Reverend Wendell Anthony, November 19th, 2015


Reverend Wendell Anthony, November 19th, 2015


In this interview, Anthony discusses moving from St. Louis to Detroit, Kenneth Cockrel Sr., and the Big Four. He also discusses the challenges of activism within the church and his role working with the NAACP.


Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Reverend Wendell Anthony

Brief Biography

Originally born in 1950 in St. Louis, Missouri, Reverend Dr. Wendell Anthony’s family moved to Detroit in 1958. The church was a big part of Rev. Anthony’s life and he later went on to graduate from University of Detroit with a degree in black political theology. He is currently the pastor for Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, Michigan.

Interviewer's Name

Zachary Shapiro

Interview Place

Fellowship Chapel, Detroit



Interview Length



Zachary Shapiro

Transcription Date



ZS: Okay. My name is Zachary Shapiro. Today is November 19, 2015 and today we will be interviewing Reverend Wendell Anthony for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project. We are holding the interview at Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, Michigan.

Can you please start by telling me where and when you were born and when you moved to Detroit?

WA: Originally from St. Louis, Missouri. Was born in St. Louis in 1950 and I moved here with my mother in 1958. Went to Detroit Public Schools — Central High School, Durfee, Roosevelt — and joined the St. Marks Presbyterian Church and the rest is history.

ZS: Why did your family decide to move to Detroit from St. Louis?

WA: My mother did. I stayed in St. Louis with my grandmother. I didn’t want to come to Detroit so I stayed, all my cousins, relatives, friends were there. My mother remarried. She came to Detroit so naturally I had to come with her.

ZS: Would you like to briefly describe your parents and family?

WA: Well, I have a great family. As a small boy I was raised by my grandmother in St. Louis in a small town called Kinloch, a lot of relatives. We were not middle class. We were kind of poor economically, but rich spiritually. I don’t regret any of my childhood experience. I wish my own kids could have experienced some of what I experienced as a child because I enjoyed every moment of it. My cousins and I lived in a little red house on the hill down in the basement and we had a very good life. So that’s where I got a lot of values. Church being a part of that all day experience and then coming to Detroit later on when my mother remarried and meeting a guy by the name of Jim Wadsworth. She joined the St. Marks Presbyterian Church and I followed that and connected with him. He was very much involved in the community. As a matter of fact he was president of the NAACP, back in the middle-sixties and was instrumental in helping Coleman Young become the first African-American mayor. So, that was a part of that. I used to come up here on the train. My grandmother would give me a shoe box filled with food — pound cake, pie, chicken — and with a note "Wendell Anthony for Detroit," pocket full of change, so I could get some pop. We called it soda on the way. And then when I stayed up here, my mother would, when I went back to St. Louis in the summer she would do the same. Put a note on my chest, "Wendell Anthony St. Louis," shoe box of food, pocket full of change. My grandmother and cousins would be waiting on me and that’s how I spent my summers and school time period so for me it was a great learning and growing experience.

ZS: Alright. Could you talk about where exactly you grew up at in Detroit and describe what living in that area was like while you were growing up and what the neighborhood was like and everything?

WA: Two areas basically. When I first came in we lived in an apartment over on LaSalle and Elmhurst near Central High School, near Tuxedo. Apartment life was good although there wasn’t a whole lot of play space, but I had a few of friends over there and then we moved to Linwood and LaSalle to West Buena Vista near Davison. I remember going to the old Avalon Theater, which used to be at Linwood and Davison. I used to go there every Saturday basically at that time. I used to go in the show for fifty cents and I would take bags full of goodies and you have two movies, cartoons and previews and we would stay in movies all day basically. So, Linwood I went to McCulloch elementary over there and nice neighborhood a lot of trees played running, football, baseball in the streets and on playground. There was a time period in which folks could sit on their front porch and you could do what you want to do until the street lights came on. Street lights come on everybody had to be at the house. So Linwood, LaSalle, pretty much in the Dexter area.

ZS: Dexter area, alright. Could you talk about where you went to college and what you studied in school and why you decided to study that?

