Michael "Doc" Holbrook, August 15th, 2016

Title

Michael "Doc" Holbrook, August 15th, 2016

Description

In this interview, Michael shares the differences between living in the north and south, coming of age as a black male in Detroit, living during the time of the 1967 unrest, and his observations of the city past and present.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

09/16/2016

Rights

Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI

Format

Audio/WAV

Language

en-US

Type

Oral History

Video

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Michael "Doc" Holbrook

Brief Biography

Michael “Doc” Holbrook was born in Detroit in 1949. After moving to Tennessee with his mother, Michael’s family returned to Detroit.

Interviewer's Name

William Winkel

Interview Place

Detroit, MI

Date

08/15/2016

Interview Length

00:51:07

Transcription Date

09/16/2016

Transcription

WW: Hello today is August 15, 2016, my name William Winkle. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s “Detroit 67” oral history project and I am in Detroit, MI. This interview is with Mr. Michael “Doc” Holbrook. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today

MB: Well thank you I am honored that you asked me to be a part of this because I feel like I have a lot to say about, you know, 67 and prior to that. I feel as if I one of the few people that kept a very optimistic attitude about Detroit, throughout, you know, bad times, good times. Detroit’s a great city.

WW: I’m glad you’re sitting down with me today

MB: Thank you

WW: Can you please tell me where and when you were born?

MH: Born in Detroit in 1949. Mother and father separated. She moved back to her hometown, Franklin, TN, and my sister was born a few months later, so I was back in Tennessee in 1950 and my sister was born a few months later and I was there until 1961. My mother wanted to get away from the, the old segregated southern town. All of her siblings were up here and so we left. She came up here. She was a nurse. She came up here and got a job so…

WW: Came back to Detroit?

MH: Came back to Detroit, yeah

WW: What was your first impression of the city?

MH: Well, I had been here, again, her older siblings were established, well-established here, they were raising their families already here. So we would come up to visit. So, as a youngster, we would come up to visit, say every other year. So I had a feel for the city. Knew it was VASTLY different than my little small town that I lived in. And the culture was different. And people and their attitudes and just the fact that most of the people that I had counted on, I’m talkin’ about when I came to visit, they were all, upward mobility type and they were, many of them were educated, all of them were working. Everybody, I mean, at that time was working. Had a job. Raising families, that sort of thing. So, but, when I came here to live, now I’m going to be here, it was, I saw, I moved into a neighborhood Woodward and, Woodward and the North End – Northern High School. Right there at, at Claremont on the west side of Woodward and Owens on the east side. Northern High school’s right there. So that’s the neighborhood I came to when we moved back here and it was different than the neighborhood where my mother’s siblings lived. They lived in Conant Gardens, Boston Edison, that sort of thing and it was just different, you know, and I had a rude awakening. First, one of the first things that happened to me was just getting in a little scuffle with a guy, you know, boys, you know, having a little disagreement. And I was able to wrestle this guy down to the ground, put my knees on his shoulders thinking he’s going to say “uncle”.  I look back on it and say that was so goofy at the time. They did not think like that. Someone kicked me in the side, course I doubled over and once I was open then they just started kicking, kicking and there’s this, the two of them, stomp this so-and-so, stop em’, stop em’, and so that changed my mentality from that point on. It was like, unfortunately I didn’t have a father to go to, no older brothers, no one, and I had just been here a couple a weeks, so I had no one to turn to, so I had to fend for myself. I had a younger sister, mother and a grandmother and they did not condone violence and fighting. So I was wrong, even for getting my ass whipped I was wrong, you know, was just crazy. But, that, that was my first impression of, you know, the level of violence that, you know, existed here. And they, my peers, they were like, some of em’ I thought were just out of control. Totally out of control. I mean they were using foul language and just doing things, and saying things, they just, you may have seen that a little bit in Franklin, TN but not much, you know, if somebody did it was reported and they got in trouble because everybody knew everybody. So…

WW: The neighborhood you moved into at Woodward and Claremont, was that integrated?

MH: No, no. There may be, there may have been a smattering of whites here and there, maybe. -`But not, nothing that you could say, you know, was representative of anything. No.

WW: Coming from the south to the north, did you notice any tension in the city?

