Sharon Gant, August 15th, 2015

Title

Sharon Gant, August 15th, 2015

Description

In this interview, Grant discusses growing up in Detroit, Michigan and the causes of the 1967 disturbance and her personal experiences during that week in July. Grant also looks back at her career as a social worker and at her decision to attend Law School.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

11/16/2015

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

sound

Coverage

looting, neighborhoods, wayne state, law, social work

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Sharon Gant

Brief Biography

Sharon Gant was born February 14, 1952 and grew up in Northwest Detroit, MI where she lived during the 1967 civil disturbance. Gant worked as a social worker and an attorney for three decades. Gant currently lives in Detroit.

Interviewer's Name

Lillian Wilson

Interview Place

Dossin Great Lakes Musuem, Belle Isle, Detroit, MI

Interview Length

28:38

Transcriptionist

Joye Clark

Transcription Date

11/14/15

Transcription

LW: Today is August 15, 2015 this is the interview of the Sharon Gant by Lily Wilson. We are at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle in Detroit Michigan. This Interview is for the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project and the Detroit Historical Society. Sharon, can you start telling me where and when you were born?

SG: I was born in Detroit, Michigan 1952. February, Valentine’s Day.

LW: Oh okay, February 14, 1952.

SG: Yep.

LW: And, what neighborhood did you grow up in?

SG: Grow up in? Well, the earliest neighborhood I remember is the Jeffries Projects. I guess that is Midtown now a days and then and maybe started 12, 10 years old we moved to Stoepel and Fullerton which is Northwest Detroit.

LW: So, the Jefferies Projects is where the freeway now is?

SG: Canfield and the Lodge Freeway, I think they call it Woodbridge Estates now.

LW: Okay, so it does still exist?

SG: Two of the buildings are still there.

LW: Okay, I see.

SG: I had to go to a meeting in one the other day, it was nostalgic.

LW: Oh wow, what was the meeting for?

SG: A homeless project, there is a HAN — Homeless Action Network— of Detroit is housed there now, their offices, and there was a meeting.

LW: And that is an organization that you are involved in?

SG: I work with Legal Aid and Defender Association and I a meeting with the homeless and, yes, our agency works with the homeless legal services.

LW: So you work with Legal Aid?

SG: Yes.

LW: Okay, so your job, you are employed by Legal Aid today, and we may go back and talk about that and your efforts there, but I want to go back to your growing up. What do you remember about your childhood in Detroit?

SG: School, playing outside, running, I don’t know, and Popeye on television, Soupy Sales.

LW: Was the neighborhoods you grew up in relatively safe?

SG: Did I feel, I think, I mean, I don’t want to look — at that time, I felt protected by my parents. I didn’t, I wasn’t afraid, I didn’t remember being afraid and so I remember being worried about getting into fights and be careful on your way to school so we had to be careful so I don’t know if I have an opinion on if it was safe. Okay, so I felt comfortable enough I don’t know if I felt carefree, la la. I was always doing the right thing so that I would be safe.

LW: And your parents instilled that in you?

SG: Yes, do what you are supposed to do and you will be ok.

LW: What did your parents do for a living?

SG: What they do? Well, I had my mother for a long time; I got my stepfather when I was 10 when we moved out of the projects.

LW: I see.

SG: Yeah, my mother took care of us, when she married my stepfather, she did part time manager at an apartment complex like and then she took care of us the rest of the time and then my stepfather worked at a Ford Motor Company as an overhead crane driver.

LW: So in July of ’67 you were still living in the Jeffries Projects or had you just moved out?

SG: No, by ’67 I must have been 15 so that was five years later so we were at Stoepel and Fullerton, which is like not that far from you know Dexter and Linwood and Twelfth Street. You know this Livernois and Davison is that vicinity. Grand River and Livernois. In ’67, I was I think that must have been my first year at Cass Tech [High School], it must have been, it must have been the summer after because in the old days you could start school in January. So I started Cass in January of '67. So it must have been my first summer. I wasn’t driving yet and the neighborhood was a nicer neighborhood. There were still kind of mixed when we moved into that neighborhood there were two little white girls across the street and those were the people who taught my sister and I how to drive our bikes that they bought for us. They were like you know come on —those were our friends at that point and I remember and I don’t know and there was a lot of mixed race and sort of I guess in transition, I don’t know. I almost remember hearing something about a lot of moving in and moving out in that neighborhood anyway. When we moved in it was nice it was green I don’t know, there were tree. And then right around ’67 when the riots happened— we were in the car. Is that what you want to know? When it happened or, before? Before it was nice enough, the neighborhood was nice, the school was nice. We walked to school, to the elementary school and to the middle school and then high school, I took the bus and that was nice enough. As far as I remember, I was doing the right thing. The only thing someone worried about was getting in fights, you know. “I’m beating you up after school” type stuff, you know. It seemed liked in middle school the worst thing that happened was that somebody might say, “I heard so and so had a knife!” What is that? Rumors. I never saw anybody get cut or hurt or heard about anybody getting cut, but that was the big scary thing that could happen.

