Brian Fountain, June 18th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is June 18, my name is William Winkel. We are at the Detroit Historical Museum for the Detroit Historical Society’s 1967 Oral History Project. Can you please state your name for me please?
BF: Brian Fountain.
WW: Alright, thank you for sitting down with me today.
BF: Say it again?
WW: I said thank you for sitting down with me today.
BF: Oh, oh, thank you.
WW: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?
BF: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but I’ve been in Detroit my whole life.
WW: When did you come here?
BF: When I was two months old.
WW: Okay. What year was that?
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in in Detroit?
BF: I grew up on the west side of Detroit in the area of Tireman and Livernois.
WW: What was that neighborhood like for you?
BF: Wonderful. Growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, I had a lot of fun. Enjoyed elementary school, enjoyed middle school. A lot of things for kids to do. My big thig was baseball; I played baseball every day, or every chance that I could get. My father, he worked at Ford Motor Company, my mother, she was a housewife. I have two brothers and three sisters, and my grandmother stayed about maybe a 10 minute walk from my house. She stayed on Northfield and Tireman which was probably a mile and a half or two from where the riot started.
WW: What’d your parents do for a living?
BF: Oh, I just mentioned it! My father worked at Ford Motor Company–
WW: Oh sorry, I missed it.
BF: –and my mother was a housewife, yes.
WW: Sorry, I missed that. Where were you in July 1967?
BF: In July of 1967 I was at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Carlton, Michigan.
WW: Why were you there–just a family vacation?
BF: Yeah. Well we would go pretty much every weekend out there, during the summer months.
WW: Mmhmm. How did you first hear about what was going on back in Detroit?
BF: I was in the garage area of my grandmother’s cottage, and a special report came on Channel 7 News, and it said that there was rioting going on in Detroit, and all of us kids and grandparents got around the television. We saw aerial photographs of just big plumes of smoke coming from all these buildings all over the city.
WW: How’d your family react?
BF: My grandmother, she panicked. She told my grandfather–she called him "Daddy" –she said, “Daddy, we gotta go back, we gotta go back to the city.” So she told all of us kids to start packing up our stuff, and probably within an hour we were en route back to the city.
WW: What was the drive home like? Was it anxious?
BF: For my grandmother, probably. For us, we were more curious because the only recollection I had about a riot was in Watts out in Los Angeles. So I knew what a riot was, and from the pictures I saw from the Channel 7 News report, it looked like exactly the same pictures I saw and videos that I saw from Watts. So the ride back for us, again, was more of curiosity. The route that we took, coming in 94 Eastbound, we came up around McGraw, we didn’t see anything that was unusual at that point.
WW: At what point did you see something unusual?
BF: When we got back to my grandparents’ house, she stayed on Northville off of Tireman, I was in the backyard–and my grandparents were just relieved that the house was still there. I was in the backyard, and I was at the fence by the alley, and I saw two guys carrying a brand new couch down the alley. Being a 12-year-old kid, in my mind I’m thinking, “I wonder where they got that brand new couch from?” And I had heard about looting on the news reports, and I’m thinking they got that from some store.
WW: So you didn’t see any smoke in the sky or anything from where you were in the city?
BF: At that point, no.
WW: Okay. After getting home, did you and your family explore the city at all, or did you stay hunkered down?
BF: Yes. My grandad took me and some of the kids up to Grand River and the Boulevard, and that was probably a half mile from where the riot started on Twelfth Street, and when I got down there, it looked like some World War II bombers had flown over that area and dropped bombs. It reminded me of the same photos that I saw from Dresden. I mean the buildings were just burned out, you could see smoke everywhere. There were still firetrucks there, people milling about, and the furniture store–and I don’t know if this was the furniture store where these guys got that couch from–the furniture store was burned out, Cunningham Drugs was burned out. At this point you could see smoke. I don’t really remember any flames, I just remember little embers of fire burning and little wisps of smoke coming out of all these buildings.
WW: Were any buildings that you frequented affected, or no?