WA: I went to Wayne State University from Central High School. Met a guy by the name of Noah Brown Jr., who was the first African American vice president at Wayne State. He was very much committed to young people. He got me in school, gave me a job helped me to go to Africa. My first trip to Africa was in 1970. I was not quite sure what I was going to study. I wanted originally to be a lawyer because at that time period Ken Cockrell Sr. was the preeminent lawyer around here and every young brother who was thinking about anything wanted to be like Ken. Ken was so brilliant in terms of his articulation of issues and his use of the king’s language and he bamboozled so many people by his wit and his brilliance so we all wanted to be like Ken. I thought that’s what I wanted to do. But then I was always in the church. I was with Reverend Wadsworth and I did not know how strongly that was weighing upon me but the church seemed to be able to give me everything. The church really helped me to go to Africa. We raised money — we were originally gonna go to Africa in '70 through university, but the trip fell through.

ZS: What country?

WA: We were going to go to East Africa we were going to go to Tanzania and Kenya but that trip — and Wayne State University was planning that trip — Brown was going to send us but the university could not — something happened and that trip fell through, but Noah Brown said, “Y’all still going,” Talking about me and Ron Massey, a guy that came through school with me. I was president of the student council at Central High School. He was president of the senior high class. We graduated together and so we were very close and we also got involved and we went to Wayne State. We were in Project Fifty at that time. Came in in the summer worked and all of that. So he said, “Y’all still going,” so he called all his friends he said I want thirty dollars from you, thirty dollars from you, thirty dollars from you. Talking about that time was like Horace Sheffield, it was Judge Wade McCree, it was Blaine Denning, it was used-to-head-of-the-Urban-League; I’m looking at him and his name will come to me: Francis Kornegay. All those guys gave us thirty dollars and then the church Rev. Wadsworth raised the rest and so we got binoculars, we got tape recorders, and some friends over here contacted some people over there and instead of going to East Africa we went to West Africa. We went for a month. It was the best experience I ever had. I’m so glad that Wayne State’s trip fell through because we went to Ghana and to Liberia for a month. That trip was only two weeks, Wayne’s trip, but this trip was for a month. We had a chance to stay in the homes of the poorest to the the mansions of the president of the country. And so we were really hot on Black activism back then, because this was in '68, '69, '70. We graduated in '68 right after the rebellion and so we were still talking about Black history classes and Black folk needed to be a part of everything that went down and we needed power and economic — the same thing folks talking about today. And so to be able to go to Africa and to see all of this was mind blowing for us. And so that was a part of it those were the countries and that experience really has mirrored this experience.

ZS: Did you say what you studied, what your major was?

WA: What I majored in was political science. Originally I was going to law school, but having met Wadsworth I decided to go into another law, this law, His law, which is higher than that other law and so I decided to go into the ministry because the church was doing everything. It’s where I learned how to speak publicly. It’s where I first met my wife. They supported me in school. They did everything and so it just seemed that no matter which way I turned there was a church and that’s why — let’s see I went to Wayne State, I went to Marygrove college, majoring in pastoral ministry. I have a master from Marygrove and I also went to the University of Detroit [for] advanced studies in black political theology.

ZS: Great. Okay, so again what year did you say your family moved to Detroit?

WA: Fifty-eight

ZS: Fifty-eight, okay so —

WA: Well, that’s when I moved here. My mother I think she came maybe in, I would say '55, '56 and then I settled here because I stayed in St. Louis. She came, started working and got remarried and then I came maybe three years later. Because I mean, I was still coming up here, but I didn’t come to live until 1958 because I didn’t want to come here. I wanted to stay in St. Louis but had to go where mama went.

ZS: And how old were you roughly?

WA: I was eight.

ZS: So I guess from 1958 through the sixties we’re talking about now, can you just describe what you observed as the relationship between the city of Detroit, your community, and the city government and the police?

WA: Well, it was a rocky relationship obviously because I grew up under the “Big Four.” You familiar with the “Big Four”?

ZS: I’m not.

