Joyce Ross, July 13th, 2017
ERT: Hello, today is July 13, 2017. My name is Edras Rodriguez-Torres. I am at the Detroit Historical Society in Detroit, Michigan conducting an interview for the Detroit 67 Oral History Project, and I am sitting down with –
JR: Joyce Ross.
ERT: Thank you so much for sitting down with us today. Let’s begin with where and when were you born.
JR: I was born in Detroit in 1940.
ERT: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
JR: The first neighborhood that I recall was northwest Detroit, and after that, I was quite young, and we moved out to Cheboygan, Michigan, and we were there probably four years. And I remember I did not go to kindergarten because they said I was too big, kind of struggled the first few years of school, but after Cheboygan we moved to Flint, and I remember going to Doyle High School in Flint, and I was very aware that there were a lot of people that were different than I. I mean, I didn’t know what diverse meant, you know, when you’re in the fifth grade, but I was aware that there were a lot of people that did not look like me; there were a lot of black people, I remember that more than anything else. We moved from Flint to Port Huron, which was basically white, and we were there for a few years. We moved back to Flint, and I think for whatever reason, I was living with a family – my parents were back in Detroit, and I was living with this family. He worked at Buick. He didn’t wear a suit or anything like that, but I think he was a supervisor on the line, and I went to Whittier Junior High, and if I took a shortcut, I would cut through this park and run up this hill and end up on this street, and one street over is where the family lived, where I was. Very blue-collar area, but I recall running up the hill one time and the very end house had a broken window, and it had a long cord with a lightbulb on it, and somebody had painted on the house – I still get emotional about it – “nigger go home.” And I didn’t get it. I knew what it meant, but I just didn’t get why somebody would do that. I’m not sure, like I say, I still am very upset about it. I said something to the people I was living with, the Carpenters, and they said, “Well, we don’t talk about that. Don’t worry about it.” And shortly after, when I went back and was living with my parents, kind of the same reaction, you know. I do recall going down Woodward Avenue one time, and it was very hot, and we had the car windows down, and there was a black Cadillac next to us, and I said, “Wow, what a nice car,” and my father was very upset with me. He said, “Roll up the window,” because there was a black family that was driving it. Right at the Boulevard, when I was living on Virginia Park and working and taking classes, they were, I remember, picketing up at the Woolworth’s store, right at the Boulevard and Woodward, and they were picketing because in the South, Woolworth’s would not serve blacks, and I just thought it was entirely wrong, and that was when I first kind of got involved with it.
ERT: So, going back a little bit to your childhood in the city, could you talk a little bit about your family? Did you have any siblings?
JR: There were five of us, there were five of us. I was second from the oldest. We were not – I do remember sometimes when we moved back to Detroit, I think it was in ’55 or ’56, we heated with coal, and sometimes we didn’t have money to get coal, and we would turn the gas on in the kitchen. It wasn’t pretty. I mean, I think a lot took a toll on my mother, moving so much and trying to keep everything together. And then my father started to make some really good money, and that was when they moved back to northwest Detroit, which is kind of where they started when they got married. So yeah, probably twenty-five years later, and it was a nice area, it was a safe area. I was going to tell you something about my parents –
ERT: What did your parents do? What was their occupation?
JR: My mother was a full-time housewife. My father was a salesman, and he sold everything from jewelry to pharmaceuticals.
ERT: So, he worked all over the city and all over the state?
JR: Actually, toward the end, before I left, he traveled quite a bit, because he was like the regional manager or something.
ERT: So do you have any memories about what Detroit was like in the late fifties, growing up, early sixties? I know you talked a little about race relations. Do you have any other memories of that period, either yourself or any other experiences you’ve heard about race relations in the city or relations with the police department?
JR: When I was in my late teens, early twenties, I became a little bit more aware and I started reading the paper a little bit more, and there was all the stories about unrest or the police department. And I do remember one time, I had a black Nash and I had some tires because I was working for an oil company at the time, and they would sell tires, and so I had these tires, I was going to have them put on my car, and two white cops stopped me, and they asked me about the tires, and I told them, and they asked me if I had seen, they described a black guy, and they said, “He could be high yellow.” I didn’t even know what that meant, and it was almost like they wanted me to say something derogatory, that was the sense that I got.
