Bill Goodman, October 5th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is October 5, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I am in Detroit, Michigan, and I am sitting down with Mr. Bill Goodman. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
BG: You’re welcome. I’m happy to be here.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when you were born?
BG: I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1940, April 1940.
WW: What neighborhood did you grow up in?
BG: It was northwest Detroit. It was the area between, it was Green Acres. The area between Seven Mile and Eight Mile and just east of Livernois.
WW: What was that neighborhood like growing up for you?
BG: Well, it was, you know, for me, I experienced it as the only neighborhood I knew. It was single homes. It was, east of Livernois it was all white. It was middle class families mostly. People with mid-level corporate jobs, a few lawyers here and there, a few doctors here and there, that kind of thing. It was quiet, pleasant, and easy to take. As a kid I had no beefs with my neighborhood, back in those days. Other than the fact that it was a segregated neighborhood, and that was an issue to some degree, even in my childhood.
WW: What issues arose from it being a segregated neighborhood?
BG: I went to Pasteur School, which was on Pembroke and Stoepel, just west of Livernois. There was a small African American community that was in that school district, although it was, it bordered Eight Mile Road. There were a few, as a child, there were a few black kids in our school. We had a little neighborhood baseball team in the neighborhood that I grew up in, and the local drugstore sponsored our team. And [Boyan] the owner of the drugstore bought us little shirts that we wore as our uniform, and we recruited – one of our players was one of the kids that I knew in school, a black kid, and we wanted him on our team. His name was Melvin. And so, when the pharmacist, the store owner learned that we had a black kid on the team, he said, ‘No, this is only for children who live east of Livernois. You can’t be on the team if you live west of Livernois.’
So we had a little protest. We walked into his store, we all threw our shirts down and walked out.
WW: Was it successful?
BG: You mean, did the store owner give in?
BG: No, no, he withdrew his support of our team, but we did have a slightly integrated baseball team anyway.
WW: That’s awesome.
BG: Yes, that’s one of my early protests.
WW: Growing up, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you venture around the city?
BG: Well, in those days it was easy, even as a kid. I would take the bus downtown, even before high school. I’d get on the bus, take the Second Avenue bus or the Hamilton bus, the Woodward Avenue bus, all the way downtown, and then I’d go over to my dad’s office and go in and say, "Do you want to go to a baseball game?" or something like that today. In those days, all the games were played during the day, there were no night games. So, sometimes he’d say yes and sometimes he couldn’t, and then I would then get on the Michigan Avenue trolley and take it out to Tiger Stadium to the old Briggs Field, Briggs Stadium, and go to the game by myself. And then come back downtown and he’d drive me home at the end of the day. So, I think, and I did the same thing when I wanted to go downtown just to Hudson’s or something like that. I did that. And so, no, I wasn’t confined to my own neighborhood. I mean, I spent most of my time in my neighborhood, but no.
WW: You mentioned how easy it was going around the city, did you also feel comfortable going around the city?
BG: Yes! I did, and I’m sure my parents did too. I think I would be – I’m talking about when I was 10, 11 years old and I think parents of 10 or 11 year-olds today would be much less sanguine about their children traveling around on buses throughout the city of Detroit.
WW: So going into the Fifties, and later on in the Fifties when you were a teenager, did you notice any growing tensions in the city, this is at the point where the Civil Rights movement is starting in the South, or anything like that?
BG: Well, the Civil Rights movement really got going in the South probably about in ‘58, ‘59, several years after Brown vs. Board [of Education], and by that time I was in college. And yes, there were issues when I went to college, sure. When I was in high school, I wouldn’t say I noticed anything going on in the city in terms of racial tension or issues with the police department, which was really what the rebellion was all about.
Except that I know as a young kid, going around with my dad on weekends, he would get calls from people whose kids had, or husbands had disappeared, trying to track someone down to represent them, who was being held by the Detroit Police Department. And they hid prisoners like that often, and because he had a bit of a reputation as a civil rights lawyer, he would often get calls from black families which were often targeted for this kind of thing and get into fights with cops or at police stations – not physical fights, but arguments that I would observe, so I did see some of that.
WW: Did this interaction, this relationship between your father and the police department, did that echo the relationship that your community had with the police department?
