Michael Goodman, June 25th, 2016
WW: Hello. Today is June 25, 2016. My name is William Winkel. We are in Bloomfield Hills -
MG: West Bloomfield, Michigan -
WW: West Bloomfield, sorry -
MG: Not Bloomfield Hills.
WW: This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society's Detroit '67 Oral History Project, and I'm sitting down with Michael Goodman. Thank you for sitting down with me today.
MG: You're welcome.
WW: Can you please tell me where and when you were born?
MG: I was born in Detroit, Michigan, October 27, 1939, at Deaconess Hospital, which is on the Boulevard that no longer exists.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
MG: The neighborhood of my youth was the Linwood/Dexter area. I lived on Calvert and Linwood, and that was within walking distance of Roosevelt Elementary School, Durfee - at that time - Intermediate School, and Central High School. In fact I attended both Roosevelt and Durfee.
WW: Growing up, was that neighborhood all white?
MG: Predominately white. There were a sprinkling of black families moving in, and I - I would imagine - late 40's there were some black families moving into the neighborhood.
WW: What was your childhood like, growing up in that neighborhood?
MG: I - I would say idyllic - I mean, it's - my growing up in that neighborhood, compared to kids growing up today, are like black and white - not racial colors, I'm talking black and white, 'cause when we went out on the street, you know, come back when the street lights come on - come home when the street lights come home - come on - and you'd better be home when the street lights come on. And if you were good you were good. If you were bad, before you walked in the door your parents already knew because everyone in the neighborhood watched out for everyone, especially the kids.
And Calvert was a busy main street - people would fly through there, 'cause there was a light on the corner of Linwood and Calvert, and I - I think it was a great experience growing up.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
MG: My mother worked with my father. My father owned a pawn shop for years in Detroit, first on Michigan Avenue and later on Woodward and Charlotte. And that's also part of my story too, because it just seems that everyone said that the neighborhood was striking - the neighborhoods were striking out against the retailers who oppressed them for years and years and years. My father was on Woodward and Charlotte - had a pawn shop - and whether pawnbrokers had good reputations or not, that wasn't my father - my father had a really good reputation. And, in fact, when the riots occurred, people from the neighborhood came out and protected my father's store for a few days before people from other neighborhoods came flying in, who already were "quote the professional looters unquote," and they hooked chains - the people told my dad they were overpowered. They were chased out of there. And they hooked chains to the back of their car and tore the gates off my dad's store and then they went into it.
But my brother and father, who had worked together, interestingly enough, anticipated problems, and had piled a lot of junk and stuff up. And as soon as the people broke through the windows and the doors, the stuff collapsed on them. And they got stuff, but they didn't get a lot. But it did hurt my father. They probably lost a few years of their livelihood before they were able to rebuild their business.
WW: Backing up a little bit then -
WW: Did you - as you were growing up, did you work at your father's pawn business?
MG: Yes I did. Used to go to school, get on the bus - by that time we had moved out into the Seven Mile Road area - we were out on Seven Mile Road and Coil -
WW: What year did you move out there?
MG: Probably the early 50's.
MG: Would have to be then. I graduated from Mumford High School in 1957. I did four years of Mumford, so we probably moved out there about 1952.
WW: What was that neighborhood like?
MG: Basically lily-white. But again, you know, at that point in time, I wasn't that much of a neighborhood kid anymore because I was going to high school and I was hanging out with my high school friends - so it was a place to hang my hat at that point.
WW: After high school, did you continue to work at your father's -
MG: No, no, no. I - high school - went to Ferris - at that time, Ferris Institute, which is now Ferris State University, and they keep reminding me, why don't I get a Ferris State University diploma - but my Ferris Institute diploma's good enough - and when I graduated from Ferris, I got married in 1962 and my wife and I jumped in our car - her car - which she bought for cash - 1962 Corvair, and we drove to Tucson, Arizona, where I began law school.
Did one year of law school at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We became pregnant and they only had a day school, and about the only job you could get being a college student was like a dollar an hour and you certainly couldn't support, so we came back to Detroit and I finished my law school at Detroit College of Law, in downtown Detroit on Elizabeth Street, which doesn't exist anymore because I think Ford Field is on top of it, or maybe Comerica Park - one of the two. I worked for Burton Abstract and Title Company in Birmingham, Michigan. We lived in Detroit on Ewald Circle and Davison, so we still had our connections to Detroit.
