Richard and Janice Powell, June 23rd, 2016


Richard and Janice Powell, June 23rd, 2016


In this interview, the Powells discuss Detroit during their childhoods and their perception of Detroit at the time. They then move to discuss the changes they noticed in the city in the years before 1967, such as the increased popularity of drugs as well as the racial compositions of neighborhoods. They also discuss their stories during the unrest, including Richard’s experience as a member of the emergency police reserve. They then talk about the issues facing Detroit after the uprising, even in present day.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Oral History


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Richard Powell
Janice Powell

Brief Biography

Richard Powell was born in February, 1942 in Detroit. Janice Powell was born in May, 1947 in Ferndale, MI. Both of them spent a large part of their childhood in the city of Detroit. They also attended schools within the city. They moved to Ann Arbor for a number of years but returned to live in Detroit in the years before the unrest. They moved away again and now live in Southfield.

Interviewer's Name

Giancarlo Stefanutti

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length


Transcription Date






GS: Hello, my name is Giancarlo Stefanutti. Today is June 23, 2016. We are in Detroit Michigan at the Detroit Historical Society, and this if for the 1967 Oral History Project. Thank you for sitting down with me today.

JP: Nice to be here Gian.

GS: So can you start by telling me both you names?

JP: I’m Janice Powell.

RP: And Richard Powell.

GS: Okay. And Janice, where and when were you born?

JP: I was born in Ferndale Michigan, and it was back in May of 1947.

RP: Detroit Michigan, February of 1942.

GS: Okay. So what were your childhoods like?

RP: Standard childhood, I grew up here in the city. Spent a lot of time doing various things around town.  Was not a very athletic kid, but we did spend a lot of time out at Belle Isle canoeing, ice skating in the wintertime, out at Rouge Park, swimming, hanging out with boy scouts out there. Just the normal average kid. That was back when you could, of course, ride a bicycle without a helmet. You know, you could jay walk with impunity. Some of my earlier memories revolved around riding streetcars, and at that time, a streetcar may have been electrically powered. I remember riding the Woodward line out to the end of it, which was at Palmer Park, and then the conductor would get off the back of it and pull the cord that held the electrodes up to the wires, and actually physically turned the car around for the trip back downtown.

GS: Wow.

RP: We lived out for a while on the Southwest side of Detroit, we used to ride a trolley car again up over—I forget what the railroad tracks were called—but it was over the Rouge River, etcetera, etcetera, in the area of the Detroit Salt Mines, and it was kind of neat because where that freeway now bridges all of that, there used to be an actual railroad track that went up there and the trolley car would you know, sway and bump and whatnot. It was great fun for a kid. I remember waking up and hearing thumps in the middle of the night, very dull thumps, and it turned out that they would be dynamiting down in the Detroit Salt Mines, which were active underneath the city.

GS: Oh wow.

RP: So it was a quote “normal” growing up. [laughing]

GS: Very normal. How about you Janice?

JP: Well the first eight years, I was in Ferndale, and that was just fun fun fun, back when Ferndale was still quite country, not populated like it is now and the downtown was nothing like what it is now. But at eight, we moved into the city, we moved over on West Side of Detroit, and me and my brothers, we all attended school here in Detroit. They graduated from McKinsey, I graduated from Cass Tech, the old Cass Tech, the one with seven floors, the warehouse, lots of steps, and then I met this guy. We got married, it was kind of funny because at the time of our marriage was the time that the riot began. So I was actually having a wedding shower in a backyard, just off Twelfth Street and LaSalle Gardens South, and we could hear the noise, the commotion, of the people on Twelfth Street as they ran up and down, because it had started the morning of, and we had to end our shower. We had to grab all the gifts, throw them in the car, and everybody went home because we were afraid, we were hearing gunfire and we were just afraid of fires and things like that. So it ended that wedding shower. So right in the thick of things, we were planning our wedding.

GS: Wow that is crazy.

JP: Very. [laughing]

GS: What were the professions of your parents growing up?

