Reverend Dan Aldridge, June 22nd, 2016
WW: Hello, today is June 22nd, 2016. My name is William Winkel. We are in Detroit, Michigan at the Detroit Historical Museum. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I am sitting down with Reverend Dan Aldridge. Thank you for sitting down with me.
DA: My pleasure.
WW: Can you tell me where and when were you born?
DA: Yes, I was born in Harlem, New York—sometimes called the Village of Harlem—on February the 23rd, 1942.
WW: What was it like growing up in Harlem?
DA: Well, Harlem was, as a young man, it was dynamic. It was crowded. There were lots of personalities always around Harlem. For example, I palyed little league – played at the YMCA – and one of the people I was very close to was Jackie Robinson. Roy Campanella, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he owned a liquor store in town, nearby. Monte Irvin, who played for the New York Giants, he was a rye-and-go beer salesman at the corner store. On my corner was Mal Whitfield, who just died, who won a gold medal in the 1948 Olympics. I lived across the street from Althea Gibson, who was a well-known tennis player. There were musicians, there were singers, Harlem was very down with cultural people. My pastor was friends with J.A. Rodgers who was a historian. I had the opportunity as a little boy to meet Jack Johnson. Harlem always had that kind of artistic energy, athletic energy, and I was also in junior high school with John Carlos, the fellow who stuck his hand up in the ’68 Olympics. I went to the seventh grade with Franky Lymon, who made “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” There was artistic energy and there was athletic energy. Harlem was crowded. It may well have been dangerous—you thought there was danger around you. You saw danger, at least I saw some. People also used drugs. I was familiar with people who were smoking marijuana and using what I came to know as heroine. But there were positives and negatives. I went to the Apollo all the time because my mother, she lived nearby, she took me. They tell me that I saw every single show at the Apollo from 1943 until 1953. I’m not clear about that, but that’s what they tell me. But I do remember meeting all the Duke Ellington, Count Bassey, Phelonius Monk. White musicians like Woody Herman and Woody Herman’s band. There was an artistic energy in Harlem. There was an athletic energy. There were lots of people. It was busy. I had a lot of friends. There was some danger but I really was much too young to be really impacted by it. We lived in the Polo Grounds (where the Giants played). There was a racial dynamic seeing overweight white men, at that time in Hawaiian shirts, which was popular in the ‘50s, walking, getting off the subway train and had to walk from where they parked their cars to the subway, making the Polo Grounds, watching the Giants play baseball games. Harlem was a very black place then, not like now. But compared to now, for example, in my neighborhood, we had one white police officer, Murphy, who pretty much ran the whole neighborhood. He didn’t involve himself in day-to-day matters, but if he saw you doing something, he’d walk by and say, “Hey, look, fellas, when I walk by, I’d like this corner clear, or something like that.” He was never an issue. “Okay, Murphy! By the time you get here we’ll be gone, or we’re quiet down,” or whatever. We had one white guy in the community, he was a pharmacist. I forget his name. Everyone loved him. Harlem was an interesting place. The entire country has changed. You can’t imagine one police officer, I don’t care how big he was, what color he was, just walking around the neighborhood, saying, “Hey fellas.” But people had more respect for each other in general. We were a far more civil society. Harlem was a tough place to live. It was tough relative to other places. It was not tough compared to generally how it is now, in most big cities.
WW: Growing up in Harlem and going into the ‘50s and early ‘60s, were you increasingly exposed to, say, the Civil Rights Movement or any of the social movements of the day?
DA: I was very much aware then because my aunt is Dorothy Hite, who is president of National Council of Negro Women. She is my mother’s sister. She lived nearby. I lived on 149th Street, and Aunt Dorothy lived on 150th Street, and she was involved in everything from Marcus Garvey all the way up to the Civil Rights Movement. She was a ghost writer for Marcus Garvey. She was the assistant to Mary McCleod Bethune, she was one of the best friends of Eleanor Roosevelt. She used to come by and take her out to lunch together. Just imagine how different, how much has changed. My mom had a job at the YWCA. She and Eleanor Roosevelt were friends. Eleanor Roosevelt would drive her own car to Harlem, park out in front of the YWCA, go in and get my aunt, and they would go out to lunch as girlfriends. Now, we couldn’t even imagine the wife of the president driving her own car, right? On any street! Just going to dinner. No guards, no threats—“Who was that?” “Well, that was Mrs. Roosevelt.” No one wanting to get her autograph, no one harassing, bothering, or threatening her, she and my aunt—they would just go, my aunt’s friends were Eleanor Roosevelt and Lena Horne. Nobody bothered or harassed any of that. The notion that Mrs. Roosevelt could drive herself in Harlem and pick up her black friends, and they would go eat the way girlfriends eat now without any—at that time, it was just amazing. I was aware of that. I was aware of black nationalist movements because I lived near—well, first of all these movements were in the city. If you were a kid, and you went to the barbershop and got a haircut, you heard all this stuff buzzing around. You may not have known what to make of it, but you were cognizant of something going on. I live also near—I went to Frederick Douglass Junior High School for one year with John Carlos, and near there was a store on 125th Street and Lennox Avenue called the African National Memorial bookstore, which is a store where you’d normally see Malcolm X taking pictures out front of the store. That man was Mr. Micheaux. Now Mr. Micheaux is the brother of Oscar Micheaux, the great film maker. That was his brother. His name was Louis. Back when I was in the seventh grade, I had a project to do. I was supposed to write something on Negro history. Among that group, you couldn’t use the word “Negro.” You had to use the word “black.” I’d always go to Mr. Micheaux’s store to get some materials for my project. I said, “Mr. Micheaux, do you have any—I want to write something on Negro history. Can you help me out?” He said, “We don’t have any Negro history materials.” I’m in the seventh grade, I’m looking at all this stuff all around me, right? I went home and my father says, “Danny, did you pick up your materials for homework?” “No daddy.” He said, “Why not?” I said, “I went and asked Mr. Micheaux about some Negro history materials so I can do my project and he said he didn’t have any Negro history materials. But I saw them all around!” He said, “Oh, next time you go to the store son, you’ve got to say ‘black.’ You’ve got to say ‘black.’” So I go back to the store the next day and I said, “Mr. Micheaux, do you have any black—” “Oh, yeah, we got a bunch of those!” In those ways, I was aware. Plus there was the racism and discrimination against blacks in stores, mostly by what I think were Jewish merchants. I think there was some tension in that regard. Also, my father worked with the transport workers’ union. He was a motorman. And so they were fighting against, fighting to have the unions recognize that he was falling behind this Irishman named Michael J. Quill. I will never forget, he would say, “This is Michael J. Quill. [unintelligible].” We had to listen to all his speeches on the radio and my father made us read the special union papers and be aware of stuff, so I was aware in the sense that I had parents that were aware. My parents, you know, made me aware as much as an eleven-year-old boy can be aware of what’s going on. You know there’s something happening.
WW: Did you increasingly become more involved, say, throughout high school and right after high school?
DA: No, not in high school. What happened, we moved to a place called Corona, New York, which is—there are two communities which are right near each other. They’re called Corona and East Elmhurst. They’re separated by a street called Norland Boulevard. When I oved there, they were predominantly—well Corona was predominantly Italian community with some Irish and a small group of Jews, and blacks moving in. Blacks were beginning to move into East Elmhurst. Those who lived on that side of Norland Boulevard made more money than my parents made. That neighborhood flourished because of the nature of segregation. A number of folk went forth and lived together who today wouldn’t. For example, down the street from me lived Calvin Buss, who is now the minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, the big Abyssinian church. Nearby was Eric Holder and his family. I lived right near Harry Belafonte. I lived on 94th Street, Belafonte lived on 97th Street. Malcolm X lived on 97th Street, Willy May lived on 98th Street. 105th Street was Louie Armstrong. 107th was Dizzie Gillespie. 112th was Cannonball Adley, his brother Nat Adley. Ella Fitzgerald, her husband Ray Brown. All over, there were musicians and artists and the like who—athletes—that was like their first move out of Harlem. They wanted out of their apartment and wanted their own homes. In fact, I still own that home today. My brother and my son, I’ll never forget. We moved to Corona in 1953, and then we moved to East Elmhurst in 1956. It was only six blocks away. It was essentially the same neighborhood, although as kids, you know, you divided the neighborhood based on what side of the street you lived on. It’s essentially the same neighborhood.
WW: What year did you first come to Detroit?
DA: I first came to Detroit in 1965. I had a—I participated in the Civil Rights Movement when I was in college, and I was thought to be a threat. I don’t think I was much of a threat, but at that time, in small historically black colleges, particularly those that were state-run, state-funded—they were funded by the state—so the administration was deathly afraid of anything that raised any kind of voice because they thought it threatened their funding. I got kicked out of school.
WW: What school?
DA: Tennessee A&I State University. I was in school with [unintelligible] Rudolph, that’s where I first met Cassius Clay. We were both 18 together. He was exactly five weeks older than I am. He and Wilma were dating at the time, and I was friends with Wilma. We were 18, and all of us were just kids. That was in 1960. He had just returned from the Rome Olympics, as had Wilma. [unintelligible]. We were classmates. Anyway, I went to Tennessee State. I participated in the first movement and marches, demonstrations. In 1960, as soon as I got there really. The National sit-ins. The second wave, not the first wave. The first wave happened before I came to school, in early 1960. I didn’t come until August, so I got involved later, in the second wave. I helped to successfully integrate—me and a bunch of other people—but the movie theatres and the restaurants, and that would’ve been 1960 and 1961. I first saw Dr. King in 1961 at Fisk University, which is another historically black private college, which was down the street from Tennessee A&I. They call Tennessee A&I, Tennessee State now, but then it was called Tennessee Agriculture and Industrial State University. Now it’s just Tennessee State University. It’s highly integrated. The only white person on campus at that time was one accounting teacher that I remember. Anyway, I participated in the Civil Rights Movement. At some point, I was thought to be problematic, and I got put out of school in 1965 for something I had nothing to do with. I was accused of leading a panty raid, me and another fella from Detroit named Carl Stone. Neither one of us were involved. We were coming back to campus while the raid was going on. We didn’t understand what was going on. So we walked up and they said, “Oh, they’re the two leaders!” Leaders of what? At that time, particularly in black schools, there was no democracy. You can forget students’ rights. That was a fiction. They put us out of school, both myself and [unintelligible]. He finished as a teacher at Osbourne, I think. So then, but he thought I was a bright student, so one of the administrators called Henry Henny who was a lawyer here, said, “We’ve got this bright kid, he got in trouble, but we think he’s worth saving.” He said, “Well I can get him a job here in the factory.” Then I had another classmate named Felix Matlock, Jr., whose father, Felix Matlock, Sr., was the assistant to congressman Diggs. He said, “Well, since I’m in school, I won’t need my room. You can stay in my room.” So I went to go stay with him. And Henry Henny, the lawyer, got me a job at [unintelligible] Engine working the midnight shifts. I worked here for seven months, and then the fellas at the plant, at [unintelligible] Engine got together and put me out, told me that I was too smart to be in a plant, and we know school is starting, and you getting out of here. You’re not staying here. So I went back to school and finished Tennessee State in June of ’66. I came to Detroit because, having lived here before, I knew Detroit. I didn’t know anywhere else. I was not anxious to go back home and live under my parents’ roof. I had gotten accustomed to a certain amount of freedom. My mother did not believe in freedom or liberty at all. That was not doable. So I came to Detroit.
