Adam Shakoor, March 16, 2016
WW: Hello my name is William Winkel. Today is March 19, 2016. We are in Detroit, MI. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project. This is the interview of Adam Shakoor. Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.
AS: My pleasure.
WW: Can you please tell me when and where were you born?
AS: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, August 6, 1947.
WW: Where did you grow up?
AS: I grew up in the Northeast Side of Detroit. An area in public housing known as Sojourner Truth. Public housing, Nevada, Ryan Road, Mound area of Northeast Detroit. Also near an area called Conant Gardens, which was a very middle class stable area, and at that time very working-class area that had some of the historical connections with a struggle that occurred in that period because in the public housing in Northeast Detroit known as Sojourner Truth, it was the first low-rise brick public housing in America. It was something that Mrs. Roosevelt—Eleanor Roosevelt—had been very instrumental in making it happen. As a matter of the beginnings of that particular time period, there was some concern by white Detroiters that they wanted the housing, which had been set aside for the African Americans during that period, and so there were, not riots as such but there were marauding whites that would come in and intimidate the people in the evenings and shoot into the homes and, of course, the men there stood guard and make sure their families were protected. Folk like Paul Robison and many of the historical figures of the struggle of that era—George Crockett, another gentleman that was a lawyer during that time, was very active—Coleman Young was actively engaged during that time period, and LeBaron Simmons was actively engaged—you may have some knowledge of his family in terms of Larry Simmons, who was a part of the Coleman Young administration, and a current retired person from the staff of the county. He worked for the country executive, Ed McNamara. His son by the way is often on MSNBC as a democratic commentator, he’s a political consultant. I can’t think of his son’s name at the moment but the Simmons family was very, very actively engaged over the past 70 or so years in Detroit. So it was—well there were marches and various other kinds of things so you might say that the area that I was born in was an area which was a part of some of the civil rights history of Detroit, and of course Sojourner Truth historically was a person who had led many of the slaves out of slavery in the Underground Railroad. She was a very accomplished person in terms of her efforts of freeing African people who were enslaved.
WW: And the action your talking about—whites shooting into the homes and other antagonizing actions—was that going on while you were growing up still or just in the wake of 1942?
AS: No that was before my birth. That was the history of it. My father was, I think, he told me the third family that moved into Sojourner Truth after it was built. And so he and other of the early inhabitants of the public housing there were organized in ways of essentially keeping watch to ensure that there were none. My older sister was alive at that time, she’s now deceased. And of course growing up I heard all the stories as the men would get together and they’d talk about some of the things that went on. There is a bailiff by the name of Thornton Jackson who was around during that time. The Jackson family—Thornton Jackson’s dad Thornton Senior and my dad very closely in friendship—well Thornton can talk about that in greater detail having experienced it as a young man growing up during that time period that these things were going on. In fact, Wayne State University did a book on Sojourner Truth, public housing and some of the histories as a part of that.
WW: What was your childhood like growing up there?
AS: My childhood was unremarkable. It was just a childhood where I was very well-secured by my family. It was childhood that, as young people, we engaged with other children and the activities of youth. You know, playing baseball, riding our bikes, and enjoying growing up in Detroit. Across Nevada where the fields were, we’d go over there and we would play in the fields. Now it’s developed and I think the Eleventh Precinct is built in that area now, and the prisons—the state made prisons over in that area—but it was a good childhood. You didn’t have any real concerns, just having fun, doing your chores, and growing up.
WW: What was it like to grow up during the ‘50s and the early ‘60s then?
