Reverend Lonnie Peek, April 5th, 2016

Title

Reverend Lonnie Peek, April 5th, 2016

Description

In this interview, Peek discusses growing up in New Jersey and the early encouragement and prejudices he experienced, attending college in West Virginia, and his time in Detroit during and after the events of July 1967. Reverend Peek discusses his extensive activism in Detroit

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

05/18/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Sound

Video

Brief Biography

Lonnie Peek was born in New Jersey in 1942. After attending college in West Virginia and spending time in the military, he arrived in Detroit in 1965. Peek worked briefly as a teacher in the Detroit Public Schools before attending graduate school Wayne State University, where he was a student organizer and headed up the Association of Black Students during the aftermath of the events of the summer of 1967. He's still active in the Detroit community today, sitting on the boards of many organizations.

Interview Place

Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit, MI

Date

04/05/2016

Interview Length

00:46:22

Transcriptionist

Julie Vandenboom

Transcription Date

04/17/2016

Transcription

WW: Hello, my name is William Winkel. Today is April 5, 2016, we're here in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is the for the 1967 oral history project. I'm sitting down with Reverend Lonnie Peek. Thank you for taking time with me today.

LP: Thank you, William. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

WW: Would you mind telling me where and when were you born?

LP: I was born in 1942 in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

WW: And how did your family come here, and when?

LP: They didn't. I did. I was raised up in Asbury Park. Asbury Park is a seaside city, a mile square. Back in those days it was classic. Railroad track ran down the middle of the city, black folks on one side, white folks on the other side. I had a good childhood. My father was a minister, and – well this is interesting. One day he got a call from my seventh grade teacher. His name was Mr. [Grappi ?], and his brother was over at the Boys Club, and the two of them wanted to meet my parents. So I got – I didn't know what was going down then, all right. So they came back and I was sitting there man, shivering. And I said, “what, what, what, what did I do?” He said “Nope, you didn't do anything. The Grappi brothers suggested that we move out of Asbury Park, because you had a lot of potential, and they didn't want Asbury Park to swallow you up.”

Within three years we had moved. My father found a church about twenty miles away. I grew up on three acres of land, nice big house. My bedroom overlooked – I could look and see the harbor in New York. That was my basic capsule of my childhood. I went to school, Middletown High School, 1400 students, 27 black. Oh, that's interesting, all right! It was an interesting trip, for want of a better term. My sophomore year, junior year, I stayed on their honor roll. My biology teacher, who was my counselor, told me to learn a skill, because boys like me didn't go to college. So I told my parents what he said. That didn't go over too well. "Boys like me." Well, once I got accepted to several colleges I came and showed him my acceptance letter and I said, “Boys like me do go to college.” I had one interesting experience, and we can move on. I went in there, interesting experience, our school was part of a large convention, and we were there during the time it was being debated that should federal funds be used for segregated schools in the South. And we were in this big auditorium, six or seven thousand folks there, and you could line up pro and con. I wanted to go up on the stage. My history teacher, Mrs. Feeger was her name, “Well, no, no, honey, you really need to be able to talk to go upstage.” So I said okay. Some other – my friends – got in line. I said, “What the heck?” I went and got in line. And I got up on the stage, I gave my position as to why federal funds should not be used for segregated schools. And when I finished, for about five or ten seconds, you could hear a pin drop. Then all of a sudden, everybody started clapping and standing up. I said, “Wow, this is deep.” My teacher apologized to me. She said, “I should not have told you not to go up there.” The reason I'm telling that story, is that story let me know that I was able to speak in public. So, there's that.

WW: And where was that again? Was that in high school?

LP: That was in high school. That was in high school. We moved from Asbury Park to what was known as Atlantic Highlands, and I went to Middletown Township High School.

WW: Where did you go to university at?

