Hubert Locke, August 17th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is August 17th, 2016. My name is William Winkel. I am in Detroit, Michigan. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project and I am sitting down with Mr. Hubert G. Locke. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
HL: Mr. Winkel, I’m happy to do so.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when were you born?
HL: I was born here in Detroit in 1934, April of ’34.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
HL: I grew up in what is known by black Detroiters as the Old West Side. The geographic area roughly served Northwestern High School; that was one of its major institutional anchor points. It was one of three segregated areas in the city of Detroit, in which black families could buy homes. That was its significance for me.
WW: What streets does that lie between?
HL: It’s bounded by Epworth on the west, by West Grand Boulevard on the east, by Tireman on the north, and by Warren on the south. In fact, the famed supreme court decision on restrictive covenance, which was the device used to maintain segregated housing in the city, and all across the nation for that matter, was decided by—or I should say one of the cases the court reviewed in reaching that decision involved the purchase of a home by a black family on Seebaldt. Seebaldt was just two streets over from Tireman. Tireman was the dividing line between black and white Detroit on the west side.
WW: Did you enjoy your time growing up there?
HL: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. In spite of the fact that it was segregated, it was a wonderful old community. Very much intact. Many of the large churches of black Detroit were there. Their pastors were famous throughout the city. Charles Hill was a Hartford Baptist, and Hill was sort of a perennial candidate for the city council. Never made it, but he ran faithfully year after year. Jesse J. McNeil was a Tabernacle. Father Dade, Malcolm Dade, was the priest at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church. So it was a famed old community. In fact, one of the institutions was the Nacirema club, which had its own building at the corner of, I think, 30th and Milford; it may have been 28th. At any rate, Nacirema was one of the key social institutions of the old neighborhood. And Nacirema just happens to be “American” spelled backwards. It was the club’s way of not only enjoying its own existence, but thumbing its nose at the rest of society in the process.
WW: Growing up, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you—
HL: Oh, yes. Stayed in that circumference that I’ve just described. Yes, very much so. Went to elementary school at Wingart, which was on the Boulevard between Scoville, and, I think, Moorplace; went on to McMichael Intermediate School and Northwestern High.
WW: What was the reason you stayed within your neighborhood?
HL: There just wasn’t much enticement for going elsewhere. All my friends as I was growing up were in that neighborhood. We went to a church, as I recall, out of the community that was over on the east side, as a matter of fact. That was my parents’ church. Other than that, we simply didn’t have occasion to go outside of the neighborhood. Everything we wanted or needed or were interested in was in that area.
WW: The schools you went to growing up: they were in a predominantly black area? Were they also predominantly black?
HL: There were two elementary schools that served the area: Samson, which was located near Epworth, and Wingart—that is, Samson was in the far western end of the area. Wingart was right on the eastern boundary. Samson, I think, was entirely black, or certainly predominantly black. Wingart curiously had a orphanage across the street from the school. If I recall correctly, the orphanage was run by the Evangelical and Reform Church, which was then, at least, entirely white denomination. For some reason, although my recollection is poor here, we kids thought the orphanage, which was entirely filled with white youngsters—we thought those youngsters were German refugees, and this is during the second World War, of course. Now, that may have just been a myth that prevailed at the time, but certainly they were white. That integrated, if you will, Wingart Elementary. When I got to intermediate school, McMichael had a fair number of white youngsters. Then when I got to Northwestern—Northwestern was, I think it might have been predominantly white. If it wasn’t, it was about half and half. The ethnic make-up of Northwestern was a sizeable Jewish population, kids who lived up in the Dexter/12th Street/Collingwood area. It may not have gone as far as 12th Street, but it certainly encompassed Dexter. I can’t imagine now why that would have been, because this is getting very close to old Central High School, and Central was, I think, almost exclusively Jewish. But there was a large white gentile population of kids who came from out Grand River, going northwest out of Grand River. I just remember becoming aware of that when I got to Northwestern, but we didn’t have much interaction with those youngsters.
WW: Okay. Growing up, what did your father and mother do for a living?
HL: My dad worked his entire life after 1937 at Ford Motor Company, in the Open Hearth. My mother was a housewife until the Second World War, and she worked, I think, from ’41 to ’44, ’45—she worked at the old Excelo plant on Hamilton, at Oakland Boulevard.
WW: Do you have any memories from ’43? From the ’43 riot?