AS: Well in the ‘50s it was some difficulty because a recession took place. My dad had worked at Bohn Aluminum, which was a very large industrial plant. In fact, their UAW local was the largest that the UAW had here, and this is before, I guess, the Ford local 600 had grown to becoming the largest. Jobs were fairly plentiful. People were moving here from the South for some of the jobs. There were very good times but then around the middle part—’53, ’54, ’55—a recession hit and some of the plants shut down to move to—Bohn Aluminum moved to Indiana and jobs thus became less. Of course, my father was a tradesman, he was an active member of his local—in fact he had been the recording secretary of the Bohn Aluminum local, as a charter member he helped organize it, and so he was able to get a job elsewhere, but the fortunes of time were he turned down a job at Ford and decided to work at Packard Motor Car Company. And of course Packard closed in ’56. So he left Bohn, went to Packard, stayed there a couple years, and then they closed down. And after a couple years of doing various construction-type jobs—brick masonry, painting, carpentry, things of that nature, he was very skilled in his crafts—he got on with the Bohn Aluminum over in Iron Street and Jefferson—I think now they’ve got lofts in that plant facility. So it was a struggle during those mid to latter years of the ‘50s. The ‘60s were quite different. In the ‘60s, things had gotten back pretty good for the city. And at that time, my mom had worked as a lab technician. She had been successful in her efforts. She was a college graduate, my dad did not finish college. So she had taught school in the South and came to Detroit. Couldn’t teach school here initially because they required black college graduates to have to take classes at Wayne State or some other institution here before they would let them teach. So my mother, who had taught maybe eight years in Kentucky and West Virginia, had to work in the hospital. Since science was her foundation, that is what she did as a lab technician for several of the hospitals. I remember Brent Hospital, I remember a doctor, Dr. A.B Henderson, who was a very noted black doctor, she set up his lab for him and his private practice, and basically it was a pretty good time in terms of economically.
WW: Being so young did you understand any of the social movements that began to form during the ‘60s?
AS: Yes, because I don’t ever remember a time that there was not some discussion about social issues. My grandfather moved from West Virginia when he retired from the coal mines to live with us, and so we had a rich environment, generationally speaking. We had my grandfather and grandmother, and we had my mother and my father. So since both of them worked, and my grandmother never worked in terms of outside the home, and my grandfather was retired, there was an extended family that was connected that assisted each other in terms of what was needed. My grandfather had been an organizer for the coal miners’ union—United Coal Miners—and had been a person who was very, shall we say, opinionated, on issues, and he was a republican, a black republican. As having been born in 1892, he was a part of that generation of African Americans who identified with the party of Lincoln. My father had been born in 1912, and he became of age during Roosevelt’s time—he didn’t vote in ’32, but he voted in ’36—and in ’36, he voted for FDR. So there were always discussions, always debates about who was better in terms of the candidates, at the national level at least—was it Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson? And so they would go at it, and so I’m a part of that. Then of course the civil rights movement is happening, the issues involved with the end of the colonizing and getting the Europeans out of Africa is going on, so it was a very, very rich, intellectually, and open discussion about the issues of the day as they affected labor, as they affected black Americans, and I was there at the table and taking it all in. As a very young person, it was part of my growth as a person being aware of the events that were going on in and around America during that time.
WW: That’s amazing. Those must have been really great conversations.
AS: Yeah it was very rich. I enjoyed it, and I miss it. Because obviously, you know, after the death of my grandfather and subsequently the family moved back to West Virginia. I stayed here, I was an adult in college at the time, and of course I’d travel back and forth to West Virginia. But the conversations, and the debates especially, in terms of a more partisan flavor, because my grandfather was a dyed-in-the-wool republican, and my father was a dyed-in-the-wool democrat. But it was fine. That was my grandfather on my maternal side. Yeah.
WW: As the ‘60s progressed, did you notice any tensions rising in the city?
