Joseph Andrzejewski, June 30th, 2016
HS: Hello, my name is Hannah Sabal. I’m here with William Winkel and Joseph—sorry—
HS: Andrzejewski. We are in Westland, Michigan and the date is June 30th, 2016. We are sitting down for an oral history interview for the Detroit 67 Oral History Project. Thank you for sitting down with us today.
JA: What was that?
HS: Thank you for sitting down with us.
JA: Oh, you’re welcome.
HS: Can you tell us where and when you were born?
JA: I was born in General Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, August 21st, 1950.
HS: And where did you grow up?
HS: Was there a name to your neighborhood, where you lived?
JA: Joy Road and Evergreen.
HS: And what was your neighborhood like?
JA: Nice, they were building the houses in ’47, ’48, ’49, and I was built in ’50. It was relatively a new neighborhood.
HS: Was it integrated?
JA: Not at the time, no.
HS: What did your parents do for a living?
JA: My mom and dad both worked at Detroit Gasket down on Burt road, across Schoolcraft. My ma, she worked nights, and my dad was on nights too, I think. It was a long time ago. I remember a little bit around four or five years old, my ma stopped working and it was just my dad. He took a second job while working there, right up on the corner. There was a little stamping place for perforated cardboard, and they didn’t have a safety on the machine. He reached in, machine come down and took his right arm off.
HS: Oh, my god.
JA: That was the year I was born, and the company felt so bad for him that they gave him a lifetime job as a painter. So he was painting, and I don’t know what kind of settlement he got, but he got something because we fixed up the whole basement. My two older sisters had a nice bedroom put in and put in a new furnace and all that stuff.
HS: Where did you go to school?
JA: St. Suzanne’s, for eight years.
HS: And then high school?
JA: My dad died when I was nine years old. And like I said, I had two older sisters; one was six years older, the other was eight years older. So me being the little baby brother, you got blamed for everything and got beat up all the time. Ninth grade my ma sent me to Boysville, to get away from all the girls, as she put it. And then when I came home, I went to Lessinger, and I started to rebel because my ma was not a good mother. I did some bad things, had to go to court, and Judge James H. Lincoln, and my ma and the probation officer—there’s a school in Indiana, Father Gibalt’s School for Boys. They sent me there. It was an ungraded school. I went there, and they give you a test and they place you in the grade. I placed the highest grades—they gave me the highest grades that they had. So I stayed there for one year, and then when I got out, I was a changed, young man. My sister—Caroline, the one six years older—she worked at Harper Hospital, and right away when I got home, I had a job waiting for me at Harper Hospital.
HS: What year did you leave St. Gibalt’s?
JA: June 4th, 1967.
HS: So you were fresh out of school in ’67?
HS: And you were working at Harper Hospital?
JA: I was going to Cody for twelfth grade and working—it was a co-op—and working for Harper Hospital.
HS: In what capacity were you working there?
JA: I was an admitting page.
JA: So I had to wear crisp, nice shirts, a tie, I had to look nice every day.
HS: Moving into ’67 then, how did you first hear about the disturbance?
JA: I got mixed up in it.
HS: Can you explain that?
JA: Okay. I lived Joy Road and Evergreen. Every day I’d get out of school, I’d take Joy Road bus all the way down to Cadillac Square, then walk to Woodward, take Woodward down to the hospital. On Sundays, it was different. I would have had to take three buses: Joy Road to Grand River, Grand Rvier to—I forget—another bus, down to Cadillac Square. Or, I could walk three-quarters of a mile down to Plymouth Road and take the Plymouth-Clairmount bus, take me right to Grand Circus Park, and walk to Woodward and take the Woodward bus. So on Saturdays and Sundays, if I worked on weekends, I would walk up to Plymouth Road and take the Plymouth-Clairmount bus. But the Plymouth-Clairmount bus at the time, you know—they zig-zagged through all the streets. Well, Twelfth Street was one of the streets that it—and, now let’s see, I could’ve been reading a book for school. I know I wouldn’t’ve been sleeping. On the way back home, I’d have my head against the window, I’d be asleep, but in the morning, I’m not tired. So I was either reading a book or looking out the window, but all of a sudden the bus came to a screeching halt, big noise, and the bus started rocking. There’s a whole gang of people and at the time I didn’t realize what was going on, but it was right in front of this bar that they raided not more than an hour earlier. There was this whole group of people that wanted to just rock and push this bus over. It was maybe four or five people on the bus, and I was one of them. Needless to say, I was a little scared. More than scared. This was, what the hell is happening? It didn’t take long and there was a whole sea of white helmets and shields and the Detroit Police actually surrounded the bus with these shields and were pushing these mobs back because it was growing and growing all the while. People just coming around. The police stormed on the bus—there had to be six of them on the bus—and the driver, one was telling the driver, “Keep inching forward, keep inching forward.” It inched forward and the police came and, “Who are you? Where are you going?” “I’m going to work.” “Where do you work?” “Harper Hospital.” “Okay, you can stay, go to work and don’t leave.” And I went to work and never thought a thing about it until it was like five o’clock, time to get off, and my brother-in-law (him and I, we did not see eye to eye) was sitting out there. “Well, what are you doing here?” “Come to give you a ride home.” “I can take the bus, I don’t need you!” Then I found out, even my boss says, “If you don’t have a way home or you can’t take a bus, we’ll put you up,” and Harper Hospital would put any of their employees up if they needed it. And though I was tempted, my brother-in-law was there. I don’t know if this would be part of it or not, but my sister told me later—and I did not know this at the time—when my brother-in-law was driving me home, instead of getting on the freeway and heading out to the west side, he was driving around all the burning houses and streets. “Ed, what are you doing?!” “Oh, look at that.” My sister told me later he was a fire bug, he loved fires.