HL: No, no. I was 9 at the time. I just remember tension. I remember it being a very tense period, but there were no problems in our part of town, that is in the Old West Side. I don’t remember there being any problems over there. There might have been, Mr. Winkel, but I don’t remember any.
WW: Okay, not to worry. Growing up in Detroit in the ‘50s, did you begin to move out past your neighborhood and explore the city?
HL: Oh, yes, yes. When I went to college, of course, I went to Wayne State, so that was really my first sort of exposure to the wider city and culture. Although, I had a number of Jewish friends in Northwestern, Jewish friends in high school, and for that reason, I’d often go across the boundary, if you will, West Grand Boulevard, over in the—what’s the street I just mentioned?
HL: Well, yes, in that area. I’d go over there to visit friends, for some reason. But not much exploration beyond that. My growing up years and exposure to the city was pretty much exclusively in the Old West Side until I went off to college.
WW: When you did go into all-white areas, did you feel uncomfortable being there?
HL: I’m not sure that I gave it a great deal of thought. When I was going to the home of friends, there was no problem. Nor was it that frequent, I should hasten to say. There wasn’t a lot of tension that I can recall in the city in that period. One of the jobs I had—in fact, when I was in my growing up years—this started when I was still in—no, I guess I was in high school. Maybe intermediate school, but certainlyin high school. I worked in the local grocery store that was at the corner of Stanford and Tireman. The owner was white. It served both the black populace, who lived south of Tireman, and the white populace who lived north of Tireman. So I was hauling groceries in the white area every evening after school and especially on the weekends. I never had any problems. But I’m saying all of this in the context of life within a very segregated city. We didn’t have problems primarily because we lived by ourselves, had our own institutions and cultural exposures and opportunities, so there wasn’t any need to see much of the city. There were two movie theatres, I remember, in the old neighborhood. I don’t remember going downtown to the theatre until I was in my college years. I’m hoping I remember that correctly, but I certainly don’t remember any large exposure to downtown Detroit. We may have gone down shopping, of course, in those days. The old Curn (??) and Sam’s were sort of shopping haunts, but that’s all I can remember of that.
WW: You said going to Wayne State opened your eyes a little bit to the wider city. Would you like to expand on that?
HL: Let’s see, where to begin? Suddenly, I am being exposed not just to the university, but this whole cultural center area so that suddenly the world of the art museum opened up for me. I can’t recall the Historical Society being here in 1950. Maybe it was—
WW: I do believe we moved in right after that.
HL: Yeah. That would figure. It’s just the wider universe that this—and particularly the wider cultural universe—that this whole experience exposed me to, and I took to it quite eagerly. I was president of the freshman class in 1950. We’d take ski trips up to Grayling and Gaylord, Michigan, in the winters. It was a wonderful time for me. In fact, I later served on the staff at Wayne for a couple of years, and thought I’d never leave the boundaries of these six blocks.
WW: Did you become politically active after you went to school at Wayne State?
HL: Well, I was politically active during my time as an undergraduate at Wayne State. This was the McCarthy era, among other things. I remember we had all sorts of anti-McCarthy activities going on during that period. I participated. I can’t think very actively, but participated in the local politics, democratic politics. I really didn’t become politically active until after I had gone off to graduate school and returned to Detroit. I left in 1955, went to Chicago, took a degree there, and came back to Detroit in 1959. That was really the beginning of my period of political activity.
WW: When you left and came back, did you notice any new tension in the city, from being gone for so long?
HL: No. I was so close that I was back and forth, really, all the time, so I didn’t sense any—the city was booming , of course, in that period. The automotive companies were hiring all over the place. There just was not the occasion for a lot of tension in that period. At least as far as I can recall.
WW: What propelled you into political activism? Especially in 1959, when you came back?
HL: the only thing I can recall specifically, Mr. Winkel, is—I can’t specifically recall what the events were between my return to the city in 1959 and my becoming the executive director of what was known as the Citizen’s committee for Equal Opportunity, but except to say, and it was part of the growing effort in the city then to begin to deal with some of its racial problems and some of the spin-offs of that situation. There was a critical election in this town. The years I cannot recall, but they resulted in the dumping of the then-mayor—I think it was Louis Miriani—and his replacement by Jerry Cavanagh.
HL: Was that when it was?