And I would go to work and I would drive downtown - as I said, night school - and then I went home - and started all over again. I went to night school, I went to school during the summer, so I ultimately graduated from law school and passed the bar on June 6, 1966. So I was less than a year, or maybe just slightly more than a year, a licensed attorney, when the riots hit.
WW: Backing up a little bit.
WW: You went to - after you left Detroit to go to Ferris, and you came back, was the city any different to you? Did you sense any new tension in the city? Or did you see it as calm?
MG: I don't know if I could say I sensed any tension, because I was in Ferris, by the way, the fraternity I was in had black students, which was unique at that point in time. And when I came home for summers, I worked in West Dearborn, selling women's shoes, so I really didn't have a lot of contact with Detroit, and - although I heard my uncles and my father talk about certain situations that were happening, but basically most of those - they were all in the area where the riots started, to be very honest with you, the 12th Street area. And - but - I didn't really pay any attention to it. You know, I was a college student, and I was not political, so I didn't see anything coming, no.
Prior to the riots, in '66, '67, I - I knew something was going to happen.
WW: I was just about to ask. When you came back from Tucson, building tension throughout the sixties?
MG: Um, in the sixties you could see the tension, and neighborhood declines. And you could feel it. But I don't think anyone understood the magnitude of the feelings, until, you know, the genie popped out of the bottle when the police raided that blind pig. And anyone who was a reasonable thinking individual, and I don't know if anyone could have considered me reasonable at that time, because I was probably a far-left-wing pinkie, as they probably would have said - I was obviously very liberal - but I thought that that wasn't a totally foolish move. And the city was always antsy, no matter what neighborhood you lived in, on hot, humid days.
There was something about that - but of course, when I was living on Calvert, you had a screen door, that you left - you left the front door open, the screen door, with one of those little latches. You didn't have security fences. And even when I was a kid, even back further, my parents would take us to Belle Isle. That, of course, was before air conditioning, and they'd throw out blankets and we'd sleep there at night. And that was black and white out there - it was not all white. Because it was a stone's throw from Hastings Street. And that, basically - the place they used to call Black Bottom.
WW: Where were you living in 1967?
MG: In '67 my wife and I had recently purchased a home in Oak Park.
WW: Oak Park?
MG: We were in the Rosewood/10 Mile Area, I think, yeah.
WW: What made you pick Oak Park and not another neighborhood in Detroit?
MG: Well, number one - prices. 'Cause the houses that we would have looked at would have been in northwest Detroit, and/or the university district, or somewhere in that area, and we couldn't afford that. We were able to buy a three bedroom, one bath ranch home that was built for Korean War vets, I think it was like for fourteen thousand, three hundred, four hundred dollars - and that - and we had one child already, so it was the choice for us. And also, to be very honest with you, it was a Jewish community, and we wanted to raise our children in a Jewish community. So, and that was part of the deal.
WW: How did you first hear what was going on on July 23rd?
MG: Well, initially I was told that our office was closed. And then - we got very little information on TV - it was the radio you were listening to - got information that there was a disturbance. No one knew the magnitude of it, or no one knew what was going on. It was - you know - as far as we knew, it was some people running up and down the streets throwing - stone-throwing - and it was really something unique in Detroit, 'cause I don't ever remember that happening before. I don't ever remember anything like that. I was too young for - I think -
WW: '43 -
MG: The riots after World War Two. So I - I don't remember that - was born in '39 so I wouldn't have remembered that. Um - and then I got a phone call from my boss, Harold White, telling me that we had been impressed into service at Detroit Recorders Court, and we had to be there at six PM. And I didn't know how bad it was, but I said, you know, I'm not going! And he says "well, you want to keep a job, you're going." And in fact I got a phone call from another attorney that I was working with, Alan Bennett, and he says "I'll pick you up."
'Cause I was leaving - my daughter was - was three - I had a baby boy who was four months old, and I was leaving my wife. And, you know, being up around Ten Mile Road and, well - Rosewood is an extension of Wyoming - you're close to Detroit. And we weren't sure what was gonna to happen, and I wasn't that keen - but basically I had no choice. And I'm glad I didn't have a choice, because the ultimate experience was - was something that I - I remember. I don't think it's something I could say I cherish, but I really thought I did do something.
