Alee Darwish, March 30th, 2015

Title

Alee Darwish, March 30th, 2015

Description

In this interview, Darwish discusses growing up in a multi-ethnic community in Highland Park and the causes and effects of the 1967 disturbance, including the closing of the Highland Park Ford Plant and race relations. He also discusses changes in the Muslim and Arab-American community in Detroit since the 1960s.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Format

audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Sound

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Alee M. Darwish

Brief Biography

Alee M. Darwish was born May 20, 1955 and grew up in Highland Park, MI where he lived during the 1967 disturbance. Darwish worked for the Ford Motor Company for thirty-two years. Darwish identifies as Muslim and Arab American. He currently lives in Dearborn, MI.

Interviewer's Name

Mohammad Beydoun

Interview Place

Dearborn, MI

Date

03/30/2015

Interview Length

00:38:29

Transcriptionist

Lillian Wilson
Noah Levinson

Transcription

MB: Would you please state your name?

AD: Alee Darwish. 59 years old, I grew up here. I worked at Ford Motor Company for 32 years, I retired April 1, 2006. We originally resided in Highland Park. My father was auto worker he retired in 1963. Started at Ford’s in 1916 and we used to live in a neighborhood that was basically a melting pot: a lot of Europeans, we had Native Indians, we had Armenians, Hispanics, Middle Eastern, and we also had a handful of Jewish families.

MB: Can you tell me how old you were in 1967, when the riots occurred?

AD: In 1967 I was 12 years old, it was summer vacation from school and every day six in the morning we used to go out and play baseball. We used to call it the alley, Alley Stadium. We picked teams, get out there six o’clock, six-thirty a.m.; eleven thirty everybody’s mother would be on the back porch to call their kids in for lunch. We’d be back out in the alley in about twenty, twenty-five minutes. Six o’clock dinner, be a rerun of the mothers on the back porch again calling all the kids for dinner. We’d play outside in the alley until eleven, twelve o’clock midnight, but we had the huge street lights in the alley.

MB: So you said your father worked for Ford at the time. Would you consider yourself working class, middle class, high class, how would you consider yourself and your family?

AD: My father was a middle class. As I said he worked for Ford. He was a butcher by trade. He originally came — he had uncles on both sides of the family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota little lake. He came at 13, and he came to Highland Park in 1915 and he started at Ford’s.

MB: In ’67 you said he was already retired correct?

AD: He was already retired four years with 47 years.

MB: What do you remember about Detroit in the mid-1960s before the riots? How was it? How was the city?

AD: Downtown Detroit, it was like a metropolis. There was a lot of heavy foot traffic, not only during the week, but also on the weekends. There was festivities, there was old Olympia Stadium. There was the old Tiger Stadium which was referred as Briggs Stadium, Walter Briggs Stadium. And in the summer time the Tigers would play there, in the winter time the Detroit Lions football team franchise would play there.

MB: And how was the city life? Like where would your family shop? Was it more into the city or more into the suburbs where you lived?

AD: Everybody shopped up and down Woodward between Manchester and Davison. You had clothing stores, you had shoe stores, you had hardware stores. You had women clothing stores, Winkleman’s. We also had Sam’s, which, basically, catered to men, to kids, people who were too tall or if you had a heavy waistline, I mean they had all kind of stores. In fact one of the first Coney Island’s, not the first, was on Victor, it was called Red Hot’s, it was there in 1921, and once a month my late father would take us for a haircut, and on the way back we had a choice; either go to Red Hot’s which was a Coney Island, or there was a place called Red Barn Restaurant which was on the corner of Davison and Woodward and we’d go there and have a big party. So we’d kind of switch every other month.

MB: During the time, in the sixties, how would you describe the relationship between the people in your community and neighborhood and the city government?