AS: Quite a few. Long before the riots happened, probably the latter part of the ‘50s, incidents of black people being shot or killed by police officers, police officers that drove around in our communities—we called them the big four—that often times would pull young people over and harass them some. I was never beaten by the police although my brother was. In those time periods it was a lot of tension that existed and some of the tension I attributed to overzealous policing, but also to neighborhoods as they were beginning to change. Of course, I mentioned about Sojourner Truth; the neighborhood over there in the Northeast Side of Detroit began to change in terms of more and more black folk moving into that area. A lot of the white occupants mostly moving north of Eight Mile and establishing the city of Warren, East Detroit and other places, so it began to be a lot of tension. I guess people made a lot of money during that time period in terms of the scare tactics—when a black family would move in and all of a sudden the homeowners that were living there would put their homes on the market and get out and other families were moving in. It was pretty racially divided. Going to school in that area was—as schools began to change their racial composition, you would get into, shall we say, racial incidents with some of the white children who may have been mimicking what their parents were discussing in their homes and name-calling racially and things of that nature. So, as those events were happening, I mean Detroit was a place—if we could maybe go into the early ‘60s—Dr. King came to Detroit. I mean they were, I guess marching down Woodward in ’63. That was the largest civil rights march in the north as of that time. I was told probably over 100,000 people were there, marching down Woodward Avenue. My father marched during that time period, but I was not in the marching group. I think my sister was a part of that, I know she marched in Washington in ’63. But my sister was away at college. She may not have marched there, but I know she was at the August ’63 march, which came after the Detroit march. So there was a lot of pent-up anger, and those in authority for the city wanted to listen, but they didn’t how to listen, I guess. Or they knew to listen to only certain elements of the community, because Cavanagh was the mayor then and he had been elected principally because blacks abandoned Miriani—Louis Miriani—and came on board with Jerome Canavagh, and he knew it. And of course, he opened his administration up, hiring some blacks into his administration or seeing that they got involved in the housing, police and other things in community relations. But it wasn’t enough. So it just maybe put a temporary lid on things, but it was still boiling under the lid.
WW: How do you refer to what happened in 1967? Do you refer to it as a riot or do you refer to it as a rebellion?
AS: Riot has a connotation of race as its mantra. I don’t see it in that way. I consider it a uprising type of incident—could be more rebellion—but the uprising was based upon some of that suppression that was existing in the community. To give you an example, I expected a riot in Detroit when it happened in ’67 because a year earlier, over in Kercheval and Cadillac, there was a beginning of a riot then. Except it wasn’t at night or in the early morning hours it was in the middle of the day. So I guess because it occurred at the time it occurred, that there was enough police response that was able to suppress it versus three or four o’clock in the morning, in terms of the incident in July of ’67. There were crowds of people, there were actions taken that could have germinated to being a upheaval in terms of property loss and other incidents, crowds gathering. In fact, a former colleague of mine on the bench at 36th District Court was a student at Wayne at the time, Rufus Griffin. Rufus, who is now deceased, Rufus was arrested at that time. I remember when he got out of jail he came back and he was talking about it. Think General Baker, these are all people that I had begun to basically have a political education from as a young student at Wayne, and of course they were my mentors. So as that incident happened, I’m listening to what all took place, and all that so I was of the impression that a riot may happen in Detroit because of the circumstances that were going on in America. In America, as it relates to police-community relations, as it relates to the Vietnam War, as it relates to a way in which people, who had grievances against government actions and decisions were not going to just sit idly by and allow things to go without a reaction from them. And with the manner in which the policing was done at that time, as to beating people to stop them or overreacting to people who had legitimate grievances, that it was kind of like a powder keg, no communication, one force against another force, and that it would at some point explode. So I wasn’t surprised by the riot or rebellion of ’67 because, as I said, I considered it a uprising, a containment that had been put on the community that, at some point, would eventually explode—actually exploded—so that was my take. But racially speaking, in that time period, there was more togetherness in the looting that was going on during the ’67 rebellion than you’d think would exist with the concept of a race riot, because blacks and whites were in the jewelry stores, or the television radio repair shops, and cleaners and everything else, grabbing whatever they could grab. And sometimes a white looter would go get something and a black looter saying, “Man, I was gonna get that.” And, “Oh, well alright you can have that I’ll get something else.” So there really wasn’t race connotations to it. The race had been more the attitude, I think, of the police in reference to the black rebellious folk, and how they surmised it in putting it, I guess, in the way in which they thought everything else that was happening in America was going on. But it was not motivated so much from that standpoint. In fact, my assessment is that most people say it was a