LW: Ok.

SG: So, I think it was a safe enough neighborhood as far as I know. And, then you know, the riots happened. I just remember being in the car and there was a lot running and people running and we were like, “What’s going on, we got get home, we got get home.” It must have been my mother driving. I wasn’t driving then, my sister is younger than me and then when we got home people were running between the houses with stuff.

LW: Near your house between Stoepel and Fullerton?

SG: Yes, we were at an intersection at Fullerton, Fullerton is like a major end of road that goes through a long way and then Stoepel is the first residential street this side of Livernois which is the big three lanes on either side. So people were running and there was not a whole bunch of people, but every so often somebody would run by with some jackets or something. And this guy had a chicken and this one little guy, I can’t remember his name, but he was like, “I got chickens!” “What this is happening? You need to get in the house.”

LW: And you recognize some of the people?

SG: Mhm.

LW: You did? They were neighbors?

SG: Um, yeah in the neighborhood, not on the block but from school or something. I remember that one guy with the chickens. I was like what is he doing? Huh, he is like all happy I got chickens, what?

LW: So he had been looting?

SG: Apparently. Or, maybe somebody gave him some chickens that they got or how do I know? I don’t know, but he had chickens. He was running and then someone else had — And then when we were on Joy Road, when people first started running around, there were televisions, someone had a television running across, this does not look good. We need to get home. We got to get home; we've got to get in the house. I remember that.

LW: Where were you driving from? Do you remember that day?

SG: No, nope. All I remember, it was Joy Road, though, near Grand River that we were on. And it had to have been my mother because I didn’t get my license until the following year.

LW: Because you were about 15, you said?

SG: Right, right.

LW: So, in addition to wondering why people were running around with jackets and chickens and TVs.

SG: Yeah, strange, and it was scary. Because, obviously people were kind of out of control. It was like, “Okay, let’s get home. We've got to get home. Something is going on.” I don’t remember what my mother said. but I remember looking around and saying it was looking kinda crazy so.

LW: Yeah, I mean and you hadn’t been listening to the radio or watching television.

SG: I wasn’t.

LW: You weren’t.

SG: I don’t recall.

LW: And this would have been, the Monday or Sunday, Monday or Sunday?

SG: I don’t know.

LW: But you had no knowledge up until that point?

SG: Right.

LW: —of rioting, looting, stealing, violence, watching this -

SG: Right, right, right watching this happen on Joy Road, people starting to run.

LW: Running with stuff that had been, probably had been looted or had been bought from looters or something?

SG: Or shared, here I can’t carry this or I dropped this or whatever, who knows, I mean some people are less aggressive but they’ll scavenge.

LW: So when you got home, what happened?

SG: I don’t — the only other visual I have about that I don’t remember focusing in on the news or I remember there was a curfew and a lock down and you had to stay in the house. We had to stay in the house. We couldn’t sit on the porch, back in those days people sat on porches, you sit on the porch. The people next door, the nurse and her husband would come over and my mother and father would sit on the porch and we could sit on the porch and play and stuff, but we couldn’t go outside. “Don’t go outside. Everybody stay in your houses.” There was a jeep, the National Guard, four men with long guns. We lived right on the corner of Stoepel and Fullerton right in that intersection, there was a jeep, an army — you know a military vehicle, four men with long guns sitting there, so you know, I didn’t really want to look out the window but every once so often we would look to see if they were still out there, “Yeah, they’re still out there.” Yeah, it was like at least 24 hours I don’t know we couldn’t go out, we couldn’t go nowhere. Had to stay in the house.

LW: Where were you in relation to — how far where from Twelfth and Clairmount area in terms of miles?

SG: I wonder. I don’t have a —If I’m at Fullerton, which is basically, Livernois and Fullerton and the next big street over, would have been maybe Dexter and then Linwood and then Twelfth. So maybe that is three?

LW: So pretty close to where stores where being burned and -

SG: We could see smoke, we could I remember that now, we could see smoke.

LW: What else did you hear or see, or smell?

SG: You know I am getting up here now. I remember the car, the truck, the men out there with the guns and I remember seeing smoke coming up over that direction, and looking out the back window and just being we have to stay in the house.

LW: Did your parents talk to you at all about what was going on?

SG: I don’t remember. We drove around after, way after and you could see that it was horribly messed like war. It was bad.

LW: During that week of violence in ’67 in July. Did you leave the house at all?

SG: I mean I think after, I don’t remember after, we didn’t really go a lot of places except school. But I remember staying in. They said we could not come out of the house; I don’t know how long that lock down was. And with the gun people sitting there, that seemed like that was a day or two. And then at some point, we could and we got in the car and we started to see what it looked like. What happened.

