Carole and Leo Alberts, March 31st, 2016

Title

Carole and Leo Alberts, March 31st, 2016

Description

In this interview, Carole and Leo Alberts explain their experiences growing up in some of the neighborhoods in Detroit. The couple briefly discusses the differences of living in Detroit and its suburbs. Additionally they speak about their experiences and perceptions of the events that happened in 1967.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

06/14/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Oral History

Coverage

Allen Park Sterling Heights Belle Isle

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Carole and Leo Alberts

Brief Biography

Carole and Leo Alberts lived in the city of Detroit and later moved to its suburbs. Carole was born in Detroit on Concord St, and ended up moving to Sterling Heights where both she and Leo currently live together. Leo, originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, previously lived in both Detroit and Allen Park.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Sterling Heights, Michigan

Date

03/31/2016

Interview Length

00:30:58

Transcriptionist

Danail Granchev

Transcription

WW: Today is March 31st, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This is the interview of Carole and Leo Alberts. We are in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and this is for the Detroit 1967 Oral History Project. Thank you both for sitting down with me today.

CA: You're welcome.

WW: Carole can you tell me first where and when you were born?

CA: I was born on November 9th, 1939, on a street in Detroit called Concord. Our house was between Mack and Verner, and I was born at home.

WW: Leo where were you born?

LA: I was born in Wheeling West Virginia, but my parents moved to Detroit when I was two and a half years old.

WW: Why did they move here?

LA: Actually, my two older brothers came to Detroit first to look for a job, and when they found a job in the auto industry, they sent for my parents, and my parents then moved to Detroit.

WW: What was it like growing up in the city for you, Carole?

CA: I don't remember too much about Concord. We had to leave there when I was about four and we moved into the Herman Gardens which was on the West Side of Detroit. I was four, and I had pleasant memories of that time. It was a row of houses, many houses, and our backyard faced the parking lot, so my parents parked right in front of our unit. The front of the unit was a grassy area where you could also play. Then a couple buildings down was a cement play area for kids with bicycles, or wagons, or scooters, or roller skates, and we had all those things. We lived there for five years. I went to the Herman Gardens School. I attended kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and part of third grade. Over the years, up until the time I got married, I was in constant communication with my third grade teacher up until the time we got married.

WW: Wow. What was the mood of the city when you were growing up? Was it pleasant for you as a child?

CA: Yes, I think it was pleasant for me. I was the fifth child of six. I do remember being a pleasant atmosphere. One of the major events that happened when we were in the Herman Gardens, my mother was expecting her sixth child, and I remember the day my younger sister was born. That's a pretty vivid memory.

WW: I bet.

CA: She was also born at home, and I was home there with her.

WW: Leo, what was it like growing up in the suburbs?

LA: I didn't grow up in the suburbs. I was twenty years old when we moved to Allen Park.

WW: Sorry about that. Then what was it like coming to a new area?

LA: Well, the street I lived on had deteriorated quite a bit after the Second World War until the time we left, so there was a big difference. It was much more pleasant. When I was a kid in Detroit it was kind of nice because we knew everyone on the whole block. There wasn't anyone we didn't know and you walked everywhere you went. Whether you went to a store, the cleaners, a show, no matter where you went, you walked. So, you knew everyone on the street. After the Second World War that changed quite a bit. Most of the people that I knew moved away.

WW: Do you know why they moved away?

LA: No, I don't. ‘Cause I was ten when the Second World War ended. I'm not sure why it started. By the time I was nineteen years old, it had deteriorated quite a bit, and that's why my mother and I moved away and we moved to Allen Park.

WW: You were living in the city of Detroit in 1943?

LA: Yes.

WW: Do you have any memories from the 1943 race riot?

LA: Yes, I do. I remember that it started on Belle Isle. Although we weren't far from Belle Isle, it really didn't enter our street. But, I do remember a situation when I came out of the house one day, about three or four houses away there were about five or six of our neighbors who were standing around with baseball bats. When I asked my oldest sister why they were doing that, she told me that it was just in case anyone came down the street and caused any problems. But that's just about all I remember about the riots.

WW: Okay. You spoke about how after 1945 people started moving out, and eventually you and your mother did, too. You said you noticed people leaving, did you notice a change in the atmosphere of the city because you said you walked everywhere. Did you continue to walk everywhere?