WA: Yeah you probably wouldn’t be. The “Big Four” was four big burly white police officers that would ride around in a big black car, a or blue car and they would tell you to get your ass of the street and they would beet down Black people. And we would call them the “Big Four” because that’s who they were. You didn’t have a lot of Blacks on the police department — basically none back in those days, fire department same way. And so you didn’t have a lot of ownership of Black folk. So it was a trying time. Plus it was the sixties, fifties and sixties, era of Dr. King, you know, Civil Rights, voting rights back in that day we would see the Civil Rights marches and dogs biting folk on TV every day. Vietnam was popping and kicking and so it was a real activist time. Motown was strong. Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," Stevie Wonder, 4 Tops, Supremes and all of that. So it was really hopping in Detroit and a lot of people had come and migrated to Detroit, Black people, for obviously for economic relief. So we were here, saw all of that. We wanted more Black history in our schools. Because I remember when I first started Central High School in '64 protesting about the fact that we didn’t have Black history, Black studies, like we should. We did walk-outs. I was a part of walk outs, which is a part of the reason I was matriculated to the student council.

ZS: Because they weren’t teaching about Black history enough?

WA: Not the way we wanted and they weren’t — It was not emphasized. And the sixties, that was a time when all of this going on like what you see going on at the colleges, Living Out, MSU [Michigan State University] and Howard and Mizzou, that was going on back then because the same thing you see going on now was going on then. Sit-ins shutting down universities; this is not new. It’s almost like reliving what we went through back in the sixties, which is a good thing because it shows this generation of young people ain’t dead, ain’t oblivious to what’s going on, that they are paying attention that they are in it and now it's their turn, so they going to make their own mistakes, their own gains, but it’s their time, so do something with it. So, that’s what was going on at the time and which propelled us to the — I guess moving us towards ;67 and —which should not have been a surprise for anybody. Because if you couple what was going on with Dr. King, his assassination, his march in Detroit in '63, Detroit being the first place where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech downtown, and birthplace of the labor movement, UAW [United Auto Workers] and I can remember the excitement around that, and John F. Kennedy being president, I mean, which gave us some new hope and insight that maybe here’s a guy that’s going to come in and change some stuff, which he tried to but he didn’t live long enough to really effectuate change. And when you saw all the things that were going on down South it affected us and so being up north, it was no bundle of joy because we had our issues to: Detroit, Chicago, New York, California. So, a lot of issues were happening in cities all around this country, not just in the South, but here too so all of that impacted what we were going through.

ZS: Could you talk specifically about your memories of the events that took place in the summer of 1967?

WA: I remember seeing the smoke, the streets with tanks coming down them. I’ll never forget that I saw the corner stores — we lived on Linwood and Buena Vista near Davison. I remember the curfew and all of that and burning up on Twelfth Street because our church, St. Marks Presbyterian Church, was up on Twelfth and Atkinson and I had friends that lived over there who were right kind of in the thick of all of it. But I remember seeing the tanks come down Linwood. I remember Governor Romney and I think [Mayor Jerome] Cavanagh on Linwood. I remember Romney coming down with his sleeves rolled up — not his son, the daddy, his son was totally different than the daddy. I had a lot of respect for his father, because his father, former Governor George Romney, had a sensitivity. As a matter of fact, he started the HUD [Housing and Urban Development] program, he was the governor that helped initiate that and I think when he went to DC. And he started the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. So he was very sensitive, unlike Mitt; I don’t know what — he didn’t fall of the tree; well, he fell off but he might have fallen off on his head or something, I don’t know what the hell happened to him. But at any rate, his father was much more sensitive than he is, appears to be. So I remember seeing them comedown Linwood.

ZS: They were giving a speech or what was it?

WA: They were trying to calm, just being out there showing that they were concerned, telling people to kind of calm down, just their presence I think was demonstrative of the fact that they were not oblivious to what was happening, because you had these police officers with real long guns. I remember them standing out in front of stores because people had broken windows and they would get out of these cars and I guess trucks and stand in front of the doors. I remember because we had a curfew and I was looking out of my window over at 2683 Buena Vista, it was the address of the house, and I was looking out the window to see what was going on and I remember this officer, this police, taking this long gun and he turned it and he pointed it right at me and I immediately closed the curtains because I didn’t know if he was going to shoot me or not.

ZS: Was it a police officer or the National Guard?