MH: I can’t say I noticed tension. The only tension, and of course I guess that’s pretty much everywhere in America but, you know, when the police, you know are, cuz’ boys gonna to do what boys do, and so but, it wasn’t anything real overt, like they weren’t every time you saw the police they’d run after you, you know, that wasn’t the case. But I did understand that the police here in the city of Detroit, they had a different mentality than the southern police. Southern police and, and blacks, well at least, what I can remember, there was an understanding, ok, there was this, well in a small town they knew you. So, but even in the town, the big city Nashville, which was less than 20 miles away, I think, I’d have to check on this, but I think black men for the most part were treated better in those situations than they were here, because these were all, you know, communities, mostly black, you know, communities these were. And these parts of Nashville and my little town, you know, blacks and whites lived together. There were, you know, houses, different, you know, and you wouldn’t expect that, you just, you wouldn’t think, now I don’t know if that’s indicative of most settings in the south, I don’t know, I just, I just don’t.

WW: Did you experience any racism when you came to Detroit?

MH: Well you have to elaborate on that when you say “experience racism”.

WW: When you first, when you came here to live in ‘61, and moving around the city, did you feel comfortable freely exploring the city and going into different areas?

MH: Well,

WW: Or did you feel shut out?

MH: No, I mean I was, I was, you know ‘61, I was 12 some 13 years old. I knew that there were neighborhoods that, cuz my cousins and others would tell me “that’s an all-white neighborhood, be careful” that sort of thing. So if you’re on your bike as a boy and, you know, you don’t go into that neighborhood. And there was, that situation did exist in an area of Joseph Campeau, Conant as it goes north and goes into 7 Mile east, 7 Mile Rd. On the south side of 7 Mile there were, there was Conant Garden and black neighborhoods and what not. And on the north of E. 7 Mile Rd. were all white neighborhoods. And I can remember distinctly, on 7 Mile there was a Wrigley’s I think it was, A&P, it was an A&P supermarket and other, you know, well places where you have to, you know, you do business, and you could go, it was okay for me to go there but I didn’t go any farther north than that or there would be trouble. One time I did, I ventured out, I was curious about something and I went down Conant I think it was, and turned down one of the side streets and, sure enough, sure enough, just because I’m on my bike in there, said nothing to anybody, didn’t do anything wrong, and so they told me to get my ass out of there, started throwing rocks. I was lucky not to have been hit. I just didn’t do that again. So, I mean that, that’s an eye opener. That tells you right there, okay, you say what you want about the segregated south but, to give you a good example of it, older men have said to me, even here, that when they were in the south if they were to break down in a white area, and wherever they were from, more than likely white men would help them get the car and, you know, and be on their way, right? Here as it is, and white communities outside of New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, or even in some of those cities, you’re going to meet some, some resistance just for being there. They’re not going to help you so….these are some of the contradictions we would deal with in America

WW: Did you expect that when you came to the north?

MH: Absolutely not. Nope. I mean, everything that I had been told, everything that I felt about the north, like I say, I came up here to visit but my visits were all in, you know, pretty decent neighborhoods and my family, my mother’s brothers and sisters, we went to Metropolitan Beach, even Kensington. Kensington was brand new then. Metropolitan Beach wasn’t, you know, real old in the 50’s. We went to, you know, they, they went anywhere they wanted to go and I didn’t realize it until I got here, and was here a while, that my family was a little unusual. Most black families didn’t do that because I know when we would go to the beach, we’d be the only coloreds, we’d be the only coloreds at that, at that spot, at that day. And there were many, many times, even as a teenager. So I thought “well I can go anywhere and this is, this is the north, you know, I’m free to go where I want”. I would many, many, many times, for many years, I would be the only black person in certain settings. And I don’t have what’s called, I don’t have white-itis. You know what white-itis is?

