Mary Ann Markel, December 13th, 2016
WW: Hello, my name is William Winkle. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I am in Monroe, Michigan. I am sitting down with Ms. Mary Ann Markel. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MM: Thank you. Glad to be with you.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
MM: I was born in 1932 in Marine City, Michigan.
WW: And what brought you to Detroit?
MM: Actually, I’m a Sister, and I was in the community and my first teaching position was at St. Mary’s of Redford. I think it was 1955. I was there for two years, and then I went to other places. I went to Chicago and Albuquerque and Auburn Heights and then I came back to Detroit in 1967 and I was principal at Queen of Hope’s Grade School and St. Suzanne, and then I was IHM Leadership, and I lived in Detroit until 2012, then I moved to Monroe.
WW: How old were you in 1955 when you first came to the city?
MM: Probably about twenty-five, I think.
WW: Had you heard anything about Detroit before you came?
MM: Oh yes. I had a couple aunts that lived in Detroit, and I’d go down there for summer vacations. Yes, I was familiar with the city.
WW: Well, when you came to live in the city to work, did you feel comfortable in the city?
MM: Oh absolutely, yes.
WW: Are there any experiences you’d like to share from your short time there before you moved away again?
MM: Well, St. Mary’s of Redford was a very active parish. People generally loved Detroit, people were active, participated in the city. I know people that would get on the bus and ride downtown to work and come back. I would say things were, people were happy and healthy and it was expanding. The parish actually expanded. They had two schools form the parish, so it was a growing population.
WW: After you left and you came back in ’67, did the city seem different to you?
MM: It was a time also of excitement, because so many things were happening in the city. Probably the most things were happening in the Church because the Vatican II had happened. And people again were excited again about the new things that were happening in the Church. I don’t think I was aware of things that different in the city at that point.
WW: In ’67, what month did you come back?
MM: I think I came back, probably in August.
WW: Okay. So you arrived after?
MM: It was ’69, so it was after the riots.
WW: Oh you came back in ’69?
MM: Yes. But actually I was studying at Marygrove in ’67.
MM: In the summer we would go– I was doing a Master’s Degree– so I was at Marygrove in ’67.
WW: Oh, okay.
MM: And I was still living in Albuquerque at that point.
WW: Gottcha. Were you in town for the uprising?
MM: Actually, I was what we call a home visit. We had just been able to go home, we used not to be able to do it. I was home all day, so we didn’t have any radio on or anything. And as they were returning me to Marygrove, we saw— I said, “What’s going on?” So we turned on the radio, and realized there was a riot going on.
MM: And my brother dropped me off at Marygrove, and he was gong back to Marine City, and as he was going back, he was on Livernois, and folks were looting those stores. He was very frightened, he said, he moved as fast as he could to get out the city at that point. It was such a surprise because we had been so involved in family things that we weren’t even listening to anything. So it was like, oh my god, what’s happening?
WW: As he was dropping you off, was there sense of, “I should just go back to Marine City with him?” Or were you like, “I’ll be fine.”
MM: Oh no, I knew I’d be fine. At the campus, I was not frightened at all.
WWL: Oh, okay.
MM: I guess I didn’t even know enough to be frightened.
WW: During the rest of that week, did you see anything else, or did you stay hunkered down?
MM: Oh no, we were not hunkered down. They decided to cancel classes, and at Marygrove that’s a big deal to cancel classes [laughter]. I think there was a debate at one point. Anyhow, we laughed because as they cancelled classes, they also gave us some work to do. On that Monday they made sure we got something to do. But then we were asked to go help. I went to St. Agnes, I think I went two or three days, and we were just giving out clothing and all that. And I said to someone— this is one thing I remember— I said to somebody, “How do you know how much to give?” And one of the black women said to me, “The people that need, really are in need, will only take what they need.” She said, “The people that are just here for whatever, will take as much as they can get.” Which is such a wise statement.
MM: For me to hear. I guess kind of the frightening things, I can’t remember–we must have gone on a bus or something to help–I don’t know how we got there, but seeing the tanks in the city was like, oh my god. This is serious. What’s really happened here? So, that was my big impression of seeing the soldiers.