WW: What were your first impressions of the city?
DA: Oh, to me, Detroit was a dynamic place. It was different because first of all, I used to like to go down to Washington Boulevard and just walk. They had so many nice, lovely stores. Just walk in the stores. I used to like to eat, on occasion, at the Statler Hilton, just eating something nice. They had a lot of jazz here. I fell in love with the jazz music. I used to go to Drome Bar every Sunday and listen. That’s on the corner of Lesley and Dexter. I don’t think I ever missed a show there for years. It was called the Drome Lounge. It was basically a bar, a jazz club and a bowling alley too. I liked that, I didn’t drive. I found the city very easy to get around in terms of transportation system, the bus system. So Detroit was really a dynamic, energetic city. It was my first time really hanging out with older men, folks in the factory. I was not accustomed to all of the prostitution and the gangsterism. Now one can say they had that in New York, but I wasn’t around it, and if there was, I was too young to know anything about it. I was shocked at prostitutes on 12th Street, looked like hundreds of them. And down on Columbia Street and Elizabeth, at what is now basically Comerica Park, in that area. I’d get off at night and the guys would take me there, and they would frequent prostitutes who would just be in windows, just like you see in Harlem. I was 23. I was totally surprised by all that kind of stuff, because once again, we moved out of Harlem into Queens. I never saw any of this kind of stuff before. It was all totally shocking and brand new to me. I also liked Wayne State University. Met a lot of nice people [unintelligible]. He became friends, I met Kenny Cockrel there, and I met Lonnie Peek there. Then there were a lot of good people—I met Elliot Hall. There were a lot of good people around. Also, in terms of white guys, I became friends with Frank Joyce, who had led People Against Racism, who worked for the UAW. I had lots of friends here. I got involved with Reverend Cleage’s church here, what was first called Century Now Church of Christ, which evolved into the Shrine of the Black Madonna. I had a lot of very good friends there who were very much interested in the community and what’s going on and helping people out and talking about Black Nationalism and reading books, everything. Frank Vaughan had just opened up a book store on Monterey and Dexter. I liked Detroit very, very much. I could have easily gone back to New York. But I like Detroit. I prefer Detroit to New York.
WW: When you first came here, did you sense any tension in the city? Or when you came back in ’66 to stay, did you sense any tension?
DA: You know, I didn’t really sense any because I didn’t really know anything about the history of the city. People who lived here weren’t talking about it. When I first came back, I really tried to groove on what they’re talking about. My consciousness was more in terms about what was happening nationally and what was happening in the south. I was not altogether clear about Detroit. I didn’t know anything about the Negro movement here, those developments. I had what I would call a Black Nationalist consciousness, but most of mine was fueled by my experience in the south and the civil rights movement of the south, and what was going on nationally. I wasn’t totally attuned to what was happening in Detroit, and as such I became so over time, but I wasn’t initially.
WW: By 1966, you’re firmly in the Black Nationalist camp, would you say?
DA: Yeah, I would say that. I was influenced by Stokely Carmichael’s call for black power, which my sense of black power was there was not black power against the white people—though that’s how many white people heard it—it was really about self-determination and having control over your community and the institutions in your community. I was attracted to that. I was well-read. I had read all of Marcus Garvey’s stuff, probably most of the things by W.E.B. Dubois, I had read Lerome Bennett, I had read John Frankman, I’d read [unintelligible], so I had read—I was what you could consider well-read in history. I read all this stuff about Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright. I had what I would call a literary consciousness. A lot was formed by stuff I had read.
WW: When you came to Detroit to stay, where were you living?
DA: Initially when I came to stay, I was living at a little place on Pigree and Linwood. Eventually, I was married when I came here, to my first wife, and then we had a very nice flat at 2736 Fullerton. I’m sorry, Glenwood. 2736 Glendale.
WW: In ’65 or ’66?
WW: Were you still living there in 1967?
WW: In the year that you were here or so, from 1966 to 1967, did you become involved in any organizations? And what did you do after college here?
