Anita Hadley, July 5th, 2016
GS: Hello, today is July 5, 2016. We are in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit 67 Oral History Project. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti and I’m with Nita Hadley today. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
NH: You’re welcome dear.
GS: Okay, where and when were you born?
NH: I was born October the seventh, 1955 in Mount Clemens, Michigan.
GS: Okay, so do you have any sibling?
NH: Yes, it’s seven of us, sisters and brothers. I have four sisters and I have three brothers, one is deceased.
GS: Oh wow. What did you parents do?
NH: Well, my father, he worked for General Motors Auto Company in Pontiac, and my mother was a stay-at-home mom.
GS: Okay. So what was your neighborhood like? Was it racially integrated?
NH: Well, when we first moved in the neighborhood, we lived in the vicinity—it was one block over from East Grand Boulevard, we lived on Helen Street, between Vernor and Charlevoix. And when we first moved there, it was in the early ‘60s, because I went to elementary school not in that area first, I went into elementary school—I’m trying to think of where was it—we were in Dubois, a school called Duffield, and then we moved after my dad had got the job and we moved over to this new area and I started elementary school there at a school called Barry. During that time, the neighborhood was mixed. We had about half and half. There were Italian people living in the neighborhood, Greek people, black people, it was fairly mixed. But as the years went on, people that were not black were moving away, and more black people were moving into the area.
GS: Was your school you went to integrated or no?
NH: I started first grade at Barry and when I started there, it was a mixed group of children there when I started elementary school. The school was fairly mixed. It was like, maybe, three-fourths black by then though, and about one-fourth other groups of people.
GS: Did your siblings go to the same school?
NH: Yes we all went to the same school; we all went to Barry Elementary, started school there then we all went to Butzel Junior High, and then I went to King, Martin Luther King High School.
GS: What was your childhood like? Was it just kind of a normal childhood growing up?
NH: Well, I had a great time because I went to school, waited for summer vacation, had a great time on summer vacation, we had the same kind of rules most kids did. You know, you had to be home by a certain time, you played within the neighborhood. We looked forward to the summer because the summer time, there were a lot of things to do. The school always was open for summer recreation during the summer, and we would go to another school that was down the street from us that was called Marcy in the summer, and they would have a bus come and pick up all the kids and take us to day camp. And the day camp, they would bus us and take us to a camp that was in River Rouge, and we would go swimming there because the other schools didn’t have, we didn’t have swimming pools, and so we went out there. We would sometimes do a two week camp that busses would come and meet the school, they’d take us to another camp for about a week camp that was called Green Pastures. And then if we didn’t do that, we stayed so close to Belle Isle Park, we’d walk to Belle Isle because we stayed just that close because Boulevard was one block over from us and we would all get together so kids and stuff and we would walk to Belle Isle. We would go there for bike riding, fishing, canoeing, and just a day at the park.
GS: Nice. I’m sorry, where did you say you moved again? From Mount Clemens?
NH: Well, I was born in Mount Clemens, then my family had moved—during the time I guessed they used to call it the “Black Bottom” area, and they lived on a street called Duffield, then I went to elementary school over there, and by the time I started like first grade, we moved over into the area Helen.
NH: Yeah, Helen. The street between Vernor and Charlevoix.
GS: So then, kind of moving towards the early sixties, could you sense any tensions growing within the city, or no?
NH: Well, at the time I was only eleven when all this started happening, but at the time I was growing up, everything went, from the way I looked at, you know, seemed alright. I just noticed that some of my friends that weren’t black friends were moving away, they were moving. But other families were moving in, most the families that moved in, they were larger families like ours. They had quite a few kids, you know, like maybe three or four, five kids. Most of the men, fathers, worked at the auto plants, and mostly all the moms were stay-at-home moms. And we had a block club, we used to have a thing every May that was called The May Festival, where all the houses were judged on how nice you kept your yard up. You got a prize and everything, they used to block off the streets for us in the summer time too and they used to have a thing come around where you could swim called the Swim-mobile, and they would block the streets off and bring this big thing where you could swim in it and it was called Swim-mobile. And then as time’s going on, a lot of these things that we were doing activity-wise, they stopped. The Swim-mobile wasn’t coming as much anymore, so we start the day camp thing, but everything still looked the same to me. We never had any problems, we walked to the store without any problems, and back then, kids just went and did everything together. No problems.