surprise, which I disagree with, but most people attribute it to a group of people that are just crowding around at an after-hours club, and at some point just exploding. But as you analyze it, Twelfth Street was a center of black nightlife. People are going and coming all evening. The evening activities are going on. The pimps, prostitutes, the after-hours clubs are going strong, people are getting awful work that frequent those places, and they’re going from the bars closing down and they’re going on Twelfth Street. Wherever you are, you go to the club, you hear the entertainers. At the end of that, the clubs close at two so where do you go? You’re not ready to go home, you go on Twelfth Street. So people are walking. If you’ve been to New York on Times Square and you know Times Square, people never go to sleep. They’re all day, all night walking up and down Times Square. Well, imagine that on a smaller scale, as to Twelfth Street. That’s what Twelfth Street is happening at two, three, four o’clock in the morning. So, in that environment, you’re gonna have people. After-hours clubs are raided all the time. That’s a cost of doing business for those people running after-hour places. And sometimes they had relationships with police officers. So some got raided, some didn’t get raided. Or some were raided, and they knew they were gonna be raided as to their relationship that existed. I’m not saying that it was all from a point of corruption, but it was kind of—why risk officers’ lives unnecessarily? You raided a club with the same people who were police officers, going in as the guys that buy the alcohol to make the case. So, did the doorman know them? Who knows? They’ve been there before, they’ve raided all these clubs before. Did the people running the clubs know them? Yup. After-hours clubs were businesses that were tolerated by the police. I don’t know if the law prevented them from closing them as a nuisance, but if you raid a place three, four times, the law allows you to say it’s a nuisance—clamp it down, board it up. But they didn’t do that. They take’em in, give them a fine. Next week, they’re going again. So I kind of thought that that’s just a cost of doing business in that time period. In terms of the outlet it allowed, instead of changing the law to allow liquor to be sold after 2 o’clock, and changing the law to allow persons who didn’t have a license to distribute alcohol—maybe that would’ve been more difficult than just every two or three weeks raiding them and taking them in and putting some money into the city coffers, I don’t know. But, that evening, the underpinnings were that this was a celebration of some people who came back from Vietnam. That’s what it was. It was a party. It wasn’t even an after-hours normal activity. It’s a party for a couple guys who made it through Vietnam. We’re losing people all the time—“Hey did you hear about so-and-so? Man he got shot. Oh man he got killed. Man I went to high school with him. Went to junior high. What happened?”—you know. So we’re hearing this all the time. So two guys, they’re having a party. I’m assuming—I wasn’t there—that some of the other guys who made it back from Vietnam are gonna attend the party, their friends are gonna attend the party, so you’re gonna have a larger group of people, but you’re also gonna have a group of people who have experienced violence, danger, and an ability to shoot, an ability to retaliate when they see something that’s unjust as they see it. There’s been some development of their own sense of manhood or whatnot in their experience. So I think they kind of ran into a buzz saw. I think they kind of ran into people who were not going to accept a police department that disrespected them before they left. You add to that what has happened in the ensuing years with the anti-war effort, with the black power movement, with an enlightenment on other areas that are all happening converging together, and it’s 1967. So the attitude of these people is a little different than the attitude of what it may be a year or two earlier in terms of raids. And I think the convergence of those things, with what happened at the wee hours of the morning, overwhelmed the police and they just weren’t really ready for it. They didn’t know how to handle it. They didn’t know how to put the genie back in the bottle. It just was a little bit too much for them. And then as that boils over, it explodes and they can’t put it back. They don’t know how to deal with it. “What do we do? Where do we go?” “Well, let’s get the racial leaders that we have.” But the racial leaders don’t know how to put it back. They weren’t even aware of what was going on. So it was difficult to understand it because it was difficult to be able to put yourself in the place of those people who were experiencing every day what they were experiencing from the police department. It just hit them at the wrong time, with the wrong situation, and inability to address it in the typical way police address things, which is force greater than the opposition that you face, and they couldn’t put force greater than the opposition because the opposition kept growing and growing—“Hey what’s going on down here?” People aren’t asleep because Twelfth Street you aren’t asleep. The neighborhood in and around people get up, they walk around, they go on Twelfth Street just like Times Square. “What’s going on?” You know, and it just was a kind of incident that was predictable if you put the right analysis to what really was going on. If you put, “Oh, we got jobs here. We got homeowners here. It’s a good life.” Yeah for some. But so many others, it was, “Here come the big four man.” “Hey, we better get outta here.” “Hey boy, what you doing running? Get over here. Get up against this car.” That’s a different community and some of the people weren’t hearing that. We’ve got racial groups that meet and community block clubs working with the police and, “Oh, everything is fine. We can communicate.” Yeah with those that you’re communicating with. So, no it wasn’t a surprise—I thought it would’ve happened earlier—but it happened when it happened.
