Judith Brown, July 25, 2015
In 1967 I was 23 years old, attending Wayne State University, married with a 1-year-old son and living in a highrise in the Jeffries Housing Project, reserved for WSU students, faculty and staff. I grew up in the all white Redford neighborhood, but graduated from Cass Tech where one semester I shared a jewelry table with Diana Ross (great school, great days.) Perhaps that very brief biography provides a context for understanding how my perception shaped my experiences during those hot July days in 1967.
In July of 1967 we were connected to the inner city community of Jeffries and beyond in a number of ways. There was a food co-op which shopped at Eastern Market every Saturday and had a milk dispenser installed in one of the buildings. We were actively involved in the 13th District of the Democratic Party. My son's father worked as a community organizer for the United Farm Workers.
Why a food co-op? The nearest supermarket was an A&P on Trumbull, a walkable distance from Jeffries. With a very large population being served, this was a very small store where the checkout lines were usually very, very long. One day we were so exasperated by the poor quality of the produce that we loaded up two bags and took it to the local District Office and showed it to the District Manager. It was truly appalling: slimy lettuce, tomatoes so old and soft they were flattened out instead of round, and cantaloupe covered in brown bruises. Even the district manager was appalled. As a follow-up, several of us went to meet with the store manager. As we were standing outside of his office, we noticed a memo from the District Manager posted on the employee's bulletin board: "Congratulations! Your store had the highest gross sales of any A&P in southeastern Michigan".
Police protection? One day we arrived back at our apartment to find a thief had broken into our apartment. A couple of neighbors from the same floor heard our commotion and immediately came over to help. We decided to hold him there until the police came. On the fourth call to 911, a full hour later, the officer said, "You still have him there?" After they finally came and took the guy away, the first thing the officer said before taking down the report, "What did you expect? What are you doing living here?"
While we heard gun fire in the distance, all was quiet in the Jeffries Housing Project. No one was outside during the day. At night there were armed personnel carriers driving up the freeway service drive, panning the buildings with the mounted cannons. ("Turn off the lights! For God's sake, don't light a cigarette!") We watched streams of tracer bullets lighting up the sky like the 4th of July.
One night word spread through the building that the A&P was burning. Cheers went up! We were unashamed to feel that they got what they deserved.
Afterward we found that the drugstore on Forest and 3rd was untouched. Why, you might wonder, would a fully stocked pharmacy and liquor supply remain untouched? We knew it was because the man who owned the store was unfailingly kind and respectful to all of his customers.
After a couple days of confinement, we decided to drive out to my mother-in-law's home. As we drove through Northville, we saw numbers of men walking around the streets with rifles and shotguns, apparently patrolling the area to fend off the invading hordes. That was so unnerving that, after a short visit, we decided to go back downtown where there was only the National Guard to contend with.
My son's father spent the remaining days helping to bring donated food and clothing from outlying areas back down to inner city collection and distribution sites.
In August or September of 1967 the Detroit Free Press published a summary of the 43 deaths that had occurred. Deaths by snipers? As I read over the descriptions, I found only one that could arguably be described as such: the white woman driving south on Woodward, passing the Algiers Motel. It is more likely the fact that she was hit by a random bullet fired from the Motel than by an intentional sniper. As I recall, every other death was from burns or falls or intended and stray National Guard and/or police firearms. Snipers from the black community? It didn't happen.