GS: Okay. Where were you when you first heard about the riot then in 1967?
NH: Well, actually, it was the day after the riots happened, it was on the news. In the morning, I know my mom was worried about my dad, because he worked the afternoon/late shift and he worked in Pontiac and he had to get home, back to Detroit, and she was worried because at the time, it wasn’t on our side of town, but she was still worried about him. We watched a lot on television and at the time, we had relatives visiting with us that were here for the first time from California when it happened. And we had heard about years before, few years before, they had riots in California, and this was a couple years later and now it was like, we were having a riot, and we were just looking at the news, watching with my mom the next day. And everything in the neighborhood seemed, in our area, still seemed fine.
GS: So the rioters were kind of away from your neighborhood?
NH: Right, because we heard the riots where we were on the East Side of Detroit. And these riots had happened on the West Side, but my mom was worried about other relatives because they lived over in that area. I heard them conversing on the telephone, they were saying that everybody lost their mind, they weren’t able to get to us, so I watched my mom’s reaction. My dad did make it home, and then they didn’t let kids around adults talking, so they—“Go outside and play,” and that’s what we were doing outside, playing. And then, we noticed all the neighbors going back and forth to each other, talking on each other’s porches and everything, and I remember my dad discussing with the other neighbor that lived next door, they were the Whites, that was their name, the White family. And Mr. White and my dad were talking and he was saying “Are we gonna be able to work, still?” Because they both worked at auto plants. He worked at Chrysler, my dad worked at Pontiac with GM. And later on in the evening that night, it’s like, you start hearing explosions, and it lit up all around us like toward Mack Avenue, was like maybe a few blocks over. And behind us, you started smelling smoke, and as usual, kids now we’re, “Go down into the basement, adults are talking.” And we were down there, and they were looking at television, and next thing you know, other neighbors were there knocking on our door and they’re outside talking and everything, and my mom was wondering about my dad going to work, and he did go to work. But it was a problem that happened—I remember we were discussing because like, by then, we didn’t know it until like, two or three days later—all this is still going on. There’s no police around, but we’re just seeing all these fires happening. You can’t see actually where they’re burning at. My mom, she would always send us—my dad, he drove a Rambler Station wagon, and that was the only vehicle we had, so she would always send us kids up to Mack Avenue and on Mount Elliot and different places, the shops. She’d give us a list, and we would pick up certain things, put them in the wagon, bring them home. We would go to the bakery, go to the meat market, to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, everything, and she wasn’t letting us do that this day, and that was unusual, because we always would do that. She said “You can’t go.”
GS: Oh wow.