JP: My mom was a stay-home mom, she took care of us. Dad worked at General Motors, he worked at the Cadillac Plant.

RP: My dad worked for Michigan Bell Telephone back then, he also had a small janitorial business that he ran. My mom was pretty much stay-at-home, although as I hit teenage years, she did some interviewing for the University of Michigan.

GS: Oh, wow.

RP: Yeah.

GS: Do you have siblings? Either of you?

JP: Yes. I have three brothers.

RP: I’ve got two sisters, one here in Detroit, one in Chicago. I did have a brother, but he died back in 1985.

GS: I see. And where did you two go to school growing up?

RP: I went to David Mackenzie, 9275 South Wyoming, Detroit Michigan.

GS: Oh wow.

RP: I started off—I guess I should be honest and tell you I started off at Boynton Elementary off in Southwest Detroit. And then later on, I spent some time here at Wayne State, and ended up at University of Michigan up in Ann Arbor, which I enjoyed greatly.

JP: I started off of course the eight years, through third grade, in Ferndale, Harding Elementary. Then we moved to Detroit, I was at Ruth Ruff Elementary, and from there I went to Tappan Junior High—and all of these schools are gone now—went to Tappan Junior High. From Tappan Junior High, I came downtown and I went to Commerce Business School. It was a school mostly of girls back then, it was right across from Cass Tech, and they eventually tore it down to make the freeway, so we had choices of where to go, so I ended up at Cass Tech. That’s where I graduated from, then I did some time at Wayne State, I did community college in Ann Arbor when he was in Ann Arbor, and that’s pretty much it.

GS: I’m assuming that’s when you two met?

JP: No, we met here. We met at the old Fairground. They used to have ice skating out and they had ice skating every fall, and I would go with my brothers and we would skate—and I didn’t know him then—and he would go with his friends and it took me about three years to finally meet him. [laughter]

GS: Oh wow. [laughter]

RP: Well, there were a bunch of us that skated out there rather rigorously until the outdoor natural waters froze, so we skated at State Fairgrounds and when it froze up, we’d go down to Palmer Park which had a concession stand there, etcetera. We always made it a goal to help out the kids who were new to speed skates, the guys that I hung out with—and there was one girl in the group—were all speed skaters. So any time we saw somebody on speed skates, we’d give them some tips and pointers, but we did not spend a lot of time with them. And I saw this young lady on a couple of occasions. One occasion, she showed up with a pair of speed skates and I think I told her something like “If you don’t look around over your shoulder, you won’t stumble into the curves,” and that was the first thing I ever said.

JP: First thing you ever said, yeah. And he didn’t know it, but I was really looking for him so it was kind of cute what he said. And of course I told my girlfriend “He spoke to me! “And that was that.

RP: She’s a stalker. [laughter]

GS: So with your school experiences, how racially integrated were they?

JP: Back then. Ferndale, where I first started—and I was only there until I was eight, so I got limited—it was not too many blacks, the school I went to. It was mostly white. I think the few blacks that were there were probably all my cousins, me and all my cousins. But when we moved into Detroit, well it was pretty much the same thing at elementary school. It started out pretty much all white, but then slowly blacks started to move to the West Side of Detroit.

