Ann Kraemer, June 18th, 2016
BB: This is Bree Boettner with the Detroit Historical Society Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Today is June 18 and we are at the museum and I am sitting down with Ann Kraemer. Thank you, Ann, for sitting down with us today.
AK: I am glad to be here, Bree.
BB: Okay, we’re going to start. Can you please tell me where and when you were born.
AK: I could tell you that. I was born in Detroit, Michigan in July of a long time ago.
BB: You don’t have to put a year, that’s fine. [laughs] “Of a long time ago.” I love it. You were born here in Detroit so your parents lived here. What did your parents do? What were their occupations?
AK: My Dad worked for Internal Revenue Service.
BB: Oh, okay.
AK: And my mom was a homemaker and mother to we five children.
BB: Wow. Older siblings, younger?
AK: Younger. I am the eldest.
BB: You’re the eldest. Fantastic. Where did you live in July 1967?
AK: At 10210 Second Avenue. At the corer or Glen Court a block from Chicago Boulevard, I believe.
BB: What were you doing in 1967?
AK: In 1967, I was a student in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. During the summer, from approximately May until August I was assigned to a field work experience at Moore Elementary School on Oakland and Holbrook.
BB: And what did you do in that position?
AK: I worked as a school-community agent in their program.
BB: How old were your siblings? You have four younger siblings; how old were they at that time?
AK: Oh dear.
BB: IF you can’t think of specific ages, roundabout ages is fine.
AK: Like 24, 22 –
BB: Okay. So, older adults.
AK: 19, and 16.
BB: Sounds good, sounds good. What do you remember about Detroit in the 1960s? Before 1967, describe how the city looked and how it felt.
AK: Oh, I liked the city. Yeah. Even when I grew up, I have fond memories of taking the street car down to Hudson’s. Everything revolved around going down to Hudson’s. I loved it.
BB: The toy floor is infamous. I’ve heard stories.
AK: The Christmas one. Oh, it was just unbelievably beautiful. And then as a teenager slash young adult, Detroit was the happening place to be -
BB: [at the same time] I can imagine.
AK: -I truly enjoyed it.
BB: Along with visiting Hudson’s, what other fun activities did you and your siblings do in the city? What occupied your time?
AK: The library. We spent a lot of time at the Detroit Public Libraries. Going to the movies, that kind of thing.
BB: Did you –
AK: And dances. I went to a lot of dances.
BB: Did you feel any racial tensions in your early life and in your 20s?
AK: No, not really. I attended Wayne State before I went to U of M and that was a somewhat diverse campus, so.
BB: So it wasn’t something new for you.
AK: Right, right.
BB: I just wanted to clarify that. What was your community, the area – You grew up on Second Street.
AK: No, I did not grow up on Second. That’s where I was in 1967.
BB: So where did you grow up?
AK: In far Northeast Detroit near Seven Mile and Meringue.
BB: Can you describe your neighborhood and community for us?
AK: It was a kind of a blue-collar neighborhood. All single family homes. The area was predominately Catholic, heavily Italian and Polish.
BB: How would you describe the relationship between your community and the government? So your community and the city of Detroit or were there any tensions of any sort that you saw?
AK: As I grew up? Yeah, a couple of things. With one exception, there was never anyone from the Detroit City Council who lived on the East side. They were all Northwest siders, or lived on the Northwest. And that was always a sore spot. You know, why do we vote but not have any representation. That was one thing. The other thing was that it was not the most welcoming area for African Americans. It was not.
BB: So we’re going to come up to ‘67, how did you first hear about the riots? When they first broke out, how did you hear about them?
AK: I received a phone call because I was working at Moore Elementary School, the school system called the school community agent and she then called – there were two of us assigned to work at the school with her. So they called and they wanted to know what we had heard or had we heard and if so what had we heard. And because both the other student and I lived in the area where the –
BB: Where the riot broke out. And being somebody that was in that area when it broke, how would you classify the event? Some people like to call it a riot, some call in an uprising, others call it a rebellion. How did you perceive the event?
AK: More of a rebellion.
BB: More of a rebellion. Can you tell me some accounts of what happened or what you saw?
AK: Oh yeah.
BB: That’s okay. You can take your time.
