Dana Daley, July 7th, 2016
JY: Hello, this Jason Young and I am here with Dana Daley for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. Today is July 7th, 2016. Thank you for joining me today.
DD: You’re welcome.
JY: Right off the bat, could you please start by telling me where and when you were born?
DD: I was born in Detroit, September 19, 1948.
JY: Could you let me know a little bit about your parents and what they did?
DD: My mom was a single mom, basically, with five children in the family. My dad didn’t have too much interest in being a father. My grandparents used to own a restaurant, Fenson Feathers Fish and Chips on 7 Mile and Evergreen area. That’s kind of where we all hung out. I also grew up around Livernois and Davison, and that was in the heart of the riot, there. A good portion of it.
JY: Really quickly, about your siblings. Could I get some names?
DD: I was the oldest, then my brother Spike, my sister Pinky, my little brother Rocky, and then Aaron.
JY: What was it like—you named two different areas growing up—what was it like growing up in those areas?
DD: Livernois and Davison, Russell Woods, is a beautiful neighborhood. Very nice. I would say probably a little upper middle class, but everybody worked hard. My mom’s house, 7 and Telegraph, was very blue collar. Being a single mom as she was, I say we lived in the worst house in the neighborhood, five kids in a 720-square-foot home. We had many animals. She was trying to make up for, I guess, a loss of not having a dad by bringing home every animal that she could find. There was a time where we had, actually we had 22 animals and a monkey and five kids in that house. Needless to say, we were feral.
JY: All right. 22 animals and a monkey.
DD: It was crazy. Then she had to go to Detroit to appear in the courts in front of a judge, and they were trying to make her get rid of all the animals, and she raised a ruckus there. So anyway. It was never a dull moment.
JY: Before we get ’67, is there anything special or anything that you remember about Detroit in the mid-60s?
DD: It was beautiful. My godfather worked down at the old county building, at 600 Randolph, which is a beautiful beaux arts building. He was Detroit city clerk with the traffic court referee. He took care of all the traffic cases and odds and ends cases. Anyway, it was a treat, sometimes he’d bring you to downtown Detroit to go to work with him. Or you’d go downtown Detroit to go to Hudson’s, and when you went downtown Detroit, it was special. You would dress up. You would dress up nice. Back then it wasn’t going to downtown Detroit in your jeans, you would dress up in a nice dress or a skirt or something like that. Hudson’s was magical. The buildings down there, all the action, it was so much energy. It was wondrous, it was beautiful. It was amazing. The Detroit waterfront back then was nothing like it is now. There was no, you know, river parks and all that. It was kind of rough, the river front. It was all factories and industry. But downtown itself was very, very nice. I used to work downtown in 1969 at the Cadillac tower building for Blue Cross. I used to take the buses—I’d take two buses—from one of my neighborhoods—Grand River and Evergreen is another area where I lived—to downtown Detroit. I enjoyed it, it was fun taking the buses. You could always count on that bus being on time back then.
JY: Did you notice any tensions or, you know, anything in the city growing up?
DD: I am so trying hard to remember because, yeah, sometimes you would—I didn’t get the full grasp of the unfairness of how African Americans were treated. Reading about it actually gives me a better grasp than living in the area because I didn’t see it or feel it as much back then. Many of my wards that I worked with were African American girls, and we just had a lovely time working downtown. There was no thought that she was African American and I’m white. There was no thought of it. I just didn’t feel a lot of tension until the riots. Then it started coming. But later, in later years, I learned of things that had happened by some of the parents that we didn’t hear as children. Some of the parents, we heard some crazy stories. Not the parents that I knew, but I heard of a Mr. Glover—he burnt down a house that African Americans had moved into along 7 Mile and Evergreen area. I had recently learned about that, in say the last 10 or 15 years by getting together with the old friends. “Oh, didn’t you know—” you know. Things like that. I started getting more of it later in life because I think that being young, you’re just young, dumb, and silly. Plus at that time I became a new mom at 18, so I was kind of, what you might say, I had a lot of responsibilities going on right then. As far as any negative racism in my inner circle with my family and my friends, there were none. My mom being a single mom became friends with Ruth Anne Connors. Ruth Anne Connors is an African American woman who was also a single mom. She was absolutely beautiful, as well as my mom. They were quite the scene on the nightclub circuit. They’d get a sitter and they’d go out night clubbing and they watch Bobby Darin and all that. They were great friends, and Ruth Anne and my mom—my mom loved to go out to coffee. In fact, my mom said, “Ruth Anne, let’s go for coffee,” and Ruth Anne said, “I don’t think they’re going to serve me here.” Ruth Anne told me all of this in later years. My mom says, “If they don’t serve you, then they’re not serving me. We’re not going to stay.” In our inner circle, in our family, there really wasn’t negative racism. However, you would hear about it. You would hear about, like, when African Americans would move into the neighborhood. You could sense that the neighbors were upset that the neighborhood was not going to be taken care of. I’d say you started learning more of it after the riots, is when I became fully aware of racism. I had a friend—her husband was a Detroit cop. I think he was one of the cops—in fact he was—what they called S.T.R.E.S.S. He was one of those cops. You would hear all kinds of things from him, and that was starting to be a negative time. That would’ve been the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. That’s when I felt the racism. But not when I was growing up.
