Loren Colwell, July 5th, 2016
WW: Hello my name is William Winkel. Today is July 5, 2016. I am in Novi, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit 67 Oral History project put on by the Detroit Historical Society. I am sitting down with..
LC: Loren Colwell, of Novi, Michigan.
WW: Thank you for sitting down with me today.
LC: You're welcome.
WW: Can you tell me where and when were you born?
LC: Northwest Detroit. Specifically School Craft in Evergreen area. Exactly Piedmont and School Craft, but Northwest Detroit. And 1945.
WW: What was your neighborhood like growing up?
LC: It was a working class neighborhood. Very neat, very clean, very well kept up. No crime.
WW: What'd your parents do for a living?
LC: My father was a house painter. A very good one. He liked his trade. My mother, particularly at that time, many moms, actually most moms stayed at home. They were homemakers.
WW: Would you like to share any experiences from growing up in the neighborhood?
LC: Well, one time my mom and I went by bus to Greenfield and School Craft.. First time I ever saw a black man, a black person. At that time it was before we had TV I think, but even if we had TV at the time, blacks weren't on TV very much at all. Except for like games and [unintelligible] and stuff like that……. But I asked my mom, I didn't ask her, I pointed, you know, gestured. What's that? What's him? What's the black? I never heard or seen a black person in my life. And my mom's like "shh shh shh shh shh". You know it’s kind of weird, but this is back in.. [coughs]. Excuse me I'm getting over a cold. Ohh probably 48, 49, someplace in there. Well actually beyond that. Then 50, 51, 52 possibly. Probably more like 51, 1951.
WW: Did your neighborhood stay all white or did it integrate over time?
LC: It was all white.
WW: All white?
LC: Yeah. Once I went to high school it was all white except for my senior year. Then we had, from where I heard, one or two, or possibly even three black students.. actually I think it was two. Redford High at that time in Northwest Detroit was a very, very large high school. I think our population was 3,000.
WW: What did you after you graduated high school in the city?
LC: I held various jobs. I worked at [North General?] Hospital and the dietary department, actually the store room. And then from there on to [Barton Place ?] West, which no longer exists. I was in the orderly. Became a bus boy for a short period of time at the [Kregger's ?] restaurant on Evergreen and Warren.
WW: Did you continue to live in the city after you graduated high school?
LC: Yes I did. Yes I did. There was no reason to leave. Even after the riot, if you call it a riot, it was very, very stable area. And as the years went on it became more black, more down trodden, poor, houses weren't kept up as well, and you know trash on the curbs. It deteriorated. Actually it was followed by white flight.
WW: Did you sense any growing tension in the city in the 60's leading up to 67?
LC: Leading up to 67, actually, no, excluding the freedom riders in 63 or 64. You know there's some that got on a bus. It was on Grand River by my high school, it was kind of like no big thing. I kind of felt like I didn't move, felt like I should of came to the rescue for the white girl. But I didn't get up and sit next to her so a black could sit next to her. That's the truth. I didn't do it. As far as racial tension, were pretty insulated. I mean Northwest Detroit at the time was white. It was white. No crime, it was just a neighborhood. It was clean, neat, well maintained. We’re close to more affluent areas like North Rosedale, which was a more affluent, professional area. Actually the graduations of economic levels were pretty dramatic. Even by streets. Within three it would streets it would make a big turn. Another five streets another turn. You know. You go beyond Grand River you're in North Rosedale, the Ritz area. The more affluent and bigger homes.
WW: Were you still living in Northwest on 67?
WW: Can you talk about how you first heard about what was going on that week in July?
LC: When I drove through it?
LC: Two of my buddies and I were in Northwest Detroit around Evergreen and Schoolcraft area and we were supposed to meet some girls on the East side. Quite frankly I don't remember what city it was. It might of been one of the Pointes, but in order to get there I drove down Schoolcraft to Ewald Circle and Ewald Circle to [Holton ?] I think it was. As I progressed further east I saw people milling around at first. Then you saw broken store front glass. And then you realized you are in doo doo, okay [laughs]. You don't want to be in this position. Three or four black dudes pull up beside me and I was the driver, and told me to pull over. The guy riding shot gun gestured pull over. Well I wasn't about to pull over because I would've simply got my ass kicked. You know. They were just kids. They were just screwing around beings kids you know. Just trying to be intimidating. Whitey. You know. Pushed John Lodge freeway and it looked like the Big Four were coming off the Lodge itself onto Fullerton. I took a right going south on the Lodge and you could see smoke rising. To me it seemed like an area or length of about five blocks. Actually, a lot of smoke. I mean a lot of smoke. It was a solid sheet of smoke rising for about five blocks.
WW: Did you and your friends ever think about turning around?
LC: Hell no. You just want to get through it. You didn't want to know what was ahead. You knew what was behind. And you didn't want to go behind because you already saw broken glass, people milling around. By this time you got called over, challenged by a group of blacks and I knew I was approaching the Lodge. I was hoping to get on that, which I did. Did I feel like turning around? No, I thought the wisest course was to continue on and just ignore. Just eyes on the road, straight ahead and you don't speed up, don't slow down. Just keep on going, keep on moving.
WW: Did anything else happen on that trip?
LC: Not significantly. From the Lodge I got on 94. From 94 I came back to like Taylor area and the Dearborn Cops were in a median, which didn’t surprise me. Dearborn was a white enclave. Then went to my father-in-law’s house. He had mentioned about, if he needed to, he'd get his guns out. [laughs] You know. By this time evidently it must have been on the news because he knew it, by the time we got there.
WW: How do you interpret what happened that week? Do you see it as a riot?
LC: Actually I think it's way blown out, way out of proportion to what the history books write. I think it's ridiculous. First off do I see it as a riot? I see it as a people taking advantage of a situation to loot. My own interpretation, I think it probably gave them an excuse to some people to go rambling. Do I consider it a riot? I wasn't the firemen or policemen down there. Do I consider it a riot? I wouldn't consider it a race riot. I would consider it more of an economic riot. That's the way I kind of interpret it. I dated a girl that supposedly started the riot. But you know at the time, she was young at the time, and she said the cops were stationed 24/7 outside her house, and she was escorted to and from school by police. There was a couple of interpretations on what started the riot, and I don't know what the truth is. One was that a young guy got shot, young boy got shot. I guess according to this young lady, lady I dated, her father shot the guy. Another one was a raid on the Blind Pig that started it. I don't know. Or maybe it could be the same event. I'm not sure. It sounds like to me two different events. But I really don’t know. I read like in magazines, and like the riot of 67 Detroit, they kind of depict it like the whole city is going up in flames, which is bullshit. You know. It was restricted to a very, to me, a very small area. But you were restricted from moving around too much. They had curfews and I was working at the time so. I most certainly wouldn't go into affected areas anyway. Just out of common sense. But anyway, from what I read in magazines, is this the same thing that I experienced? Because it doesn't sound like it. It really didn't. Just exaggerated bullshit. It's like the entire city is going up in flames. It wasn't. Never was.
WW: Is there anything else you would like to add today?
LC: Just that I think the picture of the riot was very exaggerated. At least in maybe history books or magazine articles. It's not as bad as, not nearly as bad as in actuality it was. Actually there was a curfew unless you were working. And they had a restriction on buying liquor as you know in Detroit at the time, and suburbs. My brother was a drinker. I drove him one time out to Toledo to buy a case of beer or something. Yeah that's pretty much it I think.
WW: Alright, thank you very much for sitting down with me today.
LC: You're welcome.
End of Track 1