WW: Really quickly, what law firm were you working for?
MG: I was not working for a law firm, I was working for Neighborhood Legal Service Centers, which is Legal Aid Society. Which at that time was Legal Aid Society, under the - it was Lyndon Johnson's poverty law programs. I initially started - see, that's when I saw problems. Real problems. Is when I graduated from law school, got my law license - I continued to work at Burton Abstract and Title Company, which was in Birmingham, Michigan, but I decided that I wanted to be something more than just a title attorney. And I saw an advertisement and I took this job at Neighborhood Legal Service Centers, and I was on Magnolia and West Grand Boulevard. And that was my really first taste of the tensions and the problems, and - quote - the welfare people.
And also I met an interesting lady - who I - I don't know if she's alive or not - probably fallen out of contact. Her name was Selma Good. I don't know if you've heard that name. That would be a name for you guys to investigate.
She was with welfare mothers, and continued to be with welfare mothers. And Selma gave me an education about what was going on. That these people weren't lazy, sitting on their butts and just collecting ADC and having babies to collect more ADC. And I realized that within three or four days working there. And how they were somewhat of an oppressed minority. Which played into my liberal thoughts too, so.
WW: Can you take us through your time at the recorders court? You said you had to be there at six PM?
MG: Yeah. Okay. We had to be - the first thing is, I got the call, and I already told you, we got down there at sunset. Detroit Recorders Court was the hub - that was where all the violators were being brought down by both state police and Detroit police. Initially just Detroit police. Again, no one knew the scope.
And I remember when I first got down there, I was assigned to judge - I believe his name was Vincent, I'm not sure - Vincent Brennan. And I was just totally thrilled. This was the raving liberal on the recorders court bench and I was going to get in there, and we were there for bond hearings. And I just thought, you know, wow, this was just going to be great. Now until that point in time, I had never stepped inside a criminal court room, because basically Legal Aid Society, we handled civil matters. So I got in there, and when I got a client and came up - I remember that Brennan asked what it was, and I'm not sure - it wasn't looting - I think it may have been a curfew violation at that point - and he put a ten thousand dollar bond on this man. Now, that was impossible. There was no way, to begin with, he could get the money. It would have been a thousand dollars to get out. And it was an outrageous amount of money to place on a person, and I spoke up, you know.
And I remember that I kept talking over him, and finally he got very angry at me and told me to stop talking. And I said, you know, placing a ten thousand dollar bond on this man is just like giving him a hundred thousand dollar bond. He says "okay, counselor, hundred thousand dollar bond." Then again I got really angry and then I remember somebody grabbing me, which ended up being Harold White, who I understand was one time a Tuskegee Airman, and grabbed me and pulled me out of the courtroom, because Brennan was about to throw me into the slammer with all the other people. And he told me I just couldn't - I can't do what I'm doing, you know, which incensed me, because I just couldn't see why I shouldn't be able to speak my mind and try to help my client.
Ultimately I got sent to Judge Poindexter's courtroom. Now if anyone heard the name Poindexter - I see you're smiling - everyone knew this was Mister Right Wing, hard as nails, SOB. Well guess what. My experience in his courtroom was probably the best experiences I ever had in my life. This was a man that would listen. Who was willing to be reasonable, and was willing to go along with young attorneys who didn't even know where the heck - you know, where the bathroom was in that building. And I really didn't know where the bathroom was in that building. And at that point in time, I realized all was not lost, because there were reasonable people sitting on the bench, and that there was a good possibility we could do some good. And so, you want me to tell you - two stories I remember the most?
WW: Go right ahead.
MG: Okay. Ready?
MG: Okay. All right. Let me just give you a little story about our first day, leaving. After that first day trying to get home, we never went home again at night. And this is the reason why.
WW: Really quick, how long were your shifts? Did you stay like six PM 'til -
MG: Well, we - the first was six PM to midnight, one, two o'clock, and that's when we were starting. After that, and after this incident, we stayed there from six PM or earlier - because a lot of us got down there earlier - to sunrise or later. Usually we got out of there about seven o'clock in the morning.