LA: Well, before I moved, a lot of the stores nearby closed down. The show that I used to go to was called the Odeon on Concord and that was gone. The neighborhood changed quite a bit. It deteriorated. Of course by the time I was eighteen I got a car, so it wasn't necessary for us to walk anymore.

WW: Carole, on the West side did you also notice any change over time as you were growing up in Herman Gardens?

CA: No. We were one of the first tenants to be in those units, and at the time in 1943 it was basically a white neighborhood. So there wasn't a racial overtone at all. There were a lot of children in that area, and so you had a lot of playmates. I don't recall having any major incidents. Little minor things that kids do with one another—hassle back and forth, or chase one another, but no major incidents. I didn't feel unsafe in the Herman Gardens. I recently read some online reference to the Herman Gardens later in the 60's and 70's, people who lived there and they talked about how bad things had gotten there. I didn't have the same experience. I don't think my family had the same experience. There were a lot of families there, but I think there was a lot of comradery there also.

WW: How long did you live there?

CA: We lived there for five years. I made my first communion there. I have some pictures of the area if you'd like to see them. My older brothers and sisters attended McKenzie High School. They had to go by bus, but I walked to school. I walked to the Herman Gardens. And our building faced Tireman and the Herman Garden School was right down Tireman. There was another incident that in today's world it would be unusual. There was a party store, I think a party store. They sold penny candy. Only thing, for a penny you could get two or three of one piece of candy. Well one day bubble gum came back for sale. I guess they took it out of sale for a while during the war. Well after the war, bubble gum was available at that store and I remember receiving a penny to go down to the store. I walked down to the store and I had to stand in a line that was a block and a half long for a penny piece of bubble gum. I wasn’t the only one there that day for a first piece of bubble gum.

WW: Moving into the 1950’s, where did you live?

CA: 1949 we moved to Lenox, which was between Kercheval and Vernor. We lived in a stucco house. Our house and the house next to us were identical. Instead of the front door facing the street of Lenox, the front doors faced one another. The front doors were actually on the side of the house. I walked two blocks to Saint Phillip Neri. I went to Saint Phillip Neri from the fourth grade and I graduated in 1958. My aunt and uncle also lived on Lenox between Jefferson and Kercheval. They had six boys so we had cousins in the area as well as neighbors and school mates that lived in that area. And that was also pleasant. We had a drug store on the corner. We walked there for ice cream. We walked there for candy. We had hardware stores. We had the library which was four or five blocks away. We walked there, spent time at the library. So walking in that area was safe. We could also walk down to Jefferson and Jefferson was a big shopping area at the time. There was an Albert’s, a Winkleman, a Kresge, a Woolworth. I think a second Kresge. And across the street there was a Cinderella Theatre, a Time theatre, the Esquire and the Ultra theatre, all about on the same block. And we walked to where we wanted to go.

WW: In what year did you move into Allen Park again, Leo?

LA: It was in the early 50’s, ‘51 or ‘52, something like that I’m not sure.

WW: What was the switch like moving from the East Side of Detroit to Allen Park?

LA: By that time our neighborhood had deteriorated quite a bit so it was a tremendous difference. It’s like moving to a new world. It was nice moving to Allen Park. Actually, just before we moved, there was a factory behind our house that bought the house next door to us and they tore that house down and brought in machinery that was very noisy and shook the ground and made the walls in our house crack. So my mother and I decided then that we couldn’t stay any longer. We had to leave.

WW: What were you doing in the 1950’s? You mentioned you were twenty years old then.

LA: I was working in a printing shop.

WW: Okay. Into the 1950’s and 60’s the social movements that were starting to form and become active in Detroit, did either of you have any experience with those?

LA: No.

CA: It doesn’t sound familiar.

WW: The civil rights movement or anything like that?

LA: No.

CA: Well I guess I was aware of them because many of the events appeared on TV. My father and my uncle both owned stores. My father owned a store on Harding and Mack, so we interacted with the blacks on a business level. My uncle owned a store on the May and Vernor, and again their clientele were black people. Mostly black people. That didn’t mean there wasn’t any white in the neighborhood, but it was predominantly black. We did interact with black. I don’t recall having any negative experience with anybody that came into our store.

WW: Was your neighborhood, when you were on Lenox, integrated?