JY: All right.
DD: Ruth Anne is still alive today.
JY: Earlier you said, Ruth Anne was still alive, and you said—
DD: She looked, I mean she was young, like Rihanna. She was stunningly beautiful. She was always proud to say—to this day, she’s proud to say, “I would never accept the welfare. I worked, and whatever work I could get.” She was a housekeeper, and she was also a housekeeper for Holiday Inn. She became head housekeeper and bought her very own first house, and she still lives in it. She was a beautiful person. She still is! She’d be so much fun, she’s very spiritual.
JY: Well, then, we may have to contact her.
DD: I could call her now, see if she’d want to come down! I loved Ruth Anne.
JY: That would be great. Now, moving closer to ’67, where were you living in July of ’67?
DD: Grand River and Evergreen. The riots were about two miles up Grand River. You could hear all the sirens, and the fire engines and the police, and all the commotion from two miles away. All that activity I think was around Grand River and Warren or something like that. I really can’t remember, but my sister and I said, “Let’s go down and check it out.” So we got her boyfriend, Denny Golf, and so Denny, Pinky and I—I don’t know how we got down there. Down there we did a lot of walking. We took buses, but I could tell you buses wouldn’t take us in that, so we probably kept on walking. We got right into the heart of the riots.
JY: Quick question, was this during the day?
DD: Yes. This was during the day.
JY: Do you know which day? Because the events started early on a Sunday.
DD: I could look at my diary, I could find that out, probably, because I still have some of my old diaries, I think. I remember it being—it might’ve been more like evening. I remember all the tanks, the National Guard; you could smell all the smoke from the fires, you could smell that from a long ways away. Anyway, Pinky, Denny, and I, we got down there and we thought, this might be a little more than what we bargained for, because we got circled. We were in trouble. Some African Americans circled us, like, okay, you’re on our turf and now you’re going to pay, and we’re pissed off anyway. Denny said to them, “I don’t care if you beat my ass; I don’t want you to hurt my girlfriend,” and they thought that was pretty cool, it was the weirdest thing. They actually walked along with us and no one bothered us. That’s one experience I’ll always remember, because that was my, like, oh, my god, what did we get ourselves into? To, phew, we’re okay now. I can’t remember much more than just being down there, and it was like an apocalyptic movie. There was so much—it was like a war. It was almost like a war. And, yes, the tanks gave it a war feeling, but the fires and the police, the soldiers, the people, the yelling, the screaming, the burning. It was—I can’t think of a better word. I guess just extremely intense. Just intense. That’s when it really, I think, when it all hit, to me. God, there really is racism, or racial problems—I shouldn’t say racism. There are problems, too, with the African Americans that they would have to go to this length to be heard, I guess, because they did go to that length. But what really started it, as we all know, was a blind pig that was busted on 12th street, and who knows what transpired. Then, we went out—there was a curfew put on, you had to be in by 10. So now, don’t ask me how this was, but we all end up in Royal Oak and I don’t know if it was that night or the next night, I think it might’ve been the next night—there was a curfew there too, and the police pulled us over and we were in trouble. I can’t remember if we went to jail, but we had to go to the police station, and then we had to go to court for breaking that curfew. The judge was really nice, this was where we got saved. He said, “You can either be on this many years’ probation, or you’re going to have to go to school.”
JY: School for…?
DD: Yeah, school, an education, a trade! I went to school at that time for what they called key punch. It’s like data recording, like computer work. I thought, that was really great. I had a baby and I thought, you know, I’m 18, I need to get some sort of trade. And I did. I went to school, downtown Detroit above the Michigan Theatre, the old Michigan Theatre. That beautiful theatre is now a parking garage. That was awful. It was Detroit School of Business. And again, you know, I’m taking busses along with the white, the African Americans. I just never, ever felt anything about it. Why would I think anything about that? There was no problems. Nobody bothered me, I didn’t bother them, nobody cared. We just didn’t care. No one cared. I don’t know how it all came to be like this, except for the complete—I would say definitely after watching later in life, movies like Help and all that stuff. How badly African Americans were treated in the south. I just didn’t see it so bad here. Not where I grew up. I’m sure it was alive and well somewhere, you know, racism, but not in my inner circle.