AD: City government at the time I guess it was an easy flow, I mean, we didn’t have a whole lot of crime. I mean, even now, every now and then you probably have a minor incident but in terms of the community as a whole collectively, whether your ethnicity was European or southern American or Middle Eastern everybody knew everybody’s kids and all the parents knew everybody’s family. And if one of the parents seen somebody else’s son or daughter doing something wrong, or using vulgarity, they would bring in the house wash their mouth with soap. And you wouldn’t dare go home and say, “So- and-so’s mother took me in washed my mouth out with soap because I used vulgarity.”

MB: How’d you feel about Mayor Cavanagh? How would you say the community felt towards him? Before the riots, how did they feel about him?

AD: Before the riots, Cavanagh was a very young mayor. He had a good administration. There was a little bit of tension between the African American community and the white community, but it wasn’t major until the ’67 riots erupted. In fact that wasn’t the first civil disturbance, they had a first riot in 1943.

MB: Did you feel before the riots that the African American community at the time were being treated unfairly?

AD: Yeah. They were treated unfairly. There was no such thing as equal opportunity back then, and the police department at the time, I think was roughly 80/20 or maybe 70/30. The majority of the police force, the supervisors, the deputy chiefs, all your department heads were basically white.

MB: And what was the living conditions like for an African American family in an area of segregated housing and school?

AD: Well, we all shared the same schools, there was a handful of families that were Catholic that could afford to send their kids to private schools. Most of the melting pot children in our community we all went to public schools, we all went to public parks, we all played together collectively. After school, during the week, when you’re done with your homework or on the weekend, and a lot of times if the alley was taken, we would walk to Ford Park which was between Manchester and Six Mile on Woodward, right next door to the Ford Motor Company Model T assembly plant.

MB: Do you feel that their living conditions were any different than yours, or do you feel like it wasn’t as segregated as people may think?

AD: In terms of living conditions I think that the non-African American households back then weren’t, in terms of upkeep, as good as the rest of the homes in the neighborhood. I’m not saying their lawns weren’t always mowed and manicured and clean, but everybody else in the neighborhood, their homes were much better. Now we had a handful of African American neighbors, which, their lawns were manicured the grass was watered, it was fertilized in terms of lawn nutrition and so forth .

MB: How did you first hear about the civil disturbances that became known as The Riots?

AD: Well that Sunday, in July, we were coming back from a mosque on the south end of Dearborn. We had two routes, usually since we lived in Highland Park we would take Davison all the way down to Oakman, make a left on Wyoming from there we went to the mosque. And sometimes on the way out, we’d take Vernor all the way downtown, hit Michigan Avenue, go north and that would take us to Highland Park. That particular afternoon, my Ma decided to take Woodward, which was a good thing, because otherwise if we would have took Wyoming to Oakman via Davison, we would’ve been caught right in the middle of the civil disturbance, which detailed rioting, looting, and burning down stores.

MB: How did your family react to what was going on as a whole? How did your parents deal with the events that were unfolding?

AD: Well after we got home and we found out, what had happened, it kind of startled the family. But in terms of kids in the neighborhood, the parents first top priority were the kids: stay in the house, don’t go outside”. And then they implemented a curfew. They called in the National Guard and they thought that the National Guard could handle the civil disturbance. They thought wrong; they had to call in the 82nd Airborne Division. And when they called them in, they really clamped down: five o;clocl, nobody on the street and if they found anybody on the street they would take them in. They would ride up and down Woodward with halftracks, tanks up and down the neighborhoods, and jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns on the hood. They also had helicopters roving the skies too.

MB: As a kid, it must have been pretty cool playing in the streets, walking out seeing National Guard members and members of the 82nd Airborne . Can you please explain some of your memories of witnessing all this first hand?

AD: Well as a kid, you’d think it’s cool because you see the army and military equipment being used on certain TV shows like Combat, but this was live. You would see the army people at the gas stations, you would see them at the stores, you would see them patrolling the neighborhoods, but as of five o’clock, you better be off the street. So every parent made sure their kids were off the streets. You could sit on your front porch or back porch you’re not gonna go out in the street, and you’re not gonna go out and play in the alley.