HL: All right. Then that’s the anchor part because Cavanagh came on board with the determination to try to do something about racial problems in the city. We were just beginning to get the spill-over effect of the desegregation of Detroit, so there was a lot of population movement throughout the city, and that was creating some pockets of tension as black families moved into previously all-white areas. The Citizens’ Committee was the idea of Walter Reuther, who called some of his colleagues together and said, “This business in the south, it’s going to come north, and we are not prepared in Detroit to deal with it, and we better get our act together before it does.” That led to the creation of what was euphemistically called the Bishop Emerick Committee for the Episcopal bishop who chaired it. I can’t recall how I got selected for that job, but I went to work for the Citizen’s Committee in 1961, I think it was. Maybe it was ’62, and stayed there for three years, until ’65. Then I went back to my post at Wayne State, was there ‘65/’66, and in ’66 went to the police department. That part I remember well.
WW: Before we get there, did you sense any growing tension throughout the ‘60s with the Civil Rights Movement in full-swing?
HL: Oh, yeah, yeah, things were heating up then, I think it’s safe to say, in Detroit. The defeat of Miriani was particularly critical in that regard because there had been a couple of very tragic assaults on white nurses coming down to the medical center. The press, of course, was making a big cry about that, and Miriani made it a huge part of his reelection campaign: he was going to get the rapists off the street. What he did, really, I think this is well-documented, was he announced what amounted to a crack-down on street crime, which of course meant a crack-down on black males, and the police department went after it with considerable eagerness so that any black male found walking in this area after dusk, in the evening, was going to be arrested. If not arrested, at least stopped, detained, patted-down, roughed-up, and that became an election issue in ’62. It was that issue that swung the black vote, in this town, at least, toward Jerry Cavanagh. Now did I answer the question you asked me?
WW: You did. How did you begin your work with the police department and Commissioner Girardin?
HL: That was a direct outcome of my work with the Citizens’ Committee. We had four major areas of concern in Bishop Emerick’s committee: There was education, housing, public accommodations, and police-community relations. Because of the tension, we spent either the greater majority of our time or maybe it was just because it was the most volatile area of the four, on police-community relations. I resigned in ’64, ’65, to go back to Wayne, and I got this call from the mayor who invites me to sit down with him and Ray Girardin, then the Commissioner of Police, and their pitch was, “Look. You and the Citizens’ Committee have focused so much time on the problem of police-community relations and you worked at it from the outside. We want you to come at it on the inside and help deal with it within the department,” to which I said politely, “Mr. Mayor, you’re out of your cotton-picking mind.” Who in his right mind would go in the Detroit Police Department, which had, at that time, a pretty bad reputation, as far as police-community relations were concerned? Well, Jerry Cavanagh was a very astute politician. He immediately turns around and calls—who was it? Dick Austin, who was politically active at that time. I think he had been a candidate for Secretary of State. John Conyers—I’m trying to think, I think Buddy Battle from the labor union. Anyway, he calls these guys together and he says, “Look you’ve been knocking my head about the police-community relations problem. I’m trying to get Locke to come in the department; we are creating a post for him to work on this problem.” I got called one evening—I will never forget—shortly thereafter to a meeting of the “Black Powers That Be,” it was in Dick Austin’s basement/recreation room. They said, “Look, we don’t know what Cavanagh is up to, but if he wants you to come inside the police department, you go.” So I went. I went, and I was there for two years. When I went in the department—maybe I’m getting ahead of the story—when I went in the department, there were 137 or 139 black officers in a department that had 4,000 sworn officers. Needless to say, those 130+ black officers were all in the patrol ranks, but there were two exceptions that I remember: George [unintelligible] had risen to the level of precinct captain, and Bill Hart, who later became the chief of police was in the vice squad. Those were the two I can remember most clearly. At any rate, that’s the story of how I got into the PD.
WW: What work did you start doing in ’66, when you first started?
HL: I began with the most obvious problems, one being the low number of black officers in the department, and just began to look at it systematically from the whole recruitment process, all the way through the exam, testing, you know. All up to swearing in. What I discovered was that the medical officer for the department—start this over again. What I discovered was that a number of young black males were going to the department and filling out applications and were able to pass the initial screening exam, where they weeded out people with criminal records, etc. Passed—I think there was a written exam, I’m sure there was at that point—passed that but got to the medical exam, of all things, and were flunking it. When I go to the medical office to see what the problem is, the doctor said, “Oh, it’s very simple. Blacks have flat feet and they can’t do patrol.” I said, “But nobody walks the patrol beat anymore! They ride around in scout cars!” But believe it or not, he was using that as an excuse to keep the number of—I’m sure with some encouragement and complicity by others of the department. I went back and told the commissioner what I’d found. He almost tore his hair out, but put a stop to that immediately. He said to me, I will never forget, “Hubert, if we were functioning at our ideally in this whole recruitment process, what do you think we’d be taking in in each entry class?” I said, “Well, city’s population is now close to 25% black, so if we’re going to reflect the population of the city, we ought to have entrance classes that are approximately 25% black officers.” He sent that word to the recruitment office and said, “I want to set that as a target.” Do you know, from that next class on, we were taking in exactly 25%! Exactly 25%, and did so up until the time I left the department. It was that kind of problem, though, that we worked on. There was a problem of assignment and promotion in the department, I had to work on that. We set up police-community relations councils in each of the precincts. We were making some small but sort of steady progress, chipping away at what had been a huge, glacial problem in the city.