WW: No

MH: Well, I know it, it sounds silly but white-itis is really a condition a lot of black folks are afflicted with. They can only see good coming from somebody white, or in those situations where whites are an authority, so they have white-itis. They see through their, their own distorted prism. They see whites as the only way in which they can feel like “ok I’ve, I’m above the fray here. I have white friends”… and maybe they live, you know, have white neighbors and on and on and on and on. I was in those situations just because nobody is going to tell me where I can go and where I cannot go. That’s for the segregated south. This is the north. And I came here and I, it’s, the lines of demarcation are different here than they are there. You understand down there, everybody understands and you kind of, well you work with it. Here, it’s like you don’t know. It’s supposed, you’re supposed to able to go into this res.., there were restaurants in Detroit in the, in the 60’s when I came here, you could walk in but you wouldn’t get served. You know, you could walk-in, and I’m talking about downtown Detroit, you could walk-in but you wouldn’t get served. Now, there were those exceptions and those were the, the term that we used, of -course it’s a distortion of the, the actual word, we say “e-lite”. “The e-lite Negros”, and it’s, you know, a distortion of the word “elite”, you know you, so, they had privileges, you know, it’s like “oh come here”, you know, “you’re so-and-so and so-and-so”, you know,  and that’s just to show that we’re not, you know, we don’t discriminate, we’re not racist, but you had to be, you know, part of that little group of accepted Negros, you know, that’s what I, you know, you know, some of Malcom X’s rhetoric right? Well can you imagine what Malcom would say in that situation, it’s like, you know, “These Negros have lost their minds. They think because white folks let them sit down at a counter, or let them sit down in a restaurant and eat with them, somehow they are on equal footing”. They are, that whites actually see them as their equal. So, Malcolm would deride all of that, and so that was the great thing about being, being here. I don’t think I would have been able to even listen to a Malcom X if I was still in the south. Because what is so, I mean just so pervasive in the south is the whole church of Christian Ethics, you know, and black folks, that’s what we have to live by, you know, I mean that is just, you, you don’t, you don’t deviate from that, you know, you turn the other cheek so that, but, you look at the Civil Rights leaders, and 90% of them came from the south, not the north, the south. So, when you look at your more militant types where they come from? The north. So that’s, you know, that’s the difference. So I, I felt fortunate to be here in Detroit where I could at least hear that, and hear it from, from others who they were all-in. I was not because I didn’t understand the whole Muslim thing. I had no understanding; what is a Muslim? You know, why? What are they talking about? But what Malcolm was saying to em’, you know, you don’t turn the other cheek. You don’t let somebody, you know, just beat the crap out of you, you know, you say, give em’ the, I thought I was insane then. But that’s, you know, that’s just where things were at that time and if you wanted to, you wanted to feel as if you could make it, you kind of, you, you kind of, you know, go along to get along you know

WW: Well speaking about MLK and Malcolm X, growing up in the 60’s did you get caught up in any of the social movements that were going through the city?

MH: My, my stepfather took me to be a part of the march down Woodward Ave. Dr. King. And so I was, you know, we were at the starting point and I think that was up near Northern High School, I’m not, don’t remember exactly but I think it was. But so, you know, Ralph Abernathy and others were there and I didn’t get to, you know, shake hands with Dr. King or anything but I was close enough, you know, as close as I am to you, and, but here’s something and I don’t know if this means anything to anybody but me. Crowd control, here’s what they did with crowd control at that march, I was there, I was 14 years old when this happened. They had cattle prods. This is how, you know, these are black men with cattle prods, not the police, black men with cattle prods, you know, telling, and I just thought “wow” this…. I thought that was a little extreme and that, you know, that had a profound impact on me because I later saw black men with, had a little authority in places and, you know, maybe, maybe had a Billy club or, a night stick, you know, a baton, call it what you will. I saw them using it on people unnecessarily, on black folks, and I’m thinking “that was just, it’s just cruel”, just, you know, barbaric. I mean, what they were doing it was, it was uncalled for but I, you know, I saw this. So when I hear about, you know, the viciousness of white police officer, I’m like, I’ve seen some things on, on a smaller scale. But it’s something in the human psyche that makes people go to those extremes unnecessarily to cause injury or harm to a fellow human being just because you can. You have the authority and you have the, the tools to do it. So, but yeah I was a part of the, that was, that was about, you know, that was about the extent of it. Again, I’m 14, 15, my parents weren’t involved in any kind of way and no one in my family that I knew of was involved. I mean, they were all, again, trying to, you know, you know and, I will say that, say this in context to all that; back then, if would just obey the law, go to school, get a good education, do your job, work, you know, do your job, you’ll be fine. Shouldn’t be any problems. I heard a gentleman, well he was talking directly to me, he said to me, regarding all the, the, you know, the incidents with the police, he said to me, and this is a white gentlemen, he said “If, these things wouldn’t happen if, if blacks just learned to comply and they wouldn’t be so non-compliant”.