RP: Yeah, we were over in—of course Southwest Detroit at Boynton Elementary—Southwest Detroit, to me, does not mean Vernor. It means where Ecorse and Lincoln Park bought out against Detroit, and I lived right in that corner. I was half a block from E Course and about three blocks away from Lincoln Park, so we’re really Southwest. Boynton Elementary was primarily white at that time. There had been a nice development of homes over in that area, primarily for the benefit of factory workers. A lot of Poles lived in the area, some Germans of course, but mainly Caucasian and everybody who lived over there worked pretty much. It was a fairly isolated existence. You were very much aware that there were black and white and it was pretty separate. Kids played together like kids always do. We would go down to a place called Pepper Creek and catch tadpoles and that sort of thing. School yard, you’d play in the schoolyard and it was fairly well-integrated, and we had a Boy Scout troop there—I think it was troop 762 I think—and we all got together pretty well and did the camping thing and all that normal sort of stuff. As kids, I think we were fairly unaware of racial divisions, but we did know that there were more of them than there were of us. Then in high school, at Mackenzie, there was a rat pack of kids, maybe 15 or 20 kids or so, who kind of hung around together and we were all black, white, Latino, kind of mixed up. But we were a distinct minority within the school at the time. All of the teams were primarily white, all the activities were primarily white oriented, so you were aware of the division. It was back in the days where you had the rockers, the rock fashion and whatnot, the Beatles and all that sort of thing. You had the jocks, sports, captain of the football team—I knew him—I knew the girlfriend who he later impregnated, she was the captain of the cheerleader team, and I remember their names but I’m not going to say them out loud. [laughter] But again, we got along, but we weren’t great boon friends and life just kind of proceeded.

GS: Did this sense of racial division become more apparent as you got older?

RP: I think so. You started to go out to get your first job and you were aware that there were some jobs you were probably going to get a little easier than other jobs. I was frankly really lucky. My dad worked at Bell Tel, and he made it possible for me to get an entry into Bell, Bell had no slots to hire people so I ended up working for Western Electric and I got a pretty nice job there. I was making pretty decent money, got my first car, my dad cosigned for me. But again, if you didn’t have somebody to get you in, either  at the plant or in some other apprenticeship or something of that nature, you were pretty much out there, and it was pretty much along the racial lines at that time.

GS: Okay. And what year was this would you say?

RP: Boy oh boy, you’re going to date me like crazy here.

GS: You don’t have to say anything. [laughter]

RP: Back in the sixties. Yeah, I would say ’55, ’55 through ’60, yeah.

GS: So kind of moving towards the sixties, pre-riot, could you sense a level of growing tension within the Detroit community?

JP: I really couldn’t. I don’t know if it’s you know, call me naïve or not, but I was very surprised by the riot.

RP: Well it was a surprise that the riot jumped off, but I think I was aware of folks like Angela Davidson and the Black Panthers and Carmichael and things like that, but those were things that happened over there, out there. They weren’t in my community. We became aware of course of you know, kids being unhappy locally and to me as a kid at the time, it seemed to be along class structures, you either had or you had not. And so things broke down that way rather than racially and it wasn’t until a little bit later that I was able to say “Yeah, the reason you don’t have that is because you’re black and you’re getting disenfranchised and shit’s happening that you don’t like,” you know, and so you’re unhappy about it. But at the time, it was awareness, but not deeply involved in it.

JP: And in the sixties, when I think drugs really entered the seen for Detroit, I noticed things changing in the area where we lived over on the West Side of Detroit. When I was a kid, I mean it was a beautiful area to live in. but by the time I graduated from Cass Tech, that was ’65, it had started to change. I was still very naïve to drugs, I mean I had no idea what was going on, but I could sense change around me, but I had a job, I worked, I did a co-op deal where you go to school half a day in your twelfth grade and you work half a day. So I got a job with the S.S. Kresge Company over at the Olde Building(??) over at Temple Avenue—Temple Avenue that way—and anyway, so I was working every day, and I really was just kind of focused on that. You know, going to work, doing my job, coming home, still lived with the parents, the slowly like I said met him in that two year period from 18 to 20. But that’s when I really started noticing the big change that seemed to be happening in Detroit.

RP: Of course around that time you had the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, it like pretty much jumped off. Cops there, if you respected and you treated half way differentially, you got the five dollar Ann Arbor ticket. If you were a prick about it, you got the more severe state ticket, which wasn’t too cool. It was kind of a fun time. And Jan’s right, drugs really started you know, to kick off back then—

JP: In the sixties, after ’65.

RP: —free love you know, Post Street(??) jumped off here in Detroit, psychedelic music and stuff like that, and there was a whole awareness that there was a counter culture. There were people out there who were different than us, whether you called them hippies, you know, druggies, whatever you wanted to call them, they were different. They didn’t get up at the crack of dawn and go to work and slave for 12 hours and come home and you know, want their dinner on the table at a certain time, meat and potatoes, etcetera. Things are starting to change and we were aware of it.

