Harvey Greig, July 14th, 2016
Note: The audio is broken into two tracks
[INITIALS OF INTERVIWEE:] HG
[INTIALS OF INTERVIEWER:] HS
[REPEAT INITIALS EACH TIME EACH PERSON SPEAKS]
HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. I am in Detroit, Michigan. The date is July 14th, 2016 and I am conducting an oral history for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project with Mr. Harvey Greig. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
HG: You’re welcome.
HS: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
HG: I was born in Highland Park, Michigan, June 9th, 1938. I grew up on the west side of Detroit, basically in the 6 Mile and Schaeffer area. Went to school at King’s school for grade school, and Cooley for high school. I got married when I was in my early 20s, and resided in that same neighborhood for a couple years, then moved to Rosedale Park on the west side and resided there until the mid-80s.
HS: What was the neighborhood like in Highland Park? Was it integrated?
HG: I was there as a baby and—I was just born there, and we lived on the west side.
HS: Oh, right, right, you lived on the west side. So what was your neighborhood on the west side like?
HG: What was it like? It was brick homes, large homes. Lovely neighborhood. Mixed Catholic, Protestants, some Jewish people. It was a very lovely childhood.
HS: Was it integrated race-wise?
HS: So it was a white neighborhood?
HG: It was a white neighborhood for many, many, many years.
HS: What year did you move to Rosedale Park?
HG: We moved to Rosedale Park in the early ‘60s.
HS: Why did you move there?
HG: I bought a house.
HS: Okay. All right. Okay, so we’ll move into the 1960s, and we have this written history in front of us that you have provided, which will be attached with this audio. It says here that you were a management team member of the Auto Club of Michigan in the Detroit Automobile Inter-Insurance Exchange?
HG: That’s correct.
HS: Can you explain that position for me?
HG: I was working in what they call the building department, which was in charge of all buildings and facilities, as well as I was in charge of all communications—voice, data, telephones, teletype systems back in those days, all radio systems, those kinds of things.
HS: So a lot of responsibility in your job.
HG: Lots of responsibilities.
HS: Were you working during the week of the riots?
HG: I was working every day.
HS: What was that like? How did you first hear about the riots?
HG: I had been out in California and returned home on the weekend the riots started, and I was out visiting relatives in the Pontiac area. I drove by a State Police post on Telegraph and 59, and out of the state police post came a car with four Michigan State Troopers in one car with the lights on and the sirens going, and another car followed him, also with four troopers in the car. To this day, I’ve never seen four troopers in a State Police car in my life.
HS: Yeah, neither have I.
HG: Exactly, it doesn’t happen, so something major was happening and probably the news that night, I don’t remember.
HS: That would be Sunday?
HG: That was Sunday, yep. And Monday morning I went to work. I drove from Rosedale Park down Grand River in my car, and went to the office building on Bagley and Clifford. That’s where the three AAA buildings were. One of the buildings was United Artists’ Theatre building, and that was about 180,000 square feet. The little auto club building across the street, and we had space in the Teller Hotel, which was on Grand Circus Boulevard, I think.
HS: What happened on Monday, when you were at work? What was it like?
HG: It was really confusing. Most of our employees showed up to work Monday. I think that was the 24th?
HG: It was quite evident that the riots were in full swing. During Monday, we came to the conclusion that the employees should probably go home, for their safety. In closing the departments down, I was probably the last management person that stuck around the entire week. I went down, drove down there every day of the riots that week and the following weeks. We kept guards, we had security guards. We kept those guards on duty. We had some maintenance personnel, and myself. So I was kind of down there coordinating everything, and ensuring that our building and computer systems and records and everything else for the largest auto insurance company in Michigan continued to operate. That’s what AAA Michigan was in those days. The Detroit Automobile Inter-Insurance Exchange was the insurance of the Auto Club of Michigan.
HS: Going through this written history that you provided us, can you explain the bit about Michigan Bell telephone system?