ERT: You said later on you got involved in the Civil Rights Movement? You were a little bit socially active?
JR: Yes, I was.
ERT: Were you a student at the time?
ERT: And what sort of activities did you engage in, what were you a part of?
JR: Well, mostly protesting. Sometimes I would pass out flyers, that kind of thing.
ERT: And were there any particular issues that you were really passionate about at the time?
JR: Well, it was pretty obvious that it was a disadvantage if you were not white, that was very clear. That was very clear. Like if you got on a public bus, you could still see the people paying towards the back, the blacks, it was like an automatic thing. And I never had to stand very long because somebody would give me their seat, or offer their seat. And also when we moved back to Detroit, I was in the central school district. There was no way my father was going to let his blonde daughter go where there were a lot of blacks. Now I used to go over there and play tennis a lot, and that was something else he didn’t appreciate. My first boyfriend happened to be Greek, I mean off-the-boat-Greek, and that did not go over well, so I don’t think I was rebellious, I just felt that there was a lot of injustice, and I think there still is.
ERT: So during this time, when you were a student at Wayne State, where did you live?
JR: On Virginia Park.
ERT: Virginia Park. And how was that neighborhood at that time?
JR: It was nice when I first—I probably lived there maybe three years. It was like an old mini mansion, it was well kept up, that whole block was beautiful, brick street, you know. Hell, I was half a block off of Woodward, so if I had to go to work, I could just go there, or like I said, sometimes I would take the Second Avenue bus home if it was real late at night, because later the Algiers, I mean, you knew what was going on.
JR: What was that like at the time?
ERT: There was a lot of traffic. I don’t know if they rented the room by the hour [laughter], but probably pretty close. You know, there was a lot of traffic.
ERT: And did it have a reputation?
ERT: What was that?
JR: That’s someplace if you were looking for sex, this is where to go.
ERT: Okay, and that would have been in the early sixties?
JR: Yes, that would have been like ’63, ’64.
ERT: Any other memories you’d like to share about the Virginia Park neighborhood at the time, or your time at Wayne State?
JR: Well, Wayne State was a struggle for me, because I was working full-time, and I decided to go back to school late. You know, I didn’t go right out of high school. The environment at Wayne State, there weren’t any weirdos or anything like that, I mean, they were there to get an education. And at that time, Wayne State didn’t have the reputation or even the prestige that it has today. I mean, you guys need to do some history to see what it was like, I mean, it was nothing compared to what it is now. But I always felt comfortable and safe. There were blacks, you know. When I went to Mackenzie High, there were some blacks, but not many.
ERT: So Mackenzie High wasn't as integrated?
JR: No, uh-uh. And at that time, they didn’t do the – if you wanted to go to a different school, I don’t know if they’d just turn their head or what, but it was no problem. Like I say, I should have gone to Central, but I ended up taking two buses to get to Mackenzie High, because it was a white school as far as my parents were concerned.
ERT: Was there any tension at the time at Mackenzie, or even later on at Wayne State? Did you feel any tension?
JR: Not that I am aware of, not that I am aware of. I always felt that way when we lived in Flint. I think it is the worst city in the state, I still feel that way.
ERT: Was there any tension at Wayne State even?
JR: No, I didn’t feel it.
ERT: Where were you living in ’67?
JR: Oak Park. Just, I mean, this is Eight Mile, and there were a few stores, and we were the first house.
ERT: And what was that like?
JR: It was white, it was mostly Jewish, probably lower-middle class, you know, people probably just starting out, you know, that kind of thing.
ERT: Do you have any particular memories about your time at Oak Park leading up to ’67? Was there any issues there?
JR: No, I do remember if I went on the other side of Eight Mile, there was a grocery store, and there were a lot of blacks that shopped there, but it was convenient. It certainly wasn’t an issue with me, but I think they were coming from the Detroit, you know, Eight Mile was kind of the dividing line. Have you heard of the Birwood Wall?
JR: Well, that was going north and south, but Eight Mile was always kind of a dividing line, you know.
ERT: And were you frequenting the city at that time? Did you work in the city at the time?