JA: And he’s driving me through these neighborhoods, and I was more scared then than I was on the bus that morning.
HS: When you were on the bus in the morning and the bus was attacked, about what time of morning was that?
JA: It was between seven and seven-thirty, because I started work at eight o’clock. And I leave my house probably at quarter to seven, take me fifteen minutes to walk up to Plymouth Road, and I had the schedules of the buses because I had to be there, I knew which buses, what time they ran.
HS: And the crowd that attacked the bus: were they black or white or a mixture?
JA: I’m going to say it was a slight mixture. It was mostly all black, but I did see when I looked out, after the police started pushing—I saw a few white heads. Not many, but a few.
HS: What else did you experience after your brother-in-law took you home?
JA: I changed my clothes and I went over to my buddy’s house. He had a pool table, and we started playing pool. We ran out of pop, Pepsi and Coke and whatever we were drinking. So he got his bike out of the garage and he rode me on the handlebars to the corner joint, Evergreen, there was a St. Claire’s gas station that had a pop machine outside, so we stuck our dimes in and we got four bottles of pop. We were on our way back and, “Jerry, there’s a car following us.” He said, “Well, we’re just going home.” All of a sudden they put the siren on, and “Pull over!” “You did it now, you must have gone over the speed limit.” We didn’t think anything of what’s going on. I didn’t watch tv or listen to the radio. I just got off work, changed clothes, go over Jerry’s house.
HS: Looking back on it, when you think about the car following you and they turned the sirens on, do you think that they thought that you were a looter or a rioter?
JA: No, even if anything, we just—like I said, I wasn’t the best kid, but I wasn’t no real bad kid. I just figured, well, what are we doing? Riding in the middle of the street and it’s nighttime or something. And the police told us, “There’s a riot going on, you know there’s a curfew.” So whether we did or not, we didn’t know. I don’t know, gee, I didn’t know. “What are you doing?” “We ran out of pop, we were playing pool and ran out of pop, we’re going back to the house to play some more pool.” So they took our names, just formal stuff like that. And followed us another block and a half to Jerry’s house, watched us go in, and they drove off and said, “You’re spending the night here?” “Oh, yes, yes, yes, I’m spending the night.” And Jerry looks at me, “You ain’t spending the night at my house!” and then when it was time to leave, I left. I just took Dover—the side street—like I normally would, up to Evergreen. I seen a car coming so I ducked in some bushes, waited for the whole street to clear, ran across, and went home.
HS: Did you go back to work the next day or at any other time during the week?
JA: No, I think it was two or three days later, the hospital called and says, “If you can find a way in, okay. If not, don’t worry, your job is secure, blah, blah, this and that.” So I think it was about the fourth day and the bus service was running again, I went back to work.
HS: Was your sister working at all during that week?
JA: You know, I don’t remember. I mean, she was married and she lived over up by Vernor on Seacott or something like that. She didn’t drive, but naturally Ed did, so he might have drove her to work. He used to tell me all the time how smart he was and this and that, and I said that’s why I have a nice job making more money than you. He was going to run for congressman and this and that, okay. I’ll be a looter and burner if you’re going to be a congressman, jeez.
HS: The couple days that you were at the hospital working, what was the atmosphere like?
JA: I didn’t so much check it out because my job in admitting—the admitting pages, when they admitted patients, they’d get all the paperwork ready and everything, and I would get the paperwork and I’d go out in the waiting room, I’d call their name, they’d stand up and I would grab their luggage, take them down to the lab. They’d get lab work and while they were there I would come back and get another patient and by the time I took them down, this was ready I’d take this one and their luggage up to their room. That was what I did. Get patients. I was busy but it was fun, it was a lot of exercise—well, I was only sixteen years old, seventeen, so it was nothing. I used to run up and down the steps then. I really didn’t think much about it at the time until I get home and there’s a newspaper or watch the news on TV, but I didn’t do that much because as soon as I got home, I had to get out of there. It was my mother and I. My sisters, as soon as they were of age, they were gone. I couldn’t wait to get out of there because my mother she was, drugs, beer, or whiskey or whatever and she would not leave me alone, and I did not like my mother. I didn’t watch much TV, I just got the hell out of the house.
