Joseph Claxton, June 12th, 2015
Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant
LW: Today is June 12, 2015. This is the interview of Joseph Claxton, I am Lily Wilson and we are at 250 McDougall St in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society and the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project.
LW: Okay. Joseph can you start by telling us where and when you were born?
JC: I was born September 17, 1947 in Ecorse, Michigan.
LW: And where did you live in July of 1967?
JC: I lived at 4538 French Road in Detroit.
LW: What neighborhood was that in?
JC: That’s the east side of town, yes.
LW: And what were you doing in 1967 during that summer when the civil unrest took place?
JC: At the time I was working afternoon shift at Ford Motor Company Rouge Plant. I just was 20 years old at that time. This particular time during that period, that weekend before I had went out of town and came back in town and the riot had already started at that time.
LW: Where had you gone and come back?
JC: I went to Akron, Ohio.
LW: To visit—
JC: To visit relatives, yes.
LW: And while you were gone?
JC: The riot had exploded and the incidents had already begun.
LW: So describe to me how that was leaving and coming back before and after?
JC: Okay, coming back—well leaving, you know there was little unrest going on but nothing to that magnitude, nothing had happened. But coming back, hearing on the radio that the riot had taken place and begun. The shootings, the fires, that was kind of alarming because getting back home you just know what to expect and watching a telecast on a television, it showed the city burning and this type of thing. So we were kind of just uneasy about what we were coming into but wanted to get home.
LW: You mentioned that there had been a little bit of unrest before you left, how long had that been going on for?
JC: Well that had been going on during the year of ’67 between the police department and some of the city services—treatment of the way some blacks were being treated. They were applying for jobs and not getting the jobs and the representation that they felt that they wanted at that time in the city. So the whole situation was very unrestful, you know.
LW: Had that type of unrest been going on as long as you could remember or was it particularly prominent at that time in July 1967?
JC: I think it had kinda been ledaing up to that, but then in ’67 I think it has kind of got out of control and exploded. As I recall now, I think when those people got caught in the after hour place that was going on then, I believe there was some gunfire exchange and even maybe someone had got killed, I think that kind of ignited the whole thing and set off everything at that point.
LW: So when you came back to Detroit from Akron and you actually saw for yourself, right, explain to us what that was like.
JC: Well you saw smoke overcast in the air, you saw a lot of police in helmet gear and riot gear standing around, streets were blocked off—you had to take alternate routes to get where I was going in the neighborhood. You saw people going in and out, running about, shouting, arguing back and forth with the police and the people that were trying to keep control. At that time even I believe the National Guard were here walking the streets—matter of fact I know they were because that’s one of the main incidents I remember with my experience with the National Guard.
LW: So tell us about that experience.
JC: Well, I was sitting on the porch and while sitting there, the National Guard was patrolling up and down the streets, walking the streets—I remember they were walking the streets of our neighborhood with army tanks, also they were riding the tanks. As I was getting up to go inside the house I clicked the door handle and when I made that click on the door handle the National Guard automatic responded and pointed his rifle at me. And I immediately had to shout out, “I don’t have a gun that was the door! I’m not armed!” because there was some sniping going on back at the National Guard and so I guess he kind of took that as a signal to protect himself and pointed the rifle at me and that was a very hairy experience.
LW: So what happened?
JC: Well, he didn’t—he, he relaxed after I held my hands up and told him that was not a gun, I didn’t have any weapons and he ordered me to go into the house. Because at that time there was a curfew so you couldn’t be on the streets, you could be, you know, on your property but you couldn’t be on the streets, so he told me to go in the house and that’s what I did.
LW: Was there any other instance like that?
JC: No, that was the only personal incident I had with the National Guard.
LW: Did you go to work during that time?
JC: Yes, they—if I remember right they kind of, they allowed you to go to work because I worked the afternoon shift. So they would allow you to go to and from work and that was it. You couldn’t linger, you had to be definitely going to a designated place and employment was one of the ones that they allowed you to go to.
LW: Anything else that you want to talk about with us?
JC: No, I think that’s just about it.
LW: Great, we really appreciate it.
LW: Thank you so much.
JC: You’re welcome.**