Mike Hamlin, December 22nd, 2015

Title

Mike Hamlin, December 22nd, 2015

Description

In this interview, Hamlin discusses growing up in Mississippi, his time at the University of Michigan and in the military, and his role as an organizer with the Inner City Voice and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

05/23/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

WAV

Language

en-US

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Mike Hamlin

Brief Biography

Mike Hamlin was born in Mississippi in 1935 and came to the Detroit area in 1947. In Detroit, Hamlin was a leader and member of black militant and other left-wing organization throughout the city.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit

Date

12/22/2015

Interview Length

Part 1: 01:06:27
Part 2: 00:48:26

Transcriptionist

Julie Vandenboom

Transcription Date

04/27/2016

Transcription

PART ONE: 

WW: Hello my name is William Winkel and I am with the Detroit Historical Society. And it is December 22, and we are in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project and I am here with Mike Hamlin.

Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.

MH: I’m delighted.

WW: Can you tell me where and when you were born?

MH: I was born 1935, October 17th in a rural area on a plantation near Canton, Mississippi. My father and his family—my family were sharecroppers on that plantation. They worked farms and divided the products for the production of cotton with the owners. And it was a very exploitive kinda situation. My father was the youngest of three. And he had been abandoned, his family, he and my grandmother, and my aunt and uncle had been abandoned by his father when they were teenagers and they had to scrape through to adulthood under very dire circumstances. My mother was a product of a plantation owner’s son. And her mother died, when she was 33 and left her as an orphan. And she couldn’t stay on the plantation where she was born with her father and his family so she was kind of shunted around from one black relative to another because, you know, they were rural folks and if you understand about the thinking of peasants, agricultural workers. You could say that in my view they were seen as peasants. They um, it makes you selfish, working like that, working like that. So she had a very difficult time, and I think she – at 15 she married my father who was a real bad guy. Irresponsible, reckless and could be brutal. And I was born, she married him when she was 16. So she and I kind of grew up together, I tried – I did the best I could to protect her but he was very abusive and all of this is shaping my thinking as I'm growing up. On the place that we lived, there was a – you know, we lived in a shack. No running water, an outhouse. On the farm we made vegetables, he hunted, we raised vegetables, they would hunt rabbits, possums and squirrels and birds - and fish. So we had enough to sustain us but, you know, at the same time, my father started bootleggin’ whiskey, he started making whiskey and he made a lot of money but he blew it all. He was very - I said he was reckless and irresponsible so [laughter]. He would - He was just a wild man. And so this had to do with my shape, I mean, this shaped my view. I was always trying to make my mom’s life better, so I used to go with her when she would go to work at the plantation owner's house and the plantation owner tried her - tried to get my mother to give me to her. And she wouldn’t do it. But she did that because I could do a lot of things even though I was a child. At some point my father, who enjoyed police protection from the sheriff, who supposedly protected him from - his operation - from the IRS or whatever its equivalent was at that time - raided his still and destroyed it all. So the sheriff came. (I don't know if you want all this kind of information.) But the sheriff came to the house to collect his monthly, a $75 payment. My father told him we didn’t have any money. He told him - this was in 1944, he told him “I’ll be back here tonight and you better have it.” Now we - I have seen two mobs riding through our place watering their horses and dogs and themselves at the pump that we had, on their way into the forest looking for blacks they were gonna lynch. They caught one, the other one got away. So after my dad had the encounter with the sheriff he took off and he made it to Kansas City where I had an aunt. My aunt had moved. And shortly thereafter my mother moved to Kansas City with him. And my grandmother and I and my sister moved - my younger sister - moved into Canton, the town. And I think I was nine years old and I got a job in the store.

By the way in terms of school, I did not go to - start school - until two years after when I was old enough. Cause I was babysitting my sister as my mother worked in the cotton field. I’d be sitting on a blanket on the edge of the field and she’d be out there picking cotton and I’d be entertaining my little sister. So when I - we ended up - I started school about 3rd grade and I had a lot of catching up to do but, I handled that. We went to town, we moved to Canton and lived in a house there that my aunt had lived in and I went to school there for two years, I got this job in a liquor store - almost got killed, 'cause the owners - a young – two young – a young white couple - had me doing all kinds of things. You know, I could do any job in the store including cash register, meat counter, stock, whatever. And they enjoyed watching me. They were just amused. I was big for my age, 10 years old. And they had a nephew about your size, 17 years old, he was a high school football player. He didn’t like me, because they liked me and so he worked there in the summer when he was out of school so one day I went back to the back of the store [laughter], to get something out of the meat counter, I mean, cooler. And he was standing there in the door with a sharp knife, a butcher's knife. And he was coming at me with it, and it slipped outta his hands [laughter] and stuck into his foot. [Laughter] And he howled, and of course I didn’t laugh, but that probably saved my life cause, he could have killed me and they would have been nothing said about it. But anyway, eventually my father, he had gotten run out of Mississippi, but then he got ran out of Kansas City, Missouri, because he was - he got in some argument with a guy in a bar, probably over a woman or something, and he opened fire on this man point blank and shot him once in the leg [laughter]. So he had to flee from Kansas City and came here. And after he came here, he -  was in 1946. In ’47, he brought me and my sister here. And my mother and grandmother went to Kansas City. That brought me to Detroit. That was in August of 1947 and we started the school in September.

WW: Where did you move to in the city?

MH: Ecorse.

WW: Ecorse?

MH: Yeah, in Ecorse, which was an industrial town with a lot of people from the South, a lot of people from Mississippi – people that my folks knew. And – and it was divided by railroad tracks, and there were blacks on one side and whites on the other, but we all went to the same high school – we went to segregated elementary schools. And the junior high school was attached to the high school, so beginning in the seventh grade, we were in – we begin integrated school. Interestingly enough, we didn't have any problems. Now – I had a very interesting experience my first – I don't know whether this is relevant to what you're-

WW: It all is. [laughter] Keep going.

MH: The – I can't – my first – I remember, I said, we came here in August of '47. Took the train in to Grand Central Station. I think that's what it was called at the time.

WW: Michigan Central?

MH: Michigan Central, yeah. And took a cab to Ecorse. And in September, which was the next month, school started. I went to school, and my first day of school the teacher and the whole class laughed at me because [laughter] of my accent. So you know, one other thing about being born in Mississippi, is you develop deep feeling of humility. So rather than being crushed, you know, I just felt that I was behind and I had to catch up. And so boy, did I catch up. This was an interracial experience from seventh grade on up, and by the time I was a sophomore, I was – for the next two years – a leading athlete in my school. Basketball and football. Tennis. And – 'cause I had never played tennis, had no idea, but I had a friend who was a year younger than me, but he was kinda – he was like a mentor. And I studied him. His father, interestingly enough, he was a graduate of Colgate. He had a mechanical engineering degree, and the first job he got was as the principal of a high school in South Carolina. But when Ford started paying $5 an hour – or $5 a day – he moved here, and moved his wife here. And he worked at the Rouge in the foundry for 43 years, and became an under – a part-time undertaker.