DA: Well, I came in. I was hired on the campus by Chrysler Corporation as a Personnel Manager Trainee to work in Highland Park at the main office, which was at 341 Massachusetts Avenue. I worked there and then I moved around. They had like an apprenticeship, so, like, I worked—it helped me learn Detroit, too—I worked at Mack Avenue Stamping Plant, which was like on Mack and Alter Road. Not quite Alter road, but out that way. I worked at Mack Avenue Stamping Plant, which is now called Chrysler North, or something like that. I worked at Mack Avenue Stamping Plant, I worked at Huber Avenue Foundry, I worked at [unintelligible] Engine, and those were the primary places where I worked. And also, I worked at Highland Park Assembly Plant. I did small stints, three or four month stints at those different places.
WW: Going into 1967, did you sense anything coming?
DA: No. I was very involved in what I would call the Black Nationalist movement. People talked about something happening, but I didn’t sense anything. I wasn’t attuned to it. We read books, we talked a lot about the movement, we talked about racism, we talked about the kinds of things we would do to help ourselves, to help the community. We talked about racism, but nobody ever talked about violence. That doesn’t mean somebody didn’t say something every now and then, but it was not predominant part of any conversation. We talked about the history of Black Nationalism, the history of African American history and culture, African history and culture, sometimes European history. Philosophy. People like [unintelligible]. That kind of thing. European philosophy. One of the young guys who was studying it would prepare this, you know. We did that. I was in college at Wayne. I was working in the management, training position. But I was working on my MBA, which I hated, by the way. I never got it.
WW: During this time, was that when you became friends with Kenneth Cockrel Sr. and Reverend Lonnie Peek, you mentioned.
DA: Yes. Lonnie Peek. Herb Boyd and I were closer, because we read a lot together. We compared stuff together, which we do today. I knew Kenny Cockrel, we weren’t friends. Honestly, we never cared for each other, or I never cared for him. It appeared to me the feeling was mutual. That’s the best I can return. We knew each other. We were cordial, cordial but distant. Kenny did not like—he dated white women exclusively, and he said that he had never met a black woman who was worthy of being married to a black man of intelligence. He would tell me about all the black men who had made something of themselves who were married to white women. He would name Richard Wright, he would call off all the people, African leaders, and I was simply appalled by that. I said to him, “What about your mother and your wife?” He was dating white women, but he was married to a black woman (who was the mother of his son). Kenny always said disparaging things about black women, and about all women. Some of the white women got included in the fire. He’s like Donald Trump. He may start off with one point, but sooner or later, he got around to everybody. Which was amazing to me because the dynamics of white people, they loved Kenny. Sometimes the worse he talked about em, the more they, “Isn’t he something? Isn’t he something?” It’s an amazing thing to me. But I worked with him, we worked together on some projects like the Algiers Motel tribunal. Herb Boyd, Lonnie Peek and I were friends. Lonnie Peek and I were practically inseparable at one point, you know. Herb Boyd was at my house every single day. We spent hours and hours together. Now, Lonnie was my friend. Lonnie was not a well-read person, so I had a different relationship with him. He and I were just friends. We just liked each other. We were just friends. Herb and I were both friends, and I would say we would intellectual soulmates. We read books, compared stuff, dreamed stuff, talked about the bigger stuff. Just like anything else, you have different relationships with different people for different reasons. Lonnie and I, at one point, were just inseparable. I like him. He was warm, he was friendly, he was serious. We worked on projects together. I was friends with Jim Ingram. All the people in the movement, I became pretty much friends with. And the center of a lot of our activity was around Century Divine Church of Christ, which eventually became the Shrine of the Black Madonna.
WW: How did you first hear what was going on July 23rd?
DA: Well, on July 23rd, I was in Newark, New Jersey at the Black Power conference that weekend. I didn’t know anything about what was going on. Someone in the hotel stopped me and said, “Aren’t you from Detroit?” I said, “Yeah.” “You gotta get outta here.” I said, “Why?” “Haven’t you heard about the riots in Detroit?” I was in a hotel with a television. I said “No,” and went back to my own room and turned on the television. Everybody thought of themselves as a revolutionary, and so, how could you be in Newark when the revolution was going on in Detroit? I got out of there and came back to Detroit to see what was going on. My family was here, too. That’s how I heard about it.
WW: So you came back on Monday, I’m guessing? Or late Sunday?
DA: I came back either Sunday or Monday. No, you know what, I think I came back that Sunday night. Because what happened was I flew in, and at that time, Detroit was racially segregated, and the young white fellas had commandeered I-94. They were just riding up and down with rebel flags, waving a machete, like that. I was picked up from the airport by Dorothy Duberry, and we were trying to get in, and we couldn’t figure how to get in. She was raised in Detroit, particularly she was raised in southwest Detroit, so she knew how to get off of the I-94 and find the place that we stayed that night until things were calmer. Then we came in that Monday morning. Didn’t take the highway. Took what she called the backway. I imagine, we must’ve come out on Jefferson or something, I have no idea. But we came in the backway and came into Detroit. I got a chance to see what was going on. I called Lonnie Peek who at the time was my compadre, and he and I, you know, drove around to see what was happening, observing the curfew, of course. But to see what was happening.