BF: Yes. This had a big impact on me as a 12-year-old. My father was also a bowling instructor at the Lucky Strike bowling alley which was located on Grand River and the Boulevard across the street from the present Tabernacle Baptist Church. It was owned by a guy by the name of Mr. London, he was a white guy, but most of the people that bowled there were African-Americans and everybody loved Mr. London. On Friday and Saturday nights, that’s where we hung out at; it would be the equivalent of kids hanging out at a skating rink or a recreation center. The Lucky Strike was our recreation center. We went there every Friday, every Saturday until the parents of the kids would finish bowling.
Well I had heard the next day that they had set the bowling alley on fire, and I didn’t believe it. I’m thinking in my mind, “Well it’s just probably partially burned, Mr. London will repair it.” So my grandad took me back up there and when we got up there, I was in absolute shock. The whole building was burned out, and I was crushed because that was a place when you think about your childhood memories and some of the places that you hung out at, that was our hang out. The ironic thing about that was all those kids that we hung out with, I never saw most of them again, it wasn’t until later on as an adult I would see a few of them and all of us would reminisce about the good time we would have at the Lucky Strike.
So as an impact on me, that was probably one of the biggest impacts, was not having a place to go, a place that you went for probably the last–I think I started going there when I was eight, and at the time it burned down I was 12. That was a big, big thing for me as a 12-year-old.
WW: Was your family further impacted by what happened?
BF: Not from the standpoint of economics. My dad still worked at Ford’s, my grandad, he worked at Ford’s. My grandmother, she was a homemaker, my mother was a homemaker, so from an economic standpoint it did not impact us in any way.
WW: How did your parents react to what was going on?
BF: My parents, we all talked about it, but they didn’t really get into it from the standpoint of the impact it was going to have overall on the city. At the time of the riots, I think the city was around 70 percent white and 30 percent black. They didn’t talk about it in terms of how it was going to impact the neighborhood or anything, we weren’t looking at it from that standpoint, we were looking at it from the standpoint of people telling us that Twelfth Street was gone, and at that time that was probably the closet shopping area for African Americans on the west side.
WW: What kind of shops were there?
BF: They had clothing stores, they had jewelry stores, cleaners, a lot of night clubs. Just a nice mix of different places–shoe shops, barber shops, some were black-owned, some were Jewish-owned, but it was a nice mix of places where you could go to get just about anything.
WW: As a kid did you notice any change in atmosphere in the city from before the riot and then afterwards for you?
BF: As a 12-year-old, no. Later on, in looking back, I saw a transition in the racial make-up of the police department, but I didn’t know it was because of what had happened in 1967.
WW: Are there any other experiences you’d like to share?
BF: Yes. There was two other experiences. One was at night, the tremendous amount of gunfire heard one particular night. It was coming from the East, and later on I found out that at Henry Ford Hospital, there was a gunfight between some snipers and they had pinned down some National Guardsmen and it was like a gunfight that you would hear like in Vietnam. It lasted for more than five, seven, eight minutes.
The other thing that impacted me was we took a drive down Linwood, and I looked down one street, and I’ll never forget this: it was like the first ten houses on this street were burned out. It was like each house was just a shell, and it looked like some bombers had hit this whole block. I don’t recall the name of the street, but later on, I think the street was Pingree. I’ve seen pictures of a street that look similar to this in research that I’ve done on the riots, but I’ll never forget that. And I’ll never forget the devastation that I saw on Linwood.
WW: You said the word “riot” a couple times. Is that how you identify what happened?
BF: Yes. Some people call it an “insurrection,” some people say it was a race riot. I don’t think it was a race riot, I think it was the climate that existed in the city of Detroit between a predominately white police department and a black community that was being mistreated.
WW: Have you ever thought about leaving Detroit?
BF: Oh yes. You know I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve always entertained thoughts of going other places–Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia. If there’s a place better than here, I owe it to myself to find out. This is what I always tell people: I don’t want to live here wondering if I could have had a better life somewhere else.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
BF: Ah, no.
WW: Alright. Thank you very much for sitting down with us.
BF: Alright. Thank you.