James Boucher, June 29th, 2016
WW: Hello, my name is William Winkle. Today is June 29, 2016, I am in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project, and I am sitting down with Mr. James Boucher. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
JB: You’re welcome.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when were you born?
JB: I was born December 1, 1941–a few days before Pearl Harbor— in Bay City, Michigan where I grew up. After that I went on to the University of Michigan Business School, and then the University of Michigan Law School. I came to Detroit upon graduation from Law School in May of 1967.
WW: Was it just the job offer, or were you drawn to the city?
JB: It was the job offer. I decided I wanted to stay in a bigger city than Bay City, and Detroit was attractive to me in that sense. That’s what got me here.
WW: What was the bank name again?
JB: National Bank of Detroit, later known as NBD Bank, and then with a series of mergers, Bank One and ultimately JP Morgan Chase.
WW: What was your first impression upon moving to the city? Had you ever been here before?
JB: I had been here as a visitor to baseball games and coming down to see shows in some the theatres in Detroit once in a while, that sort of thing. But I’d never spent any length of time here. Kind of a weekend thing, come to a ball game or something.
WW: What neighborhood did you live in when you moved here?
JB: When we moved here, we lived in Royal Oak.
WW: What made you choose Royal Oak, then, instead of moving into the city itself?
JB: One of the things was there was good transportation from Royal Oak into Detroit, at that time they had commuter trains. My wife was going to be teaching in Birmingham, Michigan, so it was just a better location for us–
WW: Right in the middle of the two.
JB: –to settle into, yes.
WW: When you first came here in May, did you sense any tension at all in the city, or were you thrown off completely by July?
JB: I don’t think I had an awareness of anything that serious going on. I certainly was aware of differences between the races. Backing up, I had been in the South in the fifth grade with my parents driving to Florida for spring break vacation, and seeing the things that were the shocking to me. I recall in some of the Southern cities you would see men and women’s restrooms, and then another one outside like an outhouse almost that was marked “Colored.” And different drinking fountains even, and so on. So I was certainly aware of that situation from that time on. But I don’t really recall thinking anything particularly was about to explode in Detroit, no.
WW: How did you first hear what was going on July 23?
JB: What day of the week was that?
WW: That was a Sunday, sorry.
JB: That was a Sunday. I think it probably was on the Sunday news on TV, Sunday evening news I suppose. But on Monday morning, I had the radio on, and at that time Mayor Cavanagh was on the radio saying, “Everything’s under control in Detroit, come on into the city today.” So I got ready and went to the train station and got on the train to come to Detroit.
WW: Was you train trip uneventful, or—?
JB: Well it was I guess uneventful pretty much except there were probably twenty people from Ann Arbor that got on the train, and then the train stopped in Ypsilanti and some more people got on there, and one of the people that got on in Ypsilanti had a transistor radio with him. At that time, the mayor was back on the radio saying, “Don’t come into the city.” And of course the train wasn’t going to turn around, we kept coming.
WW: Was there a sense of panic or frustration on the train?
JB: No, I don’t think so, it was just wondering what it was going to be like I think in the city. The train came into the old Michigan Central Depot and we all got off the train and walked up through that park there to Michigan Avenue where we would catch the bus on into downtown Detroit, and the bus came along and there was no one on it. Normally, by the time the bus got to that stop, most of us always had to stand on the bus. So that was strange. We didn’t think much of it. The bus dropped us off down by the edge of Cadillac Square, and we got out and it just was very strange because normally at that whole circle there would be bustling with people and cars and so on, and there was absolutely nothing in sight–there was no person, no vehicle, no nothing. We got off and walked about a two-block walk to National Bank of Detroit where I worked, and about halfway there, as I remember, a truckload of National Guard troops came charging down the street, and they had probably 12 guys or so in the back with rifles, and it just went on its way. We later learned that the National Guard didn’t have any ammunition provided to them at the outset, so I’m not sure what they were going to do with their rifles. But anyway, that was the fact, and we proceeded onto the bank, and there were very few people there, most people didn’t come in. We couldn’t leave because we had to get a clearance from Washington from the Controller of the Currency to close the bank, and we had to get that approval, and that took probably an hour or an hour and a half, something like that, to get the approval. We finally got it, and we were then going to leave the bank, but of course the train wouldn’t come until five o’clock at night. But one of my colleagues who also lived in Ann Arbor had driven in that day, and so he and I and the other passenger on the train that day that all worked in the same department at the bank drove back out to Ann Arbor in his Volkswagen. That was an experience that we were kind of on edge, I would say, until we got to Dearborn. I remember walking over to Cobo Hall where my friend had parked his vehicle, and in front of Cobo Hall there on, I think it’s Washington, there were a series of fire engines in a row parked there, and they were bullet-riddled, I remember. There was also one state police car with state troopers standing out in front of it looking very frightened. Never noticed a state trooper being frightened before. That was pretty much the story. In the bank lobby, all the bank security guards were spread out along the whole length of the building because it was all glass on the Woodward side–it still is I guess, for that matter. That was the story of the first day.
