Wayne Davidson, August 30th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is August 30, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This is the interview of Wayne Rudolph Davidson. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit 67 Oral History Project. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, sir.
WD: Thank you, sir. Appreciate the opportunity to be here.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
WD: I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1951. I was born at Trumbull Hospital. Trumbull Hospital was located—and is still located, but—the building is still there, but the hospital is no longer operating—off of Trumbull Avenue, and not too far from what was called Tiger Stadium, or where Tiger Stadium was, on Michigan and Trumbull. The Jeffries Projects were not too far—maybe a block or two over—but were being created at the time that I was born.
In 1951 that hospital was not a segregated hospital. It was a—blacks could come there and have their babies. Typically, before that time, I believe you had to have—there were a lot of midwives at that time. So my mother was pretty industrious, pretty aware person, so that's probably why we ended up there at Trumbull Hospital. So—
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in, in Detroit?
WD: I grew up in several neighborhoods. When I was a little kid, I can remember we lived on—not too far from here, this location—on Palmer and John R area. And I can remember—this would have been an apartment that my mother and father had by themselves, because when they came here, they had to live with relatives. And so I learned from my own research that that was the typical thing that somebody from the South would do. I probably need to bring that to your attention, that my parents were both—my father was from Kentucky and my mother was from Tennessee, and they met in Louisville, Kentucky, in the Negro Migration, and they moved up here, following the jobs. And so my father—my mother and father got here in 1950. The Fourth of July—that's what he'll tell you. He's still alive. He'll say "We got here on the Fourth of July and we went straight to a barbecue," you know, on the bus. And my mother was pregnant at the time, and so she's also athletic, and I think because of her athleticness, she lost the first baby. I would have been the second, but so—
So I remember a home on John R, Palmer and John R area, because as a little kid I would walk outside, or somebody would walk me outside, and I saw these cars, and I could remember these big, giant cars, you know, these shapes. I guess I probably would have been about two, three, or four, you know, a little kid coming outside with the parents, looking around, so I remember that scene sort of vividly. And then, subsequently, my brothers were born. Glen was born in '52 and Bobby was born in '53. And so I believe at that time we moved from that area down to southwest Detroit, a place called South Patricia Street. Right now, that house is still there. But at the time, I remember my brothers and I being in the yard and we'd be playing, and there was a yard—we had a dog—some sort of a dog—but the significant thing at that time was the freeway was being built. I-75 was being built. That house sits abrupt to where the freeway over in the Shafer area. And I can remember hearing a lot of noise and hearing a lot of heavy work and so that probably would have been about '54, '55, '56 timeframe.
So I think my father had bought the house—but I think somehow he may have lost the house, because at that time, blacks could not get loans from the banks so what happened was, he probably bought the house through what you call a contract—
WW: A land contract?
WD: A land contract, and probably didn't make the payment, so at some point, lost the house, because I know that's always been a—you could always sense at my household that's been a sore subject between my mother and my father. They sort of didn't talk about that a lot. If you asked questions about it then you'd sort of be put off.
So I believe after that, around '56, we moved from South Patricia to the Jeffries Projects. Now the Jeffries Projects went up earlier, in the mid-Fifties, part of urban renewal. I don't remember what floor we stayed on, but it was one of those things that you got in the elevator just like we get into an elevator to your office, and for little kids, it was a little exciting going up maybe five or six floors. I think the Jeffries Projects were at least 12 floors, I believe. So that was pretty interesting living there, except for on occasions, as the Jeffries Projects got older then the maintenance went down. So one of the warnings that we got as little kids was, "Be careful going into the elevator, because the elevator may not be there." And, you know, I know at least that I can recall, one occasion that some young kid pushed for the elevator and fell down. And fell down to the—because the elevator was not there.
So, those three places were the most vivid. And the southwest component always stuck out in my mind because my—even though my parents may have lost that house, my aunt lived not too far on Beatrice Street, and we would leave either our house on Patricia Street or the Jeffries Projects, and we would go there for Halloween and for special occasions, because I can remember having barbecues and the families would be there. And they'd be talking—this was my mother's side, so they would be talking about the family down all over Tennessee, and whether you were a Shirley or a Cheshire, you know, because they had two different fathers. So that sort of would be part of the discussion.