BG: My community? Meaning northwest Detroit?
BG: No. My community had a very sanguine, pleasant relationship with the police whenever we saw them, which was rarely.
WW: Growing up and seeing that positive relationship that your community has, between the police department and themselves, and then seeing the relationships that other communities have, was that a wake-up for you?
BG: Well, I grew up a little differently than many. I grew up being conscious and sensitive to these issues anyway, because my father was very conscious of racism and segregation and did his best to fight for civil rights, so I had a different perspective on things. He had a black law partner when I was young, a kid, George Crockett, who is well known in Detroit. And Crockett, who later became a judge, had a son, George the third, who also later became a judge. And George the third and I were the same age and became friends and he would come over to my, come visit our house from time to time, and I would – there was always a lot of very racist comments among the other kids on the block when they saw a black family visiting or saw me with another black kid my age. So I had some awareness of that through that mechanism.
WW: You mentioned the racist comments the kids in the neighborhood had.
WW: Did they have those comments about Melvin on the baseball team?
BG: Melvin, no. Melvin was a good baseball player [laughs]. I mean, we all, they all knew Melvin and it wasn’t a social – we weren’t interacting with Melvin as social friends. Melvin just was a teammate, which was somewhat different. But to see, for example, a black family visiting our family, or having young George Crockett sleep over with me at my house, this was something that was taken somewhat differently in the neighborhood. Not by everybody, but by a few people.
WW: You mentioned that you did run into problems when you went to university. What university did you go to?
BG: I didn’t have have problems, I ran into them, that’s when the Civil Rights movement started to get rolling, and there were a lot of issues. I went to the University of Chicago. So, one of the issues while I was in the – well, one of the things that happened was the sit-ins started at that point in the South. So we started to boycott Woolworth’s, for example, and other chains that ran segregated facilities in the South. And we’d have picket lines in front of these places. There was a lot of tension around those picket lines. Those were days, you know, when the picket line had to do with strikes, not with social issues or political issues like Civil Rights. So, yeah, there was a lot that went on around that, and then the University of Chicago itself owned buildings that were racially segregated. And that was a huge protest, the fact that it was a sit-in at the administration building at that time. I think by then I was in law school.
Bernie Sanders claims to have been involved in that, I don’t know if he was. But he says he was and I’m sure he was. And he sat in at that time and a number of students were disciplined over it, and so on. So those were a couple of examples of the kinds of things that happened in my college experience that I can recall.
WW: What organizations did you do the picketing with? Was it a student group, or–?
BG: There were student groups. I’m not sure if I remember which ones they were. We had a political party called “Polit.” P-O-L-I-T. Maybe they did it, I don’t know. I don’t know.
WW: And when you went from Detroit to Chicago, remembering ack to your neighborhood back when children would make the racist comments and stuff, was Chicago along the same lines?
BG: What do you mean?
WW: How did they address racism? Or, how did you experience racism, or witness racism, in Chicago versus Detroit? Was there a difference, or was it the same strain?
BG: I’m sure it was the same thing. It was, you know, the northern racist United States of America. I mean, Chicago was more, I don’t know – I remember I went out on a date once, took a girl to a park and we had a picnic. And the Chicago Police Department rolled by and said, "White people never come to this park, you should get out of here." That was a small example, but a memorable one, since I still remember it.
The Woodlawn, 63rd Street was the heart of Woodlawn at that time, and it was, having never spent any time in New York or been to Harlem that I could recall. This was amazing to me, to see so many black faces walking up and down the streets. When I would walk up to 63rd Street, which was not often, but when I did and I was with friends, who would show their fear of being around so many black people, the people in the community on the street would react to that and make comments about that, "oh, all these white kids" and so on.
But I don’t think the nature of racism was any different between Detroit and Chicago. Detroit was segregated, and had a virtually all-white police department which was vicious to some degree, and Chicago was just more of the same but bigger.
WW: What year did you return to Detroit?
BG: When I graduated from law school, 1964.
WW: When you came back to Detroit, was Detroit the same city it was when you left? Or did you see any changes?
