Joan Dawson, July 11th, 2016
Note: Jason Young/ Hannah Sabal mistakenly identify the location as Franklin, MI in the interview
JY: Hello, my name is Jason Young. I am here at the Fountains of Franklin center with Hannah Sabal and Ms.—
HS: Joan Dawson.
JY: Ms. Joan Dawson, here for an interview with the Detroit 67 Project. Could you please start by telling us where and when you were born?
JD: I was born in 1931 in Detroit.
JY: What was your neighborhood like in Detroit? Or, I guess what neighborhood did you live in?
JD: I lived in several, but in ’67—
JY: I’m sorry, growing up, what was your neighborhood like?
JD: I grew up on a street called Lumley, it was south of Michigan Avenue, three blocks west of Central. It was kind of out of the way a little bit.
HS: Was it an integrated neighborhood?
JD: No, it was a Polish neighborhood. There was one street that we lived on, and the rest were—well, Europeans, they weren’t all Polish. The ones we knew were Polish.
JY: Are there any specific experiences from your neighborhood growing up that you might want to share with us?
JD: Well, we didn’t have too many problems with, like with the integration thing because we already lived there. Well, I was about four when I moved there. But we did have some, you know, off and on, but it wasn’t too bad.
HS: What did your parents do?
JD: My father started working for the city in 1943. Before that it was an off again, on again thing, but he had a steady job with the city in 1943. I’m from a family of 13 children, and I was right in the middle, number 7, lucky number.
HS: How many children did your parents have?
JD: They had fourteen, but one died. The one born before I was died. They raised 13.
HS: Your father worked for the city, and was your mother a stay-at-home mom, or did she work as well?
JD: She worked some time before I remember, but she didn’t work after I can remember.
JY: That’s a lot of kids.
JD: Yeah, that’s a lot of kids, yeah.
HS: Moving into the 1960s, where were you living in the ‘60s?
JD: I lived on a street called Lumley. It was—this one street where we lived were all Negroes, black, whatever you want to call it. All around us were—I say Europeans, it was a Polish neighborhood. I knew most of the people there were Polish, but I’ll say European.
HS: When you lived there, you said you had teenagers in the ‘60s.
JD: No, no. Well, in the ‘60s I had teenagers. Yeah, in the ‘60s.
HS: What were you doing in the ‘60s?
JD: I did very little work. I went out and got little jobs, because I still had children at home. I was active with a group called the YW Wives. Young women who had children. I’m not sure where they were sent from, but some people would come and help us out and give us hints on raising children and different things like that, and they’d have speakers come in. I lived in different neighborhoods, but that’s what I remember best about that.
HS: Moving into 1967, did you notice any tension in the city before the riots?
JD: There was some, but I don’t remember that much. But once it started, it was a lot.
HS: How did you hear about it, when it started?
JD: Right offhand, I can’t remember. I always keep my radio on, and I heard some things on the radio. When I found out there was one, I was trying to round my kids up, because some of them were at the age where, you know, teenagers.
JY: How many kids did you have?
JD: I had seven boys. In twelve years.
HS: Did you manage to get all of them home?
JD: All but two, yeah.
HS: Where were the other two?
JD: One said he was the library, because he was a bookworm, and he was at the library for a lot of that time. He never got in trouble, but the oldest one, he was a little, you know, like on the edge, where he would get into little things. He never had to go to juvenile or anything, but he was, you know, out there some time with the crowd.
HS: What experiences do you remember from the riots?
JD: Well, first, I remember going out to try to round them up. The younger ones, I didn’t worry about them, but the older ones, I did. The police were—I can’t say they were doing anything wrong, but the presence, you know, was kind of horrible, because they would look at some people like, where are you going and where did you come from and all this, you know. And my kids, since they hadn’t really been in trouble—my oldest son got into one little skirmish once, but the others, none of the rest of them did. That’s the one I worried about. He was 16, I think, at the time.
HS: Did you try to keep your family at home during the riots?
JD: As much as I could, yeah. Because they had closed the school. So I didn’t have too much of a problem once we got them together. My husband was at work, you know.
HS: What did your husband do?
JD: He worked at Chevrolet Gear and Axle, on the axle line.
HS: Did the riots affect your neighborhood at all?
JD: It did, yeah. Because people were acting up, you know. They were doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily have done. I guess it was retaliation. I really can’t say. I was just trying to keep my kids out of it.
HS: I wanted to ask you, because you were a young teenager during the ’43 riots. Did you remember anything about the ’43 riots?
JD: Just mostly being scared. I was about 12, I think.
HS: Yeah. How did ’67 compare to ’43? How did your reaction to ’67 compare to being scared in ’43?
JD: Well, I guess ’67, there were more guns out. I heard about them, but I didn’t see guns in ’43. I don’t know if I’d ever seen a gun. But in ’67, people were, they were saying they had guns in their homes. We never had one. My husband didn’t believe in having guns, he said he didn’t want his kids killing each other.
HS: That’s a good philosophy.
JD: Accidentally killing somebody, you know. He never wanted a gun. He was very strict with the boys, more so than I was.
HS: With regards to ’67, some people call it a riot, and some people call it a rebellion. How do you see the events?
JD: Well, I did see some fighting going on, I saw people going in other folks’ homes, which, I mean, had nothing to do with the riot; they just wanted to get something for nothing. I lived close to a street, a through street, and some of the homes over there were pretty nice, and I didn’t live too far from like, around, Boston Boulevard, those nice homes out there. They wouldn’t go in there. Most people, I think, probably were armed. It was kind of hard to remember now some of the things.
HS: Would you call it a riot?
JD: I called it more of a civil disturbance.
HS: How did you see the city change?
JD: I will say that I grew up on Twelfth Street, and my husband was one—I’ll say he was nosy. I didn’t know where he was going, and he took us up on Twelfth Street where it started, and I was scared to death. Nothing happened while we were out, but I was just scared to death and I wished he hadn’t been like that.
HS: Did you see anything while you were out?
JD: Yeah, I saw people going in other people’s houses, and people trying to mess with folks’ cars, and things like that.
HS: How do you think the city has changed?
JD: I think it’s changed a lot for the better. But I don’t live in Detroit now, so, you know, I’m not there. I was living in Detroit then. I was living right on Twelfth Street, right off of Twelfth Street.
HS: When did you move out of the city?
JD: I think I’ve been out here 13, something like 13 years ago.
HS: I think that’s pretty good. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
JD: No, I can’t really say how much better Detroit is since I don’t live there anymore, but I always loved it because I was born and raised in Detroit, and my kids were too. We lived in Royal Oak Township, also, and it was much better in Detroit than it was out there. We were right across Eight Mile from Detroit, but it still wasn’t Detroit.
HS: In what ways would you say it was better?
JD: Well, Detroit is a big city, and that was a small city. They had a small police station and we lived across the street from it, and we heard horror stories about how they used to beat people up in the police station, but I lived there for about three years and I never heard anybody yelling because they were beating them up, so I said, you know, maybe that was just a tale.
HS: All right, well thank you for sharing your stories with us today, we really appreciate it.
JD: Okay, thank you. I wish it could’ve been more interesting!
HS: Oh, no, it was great!
Note: Jason Young and Hannah Sabal mistakenly identlify the location as Franklin, MI in the interview