NH: And in the meantime, we’re getting these calls, she’s talking to my cousins that are with us from California. I hear she’s on the phone talking and they wanna talk to their moms to let them know they’re alright and everything, because they’re also I guess watching on TV where they are and what’s unfolding, she said “Well, we really don’t know what’s happened over this way, we started smelling smoke and see fires, and it looked like it’s coming our way. But I haven’t let the kids, leave the block.” And they couldn’t stay on the phone long, because long distance costs a lot of money. And my father, I remember when he came home that evening and he had a hard time getting home because by then—I don’t know if the next day or the third day, National Guards were there, that’s I guess what they called them then, and we noticed that jeeps were coming down the area, guys were walking the block and everything, with guns and up and down the Boulevard and then, my dad was talking about how they had set up a station at the school at the corner, Mack and the Boulevard, a school that was called Eastern High School at that time, and they had set up camp there, and there were tanks up there. We actually saw tanks and jeeps and everything riding around, and we were informed, that there’s a thing—we knew about our curfew with being kids, we had to be home at a certain time—if there’s a curfew for everybody, and we couldn’t go anywhere. And it spoiled our summer, because we as kids, we wanted to go to Belle Isle, we wanted to go to our rec center, we wanted to go, to day camp, but we were just confined to just right in front of the house. And at night time, my mom would have us all go to the basement, because we heard noises, and they said there was shooting, you could hear all types of shooting and by then, it was so much fire and smoke surrounding us because later we found out that they had burnt down everything on Mack and they had burned down things on Jefferson, and we’re so like in the middle of this, where our blocks are located and everything had gotten burnt on Mount Elliot, that was behind us, and it got pretty scary for us, as kids, because we actually didn’t understand what a riot was, all we knew was that we couldn’t go anywhere and there were a lot of fires everywhere around us. And my mom and dad were—the first time I’ve seen my parents—I could tell they were scared. And of course, that scared us, and I remember my mom and dad discussing—the thing, he had to have a written permit to come in and out from work, back and forth in the city. I think that they gave it to him at work, showing that he could come back, because they were telling people that, you couldn’t come in and out of certain areas, and he had to go all the way to Pontiac. And he also, at the time, started—he had the station wagon, I remember he had loads of food and different stuff when he would come back and give stuff to neighbors and stuff, because no one could go out and buy anything. We had a corner store that was on Vernor, and they were owned by some Italian people, and they were very good to everybody. They would let you buy stuff and pay for it later, and I remember that my dad and a lot of people got together to protect the guy’s store, and said “We’re going to take care of Al’s store. We’re not going to let anybody, burn or mess with his store.” But Al himself was limited on what he could get because he couldn’t get in and out. He stayed there. I remember a lot of the guys, my dad and other neighbors went there and sat, and protected his store, and after about four days—four or five days, we didn’t see the sky lighting up with fires or anything, but we were told that curfews were lifted, but actually it wasn’t, for a lot of people in the area, because when we went out, my dad, we’d try to go and do things, the National Guard were still there, and there was nothing to go to because they did—after a few days, we took a drive in the area and it was just devastating because our grocery stores were gone, the pharmacy was gone, and some of the churches were burnt, and everyplace we shopped and did business at in the area was gone. Mack Avenue was just devastated, there was nothing left. And people were still going in and out of storefronts, getting things out of there, and I think a lot of it might have been out of necessity because some of them probably was—and, I’m just saying from my viewpoint—there was no stores left, so people were going in stores that were already broken in, getting food and canned foods and different things. And my mom said, “No, nobody in our house is going to be doing that,” because they were still shooting people for doing it. And it was a bad summer for us kids, it’s like we only could listen to what was being said, but it was a nightmare because like, you walked down—everything you knew that was familiar was gone. It was just gone. The drug store, and we used to go to the drug store on Mount Elliot, the hardware store was gone, the dry-cleaners, the grocery stores, meat market, and everything was just burnt and gone. To this day it’s still gone. It never came back. One of the places that we used to go to, a little restaurant, we’d walk up there after we’d shopped and get us a hamburger or stop and get some ice cream, or soda, all those places were gone. And then my mom and dad said, “Well, maybe we can go get something at Easter Market,” because on the weekends, we as a family would all get together in the station wagon, we would go to Eastern Market and shop, for vegetables and things. And because prices were cheaper, you could buy in bulk, we were a lot of kids, we were a big family. And it was sort of sad because like, when we went to Eastern Market even, most of the vendors didn’t show up, because they were scare to come down. And so a lot of vendors, there wasn’t a lot you could even buy at Eastern Market because the vendors that were selling the produce stuff didn’t even want to come.
And it’s sort of sad because like, all these things that happened, like you see right now the neighborhood still never came back, and it was always so nice because these people that we shopped with and stuff, they knew us kids, they knew us by name, and a lot of them were white. Italians, Jewish people, most the people that owned the businesses were white people. But, it was sad to see that—we wouldn’t see them again, they wouldn’t see us. We didn’t understand, but everything that we knew that was familiar wasn’t there anymore.