BG: There was a lot more political activism in Detroit at that point. There were progressive political organizing. John Conyers ran for Congress that year. First time, and he was running against Dick Austin who was the UAW [United Auto Workers] candidate for that particular seat. And Conyers’ campaign was a grassroots campaign, fought from the ground up, from my law firm, by the way, was a major part of it. That kind of thing was going on all over the place, because the beginnings, well, the Civil Rights movement had blossomed by ‘64 – I’d been involved a little bit during, while I was in school, by the way, in the South. And you could see, you know, political activism wherever you looked, in those days, at least among middle class and intellectual people, both white and black.
WW: And what did you do when you came back to Detroit, you had your law degree?
BG: Yeah, I worked for my dad’s law firm, for the Goodman- Crockett Law Firm. And I, basically, the law firm used to describe itself as a firm that engaged in a lot of political activism and supported itself by representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. So I did both, but I did a lot of just of plain old auto accident, personal injury litigation, that kind of thing, yeah. That’s what I did.
WW: So while you were doing that, what political activities did you undertake?
BG: The first political client that I had – and this actually is a good segue into discussing the rebellion, I think – was a group called the Northern Student Movement. Did you ever hear of them? You did? I’m impressed that you’ve heard of them, that’s good. Have you talked to Frank Joyce, by the way? You should.
WW: I’m about to, yes.
BG: So Frank Joyce was, sort of an organizer of something called the Northern Student Movement here in Detroit. And he called me one day and he said that he’d gotten my name, he heard I was raring to go with political cases or something like that, and here’s the case. He and a group of his constituents who were members of the Northern Students Movement on the eastside of Detroit had gone over to the old Fifth Precinct on Jefferson Avenue on the day that was designated as “Tour Your Local Police Station Day” or something like that. And when they got inside, one of them, a fellow named Moses Wedlaw, asked to see the room where the cops beat the people up in. This was the question that was asked. So as they were then kicked out of the police station, as they left, they were all attacked in the parking lot, beaten up, charged with assaulting police officers and arrested. So this was my first political case I undertook. And basically got all the charges dismissed. We were in front of the judge on that case, was George Crockett, the elder George Crockett, who by that time was a Recorder’s Court Judge. A man of enormous courage in so many ways. And Crockett somehow dismissed all of those cases. If you ask Frank about it, he’ll remember. In fact, I’ve talked to him about it recently, he does remember.
So that was one of the things I got into at that time. There was a lot of, at that point, the anti-Vietnam protests were developing, and I represented a lot of anti-war protestors, both in Detroit and Ann Arbor and in East Lansing. There was quite a bit of activity in East Lansing over that. So I did those cases, and some police misconduct, police brutality cases. It was a very different legal environment back in those days, but we did a little bit. It was much harder, but we were able to bring such cases because in 1961, the United States Supreme Court decided a case called Monroe vs. Pape, which allows individuals to sue under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. It only took 90 years to be able to do that. So, yeah.
WW: So you primarily – this is a recap – you primarily defended left-wing activists and organizations, and then, when you were able to, you did police misconduct?
BG: Yeah, I wouldn’t describe it as left – some of them were left-wing for sure, but, I mean, some of them were just student activists, protestors. I guess you could call them left-wingers, but they were just people who were waking up to the injustice and inequality and racism that surrounded everybody in those days.
WW: And, I forgot to ask, when you came back, what neighborhood did you move into in the city?
BG: Lafayette Park. Well no, first I moved on to East Jefferson, a place called River Terrace Apartment. And then we moved to Lafayette Park.
WW: And as you are doing this work, did you notice any tension in the community increasing? Between the police and the community?
BG: As I was doing this work? You mean back in that time? Well, I think that the story I just told you about the Northern Student Movement tour of the Fifth Precinct was emblematic of things that were bubbling up to the top at that time. People were getting tired of the cops arresting, targeting and arresting black youth primarily, and beating them up. This was something that was becoming untenable, or at least unacceptable. So to that extent, yes, I noticed it.
WW: Going into the summer of ‘67, was there any thought that Detroit could blow up like other urban areas were in the Sixties?
BG: You mean, did I have such a thought?
WW: Yes, you.
