Carole Baker, August 1st, 2016
WW: Hello today is August 1, 2016 my name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with….
CB: Carole Baker
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
CB: You’re welcome.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when you were born?
CB: I was born in Detroit in the Woodbridge Historical Area right behind Wayne State University, right, which borders with 12th street of Rosa Parks where the riots began.
WW: What year?
CB: That was, what year was I born?
WW: So you were raised in Woodbridge you said?
CB: Yes, I still live there.
WW: What was the neighborhood like for you growing up?
CB: Oh, it went through a lot of changes. It was once a thriving neighborhood then the auto industry went down. The neighborhoods went down. The riots came. Everybody left the neighborhood at that time. Wayne State came in and purchased the buildings across Trumbull and tried to get our area and we fought against that and were able to save that triangle.
WW: Was it integrated when you were growing up?
CB: Woodbridge was always a well-integrated area
CB: Yes. Always.
WW: What was the make-up of it?
CB: Well one side I would say over on Warren now was more African-American and our side we had a lot of mixed couples also, marriages. Maybe, I don’t know I was so young it didn’t occur to me that there was, I mean everybody just got along so, I don’t know, I can’t tell you a percentage. I was really too young to do that but it was a well-mixed area.
WW: Okay. What did your parents do for a living?
CB: My parents, I lived with my grandparents and I lived with the neighbors. I lived with the neighbors during the riots because my parents had died. So…
WW: Oh ok. So throughout the, until your entire time in high school did you ever plan on leaving Woodbridge?
CB: I guess I didn’t know what my options were. I was just, just struggling to take care of myself. Stay above ground and get educated, that type of thing.
WW: What schools did you go to?
CB: I went to, I went to [unintelligible] Lutheran School, was chosen to go to Cass Tech and I went to Cass Tech for a year and my Grandmother passed away so I kind of left school for a minute until the neighbors took me in and then I went back to Wilbur Wright, at that time. Then I went to Highland Park, I was the first woman to graduate from their mechanical drafting program there and I went to Wayne State University.
WW: Do you mean Highland Park Community College?
CB: Yeah, yeah.
CB: And they had a big, I worked with Chrysler there, they had a big school there, clay modeling and mechanical drafting and then I got my degree from Wayne State in Industrial Education and Art and then I got my Master’s degree from Michigan State in Administration and Supervision for vocational education.
WW: Wow, were the schools you went to in Detroit, were they integrated at the time?
CB: Yes, very much integrated. Yes
WW: Did you notice a tension within the schools?
CB: I did notice tension but it was, I never had the tension because I was used to living in an integrated neighborhood. So I knew everybody and really, I didn’t, it didn’t come against me but it did, it did happen. There was a lot of problems later on just before the riot, which started the riot, with The Big 4 and stress and that. And they would constantly stop us or grab my friends and throw them in the car, grab me, but, you know, there was a lot of tensions beginning, happening, a lot of pressure, in terms of the police, on the neighborhood. I was so young I don’t, I’m not sure, I think that a lot of the African-Americans felt left out of the scene and what was going on. That was very true. And they were discriminated against I would say.
WW: You mentioned that you were too young to see it when you were younger, in your teenage years, in the 60s, did you notice any growing tension throughout the city?
CB: Yes, yes I did, I did and I think that was brought on by stress and a lack of jobs, a lot of lack of jobs. Nobody was working a lot. Just you know they were trying to segregate schools and I could see it building up. I think the police brought a lot of it on, cracking down on people and, you know, if there was large gatherings of people they would come in and break it up but not in a good way.
WW: Is there anything else you would like to share before we start talking about 67?
CB: Not really. I can see how it happened. I mean I can, as I relate back and the way things are now I can see a direct correlation.
WW: So you were still living in Woodbridge in 67 right?
WW: How did you first hear what was going on?
CB: I was coming on, I was a teenager, I came in on a bus from Bay City and they had out, there were sirens and State Police all the way back to Detroit. I didn’t know what was going on. I was young. I could see smoke coming out from the city. I could see all that but I didn’t know what was going on. And they took me to Greyhound Bus Station and I couldn’t see anybody there to pick me up and I was kind of panicking not knowing what was going on. They wouldn’t let anybody in the city, and the people that took care of me they snuck in the Greyhound Bus Station, got a car in, and they picked me up and dropped me back to the house. And when I saw, we were right behind Newman’s Gun Shop, and there were tanks there and there were fires everywhere. You know, so…
WW: That was on Sunday?
CB: I don’t know, I don’t know what day it was on
WW: Oh, okay
CB: Yeah, but I mean, I don’t remember back then but I know we used to sleep on the front porch and water down the house, it was a frame house, keep the fires from going. And then all of Trumbull Avenue was burned down, the entire, Cunningham’s, the corner store Saul’s, Lamar Restaurant, the 5 and Dime, everything was just torched and all of Grand River, all the stores that I knew as a kid, they were all burned down. The furniture stores. The Pet shops. The theaters were threatened. I mean it was just one after the other. And Looting was going on and I remember the 5 and Dime coming and saying “come on in and get a pair of shoes” and I wouldn’t do it. They said “everybody else is taking shoes, please take something for yourself” and I said “no”. It was just really frightening and really terrible to see everything you grew up with just gone. Just gone in a matter of, you know, a few days. And there were tanks up and down and guys with guns.