WW: What were your first impressions?
DA: I was shocked, stunned. Community was burning and on fire. There were people looting. None of which we were a part of. I can say I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what to do. Should you go to work? Can you catch the bus? The police ran around wild, engaged in mayhem. You were unsure. I was unsure.
WW: After you and Peek went driving, you just hunkered down? How did you spend the rest of your week?
DA: Well, one of the things—and we observed the curfew because we thought that we would be targets—there was no need of us to bother with the curfew. During that time, we went around trying to discourage young people from looting. Try to tell them, “This is not what it’s about—and staying inside, having conversations about what was going on. In a multitude of places, Lonnie’s house, his house was kind of like a senate because he had his wife Brenda, he had a sister here named Patti and a cousin Chuck. He had other relatives, other cousins, he had several cousins. His place became the place—please he had little children—where you would go and sit and talk for hours on end. I spent a lot of time at Lonnie’s house on Courville Street.
WW: What was your reaction to the National Guard coming in, and later the federal troops?
DA: Well, like everyone else, I was afraid of them because once again, they had tanks and huge military weapons, and you had some idea of the kind of damage they can do. So, yes. Most interesting about that is that James Boggs, who I knew later on, told me that one of the soldiers in the National Guard who was on his front lawn was Mickey Lolich, who pitched for the Tiger’s. He was posted on Jimmy’s front lawn. Everyone was afraid. First the National Guard, because you knew they were untrained, so you got all the young guys, white guys in a predominantly black city who were scared and frightened. I would say we were probably much more frightened of them than we were of the traditional army who we thought was disciplined. A lot of the young National Guard guys were scared, and you could see they were scared. You want a frightened guy with an M-16 bayonet, you know? The younger soldiers from the 82nd division—I don’t know where they were from, 101st—a lot more discipline. The National Guard were frightening because they were young guys, mostly about our age.
WW: I do believe I know the answer to this, but how do you interpret the events in ’67? Do you see them as a rebellion? Do you see them as a riot?
DA: Oh, I’m going to define it as a rebellion. I think because it came from authentic grievances that people had, which had been long-standing in terms of their mistreatment by the police. I get from some people, I tend to not see rebellion as positively as others do because I think that there’s no real benefit when you tear up and burn up the place where you live, the place where you shop, so I think that misguided expression was not good. Certain parts of Detroit still haven’t been done yet. It provoked a certain fear in certain white people, and people left their homes and making irrational decisions about what was going on. A lot of times, people weren’t against individual white people, they were against conditions. But once again, if you’re a white person, I don’t know to what extent you’re able to discern all that. You’re looking at yourself, you’re not looking to make something out of analysis. I understand it as a rebellion, an authentic cry. Like most of those things, they’re misguided. People wind up tearing up their own places, where they live, where they shop, where they work. That was not good and has not been remedied to this day.
WW: Where were you when you first heard about what was going on at the Algiers Motel?
DA: Well, by that time, Dorothy Duberry and I had married, and she was Dorothy Duberry-Aldridge. She worked at 903 West Grand Boulevard. [unintelligible]. I forget where I was working. I might have been teaching. I taught at Wayne State University, I taught at U of D, and I taught at Wayne County Community College. So I might have been teaching somewhere. She had the phone call because through marriage, one of the boys that got killed, Carl Cooper, was her cousin. So Carl’s mother called, Margaret, and said, “My son has been killed by the police at the Algiers Motel. I need some help.” So I called Lonnie Peek and Kenny Cockrel and we went over and met with the family. I got Kenny because Kenny was in law school, and he knew, in my mind, how to take proper notes. So we went down, we interviewed the family members of the boys who got killed. That’s how I got involved. But I first was informed by Margaret, who was Carl Cooper’s mother.
WW: How did you proceed from there?
DA: What we tried to do is we went down, we tried to interview witnesses. We also knew some of the boys in the Algiers Motel with Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard, and the third boy’s name was Temple. One of the boys was named James Thorpe, he was the one who got away. They beat him up, the police did, and they didn’t kill him. So he and one of the other boys who I don’t’ remember right now told Kenny, Lonnie, and I what the experience was. We got involved then, trying to put together a case of trying to say that the police had murdered these boys. This whole notion there was supposed to be some fake gun wasn’t part. Then I learned, Carl Cooper may have had a cap pistol, he was playing with. They’re in a hotel, they don’t understand all that’s going on outside of there. They’re playing. The police, I understand, hear the gun, “Oh, they’re shooting at us!” They were in there playing with each other. They were not shooting at any police.
WW: That’s when the three of you planned the mock trial?
DA: Basically, the mock trial was my idea. Well, sort of. What happened, during that time, Dorothy and I brought Rap Brown to town. He spoke at the Dexter Theatre on top of the roof. We complained that these boys had been killed by the police. So Rap says to me, “Hey, man, why don’t you have a tribunal? Educate the community.” We brought Rap Brown to speak at the Dexter theatre. We had no idea that he was going to have the crowd we did. Rap and I are walking side-by-side, talking like two guys talking. We turn the corner, and we’re totally overwhelmed by the crowd. We knew we couldn’t have it there, plus the theatre was owned by the great Harper’s Dorothy Ashby, and her husband, the playwright John Ashby. They won’t let us have that place. So I said let’s take it to Cleage. Let’s go to the reverend Cleage and ask if we can put on the mock trial there.
