Paul Sgriccia, July 23rd, 2016
GS: Hello, today is July 23rd, 2016. We are in Detroit Michigan. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
PS: You’re welcome.
GS: Can you first start by telling me your name?
PS: My name is Paul Sgriccia.
GS: All right, Paul, where and when were you born?
PS: I was born in Highland Park, November 11th, 1952.
GS: What did your parents do growing up?
PS: Mom was a busy housekeeper and mom. We had six kids in the family. My dad was a mechanical engineer and owner of an engineering company.
GS: What was your community like in Highland Park? Was it very racially integrated?
PS: I was born in Highland Park. I grew up in Redford Township.
GS: Oh, okay.
PS: Typical suburb. I knew everybody on the street. That was our universe, our world of neighbors and close friends. Typical suburban upbringing. Five brothers and sisters, there are six of us.
GS: Where did you go to school growing up?
PS: To our Lady of Loreto parochial grade school, and a couple years at Catholic Central high school in Detroit, then I graduated from Redford Union High School in Redford.
GS: Excellent. Were those very racially integrated schools at all?
PS: Catholic Central, a little. Redford Union, a little. Not really in grade school, no. Grade school was not integrated.
GS: In the early ‘60s, what was your perception of Detroit as a city?
PS: My grandmother lived near the state fairgrounds, so I would visit grandma routinely. We’d take the bus from 7 and Woodward, 6 and Woodward downtown to go shopping. Vibrant city, a lot going on downtown. Always enjoyed going to visit my grandmother in Detroit, near the fairgrounds, and it was safe. Easy to visit. We’d routinely travel from Redford, just take the bus, and walk a few blocks to where my grandmother lived.
GS: Moving toward July of 1967, where were you when you first heard about the disturbance?
PS: Well, my cousin, Steve, and my best friend, Dan, and I went to church Sunday morning and we were going to the Detroit Tiger’s baseball game. It was common; we had done that a few times. I was 14 at the time, but I know even the year before, I would easily take the bus, 6 Mile and Beach in Redford, take the 6 Mile bus to Grand River, transfer at Grand River bus to Trumbull, get off at Grand River and Trumbull, walk a couple of blocks, and you’re at the old Tiger’s Stadium. I’d done that a few times the year before and did it a couple of times that summer. We left early, because I think it was a double header. We packed a lunch and off we went and went to the ballgame.
GS: So you heard afterwards then that the riot was starting?
PS: There was no mention of any disturbance once we were at the ballpark. That was Sunday. They played both games, and we left the ballpark, walked down Trumbull to Grand River, waited for a bus with a group of other folks, and got on the bus. After a minute or two, we realized the bus wasn’t any longer driving down Grand River; we were taking a detour. We didn’t know what was going on. We ended up getting on Warren—I only remember this because I had been there since—but at the time we didn’t know where we were. We saw looting, we saw stores being broken into, and we didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t our neighborhood and we were a little nervous, but we were still on the bus. The bus stopped at Warren and Livernois and the driver said, “Everybody out. End of the line.” We had no idea where we were, and I didn’t know where Livernois was at the time. I’ve been there since, but the street is maybe six or seven lanes wide at that point and it was empty. Looking north and south, there was no traffic. It wasn’t too late; it was still daylight. We turned around, and all the people that were on the bus are gone. We’re three suburban kids standing on a corner. We saw some kids on the other side of the street, but we didn’t see any cars and we didn’t know what we were going to do. There aren’t any cell phones or anything. We saw, looking north, probably a mile or so away we saw smoke, we saw police lights and fire engine lights. We said, “Well, if nothing else, we can walk down there and they can help us.” We turned around and a cab pulled up. The driver said, “You guys want a ride?” We said, “Sure! We’ll take one! We want to go home!” We don’t know where this guy came from, older fella, and three of us sat in the back. He says, “Where are you going?” We said, “6 Mile and Beach.” That’s where the bus would’ve dropped us off. He gets to where we’re going to be dropped off, where the bus would’ve dropped us off, and he tell us how much it is, and we’re scrambling; we’re about $2 short because either we ate too many hot dogs or bought too many ice creams, but we didn’t have enough. We had money for the bus, but we didn’t have money for a cab. He just said, “Ah, get out of here,” took whatever we had, $3 or $4. That was that. We got home safely. We walked about three or four blocks to where I lived, and we’re just nonchalant. We still don’t know there’s a riot. We’re just 13 or 14 year old kids. We start walking down our block and everybody knew we were missing. People start coming out of their houses. We get home and everybody’s really happy to see us. They tell us what was going on. We didn’t know we were in any kind of danger or anything. We learned later that my dad, as soon as we had left, they had heard there was a disturbance downtown. He started looking for us, but there’s no way they’re going to find us and they didn’t hear from us, and everybody was worried sick about us. We tell them the story about how we’re a couple dollars short on the cab and my dad looked at me and says, “Why didn’t you just have him bring you home? We would’ve paid him!” It was like, huh, well, the bus would’ve dropped us off at 6 and Beach, so that’s where we dropped off. Just kids. We didn’t know what was going on.
GS: Did you stay in your house the rest of the days?
PS: No. It was funny, my aunt came over and picked up my cousin. They lived in Livonia. They had just moved from near the state fair grounds. They lived down the street from my grandmother. They had just moved, so she came and picked up my cousin and she was all nervous. I don’t think Steve ever went to another ball game when he was younger. She was pretty nervous. My friend and I, Dan, we ended up camping out in his backyard that night. Kind of oblivious to things, but I know our parents were nervous and happy that we got home.
GS: Did your perception of Detroit change after the riot?
PS: Well, I don’t think my parents let me take the bus downtown by myself again. I was at Catholic Central in Detroit, and I attended one more year. I don’t think it changed terribly.
GS: A lot of people have called the riot, I said disturbance, but also other things like “rebellion” or “retaliation.” Would you call it anything else apart from riot?
PS: At the time, we were really young and naïve and we had no idea what the reasons were, what the causes were. I think years later there was frustration for civil rights and jobs and things like that, but at the time, in our neighborhood or our world, we didn’t see that.
GS: How do you see Detroit today?
PS: I worked in Detroit for over ten years, a few years ago. A lot of very positive changes. A lot of the neighborhoods are being, the homes are being demolished and neighborhoods being cleaned up. That’s important. I think with the new mayor they’re identifying and looking at urban planning and looking at neighborhoods, whether it’s the tree farm, whether it’s urban gardens, whether it’s cleaning up the neighborhoods and improving city services, combining neighborhoods, looking at those problems. The area downtown near Ford Field and Comerica Park is pretty vibrant with the younger folks with jobs, living downtown, not needing cars. There’s quite a good vibe going on there. It’s spreading to midtown, it’s spreading to other areas of the city, so I see very positive things going on. The light rails—it’s a short-term disturbance with the parking and the driving on Woodward right now—it’s very positive. I teach a class at Wayne State University. There’s always something new going on. I know at Wayne State, there’s a farmer’s market during the week on campus, and that’s positive. I think around the country, people are seeing that a lot of our problems are behind us. I think there’s an influx in new population coming into the city.
GS: All right, is there anything else you’d like to add?
PS: No, I think I’m good. I look forward to seeing more of your interviews. When I looked online, I didn’t see anyone else that went to the ballgame. That was, I wouldn’t say a sell-out, but it was pretty crowded. I’ve repeated this story a few times about being downtown at the ballgame and people just shake their heads like, “What?” And of all the baseball tickets that I’ve saved in my scrapbook over the years, that’s the one I can’t find.
GS: Wow. That’s too bad. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
PS: You’re welcome, Giancarlo. Thank you.