So anyway, I used to spend a lot of time at his house. And I learned from them, you know. I became [unintelligible]. So by high school – I didn't – I mean – nobody in my house had even gone past eighth grade, much less going to college. As I was approaching graduation, most of my friends were going into factories. Great Lakes Steel – Are you from here?

WW: I'm from downriver.

MH: Great Lakes Steel, and Ford. And my father told me - I was working. I started working when I got here, ten years part time at a liquor store – at a grocery store. And then later a liquor store. And my father told me, don't go to college, you know. Stay where you are with that liquor store. So I usually did the opposite of whatever he told me. [laughter] I thought that was a good rule. So I – Gunnar, my friend, my mentor, was going to U of M. He had a full scholarship, was gonna be a doctor. So I had – I was probably in the top five, academically, by then. Thought I may try playing basketball. So I decided to go to U of M with him. That summer, the basketball coach, Mr. Rilly, got me a scholarship – not a scholarship, got me a job, rehabbing a school in Ecorse that was – you know, needed work. So I worked with that and got - made pretty good money. So I paid for my first year. Second year I got a job at Ford during the summer, and I worked there for 89 days and they laid me off, but I did have enough to go back and finish two more years.

And the summer after that – this was in 1956 – I couldn't get a job. That was the – during the Eisenhower recession. I couldn't get a job so I – you know, I didn't go back to school in September, but I continued to look for a job, and the only job I got was in February, I – doing the – on days when it snowed – my aunt comes back, got a job in Wyandotte in a car wash. I spent one day in that job. [laughter] And I told my uncle the next day I wasn't going back. And I left home, coming to the federal building, looking for the Marines, and got conned into going into the Army.

Now all this time, I'm trying to make up my deficit of knowledge and I really went and learned. I studied the classics, I was the teacher's pet. You know, the teachers that everybody was afraid of, I found out they had a sense of humor and I could relate – a person like me [laughter] has to have a sense of humor. A person who has certain [unintelligible]. So I did quite well. But I – learned – I took Spanish in high school. And Latin. And at U of M – at U of M it was interesting. I passed – I got As in Latin, you know, Bs – but I was almost failing English. So – and one of the professors told me that I was wasting my time, I should go back down south to one of the Black colleges. So I mean – I wasn't – you know, if you're in a position where you've been through what I've been – you couldn't hardly hurt my feelings and insult me with something like that.

WW: Was the teacher that – was that your English teacher who said that?

MH: Yep, at U of M. Professor Huntley was his name. But – I'm telling you, I was learning the world. I did not know what – and I knew it. And I knew that I – so I was a reading fiend. I read – I loved Macbeth. I read all Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, et cetera, et cetera. Matter of fact, when I was in the army, me and this buddy of mine, we used to quote long passages from Macbeth, Hamlet. I knew the soliloquies from Hamlet and Macbeth and the poetry and stuff like that. So I was learning, because I was filling an empty tank.

WW: Did you – after you graduated high school did you start exploring the metro area? You said you started going to U of M – did you go to U of M Ann Arbor?

MH: U of M Dearborn didn't exist at that time.

WW: Oh, okay. Was there a difference between the Ecorse neighborhood you grew up in and spending time in Ann Arbor?

MH: Oh yeah, oh yeah. There were 33,000 students there, 300 of them were black. They were a different class. I'm a sharecropper, and these are doctor’s, lawyer’s, teacher’s kids, there amongst the blacks. I got along with them all but I knew I was different. Again, when we were with the whites. Matter of fact in high school, a very interesting thing happened. I didn't know anything about sports, but we played street football. And  so one day on the playground, the professor – not the professor – the coach saw me throw a football, and he saw how far I could throw it and how my side, he called me over, told me he wanted me to come out and play football for him. He wanted me to play quarterback. And because the – the quarterback he had could not see over the linemen. He wasn't tall enough. And so I agreed. And I did well for – my two years in high school I was the quarterback for the football team and the captain of the basketball team. Which, you know, I'm just going through – I was kind of like Forest Gump. I was just doing things. I was learning, and appreciating, but I didn't have much ego at that time. I don't think.

But anyway, at U of M I was there among the middle class folks. And you know, they treated me nice, like we were all in the same boat, except that I – like I said, I was different. But they were good. My roommate was my mentor, he was a year younger than me, which – we're still the best of friends, all those years. He has more infirmities than I do. But after that car wash day, I entered the Army. I went -

WW: What year was that?

MH: That was 1957. And I went to Missouri, to a military base there, where I was – I began my training, but then they shipped me to Ft. Lewis, Washington – state of Washington – where I spent 13 months. And I had a first sergeant who abused me terribly. I have no – this day, I don't understand why this man didn't like me. And if you know about the military, the punishment that they mete out is KP – kitchen police. So he would frequently put me on KP for some excuse. Which meant I'd have to get up at four o'clock in the morning, peel potatoes, and wash pots and pans. And you know – very frequently.

But we were in a special class – our unit – experimental unit. Testing equipment, testing men, to determine who got – who had the best – what region of the country the best soldiers came from. And the people who make best soldiers – and that was Midwest, south, and southeast. And so we went through a number of experimental things. I learned – we had to learn to ski, with a backpack, wearing 90 pounds, pulling like – two men – three men teams. Two pulling a sled and one guiding it – that had 250 pounds of equipment on it. Plus weapons. You had a tent, you know, supplies and different things. And we had to ski through – we went to – we left for three months and went through the mountains, and had to maneuver out there.

My enemy – Sergeant Vargas – I – one night – I mean, one morning, we start climbing in this mountain, on skis with the backpack and the sled and the weapons, and at midnight we got to the top. It was pitch black up there. And the first thing out of his mouth was “Hamlin, you got the first watch.” Now it's pitch black and you're on the mountain, and you could fall off and it would probably take you ten minutes to hit the ground. But I had the – had the first watch – had to go around the perimeter. Plus the first night, I mean – we got there, there was – they had hired a hunter because there were bear tracks through the area. But he got me.