WW: When did you bring Rap Brown to Detroit?
DA: I don’t exactly know, but that can be looked up. I don’t know. It was in between—
WW: And the trial. Okay.
DA: So, Reverend Cleage said yes. It was basically my idea to develop the thing, though Lonnie Peek came with me. He and I probably put it together. I picked the people who would be involved. For example, I wanted to make sure that white people were involved. Justin Ravitz was the judge. Judge Justin Ravitz.
WW: I thought Kenneth Cockrel was the judge.
DA: No. Justin Ravitz was the judge. Kenny was one of the attorneys. There were four attorneys involved: Kenneth Cockrel, Milton Henry, Andrew [unintelligible name], and Lee Mollett. Justin Ravitz was the judge. He and Kenny were law partners. Had to pull together a jury, so I picked Rosa Parks, who I knew because she was close friends with my wife, Dorothy, at the time. Ed Vaughan, he owned a bookstore and was active in the community; Frank Joyce, I wanted to make sure the jury was integrated with people against racism. The writer John O. Killens, who was in town to speak for some other reason. I asked him would he be open to being on the jury, he said, “Yes.” There were other people on the jury, but that’s who I remember.
WW: What made you want to go through with the entire tribunal? What was your driving force?
DA: The driving force was the police were not doing anything. We had been to the trial, and we had been thoroughly shamed by the police. At that time, you come into a trial, and the whole front section of the courthouse was nothing but police in uniform. Thoroughly intimidating. Plus with me, they would do things like this [draws finger across throat], make the sign of wanting to kill you. They had some record of having done this, so, you know, it should be taken seriously. We were young, we said they’re not going to make us back down at all. Then we had also some people who said if you’re holding a trial, and you find them guilty, we will execute them. That’s what they said. Never happened. Nothing. It was just talk. Our job was to hold the tribunal and to expose them. We wanted to bring out the total truth because we thought that the truth did not come out in the first trial. We wanted to bring out all the facts and the truth about what actually happened. That was our primary motivation.
WW: How did the tribunal end?
DA: It was interesting. Before that, Kenny Cockrel knew a lot of people in Detroit. He was born and raised here—I don’t know if he was born here, but he was certainly raised here. He was a magnetic personality. People were just drawn to him. He knew all kinds of people. He was friends with William Saren [??], who later became head of the Free Press. And he said, “Dan, if you do this, give us unrestricted access. We’ll make it a big story.” That’s another reason I wanted to do it, because I was promised by the head of the Free Press to make it a big story. We let the Free Press in, Michigan Chronicle, Detroit News. Free Press had full staff there to cover the story. We saw the newspaper, and it wasn’t there. I was so angry, I charged down to Free Press and got in Bill’s face and he told me, he said, “Dan, the editors would not let us put it out there. I got the full story, had my full staff, and the editor said that they were going to squash the story,” and they did. There was nothing I could do about it.” He told me he was awfully embarrassed and gave me his word. I gave him access and it didn’t happen. I was very upset by that. The other thing that happened regarding that later is that John Hershey, who wrote the book, I was writing an article on the tribunal for the Michigan Chronicle. John Hershey came by Dorothy’s office and stole my manuscript and published it in the book as his own. Subsequent to that, I went to the Random House in New York and complained at him, they didn’t know anything about it. But later, Daniel Maguire, in doing a story, she got ahold of his archives at Young University. When I told people I wrote it, I wrote the one chapter in that book, they told me, “John, the only thing he put in there was ‘Dan Aldridge said…’” I never met John Hershey. Most of the people didn’t believe me. Or they didn’t believe strongly. Because [unintelligible name] went down to Yale and saw Random House had been with Hershey about me coming up there and protesting. They said, “John, what is this?” She said, “Dan, I was stunned.” Yeah, I said, I’ll tell you what happened. He stole the thing off of Dorothy’s desk and went and wrote it. If you read that chapter, I think it’s chapter 41, it’s called Fuel for the Fire Next Time, you’ll see for yourself it says, “And Dan Aldridge said…” It’s nothing of his in that entire chapter but me. I never met John Hershey. Random House offered me, they wanted to give me three books as compensation, but I refused to accept it. At the end of the tribunal, I would say that people felt good and people felt joy. There was celebration. There was ecstasy. Because they heard the truth. About three thousand people there. The church was packed. Not only was the church packed, it was packed in the street, the sidewalk outside of the church. It was packed on the other side of the sidewalk. Packed with people. Cleage said, “Well, we’ll maybe get three hundred people here.” And about three thousand people there, I’m told, people who estimated those kinds of things. So the community felt, they were proud that something like that went on. They were also proud in that I didn’t take any cheap shots. I hired good attorneys on both sides and said, “Let’s just hear the evidence.”
WW: What was the verdict?