And we played baseball. We had a lot of room in Southwest Detroit, whereas compared to coming to the Jeffries, the room was, you were living more in a box. Matter of fact, this, your office, maybe if we tore down that wall a little bit, would really add up to being what the apartment size was in the Jeffries Projects. But on Patricia Street we played. We were out in the yard, playing with the dog. We had a lot of sunlight, and you had more room to run around. Whereas in the Jeffries Projects, where you had a lot of people living in a vertical unit, and you'd come down to get out of the—you didn't have—I don't recall having air conditioning. So in the summer you had to come down and sit. A lot of the ladies, the mothers would be sitting with their children in those areas. There were little small parks. But it was not as free, I would say, as having your own place and running around. So, I remember those places vividly. Southwest Detroit I remember because we went Halloween, going to get Halloween candy. There was a lot of—you know, you'd go and get an abundance of Halloween candy. That whole area was like wow. We couldn't wait for Halloween.
WW: The neighborhoods you grew up in, were they integrated?
WD: I know that—I don't think that question was one of the issues at the time, but I think—I don't think—I think Southwest Detroit was integrated with Hispanic people. I don't recall that ever being an issue of—I know that we had to—my parents were always saying, "We can't go here, can't go there." But I really can't define those neighborhoods—the Southwest Detroit neighborhood as being—I know that Hispanic people did grow up in those southwest neighborhoods. Anglos I don't—I can't recall.
WW: What did your mother and father do for a living?
WD: My mother was a homemaker, and she later—later she was educated. My mother had—she was trained. She went to school at Lane College in Tennessee—Jackson, Tennessee—and she was trained to be—at that time, they could only be homemakers. They would learn duties of taking care of other folks' homes, and my—she did not work every day. She worked periodically. So she spent most of her time being a mother and a homemaker.
My father, he came from Barren County, Kentucky. He was a laborer. He did not have any education. He went up—educated to the fourth grade. And then—Barren County, Kentucky—Rocky Hill, Barren County, Kentucky, where he lived at, the next school was 13 miles up, and 13 miles back. So he had no middle education. So he was always a laborer.
When he got here, he was always pretty industrious, so he worked his way to Louisville, Kentucky, and he learned the skill of making mattresses. So he talks about this periodically. 1945 is when he left the farm to go to Louisville, and he got a job putting mattresses together. And he learned that trade, and then he—that took him—he got good at that trade, so when he came in 1950, that's what the person who had trained him said, when you get up north to Detroit, you can go here and get a job.
About my dad, so 1945, he left the farm. He went to Louisville and he was learning how to—he always was industrious, so he got a job doing various things, but the one job that he took, that he brought with him to Detroit was being able to put together—working for a mattress factory. So when he came in 1950, he was given an address. And said, "Son, when you get off the bus, you can go over here and get a job."
So he came July the Fourth, in 1950, and the next day — which was a holiday. Then on the fifth—some time later he went to that address and he went to work. He said he walked past the place and said, "Hey, I can do whatever you need" and he gave a point of contact. Next thing you know he was working. And that place made whatever. I don't recall the name of the place, but they made nice, soft pillows and mattresses, and a couple of the pillows I remember distinctively, because I carried them around for years. You know, like a little kid, because they were so soft. Feather pillows.
So the wages were not very large: five cent hour, ten cent hour, whatever. But around 1952 he went to—someone had told him that Briggs was higher. Briggs was the—before Chrysler. So he went and stood in line, and at that time, when you got hired, the hiring—because this was a laborer deal—when you got hired you'd stand there and the foreman, just like you and I looking at each other, you ask me the question, "Where did you work last?" So my dad said "I worked at Jones Steel Place." And then he said "I can't use you." And so that's what the guy told my father. He needs this job so the next guy behind him was asked the same question, and so—but he was not black. So the guy said "I worked at Ford." So, okay, "Fill this paperwork out." And the gentleman went over.
So my father, he didn't go home—he got in the back in the line! And when he came back up, the foreman asked him the same question. He asked him the question again, "Where did you work last?" And this time my father said "Ford." And then my father said "Okay, weren't you here before?" He said, "You cats are all alike!" So he said "Okay, you're hired." And he gave my father the paperwork and he started to work at Briggs.
And then Briggs became part of Chrysler, and then the next—my father worked there for the next 30 years, until 1984—'83, '84. He's been retired from there longer than he worked there. But that's how he got hired there. So he did work, but part of the challenge was being laid off. You know, at those times the union—I don't know if you've ever worked for the union but this is a union town and they battle for certain things.
