Arthur Divers, July 26th, 2016
GS: Hello, today is July 26, 2016. My name is Giancarlo Stefanutti and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s 67 Oral History Project, and I’m sitting down with Arthur Divers today. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
AD: Thank you.
GS: So where and when were you born?
AD: December 12, 1962.
GS: Okay, where were you born?
AD: Here in Detroit, Michigan.
GS: Okay. So where did you grow up as a child?
AD: My first residence was 9362 North Martindale.
GS: Okay, and what did your parents do growing up?
AD: My father was a retired educator and my mother’s a homemaker.
GS: Okay, do you have any siblings?
AD: Yes I have a brother and a sister.
GS: Okay. So what was your neighborhood like then, growing up? Was it very racially integrated?
AD: At that time – in that area, there was Joy Road – Joy Road, the Jeffries Freeway, Dexter, all that pretty much was black. However the businesses over there were white, and there were Jewish people. And you had business of all type of variety you could think of on Joy Road. You know, now it’s nothing but vacant lots, but you had businesses back to back there were no gaps and vacant lots. No, it was businesses on both sides of the street.
GS: Okay, where did you go to school?
AD: Oh at that time, I started kindergarten at Keiden School, which is two blocks south of that location on Martindale.
GS: Okay, was that very racially integrated?
AD: That was mostly blacks. Yeah, at that time, yeah.
GS: So you were born in the early 60s, so I don’t know if as a child you could sense any tension, but could you, you know?
AD: You know, at that time I couldn’t sense any racial tension, but I saw a lot going on, but I didn’t get a connection on it until I got older and – quite naturally after I joined the police department, saw life from a completely different perspective, but I had no understanding that whites and blacks had these deep-seeded issues. But I did see a lot of stuff, now as I’ve got older I said ‘oh, I see how that happened, I see why that happened’.
GS: Could you describe what one of those things were?
AD: Well, that whole area there was the epicenter for that riot. That riot sprawled all up and down Joy Road, Warren, Michigan, they burned all of Grand River up in there. That’s the area that I lived in – but like I said that was a heavy business district, you had a variety of thriving businesses in that area, but again at that time they were primarily run by Europeans or Jews – and then there were a few Middle Eastern people, but it was primarily Europeans and Jews that ran those. They had drycleaners, beauty shops, we had dime stores back then – that was a dollar store now– Shoe shops, place to get your haircut, they fixed cars; there was a variety of things. And the funeral home – the funeral home is still there.
GS: So moving to the riot itself, where were you when you first heard about it?
AD: Okay, my experience with the riot was this: my dad he’s a retired educator, at that time he was a regular teacher, and we frequented that Joy Road area to go home. And my grandparents lived on Gladstone right off Twelfth Street. And Twelfth Street was where the riot was, and that area there again was heavily – it was stores, businesses, clubs. What happened specifically, the nights of the riot, we pulled up on Joy Road to, Petoskey, the intersection now has a liquor store on the corner, and there’s a house there. The house’s address is – 4209 Joy Road – that house is still on the corner. That house still stands there today because that was a Michigan State Police National Guard Command Center for that area. So you had officers changing shifts, you had tanks coming in and out of there, you had soldiers in formation, they were having roll call there, I became aware of that because we pulled up there, you have to pass Petoskey to get to Martindale, and the soldiers, they had everybody stopped. And, I had never seen a rifle. I’m 53 and at then my parents didn’t own firearms. So I’m a little guy, looking out the back seat of the car, and my dad says “You sit here, I’ll go talk to them,” and it was two white soldiers from the National Guard, and he had a rifle and a bayonet. I had never seen a rifle or a bayonet, and I’m like “boy, that thing looks sharp!” And he talked to them, they talked to him, and he got in the car and we pulled off, and we went through this everyday. They knew him and he knew them. And you had the state police there and you had the National Guard there. They exchanged gunfire between the authorities and the black residents; they had ran all night and all day, particularly all night. It got so fierce one night until, my mother, she forced all our bodies on the floor, and she threw her body on top of us and she started praying. The fighting was just that intense that night, yeah. And it was tanks up and down Joy Road, you had tanks, you had soldiers, you had Detroit police out there, and the place burned. Everything burned. The houses burned, all the businesses down there burned, the only ones that didn’t burn were, you had some people that had their own armed security, you had several business guys who were out there with their shotguns standing in front of their stuff so it didn’t burn. But a lot of it burned. A lot of people lost their homes, and they just gutted – that’s why you don’t have a Warren - young people like your age asking “Well, what was here?” Well, all that was there prior to the riot. That’s why you don’t have a Joy Road, a Twelfth Street, Harper burned on the East side; Jefferson – what’s the other big one over there – Dexter, Linwood, Woodrow. All those were businesses on both sides of the street, and the reason why they’re vacant lots now is because they either burned them down or in later years the city came and demolished that property.
GS: With the National Guard being there did you and your family feel more secure or were you more concerned?
AD: Well, we felt more secure because the local authorities couldn’t handle that. You know, you had the state police coming in, you had the National Guard coming in, then you had the military come in, but it was needed. But the place burned and burned – it looked like it wouldn’t stop burning and it wouldn’t stop shooting.