JY: Okay. Actually, backtracking really quickly, how did you first hear about the riots?
DD: You could hear it from where I lived. The sirens—oh, the news, the sirens, I think we could almost smell the fires, you know, being out on Grand River. We were a block off of Grand River. I was kind of wanting to go down there and my godparents wouldn’t let me go. “No, stay in the house, stay in the house.” They were all afraid. Everybody was afraid. It was almost like you were feeling, almost like the end of the world. Everybody’s afraid because of all the burnings. Are you next? You know. The fires were coming closer and closer, and then the aftermath of it all. We drove down there—I was with somebody—the aftermath, like a few weeks after—I don’t know, could’ve been days after, I don’t remember—of the buildings so burnt, buildings that you knew and grew up with and were part of your life, gone or burnt or, just like a ghost town, those areas. It was terrible. Just awful.
JY: Are there any other particular moments or memories that you have of the events during—?
DD: Basically just being in the riot, being in the middle of it. We weren’t protesting or nothing. Again, we were stupid teenagers just wanting to see action, because that’s how we were. It wouldn’t have to have been necessarily the riots, if something else going on, we’d have to go wherever the action was. That’s just how we were as teens. We wanted the action. I hate to refer to that as the action, but at that age, that’s how we considered it. That was our thought. We weren’t thinking that this was a racial thing. We knew it was, but our mindset was let’s go down and see what’s going on. Let’s go down and see what it’s all about. We didn’t think that we would be in any danger, but we were. We were the only, I think, white people, white teens there that I remember. And then those guys came up, very menacing, threatening us, going to kick our asses and everything. And that’s when Denny said, “Please, you can kick my ass, just don’t hurt my girlfriend.” They thought that was really—I’ll never forget it!—they thought that was really cool, those guys. They kind of walked along with us. It was really nice, in the midst of all that.
JY: I don’t think I’ve heard that before.
DD: I know! I don’t understand what we were thinking.
JY: Some people describe the event as a riot, while others refer to it as a rebellion or uprising. What term do you think best describes the unrest of that July of ’67?
DD: First word that comes to my mind was a riot. That’s the first word. “Uprising” is not what I really heard until later years; they called it an uprising. But at the time, it was a riot, and at that time, being a teen, I really didn’t know what it was all about. I didn’t understand how unfair a lot of the African Americans were treated at that time. At that time, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know about it; I was ignorant of it. I knew it was there. I mean, I knew there was some racism there, I remember. I remember when Ruth Anne would come over, sometimes she would talk a little bit.
JY: Knowing what you know now, would you still label it as a riot?
DD: I can understand why there was an uprising. I can understand, but I don’t understand why did it have to come to burning all the buildings? What does that do? I guess you have to do something pretty strong and powerful like that so people hear you, and it’s a shame that it has to come to that—to burn your own buildings, to burn your own houses, and the looting! I don’t understand why stealing? You’re stealing from your own! You’re ruining your own buildings! And even if they weren’t your own, why do that at all? But is there another way? I don’t know what the other way would be so people could hear them. I think the better way was the Martin Luther King way. That’s something people want to listen to and can listen to. The riots, burning, and fire, and shooting, and looting—no one’s going to listen to you! I didn’t. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand all that. I would understand Martin Luther’s message, they way he delivered, not the way the people of Detroit took it upon themselves—and not just Detroit, but other cities—to take it upon themselves to just burn up the place. That I don’t understand and I don’t agree with it, as an adult. Back then as a teen, I didn’t care if those buildings were burnt. I would care now.
JY: What was the impact of the riot on the rest of the city, do you think?
DD: That was when everything started changing when many people up and left. The whites. They panicked, they were in fear. Their city, their Detroit has gone now. Not that it’s all burned now, but it’s like, if this can happen now, it can happen again, and that’s why so many people left. I know they’re talking about people leaving in the ‘50s, you know, the 1950s is when white people started moving, but again, I was a kid, but where I grew up, there was tons of kids! How could anybody be moving? And everybody was working at Ford Motor or Detroit Diesel. Everybody was Detroit through and through: they worked in Detroit, they lived in Detroit, our schools were in Detroit. Everything was Detroit until 1967, then things changed.
JY: Did your family stay in Detroit?