WW: Where were you living then?
AS: I was living on campus on Farnsworth—252 Farnsworth. It was an apartment building. The Science Center has taken that street out in that area. So it was an area that was a secondary area to Twelfth Street for activities—John R., Brush Street. The musicians known as The Funk Brothers that played with Motown, most of them played at the clubs and the bars that were along John R., Canfield, and Brush Street. There was a smaller group of pimps and prostitutes and after-hours clubs over in the area around Canfield-Saint Antoine and what had been once Hastings Street, which was now kind of the I-75. So the vestiges of what was once Hastings Street, along Forest, Canfield, John R., Brush, Saint Antoine, that area was still an area where activities were going on, and they had after-hours clubs, but they were a little bit longer in their being in operation and they didn’t get raided as much. They were pretty much stabilized. Some of the older hustlers in Detroit, they owned their own hotels and they didn’t have any things that would cause a greater concern. Of course, Detroit had different precincts that policed the areas, and I think there was a more tolerant attitude in that area. So the college campus was just kind of two blocks or so away from that neighborhood. And so if you wanted to get something to eat at twelve, one o’clock, you’d go to Stanley’s, which was over on Canfield, or the Chinese place, or you could go to one of the restaurants, Anne’s Bar, you know, 75 cents have your chicken and fries or whatever the heck it was. And so it was a area that had vibrancy activities but I guess when the bars close and the entertainers left, they went into a more cloistered environment or went home, versus on Twelfth Street when the bars close, they were on the street looking for more activity. Or maybe they got in their cars and left the East Side and went over to West Side, who knows.
WW: How did you first hear about what was going on that week?
AS: That Sunday, got a telephone call. And television, radio. I guess I got a call, maybe earlier that day, seven, eight o’clock in the morning. “Hey, man, did you hear? Man, they rioting over on Twelfth.” I said, “What?” And of course, you know, got some of the details. And then, you know, some of the coverage that was going on, and some of the reactions. I think after congressman Conyers got on the car to try to put out the emotions and have people get off the streets, that was played up on TV quite a lot. Of course that was a major thing because Conyers was one who we kind of thought was a young dynamic, individual, and, “Hey man, they’re not listening to Congressman Conyers? Whoa.” Cause he could cross the path between those who were more of the bourgeoisie, and those who were community, because he surprised a lot of people by becoming elected as a congressman. Everybody wanted that seat. That was, I think Richard Austin, maybe Conrad Mallett Sr., and you know, a lot of noted leaders in the community. And I don’t think he got a lot of great support from that group. “Well, he should wait his turn.” Or, you know, whatever else. So that surprised me. But then you know, understanding that pot boiling over kind of thing, you know it’s kind of hard to put it back, and he wasn’t successful. When that happened, then I had to make a tour, so I went in the direction of that area, by that time had gone to Twelfth Street, Linwood, and some other areas, Dexter, Davison and then it hit where I was living, over on Warren Avenue, you know, not two blocks from my apartment. So, it began to, you know, spread to Mack Avenue and other places. So wherever you’d go, you would see that. But of course you had to be very careful because by then, police were out looking to see if we’re a part of anything that’s happening to spread it—snipers and whatever else they were afraid were going to exploit it and create the revolution, because that was also a talk that was going on then: “The revolution has begun.”
WW: What was the feeling in the city as the National Guard and the army moved in?
