Thelma Edwards, July 11, 2016
Note: Hannah Sabal mistakenly identifies the location as Franklin, MI in the interivew
HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. I’m here in Franklin, Michigan. The date is July 11th, 2016 and I am conducting an oral history interview for the Detroit 67 Oral History Project with Thelma Edwards. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
HS: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
TE: I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I was born July 22, 1934.
HS: Okay. And where did you grow up?
TE: I grew up on the west side of Detroit.
HS: What was your neighborhood like?
TE: I had a somewhat mixed neighborhood, with my first remembrance. Later, it became black.
HS: The white people in the neighborhood left?
HS: What did your parents do for a living?
TE: My mother was a housewife, and my father worked for Ford Motor Company.
HS: What were you doing in the ‘60s? At that point, you were about mid-30s or so.
TE: In the ‘60s I had children, and I was married and raising them. Eventually, I went back to school and I became a registered nurse. I worked at Detroit Receiving Hospital, was my first job at that time.
HS: When did you start there?
TE: Oh, I don’t remember the exact date.
HS: Do you remember the year?
TE: It was about ’62. Something like that.
HS: Were you still working there in ’67?
HS: Moving in to ’67, how did you first hear about the events in July?
TE: I first heard about it from people running down my street and telling about what was going on at that time.
HS: Were you close to the main incident at the blind pig at 12th and Clairmount? Did you live close?
TE: No, I didn’t live in that area. I lived off of Tireman Avenue, which was not too far from Northwestern High School, where I went to high school. I was there with my children and husband at the time. We didn’t have any particular incidents on that area then, but I had gone back to school, as I explained, and I became a nurse. We had just a few incidents, just a very few on that street, so I wasn’t really afraid. I looked at most of it on TV. Then, eventually, when I went to work at Receiving Hospital, which was downtown at that time on St. Antoine Street, I had some times at that time that they had to come and pick me up by ambulance because I was not going out, you know, at that time. My husband would be home at night and I would go down the street about half a block and catch the bus, but I just wasn’t going out, you know, at that time because I was afraid. I took the bus to work for a while, then it got a little bit worse at that time and they had to come and pick me up. They picked me up by ambulance and took me to work, because I worked midnights.
HS: What was the atmosphere like in the hospital?
TE: The atmosphere—it wasn’t too scary, but I worked, sometimes, in the emergency room and then sometimes in the room for the cardiac care. Some people came in with heart attacks and all of that. I worked there, because I know I worked with a couple of policemen that got shot. So it was kind of scary, but it wasn’t too bad because they had, at that time, they had soldiers walking the hallways, policemen and soldiers, because we became afraid from time to time. But we made it.
HS: Were you relieved when the National Guard and then the federal troops came into the city?
TE: Yes, I was, and some of them were also in the hospital.
HS: As patients or as guards?
TE: As patients and guards. It wasn’t too many patients that I saw, it was only about a couple. The rest of them were walking the hallways. They were guarding us, you know.
HS: Going back a little bit, you said that there were only two or three incidents that occurred on your street. Could you explain what those were?
TE: On my street, we had a big supermarket on the corner of Tireman and Hazlett, that’s where that was. A big supermarket called Spotlight. They broke in there and disturbed everything and took things, you know, out of the story, so the people had nowhere to shop unless they took a chance to go somewhere where they thought it was safe. So that was bad, because you worried about your food, and if you had kids, you worried about that.
HS: Worried about feeding the kids, or worried about kids getting into trouble?
TE: Worried about feeding the kids. I had a son at that time, and he got into a little bit of trouble. I didn’t care what was going on, I went to get him. I fussed and ranted and raved all the way back up the street. I said, “You are not to go out in this situation anymore, you know. Because I was afraid. He cried and said that somebody told him to go do it because we needed food, and this. I said, “I don’t care what we need. I don’t want you to go out in this situation again.” So he didn’t. He started crying and all of that; he wanted to be with his friends. But, he stayed home, I said, “Because you might get killed down there or something.” “Oh, I’m not going to get killed!”
HS: About how old was he at the time?
TE: He was 11, I think. He was 11.
HS: During the events, did your husband work, or was he staying at home?
TE: He worked. It was a bunch of them, I remember, it was about five or six of them in the car. He worked in Pontiac, and it was about five or six of them in the car and they drove up there every day.
HS: Are there any other experiences that you’d like to share with us?
TE: That was the most of everything, except that, I remember that a few people dropped us off food, because if you had foods you were worried about them getting fed and all of that. I remember that, so that was good. I know one night, an ambulance picked us up, and they were in such a hurry until they ran off the highway, sort of. I think that was 94—no, 75, and we ran sort of slightly up on the side of the highway. That was kind of scary. I don’t remember is someone was behind us, or shooting, or what. I do remember some shooting at the time, but not very much. But that particular night, I do remember that somebody was shooting at us and we fell on the floor.
HS: In the hospital?
TE: In the ambulance.
HS: The events as you see them, do you consider them a riot, or a rebellion, or a civil disturbance?
TE: I consider it a civil uprising. I really do. I wouldn’t say just “riot,” although later on, maybe it did, you know, because it started over there on Twelfth Street, and I lived a ways from there. But where I was, I would consider it a civil uprising, but it was still very scary and I thought you had to be careful, and I didn’t go out anywhere but to work. That’s all.
HS: How did you see the city change after that?
TE: To me, I saw some changes that were good, but it took a while. It just didn’t happen suddenly; it really took a while. But, when it did change, I thought it was for the good at that time. But see, now, thinking about that time and thinking about now, it’s gotten worse again, to me.
HS: In what ways?
TE: There’s all this killing, so many things. The killing, just thinking about how they’re doing about the kids and I think—I went downtown to school, to Wayne State. It was just hard, it was hard thinking about all the things that sometimes you worry about. Are all those things coming back to happen again? Because times are getting worse and not getting better, to me.
HS: What advice would you give to future generations?
TE: I would say, I don’t want people to just stay away from Detroit, but to try to do things to make it better, to work with each other. Not let this get so terrible that you can’t live here anymore. Because, I, myself, I was born in Detroit and I want it to become the best city that it can be for the future generation, for my kids—I have grandkids now, and, you know, I just want it to be the best it can be. Because it can be if they would just not mix things up and just let it be, as terrible as anywhere else. Like what’s going on now, like in Texas, which I hate.
HS: It breaks your heart.
TE: It really does.
HS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?
TE: No. I’m glad that you came to do this!
HS: We are too! We really appreciate your stories!
TE: I’m glad. That’s really good. I haven’t thought about all these things in a long time, and it’s good to think about it and then have it out and over.
Note: Hannah Sabal mistakenly identifies the location as Franklin, MI in the interview