Marvin Myers, July 7th, 2016
JW: Today is July 7, 2016. My name is Julia Westblade. We’re here at the Detroit Historical Society with the Detroit 1967 Project. Would you like to say your name?
MM: Marvin Myers. M-Y-E-R-S.
JW: Thank you and can you tell me where and when you were born?
MM: I was born on November 3, 1932.
JW: Very nice. Were you born here in Detroit?
MM: In Detroit. Women’s Hospital.
JW: Very nice. When you grew up, where did you live in Detroit?
MM: I grew up, we had a house on Brush Street in Detroit. Then we moved in 1942 to Pasadena, which is one block north of where my store was. I lived in that area until I went into the army.
JW: When did you go into the army?
MM: 1953, the Korean War. And I got discharged in 1954, and I was sent to Korea. When I got to Korea, there were still fighting and we landed in Pusan, which is a port, but you couldn’t dock on the port. They didn’t have any docks, so we had to take beach craft to the land. We got on trains and the train right next to us was a Red Cross train and there were tiers of wounded soldiers three deep. Three high. And I thought, oh my god, I’ll be home in two weeks, but nothing happened over there. I was in the 1169th Engineering Corps in Korea. The headquarters company. I ran the PX.
JW: So then, in Detroit, what did your parents do?
MM: My parents. My father had an auto parts store on Caniff in Detroit and while I was in the service he had leased the store out and they moved to Tucson, Arizona. They went to Florida first, and my father had arthritis and it was just a little too humid for them, so they went to Tucson. When I got discharged and came back to the states, they were going to send me to Chicago to get discharged and I told them I wanted to go see my parents first. So I got discharged in San Francisco, and then I went to Tucson, Arizona.
JW: How long were you in Tucson?
MM: I was there probably about a year. Then I moved back to Detroit. Oh, and then I went to pharmacy school at Ferris Institute. I was probably in my senior year and this one particular professor particularly didn’t care for me and he wasn’t giving me good grades so I had to drop out.
JW: Oh, that’s too bad.
MM: But I got a business degree out of it so I was there for four years. Bill of Rights, that paid for it.
JW: Oh, good. The neighborhood where you grew up in Detroit, was that an integrated neighborhood or no?
MM: Basically, Pasadena was more Jewish than anything. Then when my parents sold the house, they had to sell it to – it had started to turn black, and he sold it to a black person.
JW: And that’s when they moved away from Detroit or did they go somewhere else first?
MM: Well, they moved to Florida. They did buy a house around 8 Mile Road. It was a very small house, she said. I had never even seen it because I was in Korea, and from there they sold that and they moved to Florida.
JW: When you moved back to Detroit after living in Tucson –
MM: My maternal mother had passed away when I had just turned five and my father remarried and she had a daughter which was about a year older than me. She had never married and I stayed with them for a while. They had an apartment on Pasadena a bit closer to Dexter. And I had odd jobs when I was going to college. I worked at Good Humour. I was a Fuller Brush Man. I kept myself occupied.
JW: Oh good. When you moved back to Detroit after the war, what area of the city did you live in?
MM: Again, she was living in Pasadena with her husband and they had a rollaway couch and I just sort of slept while I was going to college. Most of the time I was up at Big Rapids.
JW: So is that the area where you were in 1967? Were you still in Pasadena?
MM: No, I got discharged it was probably ‘55, ‘56 in Big Rapids and I was there for about four years.
JW: So then leading up to 1967, did you notice any tension in the city or did you notice that anything was going on?
MM: Well, at one time when I was open, there was merchandise being taken out of the store and I was open seven days a week. I did have somebody helping me out at night and in fact, he worked for Guardian Alarm so I could just see where the merchandise was being depleted and were we making any money. I hired somebody to bring in a lie detector and I told everybody in my help that I was going to take the test, too. And they all refused. So I just told them, “Thanks, I’ll pay you. Goodbye, thanks.” So then the people in the area knew about it, that I was going to give them a lie detectors test, then they all walked out on me. So I did keep a couple people that I knew that was pretty good. Well then, after that, I decided, I’m going to stay there all the time. I closed on Sunday and I closed during the week at seven o’clock which is really unheard of in a liquor store and on Friday and Saturday I stayed open until eleven. That’s what I did. I was there all the time. I had one day off during the week.
JW: And when was this? What year was this? Was this 1967?
MM: That was before the riot.
JW: And where was your store located?
MM: I mean after the riot because I had reopened again. The riot was in ‘67. Probably around early ‘70s I decided. I would even, when the store was closed, I would park across the street with my wife and see if they were taking merchandise with paper bags and stuff like that.
JW: Where was your store located?
MM: Grand Ave [Street] and Linwood.
JW: And when did you open your store?
MM: 1967. I was there one week. I was open Monday and closed Sunday. At that time on Sunday you could only sell liquors, it’s Michigan law, you know beer and wine, from 12 on and people going to church and this and that. That’s when we opened at 12 o’clock and I started to get phone calls. “Get the hell out of there. They’re rioting on 12th Street.” And I walked outside and I saw fires and smoke down Linwood and people were giving me dirty looks that were passing by. And she had the car. There was no cell phones at that time. I had to wait for her. A black gentleman owned the gas station across the street. He came over and said, “Marv, close up. Get your money; put it into a bag and come across the street. There’s nothing going to happen to you.” Which I did. So I closed around three o’clock and then I had to wait for her.