WW: Is this back in the day or present?

MH: No. This is present. Presently. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear. And he said if you would just, you know, and I’m talking, you know, just, just a few weeks ago, he said just comply, you know, cooperate with the police and they wouldn’t have those problems. And I looked at him, I knew he was nuts and he didn’t know what he was talking about but in his mind he did. And do you know it was just a week, or two weeks, later that the gentlemen with the autistic kid, when he was on the ground hands-up and the policeman shot him anyway and said “I don’t know why I shot you”. So, I relate all this right now back then. You can go to school and you can, I mean, get your whatever degree you want to get, you still have to fight in order to have a position. A, a white American with not the same level of education, not the same level of smarts, not the same level of sophistication, can get the job before you. Because why? Well it’s just a whole racist thing. And yeah, it’s there, and a lot of times people don’t want to, you know, address that. We in America, we will never get to a point where we view one another as human beings first until we look at the system in which we have to operate and that…. Capitalism. I think it helps to create a lot of these negative situations because you have to compete and when you have to compete, especially in business, you want to knock your competitor out of the box. And now if you’re competing just for jobs, well why do we want jobs, most people, was going to say most people want jobs to have an income. Well why do you want to have income? So you can have some things, you know keep a roof over your head. And that’s natural. That’s normal, right? But when you look at why some people do what they do and they will suppress other people and deny them the right just to have a decent living so that they can have even more. And the, I mean Bernie Sanders he helped to, you know, bring this out even more. I mean it’s been all over the internet for a while. But, you know, you can’t, you know, we just can’t continue this system where 1% is controlling the rest. You just can’t. Can’t happen

WW: Going back to 67

MH: Ahh 67

WW: Growing up in the 60’s, going to 67’, did you feel any growing tension in the city? Did you expect any violence that summer?

MH: No. No. No not at all. I can’t say that I sensed or expected anything, I saw anything that would lead me to believe that, you know, oh this city’s going to explode. Nothing that, you know, there’s nothing that comes to mind when, I’m pretty sure as an 18 yr. old I was really just trying to enjoy what there was to enjoy as an 18 yr. old.  You know you’re, you’re feeling your oats. You’re coming into manhood and you’re just trying to discover who you are and what you’re about as a person. So no, I just, because it was two different cities. I mean, it was a black Detroit and a white Detroit. Detroit was, well wasn’t, today what is Detroit? I don’t know, 70%, 75% black, you know, it’s being gentrified so that’s changed, but then I think it was like 70 white, 70% white, 30% black. I forgot the exact figures, but something like, somewhere around there 60/40 or something but, no, I didn’t, I didn’t see that. What I did see though, what I did understand in ‘67 is that now you have more black groups, organizations, individuals, speaking out against racism. Against the racist institutions. There these voices, they, you know, they’re power. They’re on the radio, you know, they’re in, in a, you can, you can go get, you know, albums by, you know, certain militant groups and, and there’s all kind of, you know, print material and the books are [inaudible] “Malcolm X Speaks” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm” and then, then others start coming and just, I got, you know, for me it was like an education. Well, it wasn’t like an, it was an education. I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know it was like that. I didn’t, you know, again I didn’t see that, I didn’t feel that in Detroit. I didn’t personally. Now there may have been other 18 yr. olds that, that had different exposure. They may have seen it or felt but I, I can’t honestly say I felt that

WW: Where you living in 67? Were you still on Woodward and Claremount?

MH: No. I was at that time, I was on north, kind of NW Detroit. Grand River more, let’s see, Wyoming and, let’s see, Fullerton, near Wyoming, Fullerton and Wyoming where, where you know where the, where 96, I-96 goes, it goes across Wyoming? Well I, I was living just south of, yeah, just, just south of, of, where 96 is now and just east of Wyoming

WW: Oh ok.

MH: Yeah

WW: How did you first hear about what was going on that Sunday?