WW: What was the reputation—when you say the police department had a bad reputation, do you mean just in the black community, or in the white community as well?
HL: No, in the black community. I don’t know that the white community was unhappy with the police department, but it certainly had a bad reputation in black Detroit. Just as a small note on that one, there was, in those days, part of the patrol tactic was to have in each precinct what was known as the felony car. The felony car was euphemistically known in the community as The Big Four, because it was an unmarked police car, usually a big Buick or something, in which four officers rode around who handled the felony runs in each precinct. This inevitably brought them into direct contact and conflict with a lot of young black males as they would make street stops and whatever. I remember that in those first few months in the department, I developed the habit of riding in one of those felony cars every Friday and Saturday night. Friday, I’d work from eight to five, get a bite to eat, and come back and go out with the felony car and ride ‘til three in the morning. I think those were the hours. But knowing, as I said to confidantes, knowing that at least the felony car in which I was riding wasn’t going to have any bad stories about police conduct. Just stuff like that, we were trying to work away at it.
WW: Going throughout 1966, as you’re continuing to work at this post, do you believe that police-community relations were improving?
HL: Mr. Winkel, I really can’t answer that. I suppose the answer you would get to that question depends on who you ask. I think some felt there was some small, or at least things were turning around, they were heading in the right direction. Others would probably say, no, nothing changed at all. I tend to think, for whatever it’s worth, that there was at least movement. Things were not in a static mode during that period. Of course, we’re talking about ’66. I went in the department in March of ’66. Fifteen months later, the riot erupts, so we didn’t have much time to make a lot of progress.
WW: Were you in the department when the Kercheval incident happened in ’66?
HL: Yes, yes, yes, I was, indeed. We gained a lot of credit on our handling of the Kercheval incident, because the rest of the nation was blowing up at that point. Newark had just occurred, if I recall correctly, and then suddenly, we think it’s our turn, but we had two or three things going for us that night. One, it happened on a Tuesday night, and if I recall correctly, there may have been a baseball game in town that night. For some reason, there was a higher than normal contingent of officers on duty downtown. So when we got the alert, shipping them up to Kercheval wasn’t much of a problem. We had that area isolated and contained within fifteen, twenty minutes, if I recall correctly. Number two, the guys who were behind the Kercheval incident—I won’t mention names at this point—but they were very good [unintelligible], they weren’t the best planners in the world. So whatever they had in mind, getting stirred up, didn’t stir up very easily. But the third thing I will never forget is that at about nine or ten o’clock that night, a rainstorm—like the one we just had a couple of nights ago—broke out, and that put a damper on Kercheval. Wiped out the protest completely. And Detroit, suddenly, began to gain the reputation nation-wide as the city who knows how to handle civil disorders. I remember that distinctly. Particularly because in July ’67, what happened was the exact opposite of what had happened at the Kercheval incident. We had—I’ll get my numbers mixed up, at this point—but the number of officers who were on-duty at four o’clock on Sunday morning—
WW: It was about three hundred.
HL: There you are. I know it’s the lowest point at which the city’s ever staffed for good and historic reasons. We never got on top of it from the beginning.
WW: After that incident, what was the atmosphere in the police department? Was it tense because the incident had occurred? Or was there relief that the incident was taken care of so quickly?
HL: The Kercheval incident?
HL: The officers were rather pleased with themselves, having handled Kercheval, particularly because of the growing problem nationally. They really thought that they had done something extraordinary. I remember that period as one in which the officers said, maybe there is something to this police-community relations business. I can remember now, I’m sorry, I can remember now what it was that was the bridge between my coming back here and the Citizens’ Committee. The city got a grant from some federal agency to do police-community relations training and to put the whole of the department, if I remember correctly, through ten, fifteen hours of [unintelligible] relations, and I was one of—I can’t remember who else was involved—what one of the chaps tapped to do that, that’s what it was.
