Margaret Carden, September 13th, 2016
WW: Hello, today is September 13, 2016. My name is William Winkel. This interview is for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project. I’m in Detroit, Michigan, and I’m sitting down with Ms. Margaret Carden. Thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MC: Glad to be here.
WW: Can you please start by telling me where and when were you born?
MC: I was born in Detroit in 1945.
WW: Did you grow up in the city?
MC: Yes, I grew up in Chalmers-Jefferson and went to Cass Tech and stayed in the city through all that time.
WW: Growing up, was your neighborhood integrated?
MC: Other than racially, yes. There were different religions, different ethnic groups. But, there were only two black families and they were older. They weren’t moving in with small children.
WW: Growing up in your neighborhood, did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood or did you venture around the city?
MC: Actually, I ventured around because I took piano lessons downtown, my family went out, we did a lot of Belle Isle, we did stuff downtown. All the rest of my family lived in Grosse Pointe, so we did a lot in Grosse Pointe. Our own neighborhood was very active so children’s stuff we did in the neighborhood.
WW: What did your parents do for a living?
MC: My mother was a homemaker and my father was a small business owner. He had a photo finishing company, I guess you’d call it.
WW: Growing up in Detroit in the late Fifites and going into the Sixties, did you notice any growing tension in the city?
MC: No, I was oblivious. I didn’t have any sense of that. Well there was one incident when I was young when a black family was trying to buy a house in our neighborhood and the neighbors were outraged. A lot of them worked together to buy the house, they put money up to buy the house, and my parents wouldn’t have anything to do with it. If I remember correctly, they actually did buy the house. But, other than that I have no recollection. That whole thing to me was a big shock because I had never thought about that stuff.
WW: Outside of your neighborhood, did you see any other incidents like that?
MC: I was oblivious. I had no idea.
WW: Okay. At the time you went to Cass Tech, was it integrated then?
WW: Once you graduated from high school in ’65, did you stay in the city?
WW: Oh, ’63. Did you stay in the city?
MC: Yes. I stayed in the city. Detroit’s east west. Instead of being an east sider, I became a west sider. I lived in various neighborhoods over the years. Ending up for over 20 years at the Livernois, Seven Mile area. That’s where I bought my home. Before that I rented. I did that in 1975, I guess.
WW: Going into the later Sixties, did you see any unrest building in the city?
WW: Would you like to share some examples of it?
MC: Right. As I got older, and more, I was on my own then. I got out and about in the world. I actually went with, and eventually married, a fellow Cass-ite, who happened to be black. I was exposed to a lot of things I had never known about before. It started for me in ’65, just because of my exposure through dating him. I learned a whole lot about how society really operates. You know, we had personal issues with other people, both black and white. We had personal issues with the police, for, you know, I was starting to learn about how society can operate with race and society. Does that answer it?
WW: Did you have any specific incidences with the police?
MC: Yes, one time, there were a few, but one time, I was about 21, so ’66. My husband and I, well he was still my boyfriend, and I were coming home from a job, he was a musician. We were coming home about 1:30 in the morning and a police car pulled us over. I lived on Seward, and at that time was not a very good neighborhood. He pulled the car over, told me to get out, it’s like 2 o’clock in the morning, some real late time. I didn’t want to walk home. I was right by where I lived. And he said, "You go home," and he got in the car with my husband, my boyfriend, and I was afraid of what was going to happen because the policemen turned his hat around so you couldn’t see his number. I went in the house, in the apartment building. My boyfriend said all that happened was he drove him about a mile, and then stopped, they stopped the car, the police car was behind him. The policeman got back in the car, took his keys, I don’t remember how he got his keys back. But he said, “You walk back if you want to go there.” So nothing happened except for being very frightened. So that’s an incident and that was before ’67. By ’67 I was aware of police feuds, I had heard stories, too, but that was a personal one that really hit home.
WW: Going into ’67, did you anticipate any violence that summer?
MC: Not in particular. You know, I’m leading my life. You just kind of lead your life, I’m working, I’m going with this guy, and he’s a musician so I’m not getting enough sleep because we’re out late all the time. I knew people were unhappy, I knew that things had gone on around the country, but I hadn’t thought about it in particular in Detroit. I knew where I had lived. I guess in a broader sense I had kind of in a way been absorbed into the black community. I was just kind of living my life. I didn’t have problems with my neighbors. I loved his family. My mother was very supportive of anything I did so I had that part of my family still. I wasn’t really aware because we were just leading our lives. I mean, I knew it was risky to do certain things I had already learned that, but I viewed that as a personal issue, not a broader issue for the whole city.