MH: I was in Ann Arbor, MI partying with my cousin, who was attending University of Michigan at the time and, again, just trying to enjoy life, just having fun, that sort of thing, and I think it was probably about 2 in the morning and, you know, we were still having a good time partying and somebody said “Detroit is, a riot has broken out in Detroit and fires are everywhere”, you know, “Detroit is burning”. Of course, you know, it’s all exaggerated, you know, and we thought “well ok, hmm, I wonder what that’s really all about?” And we don’t have cell phones at that time, you know, and you don’t, you don’t call and wake anybody up at 2, 2:30 in the morning, you know, to ask something that may not even be true anyway. So, so ok, well, instead of staying there for the night we decided to head into Detroit. I guess we were there a couple 2-3 hours more before we headed into Detroit. My cousin was at the University of Michigan for, he wanted to be a photo, was studying photo journalism, so he was going to be a photo journalist. So, I think he had a camera, I had a camera, and so we were taking pictures. We were, you know, it’s like we were covering “The Riot”, you know, so that was, and I saw some things, I mean I saw some bizarre situations like, you know, people literally carrying a sofa, you know, a couch on their back, you know. TV’s that were bigger, you know, women with TV’s bigger than them self cuz’, you know, they had just, you know, took TV’s at that time, just, I, I mean people were risking their lives trying to get material things. And of course police was present. National Guard wasn’t at that point in time, I mean that was, that, I’m talkin’ that, that, night or early that morning. And of course our parents admonished us for being out and doing all that crazy… “you could have been killed”… no we, we, no, we were a little more savvy that. We weren’t going to get caught up in anything. But what I didn’t realize is that there were National Guardsmen that wouldn’t think twice about putting a bullet into a black person, wouldn’t think twice about it…“They’re out here rioting. They’re stealing. They’re breaking the law. They’ll get what they deserve”. And I’ll say this, I don’t know if you’re going to keep this in or not. but a friend of mine that I had, you know, a relationship with as far as we would hang out and we went to, you know, the Calvary, and we went to parties together, you know, just, we had a, both had a mutual friend and he became our friend, I knew him in high school and I knew him in Junior High School, so were talking ‘67, we’re both out of high school now and he was, he was working with a singing group in Detroit, they weren’t very well known then, “The Dramatics”, he was working with them, he kind of handled equipment, and did things, his name was Fred Temple. Fred Temple was the name, you know, from “The Algiers Motel Incident”, the book that came out? And I read that of course and I just knew, I said, Fred was not someone who would handle a gun. He wouldn’t, Fred wouldn’t, nothing to do with guns. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. National Guardsmen, I don’t know if it was National Guardsmen or was it the Detroit Police? Okay, I kind of forget who, who has done what but if it was, yeah, it’s like, ok Detroit Police. I don’t know, somehow in mind I’ve got it, you know, got it jumbled. I thought it was the, I thought it was the National Guard. That, that, that shifted my consciousness because I said, I knew this, I don’t know about the rest of them, but I know his, his crime, his sin, was he was there with white girls and, and I know how that could go down - because I was in a situation similar to that but had the smarts to leave. Wasn’t going to stick around and say “Well we’re not doing nothing. We have the right”, no. See that’s the type of thing where a lot of people they get in trouble. And they can easily lose their lives if you don’t understand the situation. And when you’re looking at someone who has a weapon that can take your life and they have the authority, there’s no reasoning, no rational discretion, if they are of the mindset that you are something less than. What’s the point? You could lose your life. I’ve known that for a long time. I knew that before 67. So, I’m alive today because even when I was down in Ft. Knox, Kentucky, I was drafter in 69 I think, yeah 69’.They didn’t like us from Detroit because “Oh, you so-and-so’s, oh you like to start a riot and you think you’re a tough”. “Ah, no sergeant, I just happened to live in Detroit at the time. I wasn’t….” ”Don’t tell, we know you out there stealing, you steal anything here boy you’ll be in the stockades”.  You know, so I had to deal with that, and it was like, “ok”, but going, when we got a leave to go, leave Ft. Knox, leave our base to go into Louisville, I was with someone that wasn’t from Louisville but his cousin lived in Louisville and he came to pick us up and, anyway, so there was 5 of us I think, we were going into Louisville, and we were pulled over by the highway patrol and I wasn’t driving but I was the one who spoke up because I know that 2 of my buddies that were with me, 2 of em’, they were real militant, and they weren’t going to take, so I was “yes sir”-ing and, you know,  I was doing, you know, doing my best that this guy, you know, be calm and be at ease because I’m not going to, I’m not going to go out like that. So….