So when we spent that three months testing equipment, we were testing the equipment – both the motorized equipment and what we wore, and the weapons and so forth. Then we left there and came back and that was three months. Then we spent three months in the desert. And – which basically consisted of sitting out on top of a mountain. And – I don't know if you know the state of Washington – there's a desert called Yakima, in eastern Washington, near Spokane. And we were sitting in this – we'd sit down on this mountain for three months, in foxholes. You know, that heat. There's rattlesnakes. And they supposedly fired an atomic bomb in the area, in proximity to us, and when we came back from each one of these exercises, they interviewed us all individually. A psychologist from Columbia and somewhere else. They interviewed us and that was the end of that, fortunately after that. I got shipped to Korea, which took me away from Sergeant Vargas, and I excelled over there, and I became a sergeant. But Korea was kind of what made – what awakened me. You know, I began – we're over there, and Emmett Till happened, Little Rock. SCSC, Montgomery. A lot of that happened. And our first night over there we had a fight – a racial fight. There were three of us and there was nine whites – most of them from the south – Louisiana and Oklahoma and so forth. And we were in a 12-man quonset hut divided into three parts. We were placed alphabetically. There were three blacks – me, Hightower, and Hawkins. Hawkins was from Benton Harbor, I forget where Hightower was from. So the first night there, we were – This is probably not what you wanted, right?

WW: Oh yeah, this is all good.

MH: First night there, we were – me, and Hawkins and Hightower were sitting in the middle room, which is where we were, and all of the whites are gathered in the room next to us. And they were talking, and we were talking, and we kept hearing the word “nigger” thrown around. So finally one of us – I guess it was me, “man, you guys hear what I just heard?” Said “yeah, man, we heard it.” I said “we gotta put a stop to that.”

So the three of us marched over there. They were all sitting around, you know, on their bunks and chairs and so forth, and we say hey man, you guys – we been sitting over here listening hearing that word “nigger” being thrown around. You're not gonna be able to do that around us. And this big guy who was about six two, about 230, Harlan, from New Orleans, said “well I don't know what I'm gonna call you 'cause that's all I've ever known.” And we said “no, you ain't gonna call – you're not gonna use that word here.” So he said “well, maybe we better take this outside.” And they - “yeah, yeah!”

So Hawkins, who was about six feet, about 170 pounds, said “well man, I'll fight you.” And so they decided that the two of them would go at it. Harlan weighing 240 pounds. [laughter] I'm worried to death about Harlan. So we go out there, they get on one side, and three of us on the other side, and Harlan stepped forward. And Hawkins stepped forward. And so Harlan lunged at him, and Hawkins hit him with a left hook and then hit him with the right and staggered him – knocked him back – and Harlan made a bull rush and Hawkins grabbed him in a headlock and rammed his head into a car – the grill – and he was bleeding all over the place. Said “hey, next time, we gotta stop, this gotta stop now.” So they stopped it and we went back and never had that incident again.

So, that – you know – but – and aside from that, see, I maintain that all Americans, since they're so warlike, they like wars – they oughta do two things – enlist, and number two, before they do they need to go to France, to Normandy, and see that graveyard, with ten thousand crosses in it. It's eerie. We have a son who lives in Paris and we were visiting him quite regularly. Now he comes here all the time. But we went – the first time we went, we went over and stood at the – out there amongst those crosses. There's ten thousand of them. Names on 'em – name unknown – and they go on and on – you can't see the end. And you can't see – and that way. If you stand on one side, you can't see. You stand here, you can't see the end. And it's the most eerie feeling – it's a very spiritual thing. So I – I think all these warmongering people need to – you know, put up or shut up.

But anyway, that is what – see, I was angry. This was the era of the black man. Angry black man. And when I came back – well, a couple other things. You could see, in Korea, the effect of that war. Which we didn't win – but we killed a whole lot of people. In North Korea, they destroyed every building that existed. People were living in caves. They were – I can – they drove – they fly a B-52 over a rice paddy, see a guy down there with an ox and a plow and drop one on him. Because a lot of times they come back – like right now, they go on bombing runs in the Middle East and they come back with their bombs. But there you – you see somebody down there, a peasant – so it kinda effected me, plus what was going on here. There was a lot of, lot of racial hostility building. George Wallace hadn't started, but he was on his way.

So when I came back I was -

WW: What year did you come back?

MH: In '60.  In March of '60. And got a job – that's when I got the job at the Detroit News. I had U of M credits and I had military, so they hired me. I worked there ten years. Teamsters claim that I was one year short of a pension. I think they probably cheated me out of it. But that's water under the dam. But anyway, I worked there and I got married. Married an upper middle class girl from St. Louis, and it didn't work. You know, because I was beginning to move left, and she was from – she was a society girl, and her friends – they used to have parties all the time. We all – you know, and the party was usually at our place. I lived on Boston and Lawton, which is right over there near Central High School, where the National Guard was located.

But anyway, she was from St. Louis and her family – it was a Boston Episcopalian family her mother came from. And, you know, I was – [unintelligible] We gave it a go but it didn't – it lasted about four years. And we got a divorce, and it was very questionable for two weeks, and then I became a counselor, ultimately. I always tell people who are divorced, who [unintelligible], well you can grieve for two weeks, but – and the other party is going on to a better life for themselves. You better take care of number one! Two weeks.  That's a good rule of thumb. If you ever decide to get divorced, you can grieve. I was sitting up in my house with a fifth of J&B Red – scotch – a fifth of it – and then a pint of Martin BPO scotch. Listening to Ray Charles, Country and Western album, in which he had “Born to Lose” on there, and “I Can't Stop Loving You,” and I did that for two weeks. But then one day a light bulb went on. Up here, like a fool, she went and took everything out of the house while I was at work. I worked a double shift on Saturday. She got a van and took all that – took all the money, including money we had invested in a bank out in – a black bank in Los Angeles, that my brother-in-law was a vice president, and left me there.

I start – you know, I started having a good time. I started dating. Every single teacher in the school – my friend who went to U of M, who was derailed in his drive to be a doctor because his girlfriend got pregnant – more than likely tricked him – and so he had to switch and go into teaching. But anyway, she was his cousin. He moved in with me, 'cause he had got divorced. He was teaching in this school, and he was introducing me to all these women.

WW: So he was working at Central High School, or -

MH: No, this was in Inkster.

WW: Oh, Inkster.

MH: Yeah, he worked at – he became principal – superintendent of schools, ultimately, in Inkster. But you know, I was just having a good time. Like a fool, I – with all the women – one of them I got pregnant. She was a teacher, and she was crazy. She woulda killed me. So I – I had to leave, running. This is during the movement, because my politics involved me – had me around a lot of women. But I didn't cheat when I was married. But my politics were – these women were not prepared for this. They were into being successful, middle-class, blacks. And I was angry.