CA: No, not when I was there.

WW: Okay.

CA: Our school was not integrated also. The first time I came in contact with somebody black that I socialized with… probably in the 60’s. I worked at US Rubber, and I think there was a black person there. There was just one black person there. I didn’t have a lot of contact with….

WW: Leo, was your neighborhood in Allen Park all white too?

LA: In Allen Park? Yes. By the time we left Detroit, the street that I lived on was practically all black. I think there was only one or two families besides us still living, white families still living on that block.

WW: Do you know whether or not the white families who left that block left because of the factory or because of social positions?

LA: Well, like I said, they started leaving right after the Second World War ended and I was only ten years old then. I don’t know why they started to move out, but after a while it became evident that many of them moved out because the neighborhood had changed from white to black. But I don’t know if that’s why they started. I was only ten years old when it started.

WW: You mentioned the factory moving in, I’m sure that people would probably leave because the factory.

LA: That was later on. I think I was eighteen or nineteen years old when that factory bought the house next door to us.

CA: I would like to point out that during the war, Leo had four brothers in the service. They were in four different branches of the service. WW: That’s amazing.

LA: I had one brother who was killed during World War II, and another seriously wounded.

WW: Wow. Going through the 1950s and into the early ‘60s in Detroit, did you feel the atmosphere was changing? Did you sense the city was tense?

CA: I didn’t feel that it was changing until after we got married. When we got married we owned a home on Phillip. WW: What year was that?

CA: 1964. We were about half a block from Jackson Middle School. To give my young son the same experience of walking to a party store to pick up penny candy, he had to pass Jefferson Junior High. I let him do that, but he came back with a black eye and they took his water. Then is when we became a little intimidated. When they went to school they went to Hosmer, and I forget the street that it was on. We would not let them walk back and forth to school. That’s when I began to be aware of the change in the city, and was anxious to leave the city as they got into the first and second grade. That’s basically when we left.

WW: Where did you go?

CA: We came here to Sterling Heights. When we first initially moved we rented an apartment here in Sterling Heights. We rented up until about, what we’ve been here for thirty years now? We rented the first fourteen years here in Sterling Heights. Then we were able to buy this house.

WW: Again, what year did you leave the city?

CA: 1972.

LA: Yeah, it was ‘72.

CA: ’72. WW: Back tracking then to 1967. Before everything ignited, was there any added tension in the city?

CA: Oh, I believe so. The week of the riot, the riot happened on my youngest son’s birthday which was a Sunday. We were entertaining guests and we were having a small party for him. After they left and we turned on the TV, we realized that the city was in trouble and we could see pictures of the riot. I was concerned because they were headed back home and it was close to where the riot was taking place. As soon as I thought they were home I called them to make sure everything was alright. They were not aware of the riot. Wherever they traveled, they missed the incident. It was the next day, Monday, when Leo had a store on Lake Point. We closed the store and we didn’t leave the house for a week. We stayed in, watched television. It was hot. We sat on the porch of our home. We were able to hear the gun shots from Chalmers and Mack. Although I’ve looked at the area which was basically affected by the riot which was on 12th Street towards the downtown area. I don’t know why on Chalmers there would be gun shots. I don’t know if the riot mushroomed and got bigger into the area. But we were not safe, and I did not feel safe. We pretty much stayed in the house for a week.

WW: You said that, along with your children, you’re not feeling your children are safe.

CA: No. Although I left them out to play, I kept the front door open all the time so I could always hear what was going on. The neighborhood did start to change. The house next to us, although they were white people, the kids were a little freer, not kept a close watch on, and a little older and I was concerned for my kids. Can I tell you a story that was told to me about the riots? A cousin related a story. She lived on Piper and Jefferson. Are you interested in a second hand story?

WW: Sure.

CA: She lived on Piper between Jefferson and the river. She is three years older than I am. She had to be about twenty five. She lived with her parents and she remembers soldiers marching down Piper and a tank coming down Piper. I didn’t see that and don’t remember that. I knew there were tanks. I knew there were soldiers in the area because you could see them on television. But I didn’t have any firsthand knowledge. She also told me, when the soldiers got there, there was a hall run by the Ladies of Charity which was on Mack and St. Jean and these ladies would cook food for the soldiers, and for the police, and for anybody who was protecting the area. They would offer them food for that period of time.