My father was laid off a lot and I remember when we were in the Jeffries Projects they would be laid off. And so when you're laid off, it brings a lot of challenges, because you don't have anything to do in the day. So him and his buddy would on the days they got their benefit, one would buy—on Tuesdays, Daddy would buy the beer and wine. If it's Thursday, then his buddy would buy the beer and wine, and they'd get together and make what they called a concoction called a Hobo Cocktail. And that would get them through that week of being unemployed. So that was not a good thing, because when you're sitting and you're unemployed, well you ain't got nothing to do. So finally Chrysler called him back to work in about 1957.
But the work was not here. It was in Twinsburg, Ohio. So he had—for the next two years he commuted from Detroit and the Jeffries Projects, where we lived at to Twinsburg, Ohio, which is not far from Cleveland. That plant is now closed, but that's where he commuted to, and worked. And so, subsequently, in '59 that's where we moved, for a period of time.
WW: How long did you stay in Cleveland?
WD: We stayed in Cleveland from 1959 to 1965. That was eight years, so before I get to that, I wanted to bring up that—now going back to the Jeffries Projects, if you remember, rock and roll was going on at that time. It was starting to be big. Well, when you're in a close quartered area, people are need something to do. So most people would sit down. In the evening, they'd be outside. Well a lot of young people would be under the streetlights, and they would be singing. Because— and you know, creating doo-wop songs or whatever. Because they—you know, with the energy that young people have, and so some of the Motown folks grew up in that area in the Jeffries Projects and the Brewsters. So the same sort of scenario, because I was a lot younger, I would have been six or seven or eight—I would have been eight—and so my mother—I'd have been close to my mother. You're running up and you see these guys, you know, whatever they're doing. And then my mother would say "Wayne, Glen, and Bobby get back over here. They're over there making noise." Because mothers—that's what mothers think that kids do: make noise.
So that was a pretty interesting phenomenon seeing some of that as it grew up. I went to Poe Elementary School. Now Poe Elementary School is the school that—it's still there today—because I think I went there for at least two years. And I remember we would come out on—like folks getting ready for school now, and the mothers would walk you to school, and you had a brand new, whatever you've got on.
I bring this up because that was spelled P-O-E. My father is always—he grew up in Barren County in Kentucky, which is the area that the poor house is for the state of Kentucky. So you would hear that word all the time. If something was bad, he'd always be saying, "Well, I'm going to the po' house." You know, and so, when you go—when he's saying that about the "po' house" at home, and then you're going to "Poe" School, from a mental aspect, that's kind of bad.
Now another person who went to Poe School is Willie Horton. He used to play for the Tigers. I see him on occasion. And he grew up in the Jeffries. He's about ten years older than me. So I probably saw him. I didn't know him at the time. And also Gates Brown was there. I think Gates came later, but Willie, I probably saw him going to wherever he went with his baseball bat. So at that time, I was a little kid, sitting with my mother, or my brothers, and my mother controlled us—watching all these guys going to wherever they were going—the older guys.
So as far as I think that would have been the end of that timeframe of being in Detroit, because I remember my father couldn't—he felt that it was too much traveling to and from, so he came back from Cleveland one day with a moving van, and he wanted to move us with him to Cleveland. And it would seem reasonable that that would be okay. But my mother—most of my mother's family is here, was here. They all grew up and gravitated here too. My aunts and uncles lived here. My mother was a real family-oriented person. So it took him half a day to convince her to move everybody to Cleveland.
Because it would have been easier. Had some cousins who helped move, but my mother was real concerned about moving. Even though she had relatives in Cleveland—she had step-sisters in Cleveland, but her blood sisters were here. So that was part of the challenge. So we did move, and then we moved, and that's where we were at. So that was—but we'd come back each year. At least twice a year, and we had family and friends who lived in the Jeffries, so I still saw the Detroit scene, you know. I just didn't live every day here in the city of Detroit.
WW: On your trips back, in the late Fifties, early Sixties, did you notice any growing tension in the city?
WD: Well, I could say that I thought we—my family was also pretty sheltered, because my mother—I think my generation was a sheltered generation. When I say sheltered, meaning we were protected. And there was places—now, okay—talking along Trumbull, there were in the larger houses, there were white families. So yes, that was an integrated neighborhood. But I didn't—I never saw where—I never was engaged where somebody was tossing rocks at somebody, that sort of—or being hostile. Now as far as physical—being physical against anybody.