MB: Growing up only three blocks away from the riots did you hear any of the rumors of police brutality going on or any of the unfair treatment of African Americans?

AD: I’m assuming that they were treated not with justice, not with fairness or not with discipline, whether it was from the shopkeepers  or to the police department and it kind of got out of hand and the African American community — which I don’t blame them— they started to rebel, they said enough is enough.

MB: And did you, your parents or any of your siblings witness first hand any of the events that occurred during this disturbance?

AD: If you walk out in the alley and you look towards Davison and Hamilton, you can see clouds of black smoke, you can hear the gunfire, you can hear the sirens during the day and sometimes in the evening.

MB: As a child, it must have been pretty scary hearing the stories of looting and burning down buildings. Can you tell me how you felt back in the day, as a child, hearing rumors of possible violence reaching the suburbs? How you felt and how your family must have felt?

AD: Well, it never reached the suburbs because in conjunction with the Airborne Division and the State Police and the Michigan National Guard they contained the violence they contained the area so it was limited it didn’t go outside the boundaries.

MB: So, did you notice an immediate migration of the whites from the city of Detroit to the suburbs, or was that something that happened slowly?

AD: Whether it was Detroit or Highland Park at the time, after the riots, the area started to go south. Most of your white Anglos, predominately Catholics, started to move out of Detroit, started to move out of Highland Park. Tax base shrunk, cities were in the red, and what really put the icing on the cake is years later when Chrysler moved out of Highland Park, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. No tax base, no industrial tax base, was available because they took care of the bulk of the tax base. Ford Motor Company had a limited production facility they were making the jeeps for the military back then. And they had a test rack on the corner of Manchester and Woodward. And as kids we would go there and hang on to the side of the fence watch the jeeps go around the agility track. The would have fast stops, sharp turns and they would check to see if the jeep was durable and that it could handle that type of terrain once it was shipped overseas.

MB: Being a Muslim American man, how was the Muslim community at the time in Metro Detroit during the sixties.

AD: Muslim community back then it wasn’t a tenth of what it is today. You had certain pockets and certain areas and certain neighborhoods. We had basically maybe 30, 35 families that was it. And they were not only Lebanese, they were Lebanese they were Palestinian, we had a handful of Jordanians. And back then everybody was known as Syrian. Syrian bread, Syrian cheese, Syrian food. It’s not until the late nineties all the sudden everybody all the sudden Lebanese. I eat Lebanese food, et cetera.

MB: Leadership-wise, how did the leaders in the Muslim community react to what was going on in ’67? Was there any planning any rejoice —

AD: They were concerned about the health and welfare of the family, the kids getting to and from school safely, but back then everybody walked to school, you had a handful of families that were very apprehensive that they would take their kids to school and they would drive them back. But the riots were not directly towards the ethnic melting pot, it was between the white administration and the African American and how they were treated. Did we have a plan? Not to my recollection but we had very few politicians back then. We had Mike Barry who was the Wayne County Road Commissioner, we had Jimmy Karoub which was one of the most effective lobbyist in the State of Michigan, he represented all the major sports teams and the car dealerships.

MB: Would you consider all these very prominent names, would you consider it a tight knit group or was it more broad spreading out through Metro Detroit.

AD: It was a tight group because they were a minority. And when you’re small you gotta stay intact versus what we have today, just in our area between Dearborn and Detroit, businesses, residences, law firms, medical doctors, cardiologists, you got about 250,000 people—that comes a long way going 50, 55 years back.

MB: Was there any instances of violence coming from members of the Muslim community? Did any members see themselves facing any backlash whether it was the storeowner who owned the store in downtown Detroit or violence reaching their areas?

AD: Most of the storeowners back then, yeah, you had a handful of Lebanese, you had a handful of Palestinians. But most of the party store owners and the liquor store owners were Chaldean. They’d come from Iraq. They are a Christian, Catholic minority that basically come from a town called Telkaif and Baghdad and they have other pockets.

MB: Do you remember any instances of one of their stores getting burned down or robbed during the riots?

