Frank Boscarino, August 2nd, 2016
HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. I am in Clinton Township, Michigan. The date is August 2nd, 2016 and I am here for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project with Frank Boscarino. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
FB: You’re welcome.
HS: Frank, can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
FB: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 21st, 1929.
HS: Did you live in Philadelphia growing up? Pittsburgh, sorry.
FB: No, I did not. I came here as a one-year-old boy, and my father and mother moved in various parts of Detroit. By the time I was 3 years old, they had moved to Moran and Alexandrine. Moran and Alexandrine is where I spent my life until I was 10 years old.
HS: What was your neighborhood like?
FB: It was an ethnic neighborhood. Lot of Polish and Italians, African Americans, some of them. Little community there.
HS: So it was integrated?
FB: It was integrated, yeah. It was very nice. Very good neighborhood. It was an old neighborhood, but it was nice. Everybody was clean. All Europeans and stuff like that. We had a good time, growing up. It was really nice. We didn’t have much money because we were all pretty poor in that area. There was no welfare, don’t forget, at that time. There was no aid. Like my dad, I believe my father made $15 a week, and he was working for the garbage company, DPW. He was lifting garbage, that’s what he was, because he was an immigrant. That’s what he did for a long, long time.
HS: What did your mother do?
FB: She was a housewife at home. She raised, I had four sisters, but when we lived on Moran, at that time, I only had two sisters, the first two were born, besides myself.
HS: So are you the oldest?
FB: I’m the oldest, yeah. The oldest of five children.
HS: Just out of curiosity, do you remember anything about the race riots that occurred in ’43 in Detroit?
FB: Yes, just very vaguely. I was 12 years old then, going on 13. I do remember there was a lot of bloodshed by Belle Isle, a lot of the race riots on Jefferson happened, on the Boulevard by Belle Isle, and on Mack Avenue, there was a lot of troubles. My aunt and uncle lived off of Mack Avenue, so we had a little difficult time going to see them. I can just remember it, but nothing affected us in our neighborhoods. There was very little that I remember from the ’43 riots.
HS: Okay. We’re going to fast-forward to the 1960s. What were you doing in the ‘60s?
FB: I had my business. I had purchased my business when I came out of the army.
HS: What year was that?
FB: I came out of the army in 1954. July of ’54. When I got out, I worked with my father in his store temporarily until I could find my business. I think around July or August I found this place on 18th Street. I kept going back and back. I put a deposit on it in September of 1954. I took purchase of it, I bought it and took over the business because they had a SDM license, which is a beer and wine license. At that time, you can’t take it over for ninety days. Even though we made our agreement in October—I think it was October that we made the agreement—I didn’t take over until January 3rd of 1955. January 3rd of 1955, I went on my way. I had my own business.
HS: Was it a liquor store or like a general store?
FB: No, no, it was just a general store. I didn’t have any liquor; I just had beer and wine. It wasn’t a SDD license, it was an SDM. Also, I got my start there. My customers were just beautiful customers. We had a good relationship in the neighborhood. It was a strange thing, every time my wife would have a baby, one of my customers would have a baby. We wound up with eight children, my wife and I. So this one lady would say, “Frank, your wife’s pregnant again? So am I!” I said, “Oh, my god! Here we go again!” Then another lady would come by, and she’d say the same thing. Before you know it, there are three or four women, they’re all pregnant and so is my wife, and we’d all have kids at the same time. It was crazy.
HS: Your customers, were they primarily of European descent or black or a mixture?
FB: In the beginning, there were some European descents, about 20%. And 80% were African American. As it went on, it got more and more African American. I had a very good business there, very good people. I was very happy there.
HS: In the ‘60s, did you notice any tension in the city?
FB: No. my customers, they didn’t like those hoodlums, you know, those people who would try to make trouble and Black Panthers and stuff like that. They didn’t like that. They were just honest, hard-working people. They worked in the factories, and they were just good Christians. They belonged to that Baptist church on the corner. They didn’t believe in all that stuff. They didn’t like that. They used to tell me, “You guys are crazy, they would do this stuff.” That’s all I can say. They were good people and I didn’t have any trouble with them. Except, sometimes you’d have a young teenager who was on either drugs, and his parents were beautiful, but all of a sudden he breaks into my store. They used to break in quite a bit. But we got along, and I fixed it all up. We did that.
HS: How did you first hear about the events in July of 1967?