I saw—I think, you know, you had to be respectful for where you were at, but I didn't see where—I didn't feel that the environment was really hot. Now I can say later on it did, but—during that time frame from '59 to '65, I don't think I could say that I felt that way. I just know that my mother was always a pretty protective person, and sort of protected us from a lot of the whatever was going on. We just weren't supposed to be in certain spots.
WW: After you left Cleveland did your family come back to Detroit?
WD: Yeah. So we came here. We came back because my father got a job at the new—at Sterling Heights Stamping Plant. That opened up, and so when that opened up then the idea was, you didn't have to worry about my mother moving, or—she was throwing stuff in the truck to get going.
Matter of fact, '59, when we left, my mother had just had my youngest—my young sister. She was born in '59. So it wasn't that difficult. She was ready to come back. We came back—we moved on Blaine, between Fourteenth and Twelfth. Now, I can tell you, I thought all the other areas that we lived in were real industrious people. And between Twelve and Fourteenth, it was a little more—it was a little more—hotter or—there was a lot of things going on. There's a lot of street smart people that lived in that area. Put it that way. You sort of had to—I felt that I had to protect myself at all times. I went to Hutchins Junior High School. And that was on Woodrow Wilson. And so we had to walk home now. People were working. People were working, but you also felt that there was a lot of people who wanted to get things a little easier.
Now, here's the thing about living in that area. This is now Motown area, and I know this because in my own research, Motown was on Grand Boulevard. So within that one—and from—it was one point two miles from my house on Blaine. So within that area, many of the Motown stars lived there. So on these houses, on these duplexes, you'd see guys with perms—with hair that—I didn't see that a lot when I was here before as a little kid, as I grew up. And I didn't—it was—you saw that in Cleveland, but—I don't know. Cleveland, folks were a little more—the area I lived in was a brand new project area, and it was a little—it was not—it was very nice. It was a brand new area and it was—I couldn't say that people were hostile.
When I moved to Twelfth—on Blaine and Twelfth, I felt everybody was trying to be Mr. Cool. You know, I remember walking one day from school, this guy—this young guy had his—he had on chains, and he had on a wife-beater shirt. And he was kind of muscular, and he had a dog, a German Shepard. And he had on a chain, and he was using the chain and whatever to control the dog, and looked like he was looking for somebody. And you didn't—it's like you didn't want him to be—you to be the person he was looking for.
So that environment was maybe a little up-tempo. Plus all of the—there were many shops up and down—a lot of clubs up and down in that area. It's not to say it was non-industrious people, it's just that I was now looking through—I was 14 at that time so now things are looking different, you know. I sort of had to protect myself a little bit more. And I remember some guys tried to jump on my brother as we came home from school. And these guys were pretty aggressive, so this was in 1965. We stayed over there for six months. We came back right after school in '65. And we stayed at a four-duplex. And then in 1966 we moved to Pinehurst and Grand River. 12682 Pinehurst, on the west side, and my parents owned that house for 40 years afterward.
So one of the things that when we were living on Blaine, my mother, again, kept us kind of close-hold. We'd get up as a group and go to church in the car, family car. There was relatives who owned churches and we would go there. We've always had like a happy home; my mother was a happy homemaker. She could cook, so we didn't mind being at the house because there was food there, and it was wonderfully made. It's very few times that we went without. So she could do a lot with a very little.
WW: Going into '67 now, were you still—you were living at Pinehurst and Grand River, you said?
WD: Yeah. We had moved. Yeah. So we moved from that area on Blaine and Twelfth—between Twelfth—again, a lot of duplexes there, so multiple families. Matter of fact, going to Hutchins was the first time I even heard anybody really talk about sexual activity. There were two things, two conversations that I heard in school. Because I'm growing up pretty naive.
This girl was talking to this other guy about watching some family members in the house having sex and there was a fight, or a huge discussion on which group was the better group: the Four Tops or the Temptations. Okay, so that was going on for a 13, 14, 15 year old. Now, in my house sex was not being discussed, so that's why I remember this vividly. On television, at that time, you saw relationships, romance but they weren't getting all into what you'd see today, you know. So—
WW: As a 17-year-old, or a 16-year-old going into '67, did you anticipate or foresee any violence that summer in Detroit?
WD: No. So here's the—like my father, I was always working. When we moved over to Pinehurst, that was still an integrated neighborhood. Now I remember the day we moved in—or we moved to the house, or saw the house, our neighbors across there was two senior citizens, white ladies, who saw us as we pulled in. And after that day I didn't see them anymore, so I don't know if they moved or whatever, but our neighborhood was still integrated.