AD: There was a couple robbed back then, I can’t remember their names but my father knew them and his friends knew them too.

MB: A big role you could say coming court of these riots was a group called the STRESS [Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets] unit.

AD: STRESS was a decoy unit of the police department—average guy was probably six-foot or better—and they were supposed to make the streets of Detroit safe. How did they make them safe? They would pose as vagrants, homeless people, sitting on the corner, and they would wait for somebody—whether they were African American or white—and when they came to try to rob them or beat them up there was other scout cars in the area, and when they seen this particular action taking place on one of the STRESS members they would come and beat them up, a lot of them got killed, and they were incarcerated.

MB: Did you know or your family know any STRESS officers personally or was it something where they had to hide their identity?

AD: Personally my dad didn’t know any STRESS police officers but he knew a lot of police officers in Highland Park, detectives, sergeants, patrol people but not in the City of Detroit.

MB: How do you feel about them, how do you feel about the STRESS unit, do you think that the way they did their job was a little too extreme at times, do you think they were always fair, or were they a little radical in their approach?

AD: Well, they were radical and the purpose of STRESS was to clean the streets of Detroit and make them safe and that was—STRESS was in action until Mayor Young ran for mayor I think, in 1973, ’74. The first thing he did when he took office and he took that oath was abolish and dismantle STRESS which he did. Not only did he do that he integrated the police department and the fire department which is—if we look back now you gotta say the police department in Detroit is about 75/25, 75 African American and 25 percent are a little bit of everybody else.

MB: Some folks like to refer to the incident that happened in July 1967 as a rebellion or a revolution—how do you see it, do you see it as a riot, rebellion or a revolution?

AD: I see it as a civil disturbance. I see it—people being rebellious, we shouldn’t have to be treated like this. We pay our taxes, we go to work every day, why are we treated as second hand citizens?

MB: After the civil disturbances were over, what did your family do? How did they react? Did they have to rebuild? Did they consider moving?

AD: We didn’t have to rebuild and we didn’t consider moving. We just mind our own business. The kids have to be home by a certain time. We could play in front of the house, we could play in the back of the house, we had a handful of kids, which we always got together collectively and if we went to the show our parents dropped us off to the show, and if wanted to go to at park the parents took the kids and by such and such a time they would say well seven-thirty, eight o’clock, that’s when the street lights went on in the summer time, roughly eight o’clock, they would come pick up the kids. We’d play shuffleboard, we’d take sandwiches, and we’d make a picnic out of it.

MB: Did you notice a difference within the City of Detroit after the riots were over?

AD: Yeah, there was still a lot of tension, I mean, people were killed, a lot of people were killed, they were hospitalized, terrorized, it just was horrible and a lot of feelings got hurt, I mean you don’t forget if you lose a family member or someone got incarcerated or someone lost a limb during the civil disturbance.

MB: Experiencing both incidents do you see any similarities between what happened in ’67 and what’s going on now in Ferguson and New York City, et cetera?

AD: What’s going on or what went on in New York or Ferguson is a little bit more extreme today, and not only is it extreme it’s getting nationwide media coverage. Let me add something: it’s getting worldwide media coverage not just locally, not just nationally. I mean I read foreign correspondence every day and when these incidents took place you could read them on European correspondence German, Russian which are all translated in English.

MB: But police-wise do you notice any similarities between the unfair treatment of African Americans then and now? Do you feel like we’ve gotten better, or stayed the same if not gotten worse towards how we treat minorities?

AD: You’ve had a few major incidents if you read the news, you read the paper sometimes you got cops getting killed, you got white cops terrorizing African Americans, you got a couple of cops get shot in Ferguson, you got a few in New York. Some were fatal and some weren’t. So basically this world is changing. It’s not changing for the better. But the police departments should have guidelines, which they probably do, but they got to enhance them. Because the responsibility of city government is to protect their citizens. Once the public loses interest in the police department and then they feel they have to take matters into their own hands: the violence, the guns. Things are not getting better today. They should be getting better because we live in a world of technology. More people are going to school, they’re getting educated, they’re being professionals, they’re sending their kids to college. We should be going north not south.