You know, that's what drove – that's what drove '67. That's what drove Black Power. That's what drove the movement. The urban black, you know – the working class black reached a point where he could not take it anymore. I told people many a time, then, and since then, that during that period I didn't care whether I lived or died, but I was going to live or die with some feeling of freedom. And you know – in my mind. And I – I understood oppression - our oppression. I understood our exploitation. I had not only seen it, I experienced it. And I saw the family, how they were abused, in the community, the neighborhood. You know, I was – I used to do income tax for the older people in the neighborhood. I used to help them negotiate with some of these crooked furniture companies, like I forget his name – one down in Wyandotte, I think it was called Muskins or something. Where – downriver were you?

WW: I'm from Lincoln Park.

MH: Oh, you're right around the corner! Yeah, yeah. We used to play you guys in football.

WW: You probably won. Really quick, before we get to 1967, what did you do at the Detroit -

MH: News?

WW: Yeah, Detroit News.

MH: I started off as a jumper, which was assisting the drivers. We'd take papers to stations and unload them, where the newsboys were, or we were the guy who drove around downtown and put papers in the – and shortly after we – after I got hired there, which was 1960, they bought the Detroit Times. And all of us had seniority over all these people from the Detroit Times.

So I got to be a driver, and I drove for a while. And I took over a station, over on Cass – the Cass corridor. And I ran that for a while. And then I started going back to school at Wayne State, so I went back to the truck driving job because that was more compatible with – I had the GI Bill, so I started going to Wayne, and that's when I got involved. I had gotten involved with Ken and John at the Detroit News. I would drive Ken to work – I mean, to law school, on my way to work. And he would join me later – you know, part time, when he'd come to work. Some time he'd ride with me when we delivered papers. And John was working there, and going to school, and together, you know, we engaged in – on the dock, in repartee with all – we dominated the docks with the kids – with all the other guys that were there. Tossing their intellect and their capacity – their analytical capacity. Ken was like a machine gun, if you heard him talk, he sounded like a machine gun. And John would bring it. They both were geniuses. It's a rare case, where they were both geniuses, and I was very privileged and honored to work with them. But they were good friends, you know.

John, who graduated from Cass at 17, was the one who introduced me to Marxist analysis, and I introduced Ken, and we studied together, and we had good times together, and we analyzed the society, you know, and grew angrier and angrier, and had to do something, which brings us to – well – the Civil Rights movement started. And first of all, I had already seen enough outrages while I was in the Army and overseas, at that - but what – we wanted to do something. John went down, attended Nashville, to see if he could participate in -  with SNCC - but he couldn't take those ass-whoopings, he wouldn't do it, so he came back. I didn't even go, and neither would Ken. We wouldn't even consider that, because Ken and I had been in the military – he was in the Air Force, I was in the army, and John had not – he was too young, he wouldn't go, in general.

But anyway, we were angry. And we were – you know, by that time, in that period, there was – we had gone through a flowering of the art in the black – among the black artists. Cultural people – individuals. And there were books – key books that came out that affected us. James Baldwin's writing, or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Richard Wright. Leroy Jones, etc. We – were were – we were studying, we were rapping, we were – we were talking. We were pretty profuse debaters. And we also realized we had to do something. So we started working with some people. We raised money and goods for people in the south who had been – like in Tennessee, there was a place called Fayetteville, I think, that had – where all the farmers had been kicked off the land – all the sharecroppers had been kicked off the land, and they set up a tent down there, called Tent City. So we worked with the Clagues and the Boggs  and SNCC raised money and good and shipped them down there to the people that lost their homes. All these things were making us further – right, by the way – at the time, in 1960 there was a Time nagazine cover – I guess, something like the Man of the Year was the Angry Black Man, and they had a picture of a black guy with bandoleers, you know, across his chest, and a rifle. So this thing was building – these – it was building up to Watts, '67 Detroit, Newark, and so forth. And in – within us, something was going to explode one way or another. I mean, I had some very nefarious ideas at the time. But anyway, you know, our folks had endured humiliation and abuse so long that – you know, there was rage within the young black man. The older people were prepared to keep going, you know, waiting – as Malcolm said, waiting patiently. But we begin  - they begin to say we do now, matter of fact, in Detroit, in the early '60s, there was a party founded by Clagues and the Boggs and the Henry Brothers called Freedom Now Party. John Watson was part of it. But you know, we emerged as a more – a more militaristic approach.

WW: Who is “we”?

MH: The group that eventually came together to form DRUM and the League, well, the Inner City Voice was the beginning.

WW: Okay.

MH: You know, we wanted a pound of flesh, because the humiliation – I mean, we had worn a uniform, we had been good citizens, and the police brutality – they think is bad now, they should have been here in the sixties, in Detroit, it was really bad. And other places too. And it's fundamentally the catalyst for all of these rebellions and riots in the city. It was the overreach of the police, and this is gonna happen again, based on what's being done right now. The rage – there's a book called Black Rage that you oughta check out some time. I think it's by Grier and Price. [William Grier and Price Cobbs] Like two psychiatrists – two black psychiatrists. And you can get a feeling of the pain that – that we experienced. You know, people who had some intellectual capacity. Because if you understand the true nature of this country, you have to – you deal – you either become angry or you're in denial. Or you deny it.

And so if you bought the idea that it was – it was okay for U.S. to invade Vietnam, based on the false premise of the Gulf of Tonkin by LBJ, that there was justification for going to kill millions of Vietnamese. Or if you are presented with the proposition that somebody as dumb as George Bush has the right to order shock and awe and the killing of millions of Muslims – and still killing them, still going on – if you believe that that is right and just – or as they say in the church, mete and just – then you're in denial. And that's where we are. It's not a question of – you know, I don't feel good with that. I don't wake up every morning feeling good about shock and awe, 'cause you know that they – these fools – well, or if you think it was all right, it was a great thing that we dropped the atomic bombs on Japan – [laughter] you got a different kind of thinking. But that's the way are. And so we go along, with things. I mean, if you're smart, you're strong, and sometime if you're without morals, you can succeed. Look at Donald Trump. You know, you could – you could fly high. Whenever I had a political – a polemic against somebody, I'd quote Cyrano – he says, “he flew high and fell back again.” [laughter]

WW: Going into 1967, did you feel that this rage was also felt outside your core group of colleagues?

MH: Oh yeah.

WW: Did you feel that this rage was across the city? Across the nation?

MH: Across the nation. As Bill Wilderman, but you see there's a lot of things that came together. There's the war experience, and if you study history, every time something cataclysmic happens, the outcomes are usually different. For example, World War Two ended colonialism in the form that it was, where you had these superpowers dominating colonies, going way back to World War One and Two, where they divided up the colonies between the British Empire, the Spanish, the – the Portuguese, the Italians, the French, et cetera. They divided, you know, and Britain had most of Africa. Had control of China. French had Vietnam, who defeated them, actually, on the battlefield. But the fact of World War Two – One and Two – where they were fighting over issues  of who was going to control those colonies, get the resources and the market – weakened those countries. And the thing about it is that the U.S. came out as number one, along with Russia.