JP: Yeah. And by the time we were married, we got married in ’67 and by then, yeah. Things had really—well, there was all the movement for the blacks to march with Martin Luther King, and I remember us participating—

RP: Shrine of the Black Madonna.

JP: —yeah, I remember us participating in some of those marches and being at some of those speeches, but you could really see, from when I graduated in ’65 to ’67, Detroit did a major change. And then beyond ’67, you know, after the riot.

RP: And it may have been a change it was some time coming, but we just weren’t aware of it.

JP: Yeah.

RP: The kids started wearing afros when we moved up to Ann Arbor, she had her fro—

JP: Angela Davis’s.

RP: Yeah.

JP: So, it was coming, it was just—

RP: That was also the time when, literally, you talk about drugs literally, most drugs were of recreational nature. They had LSD back then, but I remember that a kid could walk down the street literally with a pipe full of herb and people thought it was an aromatic tobacco and nobody said very much about it. [laughter] But that was also during the time of “Stop robberies enjoy safe streets,” STRESS, I myself got put on the hood of a squad car by the Big Four.

GS: Wow.

RP: That was an interesting experience. I don’t understand people that stand and argue with the guy with a gun and a taser, that’s bad politics. That sort of thing went on and I think it was probably more in nature of growing up, becoming more adult moving into another area of life and becoming aware that “Oh, that’s a little bit different than I thought it was,” you know you had to look at things very differently.

JP: And then you worked some during the riot, I mean you worked—didn’t you do some riding around with a—

RP: If he wants to talk about that now—

GS: Sure.

RP: During the riot itself, when the riot actually broke out, I was working for a drug store down on Linwood Avenue, just south of Clairmount, owned by a guy named Marvin Middledorf, and I’ve often thought I should look around to see if he’s still around. Marvin Middledorf was the owner and a pharmacist, and a guy named Robby worked for another pharmacist and his store was subsequently burned down, so I had no job to go to. So I think I got somebody to take me down—my folks took me down to the tenth precinct out on Livernois Avenue, down near Euclid I think it was—I could be wrong about the cross street but it was down on Livernois, tenth precinct—and I volunteered for the emergency police reserve. They put me in a squad car and took me over to the Bibwack(??) area which is behind Herman Kieffer Hospital over here on John Lodge and Claimount, and there I helped stand guard duty while they had National Guardsmen, police officers, state police, they could come in there and park their vehicles, rest, get a bite to eat, take a nap, whatever the case may be, we stood guard outside, and we got rather aggressive about it after the curfew period. Things were not pleasant if you were driving after curfew, and I just thought it was part of you either did something or you took part in something, and so I did something, and I didn’t realize how involving it was until I got a chance to take a break and they took me home. I lived up near the University of Detroit up on Six Mile and Livernois. Squad car took me home so I could take a break, and I went the house and my parents later told me that they dropped me off at about three in the afternoon, I did not wake up until eight or nine o’clock the next night.

GS: Oh wow.

RP: So I slept 24 hours. Then they picked us up, and we went back to the area. But it was a very intense time. We had gotten married around that time—

JP: Remember the tanks going down Livernois—

RP: And it was thunder, thunder, “What the hell is that? I’ve never heard thunder like that.” I get up to look and see and our bedroom window overlooked Livernois, in the area of Livernois and Finkel. And we look out and there’s a line of tanks moving down the middle of Livernois Avenue—

JP: And I thought “Wow, you know, this is too much like war,” you know? But that’s what was going on. Even just before we got married, I was still living on the West Side with my parents, I’ll never forget us turning off the lights maybe after ten o’clock at night, and just going up and looking out Mom’s windows—her bedroom windows because they faced the street—and watching street lights being shot out too. Now I can’t say they were all by good guys, some of them could’ve been the bad people too—

RP: The good guys shot out a lot of street lights so that you couldn’t take aim at them—

JP: So it was dark, yeah. So it was dark and you had to be off the street. So it was a Detroit I had never imagined. Never.