WA: It was a police officer. He had a long, long gun. Different than the kind of gun they have today, I don’t know what kind of gun it was, but it was just a long-ass gun and he was pointing it at me. I will never forget that. And that came as a result of discontent and folk called it a riot, others called it a rebellion, to us it was more of a rebellious in terms of what was going on as opposed to just riots for the sake of riots and out of that it emerges a new Detroit to address some of the economic social ills in the community and I think the following year, the next year, the year that I was graduating from Central, and being a part of that and having experienced that, that heightened my level of consciousness to the degree that I began to focus in on the social economic needs of our community.; I remember in '68 Reverend Wadsworth asked me to do a youth day at Fellowship Chapel. Our church had split in 1966. St. Marks. He was a pastor at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church; that church split. I went, we went, my family went with Reverend Wadsworth. It split over his activism in the community. People didn’t like him being active with the NAACP. Interesting. And they didn’t like the way he related to the community. Because Twelfth Street was real popular; you had Twenty Grand, you had all these black businesses, you had pimps, prostitutes. He didn't have a problem talking to the pimps prostitutes, but the Presbyterian church in those days was very conservative. And everybody couldn’t get with that. And but he was his own man, and so it split eventually and so we went with him and Fellowship Chapel was formed in 1966 and he and I were very, very close and as a result of that I began to be more and more in tune with the church and all of that. The way that happened was he would give us tests. I was in his Sunday school class. He would give us tests like, you know, who was this character? What’s this person’s name and how do you spell this? And one Sunday he asked. “Who in the class can spell Nebuchadnezzar?” and so I was the only one I raised my hand and I spelled it and he was so excited and was like, “How did you know that word?” Because you know Nebuchadnezzar isn’t an easy word and so he gave me a little gold cross with a metallic base and I thought that was the end of it. Well, during the service in worship he said, “Before we leave today I just want to tell you all something, Wendell Anthony,” I was sitting there with my mother and I was like what did I do? Because I thought I had done something. “Wendell Anthony” and so he said, “Stand up Wendell.” and so I stood up and I was what in the world, he said, "We had a test today and Wendell Anthony spelled Nebuchadnezzar and you all know that’s not an easy word, give Wendell Anthony a hand.” And everyone the whole church I was blown away from that one word from that moment on we were like this together for 28 years. My point on that is that you can never know what you can say to a young person or someone else that’s going to make a life changing difference and it did, because from that point on there ain’t nothing you can tell me about Jim Wadsworth, he was the man. And so we continued to grow together and there was a group of us that kind of hung with him but I would walk to church and walk home in the winter from Linwood and Buena Vista to Twelfth Street and Atkinson, which is a little ways. My mother would sometimes go with me, drop me off, we would come together. She would leave and I would stay until the end of the service just to be around him and that continued when we split and he said we going to have a you know our first youth day in '68 and I want you to be the youth day speaker. Well, my theme was the Black church in revolutionary times. Dovetailing off what had happened, dovetailing off Dr. King had been assassinated and all that and my thing, was the NAACP wasn’t really as relevant as it should be. And so I remember that and so I spoke and some people left the church when I got through and because I’m 18, I’ve got fire. I’m throwing the stuff out there. I used to wear a leather dashiki and a bullet in St. Louis and that was my M.O. and so but on that Sunday I wore a black suit and a white shirt but I didn’t change my dialogue and so when I got through some people left the church. I never knew that until years later Reverend Wadsworth and I were having a conversation and some kind of way it got on the early days of the church and he said you know, “Remember Dr. Smith,” I said “yeah” he said, “You know he left the church back then,” and I said, “Yeah, I knew he left him and his wife and his family." He said, “They were big donors,” I said, “Yeah” and he came to me and said and he wasn’t the only one who said, “Either him or me.” “What you mean either him or me?” Meaning he said, “That young man that you had in the pulpit here, he said some things that kind of disturbed me and Jim”, that was what they called him “Jim, either he’s got to go or we going to go," meaning they wanted me to get out the pulpit and never have nothing else to say. And so the Rev said, “Well, you know the church is a place where I think young people, even though we may not agree with them, should be a foundation, a platform, for them to speak and to be raised up and I know we don’t always agree with what they say or how they say it, but I think that it should be something where they’re able to come and do that and therefore I think Wendell is going to stay.” So, they left. I never knew that until years later. Now, if he had eaten chicken and said, “Oh, I didn’t know he was going to say it. I ain’t going to never have him up there again because I don’t want to lose you all as members and certainly the ties and offerings that you bring,” you and I would not be sitting here today, but he didn’t eat chicken he stood up, and as a result of that we’re here and now I’m president of the NAACP, which I used to be twelfth term, 24 years, which I never thought I’d be doing.