AK: We were asked by the school system, I guess it was called School-Community Relations Department - Go into the community surrounding our schools and try to get an estimate of how many homes needed baby formula, any kind of supplies for little ones because the stores in the area had been burned down or looted. And then likewise on the other end of the spectrum, any disabled or elderly person that might need oxygen replacement, anything like that where they could not leave their home to go to another part of town and get it. So with the single exception of July 24, we were, I think at least ten straight days, we were on the streets talking with people, finding what the needs were. And through my wonderful boss and the fabulous principle, trying to make plans to meet the needs, it was good. The school had a very good relationship with the community so we were asked if some of the kids from the community, teens, could be of assistance to us. So they did, they’d come up, “Miss Kraemer, [laughs] we’re taking care of you.” Kind of thing. The kids were absolutely marvelous in reaching out to us. The other thing, oh nuts, I forgot what you had asked. Alright, this is what we did for ten or twelve days because the community was so tight. On a Saturday, I went back to Ann Arbor to spend the night because it really was very hot here. There was lights out every night. The helicopters – I was on the top floor of the apartment building where I rented – the helicopters were right on top of us so when we finally weren’t going to go to work, I went to Ann Arbor. Low and behold, about eight in the morning, didn’t I get a phone call from the Public School Office, the central office of School-Community Relations saying where is your boss? The actual employee. And I said, oh, she went fishing with her husband in Canada. Where is your colleague? The other student from U of M. I forget where she had said she was going. They said, Well, the federal government has declared you a disaster area and Chrysler is coming in with its trucks in an hour or two to bring all sorts of food and supplies. We need you to go over to the school and open it up and round up some kids to help Chrysler unload all of these supplies. So I believe one of the maintenance crew came in as well as me. I worked again with these wonderful teenagers from the area and we unloaded the trucks. I got the school open and we unloaded the trucks.
AK: It was something.
BB: Did you see any – there are so may various accounts of 67 but did you see any of the actual uprising? The rioting, the looting. Any memories of actually seeing that or were you more on the front lines of aid?
AK: More on the front lines, however, what I did see. I went out early in that week, the week of the 23. I went out on Oakland surrounded by the teens to see what was going on and what the needs were. The National Guard was driving their tanks down the street and I saw this young guardsman shaking his rifle like this as he went by and then it went off.
BB: Like, by accident?
AK: Yeah. By me. By accident but by me.
BB: Did he hit anybody that you know of?
AK: He hit the building but there was –
AK: Yes, it was quite surreal. And I also remember on the 23, backing up a day. The day that it started. I was taking one of my godchildren to the zoo that day. It was his birthday and I said we’ll go to the zoo and when I came home is when I received the phone call about what’s going on. Well, I then went to church. It was the Sacrament Cathedral and the pastor was a chaplain. An army or a guard chaplain, and he said from the pulpit, This is a very – I’m trying to think of how he put it – a unique experience because I’m here and all around us on Woodward, everything was devastated. And he said, And I will be leaving to go and work as a chaplain to the guard that has been brought in to assist with this. It was those kinds of experiences I had rather than actually watching somebody. I saw some of the loot, don’t get my wrong. Kids would come in and they all of a sudden had shoes and several of our kids were missing and I went down to police headquarters to find out. Gee, the family is not able to locate their son James, can you help? And being Caucasian, and I was carrying a briefcase, they thought I was a lawyer so the police were very kind to me in terms of. They did help me to locate the boys and girls that we could not find. So it was more that kind of thing.
BB: So, just a few more details. Because you did have five younger siblings, were your siblings living in the area at the time?
AK: They were all living in Northeast Detroit. I take that back. One of them was married. One, maybe two were married, but one was living in Roseville.
BB: Do you know of any accounts they may have had in relation to the riots? Did they call you to be like, Oh my goodness, what’s going on? Or anything like that?
AK: Right, my dad was quite upset. He knew exactly where I was living and Second to Twelfth is -
BB: Yeah, very close. Dad was worried, huh.
BB: That’s good to know. There was, after the event, how did you see the city of Detroit change?
AK: Immediately after the event, there was such a coming together of the community. It just strengthened us. Strengthened it even more so immediately after. Also, shortly thereafter was the development of New Detroit and then some more community based organizations designed for Caucasians to work with Caucasians to understand that we also had a big part in creating the tensions that lead to the rebellion.
BB: How did your position at the school pan out after the event?
AK: That was -
BB: Cause I could imagine that would be an interesting transition.
AK: It really was. A week or two after the event, we were called back to Ann Arbor. There were lots of students placed but most of them were dealing with what most social workers to is therapy. None of them worked and my colleague and I and, like, two others were sitting there and we had worked through it every single day. They gave us As and we said, for what? We did was social workers are supposed to do. We did respond because we really were in the middle of the situation both in our living situation and in our fieldwork.
BB: Some serious experience you got on that resume quite early. [All laugh]
AK: It really changed the whole – people were like, “You were there?” Yeah, we were.
BB: So I have to ask, how did that affect your work after? Because you were a student and you were learning about social work at that time and you were faced with an event that dramatic in the city of Detroit, did it affect how you went forth in your career and how you worked with the community?