WW: Do you have any other, did you venture out of your house anymore during that week in July?

MH: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. We…

WW: Are there any other stories you would like to share?

MH: Other than so many people couldn’t, or wouldn’t, believe that I didn’t take anything. I didn’t get anything. They just wouldn’t believe it, it’s not that they couldn’t

WW: Well, you took pictures

MH: I took pictures yeah, I took pictures here. The, there was a tank, I lived on a street called Northlawn, it was just a regular residential street and there was actually a tank that came down our street. So, you know, that’s not something you see every day. And I know that there’s, you know, there’s this disturbance going on and the National Guard is all over the place, but I remember my step-father just saying, ordering everyone “Get down on the floor. Get down”. Now I don’t think they were going to shoot into the house but, you know, if I was wrong and I’m at the window and they think it’s a gun, they think they see somebody with a gun and, you know, so, I mean, like I say, you have to be smart. So, I’m 18 years old and I’m feeling like I’m a man, I’m tough and all that, but I’m down on the floor, my step-father says, “Get down”, we all were down on the floor and we stayed there until we heard a faint rumbling of the tank and said “Ok it’s gone now”. But there were actually tanks rolling down residential streets and that’s, you know, that’s, you know, that was about the extent of it for me. Again, I wasn’t trying to steal anything [inaudible], you know, I just, I wasn’t in, it just, that wasn’t the way I was, I was raised, so it has paid off for me in my life. Because I’ve been in situations where others have done it, I did get caught up one time, I did, I wasn’t the one stealing, but happened to be with the wrong crowd and so I got, got accused

WW: Did, how do you refer to the events of July 1967?

MH: Until recently I would say, you know, “The 67 Riot”. There was a riot in 43’. That was a true race riot. You know, you know the details of it. I mean that was black on white, white on, I mean that was, you know, just one, some, in, something to cause those who felt one way, a, a black woman threw a baby off the Belle Isle Bridge, and downtown some black men beat up, this, I’m just thinkin’ “Okay, that was just, that was, you know, a real race riot”. But 67 was not a “race” riot. 67’, I don’t know if you know this insight, there are those that confirm what I’m saying that were actually, well I don’t know if they’re still alive, there were some brothers, black guys from Vietnam, had returned from Vietnam, and they were, like so many others on that particular Saturday night, Sunday morning, they were at an after-hours joint, they were just having, you know, hanging out. When they came to break-up, you know, the after-hours thing, you know, which they, you know, would occasionally do, they [inaudible] “Why don’t you go to…?” Again, at that time Detroit was predominantly white, or mostly white, “Why don’t you go to an after-hours joint in the white neighborhoods? Why you, you know, messing with, why….?” You know we just said, you know, that’s, you know, and of course one thing lead to another and then they’d start grabbing people and what they did was they’d grab some of the black women that were there, they’d grab them by the hair and were dragging em’ out. That’s when these brothers, and others, that’s when they just lost it and they attacked the police. They lost it. Now, I know of someone, well, I knew, he’s no longer with us, and there’s one other, I don’t even know if he’s still alive, that was there and they, they said that’s the way that went down. So that was 12th and Blane or Claremount

WW: Claremount

MH: Claremount. And, you know, what you saw was over here, over, it wasn’t black folks tackling whites it, it was a riot in the sense that, you know, yeah they were looting, there’s no question about that, the looting was real and there was just people grabbing what they could grab but, I mean, 6 months, a year, 2 years down the road what do you got, you know. You got, you know, a lot of things that, you know, all of the alcohol is just long gone now and some of the jewelry that you, you got, you know, somebody end-up stealing that from you and the TV that you got, it’s not working now and on, and so it was like “Okay, I’m happy that, you know, I -`didn’t have that mind set. “ gotta go out here and loot to have something”… just wasn’t a part of my thinking.