DD: Yeah. My godparents did stay in the same house because they’re older. I lived with my godparents a lot, because my mom with all those kids and all the animals, you know, there was a little more room there. Anyways, we stayed, but they were too old to go anywhere. It just wouldn’t have worked out for them to just up and go to the suburbs. My mom—this had nothing to do with the riots—but in 1966, she moved to Royal Oak just to get out of Wayne County. Not to get out of Detroit, because again, her restaurant, everything was in Detroit. It was because she was getting in a whole lot of trouble in Wayne County with all of her animals. The judges and my godfather had a lot of power, being at the old county building with the judges, because he didn’t like what was going on in our house with all the animals and no supervision. He was getting her hauled into court, so she says, “Screw you! I’m moving to another county.” Had nothing to do with the riots. She moved before the riots. She moved to Royal Oak.
JY: Did you, yourself, live in Detroit for a few years after?
DD: Yeah, I lived with my godparents. I lived with them, at Grand River and Evergreen. They had moved from Livernois and Davison. They had moved there, to Grand River and Livernois, because it was a little bit closer to our house at 7 and Telegraph. They could pick me up to school What they would do is Friday, pick me up from school and Monday bring me back, and therefore home with my mom. Detroit was never the same after that. It was never the same. Downtown Detroit really starting declining, and I think that was mostly due to the malls. You know, Northland Mall, Oakland Mall. People could shop indoors, why go outside? That was a lot to do with the malls. Plus a lot of the big companies that were in Detroit moved out to the suburbs. I don’t know if that’s because of the riots, why they moved, but I don’t know. I really don’t know. But then, also, too, Detroit wasn’t taken care of politically correct afterwards. It’s like everybody started pillaging and stealing and not caring. Just not caring about the city or the citizens. Downtown turned into a ghost town. You were afraid to walk downtown during the day, afterwards. In the ‘70s, ‘80s. Everybody disappeared from downtown Detroit. The Whitney building was empty, the county building, the old county building slowly but surely emptied. [Unintelligible], Hudson’s, Hudson’s of all emptied. I think a lot of it was to do with—not just after the riots, but the political leaders of Detroit. Just as they are doing to the schools right now, the DPW? People don’t care. They just wanted to enrich themselves and not take care of the city.
JY: Is there a message that you would like to leave for future generations about your memories of Detroit, before, during, or after the unrest of July of ’67?
DD: I think of Detroit, my memories are beautiful memories of a beautiful city bustling, thriving. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was pitiful; my memories are sad. And my memories are sad up until the last year because now I see all this rebirth again, and now I feel that Detroit is coming back around, and it makes you proud. I’ve always been proud to be from Detroit, always will be. It’s just sad, like today I just drove around and took quick photos of St. Agnes Church, over by Henry Ford Hospital. All busted windows, and it wasn’t even looting, just to break the windows. Rocks through a church window! Why? So you still have those people that need to be educated on what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s wrong to bust church windows. It’s wrong to steal from your neighbor. Mother and father, get your kids to pick up their litter, and be proud of your neighborhood. Start taking care of your neighborhoods. Most of all, mom and dad at least, be there for your kids. They just don’t treat them, they send them to school and think, well, that’s their job. It’s not right. That’s what’s wrong with this city. The parents aren’t being—I mean, midtown and downtown are all on the move, but the surrounding areas, especially my old neighborhood at 7 and Telegraph—the schools are closed, everything is damaged around there. It’s pitiful. Just pitiful. That you have to blame directly on the parents. You can be poor and still teach your kids right from wrong. It has nothing to do with race and it has nothing to do with wealth or poverty. It’s about teaching your kids.
JY: Is there anything you feel we haven’t discussed or should be added to the interview?
DD: Oh, I’ll probably remember something later, but I sure loved living in Detroit. It’s good to see it alive again, down here. But the outer areas, it’s awful. It’s sad. Especially my old neighborhood, oh my god. It’s terrible. There’s no reason for it. You can be poor—I was poor, my mom was poor—but if your kids do something wrong, swat them upside the head. You know? You got to stop it. That’s the parents. And the leaders, the DPW leaders stealing from those children.
JY: Sorry, you mentioned that before, DPW?
DD: Oh, Detroit Public Schools.
JY: Oh, DPS?
DD: I’m sorry, I said DPW. I meant to say DPS. Yeah, DPS, how they could do that to those kids! Those people! They should throw away the key! They’re stealing from these children! The kids have it bad enough at home with parents that aren’t teaching them, and then the schools, their leaders on top of that ripping them off? I don’t understand. These kids aren’t going to have a chance.
JY: Anything else? Thank you for joining us today.
DD: All right, okay.