LW: Was your stepdad able to leave the house to go to work that week?

SG: I don’t remember? He always went to work, he use to work double shifts so I don’t know. I don’t know how they worked that out. We stayed in and we looked, I am a more forward looking person so I don’t really think about how so this is interesting, I can’t remember.

LW: That’s okay?

SG: Fifteen, No, he didn’t get sick until, he ended up getting lung cancer and disability retired I think that was a year later than that though. Well, he might have though I don’t know.

LW: So okay, so shortly there after though. He became ill and was on disability and not working anymore?

SG: Right, I am trying to think if that happened before or right in through there because he never missed work before that.

LW: I am wondering what do you think, looking back as an adult, you were 15 at the time. But, looking back as an adult or as conversations that maybe you have had with friends and family since ’67, what do you think caused that? When you saw this chaos, what do you think led to it?

SG: Right and off and on people talked about how it was the something about a “blind pig”—

LW: Sure there was a blind pig at Twelfth and Clairmount.

SG: And then the rousts rounded up all these men, boys and men, you know?

LW: Just from your perspective did you experience or see any discrimination or overt racism in your neighborhood? Against you, or friends and family?

SG: You know that is interesting, when I was 15 - was it that summer? - that was that summer, when the nuns at the place that had a little summer job were interviewing about that same question and I said no and I hadn’t experienced any racism that I had seemed all fine fair and normal. Then when I went to Michigan State, my first year there I had like cultural shock. I was like, “Where— What’s going on? There are no other black people. Where am I?” What is going on I couldn’t, even at Cass there was a fair amount of different races but not a whole lot I guess it was a majority black at that time so anyway. I didn’t personally feel any discriminated against but I do remember when I was in a car with my cousin, we went somewhere and he was driving and I never got pulled over or anything in high school driving around Detroit before I went away to school but my cousin - except for the time we were with him - he was driving and he had on a big fluffy coat and a hat and they stopped us. This was before, this was this was the late sixties. Might have been ’69, 70.

LW: Okay.

SG: And they stopped us and I just remember thinking “What do they want? Why did they stop us?” Well, so I never as a female had to deal with that and I did not have brothers. I had my sister. I did not personally experience that much until hearing about stuff later on, see.

LW: Right.

SG: And then I wasn’t, you know and I sewed, read books, I wasn’t an activist or whatever I don’t know.

LW: OK, so during civil rights you didn’t get involved in any of that you were relatively young still.

SG: Still there were people that were young that were doing stuff but I wasn’t.

LW: But you were not, you were at home?

SG: Yes.

LW: OK, and tell me about Cass Tech a little bit what was that experience like going to Cass Tech?

SG: It was a lot of stairs [laughing] it was good, I liked it. I learned too, sewing. I took Latin for the whole time I was there and one year of French. And there were groups of people and groups of people, I guess that is what happens at high school. This group of people run together and do things together these back hall people and the refrigerator people it was just groups of them and I just thought it was a nice amount of variety. And the lunch room was okay and I went to school. Cass was – I learned. I don’t remember having any trouble. I sort of stayed to myself, a little loner type minding my own business.

LW: Was it racially integrated? The groups of people you mentioned.

SG: No, not that I recall a lot, especially. no I don’t think so.

LW: What if you had to guess is the percentage of black, percentage white, percentage other minorities?

SG: We had like 999 people in our graduating class.

LW: Wow.

SG: Maybe 20 percent white and other, maybe 25. Mostly black I think in my classes

LW: Mostly black.

SG: In my classes.

LW: Okay, and there was some division based on race so white students tended to stick together and black students tended to stick together?

SG: In smaller groups, yeah, whatever groups there were that hung out I don’t remember them being mixed

LW: Okay, and you went on to Michigan State after that?

SG: I went to Wayne State for one year.

LW: You went to Wayne State and then Michigan State and tell me a little bit about the work you have done in your career since then?

SG: Wow, well Wayne State, Michigan State and then I was a social worker my first job out of college, with the state civil service and you know a lot of and that is when I learned about people being needy and learned about the volume of poor people and that they weren’t mostly black people. It was just that the majority of the black people were poor, but there were a whole lot of white people. My first zip code that I had was mostly white people on welfare. You know? So, I was surprised to see that see that, that was my bias. And they didn’t like, some of them didn’t want me to be there worker, you know.

LW: What organization were you working for?

SG: The Department of Social Services, State of Michigan. I started off doing food stamps for people. Went on, because I had a degree, doing adult employment and training, family services, you know. Just helping the people supposedly to move off of welfare, but that didn’t necessarily happen.

LW: And this was in the late 1970s, it would have been?

SG: Yes.

LW: And how long did you work for the Department of Social Services?

SG: All the way up until sometime in 83’ or something like that.