So all of a sudden, England and – which had been the dinosaur – the giant on the world stage – had to begin falling back. And then after World War Two, Mao was able to free China. The Soviet Union had been invaded a number of times by several countries, including the U.S., three times, they invaded the Soviet Union after 1917, but they didn't win. It's such a big country, it's complex, the temperature is - makes it difficult and the mountains make it difficult to fight there. So those – for a reason the Soviet Union by a lot of countries, after the revolution in Russia all failed. So, it – it gave rise, after World War One and World War Two – gave rise to the independence movement. And we used to quote the slogans, you know, like “the people want revolution.” “Countries want independence, the people want revolution.” I forget what the other parts of it were. And that happened.

Like I said, Vietnam defeated the French and drove them out. Mao led the Chinese in '49. Imagine a country that big being controlled by British – by British governors. And the rationalization for it was they were civilizing these – bringing them to God. You know, South Africa ultimately brought down in the aftermath of a breakup of colonialism. The Africans begin to fight. Are you running out of battery?

WW: Just double-checking.

MH: Okay. If you want to speed up, we can -

WW: Let's get to 1967 – that week – where were – where did you first hear about what was going on? What did you first see?

MH: I was coming from my mother's house, about ten o'clock in the morning. And – on Fourth – coming up Fourth Street. I lived on Boston and Lawton at the time. And I – I – like I told you, I was talking to somebody, anyway – I first begin to see – I didn't have a radio on, so I begin to see a lot of frantic activity in terms of people driving. And as I came forward, I begin to see smoke and I knew something was wrong. I turned the radio on to WWJ and they were talking about it. And so I knew – this had happened before in these other cities. I knew the nature of it, and I knew that there were certain people that were going to be under scrutiny during this time, amongst who included me.

So I figured that I had to find a scurrilous way of getting way of getting home from Fourth Street all the way down to Linwood and Boston. And so I – since I drove a truck throughout the city – throughout the whole region – I'd done this for ten years – I knew all the ways to get around. So I started cutting through streets so I didn't go on main roads that were blocked. And finally I made it home. Well, when the National Guard came in, which was at Central High School, which was about a quarter mile from my house – I mean, my apartment – all of a sudden, I'm at home, shades pulled, but keeping an eye out – and across the – across – Boston has an island in the middle there – and out there, sitting in the island – the berm – was the jeep with a machine gun pointed at my apartment. And so I didn't know – I mean, I knew what was happening – so I stayed, and I went down in the basement, I called different people. Called General and he was in the same kind of situation. And they stayed there for that day and night, so I was pinned down during that time.

I couldn't go anywhere, because they were all – the National Guard was right there. In the midst of our area. We were occupied. And General lived on Gladstone, I lived on Boston so we weren't that far from each other. And I knew for sure that he was gonna be one of the ones that was being watched, and I – I lived close to the Algiers Hotel, so, you know, there was a lot of action in our area. I – I was anticipating it. I knew there were people getting fed up, and I knew it was going to happen eventually. I didn't know what – you know, it was going to be – you know, it's always a thing letting off steam, but it also destroys the community. It's destructive to the community. And – lives were lost. You know, a lot of people were killed.

WW: Were you afraid of being arrested, as General Baker was?

MH: You know I was kind of fatalistic. I – you know, I could think – I know it's hard for you to realize this, but – I could think that my life – I mean there are some things better than living that way, living in fear, living, you know, afraid and especially out of the Army. A man – [laughter] the military experience is really, really educational. I mean, they – they can order you in a minute to kill somebody, or you can get killed, and some other guy, your equivalent on the other side, opens fire on you, kills you. So I – I've never been afraid of death. But what's happened to me – only thing that kept me from doing a monumental destructive thing – was that I thought I'd found a way that I could make a difference. And that was through politics, Marxist politics. That's the – organizing. John and I believed that we could start something. John had been involved in a lot of start-ups, but they did not have the maturity, in my mind, this is my belief – to keep it together. They were always vulnerable to an attack, for example. One of the key people who was part of the group – you know, there was group loyalty – but every time this, they would form an organization, basically based around Wayne State, there was this black woman who's part of the group, who raised the issue that John Williams had a white wife, so they could not keep going with this organization as long as John Williams was in it. So they break up. [laughter]

WW: Before we get into your political activities afterwards, what would you consider – what term best describes, for you, what happened in 1967 in Detroit. Would you consider it a rebellion, or a riot, because you talked about that it ultimately failed.

MH: It was clearly a rebellion. It was rebellion against oppression and exploitation, but more so against – it was a police state, you know, and that's what happened in police states. Looks like the way things are happening now between cops and blacks, we might be headed toward that kind of – I mean, I felt – I knew I was in a police state, you know, growing up in Ecorse. The police used to mess with us, you know, used to try to provoke us and things. Plus they was raiding peoples' houses, that kind of thing. So there was rage and rebellion, in my mind. There were – obviously there were elements who rioted. But it was an expression of that rage, and they – and it was a fight. It was the man for change. Change or die. And I understand that, I mean, you can get to that place. It's very dangerous, what's going on now. Trump is going to get what he's asking for if he keeps going on with stuff, 'cause I – you know, I know some Muslims, and they're not going to, you know – they're not gonna let folks mess over with them. I know a number of Muslim men in the community down here, and like – that crazy preacher? Was gonna burn the Quran? He best not do that. [laughter]

WW: End of part one.




PART TWO:

WW: This is William Winkel. This is part two of my interview with Mike Hamlin. How did the events of 1967 impact your political activities?

MH: Well, prior to 1967, we had – John Watson and I – had begun to discuss and build – go through the process of starting a newspaper, based on a theoretical concept. And so what it meant was, that we had to get the money, and we had to get training. So John, who was a genius, who could sit down with a very complex machine, take it apart, and put it right back together, approached Peter Werbe, who was publishing the Fifth Estate, and asked him to show him how to produce a newspaper. And Peter showed him how to do it, and what he needed in terms of equipment.