WW: On your initial train ride in, and when you were leaving in your friend’s Volkswagen, could you see any smoke in the sky, or did anything give you an indication of what was going on?
JB: Well, I think we had already been aware of the smoke in the sky from the news on TV the night before. Yeah, we could still see it, sure. Yeah.
WW: As you were leaving the city, did you see any looting or any disturbances that were going on or was it clear sailing?
JB: No, we didn’t see anything out of sorts just driving up Michigan Avenue.
WW: How long did your bank stay closed?
JB: I think it was re-opened either the second day or the third day, I believe. I didn’t come in the first day it was open I know. I came in, I think, the second day it was open. By that time, I think they had replaced the National Guard troops largely with the federal troops, the airborne division. Military people from Fort Bragg and Fort Campbell, I think. Both camps were in Detroit and they were patrolling out, they were standing out along Woodward Avenue on the outside of the bank, and it was a very secure feeling with those guys.
WW: Just to clarify something, you said you lived in Royal Oak at the time, but you came from Ann Arbor?
JB: Well, no. When I first came to the Detroit area, we lived in Royal Oak, but when I got out of law school and joined the bank in the beginning of May of 1967, we were still living in Ann Arbor, we didn’t move over here until August. I think we had some rental time still on our apartment in Ann Arbor, for one thing, and we had to find a place where we were going to rent and so on over in the Detroit area.
WW: Did you have any other experiences the rest of that week?
JB: No, not really.
WW: Okay. First, how do interpret what happened as a riot, or how do you see the events that happened?
JB: I think “riot” is the correct term, yes.
WW: After the riot finished, did you think twice about your decision to stay and work in Detroit?
JB: Not really, no.
WW: Any reason to that?
JB: I liked my job, I liked what I was doing, I had a number of friends there by that time. It wasn’t any reason to leave.
WW: How long did you work in the city of Detroit?
JB: Well I was there two different times. I think when I first started, I was there for about a year and a half, and then I was transferred out to an office in Birmingham, Michigan. Worked in Oakland County for a number of years. Then later had another few years back in Detroit, and then back out into the suburbs again in Southfield initially, and then Bloomfield all of my life.
WW: Okay. What are your thoughts on the state of the city today?
JB: I’m pleased to see that it’s doing much better than it was. I mean it took it 50 years to go down from its peak, probably in 1950 or thereabouts, and so it’s going to take time to come back for sure. A lot of new and exciting things going on downtown with companies putting their employees in downtown Detroit so they have a younger workforce down there. They have lots of new restaurants and entertainment facilities and the sports and the opera and the Fisher Theatre and so on that are doing well again I think. I always felt that the problem with Detroit was it was a weekend town, for the most part, they didn’t have young people living downtown like you would see in Chicago or New York or San Francisco. Everybody–well, not everybody–but most people that worked downtown lived in the suburbs and they would only come down on the weekends as a rule to use the entertainment venues and what you need is the young people living down there that will make those survive and have success.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JB: Well, I’m trying to think. I do remember a friend of mine, the day after the riot, drove through I think Twelfth Street it was and filmed it, which was very interesting to see. I remember afterwards at his house seeing it. I had another friend, another colleague at the bank, who loved going to fires. He saw that thing going on, and he decided he had to go see it. So he drove over and parked his car and was walking down the street closer to it and all of the sudden a Black gentleman came up to him and said “Mister, you don’t belong down here, you better go back.”
WW: Wow. Well I bet he was very busy that week.
JB: Yeah, yeah.
WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today.
JB: You’re welcome.