HG: Sure. Back in the day, Michigan Bell was the carrier for the Detroit Metropolitan area. Back in the day, in 1967, there were probably 37 telephone companies in the state of Michigan, and they all had territories, and the territories were regulated by the Michigan Public Service Commission, and the metropolitan Detroit area was under Michigan Bell’s territory. So Michigan Bell provided all dial tone and those kinds of things for residents as well as commercial telephone services. Because of all the confusion and what was going on during those first couple of days, everybody—not everybody, but a lot of people in the Detroit Metropolitan area were calling their mothers, their brothers, their friends, whatever, and the telephone systems are designed that they can handle so many calls, but not everybody calling at one time. What happened to the metropolitan Detroit telephone system, Michigan Bell system, was that so many people went off hook to make telephone calls, a good share of the people went to make a phone call and there was no dial tone because they were all in use. That kind of was a major issue for the first week especially, and really the next couple of weeks.
HS: Do you think that exacerbated the fear that people were feeling?
HG: Probably, because the telephone was their lifeline to the police department, the fire department, including their security, so yeah, I’m sure that affected a lot of people.
HS: Did the company you work for experience any issues with the phones during that week?
HG: Yes they did, and we’ll get into that a couple of bullets down.
HG: My last bullet said, “Poor telephone service continued throughout the first and second week of the riots.”
HS: Onto the next page, let’s talk about the Essential Worker’s permit.
HG: Sure. So, our management at AAA Michigan and the insurance companies put together an emergency response team, a management team. I was one of the management team members. All of the—and I can’t remember how many of us there were, I think there were maybe seven—we were all issued an essential worker’s permit that was provided by Jerome Cavanagh, the mayor of the city of Detroit at that time. It was signed by our general manager at the auto club, and it had my name, rank, and serial number on the pass.
HS: And you have very kindly provided us with a copy of that.
HG: Yeah, took me a while to find it, but I finally found it.
HS: Well, we’re really glad you found it. So what did the permit allow you to do?
HG: The permit allowed me, first of all, during that first week, they—I don’t know if it was, probably the city government along with the state and federals, maybe—they put a curfew into effect. I don’t remember the hours of the curfew, but—
HS: I believe it was eight to eight?
HG: Eight to eight. I went to work prior to eight o’clock in the morning, and I was probably still downtown after eight o’clock at night. So the pass allowed me to go to and from work during the curfew hours without a problem.
HS: So if you were stopped, you could show them—
HG: And they would allow me to proceed.
HS: Okay. Awesome. So then, Tuesday, federal troops were ordered in, National Guard, tell me about that.
HG: Okay. President Johnson, United States President, determined that Detroit, the Michigan National Guard and the local police, including State and Detroit, weren’t capable of handling as much insurrection issues that were going on early in the week. So, it was determined that they would send in federal troops. So somebody in local government said, okay, the federal troops will assist the residents and provide security for Detroit east of Woodward. So Woodward was the dividing line for the support personnel. West of Woodward was Michigan National Guard, along with the state police and the city of Detroit Police Department and Fire Department. The city of Detroit police and state police and fire department also supported the federal troops on the east side of Detroit.
HS: So they were stretched pretty thin.
HG: Yeah, so it was the National Guard on the west side, and the 82nd airborne division, I believe, was on the east side of Detroit. They were kind of elite troops.
HS: Did you feel relieved when they came in, or did you sense a feeling of relief?
HG: None whatsoever.
HS: Were you worried at all during the riots?
HG: Yeah, we can get to that. I’d like to stop just for a second and regain
[End of Track 1- 00:11:37]]
[Beginning of Track 2]
HS: This is a continuation of the interview with Harvey Greig. We are speaking about the federal troops and National Guard in Detroit.
HG: When the federal troops came in, they needed telephone services. They’d set up a command post on the east side; I don’t know where that was. The National Guard command post was at Northwestern Field, on Grand River. The National Guard had their own communication services, and I don’t know if they got telephone lines from Michigan Bell or not. But, the federal troops required massive telephone lines. J.L. Hudson Company had a huge switchboard and a lot of telephone lines, and the Auto Club of Michigan was the second largest telephone system, other than the government, and other than J.L. Hudson’s. Michigan Bell management decided to release all the Auto Club lines and give them to the federal troops. I lost, oh, 154 telephone lines that was assigned from Michigan Bell to AAA, or the Auto Club. They used those lines and put me, telephone-wise, out of business during their stay in Detroit, which was several days.