LW: And then where did you go from there?

SG: I went to the City Law Department, Law Clerk, I started going to law school because I just it was it was on a whim.

LW: You became a lawyer?

SG: Yes, on a whim. You know, I was I didn’t enjoy the social, the paperwork stuff that I was doing with the State, so I started going to law school. And there were opportunities to move to different social work positions and they started squeezing down again and and enforcing their manual code and time keeping and I had to be there 8 a.m. instead of 8:06 or 8:03 and it got all.

LW: At the City Law Department or the Department of Social Services?

SG: Social Services.

LW: Social Services. So, you went to law school at what school?

SG: Wayne State.

LW: You went to Wayne State?

SG: Mhm.

LW: Did you finish law school there?

SG: Yes

LW: Ok, and took the bar and became a lawyer?

SG: Yes.

LW: So that is what you did?

SG: On a whim.

LW: What thing to do on a whim, you don’t hear that very often.

SG: I mean, at first some friends were going to take the LSAT and I decided well I don’t really like this job I have with the state so you know I am going to go and take it too. And when I took it and did well and then I decided to go and talk with the people at Wayne State and I also was going to talk with the people at the school of Engineering but I didn’t make it there because the people at Wayne State said, “You did really well. You really should do this this is important come to the —” Okay so I’m like, “okay, fine I’ll do this.”

LW: So throughout the eighties and nineties.

SG: I started in Law School in ’79 in the summer and then I decided that if I would do it for a year and if I didn’t like it I would quit and I liked it.

LW: You liked it, so what kind of law did you practice?

SG: What kind of law did I practice? I started with for a like a little while I was doing just tickets just whatever whoever I just sort of float around for about three or six months then I started with UAW Legal Services Plan which is general civil stuff. I didn’t do family. I did consumer car cases, burned up car cases, there were a lot of them at that time. I would get the insurance company to pay or not and then I did you know tax cases: property tax, income tax, real estate — lot of real-estate closings. A lot of that stuff. So basically, it was real estate and consumer and quite title and stuff like that for civil. No criminal. No family.

LW: And you still work today for Legal Aid?

SG: Well, I work know for Legal Aid and I worked, I went from, actually I went from UAW to being to doing criminal appeals in my house because I had little babies so after three years at UAW I went to do criminal appeals so I could stay home with the kids and then I went to Legal Aid and Defender and went back to consumer and real-estate and stuff like that and started working with outreach to senior citizens that was fun seeing all those different places and in the city and I think, and tri-county. We use to go Southgate that was fun too.

LW: So you currently work for Legal Aid?

SG: I currently work for Legal Aid, I started 10 years doing just technology no more cases.

LW: So, through your work, and you have had a lot of experience obviously, what do you think the greatest need — assuming that you are very in touch with the people’s needs at this point — what do you think is the greatest need is for people for people that you work with for people in the city of Detroit in general?

SG: Respect. People always need respect, everybody needs it people just need it and people just need to learn how to appreciate themselves and we need to show each other appreciation. That is what I would say, respect. People need money, everybody needs money, you can spend more you can spend less. Health care, we need it, we all need it, food, you know basic stuff, you've got to care about yourself enough to try to and work on gotten that and its good when anybody that’s providing whatever service mostly showing respect and not expecting people to be grateful or not expecting people to, you know, behave in any certain way or you know quiet enough I am going to need you to be quiet while I you know just showing people that is just one thing that I discovered in all this social work which law is you know graduate social work, people need to be heard they just want you to listen to what is going on more so than fix it a lot of times they may not know they don’t even know have an idea of a fix finally that you heard the whole story and you listened if there is anything can do or talk to me with some respect, like you heard me, and tell me some truth then that is just some major step that we have made. Every now and then there is a solution or some help that you can give them get but a lot of times it is just let them be clear about what happened and then let me tell you what I see and where you went wrong and how you really don’t want to do that anymore and know we had a conversation and I heard you and that is better for you.

LW: Do you think the lack of respect, in general, between people in the city in various colors of people - especially classes of people socio-economic difference - you mentioned one of the surprised you had was all these poor white people on welfare, it's not just black people, do you think the lack of respect is one of the driving forces behind all the rioting you witnessed?

SG: Probably, I am sure it came together a lot of times that is what comes to the head I am not taking that anymore enough of that it is a lot of little fights and skirmishes come from people just not feeling seen, respected, [or] appreciated.

LW: Interesting, well I appreciate you talking to me today.

SG: Okay

LW: And looking back.

SG: It has been interesting and it reminds well I use to always stick my head in the sand I am just trying to be in my own little fifties world I just you know.

LW: Well, I appreciate you looking back and talking with me today I really appreciate it.

SG: Well good, good.
**

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Citation

“Sharon Gant, August 15th, 2015,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed August 20, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/102.

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