FB: Well it was a Sunday. I used to open on Sundays from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon, ten in the morning until two. I was home, we were all home, relaxing, had the TV on, and all of a sudden, they said there’s a riot in the city. The city’s burning! I was shocked! I said, “Geez, it was all right when I left the store this morning! I left at two o’clock, I came home. We lived on Mott in East Detroit. I said, I can’t believe it. I wonder how my place is. I called all my customers and they said, “Frank, your building’s still there.” I said, “What’s going on?” They said, “It’s crazy. We’re having a lot of problems here. I’ll tell you what, Frank, if we hear anything, we’ll call you.” Next thing you know, phone starts ringing, couple hours later, and they were saying, “Frank, it don’t look good, but we’re protecting your building,” they told me. They said, “We’re protecting your building.” So far, everything as good. Then they call me the next day and say the same thing, “We’re protecting your building, we’ve got ‘soul brother’ written all over the building.” They had “Soul brothers written all over my building. It was a white frame building. I didn’t have a brick building. Even though they had that, they had chains, still people would try to come and put chains on it and try to destroy it. My customers would run out there, some of them had guns and they were armed and they said, “You can’t touch this store, this is a soul brother store.” They called me a soul brother, and that’s what happened. That’s how we left it. I got it written down if you want to read it.
HS: I know that later on in the week sometimes they still attacked the stores that had “soul brother” on it, they disregarded it. Did that happen to your store?
FB: Yes, they came to my store to try to do it, and my customers went out there with their guns and stopped them.
HS: So nobody successfully robbed your store?
FB: Nobody damaged my store, not one bit.
HS: After the riots, did your business change at all? Like, your level of business?
FB: Well, it got busier, because you know why? There were a lot of stores that were demolished. I was the only one standing in quite a ways. They needed food, so they came to me. Unless those who could drive went to supermarkets a little further, you know. But they did good. My business was really, really, very good. I did quite a bit of business. I used to open at nine on the morning until seven at night. That was my hours. Then after the riot, I opened at ten in the morning and I closed at six at night because I wanted to get out quick in case they started any trouble. I always tried to work during the day. My customers, they adjusted to my hours. I told them, “I’m going to make these hours, and that’s what I’m going to do.” They went along with it, and that’s the way it was. I did just as much business in the shorter hours as I did in the longer hours. I was busy, it was a very nice store, and I was happy. I raised all my family with that store, too.
HS: After the riots, did you ever feel uncomfortable going to or from work?
FB: Never. Never. Never felt uncomfortable. I was always anxious to get to work, because the people loved me; we had a good relationship. We had a very good relationship. “Hey, frank! How you doing?” “Hey, how you doing, Joe?” “How’s your wife, she any better?” “Yeah, she’s all right.” We used to talk like that all day long. Then my neighbor next door, Mr. Goldman, he had a garage in the back, and he used to repair cars. He repaired my cars all the time. He was quite a guy. Everybody would come around to see him. He’s say, “Hey, don’t mess with Frank.” Everything was all right. I always had very good relationships.
HS: Did you see the city change at all after the riots?
FB: Well, the only thing I’ve seen is there was less houses. They kept tearing all the houses down, there was nothing. The houses kept disappearing. I’ll give you an example: When I bought that business in 1955, when I took over in January of ’55, there were 72 houses in the two-block area from Buchanan to Seldon, which is two blocks. There were 72 houses. When I left my business in 1979, when I sold it—and I sold it to some Chaldean people, they bought it and they put bars up, they put protective glass around—and when I left that building, my business then when I sold it out, there were only nine houses left on that street.
HS: And where were you living at this point?
FB: I was living in East Detroit, near 8 Mile and Beaconsfield.
HS: Why did you sell your business in ’79?
FB: I wanted to retire. I was 25 years in the business and I didn’t like it that all the houses were disappearing. I was used to houses. Now all of a sudden, all the houses are gone, but the Chaldean, he saw that I was still doing good business, he bought my place and he did pretty good. They stayed there for three, four, five years, something like that. The first Chaldean that took it over, the first week he was there, one of my black young customers took a bottle of wine and busted it over his head. Poor guy, I felt sorry for him. So he sold it right away to his cousin. His cousin stayed there a long time. He used to rent from me, because that was my property. He rented from me. All I can say is that all I’ve got is good memories over there. I don’t have any bad memories.
HS: How long did you continue to live in Detroit?
FB: My wife and I lived in Detroit until—when did we move out of Detroit? From Montclair and Mack, from the time I got out of the army in 1954 until 1957. About three years, three years I lived in Detroit. Then I moved to East Detroit, the 8 Mile and Kelly.
HS: So that’s not technically within Detroit’s borders?
HS: Do you still visit the city at all or did you continue to visit the city?
FB: I haven’t been down to the city since I sold my other business in the Eastern Market, and that was in 2005. I haven’t been down there since. I’m a little handicapped too, I’m in a wheelchair, so I don’t get around much anymore. If I had good legs, I’d probably be down there all the time.
HS: Do you have an opinion on where you see the city headed?
FB: I’ve got a positive opinion. This new mayor is doing fantastic. He’s doing a great job. The city’s going forward. I think it’s going to be great.
HS: So you’re optimistic?
FB: Oh, very. Very optimistic. I’m proud of the way they’re working things out over there. I wish I was a young man. I’d be down there doing it. I’m 87 almost, now.