AK: I think so. I think I got such a good grounding in what to do through the person I reported to and the principal. I had such a good ground in the community work so that I wound up being hire to do that kind of work in subsequent years.
BB: What was your position afterwards once you graduated?
AK: I worked organizing teen groups. I’m sorry, young adult groups after that and then I worked with a program to organize church people to support poor people through the – friends offer rides. We organize groups of men and women, primarily women, to support poor people involved with the welfare system. So I did that for a number of years.
BB: Fantastic. You’ve got some notes. Anything imperative we need to discuss?
AK: Well eventually I worked with the Neighborhood City Hall. I worked for Coleman Young. I was the manager of the Neighborhood City Hall.
BB: And how what was --
AK: The mini mayor.
BB: Yeah, and what did that entail? What did that work entail?
AK: That entailed working again with the community responding to all of their concerns. Representing the mayor if there was something coming up that he was not able to attend.
BB: Just a few more questions to wrap up. What was the impact of the unrest in July 1967 on you and your family?
AK: I would say, it was challenging for some people in my family.
BB: Do you want to elaborate on that?
AK: I went to my parents’ home one night. Neighbors – in those days you didn’t move 93 times. You bought a house. You stayed there. This was your neighborhood. Everybody’s kids were your kids. What you probably heard as a younger woman is that when you went out, if you did anything wrong, there were three neighbors to tell your mother. It was all the time. I went home, I saw these same people with guns. “Let them come into our neighborhood. I’ll get ‘em.” Kind of thing. That was awful. That was devastating and it was made kind of more devastating and difficult for some members of my family because they knew I didn’t feel that way so I was kind of the oddball. It was a challenging time for everybody for different reasons but you grow through it. And everyone changes appropriately, positively.
BB: Fingers crossed.
AK: No, I mean, they did.
BB: Oh, they did, okay.
AK: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
BB: Good. It was a good change.
AK But it takes time for all of that to happen.
BB: So we talked a little bit about how the city changed but one of the facets of this project is trying to educate the next generation about this topic, right. So, is there a message you’d like to leave for future generations about Detroit before, after, and during 1967 and how they can grow from that information?
AK: One thing is I felt that the field placement that I had was, I was so fortunate to have that because the principal at the school where I had worked had made a decision to have a school that had a bell shaped curve of students. It did not, it was kind of a flat curve and so he set in motion a number of changes in the school that would help the kids learn and become stronger, better educated members of society. And it was working in the school community program by involving the parents of the children and the community around really backed that up. We had so many programs working with that community. And if I could say anything to the next generation, it would be that. It’s most difficult to enter any place without a preconceived notion of what you will experience and what the people there will be like. Once you get through that, if you can get through that, and see that goodness and strength of people, you will be able to help to develop a strong community. Strong communities lead to strong cities and I think that would be the message that I would like to leave. I am not saying that I did not know people who acted inappropriately, people who destroy other people’s property and businesses but I am saying that the goodness and strength of the community far outweighed that. They just couldn’t see it. All you could see was the destruction. The fires and everything. It was awful. A few days ago I went to lunch with a woman who I only knew from one situation from church, period. And something came up about, I don’t know how it came up, “Where did you used to live? Where did you used to go to church? And I said, “Oh well.” And when I said, “In ‘67 I went to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament,” and she said, “Well I did, too, Where did you live?” I said, “Second.” Well she lived just a few blocks away in Highland Park and she said, “Oh yeah, the blackout, the helicopters, the tanks.” She said, “I could never forget it.” That’s not the kind of message I want to send forward but it is something I will go to my grave remembering.
BB: That’s kind of all the things that I wanted to discuss.
BB: Not anything you can think of:
AK: Not that I - well, I’ll say one thing and you can decide whether to leave it in or not, but the day I was called in Ann Arbor to come back to Detroit and open up the school I stopped at this one young man’s home because I knew that if I could get him on board, the others – he was like the leader of the group and he’s a big guy. Real big. Well this was early on a Sunday morning when I went knocking on his door and I knocked and knocked and banging and the police came up and they “What are you doing?” They thought I was a prostitute. So I will remember that time, too.
BB: Did you have to turn and be like, I’m just trying to get a muscular guy to do some lifting?
AK: They’d heard everything at that time.
BB: I’m sure they had. Well that’s a fun little snippet. Well, I did give you my contact information so please don’t hesitate if you have any further stories you’d like to add to your oral history, please just email them to us. We’ll definitely add them to your profile and I will end this for us. So thank you so much for sitting down with me.
AK: Thank you.