Lucille Schaffer, July 23, 2016
HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. The date is July 23rd, 2016. I am in Detroit Michigan for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am here with Lucille Schaffer. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
LS: Thank you.
HS: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
LS: Okay, I was born August 10th, 1950. My parents actually came from Germany with a five-year-old, a one-year-old, and three months later, I was born. I was born right here. I want to say Detroit, but it was really Hamtramck, like a block and a half away from Detroit. We lived in Hamtramck for probably about a year, and then we moved into the east side of Detroit, on Concord Street. Back then, when I was a small child, they were digging I-94, so we actually would go down and explore in that area.
HS: So you were the first of your family born in the US?
HS: What did your parents do?
LS: My father was a butcher sausage maker, and my mother, you know, when we came here, she also had to supplement his income, so she took a little job like in restaurants, that type of thing, because she’s a great cook. Actually, I have two other brothers and a sister that was born here. There were six of us.
HS: Oh, wow. So you’re the third one?
LS: I’m the first—no, there’s six of us, there’s six children. I had two sisters born in Germany—
HS: So then you’re number three—
LS: —and two brothers and a sister, yeah.
HS: Okay. What was your neighborhood like?
LS: Middle/low-income area, probably more on the low side. In the summer they would open up the hydrants and that’s how we stayed cool. My father finally got a car—he got a Desoto—and we’d go all the way down to Belle Isle, and we’d picnic and park by the band shell and listen to the free music, explore the flower house, the conservatory, and the fish, all that stuff. It was a great childhood. It was really cool.
HS: What schools did you go to?
LS: I was in the Detroit area, I lived on Concord Street, so you would just walk about two or three blocks and I was going to Cooper School. Then, I went to Burroughs Junior High School, and then Northeastern High School. They’re all in the Detroit area.
HS: And these are all public?
LS: These are all public schools and I was thinking this morning, as I was preparing for this interview, it wasn’t a good education.
LS: No, it wasn’t. I did graduate from Wayne State University, which is also here in Detroit. I had wonderful professors, but I didn’t get that core, you know. My parents didn’t speak English very well. I did have some good teachers. A lot of times, the teachers just weren’t there. You could sleep in class, or they’d show a movie, that type of thing. It was really terrible. What was I going to say? The only thing is, we got up and we said the Pledge of Allegiance, and you got that foundation, but I didn’t get good grades because I didn’t do homework. I didn’t even know about homework, and I had a couple of teachers—two specific teachers when I was in grade school—I was like teacher’s pet. They liked me a lot, but they didn’t teach me how to study. I now know what that was. One bought me a nice Easter outfit, another one came to my home and met my parents, but my parents didn’t speak English. They couldn’t help me with some of those things. If they had known about tutoring or something like that, that would’ve benefitted me a lot. It would’ve also helped me when I was in college. So anyway, and then things were kind of bad when I was in high school. The riots were July of ’67, I graduated June of ’67. I was at Northeastern High School, so a lot of my classes, I was the only white person in a lot of my classes.
HS: That was going to be my next question, if it was integrated or not.
LS: Yeah. You kind of grew up with the other students. Of course, when you’re in high school, they come from different areas, but basically I was well-liked. There wasn’t any problems. Once in a while, you have somebody that wants to fight, but I don’t know, I think that would be a black person or a white person, it wouldn’t’ve mattered. But there are always people around that would try to start trouble and stuff like that. I didn’t have too much of a problem. I think probably, just like anyone else—but I graduated when I was 16. I was already a co-op student, I already had a job that I got on my own. I was missing a lot of school, but I wouldn’t miss work. Prior to high school, I have a number of perfect attendance certificates. But once I got a job, I—
HS: Checked out?
LS: Well there was nothing to learn in school because it wasn’t a good education. So kind of on-the-job training. I had a nice job at 6 Mile and Woodward at Silvers, which is an office supply company, so I was learning things there. I never went to the school dances or the football games or any of that stuff. I took a modern dance class, but there was nobody there to really pull you into the other activities that went on. I didn’t have an interest because it kind of didn’t apply. It was kind of, you know, we didn’t have a good team, I didn’t know anything about it. That kind of thing.
HS: When you graduated high school in ’67, did you notice any tensions in the city?
LS: That’s a good question. In the city. Well, yeah, I mean that was a time—I mean, I saw tensions all through my life, because I lived in Detroit. I would have to say, I don’t even know how to put this. I would have to say that there was always prejudice. You would always see—I guess, mainly, in my opinion, it was more like the police. In my neighborhood, it was mostly black, as a young child, and everybody got along with everybody. Everything was fine. Then we did move, but we were still in Detroit. We wound up living on Miller Street, which is again an east side. It was like Miller and Mt. Elliot, by the Hamtramck Assembly, in that area. There, too, it was mostly segregated where, I would say the blacks were not treated as, well, you know. When you’re low income you’re not treated well anyway, so it was kind of like we were being treated the same, but the blacks still weren’t treated fairly, I didn’t think. The police would be a little more rougher, they’d be rough with them, kind of thing.
HS: How did you first hear about the events in July?
LS: Well, I lived in the city, and you turn on the TV and there it was. You could actually smell smoke in the air. I was only maybe a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Detroit, and they did put out a curfew. They were talking about a lot of the arrests. You saw quite a bit on television. We actually got in a car—so there were like four of us. We drove downtown. You weren’t supposed to, but you know the backways and that kind of thing.
HS: Was this you and your friends or people your own age or your parents?