HS: What was the scope of the impact of that on your company?
HG: That means that employees could stay home because they couldn’t do anything and they didn’t have any telephones. My customers couldn’t call me for road services, insurance services, because I didn’t have any telephone lines. And that was the only, the normal means of communication was telephones, back in the day.
HS: Moving down, you have a note here that says, “After the riots, it became evident that we should hire and supplement our security staff.”
HG: Where am I?
HS: The very last bulletin on the page.
HG: Let’s back up and the bullet before that explains what telephone services besides the normal, residential phone service and the commercial telephone services that were being used by the general public and businesses. That’s when there was very little dial tone available, because everybody’s trying to make a phone call at one time. The only telephone service that Michigan Bell provided that worked during that time was mobile telephone service, which was like a car telephone. You would pick up the car telephone and you would signal a Michigan Bell operator that you wanted to make a telephone call, and she would complete the connection for you. That was the only service that worked, we found out, during the riots. After the riots, our management team said to prepare for any other insurrections that may come in the future, we need to have a communications at least between the emergency team members. So I provided all the team members, the seven or eight team members of our emergency response team, with car telephones. We had those until they were replaced by cell phones in, I think, the 1990s. Anyway, so I’ve had telephone service in my cars since 1967.
HS: Aside from placing cell phones in the cars, how else did the company train staff members to prepare for future insurrections?
HG: Hang on. After the riots, it became really evident that the guard staff that we had in our three different buildings in downtown Detroit, they were not armed. After some consideration, everybody agreed that maybe we should be hiring and supplementing our regular guards with ex-Detroit police officers who were allowed to carry weapons. That was put into effect, and I don’t know about to this day, but for many, many years the Detroit Police Department supplemented our guards. Also, for future issues, the emergency response team decided to train and purchase weapons for the management team, the seven management team, that were responsible for employee security and building security, and customer security, if they were in our facilities. So that happened after the riots.
HS: All right. So why don’t we talk about some of the incidents you remember during the riots, specific things
HG: As I said before, I went to work from Rosedale Park to downtown Detroit via Grand River each and every day, to and from. I passed the bivouac area, if you want to call that, for the Michigan National Guard at Northwestern Field on Grand River, near the old Olympia, which was where the Red Wings played, back in the day. On Wednesday, I was driving from Rosedale Park down Grand River. There wasn’t any traffic that whole entire week. It was rare for me to see another car. The traffic signals, Detroit traffic signals, were all working during the riots, most of them were working unless they were burned by whatever. But most of the traffic lights, so I followed all the rules and stopped at red lights. I got to the intersection of Grand River and Joy Road, and there was a red light. I stopped, and a Michigan National Guard tank was sitting next to me, waiting for the light to change to green. We both sat there until the light went green, and then we both left and proceeded down Grand River with a tank next to me.
HS: And that’s not something you see every day!
HG: That’s not something you see every day. Naturally, I couldn’t see anybody in the tank, but the tank was moving along—certainly I was faster than the tank. I got down to, near downtown, and the Michigan National Guard, the state police, Detroit police, a lot of fire equipment, was very active in a riot environment, closer to downtown, as I was proceeding down Grand River. That kind of really shook me up, and I was kind of apprehensive, but I continued to complete my trip downtown. After that, commuting down Grand River, I was very aware of the dangerous situation I was in. Have I explained why I would take Grand River versus the Lodge Freeway? I could easily take the Lodge Freeway downtown, but there was a lot of reported shooting down the Lodge Freeway. There wasn’t a lot of cars, but I didn’t want to take the chance of me being shot at from high rise buildings. I thought I was safer on surface streets.
HS: I’d imagine, because the Lodge is sunk down, it might be like shooting fish in a barrel.
HG: It is, yeah. That’s exactly what I was concerned about, and that’s why I took Grand River.
HS: Speaking of concerns for your safety, were you worried for your wife at all during this time?