DA: Guilty, because there was no question. Before they had a testimony of James [unintelligible] who talked about how they made those boys, shot them up against the wall, how they put them across the bed and beat them. The other thing is while we were getting ready for the trial, the police were trying to find the witnesses to keep them from testifying at the tribunal. They caught Lonnie Peek and I out on Euclid one night, and tried to shoot us, but we were young and fast. Also funny about it, I was on the track team. We’re walking down Euclid, near Grand River, and I see four white men sitting in a car with suits on at about three in the morning. We had to hide the witnesses. They’d take various messages to try to get rid of them, to find them. I said, “Lonnie, I think those police out to get us.” He said, “Man, you just so paranoid.” I said, “I’m just going to take off in a light jog, see you later.” As soon as they saw me start running, we heard the car doors open. Pow! Pow! Lonnie, we’re laughing, I told him I turned on Grand River, he said, “I was so low to the ground, I had to scoop sand out of my pocket to keep my balance. I was striding, full stride.” He said, “Danny, Danny, wait up!” I said, “No, no, I told you to come before.” It’s part of interplay, laughing between us. We’ve always had the ability to kid with each other, we tease each other. We do the same thing now, tease each other back and forth. I think the community was proud because it was done professionally, it was done well. They were proud that there were white people involved, which at that time was like, you know what I mean? I said, “Look, everybody, let’s just get all the facts that we know and see where it goes.” We did that. It was a proud moment. The community was very proud. Everybody was nothing but proud. I had some people now, Caroline Cheeks’ sister, Caroline Cheeks, Kwame Kilpatrick’s mother. Today, she said when she thinks about it, she just cries, it was just so beautiful. First time I’ve ever seen justice. Just listening to the facts, that’s all. That’s how it went.
WW: Wow. After the rebellion, as you’re organizing the mock trial and bringing H. Rap Brown to town, how did you see the city? Did you see it in a new light?
DA: Oh, yes, in a new light. Things changed rapidly. First of all more white people now wanted to become involved. People like Joseph Hudson. They wanted to move to form the New Detroit, what became the New Detroit had another name earlier. I was invited to be one of the early members of the New Detroit Committee. I was the only person at the time—this is not recorded in any kind of history, but it’s definitely true—who refused to be on the committee. Lonnie Peek was on it, Orville Harrington, Frank Ditto. My position was I could not see the difference between the new Detroit and the old Detroit. We’re the same people all messed up before. The same people again! Why aren’t we calling them in to help solve the problems? I never worked with the New Detroit community as a consequence. These other guys did and got funding for their projects. I was sort of punished for not following suit. I don’t have any regrets about that. Then I got involved with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I had a group called the All African People’s Union around the shooting of New Bethel. I organized the Black United Front, which all the black lawyers came together to try to deal with what happened as a consequence of the police shooting up New Bethel Baptist Church. I was in the church that night, by the way. People were acting so crazy. There was a couple of them. One guy stepped inside, Rafael Vera, stepped inside of an M-16, he fell on the floor. I saw and thought, “I gotta get out here,” and I left. By the time I got home, my wife said, “Dan, you gotta get back, you gotta get back.” I said, “Why?” “The police are shooting up New Bethel!” And Mark Bethune, who later was the Mark Bethune who was involved in Bethune and Boyd, who got killed down in Atlanta—it was a major, major case.
WW: How do you spell that last name?
DA: Bethune. B-E-T-H-U-N-E. First name is Mark. His nickname was Ibo, after the African tribe. But he spelled it wrong, E-I-B-O, but you know young people, man. E-I-B-O. Me and a friend named [unintelligible], we went down to see what was happening. They had the place surrounded. They took all those folks to the jail. There was excellent coverage of that. You can check the archives at South End Press. Wayne State University.
WW: Who was the judge that released all the—
DA: Judge Crocker.
WW: Did you see the state of the Black National movement in Detroit growing or shrinking after the rebellion?
DA: Growing. I mean, there were more—for example, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers became more active. Everybody who had a black consciousness began to spread, to energize. There were lots of new groups and lots of people began to have various expressions of Black Nationalism. Reverend Cleage’s church, they were very active. The Shrine of the Black Madonna developed after the painting of the Madonna in the sanctuary. There were lots of movements, all over, probably hundreds of them all over. Then there were a lot of white groups that wanted to—you know, like Focus: HOPE came into existence. Father Cunningham, Eleanor Josaitis. Father Cunningham was trying to bring everybody together across racial lines. I would say it energized the community, those who wanted to be. But you also had white reactionary forces too, like Don Lobsinger, I don’t know if you know that name. I knew Donald. Don and I both worked for the city. He would have demonstrations at lunch time.
WW: Oh, yeah, I know Mr. Lobsinger. Before we move past ’67 too much, is there anything else you’d like to add?
WW: Okay. Going like to the ‘70s and ‘80s, do you think that those decades were directly affected by what happened in ’67?
DA: I think everything, I think Detroit has totally been affected by what has happened. First of all, the population changed. White people left and you had a high percentage of black population. Schools changed. Whites went to Denby, Osbourne, Finney, trying to hold on to a majority white. At some point, they passed a tipping point, they just left. Young whites left the schools, young whites who want to have children moved out. Young blacks—I don’t know if we had a big migration, but because the whites left, you had a different balance in the numbers. So it changed the city. The city began to be seen as a black city. The white corporations disinvested in the city. [unintelligible]. For example, this rail line we see here. This is Coleman Young’s idea. But it doesn’t come to fruition until Mike Duggan become mayor. A lot of the things in the city could’ve been done when there was black leadership, but those white people in power with money refused to do it until they feel more comfortable with Duggan. So there’s things being done now that could’ve been done decades ago. These same buildings that people are renovating? They could’ve been renovated years ago. All the rail way? It could have been done years ago. The Cass Corridor could have been midtown years ago. You’ve also got just blacks and a broad base of white Appalachians and wanted to clear some them out of here too.