RP: They gave me a twelve gauge shotgun, a riot gun. They gave me a helmet, they gave me a nightstick, and when you came by and you were after curfew, we would stop you and ask you did you have permission to be out? Did you have a letter or what kind of job you had.

JP: Why are you out?

RP: “Why are you out here?” And if you did not give the proper response then things happened and they weren’t always very pleasant things, won’t go into that here, but you end up paying a price for it. People learned that you needed to follow the laws. In fact, after the immediate need was over and they sent the National Guard home and I think the 101 Airborne was here and somebody else—another Airborne unit was here—after they sent them home, I was working at a local FM radio station, WCHD right down on [inaudible] Forest, and I literally had a letter that said what my shift was, I worked midnight to six a.m., and the letter gave me permission to be out and about at that time of the night. It was a crazed time, did divisions and did things change after that? It was rather intriguing, my personal observation that again it was haves and have nots. However you came to be one of those two classes of people, that was it, because I saw many instances where the storefront would be open and there would be some black guys and some white guys both going into the store and both looting, no animosity between them, they might argue over who’s going to get this TV or not, but other than that they’re both ripping stuff off down the streets and whatnot.

JP: And just so many burned out stores, you know. Really, the area I lived in, I mean it was great. You could walk up to Grand River and everything you ever wanted was on Grand River. After the riot, everything was gone, and they either burned it down or the storeowners closed up and left Detroit. So, it really was devastating.

RP: To me, a lot of white flight seemed to be accelerated after that period. A lot of the Jewish communities that lived in the area of Dexter and Davidson began to move out, and they built the Sharrey Zedek out there at the Nothwestern Highway out near Telegraph Road.

JP: Yeah.

RP: And of course, all of these things made other possibilities happen, Jewish people moved out that opened up some housing potential and some blacks and other people who didn’t have adequate housing would move into those areas and that worked out pretty well for them.

JP: East Side kind of moved more to the West Side, because when I was a kid, East Side of Detroit, for most blacks—the side of Grosse Pointe, was not a nice place to live. It was pretty rough and I think they lived quite differently than we did. So we always sort of talked about the East Side. Well once the riots happened, those people, houses burned out and everything, now they’re starting to move, so West Side, North Side, Southwest Side, so things changed.

RP: And ballpark around that time, you also had the introduction of the freeway system, which of course in downtown Detroit ended in the tearing down of Black Bottom, so a lot of black businesses went by the board, a lot of the low- cost land went by the board, because that’s where they build these freeways, where the land is cheap and where the black people were living, the land was pretty cheap. I actually remember over on John Lodge and Warren here, when they were building that, literally crossing the street at that point. I stopped and took a leak in the middle of what is now the freeway. [laughter]

JP: Well 96 did that too, because it really came through where I lived at that time, and a lot of people you know, had to move away or for whatever reason. So it really divided Detroit a lot.

RP: So personally, I still think it’s a question of you know, have and have nots. However you come to be in one class or the other, there does not seem to be an awful lot of interaction or crossing between the groups. In some social institutions, The Art Institute, The Historical Society, the libraries and whatnot, you will find some crossover for lack of a better term. But outside of those accepted areas, I don’t think there’s very much at all. I think it still remains very segregated. We live out in Southfield now and it is rather interesting to see that you can still tell by terms of who shows up in your kid’s school—

JP: Where they come from.

RP: —where they come from, and you can still identify by what their car looks like, etcetera, etcetera, where they came from. You might get to know the person and you might find something very different than what you expected. But you do have some preconceived notions and in many cases they’re born out, and it’s kind of a sad thing. I’m not sure if Detroit will ever be the—

JP: The Detroit we knew.

RP: — the homogenous society we would like it to be, but it’ll get there.

