Valeria Jones, August 25th 2016
WW: Hello. Today is August 25, 2016, my name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I’m in Plymouth, Michigan. I am sitting with Ms. Vilaria Jones. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
VJ: You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
WW: Can you please start my telling me where and when you were born?
VJ: I was born in Cando North Dakota, 1950.
WW: And what year did your family come to Detroit?
WW: How old were you? Just--
VJ: I was five months old.
WW: What brought your family to Detroit?
VJ: My dad didn't want to farm back in the North Dakota, and he knew of all the, you know, the auto plants, the industry here in Detroit and he -- that’s why he came here. So that’s how we wound up here.
WW: And when you did come here, what neighborhood did you live in?
VJ: I lived on a street called Montclair, it was between Warren and Shoemaker near French Road, we used to go shopping down on Connor to the shopping center down there. That’s where we lived.
WW: Was the neighborhood integrated growing up?
WW: Did you feel comfortable in the neighborhood?
VJ: Absolutely. Loved it.
WW: Growing up, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you venture around the city?
VJ: Oh, we ventured around the city, we took rides every Sunday, as a family. We’d go to Belle Isle, we’d go to .. a lot of places, just for a ride. Yeah, we ventured out. It was great.
WW: And what did your father and mother do for a living?
VJ: My dad was a city employee, he worked for the water board, he was the guy who cleaned your water. And my mom was a homemaker.
WW: Growing up, what schools did you go to?
VJ: I went to a parochial elementary school called St Margaret Mary’s, and then for high school I went to Servite.
WW: Were those schools integrated? Or--
VJ: Yes. Yes. Yep.
WW: Now, are there any stories you’d like to share from growing up in the city?
VJ: Most of my memories of the city was wonderful. We had an integrated neighborhood, I grew up-- we had everybody, we had Irish, we had Polish, we had German, we had Italians, we had Blacks, it was wonderful, it was wonderful growing up in Detroit. It was a lot of fun. I have a lot of fond memories of Detroit. We used to go to Belle Isle, spend the day, it was great. It was wonderful.
WW: Growing up in Detroit in the sixties, did you notice any growing tension across the city?
VJ: Yes. I can remember my sister and I walking to the store, down Warren, and there was one particular day where we were followed by a group of girls. And they were African American and we did get into a confrontation with them, they kind of jumped us from the back. Umm, but that’s as far as it went, nobody really got hurt, it was just like a shoving match. I remember that, I remember tension. Our neighborhood changed drastically near ‘66-’67, changed drastically. Everybody we knew who was living on the block when we moved there pretty much had moved away. And it was getting to be a rougher neighborhood. We stuck around because we had to graduate from high school. So we stuck around until we could graduate and then my dad moved us to the west side of Detroit. But for the most part, I have got very fond memories of Detroit, very much so.
WW: And you didn’t move ‘til after 67, correct?
VJ: Right, right. Yes, yep, right.
WW: Going to the summer of 67, did you expect any violence in Detroit that summer?
VJ: No. Not at all. Maybe-- you know, I was a teenager, maybe I didn't pay attention to the news or to what was really going on. I don't know, I don't remember if it was a complete surprise when the riots came up, probably not, but I really don't remember. So…
WW: How’d you first hear what was going on, on twelfth street?
VJ: Probably the news, because we were avid news watchers after dinner. I would have to say probably the news.
WW: How did your parents react, do you remember?
VJ: I know my mother was terrified, my dad was disgusted. He was worried about us, my mother, my sister, and I, because he was working the midnight shift during that week, so we were left alone at night a lot, so he could go to work. But pretty much he, you know, he was basically just disgusted and sad that this was all going on, couldn’t understand why a lot of the looting went on, and the burning of the buildings, none of us could understand that. That was really, really quite hurtful to think that they would damage their own neighborhoods, because it was once so nice there. So that was really kind of hurtful.
WW: Did you see anything first hand during that week?
VJ: I did witness the national guard coming down our street, two by two, with rifles on their hips. Because there was a rumor going in the neighborhood that there was a sniper and then I remember seeing and hearing the helicopters at tree level. And I do remember, I didn’t witness this, but I understand that when my dad went to work, one of the nights during that week, he had a police escort to the water plant, because there was rumor that they were going to blow up the water plant. So he had an escort to work that night. But as far as witnessing the stuff on twelfth street, no, I didn't witness any of that.
WW: Did you and your family feel relieved when the National Guard and later, the federal troops came in?
VJ: Yes, I would say so. Absolutely, yeah.
WW: How did you-- you’ve used the term riot a couple of times--
VJ: Uh huh
WW: --is that how you interpreted the events of 67?
VJ: Oh yeah. Yeah.
WW: After ‘67, did you view the city in a different light?
VJ: Yes. Didn’t feel like you could really travel about freely, you’re kind of watching over your shoulder. It just seemed too, that the relationship between blacks and whites was strained.
WW: Mmm Hmm.
VJ: There was definitely a change in the city after the riots. Definitely.
WW: And you spoke of your family moving out of that neighborhood?
VJ: Yes, yes.
WW: Where on the west side did you move to?
VJ: We moved to Greenfield, West Chicago, and Plymouth road, on a street called Mansfield. We moved there.
WW: After the move to the West Side, did your parents think about moving out of the city all together?
VJ: No, my parents were still there, I actually got married and left home in ‘72. My parents were still living there in ‘72. And my dad had passed away and my mom was alone, so myself and my sister-- my sister lived in Westland, I moved to Plymouth, so we wanted our mother closer. So we moved her out to Westland, so she could be closer to my sister and I. But in ‘72, my parents were still there.
WW: Is there a reason that you moved out of the city?
VJ: I got married. And my husband’s from Plymouth.
WW: Oh, okay.
VJ: So that the reason why, yeah.
WW: After you moved out of the city, did you continue to visit or did you just try to avoid the city after that?
VJ: To be honest, we didn’t avoid the city, we would go downtown, like to the Auto Show, to a hockey game, we would still enjoy the city. What I avoided was the old neighborhood, because it was so depressing to go back there, to see how everything was in ruin and the fact that it just never, ever, came back. So, it was really sad, and to this day, I find it extremely hard to go back, I really don't like going back.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
VJ: Absolutely. And I’m so happy that it seems to be moving forward, I think they’ve got a great mayor, now, and I’m looking forward to… it’s nice to see all the people moving into downtown, it’s wonderful to see the growth and the development, it’s wonderful. I’m happy about it, I really am. I love Detroit, it was a great place to grow up.
WW: Do you think the shadow of ‘67 still hangs over the city and the metro area?
VJ: I honestly don’t think so? I don’t think so. ‘Course, maybe if you talked to a lot of other people who, you know, have a lot more involvement in it, might say different, but it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect our family. It’s never changed how we felt about the people of Detroit.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me-- I greatly appreciate it.
VJ: You’re welcome!
[End of Track 1]