LP: I went to the university at West Virginia State. West Virginia University. That particular time, it was an integrated school, and black students were on campus and other students commuted. Since then, it's changed over completely now. It's about an 80 percent white school. My college days were great days. My father told me, “These will be the best four years of your life. Enjoy it, but also learn.” I was involved in a lot of stuff in college. Matter of fact, when I graduated, I was voted the most versatile student. I wasn't sure what that meant, but when I looked at my pictures and at other folks' pictures, I got to see that I did a lot of stuff. I was involved in a lot of stuff. So I enjoyed it. My father told me that – my freshman year was okay. My sophomore year I was pledging, my grades went down. So my dad said, “Look, Lonnie, I'm going to tell you something. If you get on the Dean's List I'll buy you a car." “Whoa! Why did you wait so long to tell me that?” Stayed on the Dean's List from that point on. And he bought me a car. Bought me a sportscar.

WW: Your position seemed pretty clear in high school. Did you expand on that when you were at University?

LP: Yeah, I think that what happened was, because I was involved in a lot of things, I knew – I come to understand that the Lord had given me some gifts. And those gifts were to be able to juggle a lot of balls at the same time. So high school showed me that I was able to communicate. College allowed me to be diversified in the lot of different things that I was involved in. Particularly going to a black college, then, that gave me entree in to different endeavors, different programs, so that was a good choice for me to go to that school.

WW: So you were going there between 1960 and 1964, roughly?

LP: I was going there from 1959 — good question — 1959 to 1963. Back in those days you graduated in four years. It wasn't no ifs, and, or buts. Wasn't no five years, six – no, four years. So I graduated in four years.

WW: During your time at university the Freedom Rides were going on, other civil rights marches. Were you involved in any of them?

LP: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Because we were down south – Charleston, West Virginia, we were outside of Charleston, West Virginia, the reality of segregation and bigotry, were real, were real. You go downtown, you're liable to be called the n-word on any given day. One particular day I was going back to campus, I was chased by a group of white guys in a car, it was a Friday night, I'll never forget. And when I got on campus, they – they left. They left. So yeah, we were – we were involved in various aspects of the Civil Rights movement, and I studied it very closely. I was – I was very drawn – drawn to the struggle if you say, if you will.

WW: What did you graduate with?

LP: I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and education. That's how I got to Detroit, okay. I was – and also ROTC. I also – I was commissioned as a lieutenant. My father couldn't go in the army when I was born because back, you know, in that time, your wife had to sign, and my father and his friend went to sign. My mother, “Hell, no, I'm not signing.” “What?!” So my father and his friend, they decreed that their sons would be officers in the Army. So I always knew two things. I was going to college, and I was going to be an officer in the Army. So when I graduated, I – I never forget, this day was probably one of the most traumatic days in my life. It was right during the Vietnamese era. So you're home, you're graduated, had my degree and all that stuff, and you're waiting for your orders. And I remember my mother, “Lonnie, your orders are here,” and I was upstairs in my room. Pshew! Went upstairs, closed the door, opened it. And as I glanced, I was looking for – and I did not want to see – the words "Viet Nam." I glanced, didn't see them the first time. Glanced a second time, and I saw Ft. Knox, Kentucky. That was a big relief. All right. Not going to Vietnam. I lost more friends than I can count in the Vietnamese War.

So I was down in Ft. Knox, I was Company Commander for a training company. I trained people from Detroit and Chicago. And they were some rough folks! “Well, I ain't ever going to Detroit or Chicago!” Well, never say never, because I came up here on Easter. My aunt says, “Lonnie, they're looking for biology teachers down there. Why don't you go down there?” So I went down there, I had my transcript. Lady gave me a contract, right there. She says, “Would you sign this contract?” I was married then. My wife – she was from New York, she didn't particularly want me to come to Detroit. But I decided, I wanted to kind of step out on my own, so that's how I got to Detroit.

WW: What year was that?

LP: That would have been nineteen sixty – [thinking] five? Sixty five. Sixty six... Fifty nine... Sixty three... Sixty five. Got to Detroit in 1965, yep.