GS: So, after the riot, you said a lot of these shops were burned down, what was the general atmosphere in Detroit like?
NH: A lot of sadness. A lot of people seemed very depressed. We did more television watching than ever because there was always something on the news and we never watched a lot of TV. Only weekends and stuff, we watched television, on Saturday and Sunday—Saturday morning and stuff, but we weren’t big TV watchers back then. But the TV was always on, and we were watching all the things and the news were showing all the different homes and all the different area that were burnt out and gone, and they were reporting on how many people were shot and killed and they visually showed a lot of people that were—I saw people that were lined up on the news at gunpoint against walls and things and it looked like it was the army, like it was war. And we know what war is, and it just looked like it was war going on in our area. And I didn’t know what to make of that because this is America, we’re not at war, what’s going on. But it seemed like it was war because there were tanks and jeeps and men with guns and army in uniforms. And these were just regular people that once upon a time were my neighbors. I didn’t know them personally, but these people I see all the time in my community, at gunpoint lined up buildings, and on the news. I didn’t know why.
GS: It’s crazy.
GS: So moving forward to Detroit now, what are you opinions of the city at present day?
NH: Well, I recently moved from the city. I always lived in the city, I moved about three and a half years ago. I lived over in the vicinity of Harper and Vandyke and it was our family home, my mom and dad since then had been years had divorced everything, and this was my mother’s home, and she had passed and I had taken the home and I lived there for like nineteen years in that house after she had passed, raised my child there. I had to leave because the neighborhood had changed so much. They had closed down the high school that I went to in the area—it was Kettering High School closed up, and they had closed up the junior high school, they tore down the elementary school, the theatre was gone. That whole area was changing, all the stores that used to be—the drug store wasn’t there anymore, there used to be a United Shirts there, it was like everything that was there that was available was leaving, and the homes were being, you know. As soon as somebody moved out of a home, junkers would come in there and destroy it and take everything out of homes. We still had a block club even there, and it’s like one, two blocks in the area are block be nice. Everybody owned their homes, took care of their problems, but then you go two blocks over and it looks like you’re in a warzone, little Beirut. You know, you’re surrounding the perimeter of your neighborhood, where everything is demolished, and homes are vacant and overgrown, weeds everywhere and businesses are gone and everything’s just getting empty. And I’m by myself, I don’t drive, and I’d catch the bus and all of a sudden they’re no street lights anymore everywhere, the kids are out there catching the bus stops—the school’s not there anymore, and you see posters up in different gas station areas where women are missing, up and down Harper Avenue, it was known as like, you see suburbanites come and getting off the Smart Bus at Harper and Vandyke because that area become a drug zone all around, nothing sold but crack cocaine. You see prostitutes up and down, you couldn’t even walk to the store and the gas station that area, me thinking I was trying to go to work, but they’re stopping, thinking I’m a woman prostituting myself, because prostitutes are all up and down there early in the morning, and late at night, and crack. People are on crack and my family told me that “You have to leave. You know, you can’t stay here anymore, Mom. It’s just not safe for you.” But I hated leaving my home, my neighbors, we were all, close. We would get a bus together and every year take—they still do it to this day because I didn’t go on the trip—they still get two buses together and take the whole neighborhood to Cedar Point. But outside around, it’s just you can’t live there anymore, it’s just dangerous. And I moved and I moved into an apartment. I moved all the way in Saint Claire Shores. My daughter lives in East [unintelligible] Village and my other—sisters live near Harper Woods. Everybody, we all moved out of the city practically, and I don’t like apartment living. I miss my neighbors, I miss my garden, I miss a house. And right now, what’s happening is that the areas downtown, I see them reviving a lot downtown and everything, but the city itself where I just left is just going all to hell. And that’s all over Detroit. You got two, three blocks where people are still