WW: So instead of a race riot do you just see it as a riot then?

MH: I see it more of a rebellion

WW: Okay

MH: Because the, now you asked me earlier in the interview about tension, “Did I feel any tension”? I did see the, I could, it was obvious to me you see a city with a large black population but most all of the police are white and it’s like they, they don’t live in our community, they don’t, we don’t interact with them any other way except when they are showing their authority over us. And, again, as a, you know, teenage, a black teenager I was assumed to be doing something that I shouldn’t have, shouldn’t be doing and, yes, I would run sometimes from the police when, cuz’ I didn’t want to be in that squad car and get the crap beat out of me for, you know, just because. Many did. So, many years of being brutalized and now here is, you know, something that’s jumped off, “Well, we are going …”, again, it’s not my mentality but some people say, “We are going to destroy”. Or, “We’re going to take, we’re going to ruin…”, so how do you, how do you justify that? Well you, you really can’t in that manner. But you can understand something about human behavior, you know, you push somebody so long and to a point where they lose all sense of rationality, they lose it. It’s like nothing they do now makes any sense. They just, they’re in a riotous mode of thinking. You know, “Let’s, let’s destroy this, let’s do this, let’s take this, let’s”… but that’s not the way, it’s just not. That’s why this “Detroit 67’”, as it says, “Looking Back to Move Forward”, I think that’s brilliant because we have to lay a good foundation for 2067. What kind of city are we going to have? Most likely I won’t be here but let’s face it, you know, I have an expiration date. I don’t know when that is, but I won’t be here. But, though, you, Billy you’ll probably be here and the work that you’re doing now, this could be something that will be so instrumental and shaping, molding and shaping, a way in which we can live in a society where people look at one another as people first before they look at, well, there’s a, “Those are Mexicans and they’re rapists”. Oh, wait a minute, that’s Donald Trump’s line, I’m sorry, that’s his line, but, you know, we have to look at, begin to look at one another, human beings first and them everything comes after that. Until then, we’ll get to, if it doesn’t happen we’ll get to 2067 and we’ll still be talking about some of the same issues and fundamentally, though, capitalism may not allow us to do that. And so, yeah, I’m going to speak against, not against, I’m not like saying “capitalism is evil”, but this form of capitalism that we are presently living under, I’m all for the, you know, free market and, you know, you take, you take your, your goods, your services, to the marketplace and see what happens but this, this greedy capitalist way of thinking is, you know, I will take FAR more, VASTLY more than I’ll ever need but I want to try and secure something for my family so they’ll have vastly more than they’ll ever need while these poor suckers over here they are just scraping to get by, scraping to get, water shut-offs in Detroit that’s inhumane, and they’re, they’re all over Detroit. They’re places where water’s gushing up out of the streets and they can’t even fix it. There’s institutions and some of the stadiums, they owe hundreds of thousands of dollars for their water but, again, if you’re a part of that class, you know, you’re ok we’ll settle up with you later.

WW: Couple more quick questions. Did your family ever think about moving out of the city because of what happened?

MH: Oh no.

WW: No? And do you still, do you, well do you believe that, you just alluded to it, but do you believe 67 still has a shadow over the city of Detroit?

MH: Well, in this respect it has a shadow because many people they don’t look at the de-industrialization of Detroit prior to 67’. The Packard plant closed in 55’. 12,000, 15,000 employees. 55’, that’s, all right, Packard plant and MANY others, big industries, you know, moved to the south, you know, shut, whatever. Detroit was on a downward trend in the 50’s. This, so the, the shadow of 67’ is that “the riot”, the riot forced, or was, influenced many good white people to move out. White people were already in the suburbs. Black folks, you know, you couldn’t get houses out there. So, you know, it was like that trend had already begun. You can’t, but today people will say, “Well, you know, my family moved, you know, after my white friend, we had to get out”… Why? Black folks didn’t go into white neighborhoods burning or looting, or anything, that didn’t happen. This is not like Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921.