ZS: Going back to something you mentioned a little bit ago you talked about how you called the events of 1967 a rebellion as opposed to a riot. Can you talk about why you would refer to it as that?

WA: Because it was a response to what many folk felt. The only way you can get certain folks' attentions is to do things of that nature and it was now some people might have used it for their own means, but other used it for means of expression. It’s interesting because back in that day there were — when Dr. King was having his marches in various cities and a news person asked him, “You know, Dr. King, you are having all these non-violent marches and then you see these riots.” The press called them riots. Rebellions places like Detroit, LA, Chicago. There were 125 cities that went up in flames during the time King was having his stuff. And so he said, “you know,” Dr. King response to that was, “Yeah, I understand that and I still believe that peaceful non-violent assembly is the best way to do this but it would be contradictory or hypocritical for me to talk about non-violent protests over economic issues if I don’t at the same time talk about the root causes of why they occur. So riots are really the language of the unheard." That’s what Dr. King said and I think that’s the way many of us view the rebellions, the language of the unheard. You’re not necessarily getting at the — by having a press conference the attention of folk that will make a difference because as a result of that New Detroit was created, structure with business people, political people, community people to address the social, economic, and political concerns of the city of Detroit. Funds were created to do economic development. Race relations were then beginning to be talked about. The whole issue of police controlling the city being an occupying army. And as you know that’s what certainly lead to the propelling of Richard Austin to run as — you may not know — as the first black mayor for the city of Detroit. I remember wearing a button saying “Black Mayor 1969.” We wanted Richard Austin, who was the Secretary of State, first Black Secretary of State for Michigan, real good guy ran but unsuccessfully, but that’s who we wanted. And then a few years later you have Coleman Young. We move from the “Big Four” to S.T.R.E.S.S., Stop the Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets. That was the decoy unit that was formed by the police department. They killed about 19, 20 people and they were decoy units set up to trap Black folk and community people into criminal behavior and in most cases they would have folks guns were planted on the people they would have folks in certain positions where they had to make certain moves and then they could take them out, so it was a very detonating unit. And Coleman Young came in vowing to eliminate S.T.R.E.S.S. and to integrate the police department and the fire department and to make Detroit much more representative of the community in which it exists and a lot of us support it. That’s how he became mayor, he rode that horse into public office and so that’s why.

ZS: You mentioned viewing the police as an occupying force. Were the police viewed that way prior to the rebellion?

WA: Absolutely. Yes. Totally. That’s part of what led to it. And most of them don’t live here. Didn’t live here. The sad commentary in all of this is that we are going back to that. Residency means something. Residency means that you have a stake in the community. Well, the police were white for the most part. They came in in the morning and they left in the afternoon, meaning you didn’t see them and so they didn’t have no stake in the community. They would view us as like folk they had to control and contain not citizens or people or neighbors or friends or Mr. Jones' children or Mrs. Smith’s daughters. These were just indigents that they had to contain and control. So that’s why residency was so important and it’s interesting that the Kerner Commission report that came out 60 years ago in that time period says that residency is most important and we’re losing that. Now we don’t have residency, so what we fought for we fought for affirmative action. We don’t have that anymore to the degree that impresses upon the community and the police department in that those things are good but the president’s commission twenty-first century policing now says that we should have that, that it’s important for police officers in a community to have relations through the report following the situation in Ferguson where they oppose a board of police commissioners. Now they say they want a board of police commissioners controlled by the local people and so we go through these circles. On one end we saying we shouldn’t do it and were saying we coming back to doing it. The Kerner Commission also stated that the police should not be utilizing these militarized equipment and looking like they are on patrol in Beirut or the West Bank or in Syria, because these are American citizens, these kids don’t have no bazookas and tanks. I mean they had rocks and most of them ain’t even doing that and so we’re simply saying that and they didn’t follow the edict of the Kerner Commission report. It was not forced. President Johnson did not push it like that. It was done most folks didn’t read it. But we’re repeating the same stuff in it. And unfortunately we’re going back now and so things changed and things remained the same, so that’s my response to your question.