WW: Going into the year of ’67, that summer, were you still living on Seward?
MC: No, by then I was living on Euwald Circle, by Dexter-Davison, renting, well it was a co-op.
WW: How did you first hear about what was going on on Twelfth Street?
MC: Well, how I heard was my boyfriend was out playing a job and I was with him. Afterwards we went to an afterhours place, and then we went to breakfast downtown. It was like, I don’t know, five in the morning or something, when we were coming back. We stopped for gas, not on Twelfth, I don’t remember the street. But, it was like within less than a mile of where everything started. So we stopped for gas, it was probably like six or seven in the morning, I’m not sure. The guy with the gas station said, “I think you should go home,” to the two of us he said, “Because there’s trouble.” We said, “What kind of trouble?” He said, “I don’t know exactly. But there’s a lot of stuff going on down there and it could be dangerous to be on the streets.” So we went home. So that’s how I found out.
WW: When did you first hear about the details of what was going on?
MC: Probably right away as soon as it was on the news. Because I was paying attention.
WW: During that time, did you and your husband, or your boyfriend at the time just hunker down?
WW: Or did you go and see what was going on?
MC: No, we stayed inside. We had become fairly defensive already and beyond that, with all this stuff going on, it was very risky. We stayed inside. But, like during the day, I don’t know where he went, cause he was with me almost the whole time. I went out back, where I lived, just to get outside, and there were a bunch of neighbors barbecuing and they didn’t know me that well. You know, you just come and go. They invited me to barbecue, everything was fine. Other than that, I just stayed inside. I stayed up late cause I was working. I didn’t go to work, couldn’t get to work because I worked downtown. At night we would watch these tanks going along Dexter, these big military tanks. There’d be guys standing on them with these big guns, looking around, you know, looking for the enemy, which I assumed was me, you know. At one point, I was a smoker then, and at one point, I lit up a cigarette sitting there watching out the window. My boyfriend said, “Don’t do that! They’re going to think you’re shooting at them and they’ll kill you.” So I put my cigarette out. I didn’t doubt how real all this was, but I realized I was the enemy, in a way. Everybody was potentially the enemy. So. It was bad times.
WW: How do you interpret the events in July 1967? Do you see them as a riot? Do you see them as a rebellion?
MC: I see it mostly as an uprising or maybe a rebellion. If rebellions are successful then I view it as an uprising. People had had enough. Even though I didn’t know the exact details of what happened at that time, until later, I knew that it was just an example of how people are treated by the powers, by the police, by whatever, and people just had had enough.
WW: How did ’67—the events during that week affect you?
MC: I think that I learned in a very deep, lasting sense about systemic racism, about racism within the powers, about racism within the whole fabric. It wasn’t just about us being an integrated couple, it was about the way people are treated in general by power. And I’ve never forgotten that. I knew it intellectually, but I came to really understand it emotionally, totally, from that. That’s how I changed. I should, I should add, I was almost there. But, this was kind of like the poof in the pudding.
WW: After the unrest calmed down—or during it, did you ever think about moving out of the city—
WW: Because of it.
MC: No, my mother, who also lived in Detroit, but lived in an area that wasn’t affected, was very, she was frantic with worry for me because, you know, of everything you saw on the TV. Even though where I was, if you stayed hunkered down you were okay. You know, our building wasn’t set on fire or anything. But, once that was over, my mother calmed down. Everything was fine. And I’m a life—well, I actually left Detroit for 20 years, but that’s because I was married to someone in another city. Other than that, I’m a lifelong Detroiter. The first thing I did with the divorce was come back where I belong which is Detroit.
WW: Are you optimistic for the city moving forward?
MC: Yes, I am. I’ve always felt that Detroit was never as bad as everyone said. I think now it’s not as good as everybody says. But, I think it’s definitely going in the right direction. I think there’s restructuring going on economically. Hopefully it’ll spread to all of the neighborhoods. There’s just a vibrancy that’s spreading. It’s always been there in one way or another, with pockets here or there or whatever, but I really feel like the city’s going in the right direction. I feel good about it. Now if we could do something about the schools, I’d feel great about it. But, that’s another issue.
WW: Is there anything else you’d like to add today?
MC: Not really. I guess that—I hope that this project isn’t just preaching to the choir. I hope that people who that see these oral histories, that see what went on, come to understand more about who they are themselves and what’s possible. That’s what it’ll take to make this whole. I think it’s a wonderful project. So, yeah.
WW: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with me today.
MC: Okay. My pleasure.