MG: And the reason we started doing this - Allen Bennett and I - we were told by the cops when we were leaving recorders court- and by the way, I was told going in that "you're going to have an adversary relationship with the Detroit Police Department. 'Cause they're over their heads, they're frustrated, and you're trying to put these people out on the street that they're pulling in." That was not the case that I found. Yeah, there were some hardballs and some nut cases, but in most cases the cops were really easy-going. They really wanted to help both the person that they brought in - they had no other choice. If you were out after curfew, you got arrested, period. They didn't know whether you were a good guy or a bad guy. And basically they were just sweeping the streets, they were picking everyone up.
And, and then again, I told you about Poindexter, but it was interesting too. The people of Detroit - people were driving there during the day, in cars, dropping food off. There was no place for us to go get food. They were dropping food and drink, and when we had a break, the judge would invite us in with his security staff, and we'd sit there, and we would eat and drink, you know, pop and coffee and stuff. And so I got a new look at what I thought was, quote, the oppressor force.
But that first day, when we were going home, the police officers told us, "you can't take the freeway. Just don't go on the freeway, take Woodward straight up, to Oakland County." So we got up to Highland Park, when we were stopped at a road block. And this young Air Force National Guardsman walks up to the car we were in, and he's carrying a carbine, and he actually sticks it in the window of the car. Now, I - passenger side. I'm on the passenger side. Sticks it in the car, and he wants to know, what were we doing out past curfew, and get ready, we're all being arrested. Okay? So I had been told to show my State Bar of Michigan card, that was a free passage card. So I had it ready and I showed it to him, and he said "what is this?" I said, this is my State Bar card. He said "that's no good, all the bars are closed, you're under arrest." Right?!
I saw this sergeant in the State Police up - maybe twenty feet away - and I just started screaming bloody murder and he came running over. And the first thing he did was grab the gun and pull it out. And he said "is this thing loaded?" and the guy says "sure it's loaded." And I could very well have wet my pants. And the sergeant asks what the situation was, and he looked, he says "fool, this is an attorney. That's a free passage card - he's allowed to travel through these -" and he waved us on. Well, at that point in time we decided, we are not leaving during night. And it was also interesting - that first night when we left - no, that was later, okay - I'm going ahead of myself. All right, so that was the first night.
So after that we worked dawn to dusk, basically - or dusk to dawn. Things really didn't get better in the city of Detroit, with the police and the State Police, and the National Guard. They really didn't get better, until the federal troopers came in. Once the federal troopers came in and the city was placed under martial law, things quieted down real quickly. Anyone that looked at these guys - these federal troopers - they were 81st and 101st Airborne, I think -
MG: 82nd, okay. These - they knew these guys knew business - most of them had just been out of Vietnam, they weren't going to mess around and people decided we're not going to mess around with you guys. But I remember the first time they took control of the center city, and recorders court. They were in the hallways and the courtrooms. We left and it was just getting light, and these - this sergeant of the group that was taking us to our cars - had all the white guys inside against the building, and the black attorneys on the outside. And Harold White's standing there next to me and I said “Harold, you're protecting me.” And the sergeant said "yeah he's protecting you! Your white faces shine in the dark." So - and that was a real problem, because one time there was sniping at the recorders court building. I remember we had to hit the ground and the troopers were all over the place. So it may seem funny now, but it was serious business then.
Okay. I think the two cases that I remember the most was - an older gentleman and a very young woman who was his wife, were pulled in. And they were my people to take care of, I went up in front of Judge Poindexter, and I had asked the man if he had any contacts with the city and he said yes, they own a house in Detroit. And they're buying it, in both names, and he's got a good job - you know, he gave me bell, book, and candle. And he got arrested, and that was a serious charge at that point in time. They were in a gas station filling up their car. They did not know that gas stations had all been closed. Somebody had busted open the gas station and was selling the gas. So these people were filling up their cars and next thing you know - I don't know if it was city, or state, or what police - just fell on the gas station and arrested all these people, because everyone knew that they were filling up the gas to make Molotov cocktails and blow places up.