HG: No, not really. We took a walk one night down to—I was probably about two blocks away from Grand River and Southfield, and we took a walk and looked down Grand River, and I don’t remember what day it was, but there was smoke and fire down at Greenfield and Grand River. That’s as far west as I saw anything during the entire riot period. But there was smoke and fire, something was on fire at Greenfield and Grand River. You could see clearly because there was no traffic on Grand River, and it was probably a mile, mile and a half, for me to look down and see that area at Greenfield and Grand River.
HS: So you were further west than there so it didn’t reach your neighborhood?
HG: I was further west. Nothing, no insurrection happened that I know of, although I did hear, at night, I did hear a lot of sirens going on, I heard gunshots going on at night. I slept with a 12-gauge shotgun that I had for hunting next to my bed. I lived near the Southfield freeway, and after eight o’clock at night, nobody could drive because of the curfew and there was dead silence, which was really weird on the freeway. There was no noise, and that was really, really unusual. No noise at all, other than in the middle of the night, I would hear some gun fire and sirens going on. Although I had weapons at home, I never took the weapons to work with me, so I was never armed going to and from work.
HS: Why was that?
HG: It wasn’t legal, first of all. I suppose I could’ve carried it legally with the gun broken down, but I didn’t want to get involved in that.
HS: Just safer not to bother with it?’
HG: Just safer not to bother with that. And as I said, the streets were wide open and I had a car capable of going very fast.
HS: During your travels to and from work, during the curfew, were you ever stopped by the police at all?
HG: No, and that’s kind of unusual. The riots lasted, according to popular theory, they lasted, you know, the five days, but the city was still in an insurrection situation for a lot longer than that. I don’t know how long the curfew was in effect, I’ve forgotten, but what amazes me is that all the times I went to and from work, downtown and to home, I was never stopped by anybody. By the police, state police city police, anybody, to question what I was doing on the road after hours.
HS: Did you see anybody?
HG: Nobody. Now when I got downtown, there was lots of activity, but there was shooting going on, I mean, good heavens. There wasn’t police cars, Detroit police cars, patrolling Grand River. I don’t think I even saw a car. I heard them at night, heard sirens, but I don’t think I ever saw a Detroit police car on Grand River when I was on Grand River.
HS: Do you think that maybe they just had bigger fish to fry?
HG: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. They’re down there in the middle of the riots, heavens. 5,000 Detroit cops probably, back in the day, but I never saw one and nobody ever pulled me over.
HS: Were there any other experiences during the riots that you’d like to tell us about, or can we move on to post-riots?
HG: I’m just reviewing it in my mind here, hold on. No, I think we can go to post-riots.
HS: Okay. At what point did AAA receive their telephone lines back?
HG: Well, I don’t remember what day the federal troops left. I can’t remember if they stayed around for the weekend. I really can’t remember. I think the Michigan National Guard was there for the following week. But I don’t know about the federal troops. When the federal troops were released, and they went home, so to speak, I got my telephone lines back from Michigan Bell really quickly.
HS: Was your telephone traffic just crazy at that point, getting it back?
HG: No, no. Because people were still reacting to, they weren’t driving, their cars weren’t breaking down, they didn’t need road service or the insurance company. Nobody was driving so the auto insurance company, they weren’t really busy. Slowly but surely the systems went back into somewhat normal routines.
HS: At about what point—one week after, two weeks after, three weeks after—would you say it got back to normal?
HG: I think all the employees were back, probably the following Monday. I really don’t remember when I activated—I had 18 switchboard operators that worked for me handling all the communications—and I really can’t remember what day, if I had them that weekend, I don’t remember. Probably, it was probably the following Monday. I don’t remember.
HS: Were you working on the weekends also or was it Monday through Friday?
HG: I can’t remember if I went down for the weekends. I really don’t remember.
HS: Did you normally work weekends?
HS: So had you gone, it would’ve been just because it was a special—
HG: Well, if I would’ve gone down, it would’ve been to support my guards, my maintenance people, and give them a comfort feeling that someone from management wasn’t abandoning them. Again, I do not remember.
HS: All right. Let’s see. What else can you tell me about the aftermath of the riots?