Nothing happened until after I left. We went out to dinner. After dinner I called up the Guardian Alarm and they said—they must have been so busy they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. When I told them who I was and where the store was located, she said, “Oh, you’re okay. Don’t worry about it.” After we finished eating I said I’m going to take a ride down to the store and there was nothing left. You saw the pictures. We just left. I had merchandise in a vestibule leading down to the basement and had boxes piled up. Didn’t even unpack yet. I put everything that I could in the car and drove off. Then we were driving down toward Fenkell and there was a Robinson Furniture Store Warehouse and they had broken into that. People had couches on the cars on their hoods, and the police had them all lined up with their hands on the wall. That was funny. They had chairs on their cars that wasn’t even tied down. Then we went down Fenkell, stopped at a light, a bunch of people were on the corner there and they looked at us and I said, I’m getting the hell out of here, and went through the red light. Get out of there.
JW: You said that the man across the street, the gas station owner across the street was a black man, right? Were most of the other shops in the area, was it pretty well mixed or was there one more –
MM: No, it was all black.
JW: All black. So did you –
MM: And my help was all black. In fact, one of the guys when I first opened, I mean officially, worked for Guardian Alarm and I couldn’t even trust him. At that time I was open seven days a week and we were missing too much merchandise. That’s when I decided to close on Sunday and closed early on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and open late Friday and Saturday. That was that.
JW: What other things did you see in the city? You said they called you, they said there’s riots and you need to get out. Did you see the effects of the riots as you were driving away with your wife later that day?
MM: I saw Robinson Furniture with the couches there and the police were lining everybody up that was trying to drive away against the wall. It was so early during the riot, probably 12th Street really got hit bad. They didn’t burn me out because there were people living upstairs from me otherwise they would have burned me out, too. It was just this little small strip of stores. I was on the corner. There was a shoe store next to me that wasn’t hit that was black-owned. There was a plumbing store and some other stores. They did a good job on me.
JW: Some people describe this event as a riot but other people use other words. How do you describe the events of 1967?
MM: I thought it was a riot. I don’t know, what other words were they using?
JW: Some people call it a rebellion. Some people call it an uprising.
MM: No, it wasn’t a rebellion. It was just a riot that had started on 12th Street and it just accelerated. At that time probably 90 percent of the police force was white and when you raided a blind pig like that, it was all black and that’s what happened. There were just discrepancies between the blacks and the whites, especially the policemen raiding them at 2:30 in the morning.
JW: How long did it take for you to get your store back in order?
MM: In July, probably September or October. At least a good few months. They broke the in [unintelligible]. I had jewelry there that was on consignment. They broke the cases. It was a mess, you can see in the pictures. It was just funny that they didn’t open up where the vestibule was and all that merchandise. They could have just taken all the boxes. Yeah, fun and games.
JW: How do you think that the events of 1967 impacted the city?
MM: Well, my impression is you can’t keep a good man down, so I reopened. I was held up a few times during the time I was open. I was contemplating probably putting in the glass and I just couldn’t see myself working behind a cage for the rest of my life. Then, in probably around 1978 or ‘79 I got shot.
JW: Oh wow.
MM: In a hold up. There was a guard I had in the store on a Saturday night. The two of us were going to go on vacation that Sunday and I called the police department to give me the extra protection while I was gone for a week so two guys came in. They had the guard covered. The other guy comes around the corner, behind the counter, and he starts walking in front of me and I was oblivious of what the guard—that the guard didn’t know anything so I took a bottle of whisky and I hit the guy on the head and I ran around the counter and jumped under—I had a potato chip rack. And they started shooting at me. It hit me twice. One in the arm and one in the leg so that was my vacation in the hospital. And the funny part about it were the police, I guess saw these guys. They were across the street and when they started shooting they just ran out of the store and ran to where their getaway car was, so they were never caught.
JW: That’s too bad. How long did you keep your store open, then?
MM: I had it probably about 13 years. After that, I got rid of the store, sold the store and got rid of my wife. So I killed two birds with one stone. But we did have a son which was good.
JW: Let’s see. What message would you like to leave for future generations about your memories of Detroit before, during, after the events of 1967?
MM: Probably, try to treat people like you would want to be treated. Even now, you can see where blacks, and especially when police arrest them, they pound them on the ground and everything like that and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be treated like that. That would be my message. Treat people like you would want to be treated. I’m serious.
JW: No, that’s good. I agree. Is there anything you feel that we haven’t discussed yet that should be added to your story?
MM: There was one columnist in the Chronicle that was one of my customers and I got held up and she wrote an article on me-I should have brought it—about how I’m really good to the people that lived around the area and that it was a shame that they had to do this to me. I should have brought it.
JW: You can send it to us. You can email it or something like that if you’d like, yeah.
MM: Okay. I’ll try to find it.
JW: That’s a great legacy.
MM: She was a big columnist for the Chronicle and she wrote an article on me.
JW: That’s great. That’s very great. All right, well, is there anything else you’d like to add?
MM: I think you got about everything.
JW: All right, great. Well, thank you so much for coming in and sitting down to tell us your stories,
MM: I’m glad you asked. I just read the paper and I was just sitting there thinking how it might be interesting.
JW: Well, we appreciate it.
MM: Thank you.