WW: Very nice. Going into ’67, what was your focus in your job then? I know it’s still police-community relations but what projects were you working in within the department?
HL: Well, if I recall correctly, I was then being asked to troubleshoot any number of things in the department, not all of which had to do with police-community relations. When I first went in, in fact, it was a month or two after the discovery of the infamous Little Black Book. There was a grand jury at work in Detroit looking into the question of police corruption. It was headed by Edward—I think his name was Edward Piggins, who himself was a former police chief, but now was on the circuit court bench. He was heading this grand jury investigation into corruption in the department. They discovered down in Greektown, on a raid in one of the restaurants down there that was owned by a couple of guys whose reputations, at least, would lead one to believe that they were part of the downtown mafia. They discovered a little black book in the office of the restaurant manager that had the names of what appeared to be a number of police officers, up to and including the deputy superintendent and amounts written beside them, dollar amounts. On further investigation, did confirm that this was part of a pay-off scheme that was meant to buy protection for what I think I recall was a fairly extensive gambling network downtown. I remember having to sit on a trial, what did we call it? The police trial board? Something of that sort as these officers were brought in, formally charged, and we had to work through those cases. I was doing other things in the department, in addition to the police-community relations stuff.
WW: When was this book discovered? ’66 or ’67?
HL: ’66. February or March of ’66. That investigation continued, as well as these trial boards, if I recall correctly, through most of my tenure in the department, through ’66 and ’67, because the deputy chief, who was the highest one caught in the net, resigned. I don’t think he was canned, but given the option of resigning, and that was in early ’67 if I recall correctly.
WW: Going into the summer of ’67, what was the atmosphere like in the police department? Was the department anticipating another incident?
HL: It was, it was anticipating trouble. I can’t say that we were caught unawares. One of the incidents I remember particularly: I was out riding, again, with the Big Four on the weekend before July 23rd, the weekend prior to the outbreak of the riot. We raided a blind pig, or busted is the more appropriate term—busted a blind pig on Linwood, Linwood and, I think the cross street may have been Collingwood or Lawrence, somewhere there in the area between the Boulevard and Davison, on Linwood. The technique, of course, was for the vice squad to go, hit the place about two or three in the morning, arrest the people who were there, and take them on downtown for booking. We found, for some reason, we expected only to find only a dozen or twenty people in the place. There were seventy or eighty people, and we had difficulty getting transportation for getting these people from the point of arrest downtown. I remember going back to headquarters that Monday and saying, “We gotta work out a different way of handling this. We can’t bust these places if we don’t know that we are going to have ready and available enough transportation to get them downtown.” Because the bust itself, of course, was a big excitement in the community; people would gather, pimps would try to agitate the crowd because some of their girls were being locked up in the whole process. Just that week, we began this process of trying to improve the coordination between the vice squad and whomever was to be called to provide transportation to get people out.
WW: Just in time.
HL: Just in time, yeah. A week later, what happens, but it repeats! The whole scenario repeats itself the whole business again.
WW: How did you first hear about what was going on that next week? When did you first hear about the raid on the blind pig?
HL: In fact, I can state that with some precision because I wrote that up in a little book that I did on the Detroit riot. It refreshed my memory. Nick Hood, who was the pastor at Plymouth Congregation, called me. I can’t remember how that came about, but he called me early Sunday morning. I guess he was getting ready for his pastoral duties, and within minutes thereafter—it may have been almost at the same time—I get a call from Conrad Mallet. Conrad was the assistant to Cavanagh and was my next-door neighbor, and his son, Conrad, Jr., was the neighborhood paperboy. He had gone up on 12th Street to pick up his supply of papers from wherever the drop was, came home wide-eyed as could be and said to his dad, “Something’s going on up on 12th Street.” Conrad calls me, I hop in my car, because we lived at Austin between 12th and 14th, so it was a matter of four blocks for me to drive up there and see what’s going on. I called headquarters, and they were just beginning to get alerts as to something going on. That’s very well stuck in my mind.
WW: What did you do after that?