WW: And was that a job in DPS [Detroit Public Schools], or—

LP: DPS. Kettering High School. I taught biology at Kettering High School for one year and the second year I taught biology at Northwestern High School.

WW: Were those integrated schools then?

LP: Yeah. Yeah – well – yeah, there was some white folks around, but mostly black schools. Mostly black schools, yes.

WW: Coming here in 1965, did you notice any – what was your first impression of the city? Because you said, the people you had interacted with before were rougher folks. So what was your first impression?

LP: Well, that was a stereotype. You know, these are young dudes, you know, in the army, so —but my impression of the city was that it was Detroit, the Motor – the Motor – the Motor Capitol. I was kind of in awe at being here. Had no idea if you'd asked me two, three years ago. And oh, what I found out when I was in the service was that if you decided to become a teacher, you could get out early. So I got out four months early, to come here – to come here to teach. And I'll never forget, this one lady I met at Kettering. Thelma Jones was her name, she was a counselor. And she says, “Lonnie, you seem to have a lot on the ball. Learn the structure of Detroit, and also take a look at grass roots involvement.” I'm quoting what she said. I did not exactly know what that meant, but I came to know what it meant later on. So I was at Kettering, went over to Northwestern the next year, and the principal, Jessie Kennedy approached me and she told me – she says, “you know, you need to go get a master’s degree in social work. Because you get a master’s degree in social work, you can do anything with that.” So I said, oh, okay. I applied, got accepted. And so in 1967, I was on the way to Wayne State University, and that summer is when we had the rebellion.

WW: Where did you live in the city, when you moved here?

LP: I lived on Taylor for a minute, then I got a flat, rented a flat on Columbus Avenue, then I moved over to Courtland, and from Courtland I bought a house on Santa Barbara. So [unclear] you know, Santa Barbara was out. And I presently live in Sherwood Forest. 

WW: You were living in the Santa Barbara house in 1967?

LP: Yep.

WW: Okay.

LP: No. I was still on Courtland.

WW: Courtland?

LP: Still on Courtland. I remember, during the rebellion, bringing some stuff home to Courtland. Ah. That was fun.

WW: Going into 1967 then, you refer to it as a rebellion. May I ask why?

LP: Because I saw it really as a rebellion, as opposed to, you know, some people call it rebellion, riot. '67 was a turning point in my life. We had the – as you're aware, we had the Peoples’ Tribunal, and along with a buddy of mine, Dan Aldridge, I can't remember exactly how we got thrust into it, but we became the organizers for that. And that was to put together a trial for the police officers who killed the three young black boys in the Algiers Motel incident, which is – Algiers is torn down. And that was quite an experience, in August. We probably – we didn't know that we really had a tiger by the tail, but we did. It was an overwhelming success. We had it over at Reverend Cleage's church, over there on Linwood, Shrine of Black Madonna. You couldn't get in. There were hundreds of people out in the street. You couldn't get in. On a hot August night, we had put together a jury, prosecuting attorney, judge. Milton Henry – he was the prosecuting attorney. Brilliant lawyer, brilliant lawyer. We had asked several other people to be the judge. First they said yeah but then they said no, because they saw how this thing was unfolding. So we went to Kenny Cockerel, “oh, you want to be the judge? Okay.” Kenny Cockerel was the judge.

We had certain people serve on the jury, one of them being Rosa Parks, bless her heart, she served on the jury. And we presented the case. Three police officers and they were found guilty. And we emphasized that this was a mock trial, and that we don't want anything to come out of this except information, and that's what happened.

Now the reason that story ties in is because that's the September I went here, Wayne State University. First day of class, School of Social Work over here at McGregor Center, I walk in, there's hundreds of people. They have – forging a boycott. The college itself, the university was embarking upon a symposium — an urban symposium —- and the community was up in arms because they weren't involved, in the planning. So when I got to school the first day, it was like whoa, a protest. Oh, this is fun.