keeping up their homes and things, but you got other blocks where it’s just horrible, it’s just scary what’s going on in other areas, and it’s still like that all over the city. And a lot of black families, they’re moving into the suburban areas now because in the three years that I’ve been living where I’m at, I’ve seen a lot of change, because like, there’s a Kroger grocery store near me and it used to be racially mixed with a lot of people going into the grocery store. But I see the change. I see the people that used to be in the neighborhood that I left in the grocery store now. And that’s because a lot of the stores out there aren’t available and a lot of them moved out toward my way. A lot of people now live in Harper Woods, which is just next door to Saint Claire Shores and a lot of people are living in Saint Claire Shores now too, in apartment buildings and homes and things, and it’s just changed. It’s just like they said before, it’s the urban flight. You can see it happening. Everything’s becoming black out in the suburban areas. All my friends, now they live in Warren Michigan, or they live in Saint Claire Shores, or they live in Sterling Heights—some of them—and they live in Harper Woods. And all the young people I know, friends of my daughters and everything, they’re moving downtown, in the Midtown area. You feel like you’re not included right now—at least I feel—downtown Detroit because like, I’ve always worked Downtown. I worked for the Fox Theatre, and I worked the Music Hall, and right now I do office cleaning at the D.A. Building, and I see like we would stop at certain restaurants in the morning, I’d get a breakfast burrito at this one particular store called Grillworks, and it used to cost me $2.95. It’s the same place now, same food, $4.95. For the same breakfast burrito. But everything that you used to eat down there, back when I was working at the Fox and Music Hall, you could throw a bowling ball down Woodward Avenue. The only time you would see white people really come down there was if they were going to a hockey game, or to one of the games of baseball. I go to Eastern Market now and it’s like, “What Eastern Market is this?” It’s so cultured now, they have everything going on at Eastern Market now. But prices have changed. A little bit unaffordable, a lot of things downtown for a lot—I love all the new stuff that’s going on. But, I’ve seen actual things happen. Like a lot of people that worked downtown, they’re in maintenance, they clean a lot of these buildings and stuff, and most of them are black. And you can see the difference when, like, when they have the security and stuff around, they almost make you feel like you don’t belong there. There’s some particular person, someone in general, if you go downtown, you look on a lot of buildings down here, some graffiti person writes notation all over the city that says “Vote N.C.P.” If you look, it’s everywhere. And we know what it means—it means “No colored people” downtown, and it’s graffitied on a whole lot of stuff. It’s “Vote for no C.P downtown.”
NH: And it’s graffitied everywhere. And the people that clean up know that’s what it—this graffiti person is doing this everywhere. I know Mr. Gilbert, he’s got a lot of surveillance going on, I wish they find out who’s doing that, because it’s everywhere. And it’s actually funny that you can see the racial divide in downtown everywhere because, like, there’s the transit center on one side, on the corner where I catch my bus at. On the other side of the street is where the Smart Buses come. And the Smart Buses take—a lot of people still live in suburban areas and they take the bus in an out of the city instead of paying for parking, and on this side, you can see black people standing over 40, 50 deep sometimes, waiting on buses. Smart Buses always on time, I’ll ride a Smart Bus now, because I live in Saint Claire Shores. Bus is always on time, and all on this side is white people leaving, a few black people going to catch the bus, and it’s like you can just see the divide. And when they have different things that happen down there, like if there’s special events going on downtown, we used to go downtown to all the Waterfront events used to be free at Hart Plaza. Everything would be free in the summer. You have to pay for everything now. All the summer events, when they do the river thing, the fireworks are still free but if you want to do river walk events, you have to pay to get into that. I even heard on the radio our soul music rib festival that they do every year, you’re going to have to pay for that. I was here when that techno festival first started, it used to be free, now you pay two or three hundred dollars a day to go to that thing.
GS: I paid 70 bucks to go to it actually it was way too much money!
NH: It used to be free!