WW: So did your guardians ever just consider leaving the city this, during that week?
CB: No. We couldn’t. They had like 6 kids, plus me, and they had a store on Warren Ave., a little penny store, but nobody ever bothered that. See, all the neighbors knew us and we were always respectful of everyone, so we never got touched throughout the whole thing, but we were fortunate. I did run in, about 10 years ago, I was walking, I was on Forest and Trumbull, and on that corner was a clothing store and they used to let me put my clothes in layaway there so I could put them in there, and I was coming down the street, this woman, I recognized her, she recognized me. She said “Is that you, is that you, Carole Baker”? I said “yes”. “So you’re all grown up”, she started crying. She said “Remember my store? We lost everything”. She just started crying. It was a terrible experience to have that brought back to, to my feelings and things like that.
WW: And you believe the cause of what happened was a result of police?
CB: I think no jobs, no opportunity. I mean, you see it now that people are, that are here, it seems like we’re getting shoved out again and that’s what was happening back then also. That people were trying to hold jobs back, give them to certain people, that kind of thing. The job market wasn’t very good then. And there was a lot of animosity against having blacks live in your neighborhood, or whites live in your neighborhood, but again we didn’t have that kind of a problem where we were but it did happen like further down on 12th. But the police were very antagonistic, highly antagonistic. Because they set-up a special force called “The Big 4” and they were very good to me in the long run because I think I was the only kid that really graduated down there at that time, but they weren’t good to the girls, one of the kids that I lived with there, and they weren’t good to, blacks they were terrible to. I mean, they’d just throw you in the car for no reason.
WW: How do you to refer to the events July 1967? How do you interpret them?
CB: I, it was heartbreaking for me. I look at it and I try to explain to people what life was like back then, and how nice it was, and how you don’t want to repeat this type of thing again and you have to pay attention, you know. And people just think, and then of course after that there was a huge white flight, everybody just moved out. It was just um, and I blame a lot of that on people instead of staying and trying to rebuild, they left, and the city was just, I mean you drive around and just people left because they, they didn’t want to share. They didn’t want to be a part of it, the fear, you know, and I just couldn’t get over everything that was gone. I mean there was nothing to go to. There’s still, I mean I’m still waiting for stores to come back.
WW: How do you refer to the events? Do you see them as a riot? Do you see them as a rebellion?
CB: I see them as a rebellion, yeah, it was a rebellion. Of course it was a rebellion. “Look at me I’m worth something”. That kind of thing. “I am somebody. I’m not somebody you can just, you know, come in and [unintelligible] sitting there, coming into a room and judge what I am doing there”. That kind of thing.
WW: Do the events change the way you view the city?
CB: I was struggling myself, very much so. It made living in the city so much harder. So then I began to live my life to, to save, to work on saving Woodbridge, going back and teaching myself and being a teacher and never leaving the city because I believe that you leave, you need to leave an imprint om life and that’s what you’re here for. And I saw such devastation that I never wanted to see that again. I didn’t want to run away from it. I wanted to face it and try, try to help it whatever the cause was.
WW: That’s awesome. Are there any other experiences from that week you would like to share?
CB: Just like any, you know can still smell the fires, still see it. I mean just, there’s nothing more devastating to see people that, friendships that, person that let me put clothes in layaway, because maybe I couldn’t buy a coat, they were gone. You see how significant that is to a neighborhood, to people that don’t have a lot and that was taken away, you know. And people, you know, we’ve been living like this without anything for a long, long time, but it’s finally coming back, which is very good. But we, we have to take note and I’ve been wanting to do this. I’ve talked to people downtown to do something, do set-up a type of place where people can go and reflect on what happened and have like a little park-like thing or something like that, so that people can come and visit. Say what really caused this, so everybody can reflect so it doesn’t repeat itself. Because scenes like this are popping up all over the city now. All over cities. All over America. And nobody’s paying attention. Everybody thinks it’s just going to go away. Started little blurbs like that here, but ended-up in a big mess.
WW: So are you optimistic for the city today?
CB: I’m optimistic for the city. I think though that the, that those of us that have been here for a long time feel neglected and left out, because I think a lot of the people come in and tell us we were part of the problem. Now I think the people that left are part of the problem. That left it and didn’t stand-up to it and say I’m going to do something better. And I’m glad everybody’s coming back in, that’s it, but I think a lot of the businesses, a lot of my friends that are black owners of businesses or, whoever, even white owners are not getting any of the funding, any acknowledgement or anything and they’re getting frustrated.
WW: Is there anything else you would like to add today?
CB: Nope, anything you would like to ask [laughing]?
WW: No. Thank you very much for sitting down with me today. I really appreciate it.
CB: Okay. Thank you
14:02 END OF INTERVIEW
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