Jean Ann Gorman, January 31st, 2017
WW: Hello. Today is January 31, 2017. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I'm in Monroe, Michigan. And I am sitting down with—
JG: Sister Jean Ann Gorman.
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today. Will you tell your story?
JG: The day of the riot I was coming home from Canada, from a class reunion, and the first thing I saw was a tank on the expressway. I was taking a Sister back to Marygrove.
So we turned the radio on, found out that there was disorder in Detroit. Drops off sister and turned back, went back to St. Boniface Convent on Twelfth Street. And that night we had fires going around— homes on fire. For the whole week we had fires going on, and the children were frightened, and the parents who brought the children to school. We kept the school open overnight, and we had big tables with pillows on, where the parents could rest. We had a daycare during the year, so we had about eight or ten cots that the little kids slept on. Other children slept on the floor, on blankets and things that we had.
One of the priests and two Sisters stayed up all night, for the whole time of the riot. And we were there in case anything did happen, the parents— we would alert them before anything drastic would happen to them.
Another thing that was interesting was that all the food that was being collected from other places was being dropped off there, so during the daytime we had distribution of food. We had it on shelves, in the cupboards, so we could tell what we were giving the people. The first thing we asked them was, How many children do you have, and what are their ages? Because baby food and other foods had to be separated from the regular food. So during the day we had many, many people that came in for that. Because there were no stores, no gas stations, nothing open down there. Nothing.
And then we were told, when one of the men came in, he said he had five children, and they ranged from eight to thirteen. And we fixed up the grocery bags for him. We fixed up two large grocery bags for him. And when he reached out to pick up the bags to carry out to the car, his arm had been burned, and it was just a draining sore from his elbow, above his elbow down to his wrist. It was awful-looking, so we see if we have any kind of medication that we could give him.
And we said, Just a minute, we'll carry— he was going to carry those out. We said, No, we'll get somebody to help you carry them out. And he looked at me and he said, "Sister, when you love your kids, you can do a lot of hard things." And I thought that was— I never forgot that. Man, how much he loved those children. That he could do that for them.
Another thing that we had that was interesting, there was a woman that came down and looked at clothes, and she kept picking up clothes and putting them down, picking up clothes and putting them down. So we asked her if we could help her for sizes or for what she needed. She said, "I lost my children." What do you mean, you lost your children? She said, "On Sunday, I had their breakfast ready for them. I fed them. And the oldest one was about twelve years old. I only had to go down around the corner to pick up my mother to go to church. When I came back from picking up my mother, there were yellow tapes around our house and they wouldn't let me go in. And there was a police car there." The policeman asked her if the children were old enough to tell what their ages were. "Oh yes," she said, “They'd all know their name and their age.” And he said, “Well, we took some people down— an ambulance went by and they picked up some people and took them to the Receiving Hospital." "Receiving Hospital? What happened to them?” she said. He said, “I don't know."
So she said she went to Receiving— she walked to Receiving Hospital, because she couldn't drive. They wouldn't let the cars go— any transportation down there at that time. When she got to Receiving Hospital she asked there and they said, No, nothing there, but— go to the morgue. And the poor mother walked over to the morgue, and her children were not there.
So this was the second or third day she couldn't find her children. And she was just frantic, so we got a girl from Wayne State who happened to be a volunteer. And we asked her if she was a social worker, if she could help her. Well, they finally did find the children. What happened was, her husband, who worked nights, his mother lived on the Eastside of the city. And when he heard about the riot, he went to his mother to see if she was okay. Then he went over to pick up his children. He got the children but he couldn't find his wife. She's out searching for the children. So they were separated. But no telephones, no communication was available, so we waited for the three days, but we finally did— the social helper did finally get some way to contact her husband and they found out the children were okay.
That was one big thing. And then another thing was we had all of the Sisters in the area were asked to stay at Boniface, to be together. Now our sleeping quarters— we took mattresses off of the bed and put them on the floor, and put blankets over the top, over the springs and things, so we'd have accommodations at least for them to lie down someplace. I slept on a chaise lounge—a summer piece of furniture— in the parlor of St. Boniface.
And one morning waking up with a tank going up the steps, by the steps of the church which was right next to the convent. We managed there pretty well as far as our food and everything was concerned. We had to cut back on everything, because what they brought from their convent was okay, and we got a call that told us to go to Cass Corridor and pick up the Sisters at St. Patrick's there. And we were not allowed out on the streets so one of the priests contacted a policeman and he got a car and there were two other cars, there were our two cars and another policeman that was following us to go over there to pick up the Sisters that were there. We found out there was a sniper in their basement while we were there. We also told the Sisters to get their medicine, any medicine they had or just overnight things that they would absolutely have to have, because we didn't have room the in car for a suitcase and all those kinds of— we wouldn't have time to stop for that either. We just had to drive down the driveway, get in the car fast and keep going. We had to keep the cars going to get them back over to the convent.
But that was some of the experiences that I had when I was at Boniface.
WW: Did '67 surprise you?
JG: Did what?
WW: The outbreak of violence. Did it surprise you?
JG: Oh yes. Yes. We were very much surprised. We never had anything like that happen in the area before, even with the inner city children, we never had any problem, big problems.
WW: Did it change the way you looked at Detroit?
JG: No, I was brought— well, yeah, I would say in how I looked at the city. But Detroit— I was brought up in Detroit, but on the Westside of Detroit, and I wasn't conscious of the fact that there was this much disorder down there, and when my father dropped me off the first time, the day dropped me off, he said, "I spent my whole life trying to keep you out of a place like this," where I was going to teach down in that area. But I loved teaching down in that area. It was refreshing.
WW: Thank you so much.
JG: Thank you.