HG: The aftermath. The emergency response team for our management, our seven or eight people, we had several meetings, and it was kind of decided that we needed to provide some kind of assistance, telephone assistance, outside of the city of Detroit, that if they could get to a telephone that was usable, we could provide them with recordings about work schedules, we could provide them with assistance. We put three centers together: One was on the east side north of 8 Mile Road; one was in Birmingham, which was north of 8 Mile Road; and the one on the west side was—I can’t remember if it was Livonia or—we had branch offices scattered throughout the Detroit Metropolitan area. I think it was the Livonia office, but I’m not real sure. It may have been Farmington.
HS: Somewhere in that area.
HG: Yeah, somewhere in that area. We had three centers. Those centers were equipped with recording equipment from Michigan Bell. We would change the recordings or put recordings on based on what the requirements were, if another insurrection were to take place.
HS: So, essentially, those recordings were there if employees needed to know if they needed to come into work, or—
HG: That’s right. Employees were provided with telephone numbers. If they resided on the east side, the north side, the west side and downriver side, it was all handled out of those three centers. Each employee was provided with telephone numbers after the riots.
HS: So they would call their respective branch to get information?
HG: No, they would call one of the three centers. Not the AAA branches, they probably were not operating.
HS: Okay. So they would call one of the three centers to get information on should they come into work?
HG: The people I’m talking about were headquarter employees. Not branch office employees.
HS: Okay. When did you say that you moved out of Rosedale Park?
HG: The mid ‘80s, 1980s.
HS: Where did you move to?
HG: I moved to South Lyon.
HS: Why did you move?
HG: The neighborhood was deteriorating. My wife was a school teacher at Detroit Public Schools. We weren’t comfortable walking in the neighborhood anymore. We had to go to the suburbs, in our minds, for groceries and safety. The last six months that I was in Rosedale Park, I had four cars stolen from my driveway, in six months.
HS: Oh, my god! Four cars in six months?
HG: Four cars in six months, and that convinced me to—the last one was on the day I signed the sales for my house, which was Halloween.
HS: Nail in the coffin, right there.
HG: That was it.
HS: Wow. So now you live in Brighton, so you live pretty far. Do you come into the city frequently? Or did you when you lived in South Lyon?
HG: Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. I worked in downtown Detroit for, like, 25 years, so I’m a Detroit guy. I was born in Detroit, I lived in Detroit for, you know, 50 years or more. We still go to restaurants down here. We have friends that live down in Detroit. We go to ball games, we go to hockey games. We live in the suburbs, but we’re still Detroit people.
HS: In that time, how have you seen the city change?
HG: I personally think that the African American person is worse off today than in July 1st of 1967.
HS: In what ways?
HG: Well, I don’t think they have gained anything. I don’t think they’ve gained education; I don’t think they’ve gained respect, job opportunities; I don’t think the African American in the city of Detroit, I think they’re going downhill. It should be reverse of that, but I don’t know how to turn it around. But that’s my opinion, but I’m sitting out in lily-white Brighton, Michigan. Anyway, I’m almost 80 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in 80 years. Most of it from the city of Detroit.
HS: Looking back at the events of ’67, I’ve heard you refer to it as an “insurrection.” Is that how you perceive the events?
HG: No, that was thrown around by the media. I hate like hell to call it a “riot,” and I think the federal people call it “insurrection.” They call it a lot of different names, and I don’t know if there’s an official name for it other than riots.
HS: Everybody has a different idea. I’ve heard “rebellion,” “uprising,” and “civil disturbance,” which I think is probably the mildest.
HG: “Civil disturbance” and “insurrection” are, I think the accepted media definition, other than “riots.” “Civil disturbance,” “insurrection,” and “riots” are, to me, the three keys, and they’re interchangeable. “Riots” is such a nasty word.
HS: I agree. Final question: If you had any advice for future generations of Detroit, what would it be?
HG: Stay married. There’s very few men that are living in family situations, black men that are living in family situations, and we really, really need to help—and I say “we,” I’m talking about the white population, I guess—need to help educate and I know it’s an easy thing to say; we’ve been trying to do it for fifty years, almost, next year. But I think education is the key to the future success of the African American in the city of Detroit.
HS: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. You have fascinating information, and I’m really glad we got to speak.
[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 00:21:15]
[End of Track 2]
Note: The audio is broken into two tracks