HL: I went directly to headquarters, after I got in the car and saw what was going on. I went to headquarters. I do have to inject a personal note, at this point, because I was a working pastor in this town, while all of this is going on, I was also serving a small congregation out in the Conant Gardens area. When I left home that morning to go up on 12th Street to see what was going on, I threw my vestments in the back of my police car, thinking that we’d have another Kercheval, that a couple hours and we’d be on top of it, and I could go on and conduct the two services that I normally did on Sunday morning. I didn’t get back home—I left home on Sunday, I think it was about four o’clock in the morning—I didn’t get back home until Tuesday night. Didn’t get any sleep or bathed or washed my face, as I can recall, until Tuesday evening. From then on, it was just one thing after another in the department, trying to get on top of this. My first response was to call Arthur Johnson, who was then head of the NAACP, and John Conyers, alerted them, and we agreed to meet at—oh, I can’t think of the name of the church—it’s the Episcopal church at 12th and Virginia Park. It’s rector I remember very well, because he and I were very good friends: Bob Potts, Robert, the Reverend Robert Potts. We met there and both Art and John were going to try to appeal to the crowd. I had some bullhorns brought up from headquarters. We got in the back of a convertible and John and Art are going down 12th Street, urging people to cool it and get off the streets, etc. People were shouting back at them, it was clear they weren’t in the mood. That was where, Mr. Winkel, we found the first tactical problem that we had. One of the problems we immediately had on 12th Street was in trying to disperse the crowd, the officers formed a V formation, a wedge, and would move up 12th Street block by block, trying to clear it, but at each cross street, the crowd would simply swarm around behind the commercial establishments on 12th Street, go down the alley that paralleled 12th Street, and come up behind the officers, pelting them with anything they could lay their hands on. That technique just proved to be fruitless and we abandoned it early on. At that point, just tried to contain the area. I recall us trying to get a cordon around, I think it was Linwood and Woodrow Wilson, the Boulevard and Clairmount to see if we could just contain the crowds, keep other people from flowing into the mix. But they began to set fires very rapidly at this point, not only on 12th Street, but over on Linwood and, I think, by Grand River; early, by noon or so, we had fires burning there. It was just chaos, impossible to get a hold of.
WW: Early Sunday morning, how quickly was the police department able to call back its officers?
HL: Not very. Not very fast at all, because as you point out, there were three hundred people on duty that morning, but most of the officers, good Catholics that they were, were either at mass or they were up at their cottages or cabins, wherever they had them, etc. So the call-up just proceeded very slowly. I should be able to remember numbers, and I suspect they’re in my book, but I remember by noon we still had only five or six hundred officers who had reported for duty. That didn’t go well either.
WW: Mayor Cavanagh’s decision to implement a no-shoot order with the police department—how do you think that affected what was going on on 12th Street?
HL: How should I answer that? I can answer that only in historical, only in the perspective of current police-citizen problems in the country. If the shooting of one black civilian by a police officer can set off incidents such as occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, up in Minnesota, etc., you can imagine what would have happened if officers had been allowed to use their weapons in that crowded situation. It would have been a bloodbath, I’m sure. Absolutely sure. The department, the officers in the department, any number of officers in the department—that’s a more accurate way to put it—deeply resented that order. But I certainly applaud him for making it and I think it was absolutely the right thing to do, without question.
WW: When you arrived at the police department early that Sunday morning, what was the mood? Was it chaotic? Or was there a sense that the department was going to repeat Kercheval?
HL: It was fairly efficient. There are a number of things the department immediately goes into, attack or command mode, in a situation like this. As I recall the prevailing attitude, it was that we’ve got another Kercheval on our hands and we’ll get on top of it. But I think that rapidly dissipated, Mr. Winkel, as we found such things as our tactics weren’t working and that the call-up wasn’t going as it ought to. At least later that Sunday, after the problem of fires broke out, and sniper fire, we knew we had a different situation on our hands.
WW: At what point did the police department begin to seriously consider having the National Guard come in?
HL: Early on, very early on. If I recall correctly, that was sometime Sunday afternoon that we had already called the governor who dispatched state patrolman, who came up. We were asking for the National Guard as well. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the exact time as well, timeframe for these decisions, but I do remember that after dusk that evening, going up on the rooftop of 1300 Beaubien, police headquarters, looking out over the city and just seeing fires raging in all parts of the city, in the west, out east, as well as along 12th Street. I knew that we’d lost it at that point. I think everybody else knew that, in the department, certainly the command staff in the department did. We began to talk about federal troops, at that point. I forget when the request—this is all part of the official record, of course—when the request for federal troops was made, but I remember the politics surrounding that situation. They were sent in, the troops were sent in, but the 82nd Airborne were stationed at Selfridge field, up in Mt. Clements. Lyndon Johnson, then president, had sent as his embassary, deputy for the occasion, Silas Vance, who later became somebody’s secretary of state. Vance was under specific orders not to release those troops until Romney, who was then governor, had made a public acknowledgement that the situation was more than he could deal with. I can remember the back and forth in the department between Vance and Romney and Cavanagh, all trying to get those troops released. It was, what, late Monday, I think, before that finally occurred? Yeah.