NH: I used to go, it used to be free! So one way that downtown is not inclusive, because everything is priced where you can’t afford it. Really, you can’t afford it to be downtown if you’re black, certain districts the way you used to be, because—it was a relief that Belle Isle even, you just went to Belle Isle. But they weren’t taking care of it. People didn’t appreciate Belle Isle anymore. And if they’d had more security and things out there and ran it the way they should, they could’ve stopped a lot of things that were happening at Belle Isle before the state took it over, because nobody was policing young people out there at the island. I love the way that it’s clean out there now and everything, but you have to pay. And it makes you feel like everything we used to do, and you didn’t have to pay for, don’t group everybody into like, everybody’s bad, and everything’s going to happen, but it feels like you’re not wanted down there. You just don’t feel like you’re wanted down there, “Just do your job and leave.” Because a lot of people go out to lunch and they go out in groups, you just see this constant presence of the special security and everything. You know, pulling people over, too many in the car, you’re a certain color down there, and it’s embarrassing to see that they make them get out of the car, and it’s almost like the way it was back in the sixties because “Too many of you in the area and we don’t know going on with you. Let’s see and stop you and—” They’re just in the car going to lunch or something, and they’re getting pulled over by the security, the security on the bikes. And it’s like they have what they call the transit police down at the transit center, and it’s my opinion, that the transit police are just there to keep you down there in that transit area. If they don’t do what they’re supposed to do in that transit area, they let everything go on there as long as you keep it down in that area. Because there are people down there, they’re selling drugs in that transit area, every kind of thing is going on over there. And the only time the real police seem to show up is when they’ve done something stupid, somebody’s gotten shot. Like a few weeks ago, somebody got shot. They made the police presence known in that area because they’re shooting for a few days, then they disappeared again. And I heard those guys get paid, like, they sit there and they get paid like 16, 15, 18, dollars an hour, and they don’t do anything. They just walk around or sit in their office and stuff, and they have guns, they have licenses to carry guns but they don’t stop anything.
NH: They’re just like “Keep it down this way, and we alright in this perimeter.”
GS: Well is there anything else you’d like to add?
NH: Well, right now, I love the way things look downtown. I really do. I just wish that people wouldn’t judge, because someone’s color when you’re downtown and everybody’s black or something’s going to be doing something bad or up to no good, because I always enjoyed before everybody came down—when Campus Martius first was open, I’d bring my grandchildren down here to watch the movies, on the theatre screen, when it was mostly black people coming down, because there weren’t a lot of white people coming down because they weren’t working down here as much, they didn’t live down here. But now, when I come down here doing these things, they look at you like you don’t belong here now, and I was doing this before you were coming down here. But you get that feeling. I went down to lunch and met my daughter—she works down here too—and I met her for lunch, and we walked over to Campus Martius, and the area we used to go where they set up the beach area at and everything, they made it, like, “Oh, you can’t sit over on this area and this area unless you’re going to be buying food,” which is high end food. It’s the summer time, you’re not going to pay five dollars. Some people will pay five dollars for a French fry, a pack of French fries to sit over in that area, but they made that area where they know some folks are not going to pay five dollars so “If we make this price, you won’t be able to sit up over in this area of Campus Martius by the beach, in these chairs.” Because we got something from the food truck and we went over there, because we already sat anywhere down there. We went there the other week to sit in this area, “Oh, you can’t sit over here, unless you’re buying food from this particular place at this area, so you can’t sit over here.” Feeling not inclusive, you know what I’m saying? I hope it doesn’t stay that way because we’re not going anywhere. We just want to enjoy just like you and just don’t judge everybody the same, because I’ve lived here, and I’ve stayed—I love this city and I’ve always been here, and I like to partake, I enjoy things Downtown, you know? But in my opinion, if it keeps on going on this way, it can happen again. I can see it, because I saw it, and it can happen again. And I’m not the only one that feels this way.
GS: Well thank you for sitting down with me today.
NH: Thank you.