JR: We used to go where the Burrows Building was, there were a couple of clubs where they had entertainment, and it was pretty good entertainment, and it was very reasonable. Sometimes we went to blind pigs [laughter], that kind of thing. My husband, like I say, he was in the [collision ?] business, but he also was a musician, and I think he actually was a frustrated, because we did go to different clubs and that kind of thing, and those were almost always mixed, you know, as far as race. It was never an issue, it was no big deal.
ERT: So you were very comfortable with going back and forth from the city?
ERT: No issues with that?
JR: Mm-mm. Mm-mm. Well, like my extended family, I know my sister, she was living in the Palmer Park area, are you familiar with that?
JR: Actually, there’s a lot of change going there, it’s all good. She went on the Boblo Boat, it was some fundraiser, and when the boat came back, people were told, “Get in your car and go directly home. Get in your car and directly home.” And there was smoke, you know, they could see the smoke and everything, and if they inquired what was going on, “Get in your car and go directly home,” which she did, and then this other friend, this other friend of the family, she was also there, and there was, I think his name was Dale, he actually lived like in Birmingham or something like that, and he stayed with our friend Dee, who was down, I think she was on Alexandra, which is south, south that way, and he called his mother, and his mother told him, “Do not leave; stay there,” and they actually were on the floor, they stayed on the floor that night.
ERT: So, when did you first hear about the events of ’67?
JR: I don’t think it was until late Sunday or maybe Monday morning. You know, they didn't want people to know. I mean, I don't know if that was a good thing or not, if that was the best way to handle it. Maybe, I don’t know if they thought people would come into the city, I’m not sure.
ERT: And so, you first heard about it through personal friends, the media?
JR: I’m thinking it was the media.
JR: I think it was the media. And this wasn’t too long after Watts, you know.
ERT: Do you remember what the media coverage was like, what they showed, what they said, if they talked about what the origins of it were?
JR: They showed mostly the burning of the buildings and the crowds, and mostly on Twelfth and Clairmount, mostly on Twelfth, and then it seems to me there was something at Seven Mile and Livernois, which at the time was called Fashion Avenue or something, and there was some stores that were being broken into there, they showed that. I felt that they showed almost, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, I mean, it was like they just kept trying to top the last story, you know, and I didn’t think that they gave all the details, but that was just my feeling.
ERT: Did they at all touch on the origins of it?
ERT: What started the incidents.
JR: Yes, that there was a blind pig. It started at a blind pig that was operating after-hours, and that was one I had never been to. It wasn’t what they originally reported, and I don’t think they ever really explained all of it. Some of the history of, there were some kids that were there – to me they were kids –from Vietnam, they were home from Vietnam, and they were celebrating, and I think these cops were looking for a reason to just go in there gung-ho, you know.
ERT: So, after you found out about the events, what are your memories of those days?
JR: Like I say, it was very eerie and sad. I was very sad, and so was my husband. A lot of people were very critical, you know, that they were going to stores and trashing them, and these were stores that they needed in their neighborhood, and I don’t think they ever covered that a lot of these people didn't have choices as to where they could go or shop or eat or live, and they were probably paying more for a loaf of bead than I was, and it probably wasn’t as fresh. I mean, it was sad, it was really very sad. The whole time was sad.
ERT: Did you at all see any of the violence firsthand or did you encounter any—
JR: During the riot? No, no.
ERT: Being where you were at the time, did you encounter any of the National Guardsmen or – ?
JR: Just when I saw the tanks.
ERT: You saw those tanks on what street?
JR: It was on Eight Mile, and it was just the one. Of course, you saw the National Guard on TV and that type of thing, but you really didn’t know what you should do, and I remember when I went back to work, and I dropped my son off at my mother’s, and just driving to work, it was strange, you know, and I want to say it was probably three days, work days, that we didn’t come to work.
ERT: And where were you and your husband working at the time?
JR: He was working at, I want to say he was working at Grand River near Meyers at a dealership, and I was working at Evergreen and Schoolcraft area, so I probably had about a three mile drive.
ERT: Were there any other impacts on yourself or your family besides having to miss work for a few days?
JR: Well, I think it struck a chord. We’re pretty liberal, and like I say, it was just a very sad, sad thing for the city, you know. I mean, when I was still in high school, I can remember getting dressed up and going downtown to a movie, you know, with a bunch of friends, and it was fun, and I guess I felt like, yeah, you know what, after a while, after that, I think we were a little bit more aware of where we were going and what we were doing, and you know, that kind of thing.