All right, so I took them in front of Poindexter and Judge Poindexter said "okay. The woman can be released at dawn, she goes, picks up proof that she owns the house, brings it back, and they're free to go." He listened to my argument, whereas some of the liberal judges just threw those people in the slammer. And when I talk slammer, this was either the basement of recorders court, the jail at Beaubein - 1300 Beaubein, or [barking] - that's my dog - or buses that were lined up on the street. People were in these buses and if they had to go to the bathroom, they were taken off the buses to go into open manhole covers. And a fellow I worked with, Alan Bennett, had to interview somebody in the basement of Detroit Recorders Court. When he came up, he was pale white - he said you couldn't imagine the stench and odor down there.
So the lady left. Came back the next day with an abstract and title, which having been at Burton Abstract and Title Company, I was able to research the title real quick, establish that they were the owners of the property. We go in front of Judge Poindexter, show him the proof. He says "are you satisfied that they own" - he's asking me - I'm their defense attorney! - "are you satisfied that they're the owners of this property?" I said yes, your honor. He says okay, looks at the bailiff, says "Bring the man out, and they can leave at sunrise." They start looking for the man - they cannot find him. He had been put on a bus and sent to Marquette Prison. In the UP. Okay? Poindexter hit the - I mean, the man was livid. He said he didn't care how you got him back - somebody was to drive up there personally, get this man, and bring him back. And believe me - none of the liberal judges would have done that. Two days later the guy did get - show up. The - and was released.
The next one was this young man who was picked up by the State Police for violation of curfew running down the street. He told the police why he was out and running down the street - do you want me to stop?
WW: No, you're good.
MG: Because his wife had gone into labor and he didn't know what to do, and he was trying to find someone who could help. He was in violation of curfew - they brought him down - I don't know how many hours he was held before he saw me. And the first question I asked him, is there anyone that can vouch for you? So he says to me, "yes, as they pulled - walked me in, there's a sergeant out in the lobby that I served with, in the Airborne." So I mentioned that to Judge Poindexter and Judge Poindexter says "bring in the troopers from the lobby!"
Well they didn't understand what they were coming in for. They thought there was a problem in the court room. Next thing you know, about five of them charge into the courtroom with their weapons ready. And I - [laughter] I remember looking at Poindexter and his eyes got real big, and he's just saying, "no! no!" Right?
So I got the sergeant - I asked the young man which was - who was - brought the sergeant over. I explained the situation to him, and he - he looked at the kid and then he says, "Yeah, I remember him." I says, well, did you hang out with him? Well, this is a white sergeant in the Airborne. This kid is black. He says, "No, I didn't hang out with him! He wasn't a friend, but he was a good trooper." I says, well that's all you have to tell the judge. And boom. We got him out, and I -
WW: Right place at the right time.
MG: Yeah, but - do I have the name? Did I ever find out anything about it? No. I would like to know - you know. But that was - that was the thing that I think - the two that I remember the most. The others, really - it just - it just turned into a blur. You know, it was like - one after another, you were up, you did your thing, you either - they - I remember I had this old - little old lady - I says what are you in for, she says "looping." And I says, do you mean looting? She said "that's exactly what I mean. Looping." I says well what were you doing. "Well everyone else was going into the store, so I went into the store." So I brought her up and I explained to the judge and he just looked at her and says "you're too old to be doing - " she says "yeah, your honor, sir, I know that!" [laughter]
And he says "have you ever been - " woman never was arrested before, never, you know, so he sent her on her way. And that was basically most of the stuff. But when you got a nasty one, you knew not to mess around with Poindexter. If I had a guy who's caught in a car with cans of gasoline, or somebody who was caught in a store carrying out a TV or something, I knew there were too many that were just picked up for curfew, for - for me to know - to go swim upstream and know I'm not going to get anywhere, because if - if the evidence pointed to it, Poindexter leaned on them.
But at a point in time, we didn't really care anymore. We were trying to get all these people who were just swept up in this mass of hysteria, and get them back home. Whether they had homes to go to or not, it got worse and worse every day before it got better.
But that's - that's about it. If you have some questions I'll be more than happy to try to answer them.
WW: How did your week end? Were you still there after the initial violence subsided? Like, how long did it take you -
MG: No. After the initial violence subsided and the crush - the people in the buses and the people lined up in the basement, and in the hallways - as soon as that eased up, we were told we were no longer needed, okay.
WW: How long did that take?
