Gerald Raines, March 19th, 2016
Gerald Raines: GR
William Winkel: WW
WW: Hello my name is William Winkel. Today is March 19th, 2016. We are in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project and this is the interview of Gerald Raines. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
GR: You are certainly welcome.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when were you born?
GR: Oh, I was born in Detroit, Michigan in October of 1943.
WW: Can you tell me where you grew up?
GR: Grew up in Detroit, but I had—my mother moved to different parts of Detroit. I did not grow up with my father. In fact, I did not even see my father until I was in the fifties—I mean, age fifties.
WW: Oh, okay. What was your childhood like growing up?
GR: Well, we were basically poor. But I had a couple brothers and sisters over time. I was six, seven years older than my brothers and fifteen years older than my sisters, but my brothers and sisters had different fathers than I had.
WW: What was it like growing up in a household where you were so much older than them?
GR: It was okay. I mean, since all I had, all I knew, in terms of growing up were the general type of poor—what was considered to be poor houses as opposed to richer houses—it was okay growing up. I just pretty much I knew that my mother—who was, like I said, raising her kids singly—she worked most of the time. So when she worked—for example, if she worked from three to eleven—I took care of my brothers generally from that time. Now, when she married the father of my brothers they only were married for a few years and so there were times when I had to raise my brothers when my mother was not around. And now with my sister, my mother, she was working and so was my step-father so I even helped raise my sister, especially in early age.
WW: What did your mother do for a living?
GR: What did she do for a living? Oh she did a bunch of stuff. She did—she was a waitress. She worked in a warehouse, a commercial warehouse. I forget what company but she worked in a warehouse. She also worked in a retail store for a while.
WW: What was it like to grow up in the fifties?
WW: [Speaking at same time] What was the city like?
GR: [Speaking at same time] The fifties—
GR: It was okay. Of course, the main thing that was happening with me as far as I was concerned was the school. Went to different schools. Like I said, when my mother moved to different neighborhoods I went to different schools. Elementary schools, I probably went to three or four different elementary schools. When I started—I forget the name of the schools, but that was seventh, eighth, ninth grade, I went to—it was called Sherrard—I can’t think of it, oh, Intermediate school. Fortunately when I went to Sherrard I didn’t have to go to different intermediate schools then but even if my mother moved I just had to still went to Sherrard regardless of where I was living from. That was not quite the same thing that was happening with the elementary schools. But then, of course, when I started high school if I moved—if I went to high school that was in that I lived closer to it would be Northern but because I didn’t—I had heard about the different fighting and stuff that was going on at Northern, I found out that I could go to Cass Tech and so I told my mother I wanted to go to Cass Tech and she said, “Okay, you just have to go pay for bus fare every day you go,” and I said, “okay,” so I got a part time job to do that and so I went to Cass Tech.
WW: That’s amazing.
GR: And I graduated from Cass Tech in ’61.
WW: What was it like growing up, or being a young adult in the 1960s with the different social movements going through the city?
GR: In the sixties? Well first, like I say I was—when I had graduated from Cass Tech in ’61 the big thing was to get a job and I did get a job. I got a job with Ford Motor Company factory and then I wound up, after working for at Ford Motor Company out in Dearborn, I was able to get a job at Detroit Edison and that was the basis of starting my career—technical career for, I worked for Detroit Edison while I was going to college. And also I had a girlfriend during that time, in the early sixties, and I had one girlfriend, now that is the only one and we wound up getting married after a while and that was it. In the sixties, so I was living with my girlfriend, we had gotten married. During the ’67 I was living my girlfriend, we were married and now she was my wife we were living in a rent, we rented a place on the street called Blaine which was between Linwood and La Salle and I was working at Detroit Edison, going to college, my wife was going to college also, and that just took a lot of her time.
WW: Where were you going to college at?
GR: I started going to college at Highland Park Community College and I only did that for one semester but then I went to Wayne for quite a while. I went to Wayne full time from, wow, it was—I went to Wayne from, in fact, I think I went there—before ’67 I had started Wayne. I was going to Wayne around ’64, ’65 and went all the way to Wayne until ’79. Got two Masters from Wayne, part time while I was going to Wayne because I was working—
GR: —full time, all the time, when I was going to Wayne.