AS: Disappointment that the governor could not deal with it other than with these young, white, inexperienced persons who had no real relationship with Detroit, couldn’t do anything other than perhaps create more problems. The National Guard came in and like soldiers that I’m sure were somewhat fearful. You know, Detroit was kind of a place that they knew very little about, they had their orders for what to do and so they didn’t know if this person was a minister or this person is a worker going to the plant for his shift. You know, plants were operating twenty four hours. You had a day shift, a afternoon shift, and the midnight shift. And you know, they were pulling people over so you had to be very, very cautious of those individuals. We felt somewhat intimidated in that regard because you were kind of guilty unless proven innocent. And these guys are perhaps quicker on the trigger than they are with any dialogue with anyone so that was a very scary period, in terms of that. Most of the people that were rioting or rebelling, however you wish to refer to it, they were just like having a lot of party, fun. “Hey, everything’s off, let’s go get this! Let’s go get that” You know, it wasn’t a sense of someone going to kill or someone going to burn. I mean a lot of the people were of course looting, breaking windows. They weren’t setting fires, I think some of the storeowners set their own fires. “Hey, this is an opportunity for me to get the hell out of Detroit. I don’t wanna try to rebuild this place so let me set it on fire.” I think that some of the homeowners, you know, set some fires or had some people set fires. And not saying that no one who did any rioting didn’t set fires, of course they did. But I think the manner in which it is hoisted and blamed upon all of the people is a misplacement because if it was that, then I would think there would have been some rebuilding. We had a loss of businesses up and down Linwood, Dexter, Twelfth Street. We had a loss of businesses in various areas—Trumbull, Mack. And if you have been operating your business for ten, twenty, thirty years, and you got your insurance money, and it’s provided a good income for you—the people haven’t moved from there, why wouldn’t you rebuild? My roommate’s grandfather—he was a dentist—he had a home on Atkinson. So when I was maybe around the second day, he went to go check on his uncle and his grandfather, and his grandfather had closed down his business. The building was fine, but he just decided to retire at that point. He wasn’t going back. But why wouldn’t a business, especially those buildings and businesses that are dependent on their income from the neighborhood, why wouldn’t they rebuild? And, as you go out, you go further west, it went to Livernois and Warren Avenue. Every area of Detroit had a commercial strip associated with it, where African American people lived. And most of those areas had a reliance upon the people in the community to further their business interest. After the riots, it was almost eighty five, ninety percent of those businesses failed to reopen—failed to rebuild. And that, to me, seemed as though perhaps they may have been looking for a way out in and around the time the riots happened. Maybe they didn’t understand, maybe they weren’t a part of it, but I just don’t blame all of the burnings on those people that were out on the streets. In fact, you see people taking a television or a radio and they’re running down the streets—“Hey, hey, you got that? Oh where you get that?” “Oh, I got it down here in such and such.” “Well I’mma go over there.” “Well you better not cause they’re over there now and they’re standing guard.” And say, “Okay.” So, that’s the way it was. So the way in which the rioting occurred should have been anticipated by police, should have been in some way able to have been suppressed enough with an appropriate response if they understood. Instead of getting perhaps the congressman out, maybe they should’ve gotten some of the indigenous community leaders—the Block Club, some of the labor leaders, some of the people where they worked at Ford or Chrysler or Dodge Main or wherever they worked. Maybe some of these people could have helped in that regard. But it would’ve had to have been within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.
WW: Aside from the economic devastation you talked about, how was the rest of the community reacting in the wake of the riots? Was there a sense of disunity, was there disillusionment?