But at that time, white flight was—it was not what you'd call really evident because it was already going on earlier, in the Fifties. And then it's just that when we moved there, it was like whoa, wow, man, because we all had rooms, and it was a large wood-frame house, I think it was built in 1922. The person who—1926, I think it was. The person who sold the house to my parents had lived in the house for 40 years. Then my parents lived in it another 40 years and it was well taken care of.
So the neighborhood I lived in, I went to Mackenzie High School. I'd go down, walk to Fullterton, walk down to Wyoming. Take the Fullerton, take the Wyoming bus to Mackenzie. The neighborhood was integrated. We could walk—matter of fact, The Monkees was a big TV show at the time. Me and the guys that I knew, we'd be walking down the street singing their crazy songs, or whatever, and it was sort of like being in Happy Days, per se.
Jeffries Freeway was not built yet, you know. It was— there might have been some signs up but it was not built by—it was not being built at that time. Because it sort of like happened all of a sudden. It's like, when the riot happened, the freeway was being built. And the freeway divided what I'd call my portion of Pinehurst and divided it to the freeway in the middle, to the upper portion.
So now you've got to cross over one of those bridges, and there's—all of a sudden it's like it's changed. Because man, I could—you used to could ride—I think a young lady named Emma Kidd used to live up the street from us, and a friend of mine that I knew from the Jeffries Projects, he also moved up. Because we would see people that we knew, and we didn't know that they were there. Somebody said, "Hey, are you Wayne Davidson?" Yeah, I'm Wayne Davidson. "Well I'm Willie Jackson. Remember me from Jeffries Projects?" So you'd sort of meet people that you knew before because they were now no longer in the projects.
I think one of my friends had—Willie Jackson stayed in the Projects until he moved on Mendota, which was the next street. Michael Hall—his family moved to Inkster, and then they were able to get a house. And so these houses were now available, and they were being—people who didn't have houses before, were able to get into.
So there were white neighbors and many—there were a few mixed, interracial folks. And everybody was keeping their grass cut, and the places clean, because at the time, they were—people were working. My father worked all the time. People on my street worked. So there was no—what you'd—it was not a bad neighborhood. It was not a neighborhood like on Twelfth and Blaine, that had a mixture of people not working and people doing shady stuff.
So that would have been '66 because I was delivering—the Twin Pines Milk Company used to go up and down the street and bring people milk. Our house had a milk chute. You could order milk and you'd put it in the milk chute. Well, I worked for that guy. You know, and so this is, again, before the riot. So I got up every morning, got on his truck, and I delivered milk to the folks. I had young legs, and he paid me whatever every morning.
And I also had a paper route. I had a lot of white customers. And I'd go up and I'd make sure their papers were properly on their porches, that sort of thing. So I was kind of industrious. I cut a lot of grass, and that's how I knew the neighborhood a little bit. I know there was a guy two doors down from me, he was a white gentleman, he was older, he had a little dog. I was cutting his grass every week and he would pay me, or whatever.
So, yeah. The neighborhood was functioning and it was integrated. So that would have been '66, it was nice and peaceful. Then I guess the freeway was starting to get built.
I went to Mackenzie, so I remember you could ride our bikes. We would ride our bikes all over. Mackenzie is close to going out to the Ford Rouge Plant. I don't know if you ever seen—well, when I was a kid, that was massive, you know, and I worked there later, but I remember we rode our bikes over into Dearborn and then there was a gentleman tried to run us over with his car.
At that point—at that time, Orville Hubbard was around, so you know, you had to be careful, because he was saying one thing, and so we didn't know we were in that area, or whatever, because we were just riding bikes. So I remember that distinctively. That was the only time I can think of where I was just walking down the street and somebody tried to do something to me, or whatever.
So you could be walking—a lot of times, people did get into little scuffles, I guess you could say. I know a friend of mine, he—I think he—my brother and I went over to a friend's house and then this other friend of ours met us over there. Well, when we came back, the police picked us up. And they said that there was a complaint. A little white kid was scratched up, with some sharp object. And it wasn't me and my brother. So they took us—all three, with my friend—to the precinct, Twelfth Precinct, on Schaefer and Grand River. So we don't know what's going on. You know, but it turned out that my friend—they took us because my friend, the one that came later, because he had a sharp object in his pocket. So they search him, and they took everybody. And so my parents came down to get us and my father gave us a speech.