JP: Well with the school system too, you know you can get a lot of young, professional, career-minded people moving back to the city now to enjoy the downtown area. But the minute they decide to raise a family, out they go, because of the Detroit public school system, you know?

RP: True. When they built the really nice condos up here at Woodward and Boulevard, a lot of urban guys and gals came in, it was close to work, etcetera, and same in downtown. It had a lot of good housing, a little on the expensive side, and so the blacks who did move outwards to take advantage of housing opportunities and jobs, they vacated land which is now being refurbished, and [inaudible], you know? The white guys and gals are coming in to take advantage of the jobs you’re starting to get downtown. Illich and the guys and gals that are building the great places downtown, and Gilbert, are going to make some great opportunities for people. But again, I see the whole thing working as a big churn if you will. The cycle going from downtown cheap, moving outwards and then eventually, you need service people, so you have some service people who come back downtown to service the [inaudible] that are downtown. But remaining through the whole thing is this schism between us and them, and it’s always there. East Side/ West Side, black/ white, ethnicity, everyone call it—

JP: Spanish.

RP: —Spanish, Polish. In fact when you think about it, I think about in the old days, I think there was more homogeneity. You can still run into black guys and gals who speak beautiful Polish because they grew up in Hamtramck.

JP: Hamtramck.

RP: You can still find some blacks who grew up in the more modern version of Southwest Detroit around Vernor who speak beautiful Spanish, but you don’t find an awful lot of them, and to me that’s kind of a sad thing in this city, which really has a possibility of being a very cosmopolitan area.

GS: Just to backtrack a little bit, I should’ve asked this earlier, so you said you heard about the riot celebrating your wedding—

JP: Wedding shower.

GS: Wedding shower, and so where was that exactly?

JP: Where was…?

GS: Where was this wedding shower?

JP: We were in the backyard of my girlfriend’s aunt. She lives on Lasalle Gardens South, right by Twelfth Street, which is now Rosa Parks Boulevard, and the riot had happened earlier that morning, I think two a.m., but in that area.

RP: Linwood and Clairmount.

JP: Yeah, Linwood and Claimount.Yeah, so everything in that area was pretty noisy. You can imagine we’re outside in the backyard and we’re listening to police cars, sirens and shooting and we kind of said “Oh okay, we need to go.” So you know, we just grabbed everything and left the area.

GS: And just going back, you mentioned you’re run in with the Big Four, I’m not sure if you would like to talk about that but you’re welcome to share that experience if you wish.

RP: Oh that was right after we got married. We lived in the area of Wyoming and Finkel at that point, it was right along the side of the John Lodge Freeway, about four doors off of the freeway, and there was a pedestrian crossway, you could cross over and go to this little supermarket and some businesses down in the area. I’d gone to the store, and I left the store and I’m coming back up this—I can’t even remember the name of the street—Washburn(??). The street was named Washburn(??), coming up Washburn(??), and this car swoops around a corner and whips to the curb and it’s the Big Four. Uniformed driver and three guys in plain clothes. They jump out and “Come here.” Said a couple of rude things actually. Put me on the hood of the car, literally spread eagle, pat you down front and back, stand you up, “Where you coming from, where you going?” I had some groceries in my hand and a bag and I said “I just left the store over here, what’s this about?” And they stopped me because they had a robbery in the area, and the guy fit my description. I said “What kind of description was that?” Tall, slender, black male. Well, I weighed about 185 pounds, I was six foot four, and while I could be a little bit darker you know, I guess I fit the description close enough for them. So they rousted me and they ran my name and information, told me “Thank you and have a good night.”

JP: Just doing their job.

RP: Just doing their job, and I [inaudible] the hell out of there and got home. Never had really many run ins with police, spent my time out in Belle Isle, foolin’ around, fartin’ around, never—you know, back when I was a kid, you knew to keep your nose clean, you knew when to answer and how to answer which was the more important thing. That was the subtotal of it, never came of it, you know. Don’t know if they ever caught the guy either.

JP: Yeah, right.