So I'm just standing there, watching what's going on, and a friend of mine who I'd met over the summer, during the rebellion – Frank Joyce was his name, he was head of SDS, Students for Democratic Society – and they were interviewing him, from, you know, from the white perspective. And they ask him, who represents the black students? And he looked around, he saw me, and he said, “He does.” All the cameras — I mean, it was like, that was another turning point, like the cameras, mics thrust in my face. Said, “What's your name?” I gave my name. “Who do you represent?” I said, “uh, the Association of Black Students.” The rest is history. Because then I went out, organized the Association of Black Students, my social work placement had me up in the Dean's Office – Dean Sellars was his name – he allowed me to use my case work to organize the Association of Black Students. That's what I did. You know in that particular era, I did not perceive of the impact I was making, with the notoriety I was involved in. I was having fun, you know what I'm saying? Today people still tell me about those days. I mean, literally, I will hear during the course of a week. “Man, I remember you when—”

So, we made – I like to think we made a great impact. One of the turning points, also in that, is my second year you got a placement. And Congressman John Conyers, who I met during that whole symposium piece, requested I be placed in his office. Whoa, I was getting placed in a congressman's office. First day I walk into the office, I open the door. There's Rosa Parks sitting behind the desk, and she says, “Mr. Peek, we've been waiting for you.” Oh, wow, Rosa Parks. So for three days a week I'd sit out there and talk to Rosa Parks. And the Congressman comes in, “Lonnie, you got work to do! Leave Rosa alone!” I say, okay, okay. But every day I come back and talk to her. That was one of the benefits I got out of that.

WW: How did the symposium end up then, given the protest? Was the framework of the symposium changed, due to voices from the community?

LP: Very good question. Yeah. Yeah. They changed. They allowed us to organize our symposium, and what we did is that really was a rallying point for the Association of Black Students. It gave us something to do. And I'll never forget, we had these black signs, and we had a big fisheye that said “Symposium,” that's all it said. We placed them on campus. We had our phone number at the bottom. People would call us, it was a type of symbolism. Well we structured the symposium. It was an overwhelming success. We had people like Hubert Locke, we had Coleman Young, was on one of the – ran one of the panels. Came up to me, said, “Boy, I like your spunk. You got spirit!” and he hit me in the chest, almost knocked me down. He says, “Stay in touch with me.” Well, he became one of my best friends, for the rest of my life, until he passed. Matter of fact, I had a show on WJLB where I interviewed people. Coleman had gone on, retired as mayor. I'll never forget, it was Fourth of July, I went down to his place on the riverfront, I took my son. And I interviewed him for the show. It was a glorious time, just me and Coleman just chit-chatting. Talking about all the stuff we had been through. So that was that – you asked, I'm giving you the professional side, and also the personal side, what came out.

WW: Love to hear it.

LP: Okay.

WW: The first symposium was supposed to be in September. When was your symposium held?

LP: I believe it was probably like around, let's see, probably Novemberish.

WW: Okay.

LP: Yeah, November. November, we got it together real quick and it was – it was another one of those things where you're involved in life situations and you really don't cherish the moment until it becomes a memory. Then when it becomes a memory you're able to flash back and see the value that it was. But it was – We organized it, we had recorders, something that I came up with. We had different students assigned to different workshops. We invited people, the university gave us a budget, bless their heart, gave us a budget, and we pulled off the symposium.

WW: It's amazing.

LP: It was, it was. We didn't know that then, but it was. It was, it was. One of the good things that came out of the Association of Black Students, that was during the Black Studies era. And just interesting, because Dr. Melba Boyd just had a series of workshops over there. She's head of the Black Studies department. Anyway, Africana Studies department. I went to President William Keys. We had a good relationship. I was the campus militant, he was the president – white guy who was the president — but we both had common sense. And we both understood that it would be good to have a relationship that was – it's a good working relationship. So I went to him, I said “Dr. Keys, you know, this is Black Studies. I'd like to take some students to California to assess the Black Studies department.” And he says, “Give me a budget.” Wow! So Benson Manlevel was a brother, worked in this department, a good brother, good brother. That night we worked on a budget, took it to William Keys, next month, six of us were on our way to California. We studied four universities, four colleges, that had Black Studies programs. Came back, I made a presentation before the Board of Governors, and that's how we eventually got to the Africana Studies department here now. So that was a turning point, that was one of the benefits of the black student movement.