ZS: Alright great and you also mentioned what was the unit?

WA: S.T.R.E.S.S. (Stop the Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets).

ZS: Yeah and you said they were setting people up planting weapons on people and things like that.

WA: They was killing people basically.

ZS: And this was a very well-known thing in the community?

WA: Oh yeah everybody knew it.

ZS: You think that this was a factor that led to the rebellions for sure?

WA: Well they had the decoy units, the “Big Four.” All of that. The lack of African American involvement and representation in the police department, in the fire department, Black business, the fact that you had folk who felt that they were being exploited in their own communities, the high prices, a lack of jobs, all this all these factors led to this. It was not just one, but it was several factors that had a piling on effect and so at some point it’s like water behind a dam and there’s a crack in it. Pretty soon the pressure is going to bust the whole thing wide open and that’s what happened here.

ZS: Now I guess switching over to after the events of 1967. Could you talk about what you think were the effect of 1967 on the city in the years after and even leading up to today?

WA: You said after '67? I think — well, after '67 there was a heightened sensitivity on the part of some that we needed to do some things in Detroit that we had not done before. That there was great division between the races, that the leaving, the exiting from the community, the lack of economic empowerment was a factor and it coupled with that — and you still got all of this stuff going on in the country. You still see the lack of opportunity for Blacks, the demonstrations, the lack of voting, capability and access, so all of those are still factors, national factors, that weighed in on the city of Detroit, it’s no different. You had King coming here, you had the fact of his death, his assassination and what that meant to a lot of people. You had [John F.] Kennedy’s assassination, you had Robert Kennedy’s assassination. So all of those were things like saying and you know who ever is standing up seems to be taken out by certain people and so all of those are factors and I think with Coleman Young’s election that certainly changed some things in Detroit because he began to build a coalition of people and the first thing he said is I’m going to have an administration that’s going to be fifty-fifty. Fifty percent white folk, fifty percent Black folk. Now it’s interesting, no white man ever said that before. Coleman Young said and that pissed of a whole lot of Black people too. “Like man they ain’t never said that why you coming at it like that?” So that’s what he did and so a lot of folk forgot that he said that and he did that which, you know, saying that all of us should partake in this, unlike his predecessors. And things began to happen: the police department began to be integrated, S.T.R.E.S.S. was eliminated, economics began to develop, later on the Renaissance Center began to emerge, up until the time I think he called Reagan “prune face” and then stuff kind of went south because we didn’t get a whole lot of development from funds from DC. He had to go through his friends Max Fisher and Al Taubman and those guys. Coleman had a great relationship with Bill Milliken, who was a former governor, republican, and a lot of us supported Milliken. He was a very fine guy, different than these guys today, these Republican governors I mean they’re off the chain, but he was reasonable. I mean I voted for Milliken because he was a good man, he is a good man; he is still with us. And he was a good governor and they don’t make them like that too much today unfortunately.

ZS: I know you touched on this a little bit earlier, but you just explain again how and why you became involved in the NAACP?