So I don't know whatever happened to that. I just know that I didn't do it. So when you ask about—I think there was one other incident where went to a party, and then somebody, the same person said something to a house—some folks in a house, who were white and then they started chasing them all the way to another place.
So other than that, I couldn't say there was any real hostility, you know, where people were really, like, pissed every day. Well, I don't want to use the word "pissed," but open, blatant, you know. So that would have been '66, '67.
WW: Going into '67, how—in July—how did you first hear about what was going on, on Twelfth Street?
WD: I can tell you where I was at. I was at the Fox Theatre. I can tell you—I got up—me—I got up there, it was a Sunday. I got up. We had made plans to go see Robin Seymour, if you recall, used to have—well, they used to have the Motown Revues. Okay. And that used to be in the winter when they were supported by the Motown Revues.
We'd go there, and we'd be seeing David Ruffin, all these guys. Guys who I grew up around—didn't know them, because they all lived on—between— not far from Motown. You'd see them looking fancy hair, fancy clothes, or practicing or whatever. Everybody else going out to work, they're out there practicing, so all these Motown guys, you'd see them on the duplex.
So we'd go to these Motown Revues, and I would be— because it was my first time, because Motown Revues were prominent in the winter time, and they had started '62, '63, '64. Well I was not old enough at that time, to go. But when I got back—'66, '67, those time frames, I was old enough to go on my own. And you could take the bus anywhere in the city, wherever you wanted to go.
So I would take the west side bus, which bus stop would have been over here and you could just go anywhere. I can remember being at that bus stop and you'd hear the record shop playing Aretha Franklin's music, and you'd be saying man. But the east side folks always looked a little different. That's always sort of one of the things. That it was more east side west side.
So '67. We get up. My friend Willie, Emory—yeah, it was three of us. Me, Willie, and Emory. Willie's still alive; Emory's passed on. We get up. We go to the—we're going to the— down to the Fox Theatre, and we're going to the—basically a Motown Revue, but it's only, it's been booked as Robin Seymour's Summertime Revue.
So we get down there and we're having a ball, you know, because now we see all of the Motowners and whoever was on the bill. It was a quiet Sunday, because on Sunday mornings here in Detroit, people were—you either were coming in or you were going to church. It was quiet, clean, you know, the buses going everywhere.
So we took the bus, and we go past Louis the Hatter, all these stores, Sibley's Shoes, you'd say, man I'm gonna get me those shoes, man, I'm gonna get me this, I'm gonna get me this suit. You go inside and you've got all these pictures of these stars on the thing. Say, man, I'm gonna get that, like [unintelligible] got!
So now we're down here. And everybody, just like when whatever type of music venue you were at, everybody's got their persona on. So it happens to be down in this, everybody's always trying to be cool, just like being a star. So you have to be careful, you don't want to bump into anybody, and start a little fracas. So they started the show, and Martha and the Vandellas and Smokey were the headliners.
So the next thing you know, they stop the show. And Martha and Smokey come out. They announce that there's a little—some disturbance in the city, and some of the bus lines are going to be having a problem. So the bus line I'm thinking about is the Grand River bus line, and when they mentioned Warren, well, guess what? The Grand River crosses Warren to get to go to west side. And we're saying, what the heck?
So after they make that announcement, well, I'm a knucklehead. I'm whatever—16, 17. I want to see the show. I don't know what's going on out there, because I paid my money to see the show. I cut grass, I done all this other stuff. And so the show goes on, and—
[break in recording]
And Martha—this is significant to music fans. On that show was a group called the Parliaments. You know who the Parliaments are? Okay, this is George Clinton and the Parliaments. At that time they were dressed to mirror the Temptations. They didn't look anything like what he looks like now. Because also his—he lived in my neighborhood. Or one of them—the small one named Fuzzy. So everywhere—in the city of Detroit you—it was not unusual for you to be living next to somebody who might have been a popular musician or whatever.
So in '67, at that show, George Clinton was there, and—with his group, called the Parliaments, and they were mirroring the Temptations, and the song that they sang was Old Man River. And they did an outstanding job, because George Clinton was also a writer for Motown. He sung the songs.
So I'm leaving that as a pinpoint for him, and his career.