ERT: The next question is about the terminology used to describe the events of ’67. Some people call it a riot, an uprising, a rebellion. What sort of word would you use to describe the events of ’67 and why?
JR: A rebellion, because I think people were pushed, they were suppressed, and I think it could happen again. Not necessarily with the black culture, just, I don’t think I want to get into the political thing, but –
ERT: I understand.
JR: Well, you know what, actually, I do think that with the current administration that we have in Washington, I think it has created hatred between different groups. I mean, obviously. I mean, maybe that’s why I think it could happen again, but again, not just necessarily the blacks. It could be the Muslims. I am sure that you have experienced discrimination, and what is your last name?
JR: Oh yeah, you know. In fact, there was a guy, I think it was in California, he applied for a job, and his first name was José. He dropped the ’s’, the same company contacted him.
JR: Yeah, so I mean, got to get over all of that.
ERT: So, do you think that the events of ’67 had an impact on the city, a lasting impact on the city?
JR: I hope not, I hope not. I mean, five years ago, ten years ago, if you had asked me did I think Detroit was going to be vital, and the city itself, I would have said no, but we do see some changes, and I think it’s great what they’re doing down here, especially because it’s down by Wayne, and you have all this culture, and you have different people, and I have noticed on TV, it seems like they have more mixed couples for commercials and that type of thing. It’s hard for me to meet friends that aren’t liberal [laughter]. And you know, and I try to tell myself, you know, “Why would they know, they’ve never experienced or seen or have no idea.” Like I say, there’s five of us, four of us are liberal, and there’s the other one that kind of followed the path of my parents. They never said anything, but you knew how they felt. You know, you experience that.
ERT: So, what do you think about the current state of the city, in regards to the aftereffects of ’67, the recovery toward the current state?
JR: I think we’re on the right track. I just hope that with the present administration in Washington, I hope it doesn't set us back. I mean, there’s a lot of positive things, you know. If I were younger, I would move down here, but you know, I just moved four years ago [laughter].
ERT: So, are you optimistic about where the city’s headed?
JR: Yes, I am, I am. I’m optimistic. I see some people that are more tolerant or more aware of you know, maybe putting themselves in somebody else’s position, and then you have the others. Like I say, I think we’re on the right track, but I would like to see it happen at a faster pace.
ERT: Great, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us today before we wrap up?
JR: Yes. My husband and I had three sons, and sometimes I would be like a teacher’s aide at their school, and there was this one kid that, he made a smart remark to me, and I called him out on it, reported it to the principal. Well, about a week later, my son came home from Hebrew school, and in walked this kid, he went to Hebrew school with my son, and when he saw me, and he remembered what had happened a week before, the kid really felt bad. So a few months later, my kids went to camp, and the kid where we had that school incident, his family kept kosher, so he could not eat at my house. Fast forward a couple months when they were in camp, Adam asked me if he could bring home, I don’t even remember the kid’s name, and I said, “Well, just make sure that he can eat in our house, that doesn’t come from a kosher family.” And he said, “No, I don’t think it would be a problem.” He brought home this kid that was black, and I thought it was so cool that that didn’t matter. He didn’t say, “You don’t have to worry about him eating at our house because he’s black.” I mean, there was absolutely no distinction. My other son has a son, and he recently went to a dance, and it was for the eighth grade, so everybody’s taking pictures, and the corsage thing and all that, and there was a black kid that was part of this group, and the other day my daughter-in law told me that Nathan asked Alex who was so-and-so—no, Alex was talking about some kid, who was that? And he said, “the kid in the blue suit.” Well, the kid in the blue suit happened to be black, but my grandson doesn’t see that. You know, his two best friends, one is black and one is Hispanic. He doesn’t see it, and I think that’s great, I really do, but that’s kind of how we raised our kids. One of our best friends, it was an interracial couple, they saw that, you know, and so I think some of us are doing the right thing, but it’s hard to involve, sometimes it’s hard to involve other people.
ERT: Well, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your story with us.
JR: You’re welcome.
ERT: Thank you.
JR: I hope it was beneficial.
ERT: Definitely was, thank you.
JR: Good, good.