WA: Well, a lot to do because my mentor Reverend Wadsworth was a part of it. We used to sell tickets for the Freedom Fund dinner we used to sit out there in the audience with my mother from the church we had a table see the big fellows up there on the stage and it just matriculated. Joanne Watson, who lived next door to me on Buena Vista, she was head of the Central High School NAACP and I was head of the student council, we used to argue all the time about the relevancy about it and she used to tell me all the time, “You ought to get involved and join it.” And I said “I don’t want to do all of that because you all are a regressive organization and all of that,” but Ernie Lofton came to me and he used to be — he was with the NAACP in Detroit, and he came to me because of stuff we were doing in the community. He came to me because I was a very active minister. We did a campaign called “Detroit is Better than That” when the Detroit News, when the Detroit Free Press was really writing bad stuff about the city all the time and so we had a boycott of the paper and sometimes the Free Press seemed to be writing better than the News, sometimes the News writing better than the Free Press; I mean it’s so you can take your pick depending on the time and so we had a boycott and wore pins that said “Detroit is Better Than That” we started that and Ernie knew of my activism along with other and so he came to me and asked if I would consider running. I had been recognized by then Arthur Jeffery Johnson, who was the president of the NAACP, he and I were friends. And I had friends in the organization they gave me the key, gave me his President’s Award, and I said, “Well, you know Arthur is president but if he don’t run then I might consider.” And they said, “We don’t think he is going to run.” So I wrote him a letter certified Art Johnson, saying, “If you are a candidate, I will not run and therefore I am just letting you know.” He didn’t respond. I know he got the letter, certified and all, but they didn’t respond and soon enough they start announcing that a guy named Charles Wash was going to run. But I had made no commitment to him; I didn’t know him so I told Ernie and them that I would run, that I’d be a candidate. And so the rest is history. We ran in 1992, they changed the election — the first time that ever been done. They cancelled election nationally did Ben Hooks, William Penn in conjunction with the local people here because they knew we were going to win and they had more votes than them. They did their best to postpone the election to give them more time which we knew, but so it was postponed until I think February of '93 and we had that election and we won. And that’s how I got involved and I’ve been president since that time period.

ZS: Alright, could you share some of your knowledge of the history of the Detroit branch of the NAACP and I don’t know if you have anything to say about its involvement with the 1967 events too?

WA: Well, I don’t know if it was involved with the '67 events, I know—

ZS: Just a general history then.

WA: Well, the Detroit branch is obviously been around a while. It came in around 1912, I believe. The Ossian Sweet case was a very prominent case. This was about an Ossian Sweet who moved into a certain housing area and he fired and his house had been attacked by white folk who didn’t want him to live there and shots were fired he was arrested and all of that. Clarence Darrow, the great lawyer, was retained to deal and defend him and that’s how the NAACP Detroit really began to get on the map. The NAACP Detroit through its Fight for Freedom Fund dinner began to grow and to expand and this year was its sixty-first year starting way back in the mid-fifties and I think that through the work with the Fair Banking Alliance, which comes out of NAACP in Detroit to get banks to do more banking with this community, working. We also had champion issues like Affirmative Action are folk lead that coalition, I led a coalition, a few years ago a governor’s task force for a new beginning education committee in Detroit. We had 150 folk creating a document and now we’re doing it again with regards to the Detroit coalition feeding Detroit school children with the Skillman Foundation. We did — when I first came in, I wanted to do a tribute to Dr. King, the march in 1993, celebrating the first march in 1963, which the NAACP by the way opposed, they did not support his original march in '63, there was a lot of folk who didn’t support it. We were one. They though first of all that he would take all the money raise the money and go take it South. He was a little militant; they didn’t really understand. Now everybody supports Dr. King. But in '63 they didn’t. Now at the last minute they did come out. I’m talking about Detroit. They did come out they had signs and all of this, but they were not really supportive of his march. That was through Reverend C.L. Franklin, James Del Rio, the Reverend Albert Cleage, Walter Reuther the UAW, Tony Brown at the Detroit National Black Journal — those were the people in Detroit — the Human Rights Coalition — those were the people that really helped to bring Dr. King here C.L. Franklin because they were friends and what I did and what we did in '93 was have a tribute to the march. We had 250,000 people in the streets of Detroit in June of 1993. So we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary and then the fortieth anniversary and in 2003 we had about 50,000 people and then we did the fiftieth anniversary to Dr. King in 2013 and again 200,000 people in the streets of Detroit. So I think we more than made up for the lack of support that we did not give him in '63. I was not a part of the NAACP then but those are some of the things. The whole “Take Your Souls to the Polls” campaign — you may have heard that term used — comes out of an idea that we had, I had. I wanted to get the hip hop community involved in the elections and so over — it’s probably been about twelve years now, I asked a young lady to design me a flyer, a poster, that would appeal to the hip hop community, young people, put some gym shoes on it and a cap. “Take your Souls to the Polls” and soles was on the back of the shoe, so S-o-l-e and then take your souls, S-o-u-l-s, or the church community and the faith based community, so sole for the secular, soul for the spiritual. That campaign comes out of right here and so that’s gone all over the country now but it comes out of Detroit a lot of people don’t know it but you’ve heard that term?

