. You go out in the morning you play sports, you come home for lunch, and then you go out until like dinner, and go out during the night. We used to play football or baseball in the street or go to the park. It was a nice area. Peopled kept their doors open. It was laid back.
WW: Growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, did you travel around the city a lot or did you stay in your own neighborhood?
DG: Well, I worked at 7 Mile and Schaefer and that area and that neighborhood is a little changing but in those days we used to take the bus, because we didn’t have cars to go to the Tiger games or the Red Wings at Olympia and two of my really good friends played football at Henry Ford and I went to some of the away games. I think we went to South Western which is by the bridge. So you saw the different areas, but you didn’t mind taking the bus ‘cause we did that a lot for Red Wing games and Tiger games.
WW: And where did you go to high school, you said?
DG: Henry Ford.
WW: Henry Ford?
DG: Yeah, it’s still there. Half the rivals, they closed the schools. Like Mumford, Cooley, Mackenzie.
WW: Moving into ’67, how did you first hear what was going on?
DG: On the news, ‘cause I remember seeing a newscaster come in and he had a golf shirt on, because he was off and they called him in and then you heard it all on the news. And a lot of stuff you didn’t know if it was true or not plus people had so many rumors going around.
WW: Did you hear about it on that Sunday? Do you remember?
DG: It started Saturday night didn’t it?
WW: Yeah, Saturday night, Sunday morning.
DG: Yeah, because I remember the guy on the news had a golf shirt on, which wasn’t usual, but he was probably out somewhere and they said, “Rush into the station.”
WW: From your neighborhood up in the north west could you see any smoke or see anything that was troubling?
DG: A little bit there. I suppose there was some problems I heard—I remember vaguely on Grand River and Joy. But there [were] so many rumors going around. Basically there was a curfew. You couldn’t be out at a certain time and you couldn’t have so many people in a group. I guess the scariest thing was seeing the tanks drive down your—Greenfield is a pretty big street, but still. That’s scary seeing tanks going down your street. And plus [unintelligible]??? National Guard.
WW: Did you run into the National Guard yourself?
DG: Yeah, they told us not to play baseball. They weren’t mean to us, but they said it’s considered a crowd and all that. They asked us to leave.
WW: Where were you when you tried to play baseball?
DG: At my elementary school. It was like four blocks away.
WW: Being a teenager, did you and your friends try to scope out anything and see what was going on, or did you stay in your neighborhood?
DG: We stayed in our neighborhood, because most of us didn’t have drivers license then. But mainly read the papers and watched the news. It was scary because you didn’t really know what was going on. You can’t blame the government. They wanted to make sure they reported the right facts. How many people did die? Do you remember?
WW: 43. It was reported as 43.
DG: I’m sure a lot of people were injured. Did any National Guards or police die?
WW: How did your parents react, because you were still a kid then? So how did your parents react to what was going on?
DG: My aunt and uncle raised me, my parents died when I was young. I’m sure they were upset. My uncle was the type of guy, he got along with everybody. And where he worked there were people of different races. He always felt that as long as someone was nice to him, he would be nice to them. He had a vending machine route. I used to help him on it, and we went to some areas that weren’t the greatest, but most of the time if you treat people good they’ll treat you good. That’ the way I grew up and that’s the way he tried to instill values in me and his two sons.
WW: How do you interpret the events of that week. Do you see it as a riot?
DG: Well, yes and no. I think the city, a lot of the blacks were upset, because the police department was mainly white and maybe they might have thought they overreacted with the whole blind pig operation, but a lot of people rioted just to riot. You know what I’m saying?
DG: No matter good or bad, you see rioting, burn stuff down, steal stuff. Not to justify what they did, but I just think that some people rioted because they were upset about what was going on. Some people just did it just to do it.
WW: Did any of the violence spread to your neighborhood?
DG: Not really, the closest we heard of was Grand River and Joy or Grand River and Fenkell. That area maybe, which is like 3 or 4 miles away. But I remember that I was talking with this girl that moved out in the suburbs, and her dad had a gun on his porch with him. I think the saddest thing is the exodus of the white population from the city. People started moving that probably would’ve never moved. But once one person moved, people kept moving for two reasons. They didn’t want to be in it, they didn’t want to stay around because the property value would be going down and all that. Where I grew up—I mean in fact my neighbor was Dave Bing. I had him as one of my paper route customers. I remember I met him and [Lem] Barney and Bob Lanier. It was just I don’t think Detroit was ever the same after that?
WW: Is there any other experiences from that week you’d like to share?
DG: Give me a minute to really think
[Break in recording]
DG: There’s good things and bad things. I think the mayor is good. I think he is trying his hardest to rebuild this city. Dan Gilbert and Penske are trying to rejuvenate it. But the problem is, it’s good they’ve got all that stuff down town and all that, but the neighborhoods—except for certain areas by Wayne State and I don’t what’s still a good area, Rosedale Park. Where I grew up I mean, where we grew up was a nice area—we weren’t rich, we weren’t poor. We were just average, of course money was a lot different in those days. My daughter’s a teacher and she taught in the charter schools and I got a friend that teaches in Cody High School, but it’ll never be the same again, and even though you’ve got all these people moving back downtown. There’s a lot of people that live in the city that are caring about it, but there are so many people that don’t care about it. You hear about these senseless murders and people abandoning lots or people just throwing junk on it. I don’t think it will ever be the same. It’s good what they’re doing downtown and all that—I still love going to the Tiger games and every once in a while I’ll go to the casino, but thing is, most people [if] they do have children, will probably send them to a charter school or a private school. The idea is ridiculous is that they’re trying to get grocery stores here, but not that many. It’s probably hard for a normal person to grocery—and your car insurance! It even affects mine ‘cause my zip code is Detroit. And then you feel sorry for those people that they shut off their water. You feel sorry for them. I mean, I know they’ve gotta pay. There’s all these rocks. There was someone in the news last week. Some lady did agree to make payments and she was, but somehow they got mixed up and they turned off her water. In the winter, your heat. At least they’re trying better. I think this mayor here, is a good mayor. I think even Dave Bing is a mayor [that] tried. We used to have customers come up—I used to work for a tool company and they were just telling us stories like when Kwame [Kilpatrick] was mayor. They said that people came up to this guy and said, “Your building won’t get broken into anymore if you just give me so much money to protect this.” And a lot of people did it because they didn’t want to go through all the hassle. It will never be like it was before. I say it can never go back to the same, but it just a shame. At least they’re trying to renovate the downtown area.
WW: Well thank you very much for sitting down with me today. I really appreciate it.
DG: I just have a couple quick questions