Faye Reese, August 4th, 2016
HS: Hello this is Hannah Sabal. I’m in Detroit, Michigan. The date is August 4th, 2016 and this interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I am sitting down with Faye Reese today. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
FR: Thank you.
HS: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
FR: My name is Faye Evelyn Reese. I was born January 31st, 1944 in Memphis, Tennessee.
HS: How long did you live in Memphis?
FR: Probably about six weeks.
HS: Ah! Okay. Did your family move to Detroit?
FR: I grew up in Detroit.
HS: Which neighborhood did you grow up in?
FR: Southwest Detroit and the west side of Detroit.
HS: What was your neighborhood like?
FR: Well, when I grew up in southwest Detroit it was just a wonderful place to live. Small houses, people had moved up from the south during the war. I lived in a family situation which people might say now it takes a village to raise a child? I lived in a house with my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, and two teenage uncles, and I was the first child, first grandchild, the first great-grandchild, so it was a wonderful experience.
HS: Was the neighborhood integrated?
FR: The school was integrated, the neighborhood was not.
HS: Which school was that?
FR: I went to Bollington Elementary, which I considered just a wonderful school.
HS: What high school did you go to?
FR: Central High School.
HS: What did your parents do?
FR: Well, my parents were both very young. My mother worked in a factory, my father worked in a factory.
HS: Did you have any siblings?
FR: No siblings.
HS: So just you.
FR: Just me.
HS: Fast-forward in the 1960s. Did you notice any tension in the city at all?
FR: Not really. I really loved Detroit. I grew up in good neighborhoods, I went to great schools, the teachers were very supportive, my neighborhood was supportive, my parents were supportive. You knew there were places not to go, neighborhoods that you couldn’t live in, but I grew up and went to integrated schools and always had mixed race.
HS: So the events of ’67 took you by surprise?
FR: No, I go back—I’m going to say they did take me by surprise. I was a police officer. But I didn’t see the discontent coming.
HS: So in ’67 you were working as a police officer?
FR: Yes. I joined the Detroit Police Department on December 6th, 1966. I was 22 years old. I had already taught school in Detroit, almost two years. I think the difference is when things happen today, it’s on TV, it’s on every channel. Everybody knows everything. There’s a camera every place. In 1967, communications were not like that. By the time you found out about something, it had already happened. There were very few people out there with cameras taking pictures of it. Even though I was involved, I was not really involved, not knowing the whole situation.
HS: What made you decide to join the police after teaching for a couple years?
FR: It paid more money. And I’m an adventurous kind of person, I guess. I started teaching in Detroit when I was 20. I was a certified teacher. I graduated from high school and college young. I didn’t have very much social experience, but I was a person who was always told, “You can do whatever you want,” so I never really put limits on things that I wanted to do in life.
HS: We’ve heard stories about how it was difficult to be a police officer as a black person. How was it being a police officer as a black female?
FR: I would like to say it was difficult, but it was not really. As I said, I was a person who simply said the qualifications are… and I’ll meet it. When I joined the Detroit Police Department, they had something at that time called the Women’s Division. All policewomen were part of the Women’s Division. We couldn’t be a part of any other portion of the police department. There were about ninety women in the police department. We didn’t wear uniforms at the time, although sometimes I think we were sort of crazy, most of the time we worked alone. When you’re 22….
HS: What were your responsibilities in the Women’s Division?
FR: We basically investigated crimes involving families and children, sex crimes—
HS: Domestic issues?
FR: Domestic issues, yes. Missing persons, missing children.
HS: What was the atmosphere like working for the police in the summer of ’67?
FR: As I said, I couldn’t discern that there were any other growing tensions than any place else. It seemed like a normal day. My friends knew I was a police officer. There wasn’t any, you know, they didn’t think that that was something strange or peculiar. People in the police department cared about me. I was only a police officer for three years, six months, and eighteen days. I’m still friends with policewomen that I haven’t worked with in forty-six years. I learned a lot, and, you know, I can’t say it was a pleasant experience, but it was a learning experience.
HS: Was there a specific precinct that the Women’s Division worked out of?
FR: We normally worked out of several precincts. 1300 Beaubien, the 10th Precinct, and I think—I want to say it was the 6th Precinct, and some others, but for most of the time that I was on the police department, I worked at headquarters, 1300 Beaubien.
HS: All right. Moving then into the events in the summer, specifically, how did you first hear about the events in July?