WW: That’s amazing. Leading up to 1967 did you feel any tensions rising in the city?
GR: Not really. I did not. I mean, you hear news. You listen to the news and there would be—you would hear about certain things going on, some of them were racist, some of them were not, but it did not affect me and my family personally. And when I say my family, my personal family, my wife, and it did not affect my mother and her husband that she was having a nice marriage in. Her first husband was a real problem because he was a drunk, he was a wife beater, he wound up—this was the father of my two brothers—and he wound up going to prison because he got involved in a fight and he killed someone during the fight and he wound up going to prison. Then she married somebody else, the father of my sisters, and they were married for forty years or something like that. So what I was saying then in answer to your question the issues that were going around, news issues, for me, now I do not know exactly how it bothered them, but it did not really bother me. So I was surprised when I heard about the riot. As a matter of fact, the way I heard about the riot, which I think was July, what was it, twenty-nine?
GR: Twenty-three. The night before, July twenty-second, my wife and I went to a club on Dexter near Joy Rd. I can’t think of that back street, but it was near Joy Rd., and the reason I mention that is because it was not that far from where the riot had started but there was no evidence that night that there was a problem, more so than any other night. So the next day, which was a Sunday, I got a call around approximately nine o’clock, nine or something, from my mother and she was saying that there was—she was letting me know that there was a riot going on. And I didn’t know anything about the riot, I didn’t hear anything on the news—course I was still in bed to tell you to the truth—so anyway, I said, I told my mother that I would try to find out. She wanted the reason, one of the reason she was calling me because she knew I lived close to where the riot was. But I told her I would find out about it so the first thing I did was turn on the TV to get the news and then I heard on the TV that there was a riot going on and I heard that it was going on Twelfth and, uh—
GR: Yeah, Twelfth and Clairmount but I was also wondering did I hear that it was also on another place on Twelfth. But anyways so what I did, I put my clothes on, I had breakfast, and then I walked—like I said, I lived on Blaine between Linwood and La Salle and that’s only not too far from Twelfth, so I just walked to Twelfth. So soon as I, while I was walking to Twelfth on Blaine on the twenty-third there was no evidence that there was a riot. But when I got right to the corner of Twelfth and Blaine then I, when I got right to Twelfth, yeah, there was a riot. There was a riot going on. And I looked toward Clairmount and a lot of stuff going on, and then I looked opposite going north, I mean going south, there was also riot issues going on. It was not as intense in terms of the number of activities going on as it was toward Clairmount but it was still issues going on. So here I am on the corner of Twelfth and Blaine and so riot was going on north and south on Twelfth.
WW: How did the rest of your week play out, being so close to the center?
GR: Oh, let me tell you. First of all, I stayed on—this was a Sunday, and I was, I was not doing anything to attempt to riot. I was not attempting, trying to steal nothing, I was not trying to have a problem with anybody, but while I was just observing the riot there was one time I almost got shot by the police because I was standing on the corner with a bunch of other people, I was not—because I was walking up and down Twelfth and I think it was Hazelwood, I am not sure exactly—but I was standing on the corner with somebody and then there was a guy, a black guy, that was running toward the corner and apparently away from the police and the police was pointing a gun to where he was running, because he was running right to the corner where me and a couple of other people were standing. And then he took off—not from the corner, he went somewhere else—and now I am looking at the barrel of the cop, you know, his gun. And I was, I just assumed that he was going to shoot but he did not. And then there was another case also on that particular day that—no, it was not on that day, it was on Monday, because now they had, it was not the military, it was—
WW: National Guard?
GR: National Guard. So National Guard, because what happened the next day—and I knew—I got a call that if I worked at Edison do not come at that particular day, they will let me know about Tuesday. So since I did not have to go to work in Edison on the Monday, I walked back up on to Twelfth and the same problem—there was still as much intensity of people robbing and running back and forth and doing whatever and there was a situation. They had a National Guard guy up on the roof and I happened look up to see a National Guard up on the roof and he had a rifle pointing toward where I was standing with some other people and I thought he was going to shoot. He did not shoot, but now in terms of on Monday I walked up and down Twelfth and, like I said, it was still a problem. But I had also heard someone say that the riot had moved to Linwood so then I went to go walk up to Linwood.