I borrowed money from the Communications Workers Credit Union to buy the machine – it's called a justifier, which is, you know, sets type. I mean, which is – what you type, you know – it justifies the copy. And we rented a place over on Warren and right behind St. Paul's Church. And we started a newspaper called Inner City Voice. And it was not difficult to attract people. The first thing that happened, though, we published – we published a first edition, and we had a lot of nationalists – what do you call it – cultural nationalists. Poets, artists, dancers, actors, who hung around. We had rented a house – the newspaper was housed in – and some students – high school students – and they would help. For example, like there was an artist, and I would give him an idea, and he would make a cartoon. Very sarcastic, more than likely attacking Uncle Toms. And we had poetry – poets, and we published their poetry. But after the first edition, you know, John and I did most of the work. John did most of the typing, I did a lot of the writing, in fact the first article – front page articles – one on the migrant farm workers down in the Monroe area where they were raising cucumbers and tomatoes and stuff like lettuce. And that was the first front page headline. And you know, we, you know, published something by Ho Chi Minh and by Che Guevara. Well, after we produced it, and started distributing it, the artists told us that - “well listen, fellas, you can't have nothing but black writers in this newspaper. We can't have Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh, et cetera.” We said, well, you know – [laughter], you know, that's bullshit, we're not going for that. Well we had a meeting to decide, well, you know, we know who owns this place and bought this stuff, and after they left I said, “John, John, what are we gonna do?” He said “Well, I'm gonna go get General and he'll chase them away.” So the next day – the next time – I mean the next day that I came in the office – they were gone, and General was there. And he and I bonded immediately, and he began to work on – you know, like me and John, on the paper. And John could work all night, 'cause he couldn't sleep anyway. You know, he would – he'd get up in the morning, smoke a joint, drink wine throughout the day, ten o'clock, around ten o'clock, he'd start drinking hard liquor. And by three, he may take a pill. But, you know, he worked – he wouldn't do it by himself. I had to stay there with him.

So, now, interestingly – before we got to the first edition, we were organizing, and we thought we would set up a fund-raiser. Now this is after '67 – this was in '67. The rebellion happened in July. In September, we – I – see, the cry for black power had activated us, had caused us – we joined the movement, you know, in a sense. And we – it seemed like something we had been waiting for. The idea of self-defense. And so I begin a correspondence with Jim Foreman, and I asked him if we could get Rap Brown – this is right after '67 – to come to Detroit and speak. And he was a fiery orator who was going around saying “If Detroit don't come around, we're gonna burn Detroit down.” And he was delivering that message all over the country. So Foreman said yeah. They came. Rap came, with another guy, and we had him at – there was an abandoned theater - I don't know if it was abandoned or what – over on Dexter. But we held a rally there, and it was an overflow crowd. So after he spoke, and they took up a substantial collection, we had to go – took him up on the roof and he – with a megaphone – he spoke to the crowd down there on the – standing around out there. And all of a sudden some reporters started coming in. “Here come the reporters! The reporters are our enemy!” And he – the mob started chasing them. [laughter] Chasing them down Dexter. Man, were they fleeing! It was a very inflammatory thing.

But – and that was before the first edition. Shortly after that, we published the first edition, and it drew more and more people, especially young people, to the newspaper. 'Cause it was hard-hitting, didn't pull any punches, was extreme, but it – you know, spoke the truth. And the people – things people wanted to say, and had not said.

WW: Were you a member of DRUM in 1968?

MH: Yep. I was a founding member. Yeah. General had been fired from Chrysler and he – one of the guys who was out there – would come by to visit General and tell him about the outrages going on in the plant, and how black workers were treated differently, and you know, how there was – you know, public abuse. Now, remember, a lot of these workers had come from the south, and they would tend to be deferential to whites. But these were young workers, this was a new generation. But the Kennedy economic program had brought more into the plants, and so they were talking, you know, I think once a week, Ron would come by there – Ron March – and so soon, I started joining. And Ron and General pulled together, I think there were nine of them, and we would interview – I interviewed them separately and write down the incidents that had taken place at a plant, and put it in the paper.

And then we would distribute the paper at Dodge Main, and into the store. But we started a newsletter for DRUM, and it was hard-hitting and you know, spoke to what was going on in the plant, and it had – you know, newsletter is even easier than a newspaper to do. It had enormous impact – began to rouse these young workers. And you know, it was attacking not only the company but the union too. And you know, and really hitting the union hard, and they felt it. But we – you know – we were young, we were angry, and so neither union nor the company wanted to mess with us. Plus we had about thirty lawyers supporting us. We had interesting relationship with the young lawyers. A lot of young lawyers came here, to neighborhood legal services, and I did the orientation for them when they came to town. I oriented them to Detroit, to the community. And Ken, you know – met a lot of them, so his – he and Justin's work influenced them. So when we, for example, struck Dodge Main, we had thirty lawyers willing to take depositions, to do whatever needed to be done. It was a different time, you know. We weren't – the blacks were not the only people who were angry and motivated. A lot of, as you know, a lot of young professionals came here to work with us. But anyway, it took – the newsletter took off like wildfire and then we started doing them in other plants. At Eldon Plant, you know, at Cadillac, Ford. You know, we had some outrageous stories. The woman that Chrysler forced to come back to work in a wheelchair and they told her she had better come back to work. She said “I'm on sick leave, I'm in a wheelchair.” “So we'll meet you at the gate, somebody will push you in.” So they did that. And I think – I'm not sure, but – I don't know whether she died or not. I think she might have. But there were outrages.

So anyway, it attracted more and more, and then I got involved with these students. We'd – we had so many kids in these high schools, and they had their own issues, and helped them get organized. I was their advisor, and helped them get organized, and they began to – they had already struck, on their own, at Northern High School. Chuck Cole. And so we – we incorporated them and gave them the support – a place to meet, newsletters, they did a newsletter, the group was called the Black United Front – the Black Student United Front. But it was a good time for organizing.

WW: Can you talk about the transformation of DRUM into the League of Revolutionary Black Workers?

MH: Well, we had all these components that developed. There was the newspaper, there were the read – we printed, published pamphlets and books – there was – we were involved with the fight over the decentralization of schools with Coleman Young. We had the Black Student United Front. We had groups at Chrysler Eldon, Dodge Main, we had a group at Ford, and I personally was involved in helping organize the welfare workers organization. Welfare workers were not in a union, and we formed the welfare workers organization. They eventually ended up in [unintelligible] but we got 'em organized. I personally was involved in organizing the secretaries at Wayne State. And we did a lot of that kind of stuff. Helped unions – groups trying to get organized. We were involved in an attempt to organize Ford Hospital, but it failed. It failed every time, 'cause the ethnic makeup over there. Latinos, I'm told, Filipinos are not interested in unions. I guess Ford terrorizes them.

But you know, we had all these components – publishing, film-making. And so we had to find a way to link them together. And we did. That was the League, and we had a central staff – and an executive committee. And we had great success. But you know, ideology – you see, people don't talk about American ideology, or even know what it is – but it's capitalism, which is individualism. Hm?

WW: That'll pick up on the recording.

