Mary Allor, July 7th, 2016
GS: Hello, today is July 7, 2016. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti. We are in Detroit, Michigan, and this interview is for the Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I am here with Mary T. Allor. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
MA: Thank you, very much.
GS: Can you first start by telling me where and when were you born?
MA: Yeah, I was born May 1st, 1946 in Highland Park, Michigan.
GS: What did your parents do when you were a child?
MA: My dad was the chief of radiology at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital in Highland Park. My mother was a nurse, but didn’t work very much at all, so she was more of a homemaker.
GS: Do you have any siblings?
MA: I have—had—my oldest sister is 13 years older than me, went off and became a nun, so she was at the convent when all this happened. She’s not a nun anymore. Then I had a brother who was 10 years older than me, and he’s passed away. Then I have a brother who’s 7 years older than myself. He’s alive and well, out in Metamora.
GS: What was your childhood like in Highland Park?
MA: Well, I grew up in Detroit. We grew up at 6 Mile and Livernois, [unintelligible] Parish, although I think they call it University District.
GS: So when did you move to Detroit from Highland Park?
MA: I was born in Highland Park.
GS: Oh, okay.
MA: At that time, they were, I think, pretty much interchangeable. Highland Park is in the confines of Detroit. I went to the Academy of Sacred Heart that was down on Woodrow Wilson and John R. until they moved out to Bloomfield Hills in—I was in fifth grade I think, or sixth grade—so my early primary years, I don’t remember a whole lot. I was in school most of the time. We had a woman who worked for us, her name was Jenny Goldsby, and she was black. Jenny came to work for us when I was five. I didn’t see any racial differences. She was like a mother to me. My mother was really sick when I was growing up, so Jenny raised me. Then we had another lady who worked for us, Bertha Little, then we lived across the street from Jack Adams, the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. They had a houseboy, and his name was Joseph Adams. There was really only the three black people that I knew, so I didn’t know—I was pretty naïve—I didn’t realize that there was any racial conflicts. I was pretty isolated from them. When Sacred Heart moved out to Bloomfield Hills, I was even less in contact with black people. I just didn’t have any concept of the problems.
GS: So your school was also not too racially integrated?
MA: No, not at all, then. Not at all, then. I graduated in ’64. Then I went away for a year, then I came back and graduated from Mercy College. That used to be on Outer Drive and Southfield. I just don’t remember a lot of—I mean, I know there were Hispanic students, I’m sure there were black students but I don’t remember lots of them. I lived in the dorm. When I graduated, I moved back home for a while, then I got an apartment at Greenfield and Fenkell, I think it was. I really didn’t realize—I was just naïve. I guess I just didn’t see the racial problems coming up.
GS: That was in the early ‘60s?
MA: Yeah, I graduated in ’68 from Mercy College. Became a nurse. I’ll tell you that part after the riots, because that kind of played in then.
GS: So then, we can move towards the riots. Where were you when you first heard about it?
MA: Well, I was with him. I was 21. I had met Jim, like, two months before. I was starry-eyed and in love. We went to the zoo that day. Didn’t have the radio on, of course—I actually wrote about this—so we went to the zoo all day, no radio. I knew nothing about the violence—that was a Sunday—and I knew nothing about the violence the night before. I was just not aware of it at all. We went to the zoo and had a wonderful time, and my mother was in the hospital, Detroit Osteopathic. We were driving down to see her, we were driving down, I think it was 3rd Avenue, and it was just weird. There was no traffic. We didn’t have the radio on. We were just young and in love and oblivious to the world. We drove down to the hospital, Jim had a ’65 mustang, got to the hospital, and I was a regular there, seeing my dad or whatever. We drove into the circle drive and there were no cars there, and that was the first tip-off. There were no cars on 3rd, and there were no cars in the circle drive, then we walked into the hospital and there were National Guard all over the place. I was just totally stunned, frightened. I wondered what was going on. I don’t remember much about that day except we had to stay at the hospital. I slept on an x-ray table, and my brother was an intern at the time. I think my husband and my brother, I don’t know, went up on the roof and saw shooting, but I don’t remember very much. All I remember is that I was really frightened. We still didn’t know what was going on. It was really strange. We were right in the heart of it, being in Highland Park. The next morning, I remember a police ambulance came and took my mom, my brother, and myself home. Jim drove home. He lived in Royal Oak, and I remember the next few days he would bring us bread and milk because we couldn’t go to any stores or anything. We lived in a colonial home that was one block east of Livernois and north of 6 Mile on Warrington. Upstairs, my bedroom had a porch outside of it. I always loved to go out and sit there and look at the stars and whatever. I remember during the riots going out on the porch at my upstairs bedroom and I was like, it was such a stupid thing to do, but I remember I could see the shooting up and down Livernois and I could see military trucks, you know, going up and down. It was unreal to me. National Guard, police, ambulances—not ambulances, but sirens all the time. I just felt really terrified, really confused, and I felt like Anne Frank. It was really weird, like what’s happening? I just felt totally frightened and confused. Jenny Goldsby, I think I mentioned before, she was like our house help, she was like a nanny to me. She lived on Ewald circle and Livernois, or Davison and Livernois. She’d take the bus to work at our house, but my dad would drive her home at night. My dad had this white Cadillac convertible with a red interior. Usually had the top down, and I just remember being really frightened for both of them. So scary. A lot of my memories from those days ae blurred, but I do remember the sense of terror. Jerry Cavanagh was the mayor, and he lived right across the street from us. I don’t recall talking to him about it, but I guess that was my experience of it.