ZS: Yeah.

WA: But that’s your looking at the originator.

ZS: That’s interesting.; Could you talk about your thoughts on the state of the city of Detroit today and how it compares to the 1960s?

WA: I think it’s moving in the right direction. I think that Detroit’s best days are still in front of us. Downtown is going to be fine, Midtown is going to be fine; it’s the neighborhoods. That’s why we’re doing housing development right here. That’s why when Kevin Orr came here I had him here at the church and I told him, the emergency manager, that “Your job don’t mean nothing if it don’t benefit the community here.”; And I said “What do you hope to leave here? First of all you got a lousy job.” As a matter of fact I used some other language that I won’t use on your tape and he laughed and I said, “I wouldn’t want your job, but you know you’re a nice guy, but it ain’t about that. When you leave here what do you hope to leave?” And he said, “That’s what I got to figure out, that’s my challenge.” And I said, “Well, if all you do is sell all the assets, cut, slash and burn and sell, it ain’t helping us. If you don’t move into the neighborhoods it’s of no benefit.” He said, “I agree.” Well, he has not moved into the neighborhoods. He has opened the door through the bankruptcy process forced on us. So, we’re trying to absorb the benefits of that and eliminate out of this lemon that we’re left with. And so I can see certain things happening. I think we’re doing more to emphasize the neighborhoods now. I think that city council and the mayor are starting to emphasize that. I think some of the business people are starting to see that they got to spread this out, because you can’t build a moat around Detroit and say you can’t come in, because this is our city, too. I tell people all the time, “Don’t move, just improve” right where you are, because obviously we have a stake in it we have to act like it and let’s take advantage of it.

ZS: Well, so you kind of talked about it there, but do you have anything else to say about how you see the future of the city turning out?

WA: No, I’m optimistic about it. I think that I see a lot of young people who want to do something significant, both Black and white, but I think we all have to be around a common table, it can’t just be one group, one segment. I think the business community has to do more in terms of partnering and in terms of building like bridges, providing incubators for economic development and for opportunities. It cannot just be the downtown. If Detroit is really going to have a renaissance, it’s got to be a renaissance that involves all the people not just some.

ZS: And one thing that I wanted to ask you before we wrapped up pretty soon is you mentioned the Human Rights Coalition. Can you talk about that a little?

WA: That was something that was formed by Del Rio and [C.L.] Franklin and folk back in the day. Tony, Brown, they were part of that, because that was the group that helped to facilitate bringing Dr. King up here. Because there was no other [unintelligible] to do this. Preachers weren’t going to do it. So they formed that kind of coalition basically to address that issue and to address issues in the city of Detroit which the other institutions weren’t. That was before New Detroit, that was before some of these other coalitions that you see. That was an adjunct outside of the NAACP because a lot of people had issues with the NAACP at that time period, so they didn’t see it as moving in the direction that they wanted, so they formed the Human Rights Commission back in the day through those preachers and some labor folk.

ZS: Well, do you have any other additional thoughts that you would like to share?

WA: No, I just think that from '67 to 2015 we have come a long way. I think the hope of our city and really our nation is going to be people who are going to think beyond themselves and willing to take certain risks and do some stuff that’s different. And you’re not going to make everybody happy. You are going to make some people unhappy. But if everybody is happy that means you’re not doing nothing, so somebody got to be unhappy. Just like your granddad, I mean he was a hell of a man. Which I’m sure you know and he made a lot of people unhappy, but Nate spoke truth to power he didn’t give a damn who it was and he was the same no matter who he was talking to. That’s why I loved him. That’s it.

ZS: Thanks Reverend Anthony, I appreciate it.



Zachary Shapiro


Reverend Wendell Anthony


Fellowship Chapel, Detroit, Michigan




“Reverend Wendell Anthony, November 19th, 2015,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed November 30, 2021,

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