AS: No I think there was disappointment. I was of the impression that most people were disappointed because the damage was done to the areas that the African American people lived in, and the harm was felt more by them and the restraints on the movement of African American people to do their day-to-day task, and to go about the business of maintaining their families was interrupted. So there was some disappointment in that regard, but I don’t get the sense that there was any way in which they felt that it had advanced anything in Detroit. And then of course as people were arrested and locked up and people were killed, it was even more disappointing because naturally, we thought that the police response and the National Guard response was somewhat overreacting and it allowed racists and those who had elimination of blacks, it allowed them the opportunity to do some things, like with what happened to some of the folk that I knew from my neighborhood at the Algiers motel, where they just lined up and shot you know, guys that were in the earlier group of The Dramatics—Larry Reed and Pollard and those guys. They were, you know, just partying. They were having fun. Had some young ladies that they had brought in from Canada and they were having fun, but they were white—the girls were—and so that incensed the security guard or the police department and so there were atrocities. So I think that it actually was—and these guys, they weren’t political people, they were entertainers. They were people having fun—good friends. They were. They weren’t trying to overthrow anybody at any office. Probably some of them couldn’t have named who were, you know, the leaders of the NAACP or the Police-Community Relations Board or anything of that nature because you know, this is the age of Motown. This is the age of The Temptations, they could tell you all The Temps and The Contours and you know, groups of prominence at that time. So it was kind of devastating to the community.
WW: In the years following, do you believe Detroit changed as a whole, or just segments of the community changed?
AS: Detroit changed in different ways. Obviously, people left Detroit. In terms of businesses, people left Detroit. In terms of neighborhoods, properties devalued. People had no sense of investing in the community. They had a saying that, “The last person out of Detroit, turn out the lights.” But there began to be a group of African American people that said, “No, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to rebuild this city, and if we are going to survive, then we have to come together to do so.” And so there began to be a spirit of racial unity to begin to impact the political structure. I think—who did we have?—Nick Hood on City Council at the time. He was probably about the only African American, so—
WW: And Patrick.
AS: William Patrick, was he there at the same time as Nick? Maybe so.
AS: Okay. So Bill Patrick—he had been the first—so we had Bill Patrick and Nick Hood. And Bill Patrick didn’t stick around. He got a job with AT&T as their general council, so he may have left before the ’73 election, or the ’69 election, I don’t know which one. But in ’69, Dick Austin decides to run for mayor—before ’69, but his campaign goes in ’69. So there began to be—“We’re gonna get this city on the right track,” by some of the leadership during that time period, post-riot ’67. And so Richard Austin becomes the standard bearer to run. Cavanagh is devastated, his future in politics is basically shot because of the riot, and in the Democratic Party, there is the big divide on the Vietnam War that is a part of Johnson not running for president, a part of the split in the Democratic Party between McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey, and McCarthy is kind of pushed to the side, and they pushed Hubert Humphrey out in front. And so he loses, so it’s kind of in an upheaval somewhat, and it impacts Detroit. And so we say, “It’s time for black leadership to come as the mayor,” so Dick Austin, who’s a CPA—I think he was the first black CPA in Michigan. So he gets a large segment of the community’s support, but I always thought he did the wrong thing because he went to campaign more in the white community—took the black community for granted—and he went to campaign in the white community to show that he was a good negro, he was a person who was not going to be a part of this militant group, but it’s time to turn leadership over to the good class of leadership, and I think in that vein, he roused in some of the white precincts, “Hey they may win,” so they got a larger voter turnout when we did the analysis after it. They got a larger voter turnout in some of the white precincts than they had before in the previous mayoral election. And of course, black voter turnout was about the same, so it didn’t increase anything. And of course, that was something that happened after it. But there was a urgent sense that we needed to rise to a leadership role and of course there was the aspect of the ’73 period, where people like Clyde Cleveland out of New Detroit, and Erma Henderson, Equal Justice Council—she was court watching in terms of the justice in Detroit—and of course Senator Coleman Young, and there was a guy on the West Side of Detroit working with youth, Larry Nevilles. They decided to run for city council and mayor and there began to be promotion by guys like Jim Ingram, Drumbeat on the radio, and Butterball, Jr., who was a station manager over at WCHB and talking about black pride, black participation and all of the other things. So they got a larger turnout in ’73 and were successful in getting—and of course the diminishing between ’68 and ’73 of more of the white population. Detroit was on a regular, steadily decline, had they not come in to, I think, some sense of leadership. And of course, from that point forward, it was staving the flow of negative decline to trying to just stabilize. And to stabilize, you had to do some things economically and politically, and then from that point going forward to try and grow it. And I think that was done as marginally as it may have been in terms of numbers. Nonetheless, the biggest task was to stabilize, to stop the flow of negativity that was happening. Otherwise, Detroit would have ceased to exist, because it was on a decline from that point on. The riots really tore economically, socially, and in many, many ways, the fabric of Detroit. Companies left, jobs left, corporations ceased to contribute, all kinds of things occurred in a negative fashion that were of such a magnitude that it could have made Detroit a part of a real negative history beyond the fact of it having this tumultuous event happen in Detroit. It could have just closed it down.