FR: That was probably one of the strangest experiences I’ve had. I don’t recall what day it was, but I think it was Sunday, and I think that the incidents that had happened happened on Saturday night. It so happened that I was working Saturday night. I was working the midnight ‘til eight shift. If there was a riot going on, even though I was on the street—as I said, communications weren’t—there was no radio—well, there was a radio in the car—but basically that was only dispatch. There was no radio. If you needed to make a call, you had to go to a call box, which was like on a telephone pole. I didn’t know anything about a riot. I had gotten home that morning. It was a nice sunny day, Sunday, I recall. I lived in the area of Davison and Petoskey. I guess it was sometime between eight and nine o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I had worked all night, I was just sitting on the porch. I saw a child—there was a hospital across the street from my house—and I saw a boy walking across the parking lot, Sunday morning, and he was dressed like he was going to church: he had on black pants and a white shirt and a tie, and he was carrying all of these shirts in plastic or cellophane. He was dropping them. I go, Hmm. Stores weren’t open back then on Sundays, so I go, well, that’s strange. What’s going on? Then I saw a car that went by and it had a sofa, a new sofa, in the truck. And again, it wasn’t like today—you couldn’t go to Art Van on a Sunday and buy a new sofa, and it wasn’t like somebody was moving because it looked like a brand new sofa. And I said, “What? What’s going on?” Then I saw another car go by that had some furniture, and at that time, my telephone rang, and my boss said, “You need to come back to work.” And I go, “Well what’s going on?” She said, “I’ll tell you about it when you get here.” That’s how I found out about The Detroit Riot.
HS: When you were driving into work on that Sunday when your boss called you, did you see anything else?
FR: You know, I think I took the freeway, so I didn’t really see—there weren’t a lot of cars on the road. I didn’t see anyone running, I didn’t see any crowds. I drove on down to 1300 Beaubien, parked my car. I still didn’t know anything. There wasn’t anything on the radio in the car about it, and when I got in, then that’s when I got some information that there had been some difficulty at night and they wanted me to go out and help in the 13th Precinct. Of course, I had been to the 13th Precinct, but I had never worked in the Precinct, so I got in my car and drove to the 13th Precinct.
HS: Where is the 13th Precinct?
FR: On Woodward between, I think, Warren and Canfield, Warren and Forest.
HS: So not too far from where we’re at now.
HS: When you got into the station, before they sent you to the 13th Precinct, what was it like in the station? How were the police reacting?
FR: Well, it was kind of crowded and there were people being arrested and there was a lot of “booty” that people had, things that you would have bought at a store or something. Still I really was not sure what was going on. It wasn’t like there were people up and down the street or making noise or whatever. It was kind of eerie. They said, “We’d like you to help register the people we’re bringing in.” So I had a pad or something and I’m writing down names and what they did. Then it’s all sort of, you know, working the rest of the day. I didn’t see any fighting or hitting or people being beat up or anything like that.
HS: Just to clarify, when you were at the 13th Precinct, when they were bringing in people that had been arrested, you were recording their information?
HS: Okay. Was there anything else that you witnessed or experienced during that week?
FR: As I said, you would think that something that has so much interest now would have been something really etched in my mind, but it really is not. It seemed like two or three days where it was very confused. Mostly, as I said, I was a 23-year-old black women, and I remember they said there was a curfew. I got off work, it was like twelve o’clock that night or something, and I had a brand new car. I had a 1966 Pontiac GTO. Beautiful car! And I go, hmmm, now, and I’m living in an area where there’s supposedly a riot going on, so I don’t really want to stop and have to talk to somebody, but yet and still, I don’t want to do anything that might get me stopped, because we didn’t wear uniforms at that time! It wasn’t that far, and I didn’t speed, I didn’t get caught, and I didn’t get pulled over. There was very little traffic. But again, I lived in the area near Russell Woods, and on Dexter was a very nice shopping area. In the next couple of days, I saw those stores looted. I can see smoke coming, and some of the stores that people that I had known, that I had shopped in, were looted, they were set afire. My neighbors were out with their hoses trying to make sure that no one set their homes afire. It was really a very confusing time, and it seemed like instead of so many people rioting, it’s like people went out to see the riot and became the riot. It wasn’t that they were particularly doing anything. They weren’t burning down stores, they were just like, “What’s going on?” So when they went out, then, of course, that’s when the riot was. I remember writing a letter to a friend of mine who was in Germany at the time. I don’t remember what I said, but I was telling her how sad I was that our city had come to this. I was sort of in the middle of this. I could understand people who had issues, but the incident that precipitated this, I really couldn’t see how that went along with having the riot. So many people, especially black business owners who had boutiques and barber shops and beauty shops and that sort of thing, their businesses were damaged, and most of the businesses never came back. That was very sad.