WW: You mentioned that you were the “campus militant” so we'll be coming back to that, but jumping back, to July 1967, where were you – where were you when the rebellion began?

LP: At home, over on Courtland, and my brother-in-law, who lived across the street, named Chuck Russell, said “man, they – they – they,” — no, I'm sorry. My aunt. Aunt Olive. She called me, Sunday morning. And she said “Lonnie, they're tearing up Twelfth Street.” What? So my brother-in-law and I went down to Twelfth Street and it was like, “Look at this, look at this.” So that's where we were, and I'll never forget that Sunday was just — it was chaos. It was – it was chaos. It was – had a dramatic impact, on seeing this unfold in front of your face. But it also was scary, too.

WW: You said earlier that you took a couple things home?

LP: Has the statute of limitations run out here?

WW: I do believe it has.

LP: Okay. Yeah. Yeah, but you know what, man? We were just petty thieves. I wasn't in to televisions and stuff. It was like, I was just, you know—

WW: Caught up in the moment?

LP: Yeah, caught up in the moment. Took some clothes for my kids, you know, I – it was just one of those things, but — some food — was caught up in the moment, but my – I – I - really, my conscience, the spiritual side of me really was not motivated to  go out and just steal stuff. Because it's stealing, it's stealing. So I gave – I gave – I gave the stuff away. I gave it away. But that's how I got caught up in the rebellion.

WW: When you first saw what was going on, you described it as chaos. Did you first interpret it as a rebellion, or did your opinion change over the course of that week?

LP: It changed, of course, it changed. At first it was just a riot, but then I think the frustration of folks came out more, and more, and because of their frustration, that's when I saw it really as a rebelling. Who do you rebel against? Well, you rebel against whoever's in front of your face, based upon how you feel. So that's how. Plus, as I transgressed or transferred, transformed into the campus leader, there was certain dialogue and things that you said, because that's what you say. So that's how I captured the concept of the rebellion.

WW: How did you feel as the National Guard came in and later the Army came in?

LP: Scared. Very scared. It was scary, to see the tanks. It was scary. And it also caused me to cool out a bit, because I was married, and I had a family, two little kids. So I couldn't be stupid, and, so, my involvement in the street activity was limited, probably just to that – it was really just that Sunday when it broke out. Rest of the time I watched it on TV, but I wasn't involved in that, because I didn't feel right.

WW: Did the rebellion change your political views at all?

LP: Well—

WW: Were you a militant before 1967?

LP: Aw man, boy that's— You remember Martha Jean McQueen? Do you know who that was?

WW: No.

LP: She owned her own radio station. WQBJ. Before that, she was on WJLB, and she interviewed me during my militancy days, and she says, “Well, Lonnie, you seem so angry, why are you angry?” Well, don't get me wrong, I'm not angry because of my childhood. I was blessed. I had a good childhood. My mother didn't work. My father worked two jobs and they took care of me and I went to college. But I'm angry when I look around and I see the condition of my people. That's what makes me angry. So there was a coming together of a platform that I had, and the ability to raise issues, from being the president of the Association of Black Students. So yes, it entrenched me in a particular level – a philosophical level. Which I still have today.

WW: After 1967 did you do any other work with Kenneth Cockerel or Mike Hamlin?

