Rowena Green

Title

Rowena Green

Description

In this interview, Rowena discusses her general childhood experiences in the Southfield-Plymouth area during the 1960’s and 70’s.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

10/12/2018

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Rowena Green

Brief Biography

Rowena Green was born May 20, 1962, and grew up in the Southfield-Plymouth neighborhood during the 60’s and 70’s. She currently lives in Lincoln Park, Michigan, where she moved in the late 1980’s.

Interviewer's Name

Kenny Lowe

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

10/12/2018

Transcription

[Start of Track 1]
[INITIALS OF INTERVIEWEE: R.G.]
[INITIALS OF INTERVIEWER: K.L.]
K.L.: This is Kenny Lowe conducting an oral history with Rowena Green at 5:17 P.M. on October 12, 2018 [at] the Detroit Historical Society.
K.L.: So, when were you born and where were you born?
R.G.: I was born on May 20, 1962 at St. Joseph Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.
K.L.: Alright, what neighborhood did you grow up in?
R.G.: I grew up in the neighborhood of Plymouth and Southfield.
K.L.: How would you describe the physical boundaries of Southfield-Plymouth, as in the roads and where exactly the borders of the neighborhood came to?
R.G.: We’ll go Plymouth to Wadsworth and Greenfield to Southfield.
K.L.: That’s how you describe Southfield-Plymouth?
R.G.: Yeah.
K.L.: What do you recall about, what was it like? What was the social environment in Southfield-Plymouth at the time that you can recall?
R.G.: It was just, it was your average neighborhood. We had a party store and we had a movie theater and a hardware store. We would, you know, walk up to the hardware store and party store and get things, or go to the movie theater on Saturday afternoons. We had a community center at the end of the block where we would go roller skating and ice skating. I learned how to tap dance there. I learned how to do ballet there.
K.L.: So [those were] the main ways that you would seek entertainment as a child?
R.G.: Yup.
K.L.: So, in what respects does [Southfield-Plymouth] distinguish itself from the rest of Detroit, do you think?
R.G.: I think, back then, it was known for the trees because they had huge elm trees in front of each one of the houses, so when you drive down the street, it was like a canopy of trees.
K.L.: Yes?
R.G.: And that would be the one thing that people would always say when they’d come over and visit, you know, “Your streets are so beautiful ‘cause it’s just a canopy of trees,” because they all kind of came over and kind of just made this beautiful tunnel.
K.L.: What social groups do you think were represented and in what proportions in Southfield-Plymouth? Such as like ethnic groups, religious groups, occupational groups, socioeconomic?
R.G.: Well, when I was growing up, until, I’m going to say, the first ten years of my life, my neighborhood was all-white.
K.L.: All-white?
R.G.: We had no African-Americans, we had no Asians, it was just all-white. The gentlemen either worked in the plants, or they worked in a factory, or they went to work in an office. And the moms generally stayed home.
K.L.: Okay. Has the size and shape or image of [Southfield-Plymouth] changed over the years?
R.G.: I went back a couple years ago. It’s really sad.
K.L.: Yeah, how do you think it’s changed? And how drastic do you think that change was?
R.G.: It was a huge change. There’s no more community center at the end of the street, it’s been replaced with solar panels. The houses, a lot of them are gone, a lot of them are boarded up, there’s no movie theater anymore. There’s no little party store at the end of the street. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of Detroit – it looks like a lot of the neighborhoods have been forgotten in the city.
K.L.: So, I’m going to move on to your childhood. What were your parents’ occupations during your childhood in the Southfield-Plymouth area?
R.G.: My mom worked at a grocery store, and my dad was in the military.
K.L.: Military?
R.G.: He was in the army.
K.L.: Where did you shop? What kind of stores did you go to, aside from the aforementioned party store?
R.G.: We had a Farmer Jack at the corner of Plymouth and Southfield. And there was a Kowalski deli store and a plaza on Joy Road and Greenfield.
K.L.: Okay, where do you go to school during your childhood?
R.G.: My elementary school was Coolidge Elementary, and then I went to Lessenger Middle School and then I went to Ruddiman Middle School. And I graduated from Cody High School in 1980.
K.L.: 1980, okay.
K.L.: Do you recall anything about the schools that you did go to?
R.G.: I recall that the elementary school was an elementary school, I mean, there was nothing really special about that. When I started going to the middle school, Lessenger, that was when I really first started having friends – African-American friends – because before, it was always white friends.
K.L.: When were your middle school years?
R.G.: ‘74, ‘72, ‘74?
K.L.: Okay.
R.G.: Yeah, right around there.
K.L.: Alrighty.
R.G.: Yep.
K.L.: So, did you venture to other neighborhoods in Detroit or did you prefer to stay within the confines of the [Southfield-Plymouth] area?
R.G.: No, we would go out on Sunday drives, and we would, you know, drive up and down the boulevard, we would go to Belle Isle. We would drive up and down Jefferson. We [inaudible] all kinds of different neighborhoods, just drive around and see things.