HS: Were you still living with your parents at this point, or were you on your own?
FR: Well, I lived with my mother.
HS: How was she reacting or feeling during this time? Particularly about you going to work during that week.
FR: It’s like mothers. My mother always worried about me being sort of, her only child, but she was a beautician and she—no, she didn’t have her own shop then. Her shop was on Dexter. She was working during this whole time, going to work. I really didn’t see her that much because I was out, and she was working when I came in. I was in for a few hours, took a nap, and went back to work. It was just a very confusing time. I ended up a couple years later leaving the police department, but it really didn’t have anything to do with the riot. It didn’t have anything to do with the police department, either.
HS: Could you tell me why you did leave?
FR: Well, I remember when I joined the police department, there was a policewomen—I won’t say her name—but she said, “I don’t think anyone should have this job more than three years.” I think at that time she had been on the police department for about seventeen years. I left at three years, six months, and eighteen days. The reason was, as I said, when I joined the department, I was not very worldly. I was a person who went to school, I did well in school. I had no siblings. I had never gotten into any sort of difficulty. But the kind of cases that we worked on—family issues—I had a mother who had killed her child and had said that the child was missing and we were out looking for the child. We found out that she had killed him. And I go, you know, I had such harsh feelings about that person, and I said, “That’s not my job. My job is to handle this case.” But I didn’t want to be the kind of person who fell apart. Because that wasn’t going to do me any good, and I didn’t want to be the kind of person who just didn’t care. I have hope for the human race. I believe in people, I believe in this country. I said, I just don’t want to be that person who thinks that everybody is bad. Let me leave while I still have my humanity.
HS: So the cases were just emotionally draining?
HS: How long did you continue to live in the city for?
FR: I moved immediately. I left the department in 1970 and moved back to Kalamazoo and became a director of a youth program there for a couple years.
HS: Looking back on the events, would you classify them as a riot? Or would you call it a civil disturbance, uprising, rebellion?
FR: I don’t think—and I’ve read various article where people have called them—and I don’t want to take this lightly because I don’t know how other people felt. I can’t say that people had not been in circumstances where they thought things were so bad that they needed to, you know, take to the streets. That wasn’t my experience, although I grew up in Detroit. My experiences were just different, and it wasn’t because I had any money or anything. I certainly did not, but I just grew up where people believed in me. I loved going to school. I just didn’t seem to have any personal problems. I would consider it a riot, but again, from the individuals that I saw, and the kind of things that I saw, I think it was many people just got caught up in the emotion. They got caught up in the situation. They, again, did not know what was going on so they went out to see, and, again, became immersed in the problem and became part of the problem. Unfortunately, those problems hurt the city. You asked me before, back in the ‘60s, did I notice all of these problems building up? I guess I really didn’t. I was really thinking that things were getting a lot better. After the riots, things did not get better. They continually got worse until a couple years ago when we declared bankruptcy. It went from, when I grew up in Detroit, a system or a city of 2.5 million people, where we lived in neighborhoods, and in your neighborhood you had just everything you needed. You had supermarkets and gas stations and beautiful movie theatres—after ’67, those things slowly went away.
HS: We’re going to expand on that in just a minute, but I have one question that I forgot to ask earlier. When you were at the 13th Precinct taking the information of people who had been arrested, the people that were arrested—what was their makeup?
HS: Racially, age, gender.
FR: Racially—gee, I’d like to say I remember a bunch of this, but most of the people seemed to be males, probably in their 20s. They weren’t strange-looking. I wouldn’t even say that they were criminals. Again, they were people who went to see the riot, or they were people who somebody had broken in or they broke in a business and things were there and they grabbed em, I think not even thinking because it wasn’t like they were in cars or trying to get—they took things that they wouldn’t even really need, you know?
HS: It was just opportunity?