WW: How did the police department feel when the National Guard did move in?
HL: They were grateful. There may have been a few yahoos in the department, I’m sure there were, who were convinced that if the mayor lifted his no-shoot ban they could get the thing controlled within minutes, but that was not the outlook nor the response of any sensible person in the department at the time. They wanted as much help as they could get, as early on as we could get it.
WW: When the federal troops finally moved in, was there a sense of relief as in, this might soon be over?
HL: There was a sense of relief, that’s for sure. As to how soon that might occur, I think it was still anybody’s guess. The troops represented a massive presence, with tanks rolling down the streets, etc. I think there were tanks on the streets. If I remember, the federal troops were exclusively assigned to the east side of the city. I can’t remember why that was.
WW: The federal troops took the east side and the National Guard took the west.
HL: Then I do recall correctly.
WW: But then the federal troops did move west.
HL: They did eventually move west? Okay. That part I couldn’t recall.
WW: You said the Detroit Police Department was planning or expecting something? Were you expecting anything on this scale?
HL: No! We would have asked for federal troops at four a.m. Sunday morning if we thought that anything of this scale… Again, as you’ve astutely discerned, we were just laboring under the impression that we had another Kercheval incident on our hands. I recall that as being distinctly being the mood of the department.
WW: Do you believe that the Detroit Police Department had the proper training they needed to handle something like this?
HL: Well, we’re talking about 1967. I don’t think policing has become that much more sophisticated in the past fifty years, as a matter of fact. I think current events prove that, for the most part. The tactics are still, as we saw in Milwaukee a couple of nights ago: When you’ve got a disturbance of this type, you try to contain the area and arrest, if you can, the ringleaders, if they’re obvious, or at least the most rambunctious, whether they’re the ringleaders or not, and to move in community leaders, particularly clergy, well-known politicians or others, to encourage people to get off the streets. That’s what they did two nights ago in Milwaukee, and that’s what we did fifty years ago in Detroit, only Milwaukee was small enough that it worked and in our case it was just out of hand from the get-go, as they say.
WW: How was the police department’s relationship with the National Guard?
HL: That was tense because the National Guard, of course, were these 18, 19-year-old kids from Muskegon and Cass City and Gaylord, lord knows where else. Probably, in many instances, it was the first time they had been in Detroit, let alone had faced something of this sort. So they were nervous as hell. The men in the department, I think, were both grateful for their presence but skittish about their behavior because you didn’t know whether these young kids would be racking their rifles and think they were shooting at a sniper but end up hitting a civilian. I think the department had really mixed feelings about their presence, but certainly by Monday night, the fact that we had both state police, National Guard, and, if I remember correctly after about ten o’clock that night, the federal troops on the street was an event of great relief to us all.
WW: From the perspective of the police department, how long did you stay in “riot mode,” before normal shifts were restored?
HL: I think it was the following Sunday before the alert was called off. I can’t remember that specifically.
WW: For you, you said you were on duty until that Tuesday.
HL: Oh, yeah, that’s only because I just took off—I was ready to drop—I just took off and went home for four hours. I think I snatched four hours’ worth of sleep, took a shower, but went right back to headquarters, was there certainly up through that following Sunday. A quick side note: I had that May, I think it was, May or June, I had indicated to Commissioner Girardin that I had had enough and wanted to go back to Wayne, and he said, at the time, “Look, Hubert, we’re expecting trouble this summer. Would you stay on at least during the summer months?” And I said, “Okay, I’ll stay through August. Let me get back for the fall term.” So I was anticipating going back and, more importantly, the department was anticipating problems, so anyone who suggested we were somehow caught by surprise or caught with our pants down or whatever just does not know what the inside—what the atmosphere internally was.
WW: After the event calmed down, how did the police department respond? Was there bitterness? Was there relief? What was the atmosphere like?
HL: I really can’t answer that, Mr. Winkel, because I did leave a month after. I left at the end of August. I really don’t know. Much of the attention then had turned to the three officers who were arrested in the Algiers Motel. I think it was two officers and a National Guardsman, wasn’t it?