WW: Did ’67 have a lasting impression on you? Did it change the way you looked at, say, the world?
MM: I think it made me very aware of what white privilege is. At that time, in ’69 when I came, I was at basically a white school, and during the eight years I was at Queen of Hope, the population changed from white to black. So, I had that experience of knowing what that was. For me, I think what helped me is to know that when the school was about 50/50, it was such a good situation because people felt pretty equal. And then when it tipped the other way, it changed again. The same thing happened when I was at St. Suzanne’s. So I had those two experiences of going from basically a white school to an integrated school.
One of the things that, at St. Suzanne’s at one point, one black woman came in, one parent came and said, “I’m going to move my children back home, it’s too black.” In other words, she wanted her child in a more integrated situation. So I think having had that experience helps you understand what the progression was. For me, it was kind of like a progression. They would be a St. Cecilia’s, and then you would come to at St. Suzanne’s, and then move out of the city. So to see that pattern, you know.
MM: I think that the pieces— like at St. Mary’s of Redford where I was at one point, and I was close to Queen of Hope, they had so many things going, and yet they couldn’t hold it either. I mean, they held an integrated situation for quite some time, but eventually it does change.
WW: Did the Catholic Church and the greater Catholic community in Detroit, were they affected by Father Cunningham’s work throughout the city?
MM: Oh yeah, I think so, yeah. I think he was very instrumental. I used to go to Focus: HOPE walks, I did one that was ten miles, now I’d consider walking about three [laughter].
WW: Yeah, they turned it into a 5K.
MM: Yeah. I think his work was very instrumental and made people aware. And then we ended up doing some justice work and protesting and I think at that time we always talked about social justice as a community, I think we became more active— put our bodies there instead of just our words. And I don’t know if you know this, at that time Marygrove was basically a white women’s college, and our president at that point sent out to all of Detroit Public Schools a scholarship for us to get— it was “68 for ‘68”— so we wanted 68 students from those schools to be at Marygrove. Did you know that?
MM: Okay, yeah, okay.
WW: I was thinking, did U of D do the same thing?
MM: I don’t know that.
WW: After you left to go back to Albuquerque, did you say to yourself, “I’m gong to go back to Detroit,” or was it just happenstance that you got to come back?
MM: Well in those days, we used to get like assigned. So I was assigned to Detroit.
WW: Oh, okay.
MM: I would not have been afraid to be in Detroit. Actually, I lived in Littlefield probably about five years, I was the only white woman left there. I lived with somebody else, another, we were the only two white women, and I was fine.
MM: I was fine, in my neighborhood, you know. Three streets over, I wouldn’t be fine, but I had been there thirty-some years, so they knew me, they watched out for me. I had a couple break-ins, and my family was getting too nervous. Then they asked me to come here, so that’s why I did. I loved being in Detroit.
WW: How do you feel about the city today?
MM: I think it’s doing well. I just hope they do more for the neighborhoods. I mean business is fine, and I’m very concerned that we don’t take housing from poor people to get the rich people in, that’s one of my concerns.
WW: Alright. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
MM: I don’t think so. I just think, just the whole race thing, you never know when it’s ever going to— people work with each other, but until they’re friends with each other, I don’t think we’re ever going to solve the race problem. I mean, we’ve got to socialize more. I man we can work with each other, and that seems to work out okay, but until there’s a socialization, it’s not going to change, I don’t think.
WW: Uh-hm. One follow-up question that I did miss. Earlier, you called it a, ‘riot,’ is that the common word you use, or is that how you interpret what happened?
MM: I guess that’s how you hear it, the ’67 Riots, that’s what I’ve basically thought of. “Uprising” could be just as well. I think it was fermenting. The police activity, that was— I mean some of the same stuff we’re seeing today.
MM: Absolute same stuff. At that point, the police force was basically white I think.
MM: At least that’s my memory of it.
WW: It was about ninety-five percent.
MM: Yeah, yeah.
WW: Well thank you so much for sitting down with me. I greatly appreciate it.
MM: Okay, thank you.