WW: Yep

MH: That’s a, now if white America, a lot of white Americans knew that history then they’d say “Well, wait a minute, so that was a thriving black community?” They even called it “The Black Wall Street”, 1921. So, what happened? Whites come in [inaudible] and wiped out, I mean 30, 30, 30 block area. Wiped em’ out. Many people were killed. Many, [inaudible] for their lives. White communities were not being attacked. White communities, blacks didn’t, but there were those on 8 Mile, on, on 8 Mile Rd. over in Hazel Park, and Warren, and, and they were there with their shotguns and rifles. Now I did see that. So, they’re saying, they’re saying “if you so-and-so’s come across here we’ve got somethin’ for you”. Well that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Wasn’t, you know, wasn’t, it wasn’t a race riot

WW: Do you, are you optimistic for the state of the city?

MH: Oh yeah. I’m very optimistic for Detroit. I mean, Detroit has gone through a horrific period where everything was pretty much like nobody cares, you know, and you look at what it, what happened when Coleman Young became Mayor. There was, there was another phase where there was white flight. And, you know, you look at, you know, if you don’t have a great tax base, but, but again, this started in the 50’s. It didn’t’ start with the, in 67, or with Coleman Young. It, it was in, it was in place starting in the 50’s and the build-up of Suburbia. All that was in place in the 50’s. So Detroit, I mean with all the, you know, blight, and it is scary in this regard, I didn’t see that when I was, as a youngster, as a teenager in Detroit, I didn’t have to walk by all that and see all that going to school. And the school system was, system was still pretty good then. So. I mean, Detroit has gone to that point where, I mean, you hear people say “Yeah I had to get out. I had to leave”, you don’t question that, you don’t say “well, why would you leave?” No, if you felt, didn’t feel safe, yes, by all means, leave. So I have no problem with those who did leave, white, black or otherwise. But now Detroit, they say Detroit is coming back. Coming back and it’s coming back to what and for whom is it coming back? Now if it’s being gentrified, you know, you can have upper-middle class blacks that, you know, come in, make investments, and do this, and do that, and do that. But, what I’m looking at, and what I’m seeing, and what I know to be a fact, is you have a lot of yuppie-type whites who are now in position to get something on the cheap, and they are doing that, why, because a lot of blacks that, entrepreneurs, and this and another, they can’t get the credit, you know, their credit is jacked, you know that’s... we laugh at that but that’s a series thing. Unfortunate. I have almost an 800 credit score. Why? Because I understood the system and I knew how to work to get to that point and I wasn’t always that way, but, since I’ve been single now and know how to manage money, and how to do things, I, one credit score a few months ago had me at 801 and a, so I’m saying, I can, but a lot of, you know, brilliant minds, you know, they can’t get, because, or, they have a criminal background. And what was their crime?...selling marijuana, using marijuana. Not violent criminals. So you’d have, now, like so many things will disqualify you. So they, you know, they can’t, they can’t do the same thing. I know of a white couple and they told me, well the husband told me, he said city officials, others came to him and was asking him to, well, to do such, do, become this, and do, “we can extend a loan to you”. He was living in the Eastern Market area, you know one of those little lofts, you know, nothing extravagant, you know, on the cheap side, but they said “you know, this is open, we have these programs” and, and he said he was amazed that, it’s like the, the world’s opening up for him. And he’s an activist in Detroit and he says “I want to share this with you guys, I want to tell you, because this actually happened”. Now he’s not one to make up things to, you know, just to kind a stir things up. He’s not that type at all. And I said “well, that’s, that’s the way it is”. And I said, “10 years from now you’re going to look at, you know, the New Center area, and the Medical Center, and downtown Detroit, Wayne State” and I said “it’s going to be vastly different than what it is now”. And if blacks and others don’t, you know, wake-up and see what’s happening and try, you have to fight through it, you just have to fight to get some of these grants, get, be a part of this program, be, you have to fight. It’s not going to be given to you. It’s just not

WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me and sharing your thoughts

MH: Well, thank you Billy

WW: I greatly appreciate it

MH: Thank you very much

Original Format

Audio

Duration

51min 07sec

Interviewer

William Winkel

Interviewee

Michael "Doc" Holbrook

Location

Detroit, MI

Files

IMG_1161.JPG

Collection

Citation

“Michael "Doc" Holbrook, August 15th, 2016,” Detroit 1967 Online Archive, accessed June 18, 2019, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/393.

Output Formats