MB: As a movement, the African American movement nowadays. Do you see any similarities with them back in ‘67 to how they are nowadays. You know, standing up for their rights against, what’s the unfair treatment of their people? Do you see any similarities movement-wise?

AD: Movement-wise, they are much more organized. You’ve got the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. I don’t know what kind of headcount they had back in ‘67, but now they’ve got NAACP chapters all over the country. And then you’ve got another guy, you don’t hear much about, Louis Farrakhan, he was very militant and, and he was the type that taught “the white man is evil.” The white man is not evil. There is good and bad in everybody.

MB: So would you say we’re more organized now where they were more radical back then, or?

AD: They’re more organized now. Yes, you have a few radicals. You have people like Al Sharpton. You got people like Jesse Jackson. And power is in numbers and they have the numbers. And the African American community as a whole, they’re starting to go to school now. They’re starting to get educated. They’re starting to educate their kids. Which everybody should be educating their kids, because at the end of the day they can’t take education away from them.

MB: Is there any particular memories that you remember, you know, from what happened back in ’67. Anything that you’ve taken with you til today?

AD: As I said, we were three blocks away, but we never shared any civil disturbance with the other side of Davison or with the other side of Hamilton. We always got along. Yeah, there was a little bit of tension in the neighborhood with the other African American kids. However, but, as I said, the parents knew each other. And you would have a couple of scrimmages, arguments, maybe a handful of fistfights, but next day you’d be playing ball in the alley.

MB: And, you mind me telling me a little bit about your father? I’m sure working at Ford, he did work with a lot of African American men. Did he hold those same relationships as he retired, while going through on the riots. Do you remember any stories he would tell you about how they were being treated and what not?

AD: My father- Let’s backtrack. Henry Ford, when he started production in 1903, there wasn’t a whole lot of people here in this country. He went to South America, he went to Europe, and he went down South. That’s why the majority of the African American communities that work for the Big Three, they still to this day they got family down south. Whether it's aunts or uncles or grandparents. There’s still a connection to states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas. One example is when somebody dies up here from the African American community, which I have experienced, they keep the body out for one week. The reason behind that, so they can all drive up here and express their condolences. But the base for most of the African American people here in these northern states, or the Midwest, all came from down South.

MB: So, they held a very very prominent role. Can you just give me a little background knowledge about your father, you know, what type of man was he?

AD: My father had a very dear friend. I never knew his real name, but he was African American and his name was Cadillac. And a lot of times Cadillac would give him a ride home. My dad didn’t have that sense of prejudice or bias. My father got along with everybody. As I said, he worked 47 years, his last 25 years he was a relief man. Weekend recreation, they would go out to coffee house. We had a coffee house for basically all the foreign people. Whether you are Armenian, Lebanese, or Palestinian, Italian. They played backgammon, they played Rummy, they played Gin, they played Pinochle. It was just something for them to do. Never had a problem at work. My dad was a very respected individual, in the neighborhood and in the community as a whole.

MB: Culturally, did you notice a difference with the times, as early on in the sixties where, you know, music, fashion would be one way, whereas towards the later parts where the riots happened you see any of the changes culturally where the music became more radical, the clothing became more radical. You know, or was it steady through on?

AD: I remember back in the sixties going to school, we wore dress pants and jeans, but the African American kids, I mean, they dressed up like they were going to a banquet, like they were going to a party. I mean, they were clean, thick and thin socks, pinstripe slacks, silk shirts. And then later in the seventies, if you recall, you had the platform shoes, you had the huge bellbottoms, you had the big disco hats, you had the baseball shirts, you had the fluffy shirts, the button-downs, the pullovers, the fancy colors on the cars, the spokes, the horns of a bull on the frontend of a Cadillac or a Lincoln. Yeah, there was a culture-change in terms of music. The music back then you can comprehend every word, every note. Yeah, that was something. In this day and time, the only thing you recognize is the lyrics, which are all four or five letter obscenities.