LP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. From that point on, we was like bond together, you know what I'm saying? Kenny and I were good friends, Actually, Kenny would be the type of person, man, you call him on the phone and he start talking, for five minutes, and he say, “Okay man I'll see you later,” I say wait a minute, Kenny, I called you! “Oh, yeah, what's up, man?” So yeah. We became close friends. Matter of fact, one day on campus, for whatever reason, Kenny found himself locked up, over here, you know, there used to be a precinct right up here on Woodward and Hancock. And we were all in the student union, that's where we hung out, and I got news that Kenny Cockerel been put in jail. Oh, wow, so they was going crazy. It was about two or three hundred of us, just hanging out on Friday afternoon. So we go up to the police thing and we block off Woodward. They brought out the horses and surrounded us and stuff. We said we wasn't going until you let Kenny go. The sergeant came out and says, “Okay we got him in here, we're going to process him, going to take about two or three hours.” But we want to know how he doing? Y'all beat him up. “If two of y'all want to come in here, talk to him for about two minutes, you can do that.” They said well, “Lonnie, why don't you go?” Why I got to go?! Well, because I was the leader. So I went in with a friend of mine, Homer Fox, we talked to Kenny, he said “we good, we good, we good.” And they let him go in about an hour. An hour. Yay, free Kenny, free Kenny. So –

WW: When was this? When was this?

LP: This would have been '68. This would have been in '68. The spring of '68 because it was starting to turn warm.

WW: Okay.

LP: Okay. Now, which ties into the assassination of Martin Luther King. That was a terrible day. We were on campus and people just going crazy. Crazy. Never forget, I was in the student union and they said “Well Lonnie you got to make a speech, tell them what to do.” That was one of the few points in my life I wasn't sure which way to go. You could be pragmatic or you could be militant. And as I stood up on the table, I said, first of all, it's horrendous that Dr. King was killed. Obviously, real sad, and mad about that. But. We had to be practical here. Don't know – how many of y'all own a tank? How many of y'all own a bazooka? Well they got tanks and they got bazookas. If you go out there and get stupid, they going to use it against you.

Well, the crowd kind of dissipated. We went over – we decided we wanted to do things to keep things calm in the neighborhood. So my brother-in-law and I we went over to Dexter. They running up and down Dexter acting stupid. So we're stopping them from breaking into buildings and stuff like that. All of a sudden, eight to ten police cars pull up. Surrounded me and my brother-in-law, had our backs up against the wall of the building. Had their guns pulled out. Called us every type of M-F and N-word you could think of. I really thought we was going to die. So, after about – seemed like eternity, maybe seven – five to seven minutes – I noticed they just kept surrounding us. So my brother – I told Chuck, I said – let's just walk through. So we started walking. Chuck had this hat on; they told him to take that hat off. He took the hat off. We walked, around them, through them, started walking Dexter. I expected to be shot in the back. We walked to our car and drove off. That was one of those turning points in your life where you know, the Lord had you – had found favor on you. Because we could have been killed, and they could have made up some dastardly story. So that happened in that era too. [phone rings]

WW: When I asked you at the time, you were gonna say something about Mike Hamlin, I'm sorry I cut you off.

LP: Yeah. Mike – Mike organized – he was involved – I'm trying to get it right – with the workers at the plants.

WW: The Dodge Revolutionary Union movement?

LP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you got it, you got it. Dodge revolution. Along with General Baker. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, it was different – segments – of militancy. You had the students, that I was part of, you had the brothers at the plants, you had people like Kenny who were involved in the whole legal stuff, but we all were interconnected, we all knew each other, and that – there were really – there really was no – no – no competition. Unless I missed it. You know, we were all – we was cool. We was cool. We would meet at different times, different places, and we would support each other and what they were doing.

WW: Were you involved in any of the follow-up racial clashes? In 1968? Say, like Cobo Hall One or Cobo Hall Two?

LP: No, I wasn't. By that – sixty – what did you say, sixty what now?

WW: Sixty eight.

LP: No. Because I was still in, I was still in – so was down here. Wayne State, '68. So, no. Well, that's a good point. Several times I had gotten calls to be involved in things. But certain things, I just – steered away from. And I could always frame it in – because you know, I had to take courses, I was in school, too, you know what I'm saying? So, I was – I picked and chose. I didn't – I didn't have the need for the limelight, even though I was cast in the limelight. I didn't go seeking it. I just did what I needed to do. I knew in two years I was going to be out of here, and I wanted to prepare for – I needed a job once I graduated. So that's how I answer that question.