K.L: Yeah, do you remember what Detroit was like in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s?
R.G.: Prior to ‘67, we would go down to Woodward Avenue, we would do our shopping there sometimes. We would go to Belle Isle. We would go to Cobo – Cobo used to have these huge Christmas events. After ‘67, things changed, people didn’t want to come downtown as much, they didn’t feel safe.
K.L: Mhm.
R.G: So, we didn’t do as much down here – we still did, we came down, but I don’t think we came down as much. And it changed a lot as far as the way people looked at it. So, I just remember driving up and down the boulevard – Westgrand Boulevard – and the houses and how beautiful they were and driving up and down Jefferson, especially wintertime, you know, Christmas, you drive around and look at all the lights and everything.
K.L.: Mhm.
R.G.: Yeah, so it was different after ‘67 because so many people left.
K.L.: Yeah, because of how dangerous it felt to be – how unsafe and dangerous it felt to be in Detroit?
R.G.: Right. And we never felt that way. We never felt when we would come down that we were in any type of danger or anything, but there weren’t a lot – some of the things changed, like we used to go – there was a Sears at Open Boulevard, we used to go every Christmas, that had this huge train set. Well, as the neighborhood started to change, Sears closed down, so you didn’t have that place to go in the wintertime. And then, Cobo stopped having their winter events for the kids, and then it was just kind of like a snowball effect.
K.L.: Yeah, I see. Going back to your parents for a brief moment, do you know when your parents were born?
R.G.: My mom was born in 1936, and – well, they both born the same year; they went to high school together.
K.L: Oh, wow!
R.G.: Yeah, they went to high school together. My mom graduated from Mackenzie High School in 1955 and my dad did the same year.
K.L.: And then, do you have any siblings?
R.G.: Nope, I’m an only child.
K.L.: Do you know when they got married?
R.G.: I’m going to say they got married in 1961? Because I was married [born] in 1962.
K.L.: Are there any childhood stories that took place in [Southfield-Plymouth] that you’d like to share with me?
R.G.: I just remember how much fun it was, you know, walking up to the corner store. And I used to go up there with my grandfather, and we’d go up there and get a pop or something or go to the movies. At the time, a bunch of us would go to the movies, and we’d walk to the movies, and we’d see a scary movie and then come home. And I remember too, back then, you could burn your leaves, so you would gather all your leaves up and you could burn your leaves in front of your house.
K.L.: Oh, wow!
R.G.: Yeah, they didn’t come by and pick them up. And I know this sounds really crazy, but the street used to flood when it rained a lot, so all of us kids would get in there and run around and ride our bikes through it and things like that.
K.L.: Through puddles and whatnot?
R.G.: Yeah, flooded streets, all that sewer water and stuff. Back then, it was different for us ‘cause we didn’t have all the chemicals and stuff that they have now, so you’d ride your bikes through it.
K.L.: That’s so neat. Do you remember what the movie theater and ice skating rink that you went to, do you recall what they were named?
R.G.: I don’t remember what the movie theater was, but I want to say that the community center was Stoepel Park; I could be wrong. It was right at the end of my street, like I said, it’s not there anymore. When I went by there the last time, there was all – they have all kinds of solar panels there now.
K.L.: Yeah, so, do you think that there’s any more childhood stories that you could think of? Like do you have anything specific that you have in mind, or is that kind of at the end of it?
R.G.: Well, it’s not really childhood, but I know that when I started going to Cody High School, it was during the time where the schools were having a lot of issues, and they were calling them “riots.” And at the time, I remember us being in front of the school one morning, waiting to go in – and you could see a bunch of kids coming up across the football field – and we tried to get back into the school and they wouldn’t let us in. So, you know, there were altercations there.
K.L.: Do you think that these were connected to the ‘67 riots?
R.G.: No, I think it was a lot of frustration because at the time, you didn’t have enough books or your teachers – I had a teacher that told me one time, “As long as you come to class, you get an A.” So, students were frustrated; they weren’t getting the education they deserved, they didn’t have the supplies – no different than it is now – so there was a lot of frustration, and there was a lot of frustration that kids were being taken from their neighborhood – they were being bused across town.
K.L.: Yeah, I was informed about the busing situation prior to interviewing you, and I was suggested to ask about it. What exactly was busing?