HS: When you look back on the events, would you describe them as a riot?
FB: Well, it might have been a riot, but I didn’t see the anguish. I didn’t see it. I knew there was rioting; I’d see it on TV. But in my neighborhood I’d see everything torn down when I got there, but I wasn’t there to see it. They would probably do it when I wasn’t around. They really tore the city up.
HS: But would you call it a riot or would you call it a rebellion or uprising?
FB: I’d call it a riot. It was a riot.
HS: All right. One last question: What advice would you leave for future generations with regards to Detroit?
FB: Well, the only thing I’d tell you is you’ve gotta work hard if you want something. You really have to work hard. I use to put in, when I first bought my store, 84 hours a week. 84 hours is a lot of time, especially when you’ve got a family. After three years, I finally whittled the hours down a little bit to about 70 hours. 72. I used to put in a lot of hours. But still managed to have a family of eight children. Four sons and four daughters.
HS: Oh, I can’t imagine!
FB: We were busy night and day.
FB’s granddaughter: He had the store in Eastern Market, too.
FB: Oh, that was a warehouse. After I retired in 1979, I sold cars briefly for Mitchell Buick. I did that for about nine or ten, no it was about a year. It was about a year, wasn’t it? Then I bought this business in Eastern Market. The one in Eastern Market was a wholesale food butter-egg business, butter-egg-and-cheese business. I bought it from Harold & Glave’s, and I left the name Harold & Glave’s. When I first got in Eastern Market, I got a house, I got a little building there with 300 square feet. Then after a couple years, I bought this building and it was 13,000 square feet. It was a pretty good-sized building. I brought three of my sons to work for me. Three of my sons came to work for me, and I had seven other employees besides my sons. Besides myself, we were about ten or eleven. I did that for twenty-five years. That was in Eastern Market. There was no riot or nothing then.
HS: Okay, Frank, was there anything else you wanted to share from the week of the riots?
FB: The National Guard was on my street. They were all around, all up and down all the streets in that area. They were there with the police. The police were with the National Guard. The people were very nice, they weren’t rioting because the National Guard and the police were there every day. They did a good job. I don’t know who the mayor was at that time, I don’t remember—
HS: Jerome Cavanagh.
FB: Jerome Cavanagh? He was doing a good job then. I mean, as far as I can see, as far as keeping the police there, you know. It was good. I don’t know what else I can add to that. My recollection of the city riot was horrible. The city was burning, property demolished, people without food; it was terrible. I tried immediately to go to my market, Frank’s Market at 4005 18th Street, corner of Poplar. My family were worried and were against me going for fear that—because of what they saw on TV, it might be dangerous. But on the second day, they worried about me getting hurt. The second day, I wanted to go as far as Grand River and Buchanan, and the National Guard turned me away and the police turned me away, they wouldn’t let me go. My customers were calling, asking me to come in. They had no food, no milk, no bread, no groceries. I was so desperate to get to my friends and customers because we had a good relationship and they loved me and respected me and I did them. So I was anxious to get there. The police and National Guard would not let me in. They had blockades everywhere. I went there more than once. I went there a second time, and they still wouldn’t let me in. I told them my customers are anxious.
HS: So you couldn’t get to your store?
FB: I couldn’t get to my store, but they followed me in there. They had the police follow me in there and made sure that I got there. The National Guard were there, too. The National Guard were already at my store. They were already there. The police followed me in there and I got in. That’s how I got in. After that, it was no problem going in and out because my customers knew I was there for them. The food that we couldn’t get, I would call my suppliers: the milk companies, the bread companies, Wonder bread, [unintelligible] Creamery, my meat suppliers, and my groceries. I would bring the groceries in before I came. I would get them at a warehouse and bring the food in. when I got there, my customers would help me get all that food, and they would go out with their cars, on the corner of Buchanan. You would give them meat, you would give them bread, you would give them milk, so we eventually got everything. That was for about five days, it was chaotic, about six days, until we started getting deliveries again. The big companies started sending their drivers out again.
HS: Instead of getting your supplies or your food delivered, you had to go out and get them?
FB: Yeah, I had to go get them right there. That was only for five days. After that, everything was normal. Because the first five days, who would want to come in there? Things burning, things all gone. You’d see a house, then it was gone the next day. It was terrible. I think that’s terrible. We already went through that. My building stayed standing, and “soul brother” was written all over my building, which I told you about. They put chains on the building to tear it apart, but my customers wouldn’t let them. Forty-nine years later, which is now, I never, ever forgot the humbling experiences and I said, “God bless us all,” because we made it through that riot. My father used to accompany me. After the third day, my dad came with me all the time. They loved him. They just loved my dad, too. That’s about all I can say. I don’t have much more to say, to tell you.
HS: That’s great, though.
FB: I just hope, you know, everything goes okay, helped you out.
HS: Definitely. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me.
FB: You’re welcome. God bless you.
[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 23:04]
[End of Track 1]