HL: Or three officers? Three officers, okay.
WW: During that week, did you have any interaction with that case?
HL: Yes. Let’s see how much of this I can tell. The incident itself was on a Wednesday or a Thursday—Wednesday. Thursday, I got a call from Nate Conyers who Mr. Bury mentioned. My oldest buddy who was then a young attorney at offices in the Guardian Building. He called me at headquarters and said, “Locke, I’ve got two women here in my office who just told me a story that if it’s half true suggests you got a real problem in the department.” I left my desk, drove over to the Guardian Building; interviewed the two women who were at the motel, in the motel when all this took place; came back to police headquarters; reported what I had heard to the commissioner, who immediately called Vince Piersante, chief of detectives with orders to find out what had gone on. Vince, I remember, called George Bloomfield, I think that’s his las name, who was the retired head of the homicide bureau and assigned him to go after them. Bloomfield came back within days, I recall. Maybe a week, very short period of time. In effect gave the commissioner and Piersante the information and the evidence that led to the indictment of those men for first degree murder. I think, Mr. Winkel—I may be wrong—but I think to this day that’s still the only case of a police shooting in the nation which has resulted in indictment for first degree murder of a police officer. Clearly the department at that point had not lost its moral compass and was seriously anxious to get on top of it.
WW: Are there any other things you’d like to share from your time in the department?
HL: Only one. It’s been bouncing around the back of my head. There’s still a lot of rhetoric surrounding the incident. Many people have been on my case, and critically so, for calling it a riot. There are those who’d prefer to call it civil disorder, which I think is more neutral, though many more who prefer to call it an uprising or rebellion or all sorts of other descriptors, that I find questionable, quite frankly, but they’re entitled to their interpretation, political interpretation, if you will. The one thing I insist on is that it was not a race riot. It was not a race riot. I gather you’ve heard that before, yeah? Well, let me just join hands with you, then, in declaring that to be totally inaccurate. What happened in this city in 1942, or ’43, in 1943, was a race riot. I mean, black men were being yanked off Woodward street cars and being beaten in the street, etc. But I’ve got photos in 1967 of looting going on along Linwood. Two guys walking down the street carrying a huge sofa. Two black guys in front, two white guys behind. I declare it to be one of the most integrated events we’d had in this city, up until that time. The snipers whom we arrested—we didn’t arrest a lot of them, but the ones we did arrest were white. It was just a very mixed affair, sir. I made the point, to describe it as a race riot is just fundamentally and historically inaccurate.
WW: I’m really happy you brought that up because I forgot to ask that question. When you went back to Wayne in the fall, what was the mood of the student population? Do you think there was increased activism afterwards?
HL: I can’t really say that I recall with any honesty. I left the city two years later in a sort of fit of moral depression, I guess is the way to put it, because the Sunday after the riot—the Monday after the riot week, the Detroit Free Press came out with a front page story, and as I recall, a picture—a six or seven-column picture—of Henry Ford getting out in front of his chauffeur-driven limousine, getting out in front of the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Al Cleage’s church, and the bulk of the story was that Ford was now going to sit down and negotiate with the new black leadership in town. Al, I know, was making a lot of noise about the establishment having dealt with the likes of Art Johnson and John Conyers, etc. but that they had best start dealing with those who were the real leadership in the black community. That just resulted in a whole-scale shift in this town. Its power brokers then did start to deal with Cleage and a few others of that ilk. I thought, well, if that’s the way the city’s going, at least they can do it without my little help, and I packed up and got out. Took me two years to do so, but I did. And I guess that’s where the story ends.
WW: Why do you keep coming back?
HL: Why do I keep coming back now?
WW: Is it just to visit?
HL: No, I still have family here. My two sisters live—one in Ypsilanti and the other in Southfield, and we still have the old family place up in [unintelligible], a community of which I assume you’ve heard. Really, this time was making a pilgrimage back to [unintelligible]. I still have very dear friends here. I come back to see them every once in a while. My heart, I must admit, my heart is still here. This town was very good to me, and as I said at the outset of the interview, I thought I’d never leave Detroit. Detroit was the center of the universe, but I’ve wandered a good distance since then, that’s for sure.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to share before we finish up?
HL: I can’t think of anything else.
WW: All right, then, thank you so much for taking time out of your day and have a safe trip back.
HL: Thank you, thank you for your probing questions.