So now, the show is over with, and we're trying—we're going outside. We had called—we come out from the show, we found that man, it looked like a war zone out here. And so now we're trying to figure out what to do. We're 13, 14, 15, 16 years old, trying to—we're not driving; the bus is our thing. So now we've got to get to a phone. We didn't have any of these—we had to find a—get some quarters and call.
So Willie called his step-father, and he came and got us, and he must have come down Davison to Jeffries to Chrysler and back to pick us up, and that way—we went back the same way, and as we went back, we saw the smoke and the fire. And he also had his pistol in the front seat, just in case there were some issues that he might have ran into.
Once we got home, then my father, again, made me paint the house. We had a white house, two stories—that's what I did. My brother was in Washington, D.C. He was a little more rambunctious. He wanted to come back and participate.
The little group we hung out with was about ten people, and about six of them had—you know, they could have a lot more flexibility than me and my brothers had. So they ended up going out and being involved with things, and they ended up either getting picked up and, I don't know how long they might have spent, but most—they might have spent a couple days in jail. Because they come back with all these stories or whatever. "Well we went down this road and they were burning this." You know, they were with groups of people who were part of the insane activities. So we sat around and we were listening to them. I was sort of glad that I didn't get involved, because most of those guys, they ended up not really doing well later on in life, so.
But, as we went up, all of those houses, all of those businesses along Grand River-Wyoming Area, all of those businesses that got burned out, many of those areas did not get rebuilt. Even Pastor's Cleaners, because many of the businesses were owned by—maybe folks from the Jewish community, and they employed black people. I remember Pastor's Cleaners, that was there on Fullerton and Meyers. It was owned by a Jewish family, but the person who worked the front, and Mr. Friendly, the person who took in all of the workload, was a black person. That's how he made his living.
So many of the people who may not have owned the business, but they earned a living from that, they lost their jobs, because no longer is that place sitting there anymore. So a lot of people didn't think about that. The further down you go down Grand River, the more destruction you could see, because, again, my uncle's shop—I think he might have—he might have— I know he put "Soul Brother" up on his thing. Now he—this is my uncle—G.W. Raspberry, at the time, he's—also was the first black person to put in—the S. S. Kresge store down on Woodward—he was able to start selling wigs out of there. So he was doing pretty well in the beauty care arena, so he, you know, quite truly, he didn't want his business being burned out.
So he suffered, but it was a lot of destruction all over, and many—you know, you could see—when I did was able to get out, you could see some of the smoldering in some of the places that just yesterday, you might have been able to go in there and buy something.
But it was a trying time. I don't—I didn't see—there was—I think the riot was more of an economic deal because of frustration, because there was no time that I ever seen or heard, where somebody like—"I'm coming after you," because I see you—"There's that white dude, let's get him." I didn't hear or see any of that. What I saw was people talking about getting televisions and that sort. Things that they didn't have. Getting things that they needed.
Now I'm a little bit of a historian on some of this stuff—the '43 riot was different, you know. People were actually going for people and attacking them. But the atmosphere was that people wanted stuff. That's what I saw, and that's what I heard. And afterwards that was what was the talk: that people wanted stuff. So—
WW: So is that how you interpreted it? You used the term "riot." Do you see it as that, or do you see it as a rebellion of sorts?
WD: Here's the thing about—I've grown since that time frame. The first time, it was definitely unrest. Because see, with me, it's—that was just part of it, because, you know, there were several events that happened afterwards, that were—I saw '67 as more economic. '68, when Martin Luther King was killed, and Bobby Kennedy—those were—and then with the Black Panthers and all of the race stuff—those, to me, were more race riots, where somebody was saying, "I'm going to get that guy." In '67 I don't recall anybody saying, "I'm going to get that person." They—I thought they said—I felt they were saying, "I'm going to get me a TV. I'm going to get me this. I'm going to get me that."
Even though I guess there was riots in '65, in L.A., that might have been the baseline. But I didn't feel that the '67 riot was the one where people were after a particular group.
I think they were after—they were frustrated, because, you know, it started because there was two Vietnam vets who had returned, and they were having a party. Well see, today, you get recognition. I spent 20 years in the service and I got another 16 years as a civil servant. Now they make darn sure that people come back from Iraq and all these places, that they have ceremonies and they are recognized. And during that time frame, Vietnam, that was not the case. People come home, they come and they want to drain down, they wanted the pressure, the stress—and so they were having a party. Because at that time, they had what they called blue laws. You couldn't buy liquor and all that stuff on Sunday morning. So they were at a particular place, a party, and then they got busted.