Now at that time, and I may be wrong about the exact date because I did the same thing on Tuesday, but on Monday when I walked up to Linwood and Blaine it was the same type of activity—riot type activity—that was going on on Linwood. Maybe not as far down north as Linwood as it was on Twelfth—and, the same thing, it did not go that far down south on Linwood from Blaine, so it went maybe two or three blocks down south on Linwood—however, what was happening now did not happen on Sunday. But what was happening on Monday was houses on fire. Also what happened was there was a store, a grocery store, a black-owned grocery store on the corner of Blaine and Linwood and you would go to the store, buy stuff—bread, milk, whatever the case happened to be—did not do what you would call soup shopping like you would at a supermarket, but two or three times a day you would go to the store to buy stuff you need or wanted. Well, this particular store was open and he had raised the price of everything that was in the store. As I remember, I think a quart of milk—or maybe it was a half-gallon of milk in a carton—he was charging over five dollars for that. I think that a loaf of bread he was charging several dollars for that, which I was really, really surprised.
But at any rate, as I mentioned when I walked up to Linwood on Blaine I knew several houses were on fire at the time. So I walked up and down Linwood for a while, observing what I could and then coming down Blaine from Linwood, on both sides—and both sides would have been north and south sides of the street—on the south side of the street on Blaine there were about three houses that were on fire as you were going east. On the north side of the street, which I lived on the north side, there were about—three, no okay, first of all, on the north side there were about three houses on fire, on the south side I think there was about four houses and that was causing me a problem because where I was living, renting, I lived upstairs and the landlord lived downstairs and we were in the middle of the block. There was about three houses that were on fire which was three houses from where I was living and on across the street there were at least one more house that was on fire than there were across the street and I could see, I actually saw, one house caught fire from another house.
And so me and a couple of other people in the neighborhood called the fire department and we were told that the fire department—they took the house number where we were but they said they were not sure that the fire department would be able to make it. Not only was it the fire department that was having a whole bunch of problems in terms of dealing with a whole bunch of fires yet also they were saying that because of the riot there was gunshots and so the fire department was concerned about going into a neighborhood and having people shoot at the fire department. So anyway we kept calling because houses were still catching on fire.
So finally one fire truck with one fireman came and when he came on the street that I was living on the fire was two houses down but across the street—it was not exactly across the street but it was one house going west on the street—so anyway, the fire guy said that he did not know what he can do, but he will do whatever he can. So he said that the only thing that he could do is look at a house and see if the house looked like it might catch fire and he would try to put some water on it. But he said that—and so what he did—he said that he needed help and so I volunteered to help him out and a couple of other people volunteered to help him out and what he was doing was across from where I lived but not too far from the area where I lived—one house was burning so bad he said that you cannot do anything with that house but the house next to it, he was soaking it as much as he can to keep it from catching fire. So what we did, we helped him unload the hose and went between the two houses, the house that was on fire already and the house that the fireman was trying to keep from catching fire. While we were right between the two houses and having the hose on the house that had not caught fire yet, and while we were doing that we were impacted—quite negatively impacted—by the smoke, by the fact that different material was falling off of the roof of the house that was already on fire and while that was happening I was saying to myself, “This was the first time I knew what the problems that the fire department had.” And it is also the fact that I do not plan to be a fireman when this was over.
But at any rate we were able to keep—the fireman stayed there for about an hour, an hour and a half, and he kept putting the water on that other house to keep it from catching fire. But when it was all over—and this was something that was in the magazines and in the newspapers and so forth—on Blaine between, the block between Linwood and La Salle, there were about ten, eleven houses that had burned down. And like I said, they, the news people, had taken pictures of it not only on the level of the ground but also had helicopters taking pictures above and that was one of—you might even have copies of that. That happened, I think that was on a Monday.