WW: Did you have any other experiences besides hearing the gunshots coming from Mack and Chalmers?

CA: Did I have other experiences?

WW: Yeah.

CA: No.

WW: Okay. Did you, Leo?

LA: Just the one I told you about. You’re talking about the first riot when we were kids, yeah.

WW: No, 1967.

CA: We were at home.

LA: Yeah, but I thought you were now talking about the earlier one, no.

WW: Okay.

CA: He owned a party store on Lake Point and Waveney I think it was. We had to close that store. We didn’t open it for a week. It wasn’t even safe. We didn’t even feel safe enough to go and open up a store.

WW: Did you continue to operate that store afterwards?

CA: Yes, we did.

WW: And then even after you left?

CA: No. But we were running a business out of it. It was not the same neighborhood. We had our windows knocked out three or four times. First we put bars on the windows, and then we boarded up so there were no windows because they—

LA: They sawed through the bars.

CA: Yeah, they sawed through the bars. They broke into our store about three or four times. We lost a lot of money there. One of the afternoons that we went there, somebody had thrown eggs—raw eggs—and sand at the front door. We had to clean that up before we could get inside the store. We were operating an ice business, where we have some ice making equipment inside the store and Leo was packaging this ice and delivering it to other stores and he was also packaging fifty pound bags of ice and delivering it to halls and banquets. We did run that out of the store after we closed the store to the public. We did run it after we moved here to Sterling Heights. I don’t know how long we ran it, at least six or seven years after we moved to Sterling Heights.

WW: Thank you both so much. Is there any other things that you wish to say? Any other stories that you’d wish to share?

CA: I have a whole bunch of them, but no. Yes I would. There is one story, there is some stories. As I mentioned the Ladies at Charities, they were run by several churches in the area: The Mack Ave Church, the Eastern Right Church, the Orthodox Church, The Maronite Church. This was a group of ladies who ran that hall and raised money to help other people in the area. But they used to meet in the summer time once a week on Belle Isle. My aunt belonged to that organization. Then we would go to an Arabic church on Charlevoix and McDougall, Our Lady Redemption. They had a women’s society there that would meet also once a week on Belle Isle. They met every week because one would meet every other week, and the other would meet every other week. So we would go to Belle Isle as youngsters with my aunt and spend the day there. We rented bikes, we rented canoes. We went to the petting zoo. At the time when we first arrived and went to Belle Isle, they had a full zoo—elephants and monkeys and a lot of different animals. We used to go down to the aquarium, the plant house. My sister and I, when you ask about being safe… The place where we picnicked was on one side of the island, and the beach was on the other side of the island. My sister and I, and I’m like nine, ten, eleven years old, she’s four years younger than I, would walk across the island by ourselves and we would go to the beach, put our towels down and play in the water for a couple of hours. There were a lot of mixed, both black and white. Never felt threatened. Never had adult supervision. After we were done we walked back across the island and back with our families, or my aunt. There was one incident when I was nine. On the other side of the street there was a casino. You used to be able to ice skate in that casino. They had a deck. On the deck they had a couple benches where you could sit. Well, I had a friend with me and she and I were sitting on one of those benches. My sister had a pair of binoculars around her neck and she was close to the edge of the deck looking down in the water through the binoculars. I was told to keep an eye on her. Every once in a while I’d look up to see where she was and I knew she was there. I looked up a second time and she wasn’t there. So turned to my friend and I asked her, “Did you see where my sister went?” Very calmly she said, “I think she fell in the water.” I got up and sure enough my sister was coming up and I could see her hair, and I pulled her up by her hair. She said she had gone down for the third time. I brought her up out of the water, walked her back to where my mother and my aunt was and got scolded for not watching her. So that’s a story. WW: Is there anything else you’d like to share? If you think of anything, you can feel free to let us know.

CA: We’ve got a lot of pictures that we would like to show you and of course with pictures come stories.

WW: Alright, thank you very much for sitting down with us today.

[30:58]
End of Track 1

Duration

00:38:58

Interviewer

William Winkel

Interviewee

Carole and Leo Alberts

Location

Sterling Heights, MI

Files

IMG_0261.JPG
IMG_0262.JPG

Collection

Citation

“Carole and Leo Alberts, March 31st, 2016,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed August 18, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/263.

Output Formats