WW: How do you see the city of Detroit today? Do you still believe we’re still affected by ’67?
DA: I think we’re still affected by ’67, yes, because a lot of the development has not taken place. We have vast edges of the city that are just wastelands. We have the city being made without understanding the consequences for black people. We have all these young white people coming into the city now, getting the best jobs, having the best housing, and you have to wonder what that feels like to other people who’ve been here all their lives and they’re watching these things take place. I don’t have any issue with young white people coming in the city and doing as well as they can. My issue is that we’ve got to figure out a way for the resources and the benefits to be shared. That’s healthy for everybody. We’ve got to find ways that have cross-racial, intersectional collaboration. There’s no reason why—they have these coding classes downtown. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have higher percentages of blacks in the coding classes, that you find ways, you have to orchestrate ways for people to come together in ways that everybody can benefit. It’s going to be 100%, it’s going to be 50/50, no. But you’re also talking about good faith efforts. Detroit’s a great city. It’s a big city. It’s an international city. We don’t have fires, floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes. We do have some terribly inconvenient weather on occasion. But I don’t see enough effort being made to have us share in the benefits. We don’t pay attention to our Latino community, which I think is a vibrant community. I think Detroit ought to move to become bilingual because we are a city that’s a border city, and we’re also near water. It’d be wonderful if we took Spanish seriously and we became a bilingual city. We had a lot of young women moving to the city. I would like us to take up the issue of male violence against women and girls and rape and become the first city to make this a real program for the city. You see this organized group called Black Men’s Coalition to Eradicate Rape. I think male violence against women is a serious national crisis, and nowhere have we taken that seriously. In terms of the whole gay issue, Detroit was always seen as homophobic, and I suspect class-wise, that may be so. But I have not seen the expressions of violence. People talk, they say nasty things, obviously, that’s inappropriate. But Detroit’s way ahead of a lot of other places on that issue. People either ignore it, or it’s not a problem, or there’s a lot of things about Detroit. Detroit’s working class, Detroit’s bad, but we don’t have that kind of violence in Detroit. We have very little black and white violence. Very little. I’ve seen none since I’ve been here. Not like Chicago. So Detroit’s a great city. I think it has an enormous future. My issue is that particularly the white leadership don’t understand they failed one of the crucial lessons of ’67, and that is that they do not enough to deal with the issue of income inequality. You’ve got to find ways to do that, because people are forever going to be envious of other people’s joy. They want some joy themselves. And you don’t attend to that, and somebody’s going to act nasty. It’s amazing that we’re talking about foreign countries. They say, “What do you want to do about Syria? What do you want to do about—” No! You’ve got to give the young men jobs! But no one sees that. You go overseas, and the very same thing they describe overseas will be a thing working here. You’ve also got to find ways to get the kinds of jobs, people who work with their hands, because this is a working class town. We have lots of people who have working class consciousness. We can model ourselves after a place like Germany, where they give enormous education for the skilled trades. There are a lot of things we can do. Detroit can be a great city. But I don’t think it really isn’t attaining some of what I would call crucial issues that I would do if I were the person who was responsible. We have a little growing now, and we’ve got enough land in Detroit to have a whole farm. Not like [unintelligible name]’s farm, not like what he’s doing. What he’s doing with all his trees. He’s got all these trees on the east side where I live. How’s the city going to develop? Where’s new housing going to be? Where’s the new schools going to be? Where’s the new stores going to be? Nothing there on these trees. I don’t see that kind of forward thinking. I don’t see that. But I’m optimistic about the city. I like the city very much. A lot of the people are upset about gentrification. I don’t think gentrification is good, but on the other hand, I’m excited by some of the young whites I see coming in now from other places who, I don’t think, are part of gentrification in their minds. They’re coming, those in the occupy movement, those here supporting Bernie Sanders, many of them are coming to try and contribute and to work with people to make Detroit a better place. We just haven’t figured out a way to facilitate that. There’s no need for these groups to be off each other. We have too many needs. People who need to learn Spanish, people need to learn mathematics, and we’ve got a whole group of people who know how to do all those things. Technical literacy (computer literacy). We’ve got people who know how to do all these things. Why don’t we bring them together, get them to collaborate together, make this a better place for everybody. I think we’ve lost since—the group of white people coming in now, they’re not the same folk from the ‘50s and ‘60s. They don’t have the same consciousness. They don’t have the same goals and intentions, in general. I don’t see the kind of creative thinking that can do that and make that happen, and bring people together. If they don’t, all people are going to do, we’re just going to recreate the income inequality and [unintelligible] somewhere down the line. And say, “What happened?”
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
DA: No, that’s it.
WW: Thank you very much for sitting down with me today, we greatly appreciate it.
DA: My pleasure.