GS: How was your neighborhood reacting, similar to your family?
AD: Yeah, yeah. Everybody was on lockdown in the house. And they had what they call a curfew, you couldn’t come out by a certain day at a certain this – you had to drive way out to get groceries and come back. You know, yeah.
GS: So moving towards, you know post riot, could you sense any changes in Detroit? You were still pretty young.
AD: After then my dad moved us, it had to be about ‘69, he moved us from that area out to the John Lodge and 7 Mile. Due to schools, the crime, and then that riot situation, and the decline in the quality of life. After that riot happened that area down there, there was a serious decline in the quality of life after they burned everything down. He moved us - that was either ‘68 or ‘69 - he moved us over on Morrow and Margarita, 7 Mile Lodge area. And then that’s why I subsequently went to Winship Elementary School, and then I went on to Ford High School from there, and then after that I joined the Detroit Police Department.
GS: Could you just provide an example of how your old neighborhood, you know, lowered in way of life and quality of life?
AD: Well, there’s nothing down there anymore, all the stores are gone, and they had every kind of store down there you could sit here and make a list. Joy Road had every kind of store you could think of, and all that’s gone after that riot. So there’s no place to shop, they had theatre there – The Riviera – which used to be there on Grand River and Joy Road, it’s gone, it’s a federal facility now, social security administration’s in there now they tore the place down, that used to be a theatre, we used to go to that theatre all the time there, yeah, it went out of business because of the lack of population in the area, they couldn’t make money.
GS: So a lot of people call the riot using different terms like ‘ rebellion’ or ‘uprising’ and you were very young, but looking back now would you call it one of these terms or would you still call it a riot?
AD: I’d call that a riot. Because the whole city was on lockdown for five to seven days, and Romney and Cavanagh – from video footage that I saw – they were doing the best they could to handle that situation. I personally don’t believe that Cavanagh thought that, the black community would rise up like that and have that much going on. From what I’ve read, and people I’ve met, he was trying to mend that, trying to have some order, some respect, amongst the races in the city of Detroit.
GS: So how do you see Detroit today?
AD: Well I see Detroit today struggling to get all in line with all the other big cities that have nicer facilities than we do, you know. And that’s probably one of the major reasons why we don’t have a thriving business district is because of that riot. We had one at one point, and after that the whole business thing went in the tubes, and we’re trying to come out of that. They’ve done a lot of work down here, Midtown; and they’ve done a lot downtown, but okay what about the neighborhoods? We had nice stuff in the neighborhoods prior to that riot; they had every kind of store, or restaurant, that you could think of. You know like they have out in the suburbs, well Detroit was like that at one time. You go out to Farmington Hills, Novi, West Bloomfield; Detroit was like that! We had stores and theatres and clubs like that, prior to that riot, but that riot sucked the commercial life out of the city, and then a lot of the blacks left – the whites they had been leaving anyway– they accelerated that. And then I know it’s one thing, after all that the Middle Easterns came in and they bought all the liquor licenses, so they have a lock on all the liquor stores now, they have a lock on a lot of the grocery stores now, those people weren’t that prominent in that liquor industry or that grocery industry, that was run by Europeans primarily and some Jews. Arabs didn’t have that kind of influence, but they have it now, they’re some hard working people. Yeah, they work twelve, sixteen, eighteen hours, yeah.
GS: Well is there anything else you would like to add?
AD: Well, you know, the interesting thing about this, you know, the focus at that time of the riot – the grievance, I’ll say – was mistreatment of the citizens by white male officers, and I guess that’s what we’re coming back to now, you know. That’s just the funny thing about it. After that riot, Cavanagh left, we had [Roman] Gribbs in there, and then Coleman [Young] came in, and what he did with the department, he went to Washington, he got federal money, and he dismantled the white male leadership. And he forced that agency to hire blacks like myself, and minorities, and females of all races on that job, and integrate that job, and then they created a thing called crime prevention where the officers actually go out – you say Community Policing – it was crime prevention back then. I worked there before I got promoted, and mending this [unintelligible] relationship with some friendship with these people, everybody wants to see somebody that looks like them in an authority position. And you know he changed a lot of that, to the point where it is now. I kind of benefitted from it in that kind of way, but I work with some very good white male officers, I worked with some that were openly prejudiced – but I worked with some that say ‘I’m not with that, I’ll work with you, alright this is my first year or so on the job I’ll work with you.’ And they showed me some of everything that I needed to make it out there on that street, to deal with the citizens, the bosses, and stay alive out there, so you know. And there’s good and bad in that profession, I worked internal affairs for six years, I’ve dealt with blacks that weren’t that good, that were shady, and I’ve worked with whites that weren’t that good and shady and I had to deal with them. But those are things that paused a fallout from that riot or some people say rebellion, I say it was a riot because it was extremely violent, extremely dangerous, and the city almost burned down, if they hadn’t done that inter agency thing with the state police, the National Guard to come here because the Detroit Police couldn’t handle that it was too much. Cavanagh and his people they couldn’t handle it.
GS: Wow. All right, well thank you for sitting down with me today.
AD: Okay, sure.
GS: Thank you.
[TIME STAMP END OF INTERVIEW 13:29]
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