R.G.: Busing was where they had taken the whole city, and they looked at the whole city, and they were like, “Ugh, well, we got a lot of kids over here, so let’s bus them over to this school, so we can fill this school,” not thinking that you’re taking the kids out of their neighborhoods, out of their environment, and busing them across town because they said, “Well, we’re going to save money, this is going to be a way to increase our pupils.” But you wasted all the money with the buses taking them across town, and the drivers – and a lot of the drivers were not quipped to take care of these kids. I mean, we had a girl one time have a seizure on the bus and they had to call an ambulance. And she’s [the bus driver] kind of just standing there like, “Well, okay, what do I do?” ‘Cause she thought the girl was acting out when in fact, she was having a seizure.
K.L.: Mm. Yeah.
R.G.: So, I mean, if you go back and you look at busing, I don’t think busing did anybody any good. Yes, you met a lot of new people, no doubt about that, but I don’t think it helped the way they thought it was going to.
K.L.: So, you would say it was more of a failure than a success?
R.G.: Oh yeah, I would say busing was a failure.
K.L.: Alright, moving on from your childhood, have you ever considered moving away from the Southfield-Plymouth area during your younger years?
R.G.: No, we moved in 1980 simply because the neighborhood had changed so much, and my mom was afraid she would [inaudible] ever get any money for the house. So, we moved to Southgate.
K.L.: Southgate?
R.G.: Yup, we moved to Southgate, Michigan in 1980.
K.L.: So, that said, you gave the information as to why – when and why you moved there, do you remember what Southgate was like in the ‘80’s?
R.G.: Sounds terrible to say, but it was just an all-white neighborhood. When I got there, a lot of kids in the neighborhood had already grown up and moved away, and you know, you’re coming into a neighborhood where friendships have already been established and relationships have already been established, so it was different moving there than if I had moved there when I was younger.
K.L.: Mhm.
R.G.: The neighbors were nice, but it still was an all-white neighborhood – and it was totally different from where I came from.
K.L.: Yeah. And going back to Southfield-Plymouth, I have a couple questions about that. So, what does the word “neighborhood” mean to you?
R.G.: Neighborhood means to me the smell of burning leaves, the trees when you’re driving down the street and they’re all kind of – they all come together like this beautiful tunnel. Going to the end of my block and roller-skating on a Friday night at the community center, or ice-skating, or dance there. That’s what it means to me. I have really good memories of growing up there.
K.L.: So, how do you feel about the state of Southfield-Plymouth today?
R.G.: It makes me cry.
K.L.: Yeah. Why would you say that it makes you upset to think about?
R.G.: You come downtown and there’s so much going on, and there’s so many wonderful things down here, but if you go out to the neighborhoods, to the people that have stayed here and have not turned their backs on the city, a lot of times they feel they’ve been forgotten. Because you go through the neighborhoods and there’s still a lot of empty houses which are dangerous to the people that are here; there may be one or two people that have stayed, but those one or two people that are just as important as the people that are living downtown, and I think the city needs to recognize that, just like with the kids are going through right now with the schools; they’re having to bring in water filtrations because they can’t drink the water.
K.L.: Mhm, so what would you like to see happen with Southfield-Plymouth?
R.G.: I would like to see it come back as a neighborhood where families want to move back in to.
K.L.: Do you think that Southfield-Plymouth has the potential to become what it used to be again, someday, maybe not exactly?
R.G.: I hope so. Yeah, I hope so.
K.L.: If you could a project done in Southfield-Plymouth, what would it be? What kind of project would you set up to improve the neighborhood?
R.G.: I think a grocery store is very important for the citizens of Detroit – a good grocery store – Meijer has gone into Eight Mile and Woodward Area, but I think a good grocery store where they’re going to get fresh food at a reasonable price, and a place where the kids can go and feel safe, where they can go down the street and play basketball or play baseball. Things like that to bring the community back together.
K.L.: How do you feel about the state of Detroit altogether?
R.G.: It’s come a long way. I’m very happy about it. I love coming downtown, I mean, my son lives downtown, I try and get down here at least once a week. I come to the Eastern Market all the time, I just wander around the library and the DIA for hours. I love the city, I’m not ashamed to say that I was born and raised in the city of Detroit. I think it’s a fabulous place. It’s got a wonderful history, it’s got a crazy history, it’s got a horrible history. But I think – at least I hope – that it will continue to move forward and bring people back to it.
K.L.: Alright, so I’m going to end this segment of the interview right now, it is 5:37 in the afternoon.
[END OF INTERVIEW 00:18:59]
[End of Track 1]

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Southfield-Plymouth, Lincoln Park, 1967 riots.

Citation

“Rowena Green,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 27, 2021, http://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/761.

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