GS: How was your neighborhood reacting to it?
MA: You know, my family didn’t communicate a lot with other neighbors, so I don’t know. I felt real isolated in the whole thing. I don’t remember any violence on our street. I know there were no black people that lived in the neighborhood, so I can’t say, I don’t recall.
GS: Were you ever worried that the gunshots and violence that you saw would come towards your neighborhood?
MA: Terrified, yeah, I was terrified. I could see it right on the street, like as far as that building is. I was like in disbelief and fascinated, but I was also aware that someone was getting injured or killed out there. To this day, I can’t stand violence. I can’t stand gunshots. I can’t stand the terror of all that, that was awful.
GS: Moving toward the few years after the riot, did you notice any changes in the city?
MA: Yeah, I graduated in 1968 from Mercy College and I became a visiting nurse. My area was, like, Olympia Stadium and up and down Grand River. I was 22, naïve, loved the excitement of the whole thing. I had worked as a clerk for the NA all through college, I was very excited to be actually taking care of the people that used to call in for referrals. I don’t remember feeling afraid. I don’t even remember feeling caution to feel afraid. My supervisor was black; I loved her, she was wonderful. I remember one instance, I actually thought of their names today, it was Roy and Emma [unintelligible] and they lived someplace off of Grand River, and they were an elderly couple. I used to come once a week and do her medications and give her a bath and change her dressings and stuff. I always came the same time on the same day every week. I remember this one day I was in there giving her a bath and I had her in the bathtub, and her nephew, I believe it was, came running upstairs to their apartment and said, “Come on, nurse, just follow me.” I remember Roy saying, “Go ahead and go.” So I got my little black bag and went down to my little yellow mustang, and this nephew and a friend of his—one car was in front of me, one car was behind me, and they literally led me back down Grand River to where my office was. Then they turned off and waved me off. I still didn’t know what was going on when I got back in the office. We didn’t have cell phones. My supervisor was really upset about it. I guess the school across the street, there had been a racial incident where they were smashing out the windows and hitting any white people that were in the area. This young nephew knew that because I had such a regular schedule coming there, and he got me out of there safely. As far as other changes, I know a lot of houses in our neighborhoods went up for sale. Those changes happened. My parents still didn’t move until 1970. We were married in ’70 and my parents moved right after our wedding. I think my dad was more frightened because he still was driving around in his little Cadillac with his bald head up and down Curtis, and I don’t know if he told me that there was some taunting and yelling at him, but I know he didn’t feel safe. I couldn’t believe the whole thing. I just couldn’t believe it.
GS: So you generally felt less safe in the city than you did before?
MA: Definitely, definitely.
GS: Did you, yourself, ever consider leaving Detroit?
MA: When we got married, Jim was from Royal Oak, so we did move to Royal Oak. By then my parents had sold their home. Most of the friends that I had had already moved, gotten married and moved.
GS: How do you see Detroit today, with all this in mind? Do you think Detroit has improved since then, or has it stayed the same?
MA: I think it really went downhill, you know, drastically. I know where we used to live, we used to shop at that B. Seagull at the Avenue of Fashion. All of that, I can’t believe how it’s changed. I started to have some fear working as a visiting nurse because a lot of the areas that I went to then and in later years, I was doing homecare for another agency, and when I had gone to give a man his insulin, over at 7 Mile and Evergreen, I think. When I came down from giving him his insulin, which was like 8:30 in the morning, there had been a drug bust of a car parked right in front of myself and they had found a dead body in the car, in the trunk of the car near where mine was parked right behind it. I’m kinda slow to catch on, like this is dangerous, I can’t do this anymore. I’m happy to see what’s happening in Detroit now. I don’t think I’ll ever live in Detroit—we live in Plymouth now—but it’s just being so revitalized that I think it’s really exciting. I’m concerned about the homeless, you know, where are they going to put those people? It’s like in order to do the developing that they’re doing, what about the pockets of homelessness though? You can’t just pick those people up and ship them out. I don’t know a solution to it.
GS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MA: I taught at U of M, I retired from the University of Michigan. I taught nursing there, and did a lot of multicultural teaching. I’ve often wondered where my passion for that comes from, and I think part of it is from Jenny. She was just so good to me. Part of it, I think, was living in Detroit and living through the riots. I guess that’s everything I can think of.
GS: Well, thank you for sitting down with me today.
MA: Yeah, thank you very much.
[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 15:06]