MH: What will, that noise? Oh, okay. You know, and – it's a funny phenomenon, understanding – see, in my view, America is a fraud. And if you do understand it, and – you have two choices. One, you try to expose it and fight it, or two, you go into denial. And so what happens is that there's a constant striving for, you know, for success, for glory, for power, in the individual. And you know, you can be engaged in a great cause, and people might end up looking at you as a hero, or as some powerful figure, and that can easily go to your head. [laughter]

Or if, for example, you're part of the effort, and you don't feel that you're getting the glory that the other people are. You know, we tried to downplay individual plaudits. In fact, we understood that enough in the beginning to state that. But at a certain point, I mean, people want to enjoy their successes. You know, you haven't accomplished a whole lot but, you know, people think you – I mean, people appreciate what you've done. So that's the problem with putting together an organization like the League. It was undeveloped politically, and so, people come in, didn't take the educational process serious – we had an education unit – they thought the class – some of them thought the classes were boring. They wanted action.

So, you know, that was the beginning of the League. We expanded as a result of our successes. Foreman came here because he had – SNIC had shut down, based on the black power – the students had got tired of taking whoopings. And he had gone out, and couldn't make it with the Panthers. And he opted to come here. Some people had told me in advance – “you know, Foreman is the kind of guy who wants to control or destroy.”

Well so he came here and lived with us for a year and a half. That didn't work too well. But a part of it – you know, I don't want to blow my horn, but one of the roles I played was keeping it together. Because I had some very powerful egos around me. And brilliant people – John Watson, Kenny Cockrel, General – General had humility. You know, he never lost his focus. You know, John Williams, Luke Trip, these were all smart folks. And they – like I said, they kinda understood what I was talking to you about, in these kind of organizations. But anyway, we put it together and immediately there was clashes of egos. There were all kind – you remember, we had relationships – I had helped organize the Motor City Labor League. I asked these young – these whites to come together, and overcome some of their differences in forming this organization. And because it could do – I could see a lot of potential for it. And they agreed – you know, I think I had about six or seven of them there, and people who had influence and had practice, were good people – and that took off, and, you know, we could work together – they could give us support, you know, we – 'cause I didn't want us to be isolated. We were having some internal shenanigans that caused me to worry – that trouble – you know – we planned dangerous – some dangerous things – some people were – and becoming irresponsible. And so, I organized the Motor City Labor League, I organized an organization called the Alliance, which was a group of religious figures – men and women – good people. And you know, we got involved with the Black Workers Congress, which was an attempt to force the churches to face their history – their history of exploitation, and role in slavery, and Jim Crow, and all of the other evils of the country – and they responded – a lot of them.

WW: And that's when the Black Manifesto was written?

MH: Mm hm. And that was the basis. We issued it – we would walk in the church during the service, and pass them out, and read them. And that was happening all across the country. We did it in about nine churches in this area, including one black church. Of course the pastor was in on it, and part of it. But that's where the BWC came about, and you know, we were getting – we had all this growth, but it – the consciousness and the understanding did not keep up with the development. So if I would say – if you would ask me, what brought about the demise of the League and the BWC - and I do believe there have been some false narratives put out – but it had to do with two things.

People's ideological weaknesses that made them want – first of all, they argued for being part of leadership - there's a problem with that. The problem is that there are secrets that the organization has that you cannot share with everybody. So they – they're offended you're withholding information from them. But rationally – now they should tell you, that in an atmosphere like that, the police is not far away, that's number one. But people wanted to be part of the decision making process, and wanted to know everything that was going on. This is a dangerous game. Okay, the other thing about it – that's called relative democracy, by the way. The other thing about it was that – there's a class thing involved. Because Americans don't understand a class analysis. Each class has certain characteristics. There's the upper class, capitalist class, bourgeoisie, whatever you want to call them. There's the middle class, which has, I would say, three strata. The upper [middle] class, the middle class, and the lower middle class. And the poor, and in an agricultural society there would be peasants, farmers, individual farmers.

And then there's what Marxists called “de-class” elements. And that would be – well, he's much harsher than – he talks about “scum of the earth.” But you talk about – you know, itinerant people who don't have employment – perhaps can't have employment – in a country like this, if you have a handicap, you know – homeless, you're born into terrible circumstances, you get abused as a child – that's a difficult thing for people.

And those – anyway – what that's called is “de-class” folks. Now, what does that mean, concretely? Well, I tried my best to establish a moral standard within the organization, because we were attracting people's kids – people's teenage kids – including teenage girls, on the one hand. On the other hand, we were attracting this “de-class” group that I was talking about. In some cases, thugs, in some cases, maybe people who were a little mentally unstable, where it's not apparent – thugs. Not - we didn't knowingly have any - any addicts, but I'm sure we had drunks. And they engage in reckless behavior, as we saw.

One teenager was killed at a high school dance. Two – one sixteen year old girl, who was a very high honor student – may have been tops in her class – got pregnant by – you know, a guy with very little going for him. Three, there were a couple of rapes that took place in the office. So those were things that brought about the disintegration of our organization. Now the particular splits – the split with John – was over those issues. The split with Ken was – they wanted to go into electoral politics and we always had a policy against that. But that's where [unintelligible]. It – it's a difficult thing to do, to hold something like that together. You know, these guys – if I hadn't have been in between all these guys, they would never have hung together that long. You know, their egos were too big. And if we approached it differently, they wouldn't have – that would have come to the fore.

WW: So after – and John Watson left the league with you?

MH: Yeah. John just walked away because he told me – I only saw him once after that – he told me that the FBI had told him that he better get out of town. You know, before it was too late, or something to that effect. So he disappeared. And as I recall – as I understand it – he went to work at IBM, out in Pontiac or somewhere. Remember, I told you, he was a genius, so he was very – one of the very earliest understanding computers.

WW: And after you left the League, what did you – did you continue your activism in the early '70s?