WW: How do you feel that Detroit has managed itself over the course of the last forty years?
AS: I think it managed itself fairly well in the last forty years, except unfortunately, it did not allow some of the more revolutionary ideas of impacting economically that it could have helped. It staved off some potential run into bankruptcy with increase in the ability of being able to have a income tax that voters could generate some income to deal with the loss of dollars from the revenue that was lost with people, you know, leaving Detroit and going elsewhere. It cut some of its work force and no department was sacred. All of them felt the cut that addressed some of the issues fiscally, but it still provided service. But it was still in a holding pattern, but every time it sought to grow, it ran into a lot of opposition, and I think it was a yeomen’s task that Coleman Young, as mayor did, to keep the corporations here, especially General Motors because General Motors was definitely on its way out with the old Clark plant, and they were gone if the deal hadn’t been done to establish the Hamtramck pole-town plant. That saved revenues from the income and the property taxes that were payable into Detroit, and of course, the workers that still stayed here and homeowners and contributed to jobs. I think the thing that failed was the inability of those in leadership to see that Detroit should’ve had gaming a long time ago when it was reposed by Young’s administration, before I became a part of it. In retrospect, that was the only gaming that would’ve been done outside of Las Vegas in America, before Mississippi, before Indiana, before, you know, various other areas, and could’ve kind of cornered the market. I think that there were some things that could’ve happened—I thought when Don Barton and Michael Jackson were gonna do their theme park there—every time I go down and take my grandkids to Orlando, I say, “If a mouse can build up this city like it has, and have such a revenue flow into a place like Orlando, what the heck could Detroit have benefitted, and how great would it have been for a Michael Jackson and a Don Barton to have had a similar impact with a Michael Jackson theme park here, who had fans all over the world.” I think this could have been a place. I think there been opportunities, some have been done well, I think there are opportunities that have been lost. I think now it’s on a level where it’s moving forward. I like some of the effort of inclusion in terms of the plans and growth of Detroit that are taking place now. I’d like to see more inclusion economically, in terms of Detroit so it doesn’t miss the opportunity that everybody becomes a participant in the process, and I think the political forces that are in place today are moving in that direction. So, I think Detroit has a fine future, I’m very happy to see the corporate community become participants, because a great city can’t be great just from a political standpoint, it has to have economic participation and partnership like Atlanta with Coca-Cola and other cities. Those are my hopes. I have not given up on the city by a long shot, I’m still here and will continue to be.
WW: Alright. Thank you very much. Is there anything else you would like to share?
AS: No, I think it’s just a great project that you guys are doing, and chronicling the various reactions to what was a pivotal event. But I also would just like to say that fifty years ago was a rebellion, riot, however you wish to refer to it, but fifty years ago also was the growth of beginning of a great institution that has helped so many lives and that is Wayne County Community College District, by Murray Jackson, who was the founder of it, and currently is its leader, courtesy of Ivory, that it has touched so many thousands and thousands of lives in Southeast Michigan by what it provides as a vehicle. I think that out of the ashes of the riot/ rebellion, the growth of New Detroit as an entity that has brought that partnership, that coalition between business and community, I think the kinds of things educationally, the kinds of things that bring about a forum for people to debate, discuss, share, and understand those voices that they didn’t hear before the riot, but now there begins to be a forum where they can hear helps to give the city a direction with all the information that it needs. So I don’t look at the fifty year period of the riot as so pivotal in impacting Detroit, I think it’s some other things that have occurred as a result, and certainly in reaction to the riot, that are very, very positive, that are very ongoing, and are political, economic, and socially significant.
WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.
AS: Sure. All right. You’re very welcome. My pleasure.