WW: During this time you were 28 – you were 28 years old, right?

LP: Close to 30 – yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

WW: Was that the average age of like, the major activists, say like Kenneth Cockerel Senior, Mike Hamlin—

LP:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well – well, yeah, yeah. In our mid-twenties. In our mid-twenties and I think that— See, I had a unique situation. I was not from Detroit. When I got here, and since I was teaching, I didn't know a lot of folks, at that level, so whole ABS thing was like, I was a newcomer. That was good, and bad. It was good because I hadn't pissed nobody off, because I didn't know nobody. You know, it was bad because, “Who is this guy?” But I had the type of – I like to think I had the type of personality that got along with folks. The girls liked me. Always get the women on your side. You get the women on your side, you will be successful. So, I had good female support. So, the point I'm asking you, is that I was on a particular course. And that course was the – the '67-'68 piece was happening but I was on a course that you know, I have a life – an adult life to live after this, and I got to start getting prepared for that. And when I graduated, Gil Maddox – I don't know if you remember him – he had a television show called Profile of Blacks, and he hired me for three months just to help him write some scripts and stuff. So that gave me a little income and then – but I didn't know what I was going to do. Got this master's degree. Just a little bit of notoriety, I didn't have no job. I get a call from Murray Jackson, who was the first president at Wayne County Community College. And Murray and I had met over the course of the year and he said, “Well, look, man, I want to start up a Black Studies department. At the college. Would you be willing?” Well yeah, man. Yeah. He brought me over in about two months. Started the Black Studies department. There are still courses at the college that I created back then. That's something, man. I worked at the college for five years. Went out, on my own, as a business person. But the college has been a constant contact in my life. Based on my business and I work now, work very closely with its chancellor, Dr. Curtis Ivery, a great guy, but I've worked with every president of that college. That was, once again, one of the paths that the lord puts you on that you could pray or ask for. See, in life, your best blessings are blessings you don't ask for. Because you can't form the concept when asking for that blessing. So that was a blessing. And I got over to Wayne County Community College, and that's where I sat for five years.

WW: Well, given your relatively short time in the city before 1967, did you feel or perceive a shift in the atmosphere of the city?

LP: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It went from a position of feeling powerless, to seize the opportunities. And I think that – when Bill Patrick, the first African American to get in with City Council, the formation of New Detroit, these things started giving folks a different slant on this.  And when New Detroit was formed, with the governor, and the mayor, all the bigwigs. I'll never forget, I went to the press conference down in City Council. I said, this is – this could be a good organization. This is a – this is different. You know, white corporate people, black community people, educators coming together. And I got a – about a year or so later I got a call from Bill Patrick who was president of New Detroit, asked me to come down, appear before the board, I came down and gave a speech while I -  next year they elected me to the board. I've been on the board ever since. Matter of fact, I've been on the board so long, they just put me in emeritus. I've been on that board since 1969. So I've seen it. But getting back to your question, Coleman Young's election was a turning point for the city. Because they believe in Coleman, a brilliant man, a community-oriented man. So he gave black folks, if you will, not only hope, but realization that, if you vote, put people in positions, you can make a difference. And Coleman made a difference. And you'll say he made a difference. He'll tell you, what he told you, he said the biggest mistake he made was staying in office too long. Should have got out. He said, “I should have served two terms, maximum three. I shoulda got out.”  But one of the things about Coleman Young, when they were looking for corruption and all that stuff, I'll never forget, he says “They keep looking. They're wasting all that money, looking for corruption to put me in jail. I ain't got no money!” They never found nothing on Coleman Young. But people around him fell. But he was one of the turning points in the city.