And then the Tuesday we were told—I got a call from Edison I think that said I could come to work if I wanted to but they said you did not have to but that they would suggest that we try to come. So I came to work, but then I found out that while I was going to Edison, which was in the downtown area, that the riot had also gone to other places. They had gone on the east side and so forth and so we were—I think it took almost a week before quote unquote the riot was considered ended. That is what I remember.
WW: Alright. How do you think the riot affected the city of Detroit?
GR: Oh, no question that it affected it quite a bit. It affected it in terms of—politically affected it, structurally affected it. Politically affected it because the man—I am trying to think who the mayor was at the time—
GR: Yeah, Cavanagh, he was trying to get together with leaders of different groups, neighborhood groups and other groups, to try and figure out what they were going to do in terms of once all the National Guard had gone and all that kind of stuff, what they were going to do to try to keep from having another riot. They also changed the street name from Twelfth to Rosa Parks. They created different groups. One of the groups that was created was HOPE. There was another group that was created and is still created but I cannot think of the name of it right now. The woman who is
—the head of that the group is a woman, she had been the head of the group for about ten years now, maybe—
WW: New Detroit?
WW: New Detroit?
GR: New Detroit, right. That was created and when it was created I forget who was considered to be the chief—at any rate, and I think it also created the fact that many people decided to move out of Detroit. The people who primarily decided to move out of Detroit, lot of them, or most of them, were Jewish because in many parts of the neighborhood, particularly in the northwest, the west and northwest, many Jewish people lived there and when after the riot was over a lot of the Jewish people left. Many of them went to Southfield, many of them went to, I think a lot of them went to Warren and so forth. And what happened was when they left a lot of Blacks from the so called black neighborhoods on the near east side moved from the near east side to the houses that were available once a lot of the Jewish people left. And so it changed the way that, like I said, politically as well as socially. The population of Detroit changed. That took two, three years, three to five years but those changes took place.
WW: How do you think the city has managed itself over the last forty years?
GR: Well—it could be better, of course, but it could have been a lot worse than it is. Obviously the city had the issue about how much money they had to deal with certain things but also in the last forty years what happened with the city of Detroit depended upon the people, the mayor, and the common council. Obviously when Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor for eight years or whatever there was a lot of financial as well as social issues that were negative. Before Kilpatrick it was—
GR: It was who?
GR: Archer, right. He did some positive stuff but it was not a whole—it was more stable. Before Archer, of course, was Coleman Young and Coleman Young was after Cavanagh. And anyway Coleman Young was mayor for, I do not know, almost twenty years. Several elections—but the point is that during that time Coleman Young was able to—certainly the first half of his general total election—he was able to get the fact that blacks who were still, who was primarily in Detroit that was eighty percent in Detroit, tried to give them a lot of personal, positive attitudes even though it may not, even if you was living in a poor neighborhood, Coleman Young was trying to give you, make you feel better about that. Trying so that you would not feel bad about the fact that because of the riot people who left—people who could leave Detroit left Detroit and people who was left in Detroit was just negative. So I think it could have been—you say in forty years, it could have been better but it could have been a lot worse too.
WW: And is there anything else you would like to add today?
GR: Well—not really. The one thing that I would say about Detroit, about the riot, which was, of course, in ’67. Since between ’67 and ’16, 2016, there have been riots all over the country. Some of the riots came not too long after ’67 in major cities like Los Angeles or Baltimore, wherever else. I forget the other places. And then, of course, within the last, oh, two years there have been riots that happened because of the issues with police and black people that were arrested by the, generally arrested by white policeman—but the point is that Detroit has not had a riot. Not saying they did not have any issues that they had to deal with, but they never had any more riots since ’67. Even though, throughout the country, over the last forty years, even up until the last couple years, there have been riots. And there have been issues that could have been a riot because even with Detroit I would say back in, right after the riot there were police issues—
GR: —that could have led to another type of riot. But it has not. Not to any great extent, anyway. And that is about it.
WW: Alright, thank you very much for sitting down with me.
GR: You are certainly welcome. I would—I just wish I had—because I had kept a lot of almost everything that was in the papers and the magazines, I had kept in a folder about the riot. But I just cannot seem to—cannot find it, I do not know how to find it.
WW: Well if you find it, I would love to get my hands on it.
GR: Oh, okay-
[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 42:17]
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