BG: Right, I mean, we all could look around and see. What ended up, well, Watts was in Sixty–
BG: Six. I was in Watts at that time, just coincidentally. Well, I was in LA and just drove through Watts. And Newark was in ‘67, wasn’t it? Yeah. Ah, sure. This was not, I’m sure we talked about it. I don’t have a concrete recollection of a specific conversation, but yes, we, the answer is yes to that question.
WW: Okay. And then going into July, the night of July 22 and July 23, how did you first hear what was going on?
BG: I was visiting my parents, with my wife and small baby at the time on that particular Sunday. And we started to notice – we were in the house that I grew up in, and we started to notice that there were smoke all around us, coming from Livernois, which was the business area at that time. And it became very obvious very quickly that we were experiencing an urban riot, so-called. And leaving that neighborhood and driving south on Livernois, I remember seeing people climbing into the Grinnell’s, which used to be a sort of electronics/appliance store, and coming walking out with their hands filled with television sets and so on. And other stores as well. So that was the way in which I first became aware of it, yeah.
WW: Was this a shock to you?
BG: It was a little shocking, but yes, I was a little surprised. I don’t know if “shock” is the right word, but it certainly caught my attention. It concerned me to the extent that who knows what could happen? We lived at that time in Lafayette Park, as I said, close to Gratiot. There were a lot of fires on Gratiot. I did not view it then, I never viewed it as a situation that communicated racial animus. In other words, as a white person, I would drive through these black neighborhoods and no one would pay attention to me as a white guy doing that. It was more experienced as a protest, outrage, and lawlessness, really. It was a lot of lawlessness and all of that. So-called looting, real looting, yeah.
WW: Did you have any other issues while you were going home?
BG: No, no. When I got back to Lafayette Park, one of the people in the neighborhood wanted to organize a gun patrol – pull your guns out and march up and down the street, and I thought that was, to be blunt, just a lot of horse shit. I wasn’t about to get involved in that. So, no, I didn’t have any trouble.
WW: So from where you were in Lafayette Park, could you see a lot of the fires?
BG: I could see fires. Our offices were in the Cadillac Tower, at the time, on the 32nd floor of the Cadillac Tower, and I went up there, the next day I think, no matter where you looked, and our offices looked in all directions, I think maybe, north, south and east. We didn’t look so much west, but you could see fires ringing the whole city of Detroit. So, it was dramatic, yeah. In all directions.
WW: While you were going into work, what was downtown like on that Monday morning?
BG: I don’t remember. I’m sure it was dead, but I don’t have a clear, you’re asking me to summon up memories, that it’s too long ago. I don’t remember what downtown was like. Well, vaguely I remember that no one came in to work and it was dead, yeah. I was there. That’s right. Yeah, no one was at work. I remember that, yup.
WW: Why did you go into work?
BG: Well I, first of all, I wanted to take a look at the city from that vantage point, and secondly, I figured that, in addition to my workaholism, I thought that there might be something going on that we could work on, so I did. And, I don’t know when it was that I went over to Recorder’s Court, whether it was that day or the next day or two days, but shortly after that I went into court.
WW: Feel free to keep talking about it. You’re talking about Recorder’s Court?
BG: Yeah, I was close friends at that time with Justin Ravitz, do you know who he was?
WW: Yes, I do.
BG: And I don’t know if he called me and told me I should meet him over there, but he was involved, he and Kenny Cockrel were involved in organizing, or trying to represent people who had been swept up and detained during the early hours and days of this rebellion. Those people were being held, and there were thousands of them. And they were being held, as I’m sure you know, not only in the Wayne County Jail, and the Detroit Police Department lock up on the 9th floor, they were being held in the outhouses, in the bathrooms on Belle Isle, and on buses and in horrible places, under horrible conditions, nowhere to sleep. If you’re on a bus, nowhere to easily use the bathroom. All of these things were going on, and I’m not sure how I became aware of it, I’m not sure if Chuck, if Ravitz told me this or if I had learned elsewhere, but there was a need for lawyers in these courtrooms who, when people would be brought in to be arraigned, in front of these judges in large groups, we would go up to the groups and we would say, "We’ll be your lawyers." You know, take names, and people were happy to have lawyers. So then we would ask the judges to have personal bonds, reasonable bonds so the people did not continue to be held and routinely, all of these judges in Recorder’s Court would set expropriatory bonds. $25,000 I can remember, $50,000 bonds being set for curfew violations. This was the basis for most of these arrests. Horrible. And, you know, we all stood up and screamed and yelled about the Constitution but it didn’t –
There was only one judge in Recorder’s Court who paid attention to the requirement that bonds and that reasonable bonds be set, and that was George Crockett. And he was commended by the Kerner Commission later on because he was exceptional. He was unlike any other judge on Recorder’s Court bench in that way. He paid attention to the Constitution. He would not grant these outrageous bonds that would force people to continue to be held for long periods of time. So that was the issue that we were constantly fighting. And we got a lot of animosity from the cops for taking these positions and so on and from the judges and prosecutors and their staff. So anyway, that was that story about Recorder’s Court back then. Eventually I think almost all of those curfew charges were dropped. I don’t remember anybody fully, I don’t remember anybody being prosecuted and found guilty of any of those.