MH: No. What I told the group that left with me – we had meetings – I said look guys, the movement has come to an end. You don't want to go where these other guys are going. 'Cause they were going into rote Marxism and you know, really heavy authoritarian – what you need to do, and what I'm gonna do, is find something where I can help people and I can feel like I'm helping mankind. Even if I have to do it one at a time. And from then, I went on to a glorious career. I have awards. I have all kind of plaques and rewards from UAW. I'm a retired member – honorary retired member of two UAW locals. Local 600 sponsored my retirement. I continue to have a relationship – a great relationship with UAW – and this is after we had gone through a period where we shouted at UAW meetings “you ain't white,” but I had – I became – what I did was I went back to school, got a masters in social work. Became a clinical social worker. Worked with troubled workers at Ford, GM, and Chrysler, but mainly with Ford. I probably had face-to-face meetings with 10,000 auto workers, face to face over a sixteen-year period, where my job was to diagnose them and – and find a program that would rehab them, and go back to work. The company had accepted the idea that it's better to rehab a good worker who has – you know, succumbed to alcohol or drugs – than to hire somebody off the street. And there is really a generational work ethic difference, and I see it very clearly. [laughter]

I had a glorious job, so did all of the people who worked with me. They loved it. I became the manager of this group of clinicians who served the workers, mostly in this region, but I did work out of state – I became a crisis manager – the shootings at Ford, I managed – I had the workers, to get them back to stability after the shooting. The one at Wixom, the same thing. There were others. Ford Sheldon Road. Even at some 7-11s and banks. So I had a glorious career. I feel good about it. About a month ago I had – on the 17th of October I had my 80th birthday. There were 112 people there, and they were all the people that I had been involved with – plus my family – in the movement. Black and white. Labor, lawyers, doctors, you know – all the progressive – not all of them – but all of the progressives that were close to and available to me. And we had a great time. We had it at this restaurant down on Jefferson – off of Jefferson – called [unintelligible]. We had a good time.

I said – I said at that time, that it was time for us to have a collective hug of appreciation for what we all had done together. And that – I tried to get them to stay off of my birthday, and focus on us – what we had come through – because a lot of people, you know, when they got involved in the movement, their parents were very much opposed to it. Family – angry – isolated sometimes, for a while. Paid the price – we all paid the price. Some people went to jail. But we did good, you know. I'm very proud of the two watches I got from Local 900, which is the Wayne Assembly, the big plant, and Local 723, which was [unintelligible] plant, and 600 – which I'm like a member there. So it's been a glorious life.

WW: Just a couple wrap-up questions. How do you feel '67 affects the metro Detroit community? Do you think it still does?

MH: Hm mm. Oh yeah. First of all – blacks have always been – there's a couple historians – what's your discipline, by the way?

WW: History.

MH: Okay. Named J.A. Rogers – J.A. Rogers and James Baldwin – who's not a historian but he does cover history – who says that blacks are a despised people. And that's true, because the – if you know – since you know the history of this country – when they found it, with all these resources, and all this land – the ideal land for raising cotton – they needed a labor source. Couldn't make the Indian do it – eventually committed genocide on the Indian. They had – they had emptied all the prisons in Europe to populate here and Australia. And so when they found the African, they found what they needed, and what they wanted. And so as they began commerce, selling cotton to the world market, other countries had ended slavery, including Britain, and they would say to the Americans, “how in the world are you – why do you treat these slaves so bad? Nobody in history has ever treated slaves like you do.” They said “well these slaves are not human. We think they're somewhere between a man and an ape.” And from 1850 – I mean from 1800 to 1850, leading researchers, led by the great Samuel Morton, of Harvard, were trying to prove this hypothesis. Are you familiar with it? They collected these skulls – a thousand skulls – a thousand black skulls, a thousand ape skulls, and a thousand white skulls – and tried to prove the size of the black brain was in between the two. And Morton gave up, and said it's not true. He was an honest researcher. The south refused to accept that. They continued to propound that idea and still do.

So I forget what the original question was.

WW: How do you believe – if you do – how does 1967 continue to affect the metro Detroit area?

MH: Okay. So what happened in this area was – the rage, which you see now among white males – because, and remember – we all came from the south. Guess what? There were a lot of whites who came from the south. We brought out culture with us. Guess what? They brought their culture with them. So there are a lot of people with a southern background in this area. And one of the things that they do – they have great contempt and hatred for us. And it's not just them. If you know – you're a historian. Brooks Patterson, for example, has been – you know, Coleman Young like to drove him crazy. He hated Coleman Young, and he hated – and in fact, it's in writing, where he said he don't give a damn about Detroit – he hopes it burns down. It's in this book by this Israeli called Zeb Shepherds or something like that.

And he's – they also have a quote from Rolling Stone, from Brooks, and interview with him, where he lets Detroit have it. And so the movement to the suburbs had begun before '67. Part of it was – they're making more money, wanted more space. But part of it was to separate. And there are areas like Macomb County where a lot of racists – Patterson, I was saying – that they're also, you know the history of the Irish in this country, and how they were treated when they first came. It's also true of Poles – I have a lot of friends who are Polish, including one that I see all the time downstairs, my buddy – we talk – 'cause I used to work with him at the Detroit News. So they have to separate themselves, so there's been a lot of hostility between the blacks and Irish, and to a degree, with Poles. And it comes from both sides.

So Detroit – that escalated the flight. And I'll let you in on a little phenomenon. I was just telling my Polish friend the other day, 'cause he brought up his – I asked him if he was proud of his Polish heritage, he said yes, and he's one of – you know – I worked with guys at the Detroit News – three brothers, two of them changed their name, and the other one kept the name, and the one who kept the name, the father disinherited the others – but anyway, so what you do is – you want to join the majority culture. So for example, the white worker was turning against the slave who should have been his ally, because he was made white, and therefore was not on a level with these animals, with these sub humans.

So anyway, what happened was '67 accelerated the flight, and intensified the hostilities, and it not only – just created hostility that's there – politicians continue to use it and they're beginning to escalate it at this point. Notice Charleston, South Carolina. Can you imagine something like that – that's where the nine people got killed in the church, in a Bible study. And the man – 20 year old man who was doing it – was trying to bring about a race war. So anyway – '67 accelerated white flight and – and widened the gap between the races in this area. Even though the young people have not bought into that, you know, and come back – oh, the thing I was going to tell you about – funny thing about that period – I worked for an organization called Geriatric Screening for five years.

WW: Who?

MH: Geriatric Screening. And what our role was – we had to go into these elderly people's homes who had dementia or Alzheimer's and were slipping – like, for example, these women – old Polish women – all kind of ethnic women – living on the east side. Their kids move away to Macomb County or somewhere, left mama there. Dad's dead, or he's working in the plant – and these elderly ladies are in those houses and they begin to deteriorate. And they drive out to Eastland, and then they don't know how to get back home. Eastland police would pick them up and call us to come see them. I'd go out and see them, get the family together, we'd work out a plan to get them into an assisted living facility of good quality. But there's a bunch of them on the east side, because the kids had just walked away. I don't think they understood what they were doing to mama, because, like I said – the women outlive the men.

WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today. I greatly appreciate it.

MH: I appreciate your – what do you call it – willingness to listen.

Interviewer

William Winkel

Interviewee

Mike Hamlin

Location

Detroit

Files

Hamlin.JPG

Collection

Citation

“Mike Hamlin, December 22nd, 2015,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed October 19, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/238.

Output Formats