GS: Kind of thinking about this schism you were talking about, how do you think we can get rid of this schism to help Detroit? That’s a big question but I’m just curious.

JP: Well, I’m glad to see Detroit moving forward. This is what I wanted to see for a long time. But, when I listen to the problems that we’re having right now with Detroit, number one is schooling, probably transportation, reliable transportation. A lot of people that choose to live in the city still don’t have maybe quality transportation but they rely on buses. And this city ran so well before on buses. I spent a good majority of my working years and school years taking buses back and forth. So they need that, and until they can provide it, I just keep seeing these divisions between the masses of people.

RP: I would agree. In part, I would think of public transportation and public education. If the person can’t get transportation to the job and can’t elevate himself, can’t get a little better car, can’t live in a little better place, then he is continually made aware of by the things that go on around him of that disparity.

JP: Exactly.

RP: You see the Tigers games going off downtown, you’d like to get there but your car can’t make it and you can’t afford that game either. You need to stay in and watch it on TV. And every other thing that you do, it’s constantly in your face that you’re a little bit less. The educational system I think could do a lot in mitigating that, providing you could bring in quality teachers into functioning buildings with a hierarchy and a structure that actually functions, because there are enough kids from enough ethnic groups in the city I think, to make it a very intriguing and worthwhile experience. A kid can learn all kinds of foreign languages here within the city. You can learn Russian, you can get German. You can get Farsi, you can get Arabic, certainly Spanish, etcetera. If you could have a building where you could bring these kids together and bring those parents together in a PTA or some kind of parent group, etcetera—

JP: Right.

RP: —where the barrier is socially broken down by people who have the financial means, employment, to come together meaningfully, then we would find out that we are not so much different as we would like to think. We’re more alike than we’d like to be maybe. You’re needs are the same as my needs.

JP: Right.

RP: You’re ability to meet them is a little different than my ability to meet them, okay? And as long as we are continually made aware that we’re different—no. We need to be aware of the similarities and we need to make it such that there are less and less dissimilarities through education and through employment as possible, so that we can do this come together thing again. The Beatles said “Come together,” yeah.

JP: That’s very true.

RP: She was at the Beatles when they were at [inaudible].

JP: I sure was! Yeah—what was I going to say—Mr. Duggan, I think he’s probably one of the best things that has happened to Detroit in a long time, I would say since Mayor Archer because I feel he was a good guy. But then after Archer, things started, you know, go down, so it’s good to see Duggan on the job now. I worked with him at Detroit Receiving Hospital, I worked there for 30 years, so being in the city every day—part of it I was living in the city but then being in the city every day, and watching his positivity, you know, within the medical center and then wherever he went, I’m very happy that he’s, you know, the mayor now for sure. So I think it’s off to a good start, but just lots of work to do.

RP: And there remains a lot of work in the area of cleaning up what had gotten into a very, I don’t know what you want to call it, but “Me, myself, and I” mentality, where I’m going to get all that I can get, I don’t give a damn what it costs you, but I’m going to get mine.

JP: Can’t have that.

RP: And all that crap has just got to go and the more they can do to clean that sort of thing up, take a look at the school principals. What? You got how many of them indicted? This is ridiculous. Until these things get cleaned up and people believe they are being cleaned up in a meaningful and structured way, then we’re going to continue to have people not having faith in the educational system. I surely ain’t going to bring my kids in the city of Detroit if that’s what you got educationally, and if I could bring them here into the city and live in the city safely, and I thought I had to educate them outside of the city, I’ll send them out to Roeper, you know, or someplace like that. Then obviously why the hell am I going to move into the city? Why don’t I just move out to West Bloomfield or Southfield or wherever, you know, the suburb might be and educate the kids there. So much has to happen I think, in my mind, public transportation and public education I think are the biggest things.

JP: Yeah.

RP: We’ve got one of the better colleges right here in town.

JP: Yeah, Wayne State.

RP: Wayne State is probably one of the few institutions in the United States where the guy that you work beside the line in the summer for your summer job, he might be the guy that’s your history professor in the fall, you know? So people have a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of feeling and wealth of emotion about the city, and I think that can do much to carry us forward.