LS: My boyfriend, and I think his sister and her husband. We drove downtown Detroit. We decided we’re not going to stop the car, no matter what, because they were showing a lot of violence. People getting things thrown at them and stuff. There weren’t that many cars on the road and a lot of streets were blocked off, but if the light was red, we would slowly go through it as long as it was safe, kind of thing, but there wasn’t that much traffic. We actually were waiting at a light in front of Vernor’s—there used to be a Vernor’s on Woodward Avenue. To the right, because we were headed—what would that be considered? We’re heading—
LS: North. Is that east?
HS: That direction is east.
LS: So this is Woodward here, so we were going that way.
HS: Okay, you were going north.
LS: Okay, we’re going north, and the streetlight must have been on, and you look over—and this is opposite of Vernor’s—and the window was broken. There were some black people around there and they started pulling stuff. It was a pawn shop, right? One person, there was a fan there, and he was pulling the fan because it was kind of like on a chain or something, so he’s trying to dislodge it, and then there’s other things around. So as soon as he made an attempt, that kind of prompted other people to get some free stuff, right? So now you’ve got people, do I take it or not? It was kind of like, do I steal this or not? As soon as, probably five minutes, ten minutes later—because we were still sitting there for the light—a police car pulled up and they got out, they made them put their hands up on the wall, and they were really pretty rough with them, you know? Jerking them around, pushing them down, and someone was on the ground. That kind of violence was frightening for me. I just wanted to get out of there. They were stealing, but it kind of seemed like, you know, the punishment didn’t really fit the crime, kind of thing. They were just, like, pretty rough with them. I didn’t see anybody getting hit or anything, but I’m sure that happens.
HS: Was there anything else that you saw during that week? Any other events or experiences?
LS: I don’t think we went downtown anymore. There was a curfew, there’s things that we saw on television. Yeah, we didn’t go out that much. It was just hot, we were trying to, you know, there was no air conditioning in the house, so a lot of times we were just laying around on the floor. I think people weren’t even able to leave to go to work. It seemed to me like people had to stay home. A lot of sirens and that type of thing, and everybody talking about it.
HS: Do you remember what day it was that you and your friends went downtown?
LS: I’m trying to think. I thought that the riots were like Sunday, if I’m not mistaken.
HS: It started on Sunday.
LS: It started on Sunday, yeah. So it was probably Monday. It was probably the next day.
HS: Looking back on it, do you refer to it as a riot, or do you call it a rebellion or an uprising, civil disturbance?
LS: When they said riot, I didn’t think that it was a riot. I never felt, personally, I never felt unsafe. I always felt that the blacks were not, were treated a little more rough than everyone else. They were treated a little differently. I felt that it was between the police—I really felt it was between the police and the blacks. The police were gonna make a point. Oh, yeah, I remember them talking about that there were so many people that they were arresting that they were putting them on Belle Isle, I forget where—
HS: The elephant house.
LS: Oh, was it the elephant house? So yeah. That was going on. That’s how blacks were being treated then. The police were always rough with them. It’s kind of sort of like, I was saying about them stealing out of that pawn shop. One person would get away with it, and another person would think that they could too, and that’s how the police were. There’s good cop, bad cop. If you have a good cop, everything was fine. But if you have somebody who’s wanting to show some kind of power play or something, they would get these other good cops to kind of come along and do the same thing.
HS: How have you seen the city change?
LS: Well, first of all, I love this city. Detroit is my home. I love Detroit. I go to the Opera House, I go to the Detroit Symphony, I come here to the Historical Society, I go to the Art Institute. I love this place. If anyone talks about it, right away I am standing up for it. How it’s changed: because of our economy and all the things that went on in the city, everything is vacant. It’s a shame. It’s dirty, broken, that type of thing, but I really feel like it’s starting to come back. Belle Isle, you know what happened with the government taking that over, it’s looking so much nicer now. I don’t personally come downtown as often as I like because my husband feels that it’s unsafe. So even when I was going to school—I just graduated in 2012 from Wayne State University—I would come down here, and he was afraid for me. He grew up in the suburbs, in Livonia, and anything that happens bad, he brings it to my attention. Sometimes, that does put a fear in you, it does. I loved the public transportation system. I was taking the bus downtown. I take the megabus when I go out of town. There’s just so much going on here. I love it. I just wish it would turn around quicker so I can come back quicker, because I am out in the suburbs right now. But I still come down here. The food is wonderful. I’m not a gambler, but I’ll go into the casinos for the food. I love Greektown. I do go to Hamtramck and I eat some of the Polish food. I love this stuff. I think one of the big hindrances is the transportation. Once they got rid of the buses, even the buses that we have now, they’re not really on-time. They don’t run late into the night. We don’t have a way of getting to the airport. If you don’t have a car, you’re in bad shape. I just think that back in the day, it was always about the money. Get rid of the transportation, they have to buy the car, so now we’re stuck. I think it’s coming back now. I hope it’s coming back now. I’m looking at the rails, when I got here. Looking at the railroad that’s going to be coming in here. The People Mover, you know...I don’t know.
HS: Final question: What advice would you leave for today’s generation and future generations in Detroit?
LS: What advice? A lot of things are going on right now. The one big theme is treat everybody as equal. You can’t say that enough. It’s never going to happen, but maybe it will. But I think people need to stand up for each other more. People need to have a voice in saying, you know, the police are rough. Not all of them! You’ve got good police. Government is corrupt, but not all people in government are corrupt! People of color have that reverse discrimination, but not all of them. White people and blacks don’t get along, but not all of them. Everybody just needs to accept one another for all their foibles and all the good. If something good is happening, say it. Let people know this is the way to live. Share and help one another. If you see somebody that’s having a problem, help them. Hopefully, if you have issues, people will help you. It all comes around. I would just say love one another.
HS: That’s a great message.
HS: All right, is there anything else you wanted to add today?
LS: No, I think I’m done.
HS: Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.