MG: God, I - days. I don't think it was more than - we were out of there two or three days before it was declared over. So we were there quite - quite a long period of time. It - it was an amazing experience. Scary sometimes. Elating, other times. And I'll be very frank - for a young attorney, very exciting, because how many - how many young attorneys were ever going to get a taste of this? And later I became an administrative law judge and I saw these young attorneys come in front of me, and I just wondered if they ever could have stood up to the heat because it - it was intense. The pressure was intense, but - I really do think I succeeded in doing something. I got a lot of people back home, if there was a home for them to go to. That probably wouldn't be able to get home. They could've been locked up there for I don't know how long. Or if they were in front of one of the liberal bench, they probably ended up with a jail sentence. Any other questions?
WW: How do you refer to what happened in Detroit that week? Do you see it as a riot? Do you see it as a rebellion?
MG: You know, yeah, it was a riot. Whether it was a rebellion in the true sense of the word, no, I don't think it was a rebellion. In - in the sense of what's going on in Syria or elsewhere in the world, where you have a people stand up against an oppressor regime. I think it was a bad night, bad relationships with government and the police department, and it was a fuse that was being ready to ignite, and it was ignited. I would think a rebellion is - there was a cause. The cause came after the riot, not before the riot. During the riot even the quote - innocent - unquote - got caught up. Hey. I can go in there and get some food - because the beer and the wine and everything were gone, you know, real quick, so - you know, and then, when they started burning the buildings there was really nothing. And the pathetic and sad part about it was that once the federal troops got in, the areas of disturbance were so tightly controlled, that the people ended up destroying their own neighborhoods. They ended up destroying the markets that they bought, the stores that they dealt with.
And a lot of those people never went back. I had two uncles that had stores on - on Twelfth Street - and I knew them as being very nice, good and honest people. And in fact, people in the neighborhood believed they were, but everyone was painted with the same brush when the mob hit the streets. And they lost everything and they were never going back, and they never did. They ended up opening stores elsewhere.
So I guess the only thing that came out of this would have been New Detroit, and then it took New Detroit forever to find out which way they wanted to go. And I'm not sure - was Focus Hope part of this too? I'm not sure.
WW: Focus Hope was founded in 1968.
MG: Okay. So, yeah. Then those are the two good things that came out of it. Did the people in fact gain anything? I don't think so. And what happened is, the white people that still lived in the city put their houses up for sale and left. And then we ended up with everything that ultimately culminated with Kwame Kilpatrick. You know - I live, in the winter, elsewhere, and you mention - you mention Detroit. It's interesting. I'm born and raised in Detroit. I really, truly love this city. It's a blue-collar, gritty town - I don't think it's a beautiful city when you look at other cities. But it is my city. I - I'm so thrilled about what's happening in downtown Detroit. 'Cause when I was raised, Woodward Avenue was just amazing. Just amazing. You were walking the streets elbow to elbow with people. The Hudson's Store was just unbelievable. Grand Circus Park. When we were kids in high school - and I said I lived in Seven Mile Road area - we'd get dressed up in shirts and ties, take our dates downtown to movies. You know, when I was a kid my cousin and I used to get on the Linwood streetcar to Claremont, transfer to the Claremont streetcar, to Woodward, transfer to the Woodward streetcar, take it downtown Detroit. We'd spend time wandering around downtown Detroit, go up to Hudson's toy store, 13th floor, go to Greenfield Restaurant for lunch, go to a movie, climb back on those three streetcars going back, get home at night. No one worried about us. You know.
And - as far as I was concerned, it was a great city to be raised in. And I still feel it's a great city. And whenever you mention - and I don't say - when people say "where are you from" - I don't say I'm from West Bloomfield. Who knows - I'm from Detroit. And that's - that's where my ties are. I'm from Detroit. And they will look at you like "you're from Detroit?" It's like I'm some sort of two-headed monster. And when we used to travel with the kids, go to Chicago or go somewhere else, I always found a cop and asked a cop, what's safe to go with my family, what's not safe to go with my family. "Where are you from?" Detroit. "Oh, you can go anywhere."
WW: Is there anything else you'd like to add today?
MG: There was another thing but you know, basically, I don't think it was that important. I think I got the most thing. I hope I wasn't too off the wall.
WW: No, you were great. Thanks for sitting down with me today.
MG: Okay, great.