WW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

LP: No, man, you had me cover my whole life! Where I am – where I am today, I've been blessed. I'm still active in stuff. I serve on several boards. The Belle Isle Advisory Board, I serve on that board, I'm vice chair of that board. Detroit Economic Growth Corporation Board. Detroit River Fund Conservancy Board, and I'm probably leaving out a couple but that – New Detroit – so I'm still active on that particular level. In 1991-92, — 1985 to 1993 – were the hell years of my life. I had two companies that were – eventually went into bankruptcy. I had a wife, she was the police commissioner, her name was Susan – Susan Mills Peek – she contracted MS. It eventually killed her. I saw her die in front of my face. Those were some hell years. I told the Lord, if he gets me through this, I will go into the seminary, which I did do. Went into the seminary, became an ordained preacher, became involved in the religious community, which I am now. I'm now serving as the interim pastor at New Concord Baptist Church. I've been involved in politics, religion, the community ever since I've been here. So it's been a blessing. It's been a labor. But when you are blessed to have a specific labor, when you recognize that, you give the Lord your best, he will find favor on you. I've had favor found on me in my life.

WW: One more quick question. How do you feel about the progress the city has made in reconstruction and resurgence?

LP: Good, excellent, superb. It was due. I think that the whole bankruptcy piece was a blessing in disguise. Who ever saw a city go into bankruptcy and out in 18 months? I think Kevyn Orr was brilliant. I had the opportunity to work very close with him. I think that he set the city on a path, get certain debt forgiven, certain things happening. I think that the current mayor we have, he's a good mayor. Mike Duggan is a good mayor. Now I was in Benny's camp, but Mike Duggan won, so there that is. I think he's moving the city forward. I think investments downtown, the Gilberts and the Ilitches, history will show you that where you have the Rockefeller, and the Mellons, and these people involved in civic affairs, that the urban areas flourish, so it's good that we have business people involved. It's good that we have people coming in to Detroit. I see it turn around, see it stabilizing. The communities can't be left out. We find – I mean, we welcome what's happening downtown. No problem. But we also got to take care of our communities. I work very closely with Jimmy Settles, who is UAW [United Auto Workers] vice president, great guy. Great guy. We formed what is known as the Church-Labor Summit. So we brought together labor and churches working together on a variety of projects – a variety of projects.

So, I think it's good, and – in my neighborhood, man, shoot! House go up for sale, in a week it's gone! Gone. A lot of white folks is moving back in my community. Matter of fact, I did an article in the Chronicle [unclear], I did an article in the Chronicle, couples years ago, called, “They're Sneaking Back Into the City.” Well, they ain't sneaking no more, know what I'm saying? That's good for the city. It's good for the city. Detroit is, and will be, the place to be. If you try to rent a place downtown or – or buy an apartment or something, a loft, whatever, you can't get it! On weekends there's too much traffic! Traffic jams downtown Detroit. So I feel very good about where the city is going. I feel blessed that I can see it as it makes its transition. I'm glad that Gil Hill was alive long enough to see it starting to make its transition. He was a good guy. I'll never forget Gil Hill, man, and then I'll be quiet. He was running against Kwame, Gil was a friend. Kwame came to me and said, “Look, man, I want you on my team.” I thought about it and said okay. I called Gil that night and said, “Gil, I'm going to be on Kwame's team, and you're my friend.” He says, “Lonnie, I understand. We will always be friends.” We always were friends. So friendship is very important in your life. Abraham called God his friend, so. I'm blessed to have a lot of friends.

WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

LP: All right! So when will the check be in the mail?! [laughter] You say, “Go home and sit and wait!” I appreciate it, man, thanks.

People

Cockrel, Kenneth
Hamlin, Mike
Parks, Rosa
Conyers, John

Original Format

Recording

Duration

00:43:22

Interviewer

William WInkel

Interviewee

Reverend Lonnie Peek

Location

Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit, MI

Files

Lonnie Peek Picture.jpg

Collection

Citation

“Reverend Lonnie Peek, April 5th, 2016,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed June 18, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/233.

Output Formats