MB: So there wasn’t really a big difference in the style of music or lyrics from the beginning of the 1960s towards the end, there wasn’t a big change?

AD: No, up until 72, 73 it was okay. In the eighties and nineties then rap came along. And rap came along and I guess if you knew how to curse, you knew how to sing.

MB: Is there anything you’d like to say about how the Muslim community was structured back in the day? Clergy-wise?

AD: Clergy-wise, you had a handful of clergies. You had an Imam, which is clergy in Arabic. Back then I remember an Imam by the name of Kalil Bazzy, he was from south Lebanon, God bless his soul. You had Imam Shaykh Karoub [sp?]. He was the first one here, he came here in 1912. In 1962, they had a fiftieth anniversary commencement for him. Later on in the sixties, you had Shaykh Chirri who originally came to Michigan City, Indiana, and then he came up to Michigan. Today, you got 10, 15 different clergies and you got X number of mosques, masjids as we call them, or you call them house of worship.

MB: In the sixties, how were they organized clergy-wise? Was there, leadership-wise, was there just one main Imam everyone would come to or was it spread out?

AD: Back then, we had two, three masjids. We had the Hashmi Hall on Dix which is south end of Dearborn. We had the other mosque down the street. And then we had the mosque on Joy road and Greenfield in the city of Detroit. That’s the only mos- Oh, and the Albanians had one over on 9 Mile and Harper off of I-94.

MB: Would you say, how were these funded through the community? Was it organized where there would be a board? Or was it just a community effort?

AD: Every house of worship, whether you’re Muslim or not, they had a governing body, they had a board of directors, they had a women’s auxiliary, and they had a men’s auxiliary, and they also had a youth club. Board members consisted between six and eight, and you had a member from the youth, so it was basically between seven and nine members totally. Most of the funding came from the worshippers, but a lot of times you would get money that came from overseas. You know, from Muslim countries.

MB: Finally, overall, how do you feel that the riots affected Detroit? Do you feel like it ultimately held us back for 50 years or is it something that just had to happen in order for Detroit to move on?

AD: I think the city of Detroit is still scarred from the riots. Because you still have a lot of people who are citizens of Detroit, and the outskirts, who still remember the riots. Who knew somebody who was killed, brutalized, locked up, or abused. Detroit is upcoming now, but I think we still lack behind in terms of being a major player. What made Detroit, or Detroit wouldn’t be where it is today, if it wasn’t for the Big Three. The Big Three pay a heavy tax base in the city of Detroit, whether it’s a manufacturing facility, or administrative, or whatever. But I think we’ve still got a long way to go. Affirmative Action, I’m totally against it. It should be based on your qualifications and your education, not your background, not your skin color, not your faith, or religion, or ethnicity.

MB: How long after the riots did you live in Highland Park? And what did you and your family do afterwards?

AD: We moved out Highland Park in 1969. My mother feared that she would lose us to the integration of the American society and we would end up marrying outside our faith, our ethnicity, so we all moved to Lebanon. That was my mother’s idea. My father didn’t really want to move back because he had no family left. He had many nieces and nephews and cousins on his mother’s side and his father’s side, but he had no siblings left. His mother and father died back in the twenties and thirties. And I said, he came here over, what 1913, he came over here 114 years ago. But after we went, we moved back, we realized we had grandparents. There was a culture behind us. There was a culture that we can create an appetite for, learn our faith. We never knew we had all this family there because we lived here all our lives. So when I moved back here, I had the best of both worlds. I’m American-born and I can just infiltrate society, but at the end of the day I’m an Arab of Muslim descent.

MB: Alright, thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.

AD: You’re welcome.

**

Search Terms

Highland Park, Muslim community, Briggs Stadium, National Guard, police, Ford Motor Company, STRESS

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Darwish photo.JPG

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Citation

“Alee Darwish, March 30th, 2015,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed September 15, 2019, http://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/41.

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