WW: You mentioned the outrageous bonds that you particularly remember. Were there any other, any individuals or cases that you remember that stuck out during those few days?
BG: Yes, there certainly was one. It involved a young kid named Albert Wilson who I think was 12 at the time. And Albert had lived in the area of Twelfth Street and Hazelwood. And he had gone into a store that was, you know, some kind of dry goods – maybe it was a little corner grocery store or something, I don’t remember. But he went into the store and people were taking stuff out of the store, and he was in there and a cop came in. And when the cop came in, everybody hid – ducked down behind things, walls, and so on. And cases, or whatever. So Albert, was I said he was about 12 at the time, I think, and he either moved or made a noise or dropped something, but the cop heard him and fired his gun. And Albert sustained a spinal cord lesion which left him a paraplegic. So we sued the Detroit Police Department over that shooting. And eventually, I don’t remember when we went to trial in that case, but we did try it and we got a verdict, a large verdict. It was the first verdict, I think, in Michigan in a personal injury case that exceeded a million dollars. So that, I remember that case very well.
WW: Wow. Do you remember how long you spent at Recorder’s Court?
BG: You mean how many days I was there?
BG: At least a week. A week, week and a half, something like that.
BG: And then I had a hundred, hundreds of clients, because I had signed up all of these people, so I had to retreat and then sort of deal with managing this overwhelming number of clients and cases, which as I said, for the most part were dropped, as far as I recall.
WW: What was the mood at Recorder’s Court? What was the atmosphere like? Because you mentioned that there was growing tension between the defense attorneys and the prosecutors and the judges and the police. Was it chaotic there, or was there–?
BG: Yes, it was chaotic. The halls, the hallways were chaotic. I was not a Recorder’s Court regular, as were some of the people who were over there. But what you saw during those days, as during, you know, throughout my experience at Recorder’s Court back at that time was that the cops and the prosecutors and the courtroom staff, the clerks, and the judges, were all very close and friendly and we as young lawyers were trying to do something a little different, we were outsiders and we were treated like outsiders. So I remember that. And I’ll never just forget the image of these large groups of people, often just still handcuffed or chained, being brought into court in front of these judges, and you know, these judges setting these horrible bonds for what were minor violations.
WW: You call out Judge Crockett for being exemplary. Do you recall any other judges that you worked with that did set these harsh bonds?
BG: I don’t remember very many names, so I hate to single anyone out, but one of the names I can remember from those days was Don Leonard. There was a Schemanske, I think it was Frank Schemanske over there at the time. I don’t know. I don’t remember any of the others.
WW: Okay. For you, do you remember when the National Guard came in, and then later, the federal troops?
BG: Yeah. I do. I don’t remember what day it was. What day was it?
WW: The National Guard came in on Monday and the federal troops came in on Wednesday.
BG: Wednesday. I remember driving around and just wanting to see what was going on in the streets and driving around with my brother. So we drove up Linwood, past Central High School, and again, there were all these people on the streets, and nobody paid any attention to the fact that we were white, although sometimes there would be a friendly shout or something like that. But I remember seeing either National Guardsmen or military people perched on the roof of the old Central High School or Durfee Middle School – Junior High it was called then. Or maybe Roosevelt. Perched on these roofs with guns pointed at the population in general. That was the image I had. Now, when it was exactly that we did that, that I don’t recall but it was a striking image and is still in my mind.