FR: It was just there! It was in the moment. A crowd mentality and people in the moment do things that they would not do otherwise. I think, at least in the most part, I think that’s what happened. Afterwards, then, you know, people talked about their grievances and that sort of thing, but as it was going on, I think it was mostly just crowd mentality.
HS: Now expanding on what you were talking about just a little bit ago, how have you seen the city change?
FR: Well, I was not here to witness the change of the city. As I said, I left in 1970. I’ve never lived in the city since then. I returned to this area in 1985.
HS: How was it different?
FR: Again, just the population of the city. I was in the military and I was stationed for quite a period of time in Germany and people used to ask me about Detroit. I would tell them the good memories because I had so many good memories of Detroit. I would say, “Detroit is a city of neighborhoods.” I always felt that as a young person. Now people have trouble with transportation and they can’t get from jobs. I used to say, basically, if you can’t make it in Detroit, you can’t make it. But when I came back to this area, there were people who weren’t making it, and I don’t know all the reasons as to why they weren’t making it. But it was not the city of the ‘50s and the early ‘60s that I grew up in. The school system—I thought I received a wonderful education. When I went away to college I didn’t have any difficulty. When I came back, I became a teacher in the Detroit Public Schools. When I came back in ’85, I went back to teaching, and as a matter of fact, the same school. There was a big difference.
HS: Which school was that?
FR: It was Vanzel Farwell Middle School.
HS: How do you see the city today?
FR: I don’t spend a lot of time in Detroit, but from what I can see, it’s a city that I think is returning. I can’t say it’s returning; I don’t think it will ever be the city it was. At least, especially in the last couple years with all the building, with all the people moving back to Detroit, the waterfront, I think, whoa, this is great. I don’t think maybe in my lifetime that I’ll see it back, but I think it’s a different and a growing city, but it doesn’t appear to me to be treating everyone equally. I’m not sure exactly why that is. I see job fairs, I see places that say, “We’re hiring,” but it seems there are so many people still unemployed, and I don’t know if part of this—I think part of it is the school system, part of it is just our society, and part of it is transportation. The jobs are not where people live, and that’s going back to the old neighborhood. When you were a kid, you get work in your neighborhood, pretty much. But now you’ve got to go out to a shopping center, or you’ve got to go out to a mall, and it does not appear that that’s possible. Taxes are high. Public services certainly are not what they used to be. Automobile insurance—just the cost of automobile insurance. If they can’t afford to ride the bus, they certainly can’t afford to have a car and to have car insurance. I think until some of these issues and the school system—I tell people, you get a lot of young people in, but you won’t get those families, you won’t get the neighborhood back, until you get the school system back. People talk about it, but I don’t see really the emphasis being put on that.
HS: My last question for you is if you had advice for current and future generations of Detroit, what would it be?
FR: I don’t think I’m a person to give advice, but I can only say that you can’t go back, but even though I might have grown up in a Detroit that was not maybe politically correct, I loved the school system. Even as a young child, my teachers allowed me to be myself. They allowed me to be creative. As I said before, I lived in a generational household where everyone told me their story and told me about their history, which was my history. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, it does. I think we’ve gotten too far away from our neighbors and our community, so when you need help, there’s no one there to help you. You’re afraid of your neighbor, instead of rushing to your neighbor for assistance or your neighbor rushing to your aide. It’s like, “Oh, I don’t know those people; I can’t trust them.” I don’t know if we can get that back, but in order for this to be a community, it has to be a community. I think we’re getting further away from that rather than closer.
HS: I think that’s great advice. Is there anything else you wanted to add today?
FR: No. I’d just like to say that, you know, all of us have our stories. I don’t know if I have anything to add to the story of the Detroit Riot of ’67. I can only say that I was there. It’s not like watching it on TV as it is today. The communication at that point—you’re going from memory. We’re talking forty-nine years. But I know that I’ve heard people say things about what happened during the riots of ’67, but they weren’t there. I was there. I don’t know how you are politically correct. I don’t even know what you are supposed to say that happened, but from my point of view, what happened is there were issues. I may not have been aware of what all the issues were. I was living what I thought was a very fulfilling life. I think, again, many people got caught up in the riot who really, if you would have asked them at that time, “Why are you out here?” They might have said, “I’m out here to see what’s going on.” Not realizing that if four thousand people show up to see what’s going on and they’re all trying to crowd forward, this becomes an issue.
HS: Well, we definitely appreciate your perspective and your stories. Thank you so much for coming in.
FR: Thank you.