HS: So leading up to the riots did you notice any tension in the city at all?
JA: Oh yeah. Yeah. At work, too. It was Harper Hospital and we had all walks of life there. And even the employees. But the employees, a lot of the employees were cheerful and I knew a lot of the nurses because I would take patients up to the floors and I would take it to the nurses’ station. I would take the patients to their room, and I’d say, “The nurse will be right in,” and then I would take their paperwork up to the nurses’ station. I didn’t just lay it down, I gotta make sure I handed it to one or two different nurses. You can’t just hand it to anybody. “New patient in 217,” blah, blah, this and that. And I got to know them, they got to know me. We were all friendly. And if we didn’t know each other, I wore the white jacket, so they knew that I was an employee and they had uniforms. We’d nod at each other, but it was no words were ever spoke.
HS: After the riots, did that impact your neighborhood at all?
JA: No. Not then. Not at all. It wasn’t until maybe the eighties, middle eighties that it started getting integrated. [clock chimes]
HS: What changes have you seen in the city since 1967?
JA: I lived in Detroit 42 years of my life. Right now, I wouldn’t walk my down my old neighborhood, but when I moved out—we built this in ’93—I could walk anywhere in my old neighborhood. I was Joy and Evergreen and she was Warren and Southfield. I could walk all the way to her house around there, even through Herman Gardens, and that was mostly black around then. I could walk through there for the short cut, it didn’t bother me. You might get a few people saying something, but if you ignore them and keep going, you’re fine. But that was just a way of life, really.
HS: Why did you move out of the city?
JA: It started getting bad, and you know, this was cheap, compared to…. I had my house on Vaughn that I had grown up and lived on, and she lived over here on Vaughn, so I moved in with her and I rented out my house. Then she said, “Let’s move!” “Okay, where you wanna move?” And she went out and she found houses and just pick one, I don’t want to walk around. I mean, she would walk around and look at houses days at a time. I didn’t want to. I settled on this one, okay, then they started building Millpoint, and these houses here, and in hindsight she wanted, “Let’s forget this one and move in here.” I should’ve moved over here, right here on the corner, them five houses, because this one, the association’s for crap here. We’ve been here since, ’93, ’94. In fact, we sold our house and then we had to pay rent to the people that bought it until they finished building this one. Been here ever since.
HS: Where do you city going, like in its future?
JA: I’m keeping track of it. Kwame Kilpatrick, he said while he was in jail, “The only thing that will fix Detroit is a white mayor.” And Duggan got in there, and I think he’s doing a pretty fair job. And Alexis Wiley is one smart cookie, I remember her being on the news—channel 2 news. They all speak very well of the city. And—not last year, because I put in a new motor in my Corvette last year—but two years before that, I had season tickets for the Tigers, and Kathy and I or her brother and I or my buddies from work would go there, and we had no problem. And then after the ballgame, we’d walk downtown. I never needed to look over my shoulder. I never felt that way. When I worked down there, when I was sixteen, I used to do all my shopping down Woodward. I had a book report, go to bookstores. I had to look nice, so I had to have some nice clothes, all my friends said, “Man, you sure are sharp!” Back then, when I got out of work, I’d have to walk up to Woodward, the professional plaza, and the big parking lot, then the hospital, and I’d have to walk straight down to Woodward. A lot of times, it was dark outside in the winter time and you’d have some winos and that walking up and down Woodward and that, and they’d be yelling and screaming. I didn’t want to be bothered, and I’d walk down the middle of Woodward, in the middle lane, just to stay away from people. Cause if they wanted to come out into traffic, well, I’m sixteen, I could run really fast.
HS: Do you have any advice for future generations regarding the city of Detroit?
JA: Go down! Go down and enjoy yourself. Because if you don’t, if you stay away, it might revert back. Go down, enjoy yourselves. I see the people moving in, I wish I had a bunch of money, I could buy a storefront or whatever, buy something and turn it into lofts or a business. I wouldn’t mind having a little soup and sandwich joint. That would be wonderful, because even when I was taking the bus, you get on from Cadillac Square, you get on the Woodward bus, and you’d pass Hudson’s. Always a booming business, you know, always. Gosh, even Vernor’s was still open down there, and then little by little you passed over the freeway is when—it didn’t start falling to pieces, but you could tell it was just old neighborhoods. Now they’re slowly but surely building everything up. Not doing the neighborhoods as fast as they could, but they need money to do that. They don’t have all the money and I don’t have a whole lot of money. My wife works and I retired.
HS: Do you have any questions, Billy?
HS: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us today, we greatly appreciate it.