WW: You’ve repeatedly referred to what happened as the “rebellion.” Why do you interpret the events of 1967 as a rebellion?
BG: The Detroit Police Department was, at that time, racist, brutal, unlawful, you know, an institution that allowed for – basically declared war on the black community in the city. And as I said, it wasn’t simply a riot. This was something that was designed to say, "We are not going to take any more of this targeted racism from public officials, from the cops." And so I view it as an uprising or a rebellion more than a blind, insensate violence. No. I didn’t see that.
WW: And then after the rebellion has calmed down, did you begin to see the city differently? Or is Detroit still Detroit to you?
BG: Well, Detroit is still Detroit but whether I saw the city differently is a different question. I’m trying to think about that now for a moment. Yeah, I think that there was some political push back against the rebellion by the white power structure. That’s when the STRESS unit of the Detroit Police Department got rolling, one of the most bleak and sad parts of DPD history. STRESS was just awful, and eventually it resulted in the counter-reaction of the election of the first black mayor of the city, Coleman A. Young, in 1972.
WW: And then after the rebellion, did you continue working civil rights cases in the city?
BG: Oh yeah. Lots of them. And around, not only in the city, but outside the city also. Warren. Dearborn. Lots of places.
WW: Given that you were going around to all of these places, do you believe that the rebellion – how do you believe that the rebellion affected the metro area? If it did at all?
BG: Well, what happened, this is what, I’m sure you’re familiar with Sugrue’s book about Detroit and the structures that created structural racism, but it was obvious. Immediately what happened was, the white people who lived in the city of Detroit put their houses up for sale and moved to the surrounding suburbs. These suburbs which were all white and were created through various public policies, including the articulated racism of the Federal Housing Act and a number of other things, were all white, and they ringed a city that had been, hemorrhaged white population, and now became majority black and remained poor and without transportation as jobs and things fled the city. And housing became devalued and people who owned houses lost huge amounts of investment, and the city – I think ‘67 was the beginning of a very difficult period for the city of Detroit which has lasted until recently, in my analysis. I think Tom Sugrue’s book explains it well.
WW: Oh yeah. For sure. And the book you are referring to, for the record, is Origins of the Urban Crisis?
BG: Yeah. That’s the one.
WW: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share, any other memories you’d like to share from the rebellion?
BG: My mother owned a little antique store over in the Park Shelton Hotel, right around here. And she had an African American assistant named George Jordan, who, as soon as things started to get rolling, Monday morning, he took a bar of soap and wrote “Soul Brother” all over the windows of this antique store, and nothing happened to it. So I think that is interesting the way in which identity was perceived, at least, and the importance of it. That’s the only other memory that immediately comes to mind. I’m sure if I read my journal from back in those days I would find more, but, sadly I never wrote one.
WW: Just a couple of quick wrap-up questions. What do you think of the state of the city today?
BG: I think it’s complex. There is certainly growth and development, and it’s always heartening to see crowds walking around. I took a walk on the Riverwalk recently from, let’s say, Rivard down to the Renaissance Center and it’s exciting. It almost looks like New York City there. There were hundreds of different kinds of people out, extremely diverse and as many different ethnicities and races as we can gather in this city and it was wonderful to see it. People were comfortable with one another. So, those kinds of things you can observe progress. It’s not the old baseball team where you couldn’t have a black teammate. On the other hand, there are vast swatches of neighborhoods that are still blighted with houses that are vacant and being used as drug houses and all the rest of it. That’s not comforting to see. One would want to see development, you want to see the whole community pulled up and neighborhoods looking better than they have. And you do see some of that. So I guess on the whole it’s good. I think that the whole situation with water shut-offs is disgusting. That’s a political and financial crisis. The fact that the city of Detroit has been basically abandoned by the traditional role of government, the state government, the federal government, to solve some of these problems itself is distressing. Education is desperate. So, it’s complicated. That’s what I would say.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
BG: Well. I guess, slightly optimistic. I’m not jumping up and clicking my heels, but yeah, I see some progress
WW: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
BG: My pleasure.
WW: I really appreciate it.