JP: My three brothers still live in the city of Detroit, they’ve never left. We left originally because he was going to University of Michigan and so we were in Ann Arbor for a few years. Then when we came back, we came back to the city. That was a real eye opener because the city had really taken a dive while we were gone and you know, looking around where we lived ,we still put our two sons at that time in Detroit public schools, but we knew that you know, things  in the neighborhood, things we were seeing right outside our windows, we thought “No, we need to make a move.”

RP: And that move didn’t come very quickly, our sons finished up their high school educations here in the city of Detroit.

JP: In the city of Detroit.

RP: I have always felt that in any school in Detroit, you could probably find students who turned out on the top of the heap.

JP: Exactly. We all do.

RP: Our two sons turned into United States marines.

GS: Oh wow.

RP: They served, they’re out of the corps, one of them married a marine. So it’s very possible—we didn’t move out of the city until two things happened, at the point in time we were living in the area of Grand River and Lahser Road, I got a phone call one day and the neighbor said “I don’t want to scare you, but there’s a cop car sitting on your lawn and the doors are open. And they’re running around your house waving guns around.” “Oh, really?” I called my alarm company and it turned out that a bird had gotten into the kitchen vent. It was a motion alarm that got set off. That was cool, but the neighbors knew that I had an alarm system. Shortly after that, I got a call at work and one of the boys was calling me and he said “I don’t want you to get scared,” and he said—he named this kid—he says ran down the middle of the street with an AK-47.

JP: And we’re like “What?”

RP: I said “What?”

JP: Time to move!

RP: So at that point in time—

JP: That was ’99. 1999.

RP: We did move, it wasn’t just the fact that this kid had an AK-47, there was a known problem in the neighborhood—

JP: Drugs.

RP: —and everybody knew exactly where the problem was and who the problem was. Why nothing was getting done about it, I don’t know. But we started moving after that, and we ended up moving to Southfield. Otherwise, we would’ve still been in that area—

JP: Still have been here.

RP: —which was a really neat area, it was called the Old Redford District. The Old Redford Theatre is still there.

JP: Is still there.

RP: They bring back the old movies, they have the organ in there that plays, John George and the Motor City Blockbusters are out there and do some neat things in the area.

JP: Your sister is still there.

RP: Yeah my sister went to school in Wayne State, she went to work for the board of education, she retired from the board of education. She worked at one job in her entire life, just one career and one employer. I have a sister that lives in Chicago, she went to school here, I think she went to Wayne for a period of time. I’m not sure.

JP: Yeah. Detroit was a great place. It really was. You got a good start here.

RP: I’d start here again if I had to start all over again.

GS: Was there anything else you two would like to add?

JP: I don’t think so, I think we told our life story pretty much. [laughter]

RP: It has been fun watching Detroit Institute of Arts grow and change. We’ve seen most of the modifications that have taken place there. We’ve seen many of the changes that have taken place here at the Detroit Historical Society, it’s been watching Belle Isle transition from city-owned to state-run.

JP: Yes. Yes. It’s a beautiful place.

 RP: My mother and dad met on Belle Isle, they used to play softball out there, it just fell into disuse and disrepair, disreputable, over a period of years, but now it’s really made a change. We like going out there and we’ve driven around there many times. Other institutions here like the Pewabic Pottery down on Jefferson that I’m currently taking classes at of all things.

JP: We like Detroit.

RP: Yeah, we like Detroit.

JP: We just like to see, you know, the move is happening, we want in to continue. That’s for sure.

RP: Right and you’re going to make it happen. [laughter]

GS: I’ll do my best. Well thank you for sitting down with me today.

JP: Thank you.


[End of Track 1]

Original Format



42min 32sec


Giancarlo Stefanutti


Richard Powell
Janice Powell


Detroit, MI




“Richard and Janice Powell, June 23rd, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed February 21, 2024,

Output Formats