Now the cops, I can tell you, I've always been tall, but these cops at that time frame, they were tall and big, and they were shiny. Because they all—many of them wore leather, and they'd be riding horses and stuff. So they looked to be pretty intimidating. So the police at that time were pretty intimidating. So how that clash came about of these guys trying to come back from a stressful situation, without ceremony, and then—now they have ceremony now—it all breaks out into a riot, there on Twelfth and Clairmount—it was on Clairmount.
So that's part of that challenge there. Is I didn't see it as "I'm gonna go get me some guy," you know. I didn't see it as that. I saw it was—because people in school was "Man I got my television, I got this and I got that." They didn't say "I got somebody's head," [laughter], you know, mounted up. I don't recall that. It's just that I didn't see it that way, you know. It was bad, it was rough, but when I reflect back on it I don't see where something—I've seen—in later years I saw people saying, "I'm going over here, and I'm going to do this to somebody else." So that's the difference, to me.
WW: Did your parents ever think about moving out of the city because of it?
WD: No. My—they worked too hard to get the house that they got. And matter of fact, it's a shame—that's part of the challenge now. My parents' house, even though the neighborhood was falling down, their house was still immaculately taken care of. And so many of the—see, those neighborhoods were intact.
They grew, and they—they built those neighborhoods, and the folks working, and they—part of the challenge is that you—many people—most people from black cultures do poorly with inheritance, because they're not—many people from white cultures understand inheritance. They understand that I'm supposed to go from here to there, and carry the family name. Well, it's a little different in black cultures, because sometimes everybody's going in a different direction, and sometimes they're not blood relatives, and you've got a lot of in-fighting.
So inheritance, that particular point in time was a time when people of color owned property, at the greatest—probably the greater time after the Civil War. And what happened is, you couldn't transfer that property down to the next person because they didn't know how to handle it. You know, because they're not used to transferring property. When I say the principle of property, like understanding wills—that sort of thing. You know, "Yeah, this is my mama's house," but then, if you don't pay the taxes on it, or if you don't cut the grass on it, if you don't keep it the way your mama did, then there's a problem. And so then there's—then the person becomes apathetic. Because well, "To hell with this." You know, so that's what I'm saying about that, from an economic standpoint.
If you look at many of these folks with European descent, these properties carry over generation after generation after generation because it's instilled in them. So I'm getting off the topic, but those neighborhoods were—that was the opportunity, because those neighborhoods were built for success. Because once you were able to—because now the banks were starting to lend money. It wasn't land contracts. There were actual contracts with a realtor and a bank and a mortgage company. You know, legitimate. But most people—my mother never shared—she took care of all the business in our house, so my father was not part of that, you know. He, uneducated, he didn't know about—he depended on my mother, and my mother took care of that stuff.
So those are some of the contributing factors, that—he did the work on the house, but my mother knew the paperwork on the house, how to maintain it. All those neighborhoods were like that—people were—they got these homes and they cherished these places because they worked—all these factories, working. But then the problem came in passing it on, because the next group of people may have not really understood what the role should be.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
WD: Yeah, I am. I think it's pretty nice that we've got a lot of this stuff that's being rebuilt. When I go, I see a lot of change, I see a lot of—I'm an optimistic person. When I left the city for a number of years and I'd come back to visit my parents, I would talk or speak with my wife and she'd go on, "This should be this, happening," in the Nineties, and it wasn't happening. It's only been happening recently, and I think it's good.
I think—because we would go to other places, and—I think part of the challenge of change is because we are a union town, and it's hard to change when you're union. You know, there's too many people involved. You know, entrepreneurs have to come in, have ideas, you get that idea implemented and you have less barriers to that. So I'm glad that these families—the Ilitch family and Gilbert, are leading the way. So I think there's a better—I think better days are coming, as the saying goes, with the father Gabriel.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I greatly appreciate it.
WD: I didn't mean to talk your ear off, but let me tell you about George Clinton. You see—he was at that show—his group was dressed like Temptations, after the riot. See, because this is my metaphor, or my picture. When I saw him the next time, he was dressed and acting in the chaotic fashion that he acts now. That's sort of how—that gives an illustration of—on that day—July 23, 1967, when I woke up that morning, George Clinton was a Temptation, per se. When I went to bed, that night, in that chaos, when I saw him again—him and his group were like they were now. Spaced out. So, with that, I'm done talking.